Ever since seeing the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris (2011), I have romanticized the idea of strolling the streets of Paris at night. I imagined walking the cobblestone paths beside the Seine, soft accordion music echoing down the river past the Tour Eiffel, Louvre, and the Notre-Dame and up into the Parisian night.
Last week, I was lucky enough to finally experience Paris as I’d been hoping to – and it was honestly just as I’d imagined it would be. I only had one night in the city, but I made the most of the time that I had there and spent hardly any time in the hotel. Here is how I experienced Paris in 24 hours.
I arrived at the Charles De Gaulle Airport at 9am with my friend Charlotte from Versailles (pro travel tip: make friends with someone who is from the country you’re visiting if possible), and hopped on a train to the ‘St. Michel Notre Dame’ stop, which was nearest to my hotel. I stayed at Hotel La Lanterne – great location, comfortable rooms, a Turkish Bath, and friendly staff (they were very forgiving of my terrible French…). After checking in, we got right to exploring on foot.
First stop, Croque-Madames at Le Depart (a famous French eatery). What’s more French than a meal involving both la fromage (cheese) and le pain (bread). It was delicious and sitting out on the street gave me a chance to take in the feel of the city. People bustled by on their way to work. The French language was music to my ears (mostly because I really can’t understand it and thus, it sounded like music rather than language). Mopeds, cars, and bikes flew by at incredible speeds while we sipped on our coffee and savored the rich, yolk-soaked, cheese-layered bread.
Next, it was time to see the sights. We started on foot and strolled through colorful street markets, little alleys lined with shops, and westward down the Seine past the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and the Tuileries Garden. If you follow the river this way, you will see most of the central attractions of Paris in one fell swoop. The Louvre, and adjacent Tuileries Gardens, were absolutely beautiful. The vibrant yellow and orange autumn leaves outlined the perfectly manicured lawns, as the pigeons pecked for seed around quaint fountains throughout the vast park. A vibrant, old fashioned carousel sat behind a grove of rectangularly shaped hedges. Couples strolled the orderly gravel paths, which defined the space.
Note: The wait for actually going into the Louvre is always quite long, so be prepared for that. I find that, when I visit a place for a short stay, I prefer walking the city more than spending lots of time focusing on any single place. However, next time I’m in Paris I plan to spend many a day within the walls of the countless museums there – they house some of the most incredible and influential pieces of art on earth.
From the Tuileries Garden, we continued westward down the banks of the Seine. We passed Pont Alexandre III – a beautiful, historic bridge boasting incredible sculptures atop two grand pillars at each end, as well as many other bridges and museums. Taking a slight detour, we ventured up to The Arc de Triomphe, which is an incredible architectural feat. More incredible though, was the speed at which traffic sped around the monument. Hundreds of cars circled around this rotary while we were there, and I could not believe how disorganized yet effective the movement was. We then walked back down towards the river and on, to the iconic Parisian landmark – La Tour Eiffel.
As expected, the Eiffel Tower was teeming with tourists, yet was still a beautiful sight to see. The weather was perfect (I was wearing just a light shirt and jeans), and the smell of crepes and coffee filled the air. We enjoyed the views for a few minutes before heading to Café Kléber – a famous French cafe just steps from the Tower. The Nutella and banana crepes were delicious and I tried mulled wine served hot, since the afternoon was cooling down as the sun began to set.
It was about five o’clock, and it had been a long day so I said goodbye to my friend Charlotte who had to get back to Versailles, and I walked back to the hotel for a quick nap. After catching some zzz’s, I felt refreshed and ready to see Paris in a different light – at night.
That night, I traversed over ten miles on foot – meandering down any back alley that caught my eye. I tried to retrace the night walk of Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight in Paris, but was unable to find the steps from which he initially got picked up and (spoiler alert) transported back in time. Slightly disappointed, I continued on and my disappointment was quickly overcome by the charm of Parisian streets, people, sights, and sounds. A man played L.O.V.E. on his saxophone in a small square surrounded by little restaurants and cafes. A group of old men laughed beside a street cart. Seemingly hundreds of couples smiled at each other across dinner plates and wine glasses. It was truly a perfect night in Paris. I felt as though I were drunk, smiling at people who passed me by, and floating through the streets. But I was just happy – happy and soaking in the experience that I had been missing.
I eventually found my way back to my hotel around midnight and immediately passed out in the comfortable king sized bed. In the morning, I awoke to a dim, white light emanating from behind the closed blinds. It was a grey morning with light rain – the perfect second half to my Parisian experience. (In the film, Owen Wilson’s character believes Paris to be best when it rains.) For the remainder of the day, I sipped a cappuccino in a cafe, strolled some more street markets, and then had one full French meal before my flight – Ratatouilles, mushroom and asparagus risotto, and a glass of French wine.
It was the perfect end to the perfect 24 hours in Paris.