3 days in London and 1 day in Paris : what to do?
May 15, 2006 8:32 AM   Subscribe

3 days in London and 1 day in Paris : what to do?

At the end of June my wife and I will be in London for 3 days. What should we see and do in that limited amount of time? We love history, museums and great food. Are there any guided tours that are really worthwhile or should we see the city on our own? What can't-miss restaurants should we eat at? I know London theatre is excellent - which one show should we see?

We're taking the Eurostar to Paris for 1 day. Any recommendations on a restaurant for lunch? Can't-miss sights? How busy is the Louvre on Saturdays? Is it a madhouse?
posted by aceyprime to Travel & Transportation around London, England (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Louvre was nuts on any day I was in Paris, and you can be there ALL DAY, easily. The thing to do is to see what galleries are or are not open on the dates you will be there, and decide if you want to go if you can't see x-so-whatever art. There is, of course, the Picasso museum whose name eludes me at the moment.

If you like churches, St Denis is better (IMHO) than Notre Dame, and you can get there on the Metro. I'm not sure that they're done with the restoration of Ste Chappelle, but it's beautiful and was awesome even with scaffolding everywhere when I was there last. The Eiffel Tower, if you've never been, is impressive, but I don't find it necessary to go up in the thing. Some people really love it -- I suppose it's akin to really, really wanting to be at the top of the Empire State Building.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:38 AM on May 15, 2006

The one really good restaurant I've been do in London is the River Cafe. It's a little out of the way in Hammersmith, but definitely worth it.

If you like beer, going to some good pubs in London is definitely worth it. If that interests you, email or post a comment in thread and I can provide recommendations.
posted by pombe at 8:47 AM on May 15, 2006

The Musee D'Orsay is incredible and less overwhelmingly huge than the Louvre. GO FOR IT. (Also: less busy! Also also: this is the "Picasso museum" Medieval Maven refers to)

Get lunch in the Latin quarter. Amazing food for cheap!

Go to Sacre Coeur for an amazing view of the city. Also: It's in the Montmartre area, which is beautiful and amazing.

The Eiffel tower seriously under-whelmed me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2006

Response by poster: We're not big fans of beer but wouldn't mind finding some excellent fish & chips while we're there - is our best bet a pub? Any good restaurants for fine dining in London? The River Cafe looked nice.
posted by aceyprime at 9:20 AM on May 15, 2006

Best answer: In London, try the walking tours which are usually themed (Jack the Ripper, Haunted London, etc.) and have a good cross-section of people taking part in them. They are pretty inexpensive and usually end up in a pub. Take one of the open-topped "hop-on and hop-off" tour buses. They will allow you to see all the main sights and get your bearings and you can get on and off wherever you want usually for the whole day.

Take some time to travel outside of London, just to get a better idea of the surroundings. You don't have to go far... Windsor or maybe Hampton Court. In fact go to Windsor by train and go back into London down the Thames on a river boat.

Go on the London Eye to get an amazing view of the city.
Wear good walking shoes - London is a town best seen on foot. Go to Harrods department store, just to say you shopped there.

I grew up there and I love it and I have been away far too long. Just thinking of the things you can do there makes me want to go back.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2006

There's lots of useful info on this previous thread.
posted by essexjan at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2006

Fish & Chips in London.
Sea Shell in Lisson Grove (just round the corner from Marylebone Station & Tube) is general favourite...years since I've been but it was good.

Go to the Houses of Parliament but instead of doing a tour & crowding in with the rest of the herd (you don't have time) go to the public galleries in the evening when you can usually stroll right in (where stroll means go through 10 security checkpoints). House of Commons times here, House of Lords here. wandering around Parliament Sq late ini the evening (ready for Beg Ben striking 12 midnight) on a summer evening is highly recommended.
posted by i_cola at 9:37 AM on May 15, 2006

Best answer: Get a Paris Museum Pass (formerly the Carte Musées et Monuments) when you arrive in Paris. That way you can go to the group entrance at the Louvre (via Palais-Royale métro) rather than having to queue up at the pyramid. The same applies if you choose to go to Orsay, the Picasso Museum, or any of the other sites covered. There used to be a one-day pass, but now you're stuck with a two-day, which is slightly annoying: see if you can pass on your pass to someone when you leave. Even if you can't, the amount of time you'll save will make it worth the money.

Three days in London? Well, I'd devote one day to walking/bussing around (the hop-on/hop-off buses aren't too bad when your time is limited); one day to museums and theatre (perhaps go from Tate Modern to an evening show at the Globe); and another day to whatever catches your eye on the first two days.

Fish & chips? Not a pub. And hard to find without heading out of Zone 1. Depends whether you want stand-up or sit-down. Toffs in Muswell Hill is a bit out of the way, but worth discovering. Though you might like 'gastropubs' like the Eagle on Farringdon Road in Clerkenwell. Or try some marrow at St. John, also in Clerkenwell.
posted by holgate at 9:41 AM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

for fish and chips, please please please *don't* go to a pub! Specialist places are a million times better - don't be put off by the invariably drab exteriors....

Three good ones if you want the real traditional deal are: 'Fishcotheque', 79a Waterloo Road (under the railway line), the 'Fryer's Delight' at 19 Theobald's Road (any cabbie will be able to take you there) and the 'North Sea Fish Restaurant' on Leigh St in Bloomsbury. The first and third of these have tables for sitting, though fish and chips is generally a takeaway meal (take it to one of the main parks or to a bench on the South Bank, is my advice!).

If I had just one day in Paris, especially if I hadn't been before, I'd just walk and walk and walk. And then go to the Latin Quarter for dinner. Have a great time!
posted by altolinguistic at 9:43 AM on May 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

The Jack the Ripper walking tour in London I took for 8 pounds was absolutely terrific, led by a former Scotland Yard detective and undisputed expert...

The Picasso and Dali museums in Paris are relatively small and out of the way but DEFINITELY worth visting.

And I agree with the advice above, given your limited time in Paris, ditch the Louvre in favor or Musee D'Orsay.
posted by Heminator at 9:45 AM on May 15, 2006

One place that comes to mind for fish and chips is The Grapes - it's a nice historic pub that specializes in fish and chips, but it's expensive. You should also make sure to get reservations if you want to east upstairs in the restaurant part, though I'm pretty sure you can get food in the bar part as well.

I think the other place I had fish and chips in London was the North Sea Fish Restaurant in Russell Square - I don't remember it as well as the Grapes but I thought it was pretty good.

If you like cheese by all means visit Neal's Yard Dairy.
posted by pombe at 9:50 AM on May 15, 2006

Kew Gardens is nice, especially if it's sunny.

A list of fish and chips restaurants. Costas Fish Restaurant in Notting Hill is good.
posted by echelon at 9:55 AM on May 15, 2006

For fine dining that's also a blast, check out Rules. Look at the photos on the site. The food is incredible. I'd also recommend The London Museum, as it focuses just on the history of that city, and even if you don't like beer, check out Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub and then go around back and take the tour of Samuel Johnson's house.
posted by Ohdemah at 10:15 AM on May 15, 2006

If the weather's warm and sunny, pack a picnic and head to Regent's Park.

Notting Hill has some good shopping, and you could stop at the Tea Palace for lunch or afternoon tea.

Second the Musee d'Orsay, particularly if you like the Impressionists and Rodin, since they have a fabulous collection. I was last there 6 years ago over a weekend and they served a buffet in their restaurant. I don't remember if the food was any good, but the room was certainly fantastic.
posted by phoenixc at 10:24 AM on May 15, 2006

If you're looking to see the sights, the bus tours aren't too bad for London. I don't know about Paris.

The British Museum, the Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert Museums are my personal faves in London.

As far as food, there are a lot of great places. Do you have a price range or cuisine?
posted by k8t at 10:31 AM on May 15, 2006

I also endorse the Jack the Ripper walk!
posted by k8t at 10:32 AM on May 15, 2006

Thanks for the River Cafe recommendation. I just made reservations.
posted by k8t at 10:51 AM on May 15, 2006

London: The Sir John Soane Museum is a wonderful, hidden-away house full of a hodgepodge of drawings, sculptures, etc. The Orangerie, which is in the middle of Kensington Gardens, is really nice for tea or a light lunch.

Paris: You have to see at least the outside of the Centre Pompidou. The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is great for taking photos. I thought the Jardin Atlantique was a beautiful park, great for relaxing and contemplation. You could spend the whole day hitting the standard "must see" tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, with no time left over for things like the Jardin Altantique.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:51 AM on May 15, 2006

One day in Paris? Sounds like madness to me, especially if it's your first visit, but if you've only got one day, I'd say don't waste it in museums—walk around the Latin Quarter, have a couple of good meals, enjoy the views of the Seine and the famous buildings, get the feel of the place. You'll go back again, hopefully for at least a week, and there will be time to hang out at the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. But Paris isn't about museums, it's about the urban experience. Be a flâneur, enjoy the passing scene, feel like a Parisian for a day.
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on May 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the great recommendations everyone - very much appreciated. Looks like we have a lot to consider in what to do in these 2 great cities!
posted by aceyprime at 1:04 PM on May 15, 2006

I second the Centre Pompidou and Montmartre recommendations. As far as eateries go, L'As du Falafel in the Marais (4th) has the best falafels I've ever tasted. Also, Angelina in the 1st serves a sinfully delicious hot chocolate. I'm lactose-intolerant, but god it was worth it.

I can't say much for London, as I was only there a few days, but I remember the food being incredibly expensive. I ate a lot of flapjacks from Sainsbury's.
posted by killjoy at 1:39 PM on May 15, 2006

Couple of less well-known museums that are well worth a look:

19, Princelet Street is a dilapidated 18th Century house that works as a museum tracing the building and surrounding area's history in terms of immigrant communities (the house was first owned by Hugenot silk merchants, Polish Jewish immigrants built a synagogue in the garden...). There's a spooky story concerning the disappearance of a reclusive caretaker, too.

The Geffrye Museum is a bit more polished - housed in an alms house, C18 again, it's all about the history of British interiors, with displays of period rooms, and also has a series of miniature historical gardens.

Oh, and definitely go to St. John - I'm pretty sure that it's the best restaurant anywhere, ever. You do have to be into the more unusual parts of animals, though - bone marrow, lamb's tongues, ox heart (the good bits, in other words!). Come to think of it, if you do go on that Jack The Ripper tour, you'll no doubt end up near to sister restaurant St. John Bread & Wine, which does a cool lots-of-little-dishes thing based on the main restaurant menu - it's opposite Spitalfields market, right by The Ten Bells pub, which, on the inside at least, hasn't changed much since the days when the Ripper's victims drank there.
posted by jack_mo at 6:29 PM on May 15, 2006

I'll second holgate's reccomendation of a show at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. The Yard (standing) tickets at &pound5 are an incredible bargain and the building itself is worth a look if you don't have the time or inclination to take in a show.
posted by zanni at 2:14 AM on May 16, 2006

Some companies offer Eurostar day trips with lunch. I found this one (no recommendation, just a data point).

I've done this before, and while choice is limited it gets you there, back and fed for a fixed price - the rest of the afternoon is yours.
posted by sagwalla at 2:32 AM on May 16, 2006

And if you do take the Jack the Ripper tour, you'll get to see the newly-restored Christ Church. Hawksmoor's London churches are finally getting some well-deserved love.
posted by holgate at 5:13 AM on May 16, 2006

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