As the Paris Marathon swiftly approaches and a pile of ‘running’ holiday gear begins to appear alongside a suitcase, I got thinking: what will I do on Saturday after collecting my number etc at the Expo? The obvious answer is sleep. But hell, I’m in Paris – it’s time to reacquaint myself with the romance. Whether you’re running the marathon or not, here are five things to do in the beautiful and enchanting city that is Paris.
1. Make shapes at a museum
We all know about the Louvre and its famous painting (the Mona Lisa) but it’s a pretty large space. I was lucky enough to have a year pass 12-25 when I lived in Paris and still feel like I never really got to grips with what it had on offer. Instead head to another equally grandiose and beautiful building that is home to exceptional pieces of art: The Musée d’Orsay. It’s everything you’d expect from a building that was once a former train station; light, airy and perfect for perusing works by Impressionist Masters, such as Monet, Degas, Gaughin and Manet. And since the space is so vast you soon forget you’re in a museum at all. The only downside are the mammoth queues. Thankfully, you can bypass them by booking your tickets online.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Solferino (Line 12) or RER C Musée d’Orsay
Other cool culture spots:
Palais de Tokyo – Contemporary, fresh and packed full of imagination, the Palais de Tokyo is one of my favourite places to really explore the minds of creatives. The shop and café aren’t bad spots to hang out either and are normally frequented by the cool Parisian tribe.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Iéna and Alma Marceau (line 9) or RER C Pont de l’Alma station
Les Arts Décoratifs – Tucked away on the Rue de Rivoli, Les Arts Décoratifs is a Mecca for fashion aficionados because it hosts world-class exhibitions . Victor & Rolf, Marc Jacob Louis Vuitton, Dries Van Noten (currently showing), you name it and this wing of the Louvre has probably shown held an “exposition” in some exceptional form or another.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Tuileries (line 1)
2. Take a walk in the parcs
To really take in the view of Paris, head to one of my favourite parcs in the city: Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Based to the north-east (that’s slightly East, I guess, of Gare de Nord) in the 19th arrondissement , the sheer elevation of the green space means that you can really take in Paris’ beautiful vista. Throw in man-made cliffs, a suspended bridge and dramatic waterfall and you have what some have quite rightly called a pretty romantic space. Grab a book, a blanket and head up here to unwind and enjoy Paris at its best.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Buttes Chaumont (line 7), Botzaris (line 7)
Other green spaces to head to:
Jardin du Luxembourg – With its main pond filled with toy sailing boats, shaded areas to relax in and locals sitting around playing yet another game of chess or drafts, the Jardin du Luxembourg feels lived in and alive. If you love to people watch or play “guess the statue” (there are apparently 70 statues dotted around the space), then head to the Jardin du Luxembourg situated slap-bang between the Latin Quartier and Saint-Germain-De-Prés.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: RER B Luxembourg station
Jardin des Tuileries
If you don’t have the time to head to Versailles, then the Jardin des Tuileries is pretty much the next best example of the renowned André Le Notre’s work. Situated near the Louvre and Arc du Carousal, this mix of greenery, pathways and statuettes runs right through the veins of central Paris. Look one way and you’ll see the Arc du Triomphe, spin around 180 degrees to gaze at the Pyramid entrance to the Louvre. Alternatively, you could grab a metal chair, perch yourself next to one of the ponds in the park and try to get your head around the many different “rangs” (rankings) of French society during the 17th and 18th century. You may not succeed but at least you feel like you’re living within its realms.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Tuileries (line 1)
A water bar? Whatever next? As pretentious and perhaps ludicrous as it may sound, Colette on Rue St Honore is indeed home to a water bar. Don’t let that put you off visiting what is essentially one hell of a concept store. You may not have the budget to splurge on some of the weird and wonderful products on offer but Colette is worth a visit, just to gaze at the way they display the items. If you want to know what a fashion edit that works looks like, head to the first floor to find pieces by designers such as Ashish, Comme des Garcons and Opening Ceremony. Think Dover Street Market with a twist of Parisian charm.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Pyramides (line 14,7)
Other places to shop:
Rue d’Alésia – For designer French bargains, head to one of the many “Stock” shops on Rue d’Alésia. The cut-price boutiques do have a habit of changing from time to time but when I was in Paris in January 2013, I found a Sonia Rykiel outlet that was worth the visit alone.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Alésia (line 4)
Galleries Lafayette – Gaze in wonder at the Chanel 2.55, wander around the many kiosks selling make-up and fragrances you may or may not have heard of and immerse yourself in the designer fashion of Galleries Lafayette. And don’t forget to look up or you’ll miss out on the beauty of this world-famous department store.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Opéra (line 7.4) or RER A Auber
4. Browse the many markets
The best day to visit the market (marche de puces)Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (metro stop: Porte de Clignancourt) is on a Sunday. But don’t rule it out as the many smaller stalls of the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen are open throughout the week. Head inside the cattle shed-style enclosure to discover one of my favourite places ever – a store that sells everything from vintage sunglasses and fabrics to fashion “gravures” and buttons. I cannot for the life of me remember its name but you’ll know when you’re there. You can spend an hour or two sifting through the many prints or trying to spot a real treasure in the glass cabinets of objects from the past.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Porte de Clignancourt (line 4)
Marché Rue Dejean – If you want to explore the true melange of Parisian culture, a good place to start is this food market in the 18th arrondissement. Come out of the metro Château-rouge and you’ll be transported by a variety of smells, colours and sellers trying to impart their fruit, veg and various other wares on you. Just brace yourself as it is complete and utter chaos and not for the faint-hearted. You can buy just about everything you need for a picnic, so why not get involved in the popular Parisian pastime of “picniquer”.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Château-rouge (line 4)
Marché de la Bastille – The food market may be on a Sunday but it’s worth popping by to the flea market on a Saturday to see the variety of bric-a-brac on offer. Again, this market is pretty congested and you may find yourself constantly dodging the “granny” trolleys. The nearest metro is Bastille and if you’re in it for the day, Rue de la Roquette is packed full of bars offering Happy Hours among other things.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Bastille (line 1, 5, 8)
5. And relax
I once made a very close friend of mine walk miles to sample the hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots but boy, was it worth it. This restaurant/café situated in the 6th arrondissement was once the hotspot for all the intellectuals that graced Paris in the early 20th century. From Hemmingway to Simone De Beauvoir, history has certainly played its part in making this also popular among tourists. That being said, you can’t help but be swept away by the sheer charm, waiters dressed in “penguin” (black tie) and ambience of the place.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Saint-Germain-De-Prés (line 4)
Other areas to take a pew:
Abbesses – Head slightly north-west of Pigalle and you’ll find yourself in a quartier called Abbesses. With a few fashion, vintage and antique stores, not to mention a dangerously tempting Cave à vin, this is a quiet place away from the noise of the red light district. Share a carafe of wine with a loved one and who knows where your night may end. (Post-marathon perhaps?)
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Abbesses (line 12)
Le p’tit bar – Granted I’ve never been here but a person who has tells me it’s a crazy place to hang out the night before your girlfriend runs a marathon. It’s about the size of a boxroom with one or two stools. According to my source, a certain Madame Polo is responsible for what goes on in here alongside her trusty canary in a cage. And once the character known as M Polo takes your order, she heads to a fridge out back where she keeps the stock.
Nearest Paris Métro or RER stop: Charonne (line 9)
Let me know what you would do in Paris when not running the marathon.