With so much to eat, drink and see, it's easy to get lost in the "City of Love." I admit that on my first visit I played the tourist role very well. I waited in line to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and to enjoy the view from the Eiffel Tower. How could I not? These are sites that are truly worth fighting the crowds to see.
I've been able to spend more quality time in Paris since that first visit. Living as a Parisian provided different views into what I now consider a beautiful way of life! During our extended time in Paris, we found ways to enjoy the city hotspots while skipping the tourist fuss. We had a picnic in the Jardins du Trocadero while enjoying the view of the Eiffel Tower. We experienced the Grand Cathedral of Notre Dame from the pews rather than from the bell towers, and we browsed the street artists outside the Lourve rather than looking at the art inside…
There is no shortage of things to do in this incredible city. Whether planning your first visit or your umpteenth Paris return, here are some of our favorite Parisian gems to help you treat yourself to an unforgettable experience.
Tip #1: Make an evening of dinner
Eating in Paris is my favorite thing to do. France does food better than anywhere else in the world, and Paris has some of Europe’s best chefs. It is certainly worthy of the title of "Culinary Capital of the World." The French have a talent for both simple and complex foods. They are artisan bakers who can produce unrivaled baked goods like delicious baguettes and croissants.
In France, dinner is not something that takes place before you start your evening. Dinner IS the evening. Parisian restaurants take the dining experience to entirely new levels. Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy a long, tantalizing meal.
Enjoy an affordable prefix at L’Argume. This neighborhood restaurant is the perfect place for a phenomenal, reasonably priced meal. With a small dining area, an even smaller terrace, and an open kitchen, the restaurant has a quaint and quiet environment with a contemporary edge. The chef, Frank Marchesi-Grandi, prepares well-thought-out menus with creative twists. We chose a five-course dinner menu, and each new course was better than the last.
Experience creative courses at Le Chateaubriand. Chef Inaki Aizpitarte creates a colorful, bold menu with distinctive combinations and incredible artistic presentation. His bistro, Le Chateaubriand, inhabits an old grocery that has been ever-so-slightly remodeled to support the restaurant without losing its time-worn character. You can only make reservations for the first seating at Le Chateaubriand, so reserve your table in advance if you want to skip lines.
Dine with a view at Le Jules Verne. The best way to enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower is from a Michelin-starred restaurant. Our experience began by skipping the long lines of people waiting to go to the top of the tower, and riding up in Le Jules Verne’s private elevator. We were taken directly to the 2nd floor (just below the bar at the top). The space has an elegant, contemporary feel. Its circular shape provides a perfect layout, giving each table a phenomenal view.
The chef, Alain Ducasse, creates unforgettable tasting menus by mixing classic French cuisine with contemporary ideas. It’s hard to describe such a beautiful culinary experience. What better way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower? Prices are high, but you're pampered from start to finish.
Tip #2: Experience the City of Lights!
Paris earned the title "City of Lights" for a reason; the city practically invented nightlife! Paris has had a long history of evolving nightlife. Many of its original cabarets and music halls continue to thrive. You may be tired after spending your day touring museums and galleries, but it’s still worth getting out to see what the city has to offer. Paris is characterized by an unforgettable energy at night.
The Seine reflects the city lights, the streets are filled with late night café chatter, and live music can be heard in nearly every neighborhood. You can spend your evening relaxing with a bottle of wine along the Seine, or you can experience one of the many lively bars in the Latin Quarter.
Parisian nightlife is found around every corner, making it easy for you to find a scene that fits your mood. Here are a few suggestions for unique and unforgettable experiences.
Enjoy a fancy night at the famous Moulin Rouge. Yes, this is indeed one of the biggest attractions in the city, but it’s also the best show in town.
Reservations should be made in advance, and I recommend reserving "dinner and a show." I wasn’t expecting such a nice meal to complement this sexy cabaret show, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pre-fix was delicious.
We arrived through a grand entrance and were seated for the elegant meal. The Moulin Rouge has been beautifully refurbished without altering its original, 1920s burlesque vibe. The show was one of the most incredible productions I have ever seen. The performances were sensual, tasteful and often playful, with whimsical colors and costumes. No personal pictures are allowed in the theatre, but there are roving photographers who snap photos of your magical night for purchase when you leave.
Live music in the cellar at Le Caveau des Oubliettes. Step back in time to the French Revolution as you walk into the upstairs bar (La Guillotine) and are greeted by an actual guillotine. Downstairs is a stone cellar that was once used for prisoners ("caveau des oubliettes" means "cave of the forgotten ones"). The room has absolutely incredible acoustics and ambience for live music. Go on a night when you can experience some of the talented, local musicians.
Tip #3: Indulge your sweet tooth
Paris is a paradise if you have a sweet tooth. The city is home to so many exquisite chocolate shops, it would be nearly impossible to see them all… though it is something I would like to try!
One of my favorite spots for a sweet breakfast or afternoon treat is Angelina. A dreamy location for those of any age, Angelina has a luxurious ambience to complement its refined selection of pastries and treats. You’ll feel like royalty while dining at elegant tables. Angelina has a classic collection of French pastries, each a masterpiece of flavors and textures. We enjoyed a flaky millefeuille, along with crispy puff pastries, and a rich and creamy éclair.
The highlight of any visit to Angelina is the hot chocolate. This very special hot chocolate is not the watery or milky drink that most are accustomed to. The thick consistency has a distinct character exclusive to Angelina. This famous beverage is made with carefully selected African cocoa and mixed with a "secret recipe" to create a bittersweet, intense, thick chocolate drink.
If you’re looking for a way to work off calories "as you consume," then there’s nothing lovelier than a Parisian chocolate walk. During such a trip, you stroll through the city to browse famous chocolate shops, collecting little treats along the way. Let me lead you through a day of savoring sweets as you stroll…
Start your walk at Rue Bonaparte 72, where you’ll find Pierre Herme’s pastry boutique. Known as the "Picasso of Pastry," Pierre runs a shop that is colorful and chic.
Leave Pierre’s, and turn right along Rue Bonaparte, then turn left onto Rue Saint-Sulpice and go straight until you reach Rue de Seine.
Take a left on Rue de Seine, and you'll find Gerald Mulot at number 76 (at the corner of Rue Lobineau). Mulot’s shop is a combined boulangerie, patisserie and chocolate shop. Mulot is known as a master, ranking among the city's best in all three crafts.
Next you'll cross the street to find Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini at 89 Rue de Seine. Marcolini's creative chocolates take your taste buds on a trip through exotic scents and flavors. The shop has more than 60 varieties of bonbons.
After leaving, go right along Rue de Seine, then cross back over to the north side of Boulevard Saint Germain. Turn right and head east. Continue along Boulevard Saint Germain until you reach Patrick Roger at number 108. Patrick Roger is known for his eccentric window displays. He’s a true chocolate artist. He was named Best French Chocolatier in 2000. He continues to wow his visitors with life-sized sculptures that will make you salivate.
Sinking your teeth into one of these beautiful works of art, you will find that their splendor and creativity is only surpassed by their exceptional flavors. Roger's is the perfect end to our chocolate scavenger hunt.
Tip #4: Explore off the beaten path
We spent a lot of time walking while living in Paris - exploring without an agenda. We were lucky to stumble upon a few hidden gems along the way. I suggest you do the same. Here are some of our favorites.
Enjoy the view from Galleries Lafayette Mall. This is my favorite place for a spectacular view in a comfortable setting. I believe that the view here is even more spectacular than from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Aside from seas of swarming tourists and high prices, Eiffel’s main drawback is that the view is missing something very key... the Eiffel Tower itself. The view from the 6th floor rooftop of Galleries Lafayette Mall has views of all the major sites, including Eiffel. Bring a book and your lunch to enjoy the open (free entry) café seating. For more impromptu drop-ins, order food and drinks at the roof-top restaurant and enjoy the perfect Parisian panorama.
Walk through Pere Lachaise Cemetery on Boulevard de Menilmontant for an opportunity to experience the second most famous graveyard in Paris. (Of course, the Paris Catacombs hold the #1 spot). With incredible crypts, statues and centuries-old headstones, it’s a fascinating and slightly spooky stroll through cobblestone alleys and rows of tombs. The cemetery is the largest in Paris - so large that it’s easy to avoid crowds and even easier to get lost. Pere Lachaise is also home to Jim Morrison’s tomb, which is usually covered in miniature liquor bottle offerings.
Picnic in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. This beautiful and popular park has panoramic views of the city from high, grassy hills. Young Parisian picnickers dot the landscape, but there are also a few spots to grab food and drinks along the way. Believe it or not, the park has a waterfall – the only one in Paris.
Tip #5: Take a day trip
Despite the endless options Paris provides, you shouldn't be afraid to leave the city. It’s nice to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris and explore a different side of France, especially when so much of the country is easily accessible by train. Here are a few of our favorite ways to experience the beauty beyond Paris.
Experience indulgent luxury at Versailles. Located southwest of Paris, Versailles surpasses any castle you've ever seen. I am completely certain that it will become your standard for comparison when you visit royal abodes around the world. I can't calculate how many castles I've visited during my wanderlusting, but none compare to the extensive grounds of Versailles.
It is easy to get here. You just catch a train from one of several convenient stations in Central Paris. Look for a line that has its terminus station at “Versailles Rive Gauche.” I recommend buying tickets ahead of time so you're able to skip any long lines.
Versailles is the epitome of indulgent luxury, and experiencing it firsthand is jaw-dropping. The palace’s grandiosity is almost overwhelming, but the experience simply begins there. The grounds are truly exquisite, with endless gardens creating fairytale landscapes that surround the palaces and additional buildings. My favorite location on the grounds is the Grand Trianon, a beautiful pink marble palace surrounded by countless tulips.
Bike to Monet’s beautiful gardens. This is my absolute #1 recommendation for a day trip from Paris. Exploring Giverny, the home of Claude Monet’s gardens and the inspiration for much of his art, is an unforgettable undertaking. It is also a great opportunity to enjoy the French countryside, visit quaint villages and marvel at Monet’s lush gardens.
Take a 45 minute train ride from Paris Gare St-Lazaare to Vernon. When you arrive, rent bicycles from almost any café just outside of the station. Before biking off, make sure to fill your bike’s basket with treats! Vernon has a number of bakeries, cheese shops and butchers. As your journey follows the outer Seine to the gardens, you’re sure to find a stunning, private spot for a picnic along the way.
Start your ride from Vernon to Giveny (about four miles) along the river. It’s an easy pedal, but you should ask for a map at the café for additional guidance. When you arrive in Giverny, signs lead to Monet’s colorful, well-kept gardens, which are open between April and October.
Paris is packed with museums, monuments and attractions. With so much to do and see, it’s difficult to narrow it down to one realistic itinerary. For me, Paris has many personalities. I’ve had my time exploring tourist sites, and I’ve spent weeks off the beaten path. I hope my experiences are helpful for your next visit. These tips will help you create a beautiful hybrid of worthwhile better-known activities and hidden gems. The result will be an unforgettable Paris experience.
Have you been to Paris? What off-the-beaten-path attractions can you recommend? Let us know in the comments section.