Paris is always a good idea

Whether you have a month, a week, or just a weekend, whether it's your first visit or your tenth, Paris is always a good idea.

Duration: A weekend, a week, a month…

What can we say about Paris that hasn’t already been said? It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, though it is often grey and melancholy, and Parisians love to complain. It has some of the best food in the world, but you can also fall prey to mediocre meals-which feel particularly cruel in this culinary capital. It has world class shopping, but global brands are taking over, and those special items you used to pick up in Paris are now ubiquitous from New York City to Tokyo.

Perhaps no other city in the world looms as large in the collective tourist, and traveler imagination. Paris is a dream destination on many a bucket list, and whether your inspiration is Amélie or Hemingway, chances are you come to Paris with romanticized notions of what to expect. We’ve been fascinated by articles about ‘Paris syndrome’ over the years; the idea that some tourists experience extreme shock at discovering that Paris is different from their expectations. Paris is a city of contraditions, and we’ve returned here more than anywhere else in the world. We’ve come for a week, we’ve spent a few months, and more often we take the Eurostar from London just to spend the weekend. We have visited in every season, and agree with the overused adage that Paris is in fact always a good idea.

Because there is so much to cover in Paris, and so many different types of visits(first time visits that want a quintessentially Parisian experience, jaded tenth time visitors looking for something new…) we’ve tried to break up our recommendations into a few different themes. To start, our classic guide to Paris that includes the familiar clichés of baguettes, bistros, boulevards, and the Louvre. We say ‘clichés ‘ but the lovely thing about Paris is that the classics endure, and they aren’t just for tourists. 

We’ll be adding a ‘new Paris’ guide that takes into account major trends in healthy eating, third wave coffee, cocktails, and Australian brunch that locals have begun frequenting in recent years. As well as some of the best places that aren’t traditional baguette-and-brie-French, but are perennial classics in their own right (hello, L’as du Fallafel). If your Parisian itinerary is a bit stale, try adding one or two of these. They are the kind of places that would be in our regular rotation if we actually lived in Paris, and it’s where the cool kids are hanging out these days. If you’re lucky enough to have more than a few days, we’ve also highlighted a few of our favourite day trips from Paris.

For all our friends in London, our itinerary is a kind of ‘perfect weekend in Paris’ guide. Ideal for people who have been to Paris before and don’t have all the tourist ‘to do’s’ to check off their list, but want to enjoy a bit of art, a bit of food, and a bit of a je ne sais quoi for the weekend.

  • Sight Seeing 100% 100%
  • Food 100% 100%
  • Ease of Transportation 90% 90%
  • Activities 90% 90%
The best way to see Paris is by walking everywhere. We easily log 8-10 mile days when we’re here (it helps to offset all the bread and cheese!) Stroll with your eyes wide open, taking in all the corner bistros, the boulangeries, the flower shops, and the Parisians with their jaunty scarves and their yapping dogs. On a classic visit, we like to stay at an Airbnb in the Marais as it’s central to attractions in all directions. In the morning, stroll down to breakfast at Café Charlot for the best people watching from the outdoor seats, and a daily breakfast that includes fresh juice, a cappucino, a soft boiled egg with soldiers, a croissant, and bread with butter and jam. It’s quite a spread and the outside tables are always packed with locals and tourists watching passersby. It’s the best breakfast ‘scene’ in the Marais. For food fanatics, we will caveat this by saying they don’t have the best croissants in town. We’ve been known to stop by an amazing boulangerie nearby, get a superlative croissant, and eat it either before or after our breakfast at Charlot. (The boulangerie is Le Petit Parisien at 17 Rue du Vertbois and it’s fantastic). Double breakfasted, we walk to perhaps the most beautiful square in Paris, Place des Vosges. It is the oldest planned square in Paris, and a paradigm of symmetrical urban living deemed suitable for the French aristocracy and nobility.  Another breakfast option just around the corner from Place des Vosges is Royal Turenne which has a similar juice, coffee, croissant, bread, and jam situation as Café Charlot. Royal Turenne doesn’t have the eggs with soldiers, but the bread is better, and the croissants are marginally better. It’s not as much of a scene as Charlot, though. (Note: we only recommend Royal Turenne for breakfast, and only for sitting outside).

Near Place des Vosges is a fantastic fashion bookstore we pop into (closed on Sundays) called Comptoir de l’image and from here it’s just another block or two to the Picasso Museum, located in a beautiful 17th century building. It’s one of the more comprehensive Picasso collections in the world, but manages to feel intimate. Brancusi’s studio and the Pompidou Centre are nearby. If you like modern and contemporary art, the Pompidou is the best museum for this in Paris, and hosts frequent blockbuster exhibitions. Their rooftop has an outdoor sculpture terrace with great views of Paris. (There is also an expensive restaurant Georges, with amazing views, but unamazing and overpriced food. Skip this). We had visited the Pompidou Centre half a dozen times before discovering the small, detached building that hosts Brancusi’s studio right next door. This is a must visit. It’s just a couple rooms so you can visit quickly (15 or 20 minutes max) and admission is free. Brancusi’s spare, beautiful sculptures are all left exactly as they were situated, crowded in his studio when he died.

From here, we walk down to the river and cross Pont Marie onto the little island Île Saint-Louis to take in the charming shopfronts, before crossing Pont Saint-Louis to approach Notre Dame from behind. The small, leafy park just behind the cathedral is one of our favourite vantages, with less of a tourist cluster, beautiful flowers, and a view of the famous flying buttresses that distinguish the church’s Gothic architecture. Time permitting, we always try to do a quick walk through the inside of Notre Dame, and first time visitors should definitely see the inside.  [NOTE: due to the 2019 fire, the cathedral is currently closed and much of it’s immediate surrounding area has been blocked off] Continue over any of the bridges to the left bank, where the most famous bookstore in Paris is located in the shadow of Notre Dame. Shakespeare and Company is worth a quick visit if you’ve never been, as it’s a pilgrimage on any literary Paris tour, but it is quite the tourist sh&* show. There are better places to quietly browse books away from the elbowing crowds, though they have put strict measures in place to forbid photography which has somewhat alleviated the Disney effect. They do host famous writers for readings quite often, so it’s worth checking out their event listings. Visitors looking for the ghosts of Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Fitzgerald et al should note that this is not in fact the site of the original bookstore frequented by the lost generation. That nearby location was closed with the German occupation of Paris in 1941, and it wasn’t until 10 years later that the bookstore reopened in its current incarnation. If you’re looking to actually buy books in English, we much prefer the Abbey Bookshop a few blocks away. It’s ramshackle and packed floor to rafters with new and used books, jazz music is blasting, and the one or two booksellers are always quick to help you find something or offer recommendations.

You’re now in the heart of Paris’ fashionable Saint Germain des Prés, aka ‘the Latin quarter.’ Home to some of the most famous cafés in Paris (take your pick and get a coffee at Café de Flor, Les Deux Magots, or something stronger at Brasserie Lipp), this was the vibrant heart of Parisian intellectual life for centuries (La Sorbonne is right nearby). Some of the best art galleries are in this neighborhood (we love the ones along Rue de Seine and Rue Bonaparte), and there is nothing better than spending an afternoon in Paris strolling in and out of galleries and shops, and resting over a coffee at an outdoor café. Which brings us to, our favourite bistro in Paris: La Palette. Straight out of bistro central casting, located on charming side street Rue de Seine, this bistro is filled with young beautiful Parisians, and elderly locals playing checkers and smoking at the tables they ‘reserve’ for regulars. We love everything from the imperious waiters, to the classic bistro menu, and we try to have a meal here on every visit to Paris. For lunch we always order the salade de chèvre chaud sur toast, a basket of bread, a glass of rosé in the summer, and a glass of Bordeaux in the winter. If you’re with a group, the charcuterie and cheese platters are particularly amazing here.

Just down the street from La Palette, along the banks of the Seine, is our favorite store to visit in Paris: Dries Van Noten. Whether you’re a fan of the Belgian designer or not, it’s a beautiful space that feels like visiting a particularly well appointed Parisian apartment, filled with color, art, and objects from travels around the world. The women’s and men’s stores are separate and both merit a quick visit, and like much of Paris, they are closed on Sundays. Other notable shops include Librairie 7L, Karl Lagerfeld’s beautiful art and design bookstore, City Pharma on rue du Four is THE  pilgrimage destination for French beauty products, and Deyrolle is a museum-worthy cabinet of curiosities with full sized taxidermied giraffes, peacocks, and bears, amid cases of butterflies and bones.

When in Paris, we adhere to a strict regimen of indulgence, which requires daily consumption of pastries and/or chocolate. For an afternoon pick me up after all the shopping and strolling, we go to Des Gâteaux et du pain for pastries (try the tarte aux figues), and Debauve et Gallais for chocolates.  There are few luxuries more affordable, but at the same time extravagent as walking in to a French pastry shop, asking for ‘un petit selection’ and pointing out half a dozen luxury chocolates, and declaring them a gift. Don’t be intimidated by the prices of the boxes of chocolates, we’ve selected a half dozen individual chocolates and it’s always in the neighborhood of 10€. When asked if it’s a gift for someone, always answer ‘bien sûr’ and then go unwrap your gift to yourself around the corner and enjoy gobbling up chocolates on a park bench somewhere. It may not be a Parisian habit, but I promise you’ll feel more in touch with Paris indulging in daily mille feuilles and ganache.

 

Now you’re close to two of our favourite museums in Paris; Musee d’Orsay, and the Rodin Museum. If you only visit one museum in Paris, Musée d’Orsay would be our pick (over the Louvre). Located in a former railway station, the size is manageable (you could spend days lost in the vast expanse of the Louvre), and the collection heavily features Degas, Renois, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse masterpieces. The Rodin museum is located in a stunning mansion built in the 1800s with a beautiful sculpture garden filled with Rodin works like The Thinker. The museum feels as though you’ve been instantly transported to a country manor outside the city, and is an insider’s favorite that doesn’t get as much attention as some of the bigger museums in town.

If you want to pick up bread, cheese, and Parisian picnic staples, nearby Rue Cler is a charming street packed with every shop you require (Le Repaire de Bacchus is a fantastic wine shop that can chill any bottle of white wine for you in 10 minutes, and it’s conveniently located right next to a great fromagerie. A few doors down is a boulangerie, fruit and vegetable sellers, and places to buy meats and terrines). We love to assemble a picnic on Rue Cler and walk to the Champ de Mars under the Eiffel tower if it’s a nice day. Alternatively, picnicking on the banks of the Seine is always a magical experience. If you’ve never been to Paris before, you might want to buy a ticket online in advance to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, though we think the view from the top of SacréCoeur in Montmartre is better.

If you’re feeling tired from all the walking, a bateaux-mouche ride along the Seine is touristy, but still lovely. If you’re still up for walking, you can cross over to the right bank and walk through the beautiful jardin des Tuileries in front of the Louvre and I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid. For another classic bistro meal for dinner, we love Chez Janou near the Marais (we first heard about this from our favorite podcast the High Low and have since added it to a our regular rotation), Poulette for a slightly more updated take on French classics filled with beautiful people, or Julia Child’s time-worn favorite Chez Georges.

Montmartre is another classic Parisian neighborhood that should feature on any first time itinerary to the city. We find ourselves returning here every few visits to Paris for the narrow, medieval streets and beautiful views of Paris. Rue des Martyrs is one of Paris’ most vibrant streets filled with food shops and cafés, and a good route to begin the ascent to Montmartre. Farine & O is a nice boulangerie, and Le Pantruche is a great bistro just off this street. Continue walking uphill until the gleaming white domes of Sacré-Coeur loom overhead. Access to the church is free, but to get to the top of the dome, join the queue to the left of the church and pay the 6€ admission fee. As a warning, there are 300 stairs to climb, and the stairs and walkways are quite narrow, but the views are the best in Paris.

From the cathedral, walk around the charming (but extremely touristy) little streets to Place du Tertre. There are a bunch of restaurants here (though we don’t recommend eating here for the best food as they are all tourist traps). Artists and buskers peddle their wares here as they have since the days of Toulouse-Lautrec. For a nice sense of this bohemian neighborhood before all the tourists arrived, visit the Musée de Montmartre, located in one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood that was a meeting place for many artists back in the day. Fans of Salvador Dalí should visit the Dalí museum nearby.

If you’ve worked up an appetite climbing all those stairs, one of the most affordable classic French lunch options is Bouillon Pigalle located just down the hill from Montmartre. Firs recommended to us by a friend who lives in the neighborhood, this place is packed with locals who come for oeufs mayonnaise and steak frites at very affordable prices. There is often a queue to get in, but it moves quickly. Unlike smaller bistros with inattentive service, the restaurant seats 300 and the waiters are brisque and efficient. The food is amazing quality for the prices, and it’s quite a lively scene. For a great writeup, see David Lebovitz’s article here. Note: cash only.

 

Here we should mention the Louvre, as most first time visitors to Paris will want to check this off their list. As you can see from our itinerary thus far, Paris is an art lover’s paradise, and you’ll never want for museums and galleries to go to. But you don’t want to burn out, and the Louvre is so big, and so packed with tourists, that it runs the risk of being a one stop shop for holiday fatigue and frustration. The Mona Lisa is smaller than you’re imagining, and it’s surrounded with tourists 15 deep all hoisting iphones in the air. That said, there are ways to be somewhat strategic with your visit. Rule #1: DON’T COME TO THE LOUVRE WITHOUT ADVANCE ORDERING YOUR TICKET ONLINE. Tourism may ebb and flow, but somehow it’s always busy at this museum. Aim to come first thing in the morning, or last thing in the evening if you really want to try to avoid the crowds. Ideally, have a list of highlights you’re hoping to see, and set a timeframe for how long you want to be at the museum in total. There aren’t enough hours in the day to see it all, so don’t try. You can always come back. The museum maps do a good job of highlighting a few major works, so it’s not a bad idea to stick to those. (Highlights include the Winged Victory of Samothrace, also known as the Winged Goddess of Nike statue, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, the Venis de Milo, Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, and Vermeer’s Lacemaker among others). 

For a light lunch nearby, try Le Nemours or Café Blanc

Best Food & Drink, Left Bank

When you want to indulge in your idea of quintessential French classics; baguettes, croissants, bistros with menus scrawled on mirrored panels, duck confit, steak frites, pastries, and all the cheese you can eat, these are the places we love. 

Classic Restaurants and bistros

1. Au Moulin À Vent – Classic and cozy restaurant serving traditional French cuisine with a menu that hasn’t changed since 1946. Located on the left bank. Best for dinner, with reservations. Order the chateaubriand steak. (We first heard about this spot from the ultimate French girl, Jeanne Damas).

2. Chez Marcel – Another super classic, cozy, small restaurant with tons of charm, a lively ambience, and amazing food. They have warm, welcoming staff, and it feels like an elevated, home cooked French meal. We love the scallops and the sole meunière. Located on the left bank near the Jardin de Luxembourg.

3. “chez Dumonet” Restaurant Josephine – ticks all the boxes for a classic French meal at reasonable prices.

4. Allard – old school French restaurant on the left bank just across from Notre Dame serving up traditional French fare at reasonable prices.

5. Le Balto – more of a cafe, and a place to get small plates, we love the warm feel of this cozy little spot on a side street in Saint Germain. Great for a glass of wine. They also have some nice salads for a light meal.

6. La Palette – as mentioned above, our favorite bistro in Paris. We feel like a local returning here again and again for the same meal. Lunch is the best time to visit.

Coffee and dessert

1. Café de Flor – probably the most famous café in Paris, come to sit outside over a cappuccino and people watch to your heart’s content. We think the sugar packets with the iconic green scrawled logo make excellent souvenirs. Don’t eat at the Flor (except for breakfast), just come for coffee or a glass of wine on the terrace.

2. Les Deux Magots – rivalling the Flor for the title of most famous café in Paris, with equally impressive literary bonafides. People tend to develop a loyalty to one or the other and they are right next to eachother so you can suss them both out before deciding. Same rules apply, don’t order food (except breakfast, or perhaps a pastry), order a coffee or glass of wine, and sit outside.

3. Les Deux Abeilles – imagine you have a French grandmother who prepares tea and cake for you and that’s the vibe at Les Deux Abeilles. Flowery wallpaper and amazing desserts. Located near the Eiffel Tower.

4. Des Gâteaux et du Pain – mentioned above, come for excellent pastries in Saint Germain.

5. Debauve & Gallais – mentioned above, this is our favorite chocolate shop (since 1817!). Come in, ask for ‘un petit selection’ and go crazy pointing to whichever pieces you want. They will wrap it up for you under the pretext that you aren’t about to walk outside, open the bag right up, and stroll along scarfing luxurious French chocolates in the middle of the afternoon.

Food Shops

1) La Grande Epicerie de Paris – located next to le Bon Marché on the left bank. This is the place to come do a gourmet grocery run.  Amazing pastries, fruits and veggies in particular.

2) Fromagerie Laurent Dubois – honestly, we have yet to find a sub-par fromagerie in Paris. But this one on the left bank comes particularly recommended.

3) Le Repaire de Bacchus – like the fromagerie note above, it’s hard to fine a bad wineshop in Paris. But this one has a great selection, unpretentious and helpful staff, a machine that cools bottles of white from room temperature to frosty in 10 minutes flat, and the ability to uncork said bottle and send you on your way to the Champ de Mars with plastic cups. They also have a selection of dusty vintages in the few hundred euro range that you can peruse while your decidedly less expensive bottle chills.

‘New Paris’ restaurants and cafés

1) L’avant Comptoir de la Mer – nice little wine and tapas bar in a modern setting in the heart of Saint-Germain.

2) Huitrerie Régis – if oysters are your thing, this is the place for them. Many consider it to be the best seafood restaurant in Paris. Modern, clean ambience with nice wine list. A bit pricey, but the seafood is top quality. Located in Saint-Germain.

3) Saint Pearl – fourth wave coffee in a hip setting (think reclaimed wood and cacti). Conveniently located next to Debauve & Gallais if you want to pair your new school coffee with your old school chocolates.

4) Ralph’s – Who knew an icon of Americana could make it on the left bank? Ralph Lauren’s Parisian flagship store and courtyard restaurant have been a hit since day one. Come for elevated takes on classic American staples (hamburgers, Maryland crab cakes, cobb salad) at inflated prices. The food it good and the ambience is straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad campaign but you’re really paying for the see and be seen element.

5) Coutume Café – another nice third wave coffee spot that serves nice moern breakfasts. (Think buckwheat pancakes, granola bowls, scrambled eggs with feta…)

Best Food & Drink, Right Bank

Classic Restaurants and bistros

1. Chez Janou – As mentioned above, a fantastic quintessential bistro that get super busy. We’ve been known to come straight from the Eurostar here late on a Friday night for our first taste of Paris. Steak frites, crusty bread, red wine, and crème brûlée are the go to’s.

2. Le Cafe des Musées – In the heart of the Marais, this is an excellent place to come for lunch or dinner, and is particularly good for solo diners. The staff are lovely, the steak frites with bearnaise is excellent as is the house special boeuf bourguignon.

3. Le Petit Marché– This comes highly recommended by locals. Small, homey restaurant in the Marais serving French classics.

4. Chez Julien – Chic Parisian girls all seem to recommend this spot as one of their favorite bistros. Located on the Seine overlooking Ile Saint Louis, they serve slightly elevated bistro favourites. We like any of their fish dishes. Try to sit outside.

5. Le Carreau – This lively bistro near République serves food late, and has saved us on a few occasions when we’ve arrived in town late off the Eurostar. Delivers on classic bistro fare but also has some lighter, more modern salads and entrées.

6. L’Aller Retour – cosy little restaurant specializing in steak.

7. Chez Marius – this warm, bustling restaurant was packed for lunch when we walked by. One part Italian, one part French, it all adds up to a cozy wine bar with hearty modern cooking.

8. Chez Casimir – This restaurant in the 10th is a fashion favorite. The ambience is a bare bones bistro, but the simple food is tasty and reasonable. The cheese boards, and terrines are particularly good.

9. Le Pantruche – Classic bistro just off Rue des Martyrs with solid food.

10. Le Relais de l’Entrecote – this is the OG standard for steak frites in Paris. More expensive than the average bistro, but a Parisian institution. They have a few locations, go to the one in the 8th.

11. Bouillon Pigalle – as mentioned above, this is THE place for traditional French cooking at insaney reasonable prices. There are a few locations and they’ve become beloved by Parisians as a high value/ high quality meal option. There can be queues during popular dining times.

12. Bistro Volnay – located near the Jardin des Tuileries, this simple but elegant bistro serves a three course set menu for €40 that’s good value. Christian Louboutin is a fan…

13. Poulette – an updated bistro popular with locals. The ambience is light and airy, and they have a nice bar for dining solo (rare to find a big bar with seats in Paris). Excellent classic bistro dishes without fuss.

14. Café Blanc – nice bistro with charming outdoor seating near the Louvre. Classic burgers, croque monsieurs, and salads for lunch. We recommend it for breakfast before the Louvre in particular. 

14. Chez l’Ami Louis– This bistro in the Marais is either the best worst restaurant in the world, or the worst best retaurant. Regardless, we want to go and see for ourselves as it’s the subject of the best restaurant review we’ve ever read. We first read about it as Ruth Rogers recommended it.

 

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