Help make my wife's birthday in Paris awesome?
January 11, 2011 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Help make my wife's 30th birthday in Paris awesome?

Hi hive,

Long time lurker, first time asker. My lovely wife is turning 30 in February and we're celebrating by taking a trip to Paris. Exciting! We have most of the vacation planned, but I'd like to make the actual day of her birth The Awesomest Day Ever In Paris (on a non-profit employee's budget). Problem? This is our first time in Paris, so I'm a little stumped. Specifics in terms of where to eat, what to do, what areas might be romantic or lovely, especially if off the beaten path a bit, all of that would be terrific.

Some potentially relevant data:

-Her birthday falls on our second full day in Paris, a Monday. We'll be staying in the city for several days after, which long enough, I think, to get in all the Louvre-visiting, and Catacombs-poking tourism done that we'd like. In other words, if there's some touristy activity involved, that's ok, but it needent be the focus of the day.

-She eats fish but no other meat. I'm a veggie, but have no qualms going to an awesome fish place if there's something I can nosh.

-I'm figuring a budget for the day of around 500ish USD, which I'd like to include all meals, including a romantic dinner.

-She enjoys partner dancing, but not clubs.

-She's isn't particularly into shopping.

-She is into some of the food stuffs that Paris is known for (breads, cheese, wine, chocolate, coffee).

-We like to explore cities by foot.

-We both speak a bit of French (we live in NYC), but not a whole lot.

-We both like music, and lately she's been pretty into Martha Wainwright's covers of Edith Piaf, which seems like it should imply... something?

I hope this isn't too frustratingly open ended, but, as I said, I've never been to Paris before, and I'd love to know more about what you found awesome and wonderful in a 'best day ever' kind of way.

Thanks so much for any help you can offer!
posted by qnarf to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mondays are not good museum days, since many museums are closed and the few that are open tend to be really crowded. The Louvre, for instance, is open Monday and closed Tuesday, but the Musée d'Orsay just across the river is closed Monday, and there's a sign there informing disappointed tourists that they can go to the can imagine what happens.

If you both like foodstuffs, visiting food markets is fun. Most are closed Monday (you may notice a theme), but a couple that are open are:

Marché couvert Treilhard
1 rue Corvetto.
Lundi au samedi de 8h30 à 20h30
Métro : Villiers

Marché couvert Saint-Didier
Rues Mesnil et St Didier.
Pour les emplacements de vente à l’extérieur :
Lundi au vendredi de 8h à 19h30, samedi de 8h à 13h30
Pour les emplacements de vente à l’intérieur :
Mardi au samedi, de 8h à 13h30
Métro: Victor Hugo

You could also visit the food departments in Bon Marché if you're on the left bank, or Galeries Lafayette if you're on the right. The Treilhard covered market isn't too far from the Galeries.

Walking through the many covered passages is also fun, especially if the weather isn't very enticing.

As for meals: If you're a vegetarian and want an excellent meal in Paris, you should consider Macéo, whose menu au vert is a 3-course vegetarian menu. They also do fish. The setting is elegant. You could also look for an Italian place, where you could have a vegetarian pasta as a main course. If you like good Italian wine, L'Enoteca is worth considering, though the ambiance is more informal than Macéo.

Otherwise you can have an excellent meal for 100-200 € (total for 2 people) at my favorite restaurant, Le Pamphlet; they will have fish but I'm not sure about a vegetarian option (though you could call and ask).

I'm sure you'll get other suggestions, but I hope these are helpful. And do take a look at Macéo. I was there in June with a vegetarian friend, who was delighted to have an entire 3-course menu instead of having to make do with a couple of appetizers or grazing.

I verified that all three of those restaurants are open for dinner Mondays. Macéo takes reservations online. You may know this already, but Parisians eat dinner late: 7 p.m. is early, and many fine restaurants don't open until 7:30 or 8 p.m.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:56 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I always like to recommend the many outdoor markets of Paris, less really for the shopping and more just for the atmosphere and interesting variety. It'll be cold when you're there, but if you like exploring cities on foot and will be outside anyway, these are a real treat. There are a good many of them spread all around, most of them temporary things with poles and awnings set up, some more permanent. See this answer of mine from last summer for some detail. The hours I list there are the Saturday hours (because I made that list in my phone when I was making my plan for a Saturday), but if you find the original source it will have the hours for all week. Some are only open certain days. I loved them. Depending on which kind you go to, there can be so many different kinds of things all together in one market and it's fun to rub elbows with normal Parisians doing their normal shopping. Some cheese here, some coffee there, something hot to eat over there, some clothes, little housewares, crafts, fruit, whatever. It feels a lot less touristy than museums and whatnot. If it were warmer I'd recommend a picnic in one of the many parks. If you're bundled up, maybe that could still be something nice. There is some other good stuff in that thread from last summer too. Also just sent you a MeMail.
posted by Askr at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would say a dinner in the Tour Eiffel would be a fantastic way to end the day!

Perhaps have a boat tour of the Seine on one of the Bateaux Mouches - I did this ~ 1997 and really enjoyed it! Plus it is covered, so crappy weather won't mess up the plans, much.
posted by jillithd at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2011

OK, just a few thoughts . . . I know hive mind will have lots more for you.

1. February can be cold in Paris. And not much is yet in bloom. So I'd suggest that rather than croissants and jam at a cafe, that you overnight in one of Paris' more romantic hotels and breakfast inside in the AM.

2. For walking during the day, it is hard to beat (even in the cold) the Luxembourg Gardens or and Ile St. Louis (which also has one of the best ice cream places in the world, Berthillon.) It is also very close to Notre Dame, which is gorgeous and fun to climb, and the nearby underground ruins of Paris, which are great to tour. Corny but lovely are things like going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

3. Paris has every kind of restaurant imaginable. Here's a list of some of the well ranked vegetarian places.

4. Don't miss the Seine at night. If you can find a menu that works for you, you may want to try a boat cruise and dinner .. . always romantic -- but do at a minimum walk the Seine at night. The lights on the water are incredibly beautiful.

Here are some more suggestions.

Don't worry about not being fluent in French: Parisians are very good at speaking English. I always recommend starting with basic pleasantries in French (well pronounced) but then you can ask -- preferably in French -- if the person to whom you are talking speaks English, and people almost always do.
posted by bearwife at 2:03 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well that sounds like a treat!

The great thing about Paris is that it is such a lovely city to walk around. All the ugly stuff is kept outside, so you're left with this beautiful, walkable centre. So if the weather is nice, just wandering around would be a lovely way to spend a day. And a night - Paris buildings are illuminated beautifully, so a night time stroll along the Seine would be a birthday to remember.

If the weather is not so nice, or just becase there might be a particular thing you want to do, there are lots of lovely smaller museums which you can find on lots of Paris websites. NB, though, many are closed on Mondays, so check first.

The Marais is very touristy, but that's because it lovely and small streets and interesting mix of cultures (old Jewish area, then posh boutiqey, now gay) and a sense of intimacy, and a fair number of quirky little shops which are also good for people not that into shopping.

I've always found time out to be the most useful for restaurant recommendations , as the guidebooks date so fast. Also has lots of food shop recommendations - but checkout where they are. I know I've tried and failed to follow some of their leads, and sometimes when you do it's a bit of a letdown if you've trekked miles to get there.

Ceroc and Jive are really big in Paris, if that is the kind of dancing you mean. Here's a link to a ceroc site , for example.

There are some amazing avantgarde chocolate places, also listed on the timeout site I think. One fun thing is to find one near a park, so you have somewhere to enjoy your amazing overpriced chocs.

posted by Marzipan at 2:19 PM on January 11, 2011

I love Le Pamphlet! Also, warm up with amazing hot cocoa at Angelina's. Does she like oysters? Try Au Chien Qui Fume.
posted by cyndigo at 2:26 PM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: I don't know anything about Paris, but I did just turn 30.

Maybe you could do similar things like what you'd do at home but with a Parisian twist.

Breakfast in bed (Room service or just you going to fetch things while she's still asleep)

Some kind of pampering (A haircut at a real life Parisian Salon! A massage? A bubble bath at the hotel with some frou-frou bath oils?)

Birthday Cake or some other kind of really decadent dessert.

This is of course to go along with whatever fun and exciting things the people who know about Paris will suggest!
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:31 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Visit the Louvre via the "hidden entrance" at the Porte des Lions (along the Seine) for reduced line-ups.

Also, be sure to initiate "Bonjours" and "Merci beacoups" a whole lot -- the French are into formal-ish greetings (when you walk into, or leave, a shop, restaurant, etc.) and loooooove being buttered up a bit and flattered.

Rue Mouffetard can be fun for foodies.

Get her some Macarons from Laduree!
posted by rumbles at 3:05 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Monday is going to be the hard part of this. Not only do museums and markets close, but most of the better restaurants do as well. Sunday's a bit better, but still not easy. That said, if you really want to go gung ho on seafood, I've read reasonably good things about Le Bar a Huitres. I haven't been, though. I recommend looking at Le Fooding (mostly in French, but easy enough to translate). Their recommendations have been solid, plus they allow one to filter by "open Monday."

Oh, and stop in sometime (Not Monday) after lunch but before even an early dinner at L'Avant Comptoir for some good wine and mind-blowing charcuterie. It's a stone's throw from Notre Dame on the left bank, so not even out of your way.
posted by Schismatic at 3:54 PM on January 11, 2011

Whoops, I meant to say that Le Bar a Huitres is open Mondays. And every other day, at that.
posted by Schismatic at 3:56 PM on January 11, 2011

Since your wife likes Edith Piaf, note that her grave is at Père Lachaise, along with famous lovers Abelard and Heloise and Oscar Wilde's tomb covered in kisses. It's a quiet, beautiful place, serviced by two metro lines, so not really that far out of the way. Pretty cold in February though.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:23 PM on January 11, 2011

No specific suggestion other than enjoying the walkways, bridges, and macarons - but what I really wanted to say was - lucky wife! I already know that she'll have an awesome time, just because you care about it (and her) so much.
posted by analog at 5:01 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a sweets person myself, but a trip to any/all of the places mentioned here would be amazing, if only to look at.
posted by emkelley at 6:14 PM on January 11, 2011

My go to recommendation for info on eating in Paris is David Lebovitz's site, specifically this and, for vegetarians, this. For romance, check this post out.

So much fun! I hope you have a great time.
posted by lvanshima at 8:29 PM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: So many awesome answers! Thanks so much for all the info, guys, this is really great. I'm going to digest for a bit and try to plan some stuff out. I'll pop back in so feel free to keep suggestions coming (know any good Jazz clubs or a must drink cup of coffee?), if you like. I'm super excited! Thanks again!
posted by qnarf at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2011

Re coffee, you cannot go wrong at any cafe. The coffee in Paris is outstanding. I dream of the gigantic bowls of morning coffee and milk.

As to jazz clubs, check out this site, which lists clubs by Paris arrondissement. The Parisians love jazz and there is a lot of it in the city. Make sure your club is open on Mondays . . .

I found this info at Trip Advisor, by the way, on romantic restaurants in Paris (as the vegetarian options we've listed for you look a little deficient in romance.) Looks like there are a few fish places in the group. I'd suggest checking out each on line for hours -- to be sure your choice is open Mondays -- and typical menu items.
posted by bearwife at 2:58 PM on January 12, 2011

I haven't been there yet, but others say the best place for coffee is The Caféohèque.
posted by jeri at 8:16 PM on January 12, 2011

This question brings back gorgeous memories of studying abroad in Paris in the winter.

Two of my favorite places to go in Paris, especially when it's cold or rainy, are:

- Angelina's for incredible hot chocolate. It's on rue de Rivoli, right by the Tuileries, where the gardens are lovely for strolling. (Or being a flaneur, as my French teacher would say.) The Louvre is right there, but I'd recommend the Orangerie (with the Monet water lilies) or Jeu de Paume, since both of those places are more intimate and relaxing.

- Mariage Freres for incredible tea. It's in the Marais, a charming Medieval neighborhood that's a center of Jewish and gay life in Paris. You can get delicious falafel down the street and sample from the Jewish bakeries and windowshop at the high-end clothing stores. You're also close to the Centre Pompidou art museum and gorgeous Place des Vosges square. There's a public ice skating rink nearby at the Hotel de Ville.

I think a perfect birthday would start with delicious coffee and a pain au chocolat, then a walk along the Seine to one of the smaller art museums*, and afterwards lunch and ice skating and a leisurely tea or hot chocolate at Mariage Freres or Angelina's to warm up, then perhaps some quiet time before a fancy dinner.

I wish I knew where the great vegetarian food is now in Paris. When I was there, I was very happy with baguettes and cheese and chocolate -- you can get the most divine versions of all three just at your normal every day stores there. But a birthday celebration probably calls for something even more special.

*Other lovely, smaller art museums: Musee Rodin with a lovely outdoor sculpture garden, Musee de Cluny with medieval sculptures and unicorn tapestries, Musee d'Orsay for the impressionists.
posted by zahava at 1:12 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the wonderful answers. We wound up taking your advice, brianogilvie, and ate dinner at Macéo, which was an awesome way to cap a day of spa pampering, macroon eating, and walking around that amazingly beautiful city.
You guys were a huge help!
posted by qnarf at 7:54 AM on February 18, 2011

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