In April 2017 my partner and I visited Paris for my birthday weekend which also happened to be Easter weekend. For three days we stayed in and explored Montmartre and used public transport and our own two feet to venture outside my favourite area of Paris to other must-see sites.
- Recommended restaurants: Au Pied du Sacre Coeur (French) and Okinawa (Japanese)
- Restaurants don’t open until around 7pm for dinner
- A great way of seeing Montmartre is by catching the Little Train of Montmartre
- Have a happy hour at Le Chat Noir where you can get cocktails for €4.50!
- For local restaurants, fromageries etc around Montmartre, walk to the back of the Sacre Coeur and down the many, many steps to a MUCH quieter and cheaper area away from tourists
- Watch out for the people (all guys but I’m trying not to be sexist!) at the Sacre Coeur who will attempt to put a piece of string on your wrist, particularly if you look like a tourist. Also watch out for pickpockets
- Book the Moulin Rouge show in advance of arriving into Paris to secure tickets
- If you buy the single paper tickets for public transport, don’t put them near your smart phone, coins or zipper because they’re magnetised and won’t work otherwise! Back up plan is to take them to the Services desk to get them reactivated
- Walk as much as you can, you’ll find more hidden gems!
- Trocadero Gardens are a great place to see the Eiffel Tower day or night
After birthday celebrations last night in London, I was relieved to be catching the Eurostar train to Paris instead of trekking to the airport. You only have to be at St Pancras International station 30 minutes before departure (though I would recommend at least 1 hour) and you can pack all your favourite face creams larger than 100ml without worry!
We chose to stay at the Ibis Hotel Sacre Coeur which is a budget 3 star hotel. For us it was the perfect location seeing as my favourite area of Paris is Montmartre which was right on our doorstep! We could even see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony. AND it’s only a 15 minute walk from Gare Du Nord where the Eurostar arrives into.
Feeling exhausted, I played the birthday ‘card’ and had a quick rest at the hotel while my other half sourced lunch. Having walked past a delicious looking boulangerie (bakery) earlier, that’s where he backtracked to, to grab a salad sandwich made with fresh, doughy bread, and a quiche. Doesn’t sound too exciting right?! Wrong. What seemed so simple tasted SO good and we had the energy we needed now to explore Paris.
First stop – Sacre Coeur. This well-known landmark in Paris is one of my favourites, even more so than the Eiffel Tower! There’s lots of green grass to choose from to set up a picnic or take a load off and admire the view. We did a bit of both, enjoying some different flavoured macaroons as we took in the sights.
Check out my earlier tip number 6 if you haven’t already. The guys work in groups and I remember them from my first visit to Paris in 2011. On our second encounter for the weekend they had my partner by the wrist and were not happy with our polite request of ‘no thanks’, a smile and an attempt to walk through them as they blocked our path. They then had the nerve to tell US not to get aggressive. Avoid them! If you’re lucky they might only be on one side of the walkway up to Sacre Coeur and you can walk stress-free up the other side.
With the sun shining this was quite possibly my favourite day in Paris out of all three. The fromageries were full of people (and cheese!) and in general the Montmartre area was just lovely to walk around. As it got closer to dinner time we plugged in ‘Au Pied du Sacre Coeur’ into Google Maps which is a restaurant recommended by our friend and Montmartre local now living in London. The restaurant name means ‘at the foot of the Sacre Coeur’ and it was literally at the bottom of the many steps towards the glory of where the locals go and not the tourists.
The restaurant didn’t open until 7pm and we got there soon after so we were the only people dining there for at least 45 minutes! We decided to be brave and tried frogs legs as an entree. They were smothered in garlic and served on a bed of lettuce with smoked bacon bits so they were disguised quite well. It’s true what people say, they taste like chicken! I managed to stomach at least two of them by focusing my mind on anything other than cute green frogs… Overall though we highly recommend this restaurant. The food was delicious, reasonable priced and the people working there were really friendly.
On the way back to our hotel we wandered through the red light district past the Moulin Rouge. There is sex shop after sex shop here if you’re into that kind of thing. You will also be offered drugs in a VERY inconspicuous way as you walk along particularly the middle pathway between the streets on either side. I saw the Moulin Rouge show in 2013 and recommend it though make sure you book in advance of your trip. I missed out in 2011! Instead I saw the Lido show then which I also recommend. Slightly cheaper, less tourists and a bit easier to get tickets to. One place in the red light district I WILL be visiting this time is the Le Chat Noir. It is thought to be the FIRST modern cabaret nightclub and is covered in black cats, which is the english translation of its name.
To top off a great day in Paris, we saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling from our hotel room balcony. It sparkles for 5 minutes on the hour every hour. I can guarantee it sparkles until at least midnight and an internet search says until 1am or even 2am in summer. So pretty!
Saturday – Opera House, Musee de l’Armee, Champs-Elysées, Le Chat Noir & Eiffel Tower
Happy birthday to me! The weather wasn’t quite as hoped so today was the day for exploring indoors. But first it was time for breakfast. France and I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to breakfast. It’s usually all bread and croissants and I can do it once but not EVERY morning. Determined, we found the perfect breakfast spot nearby in Montmartre, a cafe called KB. Happiness at this time was avocado on toast sprinkled with paprika, a side of rocket and a tall milky latte.
Despite having been to the Opera House two times previously, we found ourselves back there to show my other half what he missed out on in his previous visit to Paris. It was a bit too far for us to walk so we decided to catch the Metro. There are lots of options for tickets but we thought the smartest and best value for us was to buy the book of 10 tickets for €14.50. Otherwise they are €1.90 each per trip. Revert back to tips – don’t get caught out with tickets that don’t work like us!
Anyway back to the Opera House. This place is magnificent. My favourite room is the Grand Foyer covered in gold walls and colourful, religious paintings on the ceiling. Another favourite is the room with the staircase leading up to the Amphitheatre. The theatre itself is of course stunning though during this visit it was mostly in the dark for art purposes (art works lit up on the stage).
Next was the Musee de l’Armee which had actually caught our attention all the way from our hotel room. It has a pointed gold roof that I thought belonged to the Opera House but I was wrong! It is a massive complex with lots of war ‘stuff’ and even Napolean’s tomb. We didn’t pay to go inside and instead just walked through the large square similar to Somerset House in London. Busting to go the toilet, we found a cafe with a toilet inside and took the opportunity to have a sugar and lemon crepe and coffee. Yum! There were Napoleon hats on the tables for kids to wear. My big kid partner put his Napoleon hat on as soon as he realised it wasn’t some sort of placemat.
Eric Kayser Artisan Boulangerie – recommended. We stumbled across it on our way to the Musee d’Orsay and bought a slice of pizza bread. Bite after bite we couldn’t eat it quick enough as we sat on the banks of the River Seine and watched the boats go by. Unfortunately the line at the museum was WAY too long for our precious time so we ditched that idea and headed towards the Champs-Elysées.
It was packed as per usual and there was a crowd around the Gap store. When we got close enough we could see a DJ inside the window but couldn’t understand how the sound was OUTSIDE the store. So, we crossed the road and saw the speakers in the doorway. Everyone was loving it! People were getting selfies with the DJ in the background and little girls were spinning each other around inside the circle of people.
On a sad note and quite the contrast, along Champs-Elysées we saw quite a few Syrian families begging for money. There was even a man with his two children, one in a pram…
We continued on as we were determined to get a photo with the Arc de Triomphe. Momentarily we were just like all the other silly tourists taking a selfie in the middle of oncoming traffic (don’t try this at home) until we finally got one much closer to the Arc de Triomphe. Tip – if your selfie is full of other people in the background taking a selfie, cross the road to the other side where it might be a bit quieter.
So tired, we headed home for what was supposed to be time to glam up but ended up being a two hour nap. Oops! We had admitted defeat to our droopy eyes and laid down with an alarm set for 45 minutes of resting time. Either the alarm didn’t work or it was too quiet and I woke up thanks to my own internal alarm clock, checked the time and squealed for us to get up! My partner thought we’d missed a train or something.
I didn’t think so yesterday but I’m glad the French eat quite late! It was only 8pm so we still had time for a drink at Le Chat Noir before dinner. They had a jazz band there and the atmosphere was buzzing. Unfortunately we missed happy hour (it was until 8pm!) when you can get cocktails for €4.50. Instead we paid €10 each but they were worth it and it was my birthday so we were indulging ourselves!
Which takes me onto restaurant tip number two from our same local friend – Okinawa Japanese restaurant. He told us that there are SO many Chinese restaurants in Paris that the Chinese have started opening Japanese restaurants. This was one of them. When we arrived and saw the sushi and sashimi sign out the front we thought it may not be for us. Oh my God it was to DIE FOR! We even had a whole plate of sashimi and ate every last piece. They have other options there like chicken and beef though I would only suggest going there if you can stomach sashimi. I rustled up the courage to tell them who recommended us and because they knew who we were talking about, we got a photo taken together!
This was when we caught an Uber and got into a fluster about making it to Trocadero Gardens in time to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. I had it in my head that the last sparkle was at 11pm and we certainly weren’t going to make it there in time. Especially seeing as we couldn’t find our uber driver and tried to speak to him over the phone in a mix of terrible French and English. The language barrier is real. Our stress was relieved when I consulted Google and found that the last sparkle is actually later on. Phew! Trocadero Gardens is a great place to see the sparkle. Check out my Vlog to see it and decide for yourself.
Sunday – Pink Flamingo Pizza at Canal du Saint Martin, Little Train of Montmartre
Breakfast at KB. What can I say? It was good yesterday and after looking at the menu outside a few other cafes, we gave in and went back to our favourite. Bonus – a beautiful, happy dog outside to whom I could sit within arm’s reach.
What do you do after breakfast? Make your way to lunch of course! We chose to walk to Canal du Saint Martin which was about half an hour away. Along the way we found a hidden gem, the Elise Saint Vincent de Paul on Rue d’Abbeville. It’s a beautiful old church that at this time of year is surrounded by colourful spring time flowers.
Enjoying pizza and drinks from Pink Flamingo along Canal du Saint Martin was a tip from a family member that used to live in Paris. Got to love local tips! They’ve all been spot on. We arrived at Pink Flamingo around their opening time (12 to 2:30pm for lunch) and were their first customers of the day. After attempting to decipher the menu in French, we were given an English menu and chose a fairly plain cheese, tomato and basil pizza and two beers. It was handed over to us in bright pink packaging and we headed towards a spot in the sunshine away from the locals we blended in with. No obvious tourists in sight!
We used our last Metro tickets and caught the Metro back to Montmartre for a picnic. Sadly the fromagerie we had our eye on was closed! Nooo! We are still not sure if it was because they’re normally closed on Sundays or if it was because it was Easter Sunday. Should have bought the cheese yesterday! Oh well. A sandwich and sweet treat from another boulangerie wasn’t a bad alternative. We found a spot on the steps at Sacre Coeur and shared our food as we watched a very talented guy with his soccer ball. I’ve seen him the past few times I’ve been in Paris and he never ceases to amaze me. He goes from doing tricks with the soccer ball, to doing MORE tricks with the soccer ball as he climbs a tall light post. But not just any light post. This one has a great view of Paris in the background. Look out for him!
With a few hours left in Paris we made our way to find the Little Train of Montmarte. The last train was leaving near the top of the Funicular stop at Sacre Coeur at 6pm. It was a 40 minute round trip in which we went around Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and the red light district with information about the areas in French, English and Spanish. The highlights for me were seeing the famous vineyard of Montmartre where a bottle of wine can set you back €1500 and the Au Lapin Agile Cabaret that existed circa 1860 under different names. The train cost €6 per person and I highly recommend it!
After our little train ride, it was time to catch the big train back to London. Just over 2 hours on the Eurostar and we were home. Not a bad birthday weekend, don’t you think?