8 hours in Paris
Why would you go to Paris for the day? That was the question I was often asked when revealing my plans to go to Paris for a bank holiday. Why not? – was my response and indeed why not visit Paris for the day or 8 hours in this case?
For those of us living in or close to London, we can be in Paris via the Eurostar train in 2 hours 17 minutes. It had already been almost 3 years since my last trip to Paris, to watch Roland Garros, and so, I was so eager to return that I would have been willing to travel there for only an hour if that was the offer! Plus, Paris will always occupy a special place in my heart.
I assume that, like myself, you may have already visited Paris countless times and so I will not be mentioning most of the extremely well-known tourist attractions. Well, aside from one sight which I’ll briefly reference later as I felt compelled to pass by!
For this trip, I visited some of the arrondissements and other areas that I had either not visited previously or else had been there on very few occasions and so hopefully there may be new places for you to add to your list for Paris too!
En route to Paris
A 7.30am train out of St Pancras station was a rather early start but it did mean arriving in Paris before 11am to make the most of the day! The free wifi aboard the trains is very useful for the journey to catch up on watching those boxsets and most of the plugs can be found between the seats to ensure that those cameras are fully charged!
Fortunately, I still had a few carnet tickets available from my previous trip to Paris to use for the metro. As such tickets do not have an expiry date, it is worthwhile retaining a few to avoid queueing at Gare du Nord on arrival! However, as we discovered and a few other French passengers did too, the magnetic strip on the tickets does wear out rendering the ticket unusable at the barriers! Thankfully, these can be replaced free of charge at a ticket counter.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
The Fondation Louis Vuitton was the first item on the agenda, which is a 40 minute metro journey away from Gare du Nord. This art museum is fairly new compared to the other renowned Parisian museums as it opened towards the end of 2014. It has a very innovative design for its building, which resembled a glass ship to me and was designed by Frank Gehry. It is certainly an architect’s dream and there are tours available to explore such architectural delights.
A good way to avoid any queues to enter the fondation is by purchasing the tickets online which can even be purchased on the day of visit. The tickets were only EUR 16 which includes entry to the jardin d’acclimatation, which is in the Bois de Boulogne. There is an additional cost, of approximately EUR 1 one way, to take the shuttle to the entrance of the museum however, which arrive every 15 minutes. I found that it was much easier to walk there directly from the metro station Les Sablons with a nice 10-15 minutes stroll through some of the leafy streets of Neuilly admiring the lovely cafes en route.
If you are planning a trip to Paris before mid June 2019, then you will also be able to peruse its temporary exhibition of some of the impressionist paintings by Renoir, Monet, Degas and others. These paintings are from the collection of the Courtauld family, which is based at the Courtauld Gallery in London. It is a large, impressive exhibition with many works to observe.
It is quite easy to become immersed in this collection for 2-3 hours as well as watching the video providing a background to the Courtauld family. There is still a second exhibition to venture upstairs to explore however and so leave enough time to visit that one too! After being submerged in the dreamy world of the Impressionists filled with pastel colours, this additional exhibition offers a modern contrast.
A very instagrammable display, with mirrors, is also available in room 11, by the artist Yayoi Kusama, and so it is worthwhile standing in the short queue to capture a quick photo in there.
I can see just how easy it would be to spend at least half a day at the fondation exploring its airy galleries and the architect sections as well as embarking on a tour of the pretty Japanese gardens and other gardens on its grounds. There is also a zoo within the grounds of the gardens which would be ideal for those travelling with families.
If it had not been raining on that day then we might also have tried to attend one of the races that occur in another section of the park. I can certainly believe that it would be entirely possible to remain in the Bois de Boulogne on its vast grounds for an entire day attending the various events on offer!
However, the next stop on the agenda was a visit to Île Saint-Louis in the 4th arrondissement. After watching the film Hadewijch, in French cinema class, with several scenes occurring on Île Saint-Louis I realised that it was likely that I had never visited such island before. So, I was certainly on a mission to wander through the area on this trip.
As several of the metro stations on line 1 were closed, due to the Gilets Jaunes protests, it meant that the direct journey to St Paul station, to access Île Saint-Louis, was relatively quick. Lots of winding streets can be found from the train station, such as Rue du Prévôt which provided glimpses into everyday Parisian life and reminded me of scenes from the film Midnight in Paris. I would have loved to wander around more and be a flaneuse at that point admiring the Haussmann architectural style!
I always enjoy stumbling across hidden streets and pretty mews whilst abroad and so I’ll have to return to explore the area more on a longer trip to Paris! However, the focus at such point was on getting across to Île Saint-Louis!
En route to Saint-Louis, the jardin de l’hôtel de sens with its labyrinthine style front gardens, is a very instagrammable spot for photos. Fortunately, at that point the sun decided to make a re-appearance just in time to cross the bridge over the Seine on the Île Saint-Louis.
It was so calm on Île Saint-Louis that Saturday afternoon that I could have remained exploring its charming streets for the entire afternoon! I was therefore pleased to have a bit of a chance to be that flaneuse and wander aimlessly around some of the residential streets.
Unfortunately, quite a few of the antique shops and other restaurants and cafes were already closed for the day. However, renowned venues such as L’Île Flottante, with its scrumptious looking ice cream, could be admired from afar!
There are a few churches as well on the Île to visit and so we were able to pop in to Eglise Saint-Louis-en-Île, which is under restoration but can be accessed from a side door. It is certainly worth a visit to view its clock tower and beautiful interior and art works.
It was certainly time to eat after all the cultural activities! Thankfully, one of the few restaurants still open in that late afternoon period was Sorza. By chance, I had discovered this restaurant from a Parisian account that I follow on Instagram and its cuisine looked delicious from the photos and so I was enticed. It also seemed ideal as it was tucked away from the well-trodden paths on Saint-Louis as a hidden gem.
I would describe the cuisine at Sorza as Mediterranean fusion with a few French classic dishes, such as onion soup. The restaurant is cozy with a red and black décor and importantly the formule menu is available until 7pm! There is the option of the two course formule at EUR 23 or the three course formule at EUR 28.
The aubergine fondante and the salmon risotto were deliciously well made and satisfied those hunger pangs. I was pleased that I had only opted for the two course formule as the dishes were very filling! The service was also rather attentive with ample time to relax over a smooth glass of Saint Emilion and the opportunity to practice my French!
The late afternoon period seemed like the ideal time to visit the restaurant as it was not very busy. There are still so many scrumptious looking items on its menu for me to try and so I shall return! I would recommend a visit!
After dinner walk through Paris
As the dishes were so filling, there was still enough time for a brief walk to digest it all! Whenever I am in Paris, I always feel compelled to visit the Seine, to be mesmerised by its tranquility, and to spend some time on the Left Bank around St Germain or the Latin Quarter. From Île Saint-Louis, it was necessary to traverse Île de la Cité to venture on to the Left Bank. This meant that we would be passing by Notre Dame after all!
I was still on holiday in the Caribbean when the news broke a few days before Easter Sunday of the fire that had damaged parts of the roof of Notre Dame. It was shocking news and we therefore had to adjust the itinerary for this daytrip slightly as a result. However, whilst walking through Île de la Cité, it was impossible not to gravitate towards the church to view its iconic architecture.
Unfortunately, as the roads leading up to Notre Dame are currently barricaded then the better views are from the bridges by the Seine. It is also from here that some of the extent of the damage to the roof of Notre Dame is more visible, which is saddening. Such travel restrictions did mean that several diversions were necessary to arrive on to la rive gauche (Left Bank) via the main bridges, such as Pont St Michel.
To add to the drama of the detours, a torrential rain downpour occurred at that time and my phone battery died whilst the map service was indicating the shortest diverted route to take! But, even in the rain it is always a pleasant trip across the Seine admiring the pretty views across Paris and I love being immersed in its ambience.
It appeared that most of the weekend visitors to Paris were congregated around Place St Michel as it was teeming with life! A visit to the fontaine St Michel, to view its statue, was unfortunately where this day trip had to end.
Time had run out unfortunately to be able to fit in a visit to the bookshop Shakespeare & Co and the wine bar Chez Nous in St Germain.
We were returning on a 7pm train back to London which in hindsight was probably too early to return. It just means that I shall have to plan another visit to Paris soon where I can also visit the cafe Angelina, La Maison Rose and Café Mabillon amongst other places!
So, would I go to Paris again for a day trip? Absolutely and I would encourage you too to consider hopping on the train to Paris and travelling light for a day!