Hooray! You’re going to Paris! It’s a lovely city, full of beautiful food, beautiful monuments and beautiful clothes. It’s also full of sarcasm and dog shit on the sidewalk, but, you know, everything can’t be perfect. And now, for my 100% biased guide to doing Paris right:
First, some general stuff: Public museums in Paris are free the first Sunday of the month, so if you’re there definitely take advantage of that. If you’re a student, see if you can get an international student ID card, as it will get you into a lot of places for a discounted rate. Nearly all museums/attractions and even some stores do student discounts, so always ask.
Depending on how much time you’ll have, try to stay in one or two neighborhoods each day. The city is big, and each arrondissement is very diverse. There are a total of 20 in the city, but some of the outer ones don’t have much to do. 1-8 are the most exciting, and then there are a couple of things in outer ones like 11, 16, 18 and 20. This website http://www.paris-on-line.com/eng/turisme/pa… can give you a pretty good idea of each area and what there is to see and do. My favorites are the 4th, 5th and 18th. Bear in mind that a lot of stores aren’t open on Sundays and some restaurants and museums close Monday or Tuesday, so look into that as you make plans. The only area of the city that is hopping on Sundays is the Marais, so that’s a good day to head over there.
Also, I drank my fair share of cheap Bordeaux while I was there, but if you can swing it I’d recommend going with Bourgogne instead. A lot of the Bordeaux we could get in Paris was really only ok, and a bottle of Bourgogne for the same price was generally much nicer. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy Vieux Papes wine unless you are really jonesing for a serious hangover. If you buy a baguette, ask for a “tradition.” They’re much nicer than the regular ones, although very slightly more expensive. And don’t be afraid to try weird and/or raw food! The French are really good about ensuring quality and sanitation.
3rd/4th/11th Arrondissements (the Marais, aka the Parisian Jewish Quarter)
- Bastille monument
- Centre Georges Pompidou (modern art museum)
- Picasso Museum
- L’As du Fallafel (on Rue des Rosiers)
- Amorino Gelato
- Vintage stores on Rue des Rosiers
- Shoe stores on Rue de Rivoli
- The Pop In on Rue Amelot
- Favela Chic on Rue Faubourg du Temple
My Sunday tradition while I was living there was to hit up the vintage stores on Rue des Rosiers, grab falafel or shwarma at L’As du Fallafel, walk down the street for gelato at L’Amorino, then wander over to the Pompidou for the afternoon. So luxurious :)
5th/6th Arrondissements (Latin Quarter/student quarter), plus a little bit of the 7th
- The Pantheon
- Le Jardin de Luxembourg
- Musee de Moyen Age (Museum of the Middle Ages)
- Delacroix Museum (tiny, but one of my faves)
- Eiffel Tower – go in the evening with a blanket and a (discreet) bottle of wine to sit on the Champ de Mars and watch the tower light up. It’s kinda touristy, but it’s something you have to do once.
- Invalides (Army museum where Napoleon’s tomb is)
- Musee d’Orsay (impressionists)
- Rodin Museum - in springtime, the gardens at the Rodin museum are full of roses - it’s in my top three for favorite spots in the city
- Les Deux Magots - one of Hemingway’s haunts, a bit touristy but GREAT hot chocolate
- L’Avant Comptoir - hors d’oeuvres and counter service, must be willing to eat a bit adventurously :) but it’s my favorite restaurant in the whole city
- Pierre Herme for macarons - you HAVE to try the infiniment jasmin. Seriously, if beauty had a flavor that would be it. There’s a location in the 16th as well.
- Great crepe stands around Montparnasse metro
- Breakfast in America for brunch - we used to go when we were really missing pancakes
- Le Val de Grace – great café near the church of the same name. Some cafes in Paris are a bit underwhelming, but this place is solid gold. I used to really miss huge, fresh, delicious salads because the ones in Paris are mostly pretty boring, but the Val de Grace’s are excellent. Try the one with smoked salmon, grapefruit and mango.
- Le Relais de l’Entrecote St-Germain – set menu of side salad, steak and fries. You tell them how you want your steak cooked, and that’s about it. They will bring you seconds if you want. It’s a little pricier than most places I used to go, but it’s so worth it. Their desserts are great as well – try the profiteroles.
- Rue des Rennes - cute but slightly more expensive stores here - Zadig&Voltaire in particular is a pretty popular French brand
- Mona Lisait is a super charming bookstore, in my opinion way cooler than Shakespeare & Co., which is more famous
- Le Violon Dingue (for late night partying)
- The Long Hop if you want a low-key sports pub
- Champs Elysees
- Arc de Triomphe
- Parc Monceau
- Trocadero (directly across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower)
- Bois du Boulogne (right outside of the 16th, a beautiful greenspace area where I used to go running all the time, although it’s also a place of all sorts of illicit activities).
- Good, inexpensive Korean and Japanese food near Opera
- A la Flute Enchantee on Avenue Mozart – my favorite patisserie in the city, try the pain au chocolat aux amandes if they have it – it is freaking decadent.
- Don’t eat on the Champs-Elysees; it’s always pretty disappointing and way overpriced.
- Avenue Victor Hugo (my favorite shop is called Les Envahisseurs - so trendy)
- Rue de Passy
- Don’t shop on the Champs-Elysees either – overpriced and crowded!
18th Arrondissement (Montmartre, Batignolles and Pigalle neighborhoods)
- Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (fantastic views of the city from the domes, very touristy so be careful of pickpockets and scams)
- Dali Museum
- Museum of Montmartre
- Barbes-Rochechouart market (open on Saturdays and Wednesdays, really cheap but also really intense)
- Inexpensive fusion cuisine here (Italian - French - Thai - American - “World”)
- North African restaurants along the market. There’s a Moroccan one I used to go to a lot called Restaurant El Manel. It’s kind of cafeteria-style, so you grab a tray and load up with whatever they have that day. They are SO friendly and the food is delicious (if a bit greasy).
- There are cute vintage and second hand stores in this area as well, as well as things like wholesale fabric shops.
- The Louvre* (I have a Louvre strategy, see below)
- Conciergerie (Marie Antoinette’s prison during the Revolution, home to several beautiful Gothic halls)
- Musee de l’Orangerie (Monet’s water lily paintings, definitely worth a visit)
- Sainte-Chapelle (really famous Gothic cathedral, great stained glass; I think you can buy a joint ticket for the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle)
- Notre Dame de Paris
- Tuileries gardens (right between the Louvre and l’Orangerie).
- Ile St-Louis has the best ice cream in the city
- Le Tigre on Rue Moliere
The Pere-Lachaise cemetery (resting place of Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Moliere, Heloise and Abelard, and even Jim Morrison) is in the 20th. I don’t know the area super well, but the cemetery is another of my favorite spots in the city. Oscar Wilde’s tomb is spectacular and touching, as is the one for Heloise and Abelard. Watch out for the weird dude who hangs around there and is obsessed with Jim Morrison.
For day trips to get out of Paris, check out Fontainebleau, Rambouillet (the chateau is lovely, but tours are only in French; however, they do have a printed English-language guide), Chartres (one of the best examples of a Gothic cathedral, definitely worth a visit), Mont St. Michel, Versailles and Giverny.
I know that’s a lot, so I’ll also give you a condensed list of my personal must-dos/must-eats. These are the places I go back to time and time again whenever I’m in the city:
Attractions: Rodin Museum, Sainte-Chapelle, Pere-Lachaise cemetery
Food: L’Avant-Comptoir, Pierre Herme, le Val de Grace
Shopping: Rue des Rosiers
For nightlife, I’ve given recommendations for places that were really cool when I was living there, but I also realize that was 5 years ago, so they could be different now. I went back to the Long Hop and the Violon Dingue in 2013, so a bit more recently, but the others I haven’t been to since 2010. The Pop In was always my very favorite, though.
*Louvre strategy: So, the Louvre is MASSIVE. I think it’s the biggest museum in the world. If you looked at every piece of art in the whole museum for 30 seconds, it would take you something like 8 years to get through the whole thing (is what I’ve heard, anyway). So, you have to go in with a strategy. If you can go more than once, that’s ideal, because otherwise it just gets overwhelming. I used to like to go multiple days in a row, but for shortish visits. I think there’s one or two nights each week where it’s open late and the late night tickets are discounted, so definitely look into that. Your best bet is to download a map of the museum and decide exactly where you want to go. Try to stay just in one wing, because it’s so huge you’ll end up running around like a crazy person if you’re trying to see things in different areas of the museum. The museum map shows the location of the most famous pieces, so that’s helpful. But really, make it about what you are into. My favorite gallery is the large format French paintings (they have Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People), so I used to go for an afternoon and just hang out in there and maybe pop into another gallery or two nearby. It makes the whole experience more manageable.
Most of all, enjoy yourself! It’s an exciting place with wonderful energy.