For me, traveling feels a lot like falling in love, like the beginning of a new relationship. When we travel, we look our best. We try new things. Old things feel brand new. And new things make our hearts race. We live in the moment. Time slows down. And, we see our world through a new lens. We feel fully alive.
I love to travel, and part of creating my dream life is creating a life filled with lots of travel! I just returned from one of the best trips of my life--London and Paris--and I wanted to share my recommendations and tips with you while they are very fresh in my mind. Below, you will find our itinerary, recommended hotels and restaurants, and my top 10 tips to planning your dream trip!
My Top 10 Tips For A Trip to London and Paris:
1. Go in the off season.
We take all of our big trips in the off-season. We typically travel September through April and avoid holidays and spring break. We deliberately chose to travel to Europe in the off-season. The first week of March turned out to be a perfect time to be there. Yes, it was rainy, but it was not too cold. And, we didn't wait in a single line for anything during our entire trip!
2. Cash isn't king.
You don't need cash in London and need very little in Paris. Contactless payment rains king in London and is available everywhere--even in black cabs! Just make sure your credit card does not charge foreign transaction fees and notify them that you are traveling (so they don't think it is fraud) and you are all set. You may need a few euros in Paris (under $100) for the occasional taxi driver that does not accept credit cards. But, for the most part, everywhere we went accepted cards. Also, tipping is a not a big part of European culture. When in London, ask if the restaurant includes a service charge. If it does, no need to tip further. If it does not, you should leave 10-15% and can do so on the credit card. In Paris, tipping is very minimal and is not expected. If you receive great service, you can leave 5-10% as a nice gesture.
3. Take the Eurostar from London to Paris.
If you are traveling London to Paris, the Eurostar is the best way to travel. It is basically door-to-door service taking you into the city centers of both cities, is fairly priced (under $250 round trip), and takes less than 2.5 hours. We opted for the upgrade to Standard Premier, which includes larger seats and meal-service at your seat.
4. The Marais District is the perfect home base in Paris.
The city of Paris is made up of 20 arrondissements, and the most popular attractions are spread out among them. The Eiffel tower is in the 7th, the Louvre is in the 1st, Champs-Elysees in the 8th, and Montmartre is in the 18th. The Marais District sits in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and is the perfect home base for a Parisian vacation. You can very quickly walk to Notre Dame and can also walk in under 1.5 miles to the Louvre or to Musee d'Orsay. So, seeing the popular sights is very easy. The best part is when you come back from a day of sightseeing and exploring you have some of the best restaurants and shopping at your door. That means being able to have a nice dinner and a bottle of wine and taking the romantic walk back to your hotel without hopping in a cab or taking the Metro. I had the best brioche of my life at Aux Merveilleux
and an incredible Italian dinner at Don Giovanni.
It was fun to explore all over Paris, but coming home to Marais was the icing on the cake.
5. Bigger is not always better when it comes to art museums.
Surely the Louvre is on most people's list for Paris. After all, it is the world's largest art museum. But, the first time I visited Paris and visited the Louvre, I remember it being very crowded and very overwhelming. I am not an art aficionado, but I do appreciate and enjoy art. There is nothing quite like seeing some of the most famous pieces from artists like Van Gogh and Monet in person. On this trip, we visited Musee D'Orsay
instead of the Louvre. And, I enjoyed it more. Musee D'Orsay is beautiful, impressive, and manageable. You can see everything in the museum, and the museum has some of the most beautiful pieces from Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Manet, just to name a few! If you want to squeeze a bit of art into your trip but only want to spend a few hours (versus a whole day), I would highly recommend this wonderful museum. It is also extremely well priced (14 Euros).
6. It's worth going just for the food.
What will I miss most about our trip? The food! I would do anything for a chocolate chip brioche from Aux Merveilleux right now! So throw out the diet and the expectations and just enjoy the wonderful culinary scene in both London and Paris. I am not a huge fan of traditional English food. I would say definitely have one traditional English meal at a pub with some local beer and maybe fish and chips or a meat pie, but the best meal we had in London was at an AMAZING Lebanese restaurant.
London is also home to some of the best Indian restaurants in Europe! In France, every single bite of food was spectacular. From the chocolate croissants to the duck confit, we didn't have one bad bite. Bon Appetit!
7. Know some basic French phrases.
Parisians have a reputation for being rude. I found the complete opposite to be true. We literally did not have one bad interaction and found the Parisians to be kind, welcoming, and patient. But, we did make an effort to brush up on basic French phrases before going to Paris. Even just saying Bonjour when you enter a shop goes a long way in Paris! Most of the time, the Parisians could tell we were American just by our pitiful french accent, and they smiled and spoke to us in very good English. But, we always tried. Before you go, download Duo Lingo and learn some very basic conversational french!
8. Leave space in your itinerary for spontaneity.
My best advice for any travel is to have a rough outline of what you want to do but to be flexible and build in plenty of time for spontaneity. Have enough of a plan so that you don't waste time or get caught in a tourist trap but leave room for surprise! The magic usually happens when you aren't expecting it.
9. Always save the best hotels for last.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way a few years ago. We went from the Four Seasons to a friend's air mattress. There is nothing wrong with an air mattress--especially when a friend is nice enough to let you have it, free! But, going from the Four Seasons to one is particularly shocking to the system. Always work your way up! We started with an Airbnb, moved to a Parisian boutique hotel, upped it to a beautiful small luxury hotel in the Cotswolds, and wrapped up the trip at the Langham in London. Once you go nice, it's hard to go not. But gradually getting nicer over the course of a trip is such a fun way to travel if you can't (or don't want to spend the money on) luxury the whole time!
10. You'll remember how you felt, not what you saw.
A good trip is all about having a good state of mind. If you are feeling tired, stressed, and anxious but seeing all the sights "you are supposed to see," your memories of the trip are tarnished. When I travel, I always listen to my body and honor my feelings. If I am tired, I nap. If I am hungry, I eat. If I am cold, I plan something indoors. I never do anything just because I "should" or because it is the "thing to do." I could have stayed in Marais the entire trip eating, drinking and meeting locals and not have seen a single "sight," and I would have still had the trip of a lifetime.
Our Itinerary (including restaurants and hotels):
Day 1: Travel Day. Denver to London.
There are many great direct options from Denver to London on United or British Airways. We chose to fly Delta so had to stop. If you have to stop, look for a layover in Detroit. The Detroit McNamara (Delta) Terminal is gorgeous, easy to navigate, and has lots of great restaurants. We found the upgrade to Delta Comfort + well worth it. Plus, we loved having two seats to themselves by the window with the layout of the A330.
The extra legroom allowed us to sleep and to be very comfortable on our flight to London. The new international main cabin experience
on Delta is very good and includes a welcome cocktail once airborne, a full dinner with your choice of appetizer, main entree, dessert, unlimited snacks and drinks throughout the flight, and breakfast prior to landing.
Day 2: Arrive in London.
We arrived in London around noon, and took the Heathrow Express train
to Paddington Station. I would HIGHLY recommend the Heathrow Express. It is very clean and brings you to the city center in 15 minutes. From Paddington Station, you could always catch a cab to your hotel or take the underground. If you are flying home from London, purchase the return ticket at the same time and you'll save. The trip is so short, first class is not worth it unless you are traveling at an extremely busy time of year and want more space.
We arrived to our Airbnb around 1:00 pm, took a short nap, and then strolled the streets and had a leisurely dinner. I never plan too much for our first day after a red-eye flight. Our Airbnb
was stunning! It was in the Kennington neighborhood which has cute restaurants and coffee shops like, Sally White.
I would recommend this area if you are ok walking or taking cabs or public transport. We took a lot of black cabs because it was raining every day, but I love black cabs even though they are more expensive than Uber or the underground. They are very clean and the drivers are extremely professional and knowledgeable. From the Airbnb, most cab rides were 15 minutes or less (which is very quick with London traffic!).
Day 3: Explore London. Tower of London. Afternoon Tea.
Our second day in London, we woke up fully rested and ready to explore! We had coffee and quiche at Sally White, and then headed to the Tower of London
. The Tower of London is a must-see when visiting London. I would highly recommend taking one of their free guided tours with a Beefeater and seeing the Crown Jewels. And, because we traveled in the off season, we never waited in a single line.
After spending a few hours at the Tower of London, we made our way to the Corinthia Hotel
for afternoon tea. Even in the off season, I would recommend making reservations for afternoon tea. There are hundreds of places to enjoy afternoon tea in London, but we wanted to treat ourselves to something fancy and the Corinthia did not disappoint. After tea, we walked to see Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster and then walked all the way home. That night we enjoyed dinner at Bob Bob Ricard
, relaxed at our Airbnb, and purchased last minute tickets to Hamilton.
Day 4: West End of London.
I have wanted to see Hamilton on Broadway for the past several years. I was in New York in July and couldn't find even a solo seat in any section for under $400. But, in London, we scored 1st row seats for under $90 per person. London's West End is as incredible as Broadway. If there is a show you've been dying to see, the West End would be a fabulous place to see it! We saw a 1:30 pm show and then found a fantastic British pub for beer and fish & chips after the show.
Day 5: Eurostar to Paris.
to Paris is wonderful. It is fast, easy and fun! I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance. You can purchase them online before your trip, and download the Eurostar app instead of printing your tickets. We chose to upgrade to Standard Premier. I would say the upgrade is worth it if it is less than $40 per person. Standard Premier is not business class but it has the exact same business class seats and comes with a light meal and drinks served at your seat. The food from London to Paris was actually terrible but the coffee was good. The food from Paris to London was lovely! Overall, I was happy we upgraded just for the extra room. Unlike many train trips in Europe, you actually need to arrive to the train station 45-60 minutes in advance of the departure time to go through (what will feel like) airport security.
We arrived in Paris at 2:00 pm and took a cab from Gare Du Nord to our hotel in the Marais district of Paris. There are so many luxury hotels in Paris. If you want to stay in luxury, you will have no problem finding many great options. This trip was a bit impromptu for us so we were wanting to spend under $300 a night on hotels. So, we found the cutest little boutique hotel in the Marais District of Paris, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais
. It was probably the smallest hotel I've ever stayed at (2 people with bags could barely fit in the elevator) and from a facilities standpoint is probably a 3 star hotel. But, from a service standpoint, it is a 5 star hotel. I could write an entire article about what made this hotel so special but for this post will simply say, if you can check your expectations at the door, you will absolutely end up falling in love with this little gem. It also sits in one of the cutest neighborhoods in Paris with some of the best restaurants and shops nearby. And, the breakfast served in your room each morning was something out of a dream.
We spent the afternoon exploring Marais, trying the popular fallafel pita at L'As du Fallafel
(which was well worth the wait), and stopping in multiple coffee shops.
Day 6: Explore Paris. Montmartre & The Eiffel Tower.
Our lunch and walking tour of Montmartre was one of my most memorable days in Europe. Montmartre is the highest point in Paris and offers spectacular views of the city. We started our afternoon in Montmartre the best way possible--with wine & cheese at Le Vrais Paris
. After wine, cheese and a coffee (of course!), we met our tour guide for our free walking tour
of Montmartre. This 90-minute walking tour was a great way to see Montmartre, learn a bit of the history (including that Van Gogh lived and painted in Montmartre), and it ended at Sacre Coeur church. For a free (tips only) tour, I found it to be well worth our time and enjoyable. After Sacre Coeur, we made our way to a french bakery for croissants and coffee and then caught a cab to the Eiffel Tower. If you can, arrive to the Eiffel Tower before sunset. That way, you will be able to see it in daylight and also enjoy the light show that happens every hour on the hour starting at dusk. We brought a bottle of champagne, found a bench, and enjoyed the sunset over the Eiffel Tower ~ a total dream!
Day 7: Day trip to Strasbourg.
There is so much to see and do in Paris. There is no need for a day trip. But, we wanted to see the Alsace region of France and the medieval architecture so decided to embark on a day trip to Strasbourg via the TGV high speed train. If you want to stay near Paris instead of venturing far, I would suggest doing Versailles on this day. But, if you are up for an adventure, a day-trip in Strasbourg is a good choice and is less than 2.5 hours each way if you take the high speed train. The Cathedral of Notre Dame
in Strasbourg, alone, was worth the trip.
Day 8: Explore Paris. Musee D'Orsay. Shopping & Dinner in the Marais.
After a busy day in Strasbourg, we slept in and enjoyed the wonderful breakfast in bed at our hotel. My husband, Ryan, went to the catacombs
of Paris where over six million people are buried. I decided to start my day on a lighter note with a fabulous blow out at Medley salon
(or coiffeur in french!), which happened to be just across the street from my hotel. We rendezvoused for lunch and spent a few hours shopping in Marais. After lunch, we made our way to Musee D'Orsay. We only left two-hours to explore the museum, and I wish we would have had more time. I would recommend budgeting four hours to have enough time to see everything. But, the amazing part of D'Orsay is that you can see everything! If you aren't an avid art connoisseur, consider Musee D'Orsay over the Louvre! We wrapped up our final day in Paris with a memorable and delicious dinner back in the Marais district at Don Giovanni.
The food,service and ambiance made this one of my most favorite meals on our trip!
Day 9: Eurostar to London. Drive to the Cotswolds.
I wasn't ready to leave Paris but the magic of the Cotswolds was just the motivation I needed to get me out of bed and to Gare Du Nord for our train trip back to London. We arrived at St. Pancras station in London and rented a car at the Hertz located in the train station to start our journey to the English countryside. The Cotswolds are an over 700-square mile area of rolling hills, farms, and small quaint villages in south-central and south-west England. Depending on where you are staying in the Cotswolds, it is about a two-hour drive from London. We took our time getting from London to our hotel in the Cotswolds and stopped at The Royal Standard of England
(a 900-year old pub) for lunch on the way! After lunch, we made our way to the Dormy House
for our one-night stay. The Dormy House was perfection!!! If I could change one thing about our trip, I would have stayed longer at the Dormy House to enjoy their spa and immense grounds.Day 10: Explore the Cotswolds. Head back to London.
Our day exploring the Cotswolds was my favorite memory from our trip. So many adorable towns and scenery so beautiful it's hard to believe it's real. We started our morning in the adorable town of Broadway and then made our way over to the Broadway tower. From there we drove to Bourton-on-the-Water and had an amazing lunch at The Den and walked on the waterway. After exploring Bourton-on-the-Water we drove over to Lower Slaughter. From Lower Slaughter we drove to watch the sunset in the most picturesque town of Bibury. The entire day was a dream that I never wanted to end. I would highly recommend making the Cotswolds part of your trip to England. Next year, we want to spend a week just in the Cotswolds (maybe even for Christmas!). After watching the sunset, we drove back to London, dropped our car off at St. Pancras, and made our way to our final hotel of the trip -- The Langham London
, a true 5-star hotel on every level. If you want to stay in a 5-star hotel in London, The Langham is certainly the way to go! And, definitely, add on breakfast to your room -- it is a spread not to be missed.
Day 11: London to Denver. Layover in Minneapolis.
After breakfast at Roux at the Landau at the Langham, we took a short cab to Paddington Station to catch the Heathrow Express to the airport, took a wonderful flight back, with an easy layover in Minneapolis, and arrived in Denver by 7:00 pm. My biggest advice for the journey back -- don't sleep! By not sleeping, we were able to hit the bed by 9:00 pm in Denver and wake up at a normal time of 7:00 am the next day! We didn't suffer from jet lag at all which was a wonderful way to end our dream trip.
I hope this article is helpful in planning your trip to London and Paris! Don't wait for "someday" as someday may never come! If you haven't been to London and Paris, plan your trip soon. It truly is a trip of a lifetime <3
"The world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page."
- Saint Augustine