I still remember the first time I flew into Paris France as if it was the other day. That was over 25 years ago. The plane was descending over Paris and it was early in the morning. All that was to be seen were gray buildings studded with red tiled rooftops closely hugging each other, and the Eiffel Tower smiling at me from the distance. My heart skipped a beat or maybe two, I became slightly breathless and I felt like I had arrived home. It was the strangest yet comforting feeling that I have ever experienced.
From that day forward every time I have been back to Paris, as the plane descends I feel like I am coming home. Seems odd that I am now sharing my thoughts, suggestions, and a deep rooted love as the world has been shut down since Covid-19 took over our lives last year. As everything starts to slowly open up , I keep thinking that someday we will all be in Paris again. I am hopeful.
I have folders as well as hard-drives filled with reminders of places we have visited in Paris, napkins, business cards, random post cards all with notes scribbled on them with sweet memories as to what we loved there. I have had a year to relive all these memories, and to put my thoughts together on what I love about one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As we start to dream again, and start planning trips I thought it was a good time to share these loves with you!
I like to approach travel with the notation of how would I live in the place I am visiting, if I lived here. The first time I went to Paris I hit all the must-see sights but now when I visit I am more casual and take each day for what it is. I might continue to hit some of the must-see sights but usually, I try to seek out new to me adventures.
Back in 2019 I was able to spend two weeks in Paris exploring on my own. Lenny was with me in the beginning of the trip for a few days before he headed to Morocco, so this was the first time being there by myself for most of the trip. I decided to treat it as if I was living there. I branched out of my comfort zone and decided to spend time in a new to me area each day. I found so many amazing things and cannot wait to share.
The history of Paris can be traced back to the Gallic tribe known as Parisii sometime around 250 BC. It was settled as an island which is known as Ile de la Cite today which is located on the Seine River. Paris was built around the Seine which is still a working river today. What I love about Paris is that after all these years of visiting, the city is the same as it was when I first went almost thirty years ago. There is definitely change but the old charm of what Paris was built on years ago is still very evident. It oozes charm and romance, and there is a sense of pride in the history of the area. I always say there is something for everyone, and if you cannot find something to make you smile at least once or twice during your time there you are not looking in the right spots or are not approaching travel with an open heart.
Flights – I always get asked, “what flight should I take?” I live in the Bay Area and try to take a non-stop every time. I find the older I get the less likely I am to make a connection unless the airfare is so incredibly inexpensive that it is hard to pass up. As well, I am guided by my mileage program. My answer, take what works for you. I also prefer to travel off-season; late fall, winter, or early spring. Usually, I do not go to Europe in the summer unless there is a reason to be there. As well, I prefer Charles de Gaulle airport as it is easy to jump on the train into the heart of Paris.
Language – by now I should be fluent in French. I am not and it is okay as I know enough to get by on a daily basis. Even though English is widely spoken it is great to know a few phrases to get you started. There are great apps available for your phone that can help with this. A couple of my favorites are Google Translator and Duolingo. Every year I say I need to take a course in French, I studied in high school and I definitely need to brush up.
Books for Paris – I am not a typical tourist and tend to shy away from the usual travel guides such as Frommers or Rick Steves. I try to find books that recommend other new to me, or smaller spots that are worth exploring, especially since I have been a few times. Here is a list of three books that I referenced back to often when in Paris (may have affiliate links). Two of the books were new to me, and I cannot wait to use them again; The Little (r) Museums of Paris, and Paris in Stride An Insiders Walking Guide (I picked a different neighborhood, one that I had not explored before, every day and adventured out with this guide).
The city is made up of 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) and some say the layout is snail-like. The way to tell where a place is located is by the number that starts with 75 in the address and the last two numbers are the Arrondissement. For example: 75001 Paris, this is in Paris in the 1st Arrondissement or 75020 Paris, this would be in the 20th, and so on.
Each neighborhood is unique and offers different things; it really depends on what you are looking for. Over the years I have tried to explore each one but always end up staying and making my home base in the 3rd or 4th. It is easy as I know is so well, and I can get around to other areas fairly quickly by walking, jumping on the metro or even a water taxi.
Here is my breakdown of how I feel about each of the arrondissements. During my trip in 2019, I picked an area that I had not explored before, and spent time checking out new to me areas. It was a very pleasant surprise and exercise.
- 1st Arrondissement: Louvre. This is the heartbeat of Paris and full of tourists. Easy to get to the Louvre, Palas Royale, and Les Halles.
- 2nd Arrondissement: Bourse (Stock Exchange). This is the business area of the city as well it is full of all the trendy shops.
- 3rd Arrondissement: Marais. This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris and happens to be our favorite. Lots of little museums and cafes dotted throughout.
- 4th Arrondissement: Hôtel-de-Ville. This area intertwines with the 3rd and is also a favorite of ours. It is the centerpiece of the Jewish lifestyle with a rich history. Very close to Ile St. Louis and the Ile de la Cité which are the oldest parts of Paris.
- 5th Arrondissement: Latin Quarter. This area gets its name from Sorbonne where Latin is the common language of students during the middle ages. There are lots of shops and international restaurants and student bars.
- 6th Arrondissement: Saint Germain. This area used to be a regular haunt for intellectuals and hippies (bohemians). It has changed a lot since I first went to Paris and now it is very trendy with boutique shopping, restaurants, and galleries.
- 7th Arrondissement: Eiffel Tower. This is a melting pot neighborhood as there is a bit of everything from the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay, Rue Cler (to eat your way through), and Rodin Museum. This area is also a bit more wealthy as the foreign embassies are located here.
- 8th Arrondissement: Champs Élysée. A very upscale area famous for the Avenue des Champs-Elysees with lots of shopping and tourists. I tend to stay away from this area because of the crowds as well as American stores everywhere. Worth checking out if this is your first trip to Paris.
- 9th Arrondissement: Opéra. A residential area that has a mix of homes and businesses. Paris Opera is located in this area as well as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps for shopping.
- 10th Arrondissement: Canal St Martin. I found myself spending more and more time in this area when I was there last. It is a young and lively area with a bohemian flair. Great cafes, bistros, wine-bars, and unique little shops. Mostly locals hanging out in the parks along the canal.
- 11th Arrondissement: Bastille. Place de la Bastille and the New Opera are located in this area. It use to be a bit rough around the edges but last summer I spent some time wandering around and enjoyed finding little shops and markets. It is primarily a residential area full of artists.
- 12th Arrondissement: Bercy. I found myself wandering the tree-lined streets more than once during my last trip. This is a residential neighborhood near Bois de Vincennes and the Promenade Plantee which is a greenbelt area that is almost three miles long.
- 13th Arrondissement: Place d’Italie. This is a multi-cultural residential neighborhood that includes the modern Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand and Chinatown. I have yet to explore this area but have heard there are cobblestone streets dotting the neighborhood as well as many good cafes.
- 14th Arrondissement: Montparnasse. A residential neighborhood that is full of lively bars and restaurants. We stay here when we have an overnight before catching an early morning train or for picking up a car when leaving the city.
- 15th Arrondissement: Parc des Expositions. Primarily a residential neighborhood that borders the 7th as well as the Seine.
- 16th Arrondissement: Trocadero. Again, I have not spent a lot of time in this area but from a living, standpoint have heard it is rather wealthy. The few times I have been in this area it is to take in the amazing view of the Eiffel Tower from a small hidden cafe.
- 17th Arrondissement: Batignolles-Monceau. Residential area, not really anything touristy there.
- 18th Arrondissement: Montmartre. A super artsy area with a small village appeal located on top of a hill that overlooks Paris. We always go to enjoy the view, visit Sacre Coeur, and enjoy lunch in one of the many street cafes.
- 19th Arrondissement: Buttes-Chaumont. A residential area with many ethnic restaurants. Parc de la Villette is located in this area.
- 20th Arrondissement: Belleville. Quirky little neighborhood that is popular with artists and is full of small shops and restaurants. Pere Lachaise Cemetary is located here and definitely worth a visit if you enjoy wandering amongst the dead; very beautiful tree-lined area and beautifully peaceful. I could spend hours wandering this area.
Sleeping – my first trip to Paris I stayed at a hotel, I don’t remember the name but it was charming as well as very tiny. Now when I am traveling for pleasure I always rent an apartment. I really like to submerge myself into living like a local. I love getting up early, making coffee, and take my time getting ready. As well, it is nice to come home at the end of the day and have space to relax before going out for dinner. Or to even make dinner at home for a lazy evening.
I usually use AirBnb or the Plum Guide when booking an apartment for holiday. I have had good luck with apartments with Airbnb in Paris, though once or twice the apartment was not what we expected as in too small. Since that time I have upped our price point a bit and have never been disappointed. Apartments on the Plum Guide have been fantastic and I highly recommend them. Here is my list with AirBnb and the Plum Guide.
Hotels, I have two hotel recommendations in Paris as I usually do not stay in a hotel unless I have an overnight in Paris to catch a train or overnight flight connection somewhere else.
Hotel Mistral – we discovered this gem of a hotel a few years ago. This is usually where we stay when we have a train to catch the next day. It is easy to get to this hotel from CDG airport via train, and is very close to the Montparnasse train station. Romain was the assistant manager when we stayed there last and he was so charming and helpful. He was a wealth of information from historical tidbits to places to eat or drink in the neighborhood. One of the historical facts he shared was that the hotel was host to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte in the late 1930s. The rooms are small but very chic, modern, and hip. The room was very clean, had the softest sheets and there was complimentary coffee and tea in our room. I highly recommend this quaint little spot. Definitely get the breakfast that is an option with the rooms. The breakfast room is bright and sunny and the choices were endless.
CitizenM Paris Charles de Gaulle – I usually never stay at airport hotels unless I really have too as they are usually average and over priced. I was really glad to find this hotel. It is within walking distance of the airport. The space is very modern with a cool little bar, restaurant area, and a book store. The rooms are small, almost pod-like but very efficient. We had a lot of stuff with us, bikes, too many bags, etc.. and they stored everything in a back room so we did not have to crowd our room. The shower was super hot and there was in room coffee!
Eating and Drinking
Le Grand Bain – located in the 20th Arrondissement near the Belleville metro stop; though I waked from my apartment in the Maris as it was summer and an enjoyable evening to be out. I did take an Uber back as it was rather late (we closed down the spot) at night and the Uber was about 10 euros. I met a girlfriend here for drinks and dinner, and it was a highlight of my last trip. The food is Middle Eastern inspired and is served as small plates, which are meant to be shared, which means you can try everything. I wish I had a highlight but all of it really was, the food was perfectly and thoughtfully prepared as well as seasonal.
Au Pied de Cochon – located in the 1st Arrondissement near Les Halles and there are a few Metro stops near by, Louvre-Rivoli, Les Halles and Chatelet.
Cafe Restaurant Louis Philippe – located in the 4th Arrondissement near two metro stops, Hotel de Ville and Cite des Arts. They don’t have a website and they do not update their Facebook page but it is there! We discovered this gem that is located along the Seine during our first trip to Paris together as a couple over 18 years ago. We had been walking around all morning and wanted a cozy traditional French lunch. We gave it a chance, and now we go every time we are there, and it is always the first lunch we have in Paris. The food is just okay, probably like going to a French grandmother’s home; but it is traditional, most of the diners are French and it is fairly affordable. The space oozes French!
Une Glace a Paris – they have a few locations but I visited the one in the 4th Arrondissement as it was close to my apartment. It is a ice cream shop first but they also have pastries. I went for the ice creams and I went often! They have very unique flavors such as passion fruit, bee pollen with apricot, matcha, etc… and the flavors changed every few days.
Le Tir-Bouchon – located in the 2nd Arrondissement near the Etienne Marcel Metro stop. Very traditional French bistro, the food is good and reasonably priced. There are cute little shops along this street as well as other eating options. We stayed in this area years ago and loved this spot.
Ma Cave Fleury – located in the 2nd Arrondissement near the Reaumur Sebastopol Metro Stop. We rented an apartment next door to the wonderful little champagne bar in 2009. At that time the area know as St. Denis was known for it’s rather x-rated clients and could be a tad rough. Guess what? It was one of our most favorite apartments and we enjoyed champagne every day at this spot. The offerings back then were some but all from small little know champagne houses, and it may have been where we started loving the bubbles even more. Since that time we try to go back at least once during every trip.
L’As Du Fallafel – located in the 4th Arrondissement near the St. Paul Metro stop. This must go to spot is know for their falafel. If we land in the morning in Paris, we usually drop off our bags where we are staying, shower and change quickly and then head here for our first meal. We usually start talking about it before the plane even lands which makes us even more hungry. It is very good, and leaves us wondering what we cannot get falafel this good at home.
Shouk Paris – located in the 10th Arrondissement near the Jacques Bonsergent Metro. I discovered this little spot while exploring the St. Canal area one afternoon. They serve an assortment of seasonal Middle Eastern inspired recipes along with a lovely wine selection. I had such a fantastic lunch that first day, that I went back two more times for lunch and then took Lenny there for our last dinner in Paris in 2019.
Breizh Cafe – located in the 3rd Arrondissement near the Filles du Calvaire Metro. I stumbled upon this spot in 2019 one evening. I had no idea of “who it was” until after I posted a photo of my dinner on Instagram and suddenly had a ton of messages asking how I got in there. I just walked by, it looked cute and I walked in and received the perfect table by the window so I could look at and people watch during dinner. Amazing crepes and buckwheat galette, both savory and sweet. I really enjoyed the buckwheat one with seaweed butter, as well as a simple dessert crepe with honey. The service was lovely, and they sell a lot of items for enjoying at home too. I had two meals here and brought home butter and caramels!
Circus Bakery – (CLOSED March 2022) -located in the 4th Arrondissement tucked around the corner from Norte Dame. I found this spot by accident. I was trying to get a coffee at another little spot after some early morning photography, and lucky for me I was not able to get into the other spot. I followed my nose and found this amazing spot. Delicious coffee, and the cinnamon buns were to die for! I brought home a baguette that went lovely with my afternoon wine and cheese.
Camille – located in the 4th Arrondissement near the Saint Paul metro. I visited with a lovely older couple on the water taxi earlier in the day, who were from the North Coast of France but fell in love in Paris. They recommended a few spots for me to try out – ones that were traditional French and not overly priced. I had dinner here that evening, and was thrilled to find a spot that made a lovely steak frites with a carafe of red wine for a reasonable price. Very French Bistro feel.
Chez Julien – located in the 4th Arrondissement near the Cite des Arts metro. Disclaimer – we have not been here yet; but the same charming couple who recommended Camille said this was a must eat at as well. Next trip!
Le Saint Regis – located in the 4th Arrondissement on Ile St. Louis near the Cite de Arts metro. We love this spot for coffee and an afternoon pick me up or even late afternoon glasses of wine.
Avant Comptoir de la Mer – located in the 6th Arrondissement, this is a spot known for their oysters! I had one of my most memorable lunches one afternoon at the Stand Up bar area and cannot wait to go back. Amazing sea kissed oysters and crisp white wines. Definitely a highlight my last trip to Paris. There is a sit-down bistro they own right next door if that is more of your scene.
Saisons Fromagerie – located in the 3rd Arrondissement. Beautiful cheese shop and lovely service.
Your Feet – not going to lie the best way to really see Paris is your own two feet. This city is completely walkable, and even in the winter, it is pleasant.
Paris Metro – the fastest way to move around the city of lights is using public transportation. The metro system is really fantastic, and the easiest way to move around the city quickly. As well, it is very affordable. I do use it back and forth to the airport as well, as long as my flights are not late. Keep your small change from dining out and shopping as it is perfect to use for fare. If you will be in Paris more than 5 days and you think you will mostly use the metro I always suggest getting a Visite Travel Pass as it allows all public transportation within Zones 1 to 3 as well as airports, Disneyland, Versailles, etc…
Batobus – besides my feet this is my next favorite way to get around Paris. A French friend turned me onto this mode of transportation when I was 30, and only the French used it as a taxi to get around the city and avoid tourists. It is basically a water taxi, that near most of the attractions of Paris. It is lovely during all seasons, especially in the summer when the metro is a bit stinky, and crowded. We usually get a 24 hour pass, and take advantage of hopping on and off to enjoy different areas of Paris. Bonus, it is the best way to see the city at light when everything is twinkling.
Sight Seeing – if this is your first trip to Paris you have to take in the must-see sights. I highly recommend booking tickets ahead of time if you are able. As I mentioned I tend to travel off-season but when I was in Paris in 2019, even though I had booked tickets to a couple of the main sights before arriving, I still encountered very long waits; one of the places I ended up having to leave as I had tickets to a private museum showing at another spot. Be prepared to be patient or get up early and go in the morning which is what I should have done.
For a two week trip I would probably pick 5 of the top sites and maybe a museum or two if art and history are your thing. We usually save museums for really hot or really rainy days. Then pick a different neighborhood from where you are staying, and wonder around, explore and find new fun to you spots. Some of our favorites have been:
Eiffel Tower – worth going to the top. We love to go toward the end of the day when the light is soft and beautiful or late at night when Paris is filled with sparkle.
Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe – this area is probably the most tourist area in Paris. And honestly, one of our least favorite. If it is your first time, it is worth a quick trip.
Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame – these are two of Lenny’s favorite spots to go when in Paris. Usually they are also the first place we visit when arriving. Depending on the time of day, we may enjoy a coffee in a neighborhood cafe or an ice cream from Berthillon.
Sainte Chapelle – this is a gothic chapel build in 1246 during the Middle Ages, by Saint Louis the King of France. We love losing ourselves in this Chapelle, with beautiful sunlight streaming through the 15 colorful stained glass windows.
Luxembourg Gardens – this is one of our favorite gardens in Paris, and it doesn’t matter what time of the year. Summers are great for lazy picnics while watching children play with boats. Winters are beautiful when lightly dusted in snow. Spring with all of the new life bursting in scent and color is magical, and then autumn when everything is golden.
Pere Lachaise – this cemetery is one of the most famous in the world, as well as the largest in Paris. While it may seem strange to visit during holiday, we find it to be a great way to spend an afternoon wandering around when a bit of quiet is needed from the every day hustle.
Sacre Couer – beautiful views for sunrise as well as sunset, and the church is worth a walk through. Watch your bags and pockets, as unfortunately there is a lot of pick pocketing happening in this area.
Palace of Versailles – nice day trip out of Paris, the RER will get you there in less than an hour.
Markets – not grocery stores but instead open air markets located in each the neighborhoods. They are more like a farmer’s market. Fantastic people watching! Perfect place to wander around and grab beautiful produce or small souvenirs. I have to admit a guilty pleasure of mine is wandering aimlessly around the Super Marche as well.
Enfants Rouges Marche – located in the 3rd Arrondissement.
Bastille Marche – located in the 11th Arrondissement, and one of our favorites. There are a couple little bars near by to grab a coffee or beer that offer great people watching after you finish shopping.
Rickshaw Objets du Monde – located in the 2nd Arrondissement in the Passage du Grand Cerf. I have purchased food photography props here such as cutting boards and small bowls and utensils. It is a treasure trove of beautiful things.
Papier+ – located in the 4th Arrondissement. I love bringing back notecards and stationery items from Paris. They are lovely to use myself or to gift to someone special. This spot has a lovely assortment .
L’Epicerie – this spot has lovely items for the house. I tend to shop for household items that I can use at home instead of traditional souvenirs. I get more enjoyment from serving a beautiful salad in a bowl I bought in Paris then another plastic Eiffel Tower. As well they have wonderful food items such as French jam or honey that make lovely gifts.
E. Dehillerin – located in the Les Halles area that is a must for any home cook! I go every trip but have never bought anything until my last trip. I usually get caught up in speaking bad French, and hang my head in shame. Not my last trip. After a lovely afternoon of enjoying oysters and Chenin Blanc I had the courage, I went and bought copper baking pans! Next trip I am getting that double boiler I have been wanting forever!
Le Bon Marche – is a fancy, must visit at least once in your life, shopping center. I usually only buy food items, French and British magazines, as well as French perfume. Souvenirs that will give me great joy! It is worth walking through as the space is pretty amazing!
Ailleurs Paris – located in 12th Arrondissement. Lovely little shop filled with household items from dishes to lighting. It can be a bit on the pricey side but most of the items are rather unique as well.
Merci – located in the 3rd Arrondissement. I usually do not like to shop in “big stores” or ones I can order online from, when traveling but I found myself in the neighborhood one rainy afternoon so I jumped inside. I took a walk through, and found myself coming back the next day to gather few items I kept thinking about. Lovely linens for the table as well as some steak knives that we had been looking for forever. Fun and hip store with reasonably priced house wears.
Museums – if a museum in Paris allows you to purchase your tickets ahead of your visit, do it! Otherwise, you will have to wait in line for a while, and it could end up being discouraging for you.
Museum of the Art and History of Judaism – I stumbled upon this gem by accident. It was raining one afternoon and I saw a poster taped to an umbrella I was standing under. They had a black and white film exhibit showing so I decided to take it in. What a delightful spot to find as the museum is small and intimate with beautiful grounds. There were plenty of interesting exhibits from the history of Judaism to Helena Rubinstein’s life to keep me interested for a couple of hours. Tickets were reasonable (10 euros in 2019) and did not need to be purchased ahead of time. There was no wait even in the summertime. Definitely will go back.
Louvre – you kind of have to go to the Louvre when you are in Paris; especially if this is your first trip. The museum is big, and you could end up wandering for hours if not days, which isn’t a bad thing but it often discourages people. I would recommend, the first time, to do a tour and see the highlights. Even the audio tours that they offer are great. I have friends who have done a private tour with their family before the museum opens and said it was fantastic. I do not have a link but will get it and share.
Musee d’Orsay – this is one of my favorite spots and I always try to go when in Paris. The first time I went when I was 25, it was empty, and was kind of the best kept secret. Now it is rather popular so plan. It is the former Gare d’Orsay which was a railway station built in the late 1800s. The art work is mostly French and includes paintings, sculpture, and photography.
Pompidou – this museum is a collection of modern as well as contemporary art. There are often special exhibits as well as lectures, shows and activities for children. The bright and colorful building is adored by kids, and the outdoor area is great for burning off that kid energy after walking around the museum. If you get a chance go to the top for a glass of wine, cup of coffee and great views!
Musee de L’Orangerie – beautiful gallery filled with impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Monet’s famous water lilies can be found here as well. I love this spot not only for it beauty but also to enjoy the walk through the Tuileries Gardens.
Next Time – this list grows with every trip! It does not matter if I spend one week or three in Paris, I always run out of time to do it all. Maybe we should move there? Most of these are either recommendations from friends or spots I have read about or wandered by.
Chez Fernand Christine – a little bistro located in the 6th Arrondissement that was recommended to me by a lovely couple I chatted with one afternoon on the boat.
Rue de Bievre – a photo opportunity recommended by the same couple above. It is located in the 5th Arrondissement, and I was told it has beautiful light.
Ofr Bookstore – a small bookstore and film venue
Frenchie To Go – American favorites at their finest in Paris. I have a lot of friends who are and aren’t chefs, and this spot is always recommended.
Peonies Coffee and Flowers – what more could you want than a cute little coffee shop that sells one of my favorite flowers Peonies.
Le Pharmacie – this spot is a French restaurant and is supposed to be amazing.
Odette – coffee
Le Bon George – I walked by this spot one evening after I had already eaten. The menu looked fantastic, and it smelled amazing. If I was not flying out the next day I would have gone back.
Oyster Club – Oysters!
Meert – Coffee and Pastries.
Maison Plisson – a little shop as well as restaurant that sells amazing jams and honey.
Liza – Labanesse food, this spot was recommended by a foodie friend who I ate with in Paris last time I was there. She knows her stuff, so I know this will be a good one!