More than a destination of majestic architecture, bourgeois absolutes and just-baked baguettes, Paris offers great sightseeing, incredible shopping, and leisure dining that always comes with desserts in the form of delicate trays of the finest chocolates and macarons.
Paris goes far beyond the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame and the Louvre. On your next trip, stroll the Marais and shop along rue des Francs Bourgeois or walk under the arches of the oldest square in Paris, Place des Vosges. Take time to explore the Latin Quarter to see the Church of St-Severin, the Sorbonne and rue Mouffetard — not just because it’s where Joyce, Orwell, Balzac and Hemingway once lived, but also for the rows and rows of fresh food glistening like bouquets of colorful blooms under the street market’s faded awnings. Stop by the booksellers’ stalls along the banks of the Seine around Notre-Dame for antique and second-hand books, comic strips, postcards and posters at great prices.
St-Germain-des-Pres and the stately Church of St-Sulpice’s beautiful Delacroix murals are a must-see on this trip — as is the Church of St-Germain-des-Pres, the city’s oldest — before heading down the neighborhood’s enchanting streets, through the old squares and artists’ studios that surround it. Don’t forget to leave time to head up to the little village of Montmarte and the old cobbled streets where Renoir, Lautrec and van Gogh lived and worked; there are wonderful views of the city.
Paris is basically divided twice, first into 20 municipal quarters called arrondissements and second by the Seine, which divides the city into the Right Bank to the north and the Left Bank to the south, linked by dozens of bridges. Bridges also lead to two small islands at the heart of the city: Ile de la Cite, the city’s birthplace and site of Notre-Dame, and Ile St-Louis, an oasis of 17th-century architecture. The quarters spiral out like a snail, beginning with the first arrondissement in the center of the city.
The best way to find an address is by checking out the arrondissement first. This is indicated by a number followed by “e” or “er,” which in English means “th” or “st” (i.e., 7e, 1er). It’s also indicated by the last two digits of a postal code (i.e., 70007 = the 7e).
What weighs 10,100 tons and has 1,665 steps and 20,000 light bulbs? The Eiffel Tower! This breathtaking landmark was built by Gustave Eiffel (did you know he also designed the framework for the Statue of Liberty?) for the 1889 Universal Exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution. Though it was meant only as a temporary installation, it has become one of the planet’s most popular tourist attractions, visited by nearly seven million people a year.
The 164-foot Arc de Triomphe was planned by Napoleon to celebrate his military successes, but wasn’t finished for another 20 years after he was exiled to Elba. It has some magnificent sculptures, and the names of Napoleon’s generals are inscribed on the stone facades. There is a small museum halfway up the arch devoted to its history (you can actually climb to the top). France’s Unknown Soldier is buried beneath, and the flame is rekindled every evening.
Although it’s probably easier to take the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can also climb 387 steps up to the south tower of 12th-century Notre-Dame for a nice view of the city. It was here in 1804 that Napoleon crowned himself emperor and then crowned Josephine as his empress. When planning your visit, keep in mind that the cathedral has different opening hours than the towers (which are operated by the National Monuments Centre) and crypt (which is operated by the Musee Carnavalet); check ahead to avoid disappointment.
The Louvre is the world’s greatest art museum — so it really doesn’t matter if you’ve been here before since there’s no chance you’ve seen it all. Collections divide into Asian antiquities, Egyptian antiquities, Greek/Etruscan/Roman antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, paintings, Islamic art, and prints and drawings. Obviously, the top attractions (and most likely the ones you’ve seen) are the “Mona Lisa” and the 2nd-century “Venus de Milo.” Note: Avoid the never-ending lines to enter through the Pyramid. Instead, come in from the Carrousel de Louvre mall on rue de Rivoli or, even better, through the Louvre’s Metro stop.
Moulin Rouge has been putting on its famous show since 1889. Of course, being immortalized by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and known for the risque can-can didn’t hurt either. It’s still fabulous with plenty of feathers, sequins and, of course, scantily clad showgirls. It’s open nightly, with show and “dinner + show” options.
The Musee d’Orsay is a magnificent 1900 railway station that now houses a superb collection of Impressionist art from 1848 – 1914, including major works from Degas, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Gauguin. If you don’t have lots of time, browse the upper level to see the enormous railway clocks in addition to some of the museum’s best exhibits.
There’s little left of the Bastille fortress, and its remains are surrounded by a neighborhood filled with an array of popular cafes, clubs and the Opera Bastille, completed in 1989. The Colonne de Juillet dominates la Place de la Bastille, memorializing the July Revolution of 1830.
The Centre Pompidou is a must-visit for lovers of modern and contemporary art. Lines can be long, especially for high-profile temporary exhibitions. Visit on a weekday if you can.
In the 16th century, 30 windmills were built in Montmarte for winemaking and milling grain, but only two remain today. Wander the back streets, away from the main square and souvenir shops. At dusk, sit on Basilica du Sacre-Coeur‘s top steps and watch Paris indeed become the City of Lights. When the basilica’s 19-ton bell tolls, you not only hear it — you feel it!
Check out a few of the city’s lesser-known museums. The Musee Rodin was once the home of Rodin and now houses several of the artist’s most impressive works, including “The Thinker” and “The Gates of Hell.” The sculpture garden is as spectacular as the inside, so leave time for both. The Musee de l’Orangerie, located in the lovely Tuileries gardens, is home to a series of Monet’s “Water Lilies” as well as other Impressionist works. The Musee Nissim de Camondo is an early 20th-century aristocratic home full of art and decorative objects; it’s named after the son of the home’s owners, who died in World War I.
Hotel des Invalides is the magnificent 17th-century domed structure constructed under the direction of Louis XIV to shelter old and wounded soldiers; it’s also the site of Napoleon’s tomb.
The Musee d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) in the Marais is a wide-ranging collection of objects dating as far back as the Middle Ages.
Paris Walks offers informative two-hour walking tours that range from the Latin Quarter to Hemingway’s Paris. They even have foodie tours that include chocolate tastings. The tours are a great way to get up close and personal with the city.
Head for rue de Bac for smart shops and a bit of neighborly biographic history. Edith Wharton lived around the corner on the rue de Varenne at Nos. 53 and 58; the Prime Minister’s official residence is at No. 57 on Varenne. The chapel of the Miraculous Medal, where Catherine Laboure was said to have visions of the Virgin in 1830, is at No. 140 rue de Bac.
Cite de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine is dedicated to architecture and architectural heritage. Designed by Jean-Louis Cohen and Jean-Francois Bodin, the museum showcases the collections of drawings, drafts and models of the French Institute of Architecture. It’s also got a great view of the Eiffel Tower.
In Paris, there are memorable dining experiences around every corner — from the melt-in-your-mouth croissants at a sunny sidewalk cafe to the spectacular culinary creations at the city’s many Michelin-starred hot spots. If you’re looking to try one of the latter, be sure to make your reservation well in advance, and consider a lunchtime visit to enjoy similar gourmet cuisine at more affordable prices.
A few tips for dining in Paris: The city’s restaurants, cafes and bars are now non-smoking, at least indoors. As a result, outdoor patios are now smokier than ever. When looking at your bill, keep in mind that the tip is often included; however, it’s customary to leave a few extra euros if the service was particularly good. Finally, never — we repeat, never — order a doggie bag for your leftovers.
Serious gourmands won’t want to miss a meal at Epicure, where the ambience and incredible food make it clear why this restaurant at the luxury Le Bristol hotel has earned three Michelin stars. Reserve well in advance.
Les Bouquinistes, Guy Savoy’s trendy Left Bank bistro, is located near Notre-Dame and offers elegant European cuisine such as rabbit leg with violet mustard and salmon a la plancha with lentils.
The combination of its Eiffel Tower location and spectacular food makes Le Jules Verne one of the most popular (and expensive) restaurants in Paris. Make your reservations months in advance — though it’s a bit easier to land a table at lunchtime.
Pierre Herme is the city’s premier pastry chef and his creations can be found in multiple locations around the city. We love the glorious macaron confections in pistachio, praline, rose, dark chocolate and the like.
The stylish Le Martel serves up a delicious mix of French and Moroccan cuisine to a trendy clientele in the 10th arrondissement.
You can have … er, buy your foie gras and eat it too at Granterroirs, located in the eighth arrondissement. Add truffles and other similar goodies for a memorable light lunch.
Passionate or casual tea drinkers should head straight for Mariage Freres, which has several locations around town. It sells hundreds of types of tea and has been in business since the mid-1800s.
It’s worth heading a little bit out of town to dine at L’Atelier du Parc, where the gourmet French fare is excellent (as is the wine). The restaurant is easily accessible by Metro.
At Angelina, which has several locations, the famous hot chocolate is made using a secret recipe involving cocoa from Ghana, Niger and the Ivory Coast. And don’t miss the amazing Mont-Blanc pastry.
Shopping in Paris
In France, a sales tax or VAT is tacked onto most purchases; however, non-E.U. citizens who spend at least 175 euros at a participating store can get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions).
In most department stores, you will be handed a “bill” to pay at the cashier (sometimes a long walk away) before getting your items. By French law, sales take place twice yearly (in January and July). They’re amazing, and long lines form outside the swankiest shops on day one. To avoid fines, some stores (mostly department stores) mark some racks as “specials” or “just in,” but it isn’t all that common.
Visit Avenue Montaigne in the eighth arrondissement for haute couture from the likes of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior.
Marche aux Puces St-Ouen, the most famous flea market in the city, is enormous, encompassing more than a dozen smaller markets. It’s held along Avenue de la Porte de Clignancourt Saturday through Monday.
Rue du Faubourg St-Honore pays homage to glamour, fashion, high style and the world’s most expensive shops and galleries — as well as the President’s Palace.
The Champs-Elysees is one long boulevard of shopping opportunities, including names like Hugo Boss, Banana Republic and Louis Vuitton.
Many visitors are surprised to hear that Paris has a Chinatown, but it’s actually a fun place to shop. Browse the aisles at giant Asian supermarkets along avenue d’Ivry such as Tang Freres, which is packed with dried mushrooms, Vietnamese lemongrass and canned lychee juice. It’s a must-do for finding those ingredients you can never seem to find for a recipe (as long as it’s canned or sealed, it’s fine for getting through customs back home).