Three Days In Paris: A 40th birthday celebration

In September 2004 my best friend Rachel and I, both 21 years old at the time, spent three days in Paris together.

I’d returned to the UK a few months earlier from over a year of travelling in Australia & New Zealand and still had a desperately intense and all-consuming travel itch to scratch.  She had recently graduated from completing her complicated and demanding degree at Cambridge University and wanted some fun before beginning her Masters.  It made perfect sense to have an adventure together.

We stayed in a VERY dodgy hotel with absurdly thin walls, ate delicious food and we explored as many of the sights as we could fit in during our time there.  It was wonderful.

Photos (actual, printed photos!) from Rachel and I’s trip to Paris when we were both 21 years old.

Three Days In Paris… 19 years later!

Fast forward to January 2023 – Rachel came to stay for the night as she was on a work trip to Birmingham.  Over dinner that evening we spontaneously decided to re-create the trip now that she’d turned forty and my 40th birthday was rapidly approaching.  We mapped it all out right there and then at the kitchen table amongst the debris of dirty dishes – grabbing our diaries to figure out dates, pulling up Eurostar train timetables and searching for potential Airbnbs.  Then she dropped the bombshell that she was expecting her third baby, and would be six months pregnant at the time we would be travelling (May 2023)!

I love her for many, many reasons, and her willingness to say yes to a crazy plan like this is just one of them.  It meant that our three days in Paris would have a little bit of a different vibe this time around – less of the questionable accommodation and super late nights, and more cafe breaks and comfort.  It’s staggering when I properly think about it, how different our lives are now from when we first visited Paris together:  I’m a mum to three teenagers and run my own business; she has two toddlers and a PhD!


Where We Stayed

We booked this Airbnb to use as our base during our three days in Paris.  We wanted to have flexibility and our own private space to come and go as we pleased rather than staying in a hotel.  It was pretty basic but comfortable enough, it had everything we needed and was convenient for travelling round the city on foot and by metro.  We were really only going to be sleeping there, spending most of the day and evenings out and about.  Rachel had the double bed and I took the sofa bed, which was more than adequate.  I’d be happy to stay there again.

The lounge area of the Airbnb (I slept on the sofabed).

The bedroom

The shower room

The little kitchenette – this is the other end of the lounge (opposite the sofa bed)


Itinerary Ideas For Three Days In Paris

I love planning trips almost as much as I enjoy actually travelling, so I did a lot of research in the weeks before we went to help us figure out what we wanted to see and do.  We obviously wanted to visit all the main sights (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre etc), and I like to find hidden spots that are a little off the beaten track too.   I never go anywhere without a trusty Lonely Planet guidebook (which is always invaluable) and I find that travel blogs can often be really helpful too.

Rachel’s only non-negotiable for our adventure was that she wanted to visit the Chateau de Versailles, so that was top of our list.  I was desperate to return to Montmartre too as I loved it there on both the previous times I’ve been to Paris (as well as going with Rachel at 21yo, I also went with my Mum and Stepdad for my Mum’s 50th birthday when I was 16 years old).

Here’s a (shortened) list of a few of the other things we hoped to squeeze in during our three days in Paris:

  • Nicolas Flamel’s house – built in 1407 it’s the oldest building in Paris
  • ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ – a poem written on a wall
  • Rue Cremieux – pastel coloured houses and a cobblestone street
  • Marche aux Fleurs – a flower market dating back to 1808, making it the oldest market in Paris
  • See the Statue of Liberty in Jardin du Luxembourg
  • The hidden windmills of Montmartre

I never travel anywhere without a Lonely Plant guide for the place I’m visiting!


Three Days In Paris – The Travel Diaries


The next few months passed by almost unreasonably quickly, and before we knew it, May – and our adventure to Paris – arrived.  Rachel and I met at St Pancras International bright and early (having each stayed at our respective parents’ houses the night before, both of whom conveniently live on the outskirts of London) to catch the 9.30am Eurostar directly to Paris.  I’d forgotten how fast it is – just three hours or so from city to city. We spent the journey catching up on all our news and planning a rough itinerary for what we would like to try and do during our three days in Paris – we wanted to squeeze in as much as we could during our limited time there so we knew we were going to need to prioritise.

About to board the Eurostar!

We know and understand each other so well now (we’ve been best friends since we were seven years old!) and yet it was still useful to have conversations around both of our preferred rhythms and routines, our hopes and expectations for the trip, and what she’d need along the way now that she had her baby bump to consider too.  Thankfully pretty much everything was in alignment and we agreed on the important stuff.

We arrived safely at Gare du Nord at lunchtime and made our way to our accommodation, successfully navigating the metro.  I’m so glad Rachel can speak French!  The Airbnb was clean and ready for us, so we were able to access it an hour earlier than stipulated, which we were grateful for.  We dumped our stuff, had a quick cuppa then set off to explore!

Parisian cafe just around the corner from where we were staying

First we headed for Ile St-Louis and wandered contentedly past boulangeries and patisseries and florists (and a very creepy marionette shop called Clair de Reve – I’m not a fan of dolls or puppets!) before we unexpectedly stumbled upon Rue Bude!  I was delighted with the quaint little island and instantly fell in love with the enormous doors; the greenery slowly encroaching vertically up cracked, painted walls; and the shuttered windows with wrought iron railings.

From there we crossed a bridge onto Ile de la Cite, the larger of the two islands that sit comfortably in the centre of the Seine.  Notre Dame was as imposing and magnificent as when I last saw it nineteen years ago, despite having been ravaged by the devastating fire in 2019 since then.  The restoration project is a phenomenally dedicated piece of work – there were information boards surrounding the site and explaining every aspect of it, which Rachel and I both found fascinating.

Next was Marche aux Fleurs, the oldest market in Paris, dating back to 1808.  It was gorgeous – full to the brim with flowers and plants, trinkets and curios.  We happily meandered up and down the pretty pathways, just browsing, for ages (and I took far too many photos – I can’t help it, I just love flowers).

Notre Dame

Marche aux Fleurs – so pretty!

I loved this little shop in the market – I could have spent hours there looking at everything!

We made our way to the tip of the island where we crossed Pont Neuf – Paris’ oldest bridge – and headed for Musee du Louvre.  We visited it properly on our last trip and saw the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, so we didn’t feel the need to do so again.  We admired the exterior of the building for a while instead, which is really quite something to behold in and of itself.

At the Louvre

A quick stop for a drink and a sit down in the Jardin des Tuileries before making our way to Musee de l’Orangerie.  We were hoping to go in and see some of the impressive array of Impressionist art that’s housed there (in lieu of the Musee d’Orsay) but, sadly, there was a lot of construction work going on in the area and we couldn’t even find the entrance, let alone figure out if it was open or not.  We decided to skip it, and instead walked through Place de la Concorde and all the way up Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.  I still consider it to be a miracle that people don’t have accidents there on a daily basis – the traffic is insane.  It’s a fantastic piece of architecture – next time I’d like to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the arch, and climb the spiral staircase to the top of it to see the views across the city.

From there we meandered down towards Jardins du Trocadero to see the Eiffel Tower.  It really is an incredible structure.  We’d wanted to go to the top of it, but when I tried to book tickets online a couple of months in advance of our trip there sadly weren’t any available for the dates we were in the city.  We admired the spectacular views and people-watched happily for a bit, just soaking up the atmosphere, then we realised we were both hungry!

The Arc de Triomphe

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower

We found somewhere to eat near Trocadero and I can honestly say it was the best omelette and frites I’ve ever eaten.  As we left the restaurant we could see the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling in the night sky, so we hurried back as fast as we could (considering one of us had a baby bump to carry too!) in order to see it in all it’s glory.  We just missed it!  It stopped right before we got there and it was only then that we learned that it only happens once an hour, on the hour, for five minutes at a time.  Poor Rachel was exhausted by that point and I was pretty tired too, so we decided to call it a night and make our way back to the Airbnb, vowing to return to see the display tomorrow instead.



Part One: Chateau de Versailles

As previously mentioned, a visit to the Chateau de Versailles was Rachel’s ‘Big Thing’ that she wanted to tick off her bucket list.   I’d pre-booked tickets for us a couple of months before we travelled to Paris and I’m really glad I did.  It was super-easy to get to – just a 45min train ride on the double-decker RER and then a short walk.  We got there at 10am and it was already busy.

The first half of the Chateau was impressive but honestly a little underwhelming compared to what I’d been expecting.  Then we moved to the second half and it was as mind-blowing as I’d imagined.  The King’s & Queen’s State Apartments; the Royal Chapel and the Hall Of Mirrors were absolutely stunning.  The ostentatious opulence and sheer audacity at how over-the-top everything was took my breath away.  The detail in the paintings was phenomenal.  There was gold everywhere.  The decorated ceilings.  There was just so much to look at, it was almost impossible to take it all in.

The Palace of Versailles

The majority of the information signs were in French so I didn’t learn as much about Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI as I’d hoped to, which was a little bit of downside as I’d have liked more context and knowledge about what I was actually looking at, rather than it simply being something pleasing to the eye.  We could have invested in the audio translation walkie talkies that we saw many people with I suppose – we managed well enough without them though and I still found it all very interesting.

The crowds were really quite overwhelming at points, with everyone shuffling through the rooms en-masse.  We tried to stop and pause in each section to take things in a bit more slowly but it was almost impossible – there were so many group tours and school trips visiting that we kind of had to just go with the flow.  Quite literally.  It was intense but totally worth it – it’s definitely an experience worth having and one I won’t ever forget.

Decorated ceilings at Chateau de Versailles

The Hall of Mirrors – 17 to be exact, with the same number of windows directly opposite them

The gardens were a breath of fresh air after the crowds inside the Chateau – quite literally.  We were very relieved to be outside again.  The gardens are huge – structured and sculptural in nature, which, interestingly, both Rachel and I noted that they felt very masculine and controlled – the opposite of the soft image that the word ‘garden’ conjures up in the imagination.  There wasn’t a plant or flower in sight, just lots of straight ‘avenue’ style pathways lined with trees, usually culminating in a fountain of some description (none of which were actually working).

We spent about 4-5 hours at the Chateau in total (including a couple of toilet stops and grabbing lunch and a drink) and we were ready to leave by the time we were done exploring the gardens.  You could easily spend an entire day there from opening to closing time – there’s so much to see.

Exploring the gardens at Chateau de Versailles


Part Two: Montmartre

It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived back in the centre of Paris.  We caught the Metro up to Montmartre – somewhere I really wanted to return to after falling in love with it on my previous visit.  Our first stop was the ‘Wall of Love’ (Le Mur des je t’aime), modestly hidden away in a tiny gated park right near Abbesses metro station entrance. It’s an enormous blue enamel-tiled wall, upon which the phrase ‘I love you’ is written 311 times in 250 different languages – it’s very cool and well worth stopping to look at.

The ‘I Love You’ wall in Montmartre

When we were last here nineteen years ago, we walked up the 270 steps to Sacre-Coeur.  This time, with Rachel six months pregnant and my heart condition, we opted for the funicular instead.  It was one metro ticket each and a new, fun little thing for both of us to do.  It was a bit gloomy weather-wise at the time we visited, which I was a teeny bit disappointed with as Sacre-Coeur is best visited on a blue-sky day for spectacular views across Paris and for the backdrop of the Basilica itself.  Still, we couldn’t control the weather so we made the best of things anyway.

I always enjoy looking through the vast array of ‘lovers locks’ attached to the fences and railings around Sacre-Coeur.  They’re all over the city, but particularly concentrated here – the sheer quantity of them is insane.  I’d love to know how many there are in total and how long ago the very first one was padlocked there as a declaration of love.

I’d never been inside Sacre-Coeur before, so we ventured in.  It’s so beautiful!  The thing that really got to me though was the hushed reverence and absolute respect, despite all the people that were in there.  It really was quite something to witness and I think the experience will stay with me for a long time.

Sacre Coeur and it’s pretty carousel

We caught the funicular up to Sacre Coeur

Lovers locks and a view over the city

Basilique du Sacre Coeur

Go exploring around the back of the Basilica – it’s worth it!

We were both flagging a bit by this point, and the early start to the day was beginning to catch up with us.  We wanted some space and some peace from the crowds so we circled around to the back of the Basilica in search of a park area covered in flowers that I’d read about, so we could have a little sit down.

After we’d briefly rested, we made our way back to Place du Tertre, which is the main square of the original village of Montmartre.  It’s my favourite place in Paris, full of artists and cafes.  It’s busy, but picturesque, and it’s fun to wander around and soak up the atmosphere.  We explored as many of the side streets as we could as well, and to my delight found a man playing an accordion with a cat sat quite happily on his shoulder!  I kept my eyes peeled for street art too, as I knew there was plenty to be found in this wonderfully bohemian area.  I could have stayed there for hours.

I love watching the artists in Place du Tertre in Montmartre

This guy was my favourite!

Some of the street art around this area is phenomenal

Cute street art

It was starting to get late and our tummies were rumbling, so we caught the metro back to Ile de la Cite.  On a previous foray we’d discovered a quiet little square away from the crowds (Place Dauphine) which was full of prettily flowering horse chestnut trees and lined with cafes and restaurants – the perfect spot for dinner.  It was relatively mild, so we chose to sit outside to eat (we both had galettes, a kind of savoury pancake), people watching and talking as we did so.  The food was delicious and we spent a happy couple of hours there.

After dinner we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower, determined to try and capture it’s sparkling display on camera.  We jumped on the metro and approached it from the opposite side this time… and still missed it by five minutes!  We caught the very end of the sunset instead though which seemed to be a good compromise.

Sunset at the Eiffel Tower



We slept well, exhausted after our long day of adventuring yesterday, and were up and out of the Airbnb by 8am, wanting to squeeze in one final bit of exploring before checking out and heading home.

Our first stop was Rue Cremieux, a pretty little cobblestone street lined with pastel-coloured houses and plenty of plants and greenery.  It reminded me a little bit of Circus Lane in Edinburgh.  From there, walking through eerily quiet streets, we crossed to the Left Bank of the Seine to explore the Latin Quarter, with the overarching plan of looping back around to the Right Bank (and our Airbnb) via various sights we still wanted to see.

Pretty Rue Cremieux

We both thoroughly enjoyed mooching through Jardine des Plantes, originally planted by Louis XIII as a medicinal herb garden and now simply a quiet green space in the city to enjoy.  It’s also home to the National Museum of Natural History and a small zoo, neither of which we went into (we were there too early and they weren’t open yet!).

The Grande Mosque of Paris was next, for a cup of tea and a mini cake.  I really wanted to see the interior of the mosque as it’s supposed to be incredibly intricately and beautifully designed.  Alas, again we were too early (it seems that the French like a lie-in on a Saturday morning) so we satisfied ourselves with relaxing in the peaceful little courtyard garden instead.  I’ll definitely re-visit on my next trip to Paris.

We strolled up Rue Mouffetard and stumbled somewhat unexpectedly upon the Pantheon, an enormous and impressively imposing building that serves as a mausoleum.  Many of France’s notable characters and important people are entombed there, including the philosopher Voltaire (the oldest ‘resident’, there since 1791) and Marie Curie – the first woman to be allowed to be included in 1995.   We didn’t go in (there was a long queue and we had limited time before we needed to be back at the Airbnb to check out) but I bet it’s pretty special inside.

Our final stop was Jardin du Luxembourg, which was a bustling space full of manicured lawns and terraces, tennis courts, fountains and pony rides.  It felt more laid back than other gardens we’d been to, despite it’s initial quite formal appearance, as if it was designed with children and community activities in mind.

Mooching around Jardin des Plantes

A quick rest-stop in the Grand Mosque of Paris

We caught the bus back to our Airbnb in order to make it in time for the checkout deadline (that was an adventure – we made it with a minute to spare!) and then, luggage in hand, we paid one last visit to Il de la Cite to buy some souvenirs.

On the way to Gare du Nord we stopped to enjoy some fantastic buskers on the bridge, before grabbing some lunch (a giant pain au chocolate for me – I couldn’t leave Paris without having one!) and catching our early afternoon train back to London.

Buskers on the bridge

It was a whirlwind of a trip and we squeezed in a lot of fun things, making the most of every minute.  We made lots of memories together and Rachel even took her five year old daughter back a couple of months later on an overnight girly trip because she was desperate to see the Eiffel Tower after hearing Rachel talk about it so much.

Next Time…

I think we might have to make it a tradition and go back every few years.  It’s definitely not going to be another nineteen years until the next visit, that’s for sure!

There was lots we wanted to do that we didn’t have time to see in the end (in addition to the items mentioned at the start of this post).  Here’s a list of just a few of them:

  • Watch a cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge
  • See the Impressionist paintings at Musee d’Orsay / Musee de l’Orangerie
  • Visit Librairie Ulysse – the world’s first ever travel bookshop, opened in 1971
  • Ile aux Cygnes, an artificially created long narrow island in the Seine with spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower
  • Wander along Rue Cler – a classic Parisian street overflowing with cafes, fromageries, boulangeries, florists and more
  • Spend time at Musee Rodin.  I want to see ‘The Kiss’, ‘The Gates Of Hell’, ‘The Thinker’ and the beautiful garden
  • Climb the Eiffel Tower
  • Be amazed by the Pompidou Centre’s modern art collection and radical external architecture
  • Explore Le Marais
  • Visit the Picasso Museum.
  • Be dazzled by Sainte-Chapelle

Have you been to Paris?  If you have, what else would you add to this list?


Three Days In Paris: A Travel Vlog

I couldn’t resist making a little video of what we got up to during our three days in Paris…

More Posts

1 Comment

  • Reply March 4, 2024


    Sounds like a fabulous trip. It has been years since I have been to Paris but a couple of places I really enjoyed were the Pere Lechaise cemetery, which I know may sound a little odd, and St Sulpice church. I am a big fan of Dan Brown’s Da Binci Code and we just had to follow the ‘rose line’

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