Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Hold me close and hold me fast...
The magic spell you cast...
This is La Vie en Rose...
This song pretty much played in my head the entire time I was in Paris in the summer of 2015.
The view of the Eiffel Tower never gets old.
Between the elegant Parisian women to the twinkling Eiffel Tower to the charming boulangeries on almost every corner, it was hard to resist a trip to Paris. I took my parents up on an offer to go with them to trip to the French capital the summer before my senior year of high school. And although Paris didn't turn out to be exactly what I thought it was going to be, it was still one of the most memorable trips of my life.
This is a photo of me sipping on rosé, enjoying the view from the flat we rented. This is probably the peak of any level of class I will hope to achieve in my lifetime, and I'm very thankful for my mom for documenting me in a moment of bougie-ness—I mean weakness!
Going to Paris with my parents was an incredibly rewarding trip. For business, both of my parents have traveled there several times (my mom goes to Paris every year), so I definitely had some preconceived notions of the city.
I'm not going to lie. My mom was never too keen on spending her summer vacation taking me to Paris. Because she goes so often for business, she would have rather had a relaxing week at the beach than jetting to France to show me around a city she has been to a dozen times. However, I can't thank them enough for planning this trip for me and taking me to some of their favorite places they like to go to when they are not working.
First, allow me to break down how most of my family vacations go. My dad, a history buff, loves to take me to all of the established museums in virtually any city we visit. He loves spending hours in them, absorbing all of the information that he can and takes photos of some of the more recognizable artifacts and paintings to show relatives when we get back home.
My mom, on the other hand, isn't into history. She always says, "Why bother studying events that have already happened?" Of course we are always quick to refute her claims, but when it comes to the third hour spent in a museum, I can kind of see where she is coming from. I may love history, but definitely not enough to spend an entire day in a museum like my dad.
This is why I also enjoy finding fun places to shop and eat at with my mom on vacation.
You see, on Watkins family trips, it's always finding that delicate balance; one between arts and culture and trendy spots and tourist attractions. However, although sometimes we have to compromise, I've always appreciated our trips for being well-rounded; I definitely try to approach my travels the same way as my parents, now that I am starting to plan trips by myself, or with friends.
Now that you have the background information about how our vacations usually go, I want to share with you some of my favorite places we visited on our trip to Paris.
This photo was taken of me, post-dinner at Le Relais de Venise—THE place to get Steak Frite in Paris!
My favorite part about Paris? The food, of course! In a city that is world-renowned for its famous chefs and fine culinary institutions, it's hard not to become a foodie in Paris. Of course you have to go to the staple Paris destinations (The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Notre Dame, etc.), but for this blog, I'll be focusing on the food.
My favorite dining experience was La Relais de Venise, which is in walking distance of the Champs-Élysées. Little did I know, however, that after dinner we would climb up the Arc de Triomphe to watch the sunset. It was beautiful, but had I known that was on the agenda, I definitely wouldn't have worn high heels (see above)! I don't think my feet ever forgave me.
Anyways, the restaurant is amazing. If you are willing to wait outside the restaurant for about half an hour (people start queuing up early), I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed with your meal. What makes the restaurant so special is that it doesn't have a menu; the waitress asks you how you want your steak cooked, and in a few minutes, violá! A piping hot steak and a pile of crispy fries is delivered straight to your table. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...
Another must-see for any café (or Audrey Hepburn) fan is Angelina. The tea house screams classic Parisian chic, which is why some of the classiest women in the world—Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel—considered it a second home. They also have the best hot chocolate in the world. Seriously. It's rich and slightly bitter, making it the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
However, like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, my trip to Paris was not all butterflies and boulangeries. Unfortunately, I got sick at the restaurant! Not due to the food, but a splitting migraine I had all morning. Although that unfortunately tainted by experience of the cafe, I would still recommend it to anyone who visits Paris. The place makes you feel like a princess.
A photo of me sipping on the best hot chocolate I've ever had at Angelina.
Now, for dinner and the best view of Paris, try to get a reservation at Les Ombres. This was the last restaurant we ate at in Paris, and was definitely a treat. We had a dinner with several courses and a panoramic view of the city and the Eiffel Tower. This is the type of restaurant that you splurge at, and I definitely wouldn't recommend it as a casual dining experience. However, having a mother who is incredibly passionate about cooking, this was her "big treat" for the trip. And it didn't disappoint.
However, fair warning: for a meal that has several courses like this, definitely brush up on etiquette. In France, for example, typically the tip for a meal is included in the bill. However, definitely check before you go to a nicer restaurant online or with a local; we had some confusion when the bill came because we weren't sure how much to tip our waiter.
Our view at Les Ombres.
And if you happen to have enough time to take a longer ride on the metro, Montmartre is probably my favorite place in all of Paris. Montmartre is a charming district that sits in Paris's 18th arrondissement. There, you can stroll on cobblestone streets, enjoy art markets and also find incredible food. You can also visit the Sacré-Coeur, a stunning Roman Catholic church that is the highest point in the city. Although I did not go inside, Moulin Rouge—a famous French cabaret—is another popular destination in Montmartre.
Another fair warning: watch your pockets and bags when you go to this neighborhood. There are a lot of crowded markets and streets, which makes it easy for pickpockets to steal something without noticing.
Pickpockets are incredibly prevalent in some of the larger tourist destinations in Paris. In fact, when my mom and I took a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, someone tried to take money out of her wristlet! Definitely have your eyes on your bags at all times, and avoid being lured to any side-street "games" locals or gypsies may be playing near the monuments and popular streets. Again, I'm trying to keep these cities reviews as honest as I can, and I would definitely argue that pickpockets are one of Paris' biggest downfalls.
To the life of me, I can't remember what restaurant this was at. However, the plating of this delicious meal definitely highlights the incredible food you can find in Montmartre.
Another one of Paris' downfalls? While I commend Parisians, especially women, for their chic fashion and joie de vivre, some of the locals can be downright mean. Many of the locals you talk to will probably have little patience when it comes to tourists, especially Americans, and sometimes that can lead to you being taken advantage of. That's why I would recommend reading up on as many reviews of the city and places you want to go to before you visit, just so you don't have to rely on locals for all of your information. Two of my absolute favorites include:
How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret and Sophie Mas
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz.
Another one of my favorite things about Monmartre is the art. Graffiti lines the alleyways of many of the cobblestone streets. It was fun just strolling around the district and finding hidden gems scattered on the walls of nearby buildings.
But as long as you keep your wits about you, I promise that you can have a great time in Paris! Although there are a few downsides to the city, it's still the most charming and romantic city I've been to.
Last but not least, my final recommendation would be to explore the local neighborhood of wherever you are staying! There are so many great food markets, boulangeries, pâtisseries and cafes on nearly every corner of the city. And, if you are lucky enough to stay in the neighborhood for a while, you may even get to know one of the local bakers or florists. People watching is so easy and entertaining in Paris, and just by strolling the city's streets with no absolute destination in mind, you can learn so much about Parisian life.
This was the view from my flat's balcony on the first night that I arrived in Paris. I remember how much I loved sitting on my balcony, people watching at sunset. During my first night, I especially remember the excitement and anticipation of waiting to see the Eiffel Tower light up for the first time.
Until next time, au revoir!