Train journeys. There’s something quite special about them don’t you think? If though, the idea of a train journey has you instantly imagining your morning or evening commute, well that’s not quite the one I mean. Imagine instead that other train journey. The one where your final destination is somewhere quite special, quite unique — somewhere new, or perhaps somewhere familiar. Bring your mind to that seat, that interior of calm you envelope yourself in as outside the world rushes by; as you snooze, daydream, read, eat, drink, write, watch…as you…well, as you whatever. That’s the train journey I mean.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of experiencing one of those journeys in the form of my very first Eurostar trip to Paris. I’m sure many will be familiar with this route of course, perhaps no longer excited by it: but I loved it. Having picked the “ridiculous o’clock” morning departure from St. Pancreas, I was keen to cocoon myself back to sleep as quickly as possible no matter where I was. I therefore can’t offer too many details on the finer points of the journey, but I can say that the whole experience of getting onboard, promptly drifting off in my seat and waking up as we pulled into central Paris, in less than three hours, was a real delight. And all before 9.30 am…incredible!
The city was mine to navigate for less than 48 hours and I planned to see as much as possible. As usual though, I also wanted to simply wander, discover and take it all in. The last time I’d been here was with my parents many years ago for a trip to EuroDisney and that’s what I remember mostly — the French version of the American dream. Oh and the Mona Lisa; or at least the image of bobbing heads popping up and down in front me as they clambered for an unobstructed glimpse of the most famous of famous faces.
This time though Paris was for one and I very much fell in love. For the solo traveller the city is at once recognisable and familiar, postcard perfect and yet it holds a surprising discoverability that means there’s always something new for you to find here. By yourself you’ll have a wealth of iconic locations to see of course, but what I personally enjoyed the most was finding those hidden gems — the local haunts that offer a snapshot of real Parisian lifestyle.
As a solo explorer here I always felt safe, but I arrived prepared with my invaluable CityMaps2Go downloaded to my phone and I made a rough itinerary for myself to give some direction for each day because I was slightly time constrained. Often I just drifted though, exploring unexpected places of interest in between visits to the places I had planned to see, or settled myself into a snug café for some reading. It’s a fabulous walking city, which, if like me you enjoy roaming on foot, is a real bonus but the Metro is very efficient and easy to navigate. Overall I found people to be extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful.
I just wish I could speak a little more French. As is common when I’m by myself, people assume I’m a local and talk confidently at me in their language until the look of horror and confusion on my face dawns on them. I’ll just have to return again to practice — the perfect excuse.
Below you can read about my top Parisian culinary and cultural finds for the solo traveller. I myself stayed at a fantastic Airbnb in Montmartre which I would highly recommend so do email me (link on my homepage) if you would like details on it.
What about you…have you any other discoveries or recommendations for a great solo trip to Paris you want to share? All comments welcome!
Until next time…
Emma @The Art of Travelling Solo.
For a relaxed breakfast, brunch or lunch, Holybelly is a quirky find. It fills up with a young, trendy set gossiping and networking over simple, yet delicious tasting plates. The all-day egg dishes are legendary and there’s always an interesting choice of specials. Their homemade bread and expertly brewed coffees and teas are superb. You’ll happily find a solo seat to soak up the atmosphere and tuck in.
A lovely quaint neighbourhood restaurant, Jeanne B is the perfect spot to immerse yourself amongst the local Montmartre crowd. The dishes served exude French comfort on a plate and although the menu board is written completely in French, the staff are very welcoming and will kindly accommodate those (i.e. me) who need a little help with the translation. The wine selection is equally impressive so if you feel like complementing your meal with a tipple, ask your server for a house recommendation.
I had read great things about Buvette and was not disappointed. On a Saturday night it is a buzzing nook filled with locals, but it’s a great location for solo diners and as the ‘table for one girl’ I was able to nab a prime seat at the bar. The menu is short but every dish is a winner and my choice of their traditional coq au vin, followed by a slice of their irresistible tarte tatin were highlights from my culinary experience in Paris.
As an aside, you probably understand that sitting on your own in a restaurant packed with groups and couples can be a little intimidating. Usually I am happy to lose myself in my book between courses, but on this occasion two French women sitting beside me (who turned out to be a mother and daughter, although looked to be practically identical in age — the wonder of French women’s ability to defy years is simply astounding) started chatting curiously with me, conversing in excellent English about my weekend and life in London. It was a lovely chat which made for a wonderful evening and reminded me how kind and welcoming strangers are towards visitors to their city. It was an experience made possible because of my solo status at the bar beside them and while they may not remember me by now, our conversation will remain fondly in memory of my time spent in Paris by myself.
If I came back to Paris for only one reason, it would be for La Bossue. After an early Sunday morning stroll around Montmartre before my train back to London, this was my brunch stop to sample my last Parisian delicacies before normality returned the next working day. And my word was it good, in fact it was better than that — it was the best breakfast I have EVER had! The set price affords you ample choice from a buffet table, plus one tea or coffee and a fresh orange juice. From homemade granola to freshly baked pastries and quiches, platters of charcuterie and cheeses, fresh fruit selections and warm breads right from the oven, this is how I imagine breakfast would be served in heaven. On Sunday morning it oozed a charming neighbourhood café vibe with tables of locals conversing enthusiastically over their dishes. On any given day it would be a prime hideaway to while away a few hours with a book or paper, or for those moments where all you want is to indulge in the act of sitting and being; perhaps with some cake and coffee on order for good measure!
Booklovers will rejoice at the sight of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on display at this wonderful café. Stocked with over 10,000 titles to choose from, this space will be a treat for the solo traveller who wants to lose a few hours reading and recuperating from the demands of sightseeing. The menu is the perfect accompaniment with some of the tastiest scones around to complement a relaxing afternoon tea. The real delight though is the opportunity to discover that great book, something which is without doubt one of the best travel companions for the solo adventurer.
Pâtisseries in Paris are as common as pubs in Dublin so finding the real gems, the ones that stand tall above the rest, is worth any required effort. Carl Marletti has crafted an astounding career as one of the foremost pastry chefs in France and his creations are as much a vision of beauty as they are of pure indulgent delight for the tastebuds. His shop is a sleek outlet and given his level of fame you will pay more for a pâtisserie from his counter than elsewhere. Despite this, a treat is a treat and having sampled the most authentically divine raspberry macaroon when I visited his shop, I cannot enthuse enough about just how good his desserts are. The main problem you’ll have is trying to choose which one you want!
With a spectacular view of Notre Dame from its windows, this popular café is an extension of the wonderful Shakespeare and Company English-language bookshop next door. The location has famously featured in Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunset and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and has launched exciting endeavours such as the Paris Literary Prize, as well as hosting its own literary festival. The café itself serves mainly vegetarian dishes, beautiful coffee and scrumptious cakes, including their famous lemon pie. It’s always busy but don’t be deterred from finding your solo seat, it will be worth it for the lively atmosphere and eclectic mix of clientele.
Housed in the extraordinarily beautiful Hôtel Salé building in the Marais district, this museum has recently undergone an exceptional refurbishment showcasing beautifully light and airy galleries that perfectly present this incredible collection of Picasso’s work, donated to the French state after his death. Paintings sit alongside sculptures, photographs, sketches and drawings which combine to give a unique insight into this legendary artist’s creative process and serves as a fitting tribute to his superior talents. There are more than 5,000 works on display here and you can truly immerse yourself on a journey through the remarkable career and equally intriguing personal life of one of the 20th century’s most formidable artists.
A hugely popular UNESCO designated world heritage site, this gothic-style church was originally intended to house precious Christian relics and was built within the historic Palais de la Cité (formerly a revolutionary prison where Marie Antoinette was detained). The breathtaking and intimate interior glistens from the infamous stained glass windows which are a major draw for visitors. Arranged across fifteen windows, each one fifteen metres high, the stained glass panes depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments. To avoid the crowds try to coincide your visit with quieter times earlier in the day.
This is one of the finest photography galleries in Paris and is renowned for its excellent rolling exhibitions which draw locals and visitors alike. Centrally located in the St. Gervais area of the city, it is a captivatingly reflective space for a solo culture hit, offering contemporary and historic collections that are wide ranging in their appeal.
A classic on the Parisian museum trail but with good reason — it is quite simply an enthralling experience no matter how much or how little you want to see. You could easily spend half a day here and even just strolling through the spacious and quiet galleries by yourself is a tranquil joy. The building itself won’t fail to astound any architecture and design enthusiasts. Housed in a former railway station, Gare d’Orsay, it was built between 1898 and 1900 with historic grandeur and drama oozing from every corner. The range of artists and collections on display are frankly immense with works by Renoir, Monet and van Gogh to boast just a few.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower means you’ll be venturing to one of the most popular and therefore busiest attractions in Paris, but don’t be put off by the crowds because you can experience it a little differently. Instead of queuing for the lifts like most visitors, climb the 704 steps to the second level (if you want to go further from here then you have to use a lift the rest of the way). It’s a really unique way to find fantastic vantage points over the city and you’ll have that odd sensation of being outside while still inside the famous structure. The climb is rewarding because it’s often much quieter as less people choose to do it. The second floor in itself offers a vast panoramic view of the city so if you decide that’s far enough then you won’t miss out if you choose not to go any further and from there you can then take the easy climb back down again!
The Parisian version of New York’s fantastic High Line, the Promenade has been created from the 19th century Vincennes Railway viaduct to create the world’s first elevated park. It is raised three storeys above street level so the walkway offers an intriguing overview of parts of the city you may otherwise not have taken the time to explore. Starting near Place de la Bastille and ending by Bois de Vincennes, the walkway terrain changes periodically between refreshing sections of greenery and subsequent lengths which tunnel through modern apartment buildings on either side. A wonderful detour if you can find the time.
One of the largest green spaces in Paris, this is a brilliant place for a stroll and some fresh air. Locals eagerly make it their go-to location for routine activities like jogging, walking, or Tai Chi routines so it’s a great people watching spot. Originally built on quarries, it ranges in terrain from flat paths to steep peaks and hills, with an array of waterfalls and caves as well as a high viewing point in its centre accessed via an iron bridge. In summer it’s perfect picnic and sleepy afternoon territory.
If I could give one definitive tip from this entire blog then it would be to visit the Sacré-Coeur first thing in the morning if you can manage it. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with the beautifully deserted cobbled Montmartre streets that will make for a peaceful stroll upwards towards the Basilica. Being the early cultural bird that I am, I managed to make it there just after dawn on my last morning in Paris (it opens at 6am and entry is free) and it was definitely worth the early rise. Not only is the interior of the Basilica grandly captivating, the view from outside overlooking the city is truly memorable and quite possibly the highlight of any trip to Paris. And if you are there early, the peace you are afforded before the crowds arrive gives you one of those blissfully still solo moments where by yourself, you can take in the sprawling city below as it starts to sleepily rise to action for the day.