Everyone has their own ideas about what makes travel away from home pleasurable. Paris fits the bill for just about everything I enjoy. Some of my favorite things to do and see are noted below. Who knows how many of these places will still exist when the new normal arises after the pandemic. Always best to check the current status of a destination before you set out to explore. Arrondissements are noted in parentheses.
PARKS, SQUARES & QUAIS/locations along the banks of the Seine: (Fortunately, these are likely to still be around “as is” when the pandemic ends.)
****Jardin Des Plantes (5th)—Best dinosaur museum! And if you’re into plants, that too. Across from one of the park entrances is a beautiful Mosque with a lovely outdoor tea room.
****Jardin du Luxembourg (6th)—A number of options for activities and things to see— but be careful where you sit. Some grass is for people and some grass is strictly for visuals. You will get scolded and shoed away if you pick the wrong spot. Find one of the iconic garden chairs surrounding the toy-sail boat pond and people watch, write or enjoy the crepes and ice cream sold nearby.
****Place de Vosges (4th)—Small, lovely fountains, and you can sit on the grass. Interesting arcade with shops, restaurants and pop-up entertainment surrounds the place.
****Parc Monceau (8th)—Serene, nice for strolling and a break from fast pace of city.
****Pere Lachaise Cemetery (20th)—Lots of famous dead people (Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Modigliani, etc.) My favorite is the grave/tomb of Victor Noir, a mid-1800s journalist and dandy. His tomb is a destination for women with issues of fertility. The outline of Monsieur Noir’s dapper figure is verdigris except the spot rubbed golden by believers in his ability to help with their issues of conception.
****Quai Saint Bernard (5th)—A cement park, also known as the Musee de Sculpture en Plein Air, is a dancer’s delight most nights during seasonable weather. There are spaces for salsa, tango, swing, hip hop, traditional French and occasionally something different. If you come early (around 7 EST/19 CET) there are often troupers who give lessons before the dance floors get crowded.
****Viaduc Des Arts (12th)—An old rail line over a viaduc replaced by gardens and a beautiful place to stroll or run. Underneath the park are a number of unique ateliers and galleries.
****Porte de Vanves Flea Market (14th)—Although the big Paris flea market up by Montmartre is more popular, the Porte de Vanves Flea Market, open on weekends, is more doable and affordable. It’s my go-to shopping venue on each trip to Paris. I have a number of items around me in my daily life back home (e.g. small dishes, cups, ashtrays that hold paper clips, etc.) that make me smile because I found them at the Vanves Flea Market.
****Vide de Grenier Brocante—Pop up garage sales, mostly on the weekend. Google “vide de grenier brocante Paris” and a date and you’ll get the locations for that weekend. These are like small fun flea markets. You’ll often see the same merchants at different brocantes.
****Marché Edgar Quinet (14th)—A farmer’s market with more painters and craft artisans than usual. I’ve bought jewelry, a lithograph and a small sculpture of a ballerina (I had just seen a breathtaking classical ballet performance at the Palais Granier) from the original artists. Prices are reasonable. (Always Google the markets before heading out, because dates and times vary.)
****Neighborhood (Produce) Markets—These are neighborhood based markets with fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, meat and, depending on the market, an array of other products. Find the one nearest your lodging. Because I often stay in Le Marais on the Right Bank, near the border with the 11th arrondissement, I love the Thursday/Sunday Marché Richard Lenoir market. The Marché d’Aligre (12th) is also fascinating. Friends who live on the Left Bank swear by the Marché Raspail. And the Marché Mouffetard is more like a permanent market available most days on Rue Mouffetard.
MUSEUMS: (There are museums galore in Paris. I prefer the smaller ones. I didn’t venture into the Louvre until my 10th visit, and I would not spend a whole day of a short vacation there. If you choose a popular museum, it is usually best to get tickets in advance if you don’t have the option of coming back another day, but I’m also a big proponent of staying open to stop in museums as you pass by.)
****Atelier des Lumières (11th)—My favorite museum–anywhere! So unique.If there is an exhibit while you are in Paris, go see it. You are enveloped by the work of the featured artist, surrounded by beautiful soundtracks. I saw Gustav Klimt and Vincent van Gogh in a way that was so much more memorable than seeing them in a traditional museum.
****Petit Palais (8th)—A good alternative to the Louvre. A smaller museum with a wide variety of fine art in a beautiful setting next to the Seine.
****Musée d’Orsay (7th)—A lovely fine arts museum, across the Seine from the Louvre, with many of the major artists, and much more manageable than the Louvre. You can see what you want in a few hours.
****Musée des Arts et Métiers (3rd)—Fascinating museum of inventions and scientific instruments.
****Musée des Arts Décoratifs (1st)—Fashion and furniture and more. I love this cozy museum that is structurally part of the Louvre, but separate. They put on fascinating exhibits.
****Musée Marmottan Monet (16th)—More of Claude Monet’s (and his cronies) impressionists works than you may find at his home in Giverny.
RESTAURANTS, CAFÉS & BARS: Only you know what you have a taste for and when you are hungry. I do more cooking in my apartment than eating out during my extended stays in Paris, but I’m including a few places I would recommend if you’re in the mood. Many restaurants close down between lunch and dinner. Cafés and bars usually have ongoing service. Restaurants take reservations seriously—meaning it’s unlikely you’ll get in without one if their website instructs you to reserve. (Because of the 2020 pandemic, this is an iffy category, because no one knows which establishments will survive as normal life resumes. So Google or call ahead if you really want to try one of my recommendations.)
****Willi’s Wine Bar (1st)—My favorite place to take visiting friends. Started, and still owned, by an expat Brit, the food is excellent. One of the only places to get a really good (tender/edible) steak in Paris (in my limited and humble opinion.) It is also close to one of the nicest covered arcades in Paris: Galerie Vivienne (2nd).
****The Ritz Bar (1st)—I like to dress up, occasionally, in Paris. This is an elegant and cozy bar tucked in the back of The Ritz Hotel (across the hall from the iconic Bar Heminway.) Both bars are expensive (30€ for a Martini), but if you’re up for the experience, it’s lovely.
****Le Caruso (4th)—My favorite Le Marais neighborhood Italian restaurant. You can also get pizza to go.
****Restaurant Josephine Chez Dumonet (6th)—Reservations absolutely required (I unsuccessfully tried to get in during off hours when all the tables were empty.) Traditional French food. Excellent Boeuf Bourguignon. Don’t plan any major activity following your meal here. You’ll probably need a nap, even if you walk home.
****Café de l’Homme (16th)—Tucked away in the Musée de L’Homme, this is a lovely place for lunch with some of the best views of the Eiffel Tower and the Jardin du Trocadero.
****Brasserie Vagenende (6th)—Elegant Belle Époque restaurant on Blvd. Saint Germain (one of the best people watching streets on the Left Bank.)
****Breakfast in America (4th)—Yep, just like it sounds. A (small) diner that serves straight-up American breakfast food, burgers, fries, etc., with familiar American decor and English speaking staff.
****Au Pied de Cochon (1st)–Great French Onion Soup.
CINEMAS: One of my favorite things to do in Paris is go to the movies. They have a number of small, old fashioned (no concession stands), cinemas that show movies from the 1930s through the 1990s. Quite a few movies will be American classics, in English with French subtitles, from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I saw “Casablanca” (1942) in a cinema where it probably premiered when it was first released. This might not be how you would want to spend your time on a short visit, but if the weather is inclement and you’re inclined, it’s a unique experience. Not many of these venues exist in the US anymore. (Ironically, NYC has an independent movie theatre named “Paris” that is struggling to stay open.) There are many more theaters in Paris, big and small, but I tend to frequent these:
****Christine 21 (6th)
****Studio Galande (5th) Has an ongoing late-night weekend showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
****Le Champo (5th)
****Grand Action (5th)
****Le Desperado (5th)
SHOPPING: Paris is the most fun shopping city, possibly, in the world. I have a few favorite spots, but basically you’re on your own, because only you know what you’re looking for.
My favorite shopping area is Le Marais. Two of my favorite shopping streets are Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe and Rue des Francs Bourgeois. These aren’t the streets with the high-end designer shops (although there are a few) but you will find a lot of boutiques in this area.
My three favorites stores in Paris are:
- Jocelyne Aubree—A jewelry boutique. Jocelyne makes all of the jewelry and it is very unique and reasonably priced. She also has the most extensive collection of one-of-a-kind clip earrings I’ve ever come across.
- Mélodies Graphiques—Exquisite stationary. There is also an interesting book where you can leave a short message in pen and ink. There are great stories about lovers using this book to communicate.
- BHV—This store has everything. And the basement is like a modern day hardware store out of Harry Potter. They have everything and the French experts (few speak English) that can direct you to that specific “thing” that will fix whatever is broken.