There are a million reasons for returning to Paris again and again. It’s one of those places that is constantly evolving and I never tire of it. My recent trip in August happened to be in the middle of the main tourist season (mon dieu!). But having already visited the main attractions the first couple of times, this weekend was exclusively dedicated to soaking up the atmosphere.
Here are some of my favourite things to do in Paris most of which are (even slightly) off the usual tourist trail and will hopefully make your own return visit to the French capital as delightful as mine was this time:
First things first and that usually means getting a guidebook. I absolutely hate dragging around heavy tomes or traffic-stopping maps the size of a small parachute. That’s why I’ve fallen in love with the Cartoville Mapguides. For about 8 euros a pop, they fit into your handbag, feature useful fold-out maps of different areas, handy sightseeing, food and drink tips and are available as Everyman Mapguides in the UK and Knopf Mapguides in the US. Et voila!
I’ve been a fan of the French Open since I started learning to play tennis as a child and loved watching my favourite players battling it out on the red sand of Roland Garros every year on telly. But nothing compares to actually standing on the centre court (seating capacity of 15000), seeing the players’ changing rooms and hearing some behind the scenes stories (never knew that they get a hefty fine if they don’t turn up for interviews after their matches). Roland Garros offers tours in French or English, there is an excellent tennis museum and a souvenir shop too. The metro stop is Porte D’Auteuil.
View of the Centre Court at Roland Garros
I’m always on the lookout for the best coffee in town and am especially thrilled if it comes nicely presented with some sweets and a glass of water AND a view of Notre Dame but without a group of noisy tourists at the next table. Such a gem is La Cafeotheque (metro: Pont Marie). Superfriendly and knowledgeable staff, coffee being roasted on site, a choice of mouthwatering speciality coffees and a cosy atmosphere with mainly local customers. If you’ve been on your feet all day exploring the beautiful streets and parks of Paris, step into La Cafeotheque, lean back and enjoy!
La Duree (e.g. Rue Bonaparte, metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés) is not your ordinary bakery. It is one of the poshest addresses for macarons (not macaroons, see wikipedia for the difference) and other little treats which tend to go down very well as pressies for loved ones back home. If you feel like treating yourself a bit (or big time), this is the place to go. If speciality teas are more your thing, check out Mariage Freres, a tea connoisseur’s heaven in the Marais area (metro: Madeleine).
Some of the dainty delicacies on offer at La Duree
While you’re in Rue Bonaparte drop into Aesop for beautiful natural cosmetics from this Australian brand. I first got hooked on them (ah I love my legal drugs) while travelling in OZ and Cate Blanchett also seems to be huge a fan. So now I treat myself to a few pots of of their special potions whenever I get into one of the few shops in Europe. They do mailorder also, but it’s so much more fun to get the products in person. Rue Bonaparte is also one of my most cherished places in Paris as this is where one of my favourite designers, Eileen Gray used to live most of her life. Her E1027 table is simply the best piece of furniture I’ve ever owned. In fact, if you could hug a glass table I would.
Do as this kitty does, stretch your legs in a shady spot
After so much serious pampering it’s time to lighten up a bit and what better way to do that than to jump on one of the many Paris carousels. You may get some funny looks from the 5-year-olds sharing the wooden horses with you (and a cow, what was that all about?), but don’t let that put you off. Give the little ones a cheerful high five and you’re good to go. You can find these marvels of the past at the bottom of the hill of Sacre Coeur on Montmartre (remember Amelie??), in the Jardin des Tuileries, in the Luxembourg Gardens and also in the Parc du Champ de Mars.
The carousel by the steps of Sacre Coeur
I’ve been very much into artwork by illustrators recently (found another fabulous one in Edinburgh, more later) and came across this artist’s work in the bookshop of the Centre Pompidou. Rebecca Dautremer illustrates mainly young people’s books, the one I took a look at was called ‘Les Princesses’. Here is an interview with her in English to get an idea of how she works. Aren’t the drawings just magical? Both dark and dainty at the same time. Marveilleux if you ask me.
rooftop decorations near Centre Pompidou
Mais non, if you’re still looking for more things to do on a summer’s day in Paris go to one of the free readings at Shakespeare & Co, a quirky bookshop that stocks English-speaking books. Also check out Paris Plages (sand, deckchairs and icecream sellers along the Seine) and the FNAC music festival (free gigs outside the Hotel de Ville including acts like Malians Amadou et Mariam). En fin, after all the excitement of the day head to the Canal St Martin area for a few drinks in one of the many bars and cafes.