Le week-end à Paris: Disney, landmarks and laughs in the City of Lights
Last month, my family and I finally realised a long-discussed plan for a weekend in Paris. We had three goals for the trip – to see the sights of the city, spend a day at Disneyland Paris and take the Eurostar (I had never been on it, unbelievably). We ended up booking a three night break in early December (Friday to Monday) – but only really had two and a bit days in the city so we really had to pack it in. In hindsight, an extra day would have made a huge difference, but Paris is only a short trip from London so I know I’ll be back. We booked a standard Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord for about £150 return each – very straightforward and easy, with only 30 minutes check-in time – a thrilling concept in comparison to airports (which I can’t stand, despite being a travel junkie because let’s face it, it’s a means to an end).
When it came to accommodation, hotels in the centre of Paris can be expensive. However, having recently stayed at an Air BnB property in Los Angeles, I was keen to do the same in Paris. For those who don’t know, Air BnB has a range of rooms, cottages or full apartments rented out directly from the owner via the website. We rented this lovely 1 and 1/2 bedroom apartment (which sleeps five) in a converted 17th century building in the 1st arrondissement – the heart of Paris. It was located by a station just five minutes on the RER from Gare Du Nord and just a few minutes walk from Pont Neuf, the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre. We were also able to get one straight RER A train direct to Disneyland from where we were staying so it was a perfect location. One thing I do recommend is having change for the tickets machines – a majority of the ones we came across on the Metro didn’t take Euro notes, so we often ended up using our credit cards to get tickets.
Our first night in Paris was essentially a write-off as we had arrived quite late from London. On Saturday morning, I was up early, excited to explore the city. Our first stop, of course, was a boulangerie in the 1st arrondissement for some croissants and chocolate twists for breakfast. Although typically cold for a December weekend, it was mostly sunny for our first day so we spent time just walking around soaking up the sights and atmosphere. After a little detour past the lovely 16th century Church of Saint Eustache, we headed for the Louvre Palais complex – stemming back. While the outside of the Louvre was incredibly busy, the long queue into the Louvre museum – accessing via the Pyramid – was moving fast. As we were short on time in Paris, we opted not to go to the museum this visit, although definitely on my list to do next time. The Louvre complex then opens up to the Tuileries gardens. Originally, the Palais des Tuileries stood on this site, but it was destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871. Today, the early 19th century Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel stands on the same spot. After going through the arch, we passed through the gardens – home to water features, statues, topiary and flowers – although not so much of the latter were visible in December obviously.
We then crossed the River Seine via the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, a footbridge to the south bank. Like other locations in Paris, the bridge was covered in ‘love padlocks’, with even a vendor selling them should you wish to cement your love in brass for all eternity (I jest!). We then followed the south bank of the River all the way to the Eiffel Tower – one of Paris’s biggest draws. Although impressive during the daytime, I really recommend seeing it at night when it looks stunning all lit up. As well as general tickets to go up the Tower, there are also several restaurants and a cocktail bar up there too if you want to feast in the sky.
After stopping for a late lunch, we ventured on the Metro to Montmartre – the famous district which is home to the Sacré-Coeur. The area is shamelessly touristy, but still retains a certain charm with lovely streets to amble down and plenty of shops. The white domed building of the Sacré-Coeur stands at the top of a steep hill featuring a lot of steps – but there is a furniculaire (gondola-style transport) for those who haven’t the energy or ability. Being December, the cobbled courtyard in front of the church was home to a Christmas market, selling a wide range of gifts, food and mulled alcohol. There is also a stunning view of Paris and we were just able to see the dancing lights of the Eiffel Tower through the trees. The church itself was free to enter and a warm respite to the biting winter cold outside. The interior of the Roman Catholic church was stunning and was hosting a service at the time so we sat quietly and listened to the nuns singing – a stunning sound which made us feel all the more Christmassy. After all the walking, we popped into the Cocoran’s Irish pub on the hill – billed as the highest Irish pub in Paris – for a half pint before heading back into central Paris. We ended our evening via the Champs Elysees to check out the lights and the Arc De Triomphe. Although the lights were lovely, the Champs Elysees wasn’t quite the romantic idea I had in my head. There was so much traffic and pollution, I was actually eager to escape it. However, it is a good destination for people looking for high-end, luxury shops.
Finally, we ended our day in the highly-recommended (both in the guide book and from friends) Bofinger, a brasserie in the Le Marais district of Paris. We arrived without a booking after trying unsuccessfully online, but were shown to a table straightaway. Having been established in 1864, it was exactly what we dreamed of for an authentic French eating experience. The restaurant had retained its original wooden interiors, bar and stunning skylight. The service was absolutely brilliant and our waiter was incredibly patient with us as we took rather longer than usual over the menu. I opted for the simple, but delicious fresh pain (bread) to start, followed by salmon and vegetables for main. As we were in France after all, to finish, it had to be a Crème brûlée, which was the biggest I had ever seen – fortunately there were three of us to share it!
On the Sunday, we spent the whole day at Disneyland Paris. Disneyland is essentially two parks – the original Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios Park. We opted for a combined one day ticket for both parks at €81 each (£67 approx) – although in hindsight is cheaper online so highly recommend doing that instead! Getting there from the centre of Paris was very easy – around 45 minutes on the RER A train costing around €7-8 approx for a single journey. Although I usually go to theme parks in the summer when it’s warm, it was a lovely experience going to Disneyland Paris in December. Although admittedly cold outside, the queues were relatively fast-moving and most were undercover, with plenty of restaurants and food stands serving hot drinks. Being December, the park was decorated for Christmas – particularly around Main Street when you first enter the main park. There are several Christmas parades throughout the day which are enjoyable for all ages, with the crowd even getting ‘snowed’ on to make it feel even more festive. We ended up going on a total of 12 rides in both parks over a nine-hour period. While there is plenty of smaller and gentle rides for young families and those with fears, myself and my family are all adrenalin junkies so we opted for mostly rollercoasters. I enjoyed all the rides, but I thoroughly recommend the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (a high-speed indoor coaster), Space Mountain (another enclosed coaster), Studio Tram Tour – Behind The Magic (lots of film sets, pyrotechnics and other ‘natural disasters’) and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Peril (an outside rollercoaster). Our favourite was the Twilight Zone Tower Of Tower – one of the most unique theme park rides I have been on. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the ride is located inside what looks like an old Art Deco hotel. I don’t want to give too much away because the anticipation of what lies behind the walls is all part of the build-up. Needless to say, we were all scared silly and absolutely loved it.
Overall, it was a brilliant weekend, if somewhat exhausting. I felt like I only saw a bit of what Paris has to offer. I mostly saw the main sights and got a feel for the city, but didn’t get a chance to visit the museums and Notre Dame up close due to time constraints. However, I came away loving the City of Lights and am looking forward to getting better acquainted with it next time.
For Metro Girl’s review of a trip to Cannes, read Do the Cannes-Cannes: Living it up on the French Riviera
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