The Most Romantic Weekend In Paris

It’s been a year since our wedding! We decided to escape the dog fight that is the UK to celebrate our first anniversary in one of our favourite cities – Paris. My second home, I’ve written about it so many times, and we’ve visited every year since we got together, our streak rudely interrupted by Covid these last two years. This time I wanted to do all new things (apart from a meal at my favourite restaurant) and also used lots of recommendations from friends. The result was a fabulous long weekend full of new discoveries of hidden treasures.

Thursday: Arrive

Dinner: Bouillon Julien

We arrived at our airbnb and due to a late running Eurostar had to swiftly change and head right back out for our dinner reservation at Bouillon Julien. This brasserie is tucked away on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis in the 10e. Its amazing art nouveau interiors and stained glass ceilings would make it worth the trip, even if the food wasn’t amazing – which it was – and incredibly good value – which it also was.

Friday: Le Marais

After a leisurely lie in, we spent Friday morning strolling around le Marais, exploring the Marché des Enfants Rouges and ducking into some homeware shops (including a very cool concept store called Mona Market). All of this was making our way to Bd Beaumarchais, where I had a few secret spots I wanted to find.

The first spot was Merci, a super cool homeware shop hidden away between a second hand bookshop and a cafe. If you head down the alley you’ll see a red car on the right, and the shop directly ahead. At the time of our visit they were hosting a fashion exhibit for Paris Fashion Week called Fluffy, celebrating all things puffa. Covering three floors, we had so much fun looking at the shelves upon shelves of crockery, glassware, cushions, lampshades… it was bursting at the seams.

Lunch: Chez Janou

Then we made our way to Chez Janou for lunch, clearly a very popular spot for tourists and locals alike. We had to wait a little bit for a free table, but we were glad we hadn’t booked as that apparently made no difference at all. Lots of Americans were appalled at having to wait for a table even though they’d called ahead, and they got very French shrugs from the waiters in response.

We had starters and dessert for our lunch as we had a big dinner planned and it was already 2pm. Matt ordered the ravioli which was covered in a delicious cheesey crust, and I had ratatouille with pots of tapenade and anchovy pâté. Along with our basket of baguette we had exactly the right amount of food, especially since we couldn’t miss the main event – dessert.

Chez Janou is famous for its mousse au chocolat. Fluffy, rich and thick, it was served unceremoniously in a big ladleful from an even bigger pot, and immediately devoured by us.

Musée Carnavalet

Next up we visited the Musée Carnavalet, the oldest museum in Paris, all about the history of the city. It’s recently reopened after 5 years of restorations, and the permanent exhibits are completely free. My favourite section displayed dozens of preserved shops signs.

At a time before street numbers, signs were important landmarks in Paris. They show freedom of expression, surprising inventiveness and intense colours. Merchants attracted customers’ attention not just by shouting but also through images, which explains the beauty and ingenuity of these signs, featuring griffins, mermaids and black cats.

The Restoration of the Sign Collection, Musée Carnavalet

The ground floor also has some amazing preserved shop fronts, including an incredible art nouveau pharmacy complete with elaborate interior.

The day we visited it was such nice weather we didn’t want to spend too long inside, so we didn’t see every single thing. I was less interested by the ancient Paris section in the basement, more in the revolution section on the first floor. I wish we’d spent more time in the modern section, which included loads of posters from the new romantic period.

If you fancy it, the museum also has a beautiful restaurant in the courtyard called Fabula. We decided to go back out into the streets of the Marais and wander some more. We ended up getting drinks at the definitely-not-French Eataly, which seems to be a popular spot for locals to go on dates.

Then we did some more exploring of the area. We love the Marais, with all its streets full of interesting shops and restaurants. Obviously it’s quite busy around the Pompidou centre and Les Halles, but you can easily avoid the crowds by sticking to the back streets. While we were strolling we stumbled across the airbnb that we’d stayed in on our very first trip to Paris together – if only this place was still available we would go back in a flash.

Pompidou

As has become tradition, Matt wanted to visit the local Warhammer shop (something we now do in every city we find ourselves in). We also found a great little comic book shop bursting with graphic novels, Les Super Héros. Comics, or BDs (bandes dessinées), are way more mainstream in France than in the UK, and this particular shop was packed.

Le Maison de Nicolas Flamel

On our back to the airbnb, we stumbled across an absolute find on rue de Montmorency – le Maison de Nicolas Flamel! The real Nicolas Flamel, a wealthy member of the Parisian bourgeoisie, commissioned the house 1397 to accommodate the homeless. It was completed in 1407, as is inscribed on a frieze above the ground floor, and is the best known and only surviving of Flamel’s houses, yet he actually never lived there. The building, probably the oldest in Paris, is now a private home and a very trendy-looking restaurant, the Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

Dinner: Le Caveau du Palais

To officially celebrate our first year of marriage we had a table booked at my favourite restaurant in the whole world, Le Caveau du Palais. My family ate here a couple of times when we lived in the 17e, and Matt and I ate here for our first Valentine’s together. It’s a lovely little restaurant on Place Dauphine, Île de la Cité, with a really cosy traditional vibe and delicious food.

This time I ordered the gravlax, steak and cafe gourmand. This is such a great dessert to order if you’re not sure what to have, as you get a few little mini desserts along with a coffee. Matt had the crab, magret de canard and crème brûlée. I had a mini crème brûlée in my cafe gourmand so we can both confirm the caramelised sugar crust was the exact perfect thickness.

Drinks: Le NID

On our way back to our apartment, we realised we didn’t want the night to end! So we stopped at Le NID, a board game bar conveniently near where we were staying. As Matt can’t speak French, it would have been a bit of a stretch to learn a new game, but luckily they had our favourite in stock – Terraforming Mars – which we know so well we didn’t need to understand the cards.

Saturday: The Latin Quarter

The next day started with discovering the best coffee in Paris, from Crible Coffee on rue Bouffon. We had a day planned in the Latin quarter so this was a great place to kick off.

Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes is the Botanical Gardens and headquarters of the Natural History Museum of France, home to specimen collections, archives, libraries, greenhouses, and a zoo (which was founded in 1795 to house the animals from the Versailles menageries after the revolution).

Jardin des Plantes
The National Museum of Natural History.

There are four main galeries, Evolution, Geology, Palaeontology, and Botany, and a botanical school which trains botanists and exchanges seeds to maintain biotic diversity. There’s also an Alpine garden, an Art Deco winter garden, two Mexican and Australian hothouses and a Rose Garden.

Founded in 1752, the Menagerie is the second-oldest public zoo in the world still in operation. Its mission is to cooperate with the zoos of other European cities to preserve the genetic pool of certain endangered species with the long-term goal of trying to re-introduce some back into nature.

Grande Mosquée

Right next to the Jardin des Plantes is one of the largest mosques in France. You can get inside for just €3, where you’ll find prayer rooms, gardens, a library and gift shop, cafe and restaurant.

First proposed in 1846 by the Société orientale, the history of the Paris Mosque is inextricably linked to France’s colonization of large parts of the Muslim world over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. After much back and forth, it was finished and inaugurated in 1926, the architecture inspired by the el-Qaraouyyîn Mosque in Fez, the minaret inspired by the Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunisia.

During the Second World War, the Paris Mosque was a site of resistance for Muslims living in France. While the nazis were occupying Paris, the caves beneath the mosque were used to secure and protect British parachutists. The mosque also sheltered Jewish families and helped them to relocate to Meghreb, using fake papers to declare them as Muslim. There’s no agreed number for how many Jews were saved, but it ranges from 500 to 1600.

Lunch: Mimi Ramen

Rue Mouffetard is a great place to explore if you’re after a buzzing atmosphere and lots of good food options. We chose Mimi Ramen and were so glad we did, as not long after being seated a big queue started to build up outside. It was clear why – the ramen was absolutely delicious.

Sainte Etienne du Mont

Next we strolled up towards the Sorbonne, and decided to take a detour inside the church next to the Pantheon – Saint Etienne du Mont. I’ve passed it many times but never been inside, and now that I have it might be my favourite church after Notre Dame.

Built on the site of St. Geneviève Abbey in the 6th century, what was originally just a chapel has been expanded over hundreds of years – a bell tower in 1491, a chancel in 1537, the vaults in 1580 – resulting in an intriguing combo of flamboyant Gothic and new Renaissance architecture. The rood screen with its elegant spiral staircases is the only surviving one in Paris (they were abolished in the 17th century), covered in classic Roman details and sporting filagree balcony.

The apse at the far end of the church is a three story masterpiece of stained glass windows and elegant vaulting ceilings. I found the overall effect felt almost elven.

As you walk down, on the right handside you’ll see the Chapel of Saint-Genevieve, as the sculpted wood and gold leaf really stands out against all the pale stone around it. All of this is relatively new – 19th century – as her original tomb and relics were destroyed during the French revolution. St Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris, and for all intents and purposes sounds like the Mother Theresa of the Middle Ages.

The Pantheon

You can’t miss the Pantheon in this area of Paris. It stands at the tallest point of “Montagne Sainte-Geneviève”, a suitable location for what was intended by Louis XV to be a church dedicated to her. By the time it was finished, the French revolution had happened, and the newly formed National Assembly voted to turn it into a mausoleum, modelled after the Pantheon in Rome. Entry is ticketed at €12 each, and this gets you access to the crypt too.

Some notable people interred inside (at least, the ones I found interesting) are Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Luis Braille, Marie Curie, Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas. You’ll also find art installations here, including a modern interpretation of the Foucault pendulum.

In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth by building a 220 ft pendulum underneath the Pantheon’s dome. The original sphere from the pendulum now lives at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. In 1995, engineer Jacques Foiret redesigned the sphere to better achieve Foucault’s original goal. The one you see today is 47kg (compared to the original 28kg), and moves about 11 degrees in one hour.

Thirsty for another dose of caffeine, we stopped off at Jozi Cafe on Rue Valette, which was buzzing with people enjoying a late lunch. It was a popular takeaway spot too, but we were glad to grab a table just as another couple vacated it.

Collège des Bernardins

Another secret spot away from the crowds, you can find Collège Saint-Bernard at 20 rue de Poissy. This former Cistercian college of the historic University of Paris was built in 1248, and its main hall is a forest of columns and vaulted ceilings that are definitely worth popping in for. It was renovated in 2008 and now hosts all sorts of cultural events.

Notre Dame

Just north of the college we found the Quai de la Tournelle, running parallel to the Seine, which we followed to get to our next destination – Square René Viviani. This garden is another quiet retreat from the crowds which bustle just the other side of the hedges, and gives you a marvellous view of the Notre Dame across the river. I normally love any view of this beautiful cathedral, but this time I found the site of her to be quite tragic, covered with scaffolding and blocked off to the public as they repair the damage from the fire.

On the left bank of the Seine you’ll find the antique English-language bookstore Shakespeare & Co Bookshop. Built in 1951, the shop is famous for housing aspiring writers and artists in exchange for helping out around the bookstore. More than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves. The founder, American expat George Whitman called it “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore” and the shop’s motto, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise”, is written above the entrance.

During peak times, this is one of the busiest places you can find yourself in terms of tourists, which I’m inclined to blame instagram for, but the bookshop has such a romantic bohemian story that you can hardly blame people for seeking it out.

The weather was still so nice that we decided to walk the 40 minutes back to our apartment, where we had a late afternoon chill before heading back to our favourite hang – le NID. The staff greeted us with “Ah! Terraforming Mars!” and we set up shop at the same table where we tucked into a charcuterie board while we played. Two hours later, we picked up some patisseries for dessert and took them back to the flat for a film night.

Sunday: Montmartre

On Sunday we were met with a challenge – metro line 4, our route to Montmartre, was closed until noon. We passed the time with another luxurious lie in and a rocket fuel coffee from Partisan.

Still craving our daily pastry fix and with another 10 minutes before the metro opened, we decided to try Bo&Mie, a self proclaimed “creative” bakery. I could not be more glad that we made this decision, as this is where we found the most perfect pain au chocolat – flaky on the outside, soft on the inside, crisp and buttery and oh la la.

Sacré-Cœur

If you’re not a fan of crowds, Montmartre can be a difficult area to navigate, especially on a beautiful warm Sunday. The key is to approach from the back. We arrived at Metro stop Château Rouge and climbed up Rue Becquerel to get to Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet. This is where you will find the most stunning view of the Sacré-Cœur, from a quiet little terraced garden that seems to be totally secret from tourists.

While we enjoyed the sun we read into the controversial history of this most famous church in Paris. The Basilica was first proposed by Felix Fournier, the Bishop of Nantes, in 1870 after the defeat of France and the capture of Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War. He attributed the defeat of France to the moral decline of the country since the French Revolution, and proposed a new Parisian church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1898, Emile Zola wrote sarcastically, “France is guilty. It must do penitence. Penitence for what? For the Revolution, for a century of free speech and science, and emancipated reason… for that they built this gigantic landmark that Paris can see from all of its streets, and cannot be seen without feeling misunderstood and injured.”

Of course, Montmartre is most famous for its bohemian past. During the Belle Époque (1872 to 1914), many artists lived and worked in the area, where the rents were low and the atmosphere was vibing. 

Artists’ associations such as Les Nabis and the Incohérents were formed and big names like Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area.

Cabaret Au Lapin Agile

In the early 20th century The Lapin Agile was a favourite spot for struggling artists and writers, including Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire, Roman Greco and Utrillo. Bought by cabaret singer, comedian, and nightclub owner Aristide Bruant to save it from demolition, it was painted by Picasso in 1905, making it world famous.

Cabaret Au Lapin Agile

The Lapin Agile is largely unchanged to this day and maintains its tradition as an informal cabaret venue, showcasing poets and singers who perform French songs dating back as far as the fifteenth century.

Le Moulin de la Galette

Yes, this is the location of Renoir’s famous painting, Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (which you can see at the Musée d’Orsay). The original building depicted in the painting has been preserved in the Musée de Montmartre, but you can still eat at traditional French restaurant Le Moulin de la Galette.

Round the corner and up Avenue Junot you’ll find Villa Léandre, a hidden street with gabled art deco houses and old European architectural styles. After the chaotic bustle around the moulin, this quiet of this road came as a real surprise! You can read more about this fascinating street, totally at odds with those around it, on the blog where I originally found the recommendation.

Lunch: La Maison Rose

Plunging back into the crowds, we made our way to our lunch booking at La Maison Rose. Painted many times by local artist Maurice Utrillo, and frequented by none other than Picasso, La Maison Rose is no stranger to fame, but these days Instagram has made the Pink House of Paris a hot spot for girls in berets.

I was feeling a bit apprehensive about eating lunch here, as popular on instagram does not necessarily equal good restaurant. Amazingly, as soon as we stepped inside it was like stepping into another world. An intimate world with only 6 tables, really friendly service, excellent food, and very reasonable prices. The vibe was so welcoming and cosy that it ended up being one of our absolute highlights of the weekend.

Fotoautomat

A 5 minute walk from the bustle of Place de Tertre (we didn’t even try to get into that square), you’ll find this antique photobooth (here in fact). For €4, you can take 4 photos which take 4 minutes to print. It’s owned by a company that operates across France, reclaiming old photobooths, refurbishing them and making them open to public use. Their goal is to keep the original art of printing alive. We had to queue to use it since it was peak time, but it was totally worth it for this little souvenir of our anniversary weekend in Paris.

Église Saint-Jean de Montmartre

There are a couple of other sites to see in this area before catching the metro home. Place Émile Goudeau is a picturesque cobbled square where Picasso used to live. Square Jehan Rictus by Place des Abesses is where you’ll find Le Mur des Je t’aime – a blue tiled wall that has “I love you” written on it in every language. And just next to the square you’ll also see, towering over you, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre.

Built at the start of the 20th century, this is the first ever religious building built with reinforced concrete. There’s a lot of art nouveau involved, and the facade is decorated with multicoloured sandstone pearls. The design theme is based on the fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.

After a little chill back at the apartment, we decided to use our last hours to mooch about Le Marais some more. We strolled the streets and popped into lots of jewellery and clothes shops, and noted many many restaurants we wished we had time to try. Last but not least we walked around Square du Temple – Elie Wiesel, which was packed with Parisians enjoying the autumn sunshine.

Dinner: Norma

For the last night of our weekend in Paris, we winged it. No tables booked, we headed out and enjoyed drinks at L’Absinthe Brasserie, before having some truly delicious fresh pasta at Norma. It felt a bit scandalous to eat Sicilian food on a French holiday, but sometimes it comes down to just really wanting pasta for dinner.

Where we stayed

What a beautiful space! This airbnb has to be up there as one of the most stylish, well fitted apartments we’ve stayed in on our forays to Paris. Every room was picturesque, and the kitchen had everything you would need – you could even cook all your meals here if you wanted to. The location was perfect for us, only a 4 minute walk from the nearest metro stop that was a 10 minute ride from Gare du Nord. And the view from the window was perfectly Parisian which is one of our criteria for Paris stays.

The only draw back was the bedroom being roadside. Paris streets are noisy at the best of times, but this particular window was metres from the bar opposite, which had a busy and extremely loud smoking area and was open until 2am. If you can sleep through anything or travel with ear plugs, then I would fully recommend this apartment for a weekend in Paris.

Weekend in Paris

Verdict

Granted, with blue skies and 20c temperatures in October we were extremely lucky with the weather. So maybe that gives this weekend in Paris an unfair advantage. But with the amazing food and beautiful sites I’m going to go ahead and say it was the best one we’ve had in the many weekends we’ve spent in this my most favourite of cities.

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Weekend in Paris
Sophie Lain
Sophie Lain

I’m Sophie, a writer and blogger living in St Albans, traveling, eating, and telling you all about it.

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