Paris, as you all probably know by this point, is my favorite city in the world. Chris and I go any time we get a chance (and I can convince him.) We get a lot of requests for what our favorite things to do there are, and this post is basically what I copy and paste into an email when someone asks! Some things may be repetitive for anyone who travels often, but I’ve combined a few helpful tips with all of my most favorite things.
I speak fluent enough French that generally talking to people when I need to is fine, but I also found the Lonely Planet French guide to be super helpful when I’ve been in Paris with non French speakers. It has some phrases that are good to know and is teeny tiny so it’s easy to pack. Basically almost any young person you meet will speak fluent English anyway though.
Getting to where you’re staying from the airport – Follow signs to taxis, don’t let someone derail you as you walk towards taxis while still inside and try to bring you and your bags to a taxi on some other level. This is a total scam and are way more expensive. Make sure you ask how much the fare will be before getting in the taxi as well. Uber is also used throughout the city!
Getting around once you’re there – the metro is very easy to use and understand. You can buy tickets in the little machines in each station. There will be an option to buy a pack of (I think 10) tickets, which is cheaper than buying one by one. I recommend doing this, much cheaper than trying to Uber everywhere (plus driving in Paris is stressful even if it’s not you behind the steering wheel!)
Parisian people – they get a bad rap for being rude, and honestly, they kind of are, in a very endearing sort of way. If you at least attempt to learn a few words in French (hello, goodbye, please, thank you), and don’t act like a typical American tourist (as in…loud…the French like their quiet conversation!) they actually warm up to tourists pretty fast.
My three favorite neighborhoods are le Marais, Tuileries, and the area around Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite. Le Marais has great food, fantastic people watching, weird vintage shops, and some of the more modern museums (Picasso and the Pompidou.) Tuileries has the Tuileries Garden, of course, which is an awesome place to people watch and enjoy the outdoors. The Louvre and Orangerie (my favorite!) are also right by Tuileries.
The area around Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite is where we stayed last time we were in the city, and it quickly became a big favorite, especially the smaller island, Ile Saint-Louis (which is where we stayed.) It’s also near the Latin Quarter, which is fun to walk through at night and get a 2 euro nutella crepe (otherwise the Latin Quarter is very loud and touristy, but a fun experience to walk through at night.)
The Notre Dame area is also where you can find all the Bouquinistes along the Seine, where I love to get all (if I get any) of my souveniers. They look like little green boxes hanging on the edge of the bridge. They have vintage books, artists selling paintings, and are also just very fun to look through while strolling. One of these is where Chris bought me my French copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone.
If you want an intro to the Notre Dame area, Rick Steves has a free app where you can pre-download walking tours, and has a “historic Paris” walking tour. It is incredibly corny, but we did that last time we were there and it was fun. He’ll take you by one of my favorite shops, Shakespeare and Company, a great stop for coffee and TONS of fun books in the Notre Dame area that I mentioned above.
Personally, I’d skip the Louvre unless you’ve never been. I’ve been once, and got there before opening and stood in line (and got a pass ahead of time.) That’s really the only way it’s worth it – there are a few things there I loved, my favorite was Winged Victory, a stunning statue (and I’m not really into sculpture but…wow.) If you can get there super early and speed through the things you think you’ll like most, it may be worth the time.
The D’Orsay is much more my speed, but as with the Louvre, LONG wait times. If you skip the Louvre, this is a good place to go right when it opens (with a pass ahead of time) as well. I think we waited for almost 2 hours to get in when we were there in November, and although I enjoyed it, we could have spent our time elsewhere.
My all time favorite museum and the one I’d say you must visit if you haven’t been is L’Orangerie. I adore the Impressionists, and it’s a tiny museum filled with just Impressionism. I go there every time I go to Paris I love it so much. I bought a book and poster while there so I could take as much of it home with me as possible. Much less crowded than the other museums, and so small it doesn’t take long to get through. Monet’s water lilies are there in their own circular room, and if you go close to closing sometimes they let you in for free.
Eiffel Tower. Of course. I MUCH prefer looking at and photographing the tower to climbing it – not worth it in my opinion, because the best views of Paris should include the Eiffel Tower! It’s beautiful to go see at night, when it lights up every hour for five minutes starting at sunset until 1 or 2am. TONS of tourists will be there to see this, so try taking one of the little side stairways along the river to the edge of the Seine to be by the water instead of by street level. Lots of tourists don’t realize that’s there, and you can go down by the river to enjoy the views without so many people around. (We did this with a bottle of wine, very fun.)
If you can’t make the Eiffel Tower at night, it’s actually also incredible in the morning right at sunrise. It’s usually almost completely empty and it’s an amazing way to start the day!
Arc de Triomphe. This is by far the best view in Paris. If you can make it for sunset, it will likely be crowded but worth it in my opinion. The entrance is under the street, definitely do not try to cross the street to get to it! If you can get passes ahead of time online, it’s much easier to get in. I’m not a fan of the rest of that area, it’s lots of big fancy shops that you can find most places in the US as well. Fun to window shop, see the Arc de Triomphe, and then leave!
Notre Dame. I love seeing the church (we don’t go inside, it takes FOREVER and we are definitely not people who wait in line for sights.)
Sacré-Cœur – beautiful views of the city. One of my favorite ways we once started our day in Paris was seeing the Eiffel Tower at sunrise, then taking the train back to Sacré-Cœur. We took in the view, had breakfast at Hardware Societe, and walked around the neighborhood. One of the most picturesque little corners is nearby, La Maison Rose. It’s a pretty pink building that’s all over instagram!
I can talk endlessly about food in Paris. I’ll try to break it down my favorites by neighborhood.
L’As du Fallafel – seriously, best schwarma of our lives. We always go more than once while there. It’s a tiny window open to the street where you can order and then walk away with your food. It’s cash only, and open weird hours. The neighborhood it’s in is very very fun to walk around.
IF YOU ONLY PICK ONE OF THESE PLACES TO GO – L’As IS THE ONE.
Breizh Cafe – this is where you get crepes if you want them to be legit. Sometimes you need to stand on the street to wait for a seat, but it’s worth it. We always go at least once. I love crepes (I grew up with my MeMe and Mom making them at home), and these are amazing. If you go for a late lunch or dinner, make sure to order some cider with them as well, it’s delicious and the traditional way to enjoy crepes! (Also, getting a nutella crepe at one of those little street vendor spots you’ll see around is also worth it for a snack on the go, just not quite the same experience as Breizh.) When we’re there we usually each order a savory and dessert crepe so we can try as many as possible.
Benoit – if you want to try Michelin star dining without being too crazy with your wallet, this is a great place to do it. They have lunch specials (only available certain days so check ahead of time), and is one of the more upscale places we tried. Usually their specials include an app, entree, and dessert, so you get a little sampling of things.
Les Fous de L’Ile – Chris and I both agree this is our favorite restaurant in Paris. That may be hyping it too much, but whatever. I think we went three times last time we were there, and it was fantastic every time. They have awesome lunch and dinner combos, where you can get an app + meal, or meal + dessert, etc. for a set euro price. Also excellent wine recommendations and cappuccinos. The decor and ambiance is lovely, and their food is perfectly French and delicious. I didn’t have anything I didn’t love all three times we visited!
Auberge de la Reine Blanche – basic, traditional French. We had a fantastic lunch here. Very small and cozy inside, with fun eclectic decor (but you’ll be sitting close to your neighbors for sure!)
Hardware Societe – if you go to Sacré-Cœur, breakfast or brunch here afterwards is wonderful.
Angelina is right near the Orangerie and has amazing hot chocolate, it’s a Paris staple. Depending on the time of day and how crowded it is, it’s a fun place to stop by.
Things To Do:
I’m a big fan of the French way of life, and take it to heart when I’m in the city. Sit for a 3 hour lunch with endless coffee and people watching, you say? Oui, I’m in. Enjoy a weird puppet show with accordion playing in the background? Also oui. Just walking around some of the best neighborhoods is awesome.
Google map with all the spots I mention and a few extra:
MERCI ET AMUSEZ-VOUS!