Romance, food, art, and Paris all combine to make the perfect honeymoon on a France vacation.
It is cliché, I know, but it was always going to be Paris. Despite the fact that we had both been to Paris before, and so the city wasn’t exactly a “new” destination for either of us; despite the fact that friends and family members pestered us with questions about our intended destination’s safety after a rough couple of years of terror attacks; despite the fact that we don’t consider ourselves conventional people who do conventional things, my wife (then fiancée) and I chose to head to Paris on our honeymoon.
And boy was it worth it.
Yes, we suffered from near-Olympian exhaustion from the gauntlet that was our wedding week and had a bone-deep craving to sleep all day and night for the first few days of our France vacation, but we made the most of our time and made our honeymoon one to remember. And we didn’t even try to do that many conventionally “romantic” things. We merely enjoyed this most cherished of cities, taking advantage of its endless opportunities for art, food, drink, and atmosphere as we whiled away a week on its streets. If you’re mulling over honeymoon options for your upcoming wedding or merely fantasizing about your ideal honeymoon some time down the road, consider Paris as your final destination. It’s the old standard, but like with jazz tunes, cities become old standards for a reason. Simply put, when it comes to romance, no city can outdo Paris.
Pick a location that allows you to focus on each other and not the tourist crowds
During our time in Paris, we stayed at the Hotel Victor Hugo in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. Situated about 10 minutes south of the Arc de Triomphe, the Hotel Victor Hugo isn’t located in the typical tourist spots. Most people on a first visit opt for the Latin Quarter, just south of Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame is located, or Montmartre, where the small lanes and art galleries create the sort of ideal backdrop you imagine from French movies (there’s a reason bubblegum fantasies of Paris like Amelie take place in Montmartre).
But for people who have been to Paris before on a France vacation and aren’t in a hectic desire to see each and every tourist sight within walking distance, the Hotel Victor Hugo’s location was something of a godsend. After spending the day amidst crowds of similarly-awestruck tourists, we could disappear back to the quiet, impeccably clean area around the hotel and shift to the normal rhythms of this city.
The big takeaway here is that you want to get lost with each other on a honeymoon. Being around crowds of people with backpacks and selfie sticks is fine, but you don’t exactly feel like you’re inhabiting a bubble all your own when you’re sharing a square with 2,000 other people. And when you want to retire for the night, either with a bottle of wine and a view of the Eiffel Tower lit up from your hotel room, or to a small café down the lane from your hotel, you want to be alone together. Paris is an easy city to lose yourself in, but finding an ideal location to lose yourself in is key. Pick a nice venue with a clean room and a good bed, access to the metro, and some highlights nearby. If you’re wanting to feel like you have the city to yourselves, quiet areas like the 16th arrondissement are your best bets.
Consciously make lasting memories
I don’t want to make it seem like we completely skipped the tourist sights and instead disappeared into some small artists’ haven on rue Victor Hugo, where we experienced the “authentic Paris.” We certainly saw the iconic sights of Paris, but we didn’t overwhelm ourselves with tourist itineraries on this France vacation that would’ve kept us from forming some cherished memories in the spur of the moment.
There are a few places that you’d be a fool to miss on a visit to Paris, even if you have things other than sightseeing on your mind. Chief among these landmarks is the Eiffel Tower, perhaps the most popular building in the world and the city’s main icon. On our first afternoon and evening, we knew that our energy wouldn’t carry us through a whirlwind day after a long and sleepless flight. So we focused on a few accessible landmarks that would allow us to acclimate to Paris and still feel like we’re doing something special.
First, we walked 10 minutes from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe and got some requisite selfies to start the trip. We grabbed a prix fixe dinner in a bistro to the southwest, and then near sundown, headed to the Eiffel Tower and plunked ourselves down on the lawn of the Champ de Mars. We tried our best to ignore the industrious peddlers trying to sell beer and souvenirs and instead focused on the failing light behind the tower.
As the sun sets, the Eiffel Tower lights up, but it’s not an instantaneous lighting, like someone flicked a switch. Instead, the tower slowly comes to life, as if it absorbs the available light in the sky as the sun dips beneath the horizon. Around 10pm, the tower fully lights up and comes to life, with a light show lasting a couple minutes. This sort of light show happens every night, but sitting on the weather-beaten lawn and staring up at the tower with my wife was magical. Even the peddlers and large crowds couldn’t distract us from the moment. These are the kinds of experiences that you can have when honeymooning in Paris.
No matter where you go, you’ll still see some masterpieces
There is so much to see and do in Paris that you’ll be amazed at how little of the city you saw by the time your France vacation was over. However, don’t feel pressured to fit everything in, especially when you want to save some lazy Parisian time to enjoy in each other’s company, whether impulsively spending an hour on a park bench to enjoy a burst of sunlight or stopping in that cute café on the corner to sip an espresso and snack on a croissant.
On our honeymoon, we went to the Musee d’Orsay to see impressionist masterpieces of Monet and Van Gogh, although we opted out of any other museums as we had both seen the Louvre in the past. (One glance at the Louvre lineups erased whatever small desire we had to revisit the museum.) We visited the gorgeous churches of Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle, and Sacre Coeur. Saint Chappelle was a particular surprise for me, as I had never seen it before, and the incredible stain glass windows (which are considered the best in the world) could’ve held my attention for hours. We relaxed in the Parisian gardens, strolling through Tuileries and spending a sunny afternoon in Jardin du Luxembourg, drinking wine and people watching. We even caught the final leg of the Tour de France by accident, wading into a massive crowd of people to spot hundreds of cyclists rush around a corner of the Tuileries in a quest for glory.
Remember, be creative about how you approach the sights. Every moment you spend on your honeymoon is a defining memory, so be deliberate in what you include in your itinerary, on a France vacation especially, because you’ll want flexibility in your schedule to accommodate long lunches and ambling strolls through pedestrian avenues. However, one pre-planned trip to consider is a river cruise along the Seine. We took a one-hour river cruise which travelled from the base of the Eiffel Tower, around the Ile de la Cite, and back to the tower. Seeing Paris from the water is incredible, as the whole city seems to unfold around you as you pass along the shore. As well, we were lucky enough to enjoy the VIP champagne experience, which gave us a private area at the front of the cabin and three glasses of champagne (real champagne, no prosecco or cava) over the hour-long cruise. This cruise is a great way to see many Parisian landmarks as well as taste some champagnes that you might not normally have access to.
We also took an evening walking tour around the Ile de la Cite and the right bank of the Seine, learning about the curse of King Henry IV and other morbid stories of Paris. The tone of the tour might have been a tad grisly for a honeymoon, but it was nice to walk around these areas at night, seeing illuminated landmarks like the Conciergerie and the Hotel de Ville, and hearing fanciful stories about them.
The food (and wine)… and food!
If you’re going to eat and drink yourself to a state of blissful stupor every day, you can’t find a better city to do it in than Paris. This is a city is obsessed with food and drink. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap. With a strong Euro and a weak Canadian dollar, the splendour of Parisian cuisine came a little more expensively than I desired on my honeymoon, but it was a small price to pay for consistently-excellent food to enjoy every evening (and morning… and noon… and basically any time you spot a bakery with seductive smells emanating through the doorway).
Although you can find excellent cuisine of any variety in Paris, my wife and I stuck to French food while we stayed there. Taking a few recommendations from family and friends, and armed with trusty-ol’ Google Maps and its repertoire of user reviews, we found some excellent spots to dine throughout our stay on this France vacation. Luckily, two of the best restaurants were mere minutes from our hotel. It seems that the area around Place Victor Hugo is a hotbed of fine dining.
If you want to stick to restaurants in the usual tourist drags, such as pedestrian streets of the Latin Quarter or in the thumping streets around the Pompidou Centre, go right ahead. The food is fine and the prices are affordable. English menus will always be available and you know that you’ll find the French classics available at all times of day.
However, if you’re wanting to experience something better (and on your honeymoon, I’d hope you do), you’ll want to spend a little extra, on this France vacation, and venture off the main streets, and find those bistros and cafes you’ll remember for the rest of your life. There are plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants all over the city, so if you really want to break the bank on a dinner, you need only check the guide to find a spot to dine. Although, if you do, be sure to book ahead. Many Michelin-starred restaurants fill up fast.
If you’re wanting to experience classical French cuisine for a reasonable price, a good recommendation is Le Bouillon Chartier, located right next to the Musee Grevin in the 9th arrondissement. Le Bouillon Chartier is a classic French restaurant serving all the standards, from escargot (snails) to Burgundian veal stew to duck confit – which is what I sprung for. It’s existed in much-the-same form since 1896, when it first opened, and it makes you feel like you’re experiencing an authentic bit of Paris at the turn-of-the-century, with its high ceilings, wood-framed seating arrangements, mirrored walls, and black-clad servers sporting white aprons.
As far as more gourmet dining is concerned, we lucked across two excellent restaurants within five minutes of our hotel. Both restaurants are over a century old and feel like it, in the best ways imaginable. Le Petit Retro is a smart little restaurant emphasizing seasonal ingredients and contemporary methods of transforming these ingredients. Its tiled walls and ceiling make you feel like you’re dining in a spot where Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald might’ve enjoyed an absinthe. But the food itself (we enjoyed a braised cod on a bed of black-rice pilaf) is the star of the show – simply excellent. The other restaurant is Restaurant Victor Hugo de Paris, an old-style bistro with an extensive wine list and delicious renditions of classic French cuisine. I went for the beef tenderloin in a peppercorn sauce with a side of potato au gratin. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. You’ll want to spend hours here, as the wine is excellent and the service incredibly friendly.
You’ll discover your own food and drink highlights in Paris if you decide to honeymoon there on a France vacation. And I suggest you do. This article is just a sample of how we navigated the city and tried to take advantage of its food, its flavours, and the endless opportunities for romance and architectural appreciation that the city allows. Choosing Paris as your next vacation stop is always a right decision. Choosing it as your honeymoon destination is an even better decision.
Doing so permanently enshrines Paris as an ode to your marriage. For after you do so, every time you see an ubiquitous photo of the Eiffel Tower, a meme on social media praising the French lifestyle, or a photo of a friend or family member who has recently travelled there, your mind will turn to the city – and inevitably to your spouse – who you shared the city with at the moment your bond was newly-formed and strong as steel. It transforms this most famous of cities into a memorial to your love. It makes a city as widely-beloved and famous as Paris all your own.