‘I’m writing a post on what to do if you had 24 hrs in Paris,’ I said to one of my lovely blog readers, a Parisian herself, who had given me a call at the start of a chill but sunny day in London (the power of blogging in forming wonderful friendships with people you would never otherwise meet never ceases to amaze me).
I sat in front of my laptop, curling my fingers around a mug of steaming tea, my mind wandering through the beautiful streets of Paris, picturing the elegant white-grey buildings and the trees that would be bare at the moment, darkly outlined against the blank page of sky. Paris is a good idea all the year round, but I think it’s an especially magical place to visit in the winter, when the light is especially beautiful. ‘24 hrs!’ my friend cried down the phone, ‘that is definitely not enough time.’
She was right, of course, 24 hours is definitely not long enough to get more than a glimpse of the many delights one of my favourite cities has to offer, and yet 24 hrs in Paris is definitely guaranteed to be a special and memorable day. The ease of travelling by Eurostar from London – Paris means that spending 24 hrs in the city is very doable, and if you don’t mind what time you travel, then my top tip is to check out the Eurostar snap tickets – they’re a bargain!
Drawing together advice from my Parisian friends, as well as sharing many of my own favourite spots, here are my top suggestions for what to do for 24 hrs in Paris. Be prepared for a jam-packed schedule of eating, drinking, sight-seeing, shopping, pampering and a little more eating!
Start the day bright and early with croissants at one of Paris’ oldest bistros, Café Saint-Régis, in Île Saint-Louis. In the summer, grab a table outside to people watch, or in the winter cosy up indoors and enjoy the atmosphere of a very traditional bistro.
After your petit déjeuner, go for a little stroll around Île Saint-Louis. The tiny island in the middle of the Seine has a wonderful village feel to it, with cobbled streets and artisanal wine, cheese and flower shops. Press your nose up against the splendid cheese displays that beckon from the windows of La Ferme Saint-Aubin, perhaps purchasing some for a picnic-lunch later, or to bring back home. Summer and winter alike, Parisians flock to Glacier Berthillon for their incredible seasonal ice-creams and sorbets ( I recommend a scoop of pistachio ice-cream – for 24 hrs in Paris, you really do have to be prepared to eat all day!).
Île Saint-Louis is home to some splendid hôtel particuliers (grand townhouses), so take the time to admire their gorgeous facades (many of which date from the 1600s). Of particular note are the Hôtel Lambert and the Hôtel de Lauzun. Should you be in the mood for a hot drink after your walk (I always seem to be!), try la Charlotte de l’Isle for the best hot chocolate in the area (the coffee and tea is good too).
Crossing the pont Saint Louise, head through the garden Jean Paul II to Notre-Dame, looking out for the building’s famous gargoyles. Legend has it that a dragon – ‘La Gargouille’ – lived under the Seine hundreds of years ago and would rise up and eat the passing ships. St. Romanus, the Bishop of Rouen, slew the dragon and later mounted its head and neck on the town wall. This symbol became the model for gargoyles throughout France, and, at Notre-Dame, 422 steps wind upwards towards a platform filled with carved gargoyles and chimeras (a mythical creature that is part man, part beast).
Near Notre-Dame is the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle, a 13th Century chapel famed for its Gothic architecture and boasting the world’s largest collection of original stained glass (standing inside makes you feel as if you’re in the heart of an incredible jewel). If the queue to get in isn’t too long, then it’s well worth taking the time to explore this beautiful building.
On your way to Sainte-Chapelle, pause to gaze at the famous Conciergerie clock, an incredibly intricate piece of workmanship situated on the Clock Tower of the Conciergerie, which was Paris’ first public clock.
After admiring these famous landmarks, flower lovers should head to le Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth 2, a speciality flower market also situated on the Île de la Cité. The flowers are housed in Art Nouveau pavilions and offer a glorious riot of scent and colour. The market is open everyday of the week except on Sundays, when it is replaced by the Marché aux Oiseaux (Bird Market), which specialises in the sale of birds, including rare ones.
Several tempting offers await you for lunch. A short distance from Notre-Dame, is Guy Savoy’s restaurant, L’Atelier de Maitre Albert, which offers some great value lunchtime set-menus. This would be a particularly inviting place to visit in the winter, as it has a large, wood-burning fire-place on one end of the room and an open grill on the other. The restaurant specialises in heartening spit roasts, with chicken, veal, lamb and fish on offer.
Alternatively, cross the Seine to the Marais district and enjoy a picnic lunch in the lovely La Place des Vosges, the oldest and most magnificent square in Paris.
You can order sandwiches, salads and cakes to go from Carette, a pretty tea salon overlooking the square. If it’s too cold for picnicking, then order in (Carette serves wonderful hot lemonade in the winter).
La Places des Vosges is also home to Victor Hugo’s former residence, and it’s worth taking the time to see this beautiful mansion, where Hugo entertained fellow literary friends such as Alexandre Dumas.
I love the Marais district because it provides the perfect mix of culture, shopping and people watching. In the winter, I suggest working off your lunch by joining the ice-skaters in the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville.
If you’re in the mood to shop, then this charming district of Paris does not disappoint. Learn about the French Art of Tea and purchase beautiful caddies in luxurious surroundings at Mariage Frères or Dammann Frères. The Mariage Frères branch in the Marais is France’s oldest salon de thé and is well worth a visit to admire the building alone.
I always buy macarons when I’m in Paris, and my favourites are by Pierre Hermé. Fortunately, there’s a PH branch in the Marais district, so be sure to stop by to pick up a box of truly delicious macarons.
The Marais is my favourite district for fashion shopping too. Here are a few places you might like to visit:
Lovers of Sandro would love the clothes in this shop too. It definitely has the cool girl edge.
Look no further for the most stylish coats, capes and blazers.
Classic clothes with a certain je ne sais quoi.
For fantastically designed shoes. I love their ballet flats and loafers.
With a shop at 13 Place des Vosges, it’s worth picking up one of these beautifully made Parisian bags.
This gorgeous concept shop is the perfect place to find beautiful pieces for your home and unique gifts for friends.
Just south of the Marais is Rue Saint-Paul, which is lined by a fantastic collection of independent boutiques and antique shops. It’s definitely worth having a browse along this lovely street. If you love stationery as much as I do, then make sure to pop into Papier +.
This famous museum boasts one of the most complete collections of Picasso’s work, which is arranged in chronological order. There are also lovely paintings by Cezanne, Matisse and Renoir, which were from Picasso’s personal collection. Be warned, though: the queues can be long to enter!
I love this beautiful 16th Century building, which houses a collection showing the history of Paris from the 1700s to the present day. There are gorgeous displays of furniture, paintings and jewellery, and it’s a real treat to wander from room to room. Sadly, the museum is currently closed for renovations until 2019, but it’s well worth visiting once it has opened again!
Maison Europeenne de la Photographie
A must visit for those who are happiest behind the lens; this museum houses an impressive collection of contemporary photography. Note opening hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-8pm.
Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature
One of Paris’ best kept secrets, this museum is full of the beautiful and the bizarre. Examining the history of hunting and man’s relationship with the natural world, the 17th Century mansion contains art, taxidermy and installations that are sure to captivate and surprise.
By this point, you’ll likely be in need of some relaxation, so why not treat yourself to a massage at the lovely Caudalie Spa, which is open until 7pm, Tuesday – Sunday. You’ll feel a new woman after, ready for an evening of more fun!
Should you fancy staying in the Marais area, then a cocktail at The Little Red Door or at Le Mary Celeste would be ideal. The food at Le Mary Celeste is excellent as well, so you could always stay on for supper.
If you’d rather explore some fresh turf, then I’d recommend making your way to the Canal Saint-Martin district. Here, you can enjoy a bite to eat and some excellent wine in one of the area’s many wine bars. Try Le Verre Vole or Mon Oncle le Vigneron.
Paris is enchanting at night, so after your meal take a gentle ramble along the pretty canals before heading back to your hotel.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for how to spend 24 hrs in Paris! I’d love to hear your recommendations as well, so please do pop them in the comments.
Note: this post was written as an entry for the 24 hrs competition run by Accor Hotels, which you can check out here. Follow along the fun with the hashtag #AccorHotels24hrs.
Images used in this post were purchased via Adobe Stock.