From Stuttgart, there is a TGV fast train that runs a few times per day and takes about three hours to get to the east train station. From there, the metro lines run to all the main points in the city. The metro in Paris is cheap and much faster in terms of frequency of trains (every 5 minutes or so) compared to German bahn trains where local lines run between 10 and 20 minutes apart. Paris is divided by sections with both area names and numbers. Our hotel (New Hotel Roblin) was in the 8th arrondissement, by La Madeleine, Printemps huge department store, and the Opera house. L’église de la Madeleine is big columned church designed for Napoleon’s army, it doesn’t look like a church at all, but it was a good identifier for our metro stop and how to get back to our hotel. We would stay in that area again, it was an easy walk and quick train to everything, however to the Marais shopping area with restaurants and boutiques is likely to win out next time.
My favorite structure of all time is the Eiffel Tower. Though I have been to Paris before, I still couldn’t help but take a thousand pictures of the tower again. The fast pass reservation online in advance is definitely the way to go. We used getyourguide.com to reserve, then we picked up our tickets at the office nearby the tower park, going straight inside through security, bypassing the crazy long lines. In the winter, you can’t get advance tickets to the very top due to the fluctuating winter and wind conditions so we’ll come back next time for that – the line was outrageous on the second floor for the top. The view on the second floor is the best though, the top is for the experience. There is also an ice rink that’s free, and two restaurants/bars. You can stay up there all day if you wanted to. There is a clear glass ceiling section now that you can stand on to see all the tiny people on the ground below you. Its pretty cool if you’re not afraid of heights. From there, you can walk right over to the river for a river cruise too.
Christmas markets run through the New Year’s weekend and the booths go for most of the mile long Avenue des Champs-Elysées. It was a bit overwhelming with tourists so we really didn’t spend more than a few minutes there before changing directions. Mulled wine and small gifts from Paris were repeated throughout. There was also a food Christmas market leading up to the Eiffel Tower with street foods and a few stands of souvenirs – all made in China as expected. Overall, I wouldn’t go back to Paris for the Christmas Market as compared to other smaller cities we love in France during winter market season.
No question, like italy, there will always be good options for food in France – with butter. We learned January is the season for scallops too. It was not rare to see locals walking around with baguettes in-hand, and a bottle of something in their bags. From breads – croissants, eclairs and macaroons, to seafood – Escargot (snails), scallops, or meats at the deli and steaks with fries at the restaurants and of course onion soup, plan to gain at least 5 lbs. for the experience.
On our quest to go to the best of every place we travel to, the top rated award winning croissants in Paris closest to us on this trip were found using the map by parisbymouth.com.
Alain Yhuel’s Boulangerie Yhue (11 Rue Jean Lantier, 75001 Paris, France) was the closest to us but unfortunately was closed both times we tried to stop by over the holiday weekend.
Here is a map to the best croissants in Paris according to the Wall Street Journal: click here.
Learning how to make them at home is quite labor intensive but worth a shot as a goal this year. Last year, my goal was to learn how to make fresh mozzarella which hasn’t exactly happened yet, this year maybe we’ll have better luck trying out homemade croissants from this recipe: French croissants and bakeries- click here for a recipe.
Best pastery thing we found in Paris: Odette cream puffs www.odette-paris.com – Just try one, you will understand.
Now that we know how it works, we will go back again. The Champs-Élysées location was open on Sunday too. The line looks long but moves fast. There are so many people you can’t see what’s behind the counter to order, but you also can’t linger because there are so many people waiting behind you/crowding around you. You have to specify if you want a box or not, boxes cost extra, you only get a bag if you buy a box despite how much you spend on other things. They have everything there, not just macarons, and a cafe, bar and restaurant connected to the shop. Its super stressful going through there, so next time we will go in more prepared. Is it worth it? YES. Try everything.
Favorite: Frenchie To Go Simple menu with maybe five or so options with eggs and bacon included in Les Halles quarter of Paris. Small seating area, great coffee and the menu changes at lunch with more sandwiches. Loved the area walking there to the Marais. The food markets down the main drag are to die for.
Not too far past Frenchie’s is the church, St. Eustache from the 1500’s which is worth a visit inside for the high ceilings, paintings and stone work, it’s just around the corner from another Odette shop too.
Seine River Cruise – We booked a package with our Eiffel Tower ticket at getyourguide.com that included an hour cruise along the Seine River through Paris. Beautiful at sunset, however, my camera died and we forgot the portable chargers at the hotel so no shots to share of that unfortunately. I would do it again though, in the warmer months. The only downer is the inner cabin is the only place to get the audio guide with it, on the roof deck where you can see everything, they only play music.
Crazy Horse Cabaret – Way more risque than the Moulin Rouge show, but really very good, in a much smaller theater. The stage is small too so it makes the girls all look 10 feet tall. Note: You share a couch and champagne bucket with another couple which was the only thing we didn’t expect, at Moulin I remember having my own table.
Hotel de Ville – Huge famous 19th century hotel in Paris that is now the CIty Hall, had an art exhibit of carved animals in front where the infamous carousel is. Beautiful stop on the way to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame – We made the mistake of planning to go on Sunday and I should have known we wouldn’t get out of the hotel, and have breakfast early as we should have in order to get there. That said, we saw it this time, but there was no way we were waiting outside in the cold and rain for 2-3 hours. There was a wait that long at both the church entrance and a separate line and wait for the tower which costs about 10 euro per person to hike up the stairs to the top. I’ve been inside before but we went during the week. Must do the tower and inside on the next trip back.
Across from the Notre Dame is the famous book store and cafe, Shakespeare and Company. An iconic stop in Paris, plus good coffee.
Arch De Triumph – Same deal as Notre Dame, cold, raining, not the best time to wait in a long line and go up to the top for any sort of view. It took us a minute to figure out the underground tunnels to get to it, the detail is amazing and definitely worth it just to see it up close.
Champs-Élysées – Tourist shopping, but a good couple hours walking down from the Arch De Triumph toward the ferris wheel at the other end. The best part, many shops are open on Sunday there for the tourists including the regulars like Zara, Marks and Spencer H&M and all the fancy ones, Cartier, Tiffany, Gucci, Chloe, Hermes, of course the Louis Vuitton flagship and so on. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is 1.9 km (1.2 miles) long.
Louvre and Pyramids – The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, it would take about a year to see the whole thing. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is of course one of the most famous pieces people travel to see in the Louvre, though its actually very small in real life, protected by glass, but pictures are allowed. The three glass pyramids at the entrance/center of the Louvre are lit at night so you can still see the details and the building clearly anytime.
Montmartre Note: cheapest area for buying postcards in Paris.
Two ways to get there:
- Stop at Pigalle metro stop Anvers, or Blanche (where you can also see the Moulin Rouge), walk up the hills through the narrow streets and hundreds of steps to the top.
- There is also a funicular cable car for a part of the way, but walking and steps are still required.
- Take the train as close as you can get, the furthest up to it is the Abbesses station. Follow the crowds walking a short trip upwards through the tourist shops and the best thing to see, the artist square called Place du Tertre. Here, painters and artists come to paint and sell their works offering portraits and not-yet-dry scenes of Paris and Europe, all for sale with a wide range of prices.
Montmartre’s Basilica of Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart church is a must visit for both the view over Paris and the interior dome. As we would have it, the day was pretty foggy so the view was not so much, and the line to get into the place was ridiculous yet again. This trip was clearly the trial run to visit everything again – from the outside, next time well venture inside. Really great area to venture for the day, foggy or not, we love it there.
Lessons Learned: The GPS in this area of Paris on Google maps will always say you are 14 minutes walk away from your next destination. Two hours of walking later… we metro’d it back to the city center.
The Marais shopping area is filled with boutiques and restaurants along every side street. There are art exhibitions weird and cool, many of the higher end stores on the Champs repeat themselves here, but the vibe is much cooler and relaxed to stay all day walking around. We will look to stay here in future.
Note: Restaurants and many cafes close in Paris at around 3pm or so for a break before dinner. Plan food accordingly. We ended up accidentally in a Turkish restaurant (that looked like it was French on the outside, and a bit African on the inside) because it was the only thing open, not the worst, just not what we were craving to experience on our limited time in Paris.
New Year’s Eve in Paris
New Year’s Eve in Paris this year, following the November terrorist attacks, was quieter, though we didn’t anticipate much to begin with. According to reviews we read, Parisian people, like those in Barcelona, mainly have dinner at home with friends or family to ring in the new year. Do not expect fireworks, you’re lucky to get a light show. The main crowds are at the Champs-Élysées, though the Montmartre is also a popular viewing spot with crowds of people on a clear night.
We chose the Eiffel Tower area mainly because it was where we could find a restaurant for dinner short notice. Finding a restaurant that had a menu available for under 100 euro per person was a big challenge. Fortunately, we found one a few days before the trip via Facebook called 7eme vin Paris and secured the reservation just in time, taking the last table they had that evening. It was good, brighter lighting than we would have liked, but the NYE menu served course after course of food so we definitely did not leave hungry. The best thing was the dessert plate with a sampler of 10 different things, the best being the creme brulee – best we had the whole Paris trip. The staff was really great there too and wanted us all to stay the whole night. That said, from 9- 11:58pm we were there at the restaurant, then had to rush making a mad dash out, taking the champagne glasses with us to see the lights on the tower at midnight, most couples in there did the same thing. (We did return them back there after.) The lights were disappointing though, in the year before, at new years, the lights at least changed colors for something new on the tower for the New Year, this year they didn’t do that, it was the same sparkle that happens every hour anyway. All in all it was still a good new year, now we know next time, it will be Montmartre if its clear and the Champs if we book early enough to get a good spot.
One of the best restaurants we had dinner the whole entire trip, all courses combined, was a little fancier but it was worth it, called Les Jalles. Snails, scallops, 7-hour braised veal… and a great bordeaux wine – all delish.
Due to the holiday, we didn’t make it to many places on the list. La Cave à Bulles and Académie de la Bière was closed as were many others at the times we could get there.
Au Trappiste had a large menu of Belgians and served food so that was a good stop for the afternoon.
We tried local brewed Frog Beer at their restaurant pub called The Frog & Rosbif which has a huge food menu with BBQ. The beer was expensive, and not as good as the reviews.
The best find happened when our train was delayed, there was a Marks & Spencer food shop in the station. They had beer and cider collaborations for their store on the shelf from the UK with really good prices. Reminded me of wholefoods a little. It was the best find before heading onto what turned out to be the longest train ride back ever. Someone had apparently jumped onto the train tracks delaying our train to Stuttgart over an hour (announced in 10 minute increments), then just after entering Germany, the train breaks down with a huge mechanical failure and we have to wait for another train to come out to get us to complete the trip home. Getting back at 1am instead of 9pm sitting on the train for hours was not so fun, but that’s Europe travel for you.