A Tauck Tour Director’s Favorite Things to Do in Paris

Posted by Guest Blogger on 11/21/2012
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: France, Travel, Europe

From Guest Blogger Robbi Battey, Tauck Tour Director

I love Paris. Who doesn't? And I love to share the places I find myself going back to again and again. Not surprisingly, all involve fabulous food!

1. Middle Eastern food in the Marais

Join Parisians and tourists alike, any day but Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, for a stroll in the Marais. This lively, hip area is also a historic Jewish neighborhood. I like to shop at the small boutiques along rue des Francs-Bourgeois and sometimes stop in at the excellent Museum of Jewish Art and History (71 rue du Temple; closed Saturdays and High Holy Days), housed in one of the Marais’ most beautiful 17th-century hôtels (mansions). But I always buy a falafel from the take-away window at L'As du Fallafel (34 rue des Rosiers) or, if I have the time to wait for a table, I’ll sit down around the corner at Chez Marianne (2 rue des Hospitalières Saint-Gervais) and order the Middle Eastern meze plate.

Everyone's eating falafel in the Marais

Falafel

2.   A pilgrimage to Sainte-Chapelle – and ice cream!


Sainte-Chapelle has some of the most beautiful stained glass on the planet. Visiting is a much more intimate experience than at Cathédrale Notre Dame. Built in the 13th century to house Christian relics, including the Crown of Thorns (now at Notre Dame), enter at the lower chapel to view the oldest wall painting in Paris, the Annunciation, at the back on the left. Signage is not great, so make sure to find your way to the small circular stairs in the corner; they lead to the amazing upper chapel. Here the walls are seemingly made entirely of stained glass and depict over 1,000 scenes from the Bible. Ideally, go early on a sunny day to maximize the lighting effects of the stained glass. Save some time by purchasing your ticket next door at La Conciergerie (2 boulevard du Palais), and then bypass the longer ticket line at Sainte-Chapelle.

Sainte-Chapelle’s upper chapel

Sainte Chapelle, Upper Chapel

Île Saint-Louis is famous for its Berthillon ice cream, available at two or three walk-up windows on the main street, at the Berthillon Tea Salon (29 rue Saint Louis), or at any of the sidewalk cafés displaying a Berthillon sign. I love to get a cornet (cone) with two boules (scoops) – coffee and chocolate parfums (flavors). The fruit flavors are also delicious, especially frais du bois (made with insanely flavorful, small, wild berries).  

From here, walk over to the Pont de l'Archevêché bridge to eat your glace (ice cream) while contemplating the amazing flying buttresses of Notre Dame. Keep an eye out for young lovers locking padlocks to the bridge before throwing the key over their shoulders into the Seine – a ritual that has been going on for many years, as evidenced by the thousands of "love locks" on the bridge. If you are similarly inspired, you might find an entrepreneur nearby who would be happy to sell you a lock. Or bring your own and surprise the love of your life!

 “Love locks” on the Pont de l'Archevêché & a young couple about to toss the key as a sign of their lasting love

Love Locks

3. A boat ride on the Seine, after a picnic near the Eiffel Tower

A number of riverboat companies provide tours along the Seine; boats are docked near the Eiffel Tower on both sides of the river. One-hour tours depart all day long and into the night; there are also lunch and dinner cruises. Although a nighttime tour is very dramatic with Paris’ monuments alight, I love to go in the late afternoon when the light is especially beautiful and you can see Parisians picnicking or socializing along the banks.

The opulent Pont Alexandre III, seen from the boat

Pont Alexandre From Boat

The Louvre, seen from the boat

The Louvre

Before the boat ride, I try to visit rue Cler, one of the great market streets in Paris, to buy some cheese, fresh bread, chocolate and wine, for a picnic on the Champs de Mars. This large park extends from the École Militaire to the Eiffel Tower. Don't be afraid to experiment with the 300+ cheeses made in France. My favorites are Comté, Saint Marcellin and Époisses, paired with a long, thin, crusty baguette.

Picnicking on the Champs de Mars

Champs de Mars

4.  Tango dancing along the Seine & café culture in Saint-Germain

When the weather is nice, locals gather in the evening at the Quai Saint-Bernard along the Seine to tango, accompanied by recorded music. It's free and lots of fun, whether you come to dance or to watch. Walk east along the river on the Left Bank, from the Pont de Sully, for about five minutes. Then listen for the tango music!

Tango dancers along the Quai Saint-Bernard

Tango Dancers

Afterwards, stroll along boulevard Saint-Germain and stop for a drink or coffee, or a light meal, at one of the two sidewalk cafés made famous by Hemingway and Sartre. Les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germaine des Prés) and Café de Flore (172 boulevard Saint-Germain) are located across the street from each other, making it easy to try both. Or if you prefer, look for a quieter, less celebrated establishment. Wherever you end up, experience café culture à la française: sit where you can see and be seen, order a kir – a popular Parisian ápero (apéritif), made with white wine and a splash of black currant liqueur. Then settle in for an hour of philosophical discussion, people watching or merry-making, and enjoy where the evening takes you!

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