I've been to Paris six times and every visit I discover something new. It’s mostly true what they say, it’s one the most romantic and enchanting cities in the world (you just have to know where to look and how to avoid the crowds). While I won’t fault anyone for being a typical tourist and wanting to see all the main attractions, the truth is, the real beauty of the city lies in the lessen known spots that still lay undiscovered. Spend your days people watching while sipping wine at an outdoor cafe, pick up a fresh baguette from a local boulangerie and go for a picnic in the Tuileries Gardens or get lost wandering around the cobblestone streets of Montmartre where many famous artists once lived and worked.
WHAT TO DO
Neighborhoods to Explore
Montmartre: One of the most historic and interesting neighborhoods in Paris, Montmartre is home to some of the worlds greatest artists including Picasso, van Gogh and Claude Monet. Start your day with a coffee and fresh croissant at Soul Kitchen, have your portrait drawn by a local artist, check out the view from the top of Basilica du Sacre-Coeur and spend a few hours people watching with a glass of wine outside La Maison Rose, a cute pink cafe with green shutters and ivy covered walls.
Le Marais: Twenty years ago Le Marais was a bit of a dump, but today this trendy neighborhood has been revitalized to attract a hip, young crowd and it is here where you can find an eclectic mix of communities including Jewish, Chinese and LGBT. On Sundays, the city closes the streets to cars so pedestrians are free to walk around. What to do: grab a falafel from L'As du Fallafel, where there is usually a line out the door, do some vintage shopping at Free ‘P’ Star and score some gems like leather jackets, colorful dresses and unique watches, grab a drink (and a few oysters) at Le Mary Celeste, stop by Le Marché Bastille food market for fresh produce and flowers (open Thursdays and Sundays from 8 am - 2 pm) and end your night at Derrière, a quirky restaurant that is set up like an apartment and even has a secret smoking room. If you were wondering, this is where the cool kids hang out.
Saint-Germain: Located on the Left Bank of the Seine, just southwest of Notre-Dame, Saint-Germain is the typical postcard neighborhood you think of when you think of Paris. It has charming cafes, lots of little bookshops, galleries, pastry shops and enough metro stations to easily transport you all over the city. It’s home to Les Deux Magots — a cafe frequented by Hemingway, Picasso and Dali and Le Bon Marché — founded back in 1852, it’s one of city’s most popular department stores.
Belleville: This vibrant, working-class neighborhood is considered to be the Williamsburg of Paris and is full of ‘bobos’ (bohemian twenty somethings) who have migrated here in recent years and now call this place home. It is a lesser known section of the city, which means fewer tourists, but it still has the charm and quaintness that Paris is known for. The neighborhood is also full of ethnic diversity, so you can find everything from Chinese supermarkets to Jewish-Tunisian couscous restaurants. What to do: stop in for a coffee at Brûlerie de Belleville, on weekends you can check out their roasting lab and take a ‘cupping’ class to learn about the complexity of coffee, take a picnic lunch to Parc de Belleville and enjoy the widescreen panoramic view of the skyline, check out the street graffiti on Rue Dénoyez, grab a drink at Aux Folues and sit outside on the sidewalk terrace. Where to eat: La Bellevilloise for delicious weekend brunch with live jazz music, Mon Oncle le Vigneron for a cozy family style meal where the menu changes everyday and everyone eats the same dish (call in advance for reservations), Le Warner for an old school American diner with classic comfort food and Triplettes for a cool brunch scene and popular nightlife spot.
The Latin Quarter: Best explored on foot, the Latin Quarter is a medieval labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways and narrow streets. What to do: visit the Pantheon, stop for lunch at one of the cafes on Rue Mouffetard, go for a walk in the Luxembourg Gardens or grab a drink at Cafe Procope (the oldest restaurant in Paris where all of the famous artists and philosophers used to go).
Catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower: Don’t waste your time in line to go up the Eiffel Tower because the best views are from down below. Some of my favorite spots to get a glance of the famous monument are on the lawn at Champs de Mars (with a picnic and bottle of wine), from the top of Arc de Triomphe and on the terrace at cafe Deli-Cieux (located in Printemps shopping center).
Visit Musée d’Orsay: Unless seeing the Mona Lisa is on your bucket list then I recommend bypassing The Louvre (along with the massive crowds) and spend your day at Musée d’Orsay. It’s less crowded than the other museums and houses pieces from some of my favorite artists including Edgar Degas, Renoir and Claude Monet.
Go shopping on Champs-Élysées: While this may be the most famous street in Paris, I’ve always found the Champs-Élysées to be a little underwhelming, as it carries the same brands that you can find at any mall. However what I do enjoy is the view from Arc de Triomphe, which can be found at the end of the long, tree-lined street. Only 280 stairs to the top, it’s never overly crowded (compared to the other attractions in the city) and you can see almost every landmark from either side of the Arc including the Eiffel Tower and the white Basilica of Sacre-Coeur
See a Moulin Rouge show: If you’re in the mood for something very Parisian, then I suggest you book a ticket to a Moulin Rouge show located in the famous red light district. While the shows can be pretty pricey when you add in dinner and drinks, the entertainment itself is worth the cost. The show is a mixed bag of half-naked dancing women in feathered costumes, clowns, ventriloquists, contortionists, pythons and lots of sparkle.
Climb to the top of Notre Dame: Even if you’re not religious, everyone can appreciate the beautiful, gothic architecture of Notre Dame. It’s usually packed with tourists, but the entrance into the cathedral is free, so it’s definitely worth a visit. If you’re up for a bit of a climb, take the spiral staircase up to the bell tower where you can get an up close look at the famous gargoyles.
Take a stroll down Rue Crémieux: Lined with pretty pastel colored houses, Rue Crémieux is one of my favorite spots in Paris and one of the most photographed among travel bloggers. The little laneway is located between Rue de Lyon and Rue de Bercy (close to Gare de Lyon train station).
Ride the giant ferris wheel: Located on Place de la Concorde, this 60 meter high ferris wheel gives the best panoramic of Paris, including a bird’s eye view of the Louvre Museum, Grand Palais and Champs-Elysées avenue. The wheel usually runs during the winter months from November to May.
Have a picnic: One of the best things about Paris are the bakeries around every corner. Grab a fresh loaf of bread and some gourmet cheese and indulge in the ultimate picnic. Best spots include: in front of Sacre Cœur Basilica, the Luxembourg Gardens, Champ de Mars (under the Eiffel Tower) and along Seine River.
Go to the beach: One of the highlights of visiting Paris in the summer is the transformation of the Seine boardwalk into a 3.5 km stretch of white sandy beach. And while locals may not exactly be lounging seaside, the artificial beach is a nice alternative when Paris weather becomes uncomfortably hot and humid. FYI - sorry to break it to you, but topless tanning is not permitted.
Leave your (love) mark: Although city officials took down the locks on the Pont des Arts bridge back in 2015, I still love the idea of leaving your mark on a city. So grab your own lock, sign it with a love note and secure it somewhere hidden. When you come back to visit Paris years later, you can go in search of your secret piece of history.
Go for tea and macaroons: Whether or not Ladurée really does have the best pastries in the world, no visit to Paris is complete without the obligatory visit for a macaron. Located at 75 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the elegantly decorated interior resembles an old school French tea salon complete with a long glass case featuring brightly colored treats. Obviously this popular place is packed with tourists, so make sure you book a reservation in advance.
Treat yourself to a shopping spree: Paris is home to some of the best fashion in the world, so it’s necessary to take advantage of all the shopping. Check out Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. This upscale French department store carries all of the best designers and the art nouveau interior with its enchanting dome has been made a famous tourist attraction in France. If you’re looking for something very unique, try Maison Manoush. I fell in love with this French designer when I was in high school and I remember begging my mom for a white crocheted dress with pink polka dots. Since then, I’ve built up a pretty good collection of my own pieces. The clothes are inspired by the designer’s travels to India, Africa and the Middle East. Mixing sequins, colorful prints and a bohemian vibe, every piece is unique and recognizable.
Try the street food: While New York may dominate the street food market for hotdogs and giant pretzels, Paris is famous for their crepes (and there’s really no competition between the two). Prices can vary, but expect to pay between €3-7 and forget the fork and knife, you can eat this snack with your hands. My favorite is the classic banana and Nutella - yum!
Go for a bike ride: If you’re into the idea of touring around on a bike, then you should consider renting a Vélib (one of the many city bikes stationed all over Paris). It’s best to use the bikes for shorter distances or at least check them in and out of a station frequently. The first thirty minutes of cruising around are free. After that, the next 30 minutes costs 1€, the second 30 minutes costs 2€ and every 30 minutes after that costs 4€. Also, in case you were wondering, the bike sharing program is meant for tourists too, so all station payment screens are in English!
WHERE TO EAT
Aloha Cafe: A popular hangout spot among creative types, Aloha Cafe feels like a Hawaiian paradise with a mix of rich hardwood floors and palm tree print wallpaper. The menu changes every week, but everything is always fresh, creative and delicious.
Holiday Cafe: Grab a seat outside under the white scalloped awning and spend your afternoon people watching with a latte and fresh croissant. This quaint cafe was opened by the American travel magazine, Holiday, in 2016. The creative menu allows diners to try something different like the “croque-demoiselle,” which is a twist on the traditional croque-monsieur, with quail’s egg served with foie gras and a mix of charcuterie.
Salt: Born from the collaboration of two Englishmen and one Australian, Salt offers a lively and welcoming feeling as soon as you arrive. The menu changes frequently and is always created around fresh market produce and the catch of the day.
Chez Julien: With a hand painted-glass ceiling, plush red velvet banquettes and ornate chandeliers, this place couldn't feel more French. The menu consists of traditional dishes like foie gras pâté and scallops cooked in a basil sauce.
Big Love Caffe: This cute Italian coffee shop is known for their delicious Sunday brunches and gluten-free wood oven pizzas. It’s open all day from 8 am to 11 pm and is located in Le Marais. The menu prices are reasonable and staff are friendly.
Judy: If you’re in need of something healthy after all that cheese and wine, try Judy on Rue De Flours for fresh juices, smoothies, açaí bowls and gluten-free sandwiches.
TopKnot Cafe: Located in the 19th district, this cute cafe has a perfect little sofa corner where you can cozy up with a good book or your laptop. The menu is quite minimal, offering a range of coffees, brioche and a few brunch items.
Daroco: An airy space with tons of light, exposed brick walls and a beautiful mezzanine that overlooks the main room, this trendy, open kitchen restaurant serves up Italian classics like wood-fire oven pizzas, linguine carbonara and tiramisu.
Le Consulat: If you’re looking for a quintessential Montmartre experience, try Le Consulat. It’s a perfect place to people watch and indulge in a typical Parisian meal such as duck confit, steak frites or croque monsieur.
Hardware Société: This cozy cafe was opened by a Melbourne based coffee shop team a few years ago and is just as popular today. Located a few steps away from Sacre-Coeur, it has great panoramic views of the Parisian rooftops below.Try the french toast or baked eggs.
Animal Kitchen: This super trendy eatery/music venue serves up an array of tapa-style small plates that are easy to share or eat standing up during a concert. Try the roasted apricots with honey and almond crumble or the marinated teriyaki melon with chorizo and cottage cheese.
Le Petit Lutetia: This 1920s bistro has a very traditional aesthetic with an abundance of dark wood accents, red paneled ceilings and white table clothes, making the space feel very cozy. The menu is full of the typical Parisian dishes including Utah Beach (Normandy) oysters, boeuf bourguignon and roast duck leg.
Carette: Sweet tooth? Head to Carette for a selection of French pastries — think: macaroons, chocolate eclairs, raspberry tarts, crepes and croissants.
Mamma Primi: Located on a small neighborhood corner with ivy covered walls and lime-washed timber tables, Mamma Primi instantly makes you feel like you’ve been transported back to the Tuscan countryside. The open kitchen serves up classic Italian staples like pizzas, pastas and fresh cheeses.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb: Hotel rooms in Paris are always tiny and very pricey, so I suggest renting an Airbnb. It gives you the luxury of space, a convenient location and the ability to cook dinner or sit outside on your balcony to enjoy the views. We stayed at Juliette’s cozy apartment in Pigelle. Located in a great neighborhood, the apartment was around the corner from the metro station and just a short walk to Montmartre.
Versailles: This magical royal palace is best known for its Hall of Mirrors and expansive gardens built by King Louis XIV. With hand painted ceilings, diamond chandeliers and archways adorned with gold, every room is more stunning and extravagant then the next. Make sure you buy your ticket in advance and get there early so you can explore the grounds before the crowds roll in. You can catch the RER C train, which runs every 15 minutes and the ride takes about 30 minutes.
London: If you feel like taking a trip across the water, the underground Channel Tunnel (also called Chunnel) linking London and Paris is a quick 2 hour journey. Trains leave from Gare du Nord almost every hour and arrives at St Pancras International station in the heart of London. If you book in advance you can get pretty cheap tickets and if you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass (must be valid in France), you’re covered for travel on the Eurostar, you just have to reserve a seat.
Disneyland Paris: Located just 20 miles outside the city, Disneyland Paris is a great day trip to take during your visit. The grounds are made up of two parks – Disneyland Park (where you can find the classic Disney attractions like Mickey Mouse, Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Dumbo's flying elephants) and Walt Disney Studios Park (this one has all of the good rides and movie studio tours). Getting there is super easy, you just take the RER A (red train line) towards Marne-la-Vallée and tickets cost about 7€.
Use the metro: The Paris subway system is clean, fast, efficient and a very inexpensive way to travel all around the city. You can buy a carnet (a book of 10 single use tickets) for zone 1-2 or if you plan on using the metro frequently you can also buy an unlimited 1, 2, 3 and 5 day travel pass. The metro is generally safe, but as with most public transportation systems, you have to watch out for pickpockets.