The best way to explore the most romantic city in the world is to avoid the tourists, to explore the alternative Paris and experience it as the French do. In this city of contrasts, the best way to experience the essence of Paris is to avoid the queues of map-holding, picture-snapping strangers and instead meander through the streets like the Seine itself and with a splash of red lipstick and a sense of belonging as well as wonder.
As the sun rises on your first day it’s time to begin your exploration, step out of your hotel and straight into the closest café or boulangerie, it doesn’t really matter where. The traditional French breakfast is always the same; a coffee, a croissant and a cigarette. Before the sun is high in the sky, it is time to head out into the trendy neighbourhood of Montmartre and ascend through cobbled streets to the Ivory domes and spires of the Sacré-Cœur basilica. This is your best bet for avoiding most of the hoards of tourists who visit every day. From this position, you can look out over the whole of Paris, over the rooftops and into the sky.
Close by, through some winding streets you will find yourself descending into a basement with black walls and into the Espace Dalí, a permanent exhibition in France devoted to Salvador Dalí, especially to his sculpture. Strange and fantastical beasts, dreams and imaginings peer at you from every wall and platform and its a real treat for art lovers and novices alike.
Once you emerge out of the darkness take a plunge back into the real world by catching an Uber to the towering Arc de Triomphe, this sombre giant is a must see and once you’ve darted through the traffic its quiet stillness in the middle of the hustle and bustle is a relief. Once you’ve soaked it all in, you can follow the point of the Eiffel tower through the streets and to the river. Here you will find one of the foremost modern art museums in the city, the Palais de Tokyo.
The Palais de Tokyo is a sumptuous bounty of shape and colour, the art is not to be understood; only appreciated. There is also a secret benefit to visiting this artist’s mecca, if you sneak around the back entrance there is one of the best views of the Eiffel tower (and the least well known) on the bridge that crosses the river just outside the museum.
From the museum, you can saunter down the river munching on roasted chestnuts and crepes until you come to the beautiful and ornate Pont Alexandre III, one of the most famous bridges in the world and one of the most memorable images of Paris itself. Not far from the bridge, is the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre museum. I always avoid these places since my first visit, the crowds are too much for me.
One of Paris’s best-kept secrets is the Chez la Vieille Restaurant, a Tudor building nestles on the corner of Rue Bailleul. If you want traditional, beautifully made French cuisine in a traditional yet modern Parisian setting, this is THE place to go. You’ll have to book ahead if you want a large table, but if you arrive early, you can sit at the bar, next to the kitchen downstairs and thoroughly enjoy yourself. The menu consists of only 14 dishes, all French and all small, you share a few plates over a fresh baguette and a glass of wine. What could be more French?
Only a few blocks from the restaurant is the Experimental Cocktail Club, one of Paris’s best bars. What’s so great about it? Well, it’s stylish, the drinks are great and it’s always full but that’s not the best bit. The best bit is that it’s a speakeasy… it’s a hidden bar! From the outside, you’d never know that it was full of life. From the street, it appears to be a closed up shopfront with a large, unsmiling man in a black leather jacket loitering outside. Turns out he’s the bouncer. Drinks are expensive (between 13-14 euros each) but they’re delicious, the vodka and elderflower cocktail is my personal favourite. From there, there are tonnes of bars and clubs nearby and you can just wander as you please through the streets.
The next morning, Kenzie and I slept in and after breakfast headed straight to walk around the beautiful Galerie Vivienne. The Galerie, built in 1823, encapsulates the heights of Parisian architecture and fashion and is well worth a visit.
From the Galerie, we meandered through the open streets to the Musée Picasso, housed in a huge sandstone mansion (the Hôtel Salé) in rue de Thorigny, in the Marais district of the city. There is always a queue for the museum but it’s surprisingly fast moving and with over 300 of Picasso’s original works and a new exhibition of Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova’s works it is well worth a visit. The building is simply beautiful and of course, the art is even more incredible.
Our final stop in Paris was Cafe Chilango, this well kept local secret is actually a Mexican restaurant but it’s perfect, authentic, and delicious food and is always full of trendy young Parisians eating tacos. The food is really really good, the restaurant is adorable and it’s a real slice of the multicultural metropolis that is Paris.
Voila! There you have it, the beautiful city of Paris captured in a snapshot of 48 hours, happy travels guys, bon voyage!