A four-day weekend with nothing planned is an enticing prospect for almost everyone. So when back in February my friends suggested we look for somewhere to escape to over Easter I got to checking out European city break destinations, yes that’s right I have got to a point in my life where I’m considering ‘city breaks’.
With the recent reduction in our direct to Europe transport options Paris wouldn’t have been my first choice, until I started thinking with a litte more student-like logic and turned my attention to trains and the boat option. Hopping on the Condor after work on Thursday over to St Malo, staying overnight in a hotel opposite the train station and a train directly into Paris sounds like a few steps but couldn’t have been easier. By booking our hotel early enough (thanks booking.com) the total cost of getting to Paris was around £140 per person, return.
If you haven’t considered heading to Paris on the direct SNCF TGV train service from St Malo before, then add it into your travelling options mix. I can’t recommend it more highly. If you’re even slightly on the fence about paying the extra euros to travel in first class, this is not a time for being thrifty, do it! The seats are like comfortable armchairs and there are plug sockets beside them and tables which allow you to sit and enjoy a variety of activities during the three hour journey direct into Montparnasse.
So that solves getting there, next accommodation. The options in Paris are almost endless and incredibly confusing if you’ve not been to the city before. Well allow me to further help you there too. As this trip had already taken a slightly studenty turn, staying in a hostel seemed like the obvious solution to our accommodation quandary, not least because there were three of us going. I’m a big fan of the hostel in a new city, they’re a great alternative to a hotel and usually offer you the chance to meet other people and pick up some good tips on places to visit. I stayed in a fair few hostels whilst travelling around South America last year (total cool destination drop), but never before have I stayed in a Generator Hostel, and will I again, hell yes!
The Generator in Paris is a good example of where the slick and cool hotels we’ve become used to merges with the convenience, price and flexibility hostels can now provide. This hostel had all the things we’ve come to expect from a good hotel, funky interiors and design, comfortable beds, good linen, great communal areas, attentive staff etc. Oh and free reliable WiFi throughout, that’s something that makes it stand out from the crowd. All sounds too good to be true doesn’t it, so what don’t you get? To be really honest the things that are missing are not exactly deal breakers, there’s no room service (you’re in Paris, why are you staying in your room?), or a TV (again, Paris…) and if you need a hair-dryer then you’ll need to pop down to reception, a tiny bit of a faff, but really not the end of the world.
Once you’re in situ in Paris then your entertainment options are once again endless. The Generator itself is based In the emerging district of the 10th arrondissement, where you can take a stroll through Buttes-Chaumont park and mix with the locals, wander from art galleries to vintage shops or relax in a café by the Canal St-Martin just a five minute walk away. It’s also directly opposite a Metro station, which opens up the whole of Paris for you to explore.
We combined a mix of visits to full-on tourist hot spots with some less conventional offerings recommended by friends who are regular visitors to the city. You can’t visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, but be warned if you’re planning on getting to the top book your tickets online to minimise the length of time you have to spend in a queue. Consider looking in to purchasing a Paris Pass (www.parispass.com) if you know you’re going to want to hit lots of the museums and cultural sites on your visit, then this will save you both time and money, it also includes unlimited Metro travel and will save you having to have one of the tiniest transport tickets you’ve ever seen, whilst constantly fearing you’ll lose it! It’ll also give you access to the hop-on-hop-off open top bus tours.
On day one, having first borne witness to the stunning architecture that is the Louvre we headed over the Pont des Arts (the bridge that is home to countless ‘love locks’), where you can add your own padlock if you wish (there are plenty of people selling them and markers to personalise your lock), then head to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, for shops, restaurants and afternoon tea at Ladurée (21 rue Bonaparte) where you’ll be wowed by their selection of colourful macarons. After this we continued our walk to see the Notre Dame (the hunchback wasn’t in) and then back over the river once again to pay a visit to the Pompidou Centre, the home of modern art in the city. We then had to stop for much needed cocktails, this is likely to be where you’ll spend most of your money! And for those of you that didn’t know, it is claimed the Bloody Mary was invented in Paris, at Harry’s New York Bar (5 Rue Daunou), we went and checked it out, they’re pretty good!
Day two included, a metro to the base of the Sacré-Cœur and the walk up the many steps to visit one of the most beautiful religious buildings I’ve seen with a cracking view of the city. Followed by a wander through Montmartre, swiftly followed by a whistle-stop visit to the Eiffel Tower, get off at the Trocadéro Metro stop to grab a great view of the tower and walk across the Seine to get to the monument itself. Then it was the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, which you can pay to get inside and up, but to be honest it’ll involve another queue and is just as magnificent from ground level. From here you can walk the length of the Champs Élysées and back to the Louvre through the gardens. In total we walked around 36km (thanks trusty iPhone health app) over the two days we were in the city, which coupled with our Metro stops was a great way to see the city and also meant the return journey was a welcome break.
Whether you’re a culture vulture, want to shop until you drop or just spend your days eating and drinking then you will be spoilt for choice during your visit to this beautiful city. If you love architecture then the exterior of a great many of the buildings you visit will be enough to blow your socks off, a visit to Paris should always include regular breaks to stop and stare at the buildings that surround you. Even during what was actually a rather drizzly visit, I was reminded what an incredible city Paris is and I can’t wait to book my next trip.
Other destinations include: Berlin, Venice, Copenhagen, London, Rome, Barcelona and Dublin.
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