Every time I visit Paris, I transform into a better version of myself. At least, I feel like I do. I suppose it’s the spirit of the city, or maybe the wonder and excitement that bubbles beneath my skin at the sight of the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe or a plate of perfectly sculpted croissants.
I stroll through the streets with my head held high and a strong sense of purpose, shouting C’est parti! to my sister because if I let myself slow down, I’ll lose myself in the beauty of the city and we’ll never get to everything on our list. Over the past three years while we’ve been doing springtime Europe cruises, we’ve ended each of them in Paris, spending three or four days in the city at a time. It’s never enough. I could spend a lifetime wandering around the streets of Madeleine or stretched out on the Champs de Mars with a bottle of Bordeaux watching tourists react to the sight of the Eiffel Tower. I could shop at Monoprix every day. It would never be enough. My love for this city is endless.
After two weeks in the Baltics and Scandinavia, Paris was a nice change of pace. We had an extra day this time, but we didn’t spend our four days much differently than our other trips: we went shopping, we had petit dejeuner at a sidewalk café, we rode around the hop on hop off bus and I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures. A few things were new. There was the heat wave that passed through during our visit. Did you know that air conditioning isn’t much of a thing in Paris? Like they don’t use it. That was new. We stayed in a different arrondissement, near the Moulin Rouge this time. We rode the Metro for the first time (and it was so easy that I don’t know why it took us three visits to use it!).
Here are a few of the highlights and my fave memories from our four days in the City of Lights.
French food, much like the lifestyle, is ripe with flavor that’s meant to be savored slowly and enjoyed fully. When we got home, someone asked me what the best thing I ate in Paris was, and I couldn’t choose just one thing!
There was the petit dejeuner we had at a café off the Champs-Élysées, with decadent hot chocolate, rich cappuccinos and a baguette that traveled a dozen steps from the oven to my table. There are the obligatory macarons from Ladurée. And the cream puffs at Odette. I dream of those cream puffs. Nothing I find at home in the best French patisseries we have in Chicago has lived up to them.
There was the crepe at the Eiffel Tower. We always split a crepe at the Eiffel Tower. It’s kind of our thing. There was the pain au chocolat at La Compagnie du Café, where they also brew the best cup of coffee in the 9th arrondissement.
On our final night in Paris, we stopped into a bar off Saint-Georges where they were playing TLC’s greatest hits on repeat, where my rosé was cheaper by the glass than Stephanie’s Diet Coke and where my hamburger came with sides of both remarkably crispy French fries (because, you know, when in France…) and a perfectly fresh salad. Balance, you know? Everything about this meal seemed contradictory in ways that are nearly absurd. It’s honestly one of my favorite memories of our trip.
Every time we go to Paris, we buy tickets to ride around on the L’Open Tour Hop On Hop Off bus. There are quicker, cheaper and more efficient ways to travel around the city if you’re looking to just get from Point A to Point B. But for me, visiting Paris isn’t about getting around as quickly as possible. Getting around is the experience I go there for.
I love sitting on the open upper deck of the bus and riding around. I love experiencing the city as I ride through it, and I love finding new places I never would have found otherwise if I hadn’t ridden past them. I love the part where the bus turns from the Place de la Concorde onto the Champs-Élysées and that cheesy old song by Joe Dassin plays. My favorite thing to do in Paris is wander and admire.
We’ve spent most of our time in Paris on those buses, marveling at the different angles we can observe the Eiffel Tower from, gliding through Bastille and obsessing over how beautiful the Louvre is. It all still takes my breath away.
((And, fun story, we were doing a final ride around on the bus before heading back to the hotel to pack and I had just posted a picture of the Eiffel Tower on Instagram asking if I really had to go home the next day when I got an email from British Airways saying our flight from Paris to London, where we’d connect home to Chicago, was cancelled. It was the most beautiful afternoon and instead of enjoying our final lap around the 7th arrondissement, I was frantically trying to figure out if there was a bus or a train we could take to London to catch our connecting flight home instead. By the time we reached the Esplanade des Invalides, American had already rebooked us on a nonstop flight home direct from Paris. But, you know, I wouldn’t have shed any tears if we had been stuck in Paris for one more day))
I try to buy myself a little something nice whenever we’re in Paris. The prices are so much lower than they are in the US, and with the VAT refund (which you’re eligible for if you spend more than €175 in the same store on the same day), you can save a bunch. And, it doesn’t hurt that the high end designer stores will serve you champagne as you shop!
On our first two visits, I bought handbags at Louis Vuitton. This time, I wanted to expand my horizons, and that’s how I ended up at Gucci, where I bought a gorgeous Soho Disco bag. And then I ended up back at Louis Vuitton the next day to buy a new wallet. A leopard can’t change its spots, the heart wants what it wants and this girl can’t turn down a good deal (and I had just gotten promoted at work, which meant I had a little something extra to celebrate!). My Gucci bag retails for $1,190 in the US, and with 10.25% sales tax here in Chicago, that brings the total price up to $1,311.97. In Paris, the same bag cost me $887 (after the Euro to Dollar conversion), and on top of that, I received a VAT refund of $101.55, bringing the cost down to $785.45, saving me over $500. My Louis Vuitton Emilie wallet retails for $480 in the US (with Chicago sales tax bringing the price up to ~$530). The same wallet in Paris retails for $365, with an additional VAT refund of $41.25, bringing the price of the wallet down to $323.75.
My other favorite shopping in Paris is at the complete other end of the spectrum – at Monoprix. If you haven’t read my other posts on Monoprix, it’s basically the beautiful retail Euro love child you would get if you crossbred Target and H&M, and I am 110% obsessed with it. I literally come to Paris with an extra suitcase so I can bring home cappuccino mixes, mustards and sauces, herb blends, soups, home décor and skincare (or, this year, pieces from the Monoprix x Nathalie Lété collab). It’s my little way of bringing a little bit of Paris home with me every time I visit.
I could have put this up with the shopping, but it was so good I had to break it out as it’s own highlight!
Black Friday is, by far and away my favorite day of the year. I love the deals. I love the crowds. I love the energy. Did I mention I love the deals?
So in Paris, skincare is kind of the thing you shop for – the quality of French skincare products is so much higher and the prices in Paris can’t be beat. Every pharmacie is a little different, and the best one for skincare is City Pharma in Saint-Germain. People queue up to buy all of the skincare and cosmetics they can stuff in their carts and it gets intense. People grabbing at anything and everything. Aisles so full of shoppers you can barely squeeze through. Facetime calls to friends in other countries. In the middle of a weekday, it’s its own kind of mini Black Friday. Every day.
Stephanie bought so much that she qualified for a VAT refund. I didn’t quite hit the threshold, but I did get some great deals on some of my fave products from Caudalie, Vichy, Bioderma and La Roche Posay.
There’s this feeling of wonder and awe that strikes right in the middle of my chest when I turn down a street and see the Eiffel Tower peeking out from behind one of those gorgeous Hausmann-style buildings. I have no less than 50 pictures from this trip alone of the Eiffel Tower as seen from the residential streets surrounding it.
And then there’s the Rue Crémieux, arguably one of the most colorful streets in the world. Every building is swathed in a beautiful pastel shade and they’re all so wonderfully charming, with a cobblestone street lined up the middle. Bloggers flock to the Rue Crémieux for a colorful backdrop to their photo shoots, but because the homes on the street are residential, the owners have started putting up signs to keep strangers off their stoops. Still, it’s a fun stop if you’re passing through Gare de Lyon, which is just up the street.
The blue doors. The wrought iron parapets. The pop of a colorful awning against a neutral taupe façade. A row of perfectly manicured hedges. The checkerboard crosswalks. As we rode through the streets, I tried to commit every detail to memory, and the memory to the way just being there made me feel. The smallest of details is what makes this city so unique, and why year after year, I just can’t stop coming back!
Have you ever been to Paris? What are your fave spots?