Birthdays were exciting as a kid. You got presents, a party, or if you’re a summer baby like me, the family vacation may have coincided with your big day. The teenage birthdays marked even more exciting milestones—driving, voting, and the notorious 21st birthday hangover (I mean party!). I looked forward to planning my birthday celebration every year until about 26. My 25th birthday was probably the last time that I really celebrated with a group of friends. After 25, I just wanted to disappear and have a “treat yo’ self” day each birthday. This pretty much ended up as me disappearing to the beach and soaking in the last of the summertime rays and having a nice dinner out. Maybe it’s just me, but birthdays have shifted from huge celebrations to quietly sneaking away and doing something YOU love.
Anyways, the fun thing about traveling long term is finally getting excited about planning where you’ll be for your birthday. We had been bouncing around from city to city each week, and I just wanted to stay somewhere for 2 weeks before our planned trip to Morocco. So, we decided to stay in Paris for 2 weeks because who wouldn’t want to be in Paris for their birthday??
A lot happened—from stumbling upon a gay pride dance party in front of Hotel de Ville, practicing my french at the Saturday farmers market near Place de la Nation, meeting up with Bryan’s childhood friend under the Eiffel Tower at midnight, shopping for clothes to wear in Morocco, and of course veganizing Julia Child’s recipe for boeuf bourguignon (our apartment smelled AMAZING for 2 days—may have been that she uses 2/3 a bottle of wine in the recipe). Anyways, below you’ll find some of the touristy spots we hit, along with some less touristy spots, and some tips, tricks, and stories in between. I unfortunately lost most of my photos from our time in Paris, so this post will have more phone photos, but I hope you all enjoy it just the same!
Palace of Versailles
A must do for any first time visitor to Paris is a day trip out to Versailles to immerse yourself in the extravagant life of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. We spent nine hours exploring the various palaces and gardens. We rented a tandem bicycle to get around the almost 2,000 acres of gardens. It was an interesting first few minutes to get started, but we got the hang of it pretty quickly! Here are some tips for your visit:
Give yourself the entire day to enjoy Versailles. We were there for 9 hours exploring and packed lunch to have a picnic in the gardens
Be prepared for being surrounded by tons of people. The Palace of Versailles is after all one the most popular attractions in Paris. How to beat the crowds? Don’t visit on a Tuesday or a Saturday, these are their busiest days. Book a timed entry ahead of time and as early as possible. We booked a Passport with a timed entry (our time slot was 9:00 am—the first one available). If we had not booked ahead of time I don’t think we would have gotten inside. It took us 30 minutes to get inside even with a prebooked ticket!
Also check the train and metro websites to see if any of the lines are closed. The Versailles website told us to take a particular train, but when we arrived at the train station we learned it was shut down for maintenance for the summer. Luckily we had given ourselves enough time to go an alternate route and still make it to Versailles on time.
Get the audio guide! It makes you feel a little less like a sheep being herded through the palace.
The days when they have musical gardens cost extra, but are so worth it! We loved all the fountain displays and music—you really felt like royalty strolling through the perfectly manicured hedges and gardens.
Tour the summer homes, they are absolutely worth it!--rent bikes or a golf cart to explore so you don't wear yourselves out too much
Bring water. We drank 3L between the two of us while we were there.
Be aware of pickpockets--this is just a general guideline through all of Paris. We never had an issue though.
One thing I really wanted to do was a Marie Antoinette photoshoot as my “treat yo’ self” birthday present. Unfortunately, August is also the month where most businesses shutdown for summer vacation, so they were unfortunately closed. If you are so inclined though, check out Costumes et Chateaux in Versailles, where both women and men can try on clothing from Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s time and even stage some photos for a keepsake.
The most visited museum in Paris is hands down the Louvre. We visited the museum exactly 2 months after Beyonce and Jay-Z released their “Apes**t” music video, which was shot there. They had a tour that took you to all the artworks featured in the music video, but what Bryan and I wondered was how much does it cost to rent out the Louvre?? According to this Newsweek article, around $21,000! Whoa. Anyways, here are some tips for your visit to the Louvre:
Similar to the Palace of Versailles, get a timed entry and opt for an early time slot. This is another extremely crowded place. We also booked an audio guide which we thought was worth it.
See the Mona Lisa first thing. We did that and found it pretty easy to get up front to look at it. We walked by the room where it's displayed a few hours later--you could barely get in the room from all the people!
You're not going to see everything. We picked 3 of the exhibits we really wanted to see and only did the audio guide highlights of those. We did the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, Italian paintings, and Islamic arts exhibit. We walked through a few others quickly, but after 4 hours we were museum-ed out.
Stay hydrated and pack snacks!
The Eiffel Tower
Due to terrorist threats many Paris attractions have extra security measures. Walking up to and underneath the Eiffel Tower is still free, but you have to go through a security checkpoint. It opens at 9 am, which is when we went. The line moved quickly. Once inside, we liked that we weren't bothered by people selling mini Eiffel Tower statues or other goods, so there are some pros to that security checkpoint!
1. We didn't ride to the top, because it isn't the best view of Paris (you're pictures won't have the Eiffel Tower in them!) The best view in Paris is the Montparnasse Tower, which is the only skyscraper in Paris. You can buy a ticket to go up to the viewpoint, or for the same price you can have an overpriced breakfast in the Ciel de Paris restaurant and get the same view.
2. We came back to the Eiffel Tower after dark to experience the twinkly lights! They go on every hour starting 5 minutes before the hour and twinkle for about 8 minutes. Bring a wine bottle, cups, and a picnic. It will be crowded and you will get bothered by people trying to sell you stuff, but we still had a blast looking up in awe at the twinkly lights and sharing a bottle of wine.
Other Paris Attractions
Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees
We leisurely walked up here and did a little shopping too. Be prepared for the crowds!
While we didn’t go inside because of the long lines and how it felt like the 100th Gothic cathedral we had looked at, but if you are only in Europe for a short time we would recommend going inside!
Pont Neuf Bridge
This bridge is not only Paris’ oldest bridge, but also the most hilarious to look at due to the adornment of funny faces spanning the bridge’s length. The story I heard from a 2012 walking tour is this: Henry IV organized a party and had a caricature artist capture expressions of various drunk partygoers. He then had them made into statues to decorate the bridge. Apparently he invited his enemies to this party because those faces are not pretty! This could be true or false, but I like the story just the same. Take a stroll along the Parc de Rives Seine by the bridge on the north side of the river. Lined with riverside pop-up cafes & bars and lounge chairs full of sunbathers, this park was created in 2013 to provide more green park space in Paris.
Sacre-Coeur is a church in Montmartre where you can sit on the steps and overlook the city. We would recommend hitting up a grocery store to get wine (and an opener), a fromagerie to get some cheese, and a boulangerie to get a baguette and some pastries. Bring all that to the steps at the foot of the church and take in the view, or better yet, the sunset!
Dine at a French Cafe
One of Bryan's friends suggested for dinner Le Petit Parisien in Monmartre. It is a cozy little French restaurant and is relatively inexpensive.
Eat French Macaroons
Maybe a part of your picnic at Sacre Coeur will include some French macaroons? Our friends suggested this place as the best to visit: Christophe Roussel
Try Pastries at Paris’ Oldest Patisserie
Stohrer is the oldest patisserie in Paris. Even if you don't get anything, the shop itself is gorgeous!
Ride Metro Line 11
Bryan and I were surprised when riding Line 11 of the Paris Metro to see a train literally roll up to our stop. This line still has train cars from the 1960’s and have rubber tires. Pretty cool to ride on, although the ride itself is a little bumpy. For a place to stop, check out the Metro stop Arts et Metiers—you won’t be disappointed!
Splurge at Paris’ Shopping Malls
Okay, so we didn't buy anything at the Printemps Grand Magasin, but I loved walking through it. Such an interesting concept for a mall! And across the street is the fanciest food court I've ever seen at Galeries Lafayette.
Visit Jim Morrison’s Grave at Pere Lechaise Cemetery
Jim Morrison of the band The Doors is buried in this huge cemetery. Filled with towering monuments of gravestones that often have whole families buried underneath, this cemetery was very interesting to walk through.
See a Jazz Concert
One of our most memorable experiences was enjoying a small jazz concert in the basement of O Chateau, a great wine bar in Paris. We booked our concert through AirBnb Experiences, which you can find here. Etienne and Melina were a fantastic duo and had us thoroughly entertained throughout the evening. We arrived about half an hour before the concert began and ordered a glass of wine from the bar to take downstairs to the concert with us. We highly recommend this unique experience the next time you’re in Paris!
Vegan Eats in Paris
Paris was surprisingly very vegan friendly! I had no issues finding cute cafes, fast casual restaurants, coffees, and even vegan Camembert!! Here is a list of our favorites:
1. Le Potager du Marais—Only open Wednesday through Sunday. Must make reservations, you have to try their veganized version of French onion soup and the Rolled lupine bean roast. Cute cafe and the waiter is really friendly and speaks english
4. VG Patisserie—If you happen to be in the area in the morning, get the most amazing croissant you've ever had. Along with delicious and gorgeous pastries and sweets, you’ll forget that this patisserie is even vegan. If you go for lunch, try their quiche!!
5. Gentle Gourmet—I really wanted to go here for my birthday but they are on vacation all month (the french are notorious for taking vacations in August...so many places were closed while we were here!!)
6. Mon Epicerie Paris—We stocked up on vegan camembert and other vegan cheeses here for our picnics :) The woman that owns this shop is very helpful and friendly. Try the vegan bacon here as well if you’re in an apartment—it’s been our favorite vegan bacon yet! Oh! and we made a taste test video of the cheese board I made below of all the products we purchased at Mon Epicerie Paris. Check it out below…
7. Un Monde Vegan—Apparently this is the largest vegan grocery store, which was closed while we were visiting.