I had this post in the queue when news of the Notre Dame de Paris fire was announced. I, like everyone, am saddened by this news. Notre Dame is the symbolic center-point of Paris and is pivotal to any Paris experience. I pray the restoration process goes smoothly and Our Lady of Paris will be restored to her former glory.
I am often asked for my Paris tips and tricks and I thought I would just share on my blog. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my ardent quest to know Paris intimately. I hope there is something new in here for you.
To Avoid Getting Lost: Know Your Snail
Paris is arranged in a snail shape of 20 arrondissements. Number 1 starts near the center of Paris and as the snail spirals out, the numbers get larger. Virtually every corner building in Paris shows the street name and the arrondissement number (sometimes concealed in the last two digits of the zip code) so if you know your snail you can’t get lost.
The Paris Museum Pass might save you money and will definitely help you avoid some lines or get in some shorter lines. The Louvre is closed Mondays while Musée d’Orsay is closed Tuesdays. Small museums I recommend include Jacquemart-André (8th), Marmottan (16th), Picasso (3rd) and Nissim de Camondo (8th).
3rd – 4th This area is known as the Marais and there are many little vintage clothing and boutique shops here. Also the Saint-Germain des Près area (6th) has some nice boutique shopping.
3rd Merci Merci is a newish 2-story store that has new fashion and home goods $$$-$$$$.
3rd Citizen at 8 Rue du Roi Doré has an excellent selection of vintage couture clothing pieces. Good quality merchandise and you don’t have to dig for finds. $$$-$$$$
9th Galleries Lafayette. Of course shop but also make it to the rooftop for great views of Paris. There is a fashion show on Fridays for only around $15 (these used to be free). Book online before your trip. $-$$$$$
1st Marquinerie St Honoré, 334 Rue St Honoré. Nestled among the Very expensive boutiques along Rue St Honoré is this affordable store with the cutest backpack purses you ever saw. $$-$$$
Flea Markets – The pop-up flea markets are called brocantes and a web search will tell you which arrondissement is hosting a brocante the weekend you are visiting. For the mother of all flea markets, visit Porte de Clignancourt’s Marché St Ouen (18th, weekends only). Be sure to bypass the tacky imposters and follow the crowd to the place where angels sing (or is that just me?). $-$$$$$
5th Shakespeare & Company – Famed bookstore (though not the original location) of Sylvia Birch. Do a little research about this store and it will come alive for you.
Eating & Drinking
Brasseries – Go now because these casual dining places are on the critical species list and headed for extinction.
Crêperies – Try the crêpe salée (savory) or the crêpe sucrée (sweet). Breizh is a nice crêperie restaurant or find a ubiquitous street vendor.
8th Rélais de l’Entrecôte restaurant (there are other locations, too). No reservations. Get in line early. They serve only steak and fries and it’s all you can eat. Upbeat “French maids” as servers and a fun atmosphere. Go hungry. Unless you like your steak mooing, do not order rare. $$$
4th Berthillon Glacier (ice cream store). Behind the Notre Dame, cross the bridge to the other island (Île St Louis) and head to Rue Saint Louis. $
7th Rue Cler Market Street (weekends are best). Buy picnic food then walk to the Eiffel Tower grounds for a picnic. $
1st Angelina’s. Go to this tearoom and order the Chocolat Chaud Viennois. This is very important. Without the Viennois you won’t get the whipping cream which is the only way to cut through the ridiculously thick chocolate. Order ONE and split for two. Don’t search calorie count for chocolat chaud Viennois. Don’t do it. $$
1st Café Marly just next to the pyramids of the Louvre has a lovely outdoor terrace. Servers here are hit and miss with their attitude. Give the grumpy ones a bonjour and merci and they will quickly become friendlier. $$-$$$$
7th The Grand Palais and the Mini Palais both have casual dining areas in swanky atmospheres. Request the couch area (canapés) at the Grand Palais and just order a cocktail and their planche (charcuterie) tray if it is between lunch and dinner hours. $$
6th Assanabel’s (they have other locations). This is typical Lebanese food and the service in the 6th is exceptional. Love the Mezzeh (Mezze in the U.S.). Always fresh. $-$$
7th Ralph Lauren Restaurant. Go for Sunday brunch and ask for seating in their outdoor courtyard. Book well in advance. Pricey but the setting is wonderful. $$$
4th Bar le 1905. One of Paris’s many hidden bars. The bartender will sense your mood and make a drink accordingly. Nice escape after you’ve shopped all day in the Marais. $$
15th Le Ciel, Montparnasse Tower Restaurant. Go to that tall building for a 5:30ish cocktail at the top. Tell the security guard who is trying to stop you at the bottom that you are going to the restaurant. Amazing view of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris street grid. Nice bartenders. You’ll be asked to leave as soon as the first seating of tourists arrive for dinner. $$
Other stuff I recommend (because not all tourists sites are created equal):
11th Atelier des Lumières (light show). Then Van Gogh show runs for a while but is currently sold out weeks in advance. Hard to describe. Images projected onto walls and ceilings of warehouse building accompanied by touching contemporary music. I’m not crying, you’re crying. Just, go!
14th Catacombs. Always a line so get in queue early. Just a bunch of dead people’s bones stacked for miles (by someone with OCD).
1st Sainte-Chapelle. Pay to enter and get tickets in advance to see the most beautiful stained glass in the world and very old history here.
9th Montmartre/Sacré-Coeur. The hill you climb is the Montmartre. The basilica at the top is the Sacré-Coeur. For a real workout go to the Blanche metro stop and walk up the 300 stairs or go to the Pigalle or Anvers stops and take the funicular (uses Metro tickets). At the top, visit Sacré-Coeur, get your portrait drawn by an artist at Place du Têtre, and visit the Musée de Montmartre and/or the Dali Museum.
7th Boat ride on the Seine. In spite of the egoists with selfie sticks whom you will want to push overboard, this is a great way to see the major monuments and get some history. Vedettes de Paris has boats with open tops.
16th Bois de Boulogne is acres and acres of green space and lakes. I go here when I need a break from the city crowds. Accessible by metro.
2nd Montorgeuil Street with its many brasseries and bar is a lively area in the evenings.
9th Palais Garnier (the Opera House). Go just for the street music which is nearly always happening on the front steps. Schedule a tour of the building to see the excess of marble and gold and the stunning Chagall ceilings. On show days (ballet or opera), you can buy $10 tickets if you show up early in person at the box office. Views are blocked or partially blocked but, who cares?
Versailles– A visit to this former castle of the kings is a must. Pay the up charge to visit Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon.
Chantilly is less than 50km from Paris and can be reached in less than an hour by regional train. It is exquisite (but little English is spoken here). Gorgeous dressage horse training and the horses’ barn is a former castle. Quintessential French village.
Reims (this word rhymes with “France”—weird, huh?) is in the Champagne valley. You can experience several champagne tastings at Veuve Cliquot and Tattinger among others. Reims also has a highly acclaimed cathedral. Leave by tour bus from Paris or go by train and wing it but buy your tasting tickets online in advance.
Giverny – Before going to visit Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, spend half a day in Paris at the Orangerie Museum (1st) or Marmottan Museum (16th) to see his paintings of water lilies then spend a whole day in Giverny to see his gardens and the water lilies in the flesh.
Please feel free to share this post with anyone you know who is heading to that most beautiful of cities. Bonnes vacances!