There are plenty of articles telling you what to do, where to go, and what to buy for Valentine’s Day in Paris. But do you really need help finding something romantic to do in the City of Love? If you’re really in love with each other, then all you need is a good setting for strolling hand-in-hand, a decent bed for the night, and tasty food and wine to keep you fueled in between.
Walking in Paris
Not only is Paris made for romantic strolling with its gardens, monuments, bridges over the Seine and the Canal St-Martin, no one here is going to call you out on PDA like they will back in the US. And with the mild weather we’ve been having this season, all you need is an extra-large umbrella and a pair of Wellies to stay dry. And when you turn a corner into one of those infamous Arctic wind tunnels, you’ll have an extra excuse to snuggle more closely. Try and avoid any sightseeing that involves a Top Ten list if you want to avoid crowds. Nothing like a couple distracted by their own lust to attract pick-pockets; stay clear of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Orsay. There are plenty of obscure museums, monuments and shows to visit if you need to get out of the cold (you may find a few ideas here on the Secrets of Paris website, of course). As for evening entertainment, why do couples still think it’s romantic to go and watch topless dancers while crammed into a small space with other tourists? So that when you return to your hotel you’re guaranteed too exhausted to do anything but sleep? Didn’t you come on a romantic vacation in Paris because you’re usually too tired after work to do anything beside sleep? You can watch something far more entertaining on the Pay-on-Demand channel back at your hotel. At least then you’ll have half a chance at getting lucky.
Sleeping (or not) in Paris
Speaking of hotel rooms, don’t get all stressed out about the accommodation situation. If the bed is good, the plumbing works, and there aren’t any funny smells, what else do you need? Free wifi and a hotel gym are for business travelers and people who travel alone (or wish they were). Room service and soundproofing can be nice bonuses (and a good reason to avoid flat rentals where there’s no one to call), but don’t stretch your budget paying for a hotel with a ton of fancy gadgets or services you’ll never bother using (or, if you’re still in that goo goo phase, even notice). If you’ve ever seen the French classic Delicatessen (one of the first French movies that I actually liked), you’ll know that the French are used to loud lovemaking in close quarters, so don’t worry too much about expressing yourselves (and don’t be the uptight dorks banging on the walls if you hear someone else having more fun than you in the next room over; pack some earplugs).
Drinking & Dining in Paris
Some bloggers and sensationalist newspapers might have you think the food in Paris is inedible these days, but they’re exaggerating. The last time I strolled down the streets of my home town in the US, all I saw were chain restaurants (and people staring at me wondering why anyone in Scottsdale would be on foot unless their car died). You don’t need to go to some hip new bistro where the fussy food and the waiter’s mustache is going to compete for attention with your sweetheart. There are plenty of good dining guides for Paris, just find a neighborhood wine bar with a fresh oyster stand outside, or a late-night brasserie where you can linger until the wee hours, and you’ll be golden. As an aside, Americans may think a server’s job is to emcee the meal from start to finish and every three minutes in between. But the French are masters of discretion. They don’t announce their name, nor read off a list of twenty specials and how they’re cooked, nor interrupt your intimate conversation to ask – yet again – if everything’s okay. Usually they just bring the menu and point to the list of specials on the chalk board. Once your food is delivered, they won’t bother you unless you catch their eye and raise a hand to indicate you need them. Sure, you may get a waiter who forgets about you, but if you’re more interested in the Service Show than spending quality time with the person across the table, then maybe you need to work on your conversation skills. Even if there’s a horse head in your soup or the server dumps a bowl of steaming onion soup on your head, maintaining your cool and using humor to remedy the situation is much more impressive on a date than righteous indignation (and it will make for a much more interesting story when you write about it on your FB update).
Desserting (trademark pending on that word) in Paris
Parisian desserts are so awesome that they deserve their own paragraph. I’m a bit biased here, but I have rarely met a woman (or even a guy) who didn’t get weak in the knees at the sight of French pastries. They are everywhere (especially in the St-Germain district), they are awesome (David and I did a whole app about them, ahem), and even the most expensive pastry in Paris won’t set you back as much as a fancy cocktail in a trendy bar (and most people are fine with just one). You can get pastries to go in any shop, eat pastries in any Parisian salon du thé, or go whole hog and try the Afternoon Tea (with a mountain of pastries, sandwiches, accompanied by tea and Champagne) at one of the big palace hotels like the Four Seasons George V, Shangri-La, or Le Bristol. And a word of advice: you better be sure your date is okay with sharing her pastry before you attempt to move in for a bit. Even love has its limits.
What NOT to do in Paris on Valentine’s Day…or ANY day
The bridges of Paris are historic monuments, architectural beauties which add to the overall magnificence of this city. It is absolutely disgusting what has happened to them over the past three years. The so-called “Love Locks” are NOT a tradition, at least not here in Paris. There may have been one or two over the years, and that’s always romantic. But for some reason it got out of hand and now some of the most iconic bridges in Paris have been ruined. Every single inch of the Pont des Arts (with the Louvre and Ile de la Cité in the background), the Pont de l’Archevêché (overlooking Notre Dame) and even the contemporary Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor (the pedestrian bridge connecting the Musée d’Orsay to the Tuileries Gardens) have been covered in padlocks, most of them cheap pieces of crap sold by illegal street vendors and “engraved” with a black marker. With no room left, they’ve started covering the lampposts and even the loops on these memorial plaques meant to hold flowers during national holidays. They rust and slowly rip the metal grill off the bridges. The keys thrown into the river rust and pollute the water. The locks along the bridges form a solid mass (covered in ugly graffiti now, too) which obscures the view and completely changes the nature of the bridge. It’s not just vandalism, it’s ugly. And the City has to pay to keep replacing the panels on the bridge once they start rusting, so your locks are going to get thrown out anyway. How romantic is it being part of the herd? How romantic is it to come to Paris and do something totally unoriginal, illegal, ugly, and damaging to the very city you profess to love? If you want to give your sweetheart a love lock, choose one of the edible chocolate ones from chocolatier Franck Kesterner. Have you already packed that engraved lock hoping to spring it on your partner tomorrow? Why not instead lock it onto your suitcase and carry it with you wherever you go. Pack out your trash, folks.
Other Romantic Ideas from the Archives
10 Reasons Paris is Still the Most Romantic City (with a link at the bottom to the PDF of the original article in the Thai Airways in-flight magazine)
The France Project: Romance (a podcast on French stereotypes; I’m interviewed in Part 3)
10 Romantic (and Sexy) Things to do in Paris (on David Lebovitz’s site; of course I’m easting pastries in the photos)