Because I grew up in Paris and spent 20+ years living there, I often get asked to give people recommendations for things to do, places to see, restaurants, museums, walks… I’ve always enjoyed sharing my own favorite things, but now that I’ve lived away from Paris for nearly 6 years, I’m pretty sure I’m not up to date on what’s cool and happening in Paris. Thankfully, though, I have many friends who are very much plugged-in to the Paris scene, and who have shared their secrets with me – so I can share them with you here!

The basics:

– Almost every boulangerie in Paris makes amazing bread. Follow your nose. (though if people have fabulous boulangerie recommendations, I’d love to hear them)

– Buy yourself a Pariscope – it’s like Time Out, except in a small convenient format. Has theater, movie, concert and museum listings.

– Paris is a walking city – take the metro to reach a destination, but do yourself a favor and get lost! Literally, get lost. Paris is not based on a grid system, and it’s just fun to wander the streets. Parisians will cringe, but I highly recommend having  a map with you (so you can “un-lose” yourself at some point!). Also, grab a map of the metro system.

– Get a daily or weekly metro pass – almost guaranteed to be a better deal than buying individual tickets.

– Alternatively, hop on a Velib! This is like Bixi in Toronto – rent-a-bike, with tons of locations around the city (20,000 bikes in Paris). Info here: http://en.velib.paris.fr/ – really great way to get around.

– Paris is inherently touristy, and some of the best neighborhoods (like the Latin Quarter) are jam packed with tourists. Don’t let it discourage you – again, get lost in the tiny streets, and you’ll be able to escape the madness.

– For dinner, I recommend making reservations – it might not always be necessary (and not every restaurant accepts them), but it’s worth your peace of mind. You can often specify if you want to be outside (and in the summer, you should be)

– If you need a cold drink while you’re walking around, please do yourself a favor, and not go to Starbucks. While it’s nice to have a drink on the go, you can go to any cafe in Paris and get a coffee and a glass of water for a couple of euros. Take a few minutes to sit down, and enjoy.

***

The recommendations below have been crowdsourced: Parisians of all stripes – Paris-born, foreign, current and former Parisians – have shared their lists of best places.

BASTILLE/MARAIS/LATIN QUARTER

Sunday morning – go to the farmer’s market on the Place de la Bastille before 12pm. Metro: Line 1, Bastille. Exit: Rue de la Roquette. When you get out of the metro, you can see the new Opera House to your right. The market is on Boulevard Richard Lenoir – opposite side of the roundabout from the Opera House. Apparently the tour of the opera is a great, behind the scenes tour.

Sunday morning – after the farmer’s market – go to Le Marais (neighborhood next to the Bastille). The oldest district in Paris and the lowest – “marais” means “marshland” in English. It is also the Jewish and gay neighborhood which is closed down on Saturday, but vibrant and alive on Sundays – when most everything else is closed down for the day. I love it for its cute shops/art galleries…

Option 1: From Bastille, on your way to the Marais, visit Place des Vosges (a big square with grass where people picnic in the summer) – turn left on Rue du Pas de la Mule from Boulevard Beaumarchais (from Place de la Bastille).

Restaurants near Place des Vosges:

Victor Hugo café is on one side of the square, where he wrote.

Chez Janou: A traditional and laid back french bistro in a quiet and beautiful street :http://www.chezjanou.com/ – fun for dinner or lunch.from Place des Vosges: Continue heading west on Rue du Pas de la Mule, which becomes Rue des Francs Bourgeois.

Option 2: From Bastille, direct (though missing Place des Vosges would be a shame!) It’s a 10-min walk from the Bastille to the Marais. Take rue St Antoine (west side of the Place de la Bastille) – it becomes Rue de Rivoli. Some great shops on this street – some may be open on Sunday. Turn right at Rue Malher and left on Rue des Rosiers and you’re in the Marais! Metro: Line 1, Saint Paul (one stop from the Bastille) if it’s raining…

Great streets to visit: rue des Rosiers, rue des Francs Bourgeois (best shopping, see below for more details), rue Vieille du Temple, rue de Thorigny. Thorigny is where the Picasso Museum is, but it’s closed til summer 2013. A stunning old building, even though the collection is not necessarily the best of Picasso.

Restaurants in the Marais:

Numerous Jewish delis and bakeries.4/5 euros for a falafel on rue des Rosiers.

Go to « l’As du Falafel », 34 rue des Rosiers. Buy at the outside counter and walk around eating. Best falafel in Paris – the real deal.

For a sit-down restaurant, try Chez Marianne on Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais – right near l’As du Falafel.

Cafe des Musees – 49 rue de Turenne – typical Parisian bistro

From the Marais – walk to Hotel de Ville –Paris City Hall (10 min walk) – beautiful building. (Metro: Line 1 Hotel de Ville)

Then head towards the river and visit Notre Dame – also very beautiful at night when it is all lit up. (Metro: Line 4 Cité)

From there you can continue to the other side of the river to Fontaine Saint Michel(Metro line 4) – this is the Latin Quarter.

From Fontaine de Saint Michel (if you are facing it), take the street to your right Rue Saint-Honoré des Arts – it’s a narrow long street. Many cute shops – one of my favorite streets in Paris!

ODEON/LATIN QUARTER:

Keep going straight and it becomes Rue de Buci. Get lost in this neighborhood – check out little side streets and alleys such as Cour du Commerce Saint-André which is off of Rue Saint Honoré des Arts.

Check out Cafe la Palette on rue de Seine. Another place that’s everyone’s favorite.

On rue des beaux arts there is a hotel called L’Hotel, and Oscar Wilde died there. But if you just walk in and look up they have the most amazing winding staircase and they are usually pretty nice about letting people walk in. That street and neighborhood also has tons of art galleries and luxury 2nd hand stores, these are called “frippes” in french. So if you see “frippes” it might be worth dipping in.

Metro Odéon (line 4) is the center, beating heart of the Latin Quarter. Right on Carrefour de l’Odéon and keep going on Rue de l’Odéon (Restaurant option: Cafe Les Editeurs, the first place on the far side of Rue de l’Odeon)… you will get to Jardin de Luxembourg. Then go to Pantheon and get lost in winding little streets around the Pantheon (rue de la Montagne Ste Genevieve has a few fun bars)

Restaurants:

Insider tip: There are literally 100s of restaurants in the Latin Quarter area. Many of them cater to tourists – if the menu outside is in English and French, you can pretty much stay away.

L’Alcazar: Uber-cool restaurant/lounge/bar. Food is good, atmosphere is hype. 62 rue Mazarine

(A bit further afield from Odeon) Le 20 Bellechasse: 20 rue de Bellechasse (near Musee d’Orsay). French comfort food (try the “Gilbert Becaud salmon”…mmm) and delish burgers. Trendy, young crowd.

More recommendations below.

ILE ST LOUIS/NOTRE DAME:

No trip to Paris is complete without checking out the Notre Dame Cathedral and getting Berthillon ice cream on Ile St Louis (29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île). Absolute must.

Insider tip: Go see the cathedral at night after dinner (in the Latin Quarter, see other recommendations)….Unless you must absolutely go inside, definitely go at night – it’s nice, but it’s really the outside that’s stunning), then get your post-dinner treat at Berthillon, and chill on a bridge over the Seine.

MONTMARTRE:

Spend one afternoon in Montmartre, in the north. Go to Sacre Coeur (church on hill). Metro: Anvers/Pigalle/or Abesses. Beware of pick-pockets in this area…especially in the Metro stations around there. Visit the church and enjoy the view (best to do this on a clear day if possible). Then wander the streets – when facing the church, the cute streets are up to the left side of the church… this is a bit touristy, but charming nonetheless, if you’ve never been…

Restaurants: 

La Famille (41 Rue des Trois Freres, probably 10-15 min. from Sacre Coeur) – another French bistro. But what else would you want to do in Paris?!

Hotel Amour:  Rue des Martyrs, 75009. Super cool for lunch or dinner. Gorgeous little terrace out the back but its often full. It’s off the villagey and atmospheric rue des Martyrs in the 9th, and stones throw from Montmartre for a walk afterwards but located south of all the touristy around Montmatre.

BUTTES CHAUMONT:

Travel to the frontier of hipsterdom! For the real deal, check out the “guinguette” Rosa Bonheur (guinguette means casual, outdoor bar – beer garden-y). Super packed and trendy; try during a weekday afternoon for quieter vibe.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont is an awesome place to spend the afternoon lazing in the sun. Bring your picnic!

REPUBLIQUE:

One afternoon take the Metro to Place de la République. Good shopping around the square. Take rue Beaurepaire towards Canal Saint Martin at the northeast corner of the Place de la République. There are a few, super cute second hand clothing stores on rue Beaupaire. This is the little Canal inthe movie Amélie where she throws rocks from a little bridge. Its sooo sooo cute.Wander the streets along the river. This area is NOT touristy… definitely a typical Parisian neighborhood.

Restaurants:

Get a drink or food (like a cheese and meat platter with cornichons!) at everyone’s favorite Parisian café called Chez Prune – right along the river (36, Rue Beaurepaire – Quai Valmy).

La Patache: 60 rue de Lancry (near the canal).

A little further afield (15-20 min from Republique, on foot)

Cafe Charlot: 38 rue de Bretagne. It’s the new “in” parisian neighborhood where a lot of creative young people have moved to. It’s on rue de Bretagne, go there for drinks after work, it’s the new bobo headquarters

Aux 2 Amis: 45 rue Oberkampf (great for dinner; afterwards, wander around the area to find a watering hole of your choice!)

EIFFEL TOWER/INVALIDES

If this is your first time in Paris, and you’re not afraid of heights, do yourself a favor and go up the Eiffel Tower. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds. Enjoy a stroll through the Champ de Mars afterwards – when you reach the “Peace Wall” (weird glass/steel structure at the top of the park), turn left and walk for 5 minutes along avenue de la Motte-Picquet (where I used to live!). Within one city block, you’ll reach Rue Cler (on your left), an amazing pedestrian street with food shops, restaurants, and a mix of tourists and locals doing their errands. Take a stroll down Rue Cler, and settle down for lunch at Cafe du Marche (you must have their “fondant au chocolat” for dessert.

Continue down Rue Cler, and turn right on Rue St Dominique. Great shopping (esp. shoes, for the ladies). Carry on until you reach Place des Invalides – it’s a huge square. If you turn right, you’ll reach a cafe/restaurant called l’Esplanade. Kind of a trendy vibe, but great view and perfect for a little afternoon pick me up.

The Invalides is where Napoleon’s tomb is – worth checking out (it’s a short visit – maybe 15 min).

After the Invalides, two options:

CHAMPS ELYSEES

Option 1:Walk towards the Seine River, and cross the bridge. To your left if the Grand Palais (see museum notes below), and to your right is a stunning building called Palais de la Decouverte (if you’re into dinosaur skeletons…that’s always an option). If you keep walking a few minutes, you’ll reach the Champs-Elysees. Turn left to stroll down “les Champs” – have a decadent hot chocolate at Angelina. Really touristy, would not necessarily recommend getting a meal in the area. But easy to go anywhere in the city from there (and if you have that hot chocolate at Angelina, you’ll be full for hours anyway)

SEVRES-BABYLONE/ST-GERMAIN

Option 2: Go around the Invalides (with the river behind you, go around the left side) and walk to rue de Varenne. This is where the Rodin Museum is, and you should go – beautiful sculpture garden. This area is also where a lot of government buildings are, and is very old, traditional, rich part of the city. After the Rodin Museum, keep going on rue de Varenne until you hit Rue du Bac – turn right until you hit Rue de Babylone. Right there is the Bon Marche (amazing shopping, if you’ve got the $$).

Restaurants: Café coutume rue de Babylone

Picnic in the Catherine Labouré jardin on rue de Babylone. Grab your picnic at the Epicerie du Bon Marche (gourmet groceries anyone?)

Walk down rue de Sevres until you hit rue du Four – great shopping (see below) – and if you keep going you’ll arrive Boulevard St Germain (Latin quarter)

Hit up Cafe de Flore on Boulevard St Germain (right across Eglise St Germain) for a drink on the terrasse. From there walk to Laduree on rue Jacob (barely 5 min away): pastry shop, amazing, the store/tea room looks like a jewel box, very Marie Antoinette. Rue jacob is also a beautiful street to stroll on, as is rue Bonaparte and all those small streets in the 6th leading to the Seine (see above for more Latin Quarter recommendations). You should also try Pierre Herme, which is the other big macarons competitor, might be a bit better, but honestly they are both divine.

OPERA/MADELEINE/RUE DE RIVOLI:

This is a central area, with the Opera and the Madeleine church. Near Opera, you have the huge department stores (Galeries Lafayette and Printemps). I don’t recommend them, unless you like being surrounded by throngs of tourists. For department store shopping, check out Bon Marche (see above – also touristy, but less crowded), and shopping recommendations below. From Opera, head south on Avenue de l’Opera – you’ll walk by tons of jewelry stores, and arrive Place Vendome, which is gorgeous (the Ritz is there). Worth noting that the big column in the middle of place Vendome was made during Napoleon’s time, from 100s of melted cannons. Cool.  Rue St Honore has high fashion stores and some of the trendiest boutiques in the city. Check out the Colette concept store for the coolest knick knacks and gadgets.

Hotel Costes for a fancy drink at night (rue St Honore) – beautiful hotel with a really great bar, everything is dark colors and heavy fabrics, just walk in there like you know what you’re doing. The new to be seen place in paris is Matignon, owned by the same group, but only a couple months old. Very sceeny but great drinks, beautiful people.

Insider tip: My cousins own an amazing little hole in the wall restaurant, Ferdi. It’s Venezuelan-meets-American food: burgers, mac and cheese, mojitos and the best ceviche on earth. Tell Jacques, the owner (he’s there every day), that you’re friends with me! Ferdi has become a popular hang out for jet setters – apparently, it’s Penelope Cruz’s favorite spot for burgers in Paris. It’s not too expensive, and the food is awesome. Go! Ferdi, rue du Month Thabor (parallel to rue de Rivoli and Rue St Honore)

MUSEUMS:

There are so many museums in Paris, and you could spend your entire time checking them out. Parisians always recommend checking out museums, but try to pick one or two major ones (+1 hour to visit), maybe one or two smaller ones (less than 30 min. visit).

Long visits: Musee du Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Beaubourg (Centre George Pompidou). Musee des Arts Primitifs, Musee des Arts Decoratifs (this museum is right next to the louvre so it usually gets overlooked but it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings and the collection is great, although note that since it’s the musuem of decoratif arts it’s a lot of furniture and design pieces.)

Short(er) visits: Musee Guimet (ancient Asian arts… stunning…Make sure to go to the top floor, japanese screens in a tiny cupola room), Palais de Tokyo (right near Guimet – super cool, great bookshop, restaurant inside is actually quite good, though pricy). Also fantastic, depending on what’s on, is Le Musee du Jeu de Paume, in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Insider tip: Get yourself a Pariscope (at any newsstand) for 2 euros – it has all the weekly listings, include temporary exhibits (often great stuff at Grand Palais (http://www.grandpalais.fr/en/Homepage/p-617-Homepage.htm) and Luxembourg)

Insider tip: It is possible to pretty much avoid the crazy lines at both the Sainte Chapelle and the Musee d’Orsay by buying “billets jumelés”: for the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle together, and then l’Orangerie and the Musee d’Orsay. Go to the less popular one first (Conciergerie and Orangerie, respectively) and buy the ticket for the pair, and then skip the crazy line (and I do mean crazy) at the super popular one. All four museums are worth your time.

RESTAURANTS:

  • Derrière: Trendy and expensive restaurant with an inner courtyard in an area nearby Le Marais. Inside, the restaurant is decorated like a fantasist appartment, with beds and tennis tables (!). Outside, you can have a smoke with well-dressed parisians. http://derriere-resto.com/restaurant/paris/derriere/ – recommended by many people. If you’re looking for something different, this is it.
  • Vivant: 43 rue des Petites Ecuries, 75010 Métro:  Château d’eau or Bonne Nouvelle. Used to be an exotic bird shop. Local food, yum.
  • Ze Kitchen Galerie: 4 rue des Grands Augustins “Open concept” restaurant, where you can see the chefs at work. Mix of French and international flavors. Gourmet. Pricy
  • Les Cocottes: Rue St-Dominique (near Eiffel Tower). French bistro owned by a famous restaurateur. This is the less fancy version of his famous restaurants. Recommended by many.
  • La Fontaine de Mars (129 rue St-Dominique) for the most traditional Parisian dinner. This is an amazing spot that pleases young and old alike, super charming, decently priced (not cheap, however). It’s on this adorable little square with a fountain, and if you manage to get a table outside, you’ll be in heaven. It’s Obama’s spot when he comes to Paris.
  • Saturne: new “table d’hote”/wine bar concept restaurant (fixed menu) at 17, rue Notre Dame des Victoires 75002 – very good, nice scene
  • Glou (101, rue vieille du temple 75003 – they have the best cheesecake ever) and sister restaurant Jaja (these are wine bars as they names suggest!  3 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie – 75004)
  • For the meat eaters, you can’t miss L’entrecote: so this place only serves steak and fries, you go in and there is no menu, they just ask you how you like your meat cooked and that’s it. They have a special secret sauce that is literally to die for. And for desert you should order the Vacherin. Several outlets in the city. Check out the one in the St-Germain-Des-Pres area.

“Bible” for restaurants: http://www.lefooding.com/ now they also have critiques in English –

WITH A VIEW:

Restaurant George (http://www.restaurant-in-france.com/gourmet-guide/le-georges-restaurant.php, 6th floor of Centre Georges Pompidou 75004 Paris +33 (0)1 44 78 47 99):
On top of the Centre George Pompidou, it is managed by the Costes Brothers and designed by Philippe Stark. The terrace is really worth a look, even if you go for coffee in the afternoon, although dinner is also nice. Definitely recommended after you visit the museum (which, if you like modern and contemporary art, and architecture, is definitely not to miss).

The Maison de l’Amerique Latine (http://www.mal217.org/commercial-restaurant.php, 217 Boulevard Saint-Germain 75007 Paris, France 01 49 54 75 00)
It’s truly a hidden gem. Just off the Boulevard Saint Germain it serves dinner in a private garden, definitely worth it — but you must insist on sitting outside, or else forget it..

Le Saut du Loup (http://www.lesautduloup.com/, 107 Rue de Rivoli 75001 PARIS, France 01 42 25 49 55) Here you can have dinner (although food is definitely not so great, but decent) in the gardens of the Louvre, incredible setting.

Le Marly – right in front of the Pyramide du Louvre, but more for a drink than dinner…Recommended to rest your tired feet and soothe your parched throat after a visit at the Musee du Louvre

BARS/CLUBS:

L’expérimental: trendy small place in the Montorgueil area , excellent but expensive cocktails:http://www.experimentalcocktailclub.com/

Mama Shelter: The Bar/Restaurant of a Hotel with incredible design and an outdoor terasse; they often have little concerts as well; quite far from the center of Paristhough, better to take a taxihttp://www.mamashelter.com

Sous le Pont.  This a larger club, but the setting is really cool.  Under the Alexander III Bridge.

Experimental Cocktail Club.  This bar just opened a spinoff in NYC, it’s a cool spot and serves really good cocktails.  It is on rue Saint Sauveur.

La Prescription.  Same owners as the bar above, maybe a little more uptight.

Le Chacha

Le Baron (classic Parisian club, but door policy can be tough – so go early…)

Les Jardins de Bagatelle (really cool outdoor party in summer, just outside of Paris)

CONCERT PLACES

La Bellevilloise: In the alternative Menilmontant area, this is a huge and nicely done cultural complex inside an old factory. It has a restaurant, a small “cinema”, an outdoor bar and a dynamic concert place. Warmly recommended!http://www.labellevilloise.com/

La Maroquinerie : next to la Belleviloise, another good concert place with a Bar/Restaurant in an inner courtyard. Food is nice but service VERY slow:http://www.lamaroquinerie.fr/

Scopitone: Nearby Opera. http://www.scopitone.org/

Again, check out concert listings in your Pariscope guide!

SHOPPING

St germain area: rue du four, has all the stores you need, walk up and down the street and then towards Bon Marche. Key boutiques:
tara jarmon
les petites
aridza bross
kookai
mage
sandro
paul et joe
repetto
victoire
zadig et voltaire
les petites parisiennes
jonak
petits bateaux
(massimo dutti on the champs elysee – love that brand, high end ZARA but with a lot of Ralph Lauren style)

Now the great thing is that some of these stores have started to open “outlet” stores that carry their old collections from 2/3 years ago. TOTALLY worth it – the two to check out are
MAJE STOCK (rue du vieux colombier)
SANDRO STOCK (off rue des francs bourgeois)

Rue des francs bourgeois is also a great street to shop on, pretty much the same stores as mentioned above, that’s where all the parisian ladies go (in the marais).

Another place to go for shopping near the Bastille: rue Faubourg Saint Antoine. From the Bastille, walk down this street – cute shops on either side of the street… between Metro Bastille and Metro Faidherbe Chaligny… after that, there aren’t many interesting shops. If you get to avenue Ledru Rollin, you’ve seen most of ’em – but continue if you want more cute shops… this is not a touristy neighborhood, definitely typically Parisian. Check out this frozen foods store – it’s a neat concept that we don’t have in the States: Picard Surgeles (148 rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine)

WEBSITES:

http://www.comepariswithme.com/ (friend of a friend’s blog)

www.lefooding.com

www.mylittleparis.com

www.doitinparis.com

2 thoughts on “What to do in Paris

  1. Thank you so much for all of your recommendations! My daughter and I made note of several things you mentioned for our upcoming trip. We have rented a flat in the Marais district and are excited to explore the “real” Parisian areas…..thanks again! Lisa and Cate

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