I just got back from a trip to Paris with my mother, which was my birthday present for this year, and I am SO incredibly happy that I finally found my way to the city of lights! I haven’t always been a Francophile or Parisian aficionado, but in the past couple of years I have really grown to become enamored with the city and craved visiting. I have always loved eating french food and pastries, been in awe of the look of the city, and admired Parisian style, but never really felt the urge to travel there until recently. I am glad I waited so I could fully appreciate the city once I was ready, and I was not disappointed!
Where we stayed:
Meliá Paris Notre-Dame – this was the charming hotel we stayed at for the week. It is centrally located, looking out at Notre Dame cathedral and is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Louvre (you can tell where my priorities lie), and is surrounded by a lots of quaint cafes and great restaurants.
Other hotel options:
- Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon
- HÔTEL DES SAINTS PÈRES – PARIS (The Art!!)
- Hôtel Luxembourg parc Paris
- Hôtel Verneuil (Saint Germain – Coeur de Paris)
- Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais (Sea of Shoes stayed here previously)
- Louvre (go on a Wednesday or Thursday, get in early, and buy your ticket beforehand – you will have no issue getting in! Then make a beeline for the heavy hitters – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Sphinx – before the crowds come and spend the rest of your stay wandering through the less crowded exhibits.)
- Musee d’Orsay
- Musee l’Orangerie
- Atelier de Lumieres
- Galerie Nationales du Grand Palais (and the Petit Palais across the street)
- Musee Rodin
- Musee de l’Orangerie
- Museum Martmottant Monet
- Musée de l’Armée/Hôtel des Invalides
- Palais Garnier (stunning Opera house)
There are so many beautiful places to visit in Paris, so I’ve cultivated my favorite list of some more touristy attractions mixed in with under-the-radar spots:
- Eiffel Tour
- Arc de Triomphe
- Notre Dame
- Montmartre (worth sitting in a cafe for brunch/lunch and spending a day wandering the streets in this area)
- Sacre Coeur
- Palais-Royal Gardens
- Palais Garnier/ Opera Garnier
- Sainte Chappelle (The most stunning stained glass windows in all of Europe, apparently!)
- Jardin du Luxembourg
- Jardin du Tuilleries
- The Seine
- Moulin Rouge
- Belleville (Graffiti)
- St. Etienne du Mont (a Gothic church on the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve in the fifth arrondissement behind the Pantheon)
- The Catacombs
- Mountain in the Parc des Butte Chaumonts
- Promenade Plantee
- Arles Ampitheatre
Where to Eat
I had so many food recommendations from my fellow bloggers as well as from travel guides and coworkers and friends who had been to Paris before, so it was a little overwhelming to try and narrow down the options tailored to what we wanted our Paris experience to encompass. Sundays in Paris, a recently published book, was also incredibly helpful in planning out where to eat based on our location each day. I may create a separate post adding what I would have liked to try if I had more time (my restaurant recommendation list was extensive). This is where we ended up eating:
- Breizh Cafe (an incredible creperie with countless options and delicious specials! This was where I had my final brunch)
- Josselin (some more highly talked about crepes)
- Cafe de La Paix (centrally located in a bustling district next to the Palais Garnier and shopping Galeries Lafayettes, the food and decor cannot be beat. It felt like I was dining in Versailles!)
- Le Cafe Marly (apparently the best restaurant in the Louvre, perfect for refueling for more museums, and has great views of the main courtyard)
- Cafe de Flore (this Cafe is known for people watching and delicious food. Located in the cool Beaux Arts district, the location can’t be beat and is where Hemingway, Picasso, Sartre, and de Beauvoir all ate.)
- Cafe Les Deux Magots ( right around the corner from Cafe de Flore, this equally great lunch spot is also prime for people watching, great views, and a history of more famous artists.)
- Le Coupe Chou – We went here on our first night and went back again the next night it was so good! Traditional French fare in a stone house from the 1400s! This is truly the way to immerse yourself in Paris in a single meal – rich with history and cuisine.
- L’Avenue – located in a swankier part of the city, this restaurant is fantastic for people watching, is incredibly elegant, and has delicious, upscale french cuisine.
- Derrier – honestly might have been my favorite place! They offer a ton of delectable options (including sections for fish/meat/vegetarian/GF), have warm service and a cute secret attic hideaway for drinks if you arrive early! The decor is incredible – beatnik french 60s meets pop meets cool kid hangout spot. It was eclectic and worked so well!
- Le Grenier de Notre Dame – if you’re looking for a great place to meet different dietary restrictions, this delicious restaurant located near Notre Dame is strictly vegetarian/vegan/gluten free focused, so there are tons of options for everyone! Trust me, it is truly delcious.
- Berthillon for some of the best ice cream in Paris (hidden on Ile Saint Louis – a tiny island behind Notre Dame)
- Amorino – a gelateria chain throughout Paris with creative flower designs and delicious unusual flavors
- Laduree – OF COURSE I have to include this, but I recommend either going early/late to skip the massive line. Also, check out the less popular locations for the two other Ladurees in Paris other than the iconic Champs-Elysees.
Where to Shop
I received so many recommendations about cute side street stores, quaint markets, and grandiose places to window shop. I didn’t have time to get to them all, but here are the recommendations:
- Galeries Lafayette (after shopping, head to the rooftop for stunning city views and a delightful bar)
- Printemps (another great rooftop for views/drinks)
- St Germain in the 6th
- Le Bon Marche
- Rue Cherche Midi (between blvd Raspail and the Rue de sevres)
- Rue du Bac (between blvd st germain and Le Bon marche)
- La Marais (the Jewish quarter – great especially for shopping on Sundays when other stores are closed)
The Opera: Palais Garnier or the Opera Bastille
If you can, I highly recommend seeing the opera one night in Paris. I’m already a huge Opera fan between Lincoln Center in NYC and the Kennedy Center in DC. However nothing quite compares to getting dressed up, hanging with friends, people watching during intermission, and seeing an incredible performance filled with a set of talent I wouldn’t normally encounter. And don’t worry – everything has English and French subtitles!
This is one of the go-to day trips when you’re in Paris. I recommend going on a weekday, getting there early, and preferably going with a tour guide. Group tours aren’t super expensive and will help you cut the *massive* line at the front gates. A guided tour will also give you more insight into the lives of the royalty that lived in the palace and the opportunity to ask any questions you have about what you see…and there is quite a lot to see! Bonus: if you can make it to Marie Antoinette’s peasant village on the outskirts of the grounds, definitely do it!
Giverny and the Claude Monet Fondation
Another completely worth-it half day trip outside of Paris to impressionist painter Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny. The drive gives you an excellent view of the French countryside beyond the city limits and hints of Normandy and where all the fantastic French cheese comes from. The gardens, waterlily ponds, and his house are breathtaking – I can’t conceive of the attention to detail required to maintain those grounds. It is truly remarkable and you can immerse yourself in his creative inspiration.
Paris Lights at Night
For our final night in Paris, my mom and I booked a boat tour to view the city lights at night. Unfortunately, it was cancelled last minute, but I kept hearing great things about seeing Paris lit up at night. Even if I didn’t get to experience it, you should try to!
Overall, Paris was an incredible trip and I loved every minute of it! My one caveat about vacationing in this city is to be aware that your plans may have to change last minute. There are constantly strikes and terrorist threats popping up and going away and you may not know why a section of the city is closed off for a few hours. Versailles was closed due to strikes the day before we went, roads were periodically closed causing excess traffic when we tried to get to restaurants or locations, and the Paris illuminations tour was cancelled an hour before the start time (also possibly due to a strike). Vacationing is always unpredictable, but being in a city adds a whole other level to it. Just be flexible and always have backups and you can’t go wrong! When our illuminations tour was cancelled, my mom and I decided to stroll through the Latin Quarter, grab gelato, and see Notre Dame lit up at night. We made the best of our situation and still had a blast!
Thank you all for letting me share my incredible experience in Paris with you all! Have you been to Paris and seen the places or eaten at the restaurants on my list? Let me know in the comments!