It’s theoretically Sunday now, and you’ve already spend Friday and Saturday in Paris’s 1st arrondissement. Depending on how late you stayed out last night, it’s probably time to wake up and get moving—we’ve only got one day left.
As far as breakfast is concerned, if coffee and croissant aren’t enough to tide you over by now, you could do a lot worse than Les Orchidées at the Park Hyatt. You could sneak across Rue Réamur and into the 2nd for a diner-style meal at Breakfast In America‘s Right Bank location, if you don’t mind getting Supertramp stuck in your head. Avoid anywhere that proposes to serve you brunch, as it is the duty of every English-speaking visitor to Paris—particularly we Americans—not to encourage the French in their appropriation of the word.
Sunday is the perfect day to continue your training as a flâneur or flâneuse, to take in the air and personality of the arrondissement, being mindful to stay north of the Seine, south of the Rue Réamur, and between Rue Saint-Florentin and Boulevard de Sébastopol. It’s a relaxed day, ideal for crossing off anything you might’ve missed at the Louvre (the Musée National Eugène-Delacroix, for example) or finishing up your shopping with a visit to the Forum des Halles. The latter is a fantastic launching pad for a promenade around the pedestrian streets above in search of a place to have lunch. However you spend your wandering hours, it is critical you follow no set plan until the alarm clock in your stomach heralds the arrival of lunchtime, and not a second before.
When you’re ready, we’ll head south and cross the Seine on the Pont au Change. We’re not on the Left Bank, if you’re at all worried—we’ve just made it to the Île de la Cité, safely within the boundaries of our arrondissement. Just don’t cross to the east side of the street. First stop: Saint-Chapelle, not named for Dave Chappelle (the spelling is different, after all), the patron saint of French laughter, but instead for the fact that it is a “holy chapel,” which is sort of on-the-nose. The building is one of the remaining parts of a palace of the House Of France, constructed in the 13th century by Louis IX to house his collection of Christian relics, including what was purported to be Jesus’s crown of thorns (now held in Notre Dame). Most compelling about Sainte-Chapelle is its massive displays of stained glass, framed only by the barest possibly amount of stonework. A lengthy restoration began in the 70s, and in 2048, the church will celebrate its 800th year.
While the Conciergerie is right next door and has its origins in the same Capetian palace as Sainte-Chapelle, the dour-looking facade is a relatively new and imposing aesthetic feature of the building. There is only limited public access to the Conciergerie, but as its name suggests, it has hosted a number of guests throughout its existence, most notably Marie Antoinette, Napoleon III, and Robespierre, who took an early checkout and escaped to the Hôtel de Ville for a short stay before getting a very close haircut from a guillotine. In fact, the Conciergerie had come to be known as the “antechamber to the guillotine” during this time—the Reign Of Terror that followed the French revolution led nearly 3,000 people from the Conciergerie to the “national razor.” Tours are available throughout the day.
The light is waning, it seems—time to hasten west along the quai and to one of two places: the Pont Neuf (so named for being the newest bridge on the Seine when it was built; it is now the oldest at an architecturally young four centuries old) or the far end of the Square du Vert-Galant. Once there, you will see the sun setting in the west, past the domed roof of the Grand Palais and with La Défense far out of your field of vision. It’s a startling sight, even with Hemingway banging on about the Pont Neuf for pages at a time and sunsets recalled by an innumerable list of other writers.
Back on the street, there’s Taverne Henri IV, one Île de la Cité’s few places to drink and a great choice for sampling wine with the assistance of a board of cheeses or charcuterie (or both). There’s also the stone walls of the Caveau du Palais, with its visually stunning interior and its menu of modern, artful cuisine that ranges from beef ribsteak with bacon to semi-cooked albacore tuna with herbs to a scallop carpaccio marinated in beetroot.
It may be that you have a late plane or train to catch—or worse, an early plane or train—so we’ll walk you back across the Seine to Châtelet and its many Métro connections or leave you to amble amiably towards your hotel. Either way, you’ll get a brief, peripheral glimpse of the 2nd arrondissement; mais non, not yet. There simply isn’t enough time. Let’s say we meet back here in two weeks, devoted another three days to it? Très bien.
À la prochaine.