What should I see in London and Paris?

I’m going on a pleasure trip to London and Paris with my mom. We’ll be spending about five days in each city. (Yes, you’re right, I AM lucky!)

Anyone been? What do you recommend we see? Any restaurants we should definitely try?

(Of course, we’ll be seeing some West End musicals. That goes without saying.)

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22 Responses to What should I see in London and Paris?

  1. 1
    Yvette Robertson says:

    Might I suggest some of the forgotten corners of the East End this gentleman has been writing about for the past several years? The Blog is worth a read regardless.

  2. 2
    Jane Doh says:

    Lucky you! My favorite museum in Paris is the Cluny–it is a nice size (not overwhelming) and a great collection if you like art from the Middle Ages. I also love the Rodin museum. Both are not as amazingly jammed with people as the Louvre or the Orsay are. You should take a Bateau Mouche, preferably at dusk. It is super cliche, but also a really great experience.

    The windows at Sainte Chapelle are amazing, and really are worth the time and cost. The lines for Notre Dame are crazy, but worth doing at least once. It goes pretty fast with good company. The top of The Arc de Triomphe has great views without being a madhouse like the Eiffel Tower.

    Foodwise, I really enjoyed a meal at Pierre Sang (its a surprise menu, and they don’t tell you what it is until after you eat it, but you can tell them what you don’t eat before the meal). I also had a great lunch at Fish La Boissonnerie. I like Le Relais de l’Entrecôte for steak frites, but that is all there is, and it is expensive.

    Have a great trip!

  3. 3
    Harlequin says:

    Can’t say much about Paris, but I love London!

    Definitely stop by the Victoria & Albert museum. They have a whole section on theatre, including lots of costumes and set maquettes from famous musicals, and they have a whole series of “materials and techniques” galleries that show you not only, say, a historical overview of pottery, but also the steps of making it and why they work. Further away from the center of the city, the Greenwich Observatory has the best science museum I’ve ever been in, and there’s also the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House right there for more traditional art-and-history museums.

    There’s an outdoor book market (the Southbank Centre Book Market) under Waterloo Bridge near the National Theatre where I picked up some great books and antique prints. Really cool. It’s on a walk along the riverbank, too.

    The tour at the Globe was good when I went almost a decade ago (I assume this hasn’t changed). The Churchill War Rooms were also pretty interesting. If you and your mom don’t mind the walk, the top of Primrose Hill has a nice view; I’d definitely try to spend an hour or two in one of the big parks (Regent’s Park, especially Queen Mary’s rose garden, or Hyde Park, with all the swans by the Serpentine–Primrose Hill abuts Regent’s Park). Honestly, though, you’ll have a good time walking around in just about any neighborhood you find yourself in–I enjoyed that as much as the touristy stuff, last time I was there.

    If you’re comfortable with public transit & have enough time for delivery, I’d suggest getting travel Oyster cards before you go (if you haven’t already thought of that).

    I have a Google map I made last summer with a bunch of places I considered visiting while I was in London; if you want me to grant you access to the map, just let me know. It’s missing a few of the things I mentioned because I’d already seen them, but it includes some of the smaller/stranger museums I didn’t end up going to, some different markets/shopping areas, and a number of public parks.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks to everyone for your suggestions! More, more!

    Just to continue the (I hope) discussion, here’s an email I sent to mom about things to see in Paris:

    In Paris, I’d be more excited to see the Musée d’Orsay, than to see the Louve, just because I’m more a fan of impressionists than of Medieval, but either sounds good. Really, I’d just feel a bit embarrassed to go to Paris and never see a museum. The sculpture garden at Rodin Museum is supposed to be incredible, and less crowded as well – it might be fun to spend a morning or afternoon exploring that.

    I’d like to take a day trip to see Versailles and Marie Antoinette’s estate, if you’d be into that. (I’m told the trick is to do the estate and gardens first and Versailes towards the end of the day, when the crowds are less extreme.)

    I’d like to walk around the Montmarte neighborhood a bit, just because it looks so gorgeous in movies like Amelie.

    Some performances of French theater are done with English subtitles projected above the stage – http://www.theatreinparis.com/ .

    My friend says the double-decker bus tour is fun, and they also took a dinner cruise on the Seine that they really enjoyed.

    At some point, either in London or Paris, I want to visit a comic book shop, but of course you don’t have to come with me for that. :-p I’m asking around as for which shops are really excellent.

  5. 5
    Jake Squid says:

    In London:
    St. Paul’s Cathedral. Make sure to hike up the stairs and walk around the outside of the dome. Be prepared for how narrow the stairs are.

    Tower of London. You’ll marvel at how tiny Henry VIII was. And it’s cool walking around 1000 year old buildings.

    An audio guided walking tour of London can be fantastic and not overly taxing.

    For pure cheesy fun, The London Dungeon.

    Kew Gardens is wonderful.

    While I enjoyed the British Museum – who wouldn’t? – The National Portrait Gallery was an unexpected treasure.

    If you’re into zoos, like me, the London Zoo is a great place. So very, very different in attitude from Portland’s horrible zoo. The keepers are wonderful. The walk to and from the tube made me think of A Wrinkle in Time. There are no neighborhoods like that anywhere I’ve been in the US.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks, Jake!

    One thing that I’m getting from this discussion is that more “Alas” readers have been to London than Paris. :-p

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Le Marais is definitely on the possibilities list.

  8. 8
    Jake Squid says:

    Alas, I wasn’t going through a gut wrenching end of marriage while my sister was living in Paris or I’d have recommendations for that city.

  9. 9
    Kate says:

    For London, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is my top pick. The cafe at the top of the National Portrait Gallery (views). Brick Lane for Curry.
    I second the Rodin Museum for Paris. Also the Picasso Museum. Be careful about ordering steak, it is often surprisingly tough in Paris, for some reason.

  10. 10
    Harlequin says:

    I’ve been to both! But a day and a half in Paris when you’re 17 and traveling with your soccer team doesn’t compare to a few days sightseeing on your own and with local friends in your 30s, in terms of providing advice to others. My general “soak up the atmosphere” inclinations say to eat at as many outdoor cafes as you can, and to sit by the Seine for a while. I do want to go back to Paris, but then my list of desired travel locations is long.

    Do you speak any French? I’m terrible at learning new languages, so I always think people who can speak more than one are magic (even though I know this describes at least a sizable minority, if not a majority, of all humans).

  11. 11
    Yusifu says:

    In London, walking along the South Bank, as suggested above, is great. The Tate Modern is there, and it’s terrific. (You’d probably like the Tate as well, but that’s in Pimlico.) Also south of the river, there’s a lot of good South Indian food in Tooting Broadway, and good west African and Ethiopian food in Camberwell. If you’re walking around Soho, Maison Bertaux is great for tea and pastries. There’s a lot of good theater spread around, not just in the West End, and you can often get good deals on tickets through same-day websites.

  12. 12
    Oldman says:

    Hi I’m a Londoner,
    I think everyone’s advice above has been really good.

    A few things to note: Museums are free (except for a few exhibitions), Do not stand on the left of escalators (Londoners take this VERY seriously), we are not as unfriendly as our reputation would have you believe

    Something that get’s missed off a lot of people’s tours is Neasden Temple – it is absolutely beautiful.

    John Soame museum is London’s oldest museum, and virtually unchanged since it’s creation – it is amazing to behold.

    I’m not sure what links get blocked but if you google “straight up london google maps” and click the first link you’ll have an amazing map of great restaurants in London – so wherever you are you can find something nearby. If you post on what sort of things you like to eat/drink – I can try and provide some personalised recommendations.

    As for Paris:
    General advice: The Parisians really really hate people that make zero effort with their language, however they could not be more encouraging of people who make at least some effort with their language – learning a few phrases in advance will go a long way. Their transport is baffling. Metro lines are named after the final destination on the line – which for lines that branch can be very confusing. Also it means that the name for your return journey will be different to the outbound journey. RER trains do not stop at every stop on the line, check whether you’re getting an RER or not. If you order a drink in a bar the server will bring you your bill very quickly, this is NOT them trying to rush you out the restaurant, bringing the bill to you doesn’t mean that it is time to pay, it is simply providing you the option with paying if you are in a rush.

    I don’t have many tips that aren’t super obvious. Versailles is beautiful (surprise surprise) Their science museum is cool

    RE food: Try a tete de negre (but try not to translate the name) a tete de negre is to Paris what a croissant is to New York, they are big in to fusing French food with other food – Jamin is a French/Chinese fusion that I really like.

  13. 13
    nobody.really says:

    Go see London! Go see France! Go see someone’s underpants!

    I had a life-changing experience going to see the Mona Lisa at Versailles. Now, I will admit, I’m not a huge visual arts guy. But after standing for more than an hour to get to the head of a line in order to see this famous painting face to 1.5-inches-of-bulletproof-glass+face, I realized that it looked exactly like every picture of it that I had ever seen–ok, perhaps somewhat blurrier, due to the glass.

    I had stood in this line–forsaking the opportunity to see countless other things–just for the privilege of being able to tell people that I had done something that THEY would relate to. A colossal waste.

    And I’ve been telling this story ever since.

    (In contrast, a visit to the Grand Canyon is NOTHING like every picture you’ve ever seen of it.)

  14. 14
    Pasatiempo says:

    I would normally defer to those with more experience having been to London and Paris only once, but that once was just two weeks ago and I’m still giddy about it. So just a couple of comments…

    My favorite thing in London was Westminster Abbey. It’s yuuuge and yet everywhere you look – floor, ceiling, walls – there’s intricate detail. We were there at the end of the day and got to stay for the choir. The acoustics are unique and the sound was amazing. I would have rated Westminster Abbey as my favorite London experience without the choir but that doubled the experience.

    We took the Eurostar from London to Paris. That was a great experience in and of itself.

    My favorite thing in Paris was Paris. My restaurant recommendation is all of them. Don’t overbook the trip. Leave plenty of time for just being there.

    Someone mentioned the lines at Notre Dame. We stayed within a five-minute walk of Notre Dame and decided we’d do it whenever. On the second day of our three in Paris we went there mid-afternoon and the lines were horrific. We noted that it opened at 7:45 and went there the next morning at that time. By 8:45 we still had the place to ourselves and they had a church service – more singing in a giant cathedral and another wonderful experience.

    I don’t know how you feel about Uber. I have mixed feelings (Uber drivers were having a demonstration at LAX as we were getting ready to depart). Nonetheless, we used Uber a lot and it worked great.

    We did a bike tour of Paris called “Paris Charms and Secrets.” It’s lead by a tour guide and lasted four hours. It was great fun and they use “e bikes” which help you power them. Even my 66-year-old legs easily handled what few hills there were.

    You mentioned doing a dinner cruise. I looked into them and they’re very expensive. However, just regular one-hour river cruises of the Thames and Seine are easy to find, inexpensive and worth doing.

    Have a blast. I can’t wait to read your reports of the trip.

  15. 15
    Jane Doh says:

    Your comment about comic shops reminds me that there is a great exhibit this year about representing the Holocaust in comics at the Museum of the Shoah in Paris. I think it runs through January (I was there in the summer). The museum itself is gut-wrenchingly well done.

    On a happier note, Le Marais is a great walking neighborhood–I stayed a few nights there and loved it. We had great luck with Airbnb in Paris, and found a nice flat with views of the Eiffel Tower and the towers of Notre Dame for a very reasonable cost per night (it WAS a walkup on the sixth floor, though).

  16. 16
    annqueue says:

    We did the hop-on, hop-off tourist boat thing and it was good for us. If you already know London history you may not find it worth it.
    One must have tea and scones, of course.
    On the way to the airport there was an issue in the subway, and some very helpful people gave us good advice on how to still get to the airport on time.
    Never been to Paris.
    Looking forward to pics & stories!

  17. 17
    Jason Shiga says:

    A highlight of my London trip was visiting cartoonist and inventor Tim Hunkin’s collection of home made arcade machines. Also I’d recommend taking the bus instead of the Underground and sitting in the front of the top deck.

  18. 18
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    One of my favourite places in Paris is the Basilique St Denis in the city’s north suburbs, where French Kings going back to Clovis are interned.

    The Pantheon is good for more recent notable French people (Voltaire, Curie, etc etc).

    And Invalides is probably the best military museum I’ve ever been to. (Also still a working military hospital)

    In London, I think you’re gonna get more info, but I second The Tate.

  19. 19
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks to everyone for these wonderful suggestions and tips! I’m passing on suggestions to my mom and having fun googling these things. :-)

  20. 20
    palamedes says:

    For London, I recommend the Victoria & Albert Museum. Their restaurant in the basement is also a great meal after a cold and damp day – lots of hot and nutritious comfort food. If you have time, I also recommend the British Museum.

    For Paris, I recommend the Louvre, but use their website and try to go on two different days. Different wings are open on different days. I also strongly recommend L’Orangerie, which has some of Monet’s best in the best possible setting, and the Guimet Museum, which has a well-curated selection of Asian art.

    For both places, check out London Walks and Paris Walks as well.

  21. 21
    Bloix says:

    If you have time for a day trip, my mother adored Cambridge University. Fall term starts at the beginning of October – it’s more fun when the students are there but it’s always gorgeous.

  22. 22
    Bloix says:

    PS- If you don’t have time for Cambridge, you can take a boat for a 1/2 day to Greenwich. The city from the water is pretty, and Greenwich is lovely and historically interesting as the center of naval life for hundreds of years, when Britannia was just beginning to rule the waves.

    London is a very crowded city, especially in the tourist areas, and although it’s exciting it can be exhausting for a person of any age, so I recommend building in a little trip that takes you out of the central areas and allows for some relaxing sight-seeing.