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Written by Jessica Moore
There’s not a day I don’t think about Paris…
…says every person who’s ever fallen in love with the city of love. I know, I’m a walking cliché. What can I say, c’est vrai, it’s true!
To this day, I catch myself imagining the sounds of le métro and hushed conversations in cafés among a sea of wicker chairs.
As if it were yesterday, I remember the sweet scent of baguettes and crêpes from boulangeries perfuming narrow cobblestone streets.
I can picture Parisian children giggling, pushing toy boats on a sunny day along fountains at the Luxembourg Gardens, and recall bustling outdoor markets of fresh produce and vintage finds.
I remember ancient brick, scattered chimney pots on rooftops, blissful accordion tunes along the glistening Seine, and the beautiful clash of historical and modern art everywhere. All of these memories are wrapped up like a black and white montage from a Nouvelle Vague film.
It’s difficult not to romanticize Paris. It’s almost fantastical. Maybe it’s the countless films that depict its idyllic scenery. Perhaps it’s the sheer amount of artistic caliber that has stemmed and continues to stem from the streets of Paris, making it an elevated cultural powerhouse that stands the test of time.
Or maybe (and I’ll go with this one), simply being in Paris, one feels this overwhelming sense of taking part in some sort of sweeping love affair, not with a person, but with a city that demands beauty and passion.
And with that, here’s our Paris City Guide.
simply being in Paris, one feels this overwhelming sense of taking part in some sort of sweeping love affair, not with a person, but with a city…
You simply can’t go to Paris without seeing its major landmarks. These monuments and popular destinations will help introduce you to the magic of Paris. If you’re looking for free things to do in Paris, look no further.
It doesn’t get any more classic than Le Tour Eiffel. Visit the Eiffel Tower once during the day and once at night. During the day, bring a picnic with you (some cheese from a fromagerie and a baguette will suffice). At night, the tower sparkles at the top of the hour for a fantastic must-see 10-minute light show.
Most people hop off the Bir-Hakeim metro stop. I highly suggest getting off at the Trocadero stop for a more dramatic reveal: once you turn the corner of Palais Chaillot, the symbol of France is there.
No trip to Paris is totally complete until you visit the Arc de Triomphe overlooking the far-reaching Champs-Élysées. One of France’s best-known symbols, this beautiful neoclassical arc commemorates the soldiers who fought in the French Revolution. You can even climb the arc and see the bustling city from high up!
Sacre Coeur is my favorite landmark in Paris. This white shining cathedral is not only so beautiful it’s heartbreaking, but it also holds the ultimate view of the city, as it’s the highest natural point in Paris.
Climb up the steps in Montmartre toward Sacre Coeur. You can pay a visit to the Moulin Rouge on the way if you feel so inclined (warning: it’s a bit underwhelming), and stop by a number of petits restaurants and cafés. Sacre Coeur is a popular hangout spot, and many musicians and artists set up shop and perform. So do as the locals do and bring a snack, enjoy the sounds, and see Paris from afar.
“Our Lady of Paris.” Can you believe it took 200 years to construct Notre Dame? The Notre Dame is a magnificent cathedral boasting two towers, gargoyles, spider-like flying buttresses, and spiky spires in French Gothic fashion. The intricacy of the architecture outside competes with the intense beauty inside. The Notre Dame’s interior features realistic statues, a breathtaking organ, striking stained glass, and the most beautiful rose window I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of stained glass, have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be in a jewelry box? Sainte Chapelle is tiny Gothic chapel located on Île de la Cité by the Seine. This small chapel boasts one of the most extensive stained glass collections. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Visit Sainte Chapelle as the sun sets to see soft light penetrate the colorful glass. You can also have a one-of-a-kind concert experience in the chapel, and some events additionally include dinner as well! Listening to live baroque or classical music while sipping on some wine in a 13th-century place of worship? Yes, please.
This is a must! Tucked in the Latin Quarter on Paris’ Left Bank bordered by Saint-Germain-des-Prés (across the Seine and the Notre Dame) is the world-famous English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. It’s more than just a bookstore: it’s a labyrinth of pages and a literary oasis. Each wall is lined from the floor to ceiling with ladders and books new and old, each nook and cranny seemingly stuffed with as many books as possible, making it an eccentric bohemian gem.
The flight of stairs features inspirational writing, leading to the second floor hang out spot with old typewriters, antiquated mirrors, armchairs, pianos, even a bed (traveling writers can take up residence in the bookstore and have for decades! What a dream!). You can even write a note and pin it to the walls for future visitors to ponder.
Take your time and relax in the same place the most influential writers like F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg mulled over soon-to-be classic American works. Buy a book and get their famous stamp on the inside cover. You’re going to love it, It’s the best souvenir!
The art in Paris, simply put, is significant and sublime. Try to spend a good portion of your trip seeing one-of-a-kind masterpieces in these magnificently constructed museums.
Visiting the Louvre Museum is a must, even though navigating through streams of people can get rough. Everyone’s trying to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or the Winged Nike (which is astounding in person), and take photos with the iconic pyramids in its outdoor square. Good news is that the crowds aren’t as heavy in the evening. Pro tip: skip the line and use the Port de Lions entrance. It’s a little secret entrance (shhh!) if crowds really bother you.
I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll take Musee D’Orsay any day over Le Louvre. Why? For starters, the Louvre, as renowned and exclusive as its collections are, can be a tourist nightmare any time of the day. And it can be a tad overwhelming because of its size, even for the most avid art lovers.
Musee D’Orsay as a museum is a piece of art in itself: art pieces are housed in a refurbished railway station complete with an ornate clock found in the main hall. Here you’ll find permanent collections from painters and sculptors like Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, and Auguste Rodin. If you’re pressed for time but still want to appreciate the art, Musee D’Orsay is your best bet.
Calling all modern art lovers! This impressive structure is the largest museum of modern art in ALL of Europe. Its design is so…not Paris, at least in the traditional sense. With an exposed façade and intricate building technology put on display, it’s a response to a changing city, highlighting how modernity and innovation can beautifully coexist with historic landmarks in Paris.
Visit the Pompidou to see artwork by giants like Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse. And make sure to visit the 6th floor for a panoramic view of Paris.
For all those thrill seekers out there, the Catacombs should rank at the top of your bucket list. The Catacombs are underground ossuaries built in the late 18th century to compensate for Paris’ crammed above-ground cemeteries (that were grossly overflowing, if you can imagine it). Bones are arranged in a hauntingly beautiful pattern in these creepy caverns. Beware: if you suffer from claustrophobia, this place is absolutely not for you.
Experience the epitome of park life. The following Parisian parks are great spots for picnics, people-watching, art gazing, and sun-bathing.
This park is the stuff of fairytales. Located in the 19th arrondissement, Buttes-Chaumont features a suspended bridge, ponds, caves, and waterfalls. These all lead up to the park’s highest point, The Temple of Sibylle, a dreamy gazebo that peers over all of Paris. From the Temple on a clear day, Sacre Coeur in the distance looks like a castle on the clouds.
In between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde is the Tuileries, an expansive garden dating back to the 16th century. The grounds have a gorgeous fountain with scattered statues from famous sculptors like Auguste Rodin. Parisians hang out on park chairs and take in the fresh air and scene: fun playgrounds for children, cafés with the most delicious pistachio ice cream, toy boat sailing, and seasonal modern art installations that exquisitely contrast with the permanent classical works of art.
It may be small and quiet compared to other parks, but Parc Monceau packs an elegant punch. Popular with locals and less with tourists, this park features a tranquil pond, a rotunda, a colonnade, and an Egyptian pyramid from the 18th century. It’s a perfect place to clear your mind and people-watch.
The Luxembourg Gardens have it all: towering fountains, bright flowers, rows of trees, reflective pools, fanciful statues, and stunning promenades. The highlight of the grounds is without a doubt the Medici Fountain, a grotto with an awe-inspiring statue depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan.
I’ll go out and say it: France has the best food on Earth. Period. There are so many restaurants in Paris: from Michelin-starred restaurants to prix fixe 3-course meals for 10 Euro in the Latin Quarter, it’s safe to say you’ve got a lot of options. It all depends on what sort of experience you want in Paris.
If you’re a budget traveler or looking for a no-frills dining experience without sacrificing taste, here are my favorite spots to get a snack in Paris (featuring loads of pizza).
Ready for the best eclairs of your life? What about the best tarts, croque monsieurs & croque madames, and out of this world quiches, baguettes, and sandwiches?
Maison Landemaine has it all. I highly recommend all of the above. Make sure to also buy some chouquettes. I haven’t found them yet in the U.S., but these lil’ sugary wonders are crispy on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside.
There are a lot of locations, but my favorite is Maison Landemaine Charonne in the 11th arrondissement. Get off at Ledru-Rollin station and you’ll find it.
You’ll have to go a little out of the way to get to this petit restaurant, but it is SO worth it. Pizza de Vinci has THE BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER TASTED (and after visiting 20 countries and counting, I’ve had a ton of pizza in my life; also the caps were totally necessary because it’s that unbelievable).
There are two tables in the entire pizza shop, with the owner behind a counter that makes your pizza right in front of you. He also created the beautiful paintings he’s hung in the restaurant and loves to talk to travelers. This is definitely a locals-only spot, and I think the best-kept secret in Paris.
Get off the Vaugirard metro stop. As you exit, you’ll see a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower!
Tucked away in romantic Le Marais is L’As du Fallafel, a falafel joint with delicious falafels, perfect for taking a quick break from French cuisine. This place is always busy, so stay in line because it is beyond worth a taste. Their hummus and chicken shawarma are excellent, but I go for their falafels every time–with extra spicy sauce.
It’s hard to believe this pizza in Paris costs a mere 5 Euros because the flavor is out of this world. Located just off La Bastille, this little pizza joint is ridiculously delicious–like laugh out loud while you eat delicious! Get the 4 cheese pizza, find yourself a park (like La Promenade Plantée, a sort of New York Highline-inspired walkway, which is only a few blocks away) and eat it up. C’est incroyable!
Marchés en plein air, or as we call it, “farmer’s markets,” are a great way to sample fresh fruits and vegetables, which taste unquestionably different than the produce in the States. I remember eating a strawberry and thinking it was better than any fruit or candy I’ve ever tasted.
These open-air markets are great for sampling local delicacies as well. You can find excellent French cheeses, sweet and savory crêpes, baked bread, all kinds of quiches, soufflés, and fresh-caught seafood. The market also includes vendors with knick-knacks and jewelry.
You can’t miss out on the Bastille Market, which is open morning (no exact time) to around 3pm every Thursday and Sunday, but try to get there early to soak it all in.
These two markets are the most convenient spots to pick up goods for picnics by the River Seine, like bread, cheese, and wine (does anyone really need anything else?).
There’s a specific type of joy I feel when I visit a foreign market. The feeling of not completely understanding labels, and studying the array of interesting and sometimes unusual pairings I can’t find at home, makes my heart flutter!
If you’re planning an extended trip to Paris and can’t afford to eat out every night, go to a Monoprix or Franprix for all your food needs! Monoprix reminds me of a smaller version of Target, with fresh produce, meat, and seafood as well as a floor dedicated to clothes, household products, and books. Franprix locations are smaller, cheaper markets that carry all the essentials.
There’s magic in Paris. Beauty awaits! Bon voyage fellow travelers!