There are not enough adjectives to describe the wonder of Paris. No one needs a guide to this city, there are a million ways to enjoy it, and the little discoveries down every alleyway are what makes this place special. You don’t need a ton of money, you don’t even need to see any of the popular tourist attractions. You could walk around for days and not spend one cent and be content. It’s all splendor. The air is different when you arrive in this city of light and magic. You feel different, you get a new lease on life– nouvelle joie de vivre.
I’ve been all over the world, and there is no city that causes my heart to take flight like Paris. No city that comes close in terms of architecture and art and food. It’s the ultimate muse for any travel fantasy, it puts the lust in wanderlust. There’s a romanticism that cannot be recreated anywhere else; it’s no wonder that Paris salons attracted the best in art and literature to a bohemian lifestyle in the capital city.
To get a true sense of the city, you have to at least spend 4-5 days here. My first visit more than a decade ago lasted for almost two weeks. I saw the entire city as a 16 year old, and even though we did not have smart phones back in the dark ages (le horreur), I’ll never forget the moments during that trip. It started my love affair with France and gets reignited every time I come back. C’est magnifique.
la vie en rose
There are literally too many things to see in Paris. For any first timers just out to explore the city, hop on/hop off bus tours are a great way to see a lot of sites quickly. The Paris Le Grand Tour is probably the most popular and you can plan out your days accordingly. Sitting on the upper decks of these buses will also give you a great vantage point for pictures, like this one of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Make sure you check for Quasimodo in the bell tower. The Church of La Madeleine was originally intended by Napoleon to be a military museum. That didn’t quite pan out.
Instead, Les Invalides contains several military monuments and museums.
Not to be outdone, the Louvre mixes modern pyramid with renaissance architecture.
The Seine river runs through Paris, splitting it into Rive Gauche and Rive Droite. Rive Gauche or Left Bank contains the Latin Quarter and the Bohemian Paris of Picasso, Stein and Hemingway. If there was a 19th – early 20th century artist or author that had any influence, they probably partied here. There are artificial beaches or plages along the right bank where Parisians like to worship the sun.
And no tour of Paris would be worth its weight in francs without showing the piece de resistance, la tour Eiffel at the Trocadero. But, you’ll see more of her later.
The Place de la Concorde is one of the largest plazas in the city featuring fountains and the obelisk of Luxor. Don’t throw your phone in the fountain, Devil Wears Prada style.
The beautiful glass domes of the Grand Palais exhibition hall are not to be missed.
Of course there’s the Arc de Triomphe, another relic from Napoleon’s day at the start of the Champs-Elysees.
Try to disembark near the mid point of Champs-Elysees where you will amble along the wide tree lined boulevard; the most famous avenue in the world.
There are street artists, merchants hawking souvenirs of every type, and hordes of people. There’s also the mecca of all things fashionable and French, the Louis Vuitton flagship store.
Right next door is Laduree, Paris’s macaron purveyor. You need to sample a few (dozen) of these almond flour tea cakes that are like everywhere now, but originally from here.
One of the best things about Paris is its cuisine. There’s world class chefs all over the place, but actually the beauty of this city is that you can pick up a baguette, some cheese and wine and it’s better than anything you’ve ever tasted. Parisians go to local street markets every day to pick up groceries for fresh dinners, and you should do so, too. Better yet, if you can get an apartment on AirBnB, Barefoot Contessa style (life idol), you can cook your own meals with the ingredients found at your local marche.
Or, if you’re looking for a consistent cheap eat, the French chain pomme de pain has baguette sandwiches that are out of this world. The lyonnaise has some sort of salami and beurre and the Parisien has ham and beurre. LOTS OF BEURRE, it’s PARIS! It’s terrific to take away while you’re exploring the banks of the Seine.
The beautiful bridges that span this river each have their own character and design. Pont Neuf is probably one of the most famous, and it’s the oldest. It spans the river near the Ile de la Cite which is the island where Cathedral de Notre Dame is located.
You’re going to want to make the short walk to the Berthillon on Ile de Saint Louis. This is the grand daddy of all ice cream shops. Creamy, smooth, perfect for a stroll along the waterfront. Cassis is my favorite, a totally underrated flavor you rarely find outside of Paris.
Another must see bridge is Pont des Arts which is one of the bridges formerly known for having “love locks.” Since this picture was taken, Paris has outlawed the placement of these expressions of amour, but the sentiment lives on.
On the Rive Gauche side of the river after you cross, the second huge street you’ll come up on is Rue Saint Germain. One of the liveliest streets, this is the start of the Latin Quarter. Post up at a cafe in this area and do as Parisians do, drink cafe and enjoy the company of friends. It’s always happy hour here, so order up the moules frites or steak au poivre, you deserve something good.
Another safe bet is any gyro/shawarma or crepe stand. All of them are tasty as hell and they’re safe from a health standpoint. The street food is Paris is a delicious must.
A landmark for anyone who has a little Beatnik in them is Shakespeare & Company independent bookstore on the banks of the Seine. This bookstore/hostel was the resting place for auteurs like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg and features heavily in the Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy neo-classic Before Sunset.
Tonight, before you rest your weary feet, make sure you make it back to the Trocadero. Perhaps dining at the tower’s restaurant is your thing (get reservations), but you should just see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. It’s one of the most magnificent sights on which you’ll ever lay eyes.
The day will be a museum blitz. You can start at Palace des Invalides for military museums.
Then cross the river to Orangerie where you can see Monet’s Water Lilies triptych.
This museum is located in the Jardin des Tuileries where you can see children sailing tiny little sailboats in the pond. It is an absolutely idyllic scene.
From here cross Pont Royal to get to Musee d’Orsay which houses impressionist art of the 19th and 20th Century. You know just some artists you’ve never heard of: Monet, Renoir, Pizarro, Degas.
And the last museum of the day is the Louvre. Arguably Paris’s most famous museum, The Louvre shows off its modern pyramid and renaissance style wings that are home to the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa.
No trip to Paris complete without seeing Versailles. It’s on the outskirts of Paris, but is the location of the over the top opulent Palace de Versailles. Spend most the day here, it’s worth it.
King Louis knew what he was doing when he built this behemoth summer home. Literally he spent the equivalent of billions of dollars on his second home. Clearly, I’ve picked the wrong business.
If you think the outside is grand.
You’ll be struck by the colorful decor. It is remarkable. Marie Antoinette really had an eye for pops of color.
The chapel is bigger than my house.
The gardens are vast.
And the hall of mirrors as grand as you could dream.
The next day you should ride around on the Paris metro. It’s very easy to use and has stops at most major attractions. You’re going to want to go back and visit the street artists at the Trocadero and get your shot of the Eiffel tower up close.
And then maybe visit the Rodin museum.
Channel your inner Christine at the Paris Opera.
Or visit the art nouveau Pompideau center. Make sure you visit the home stores and boutiques in this area. If you’re around on the weekends, the flea markets in the outer arrondisements are incredible. This is where you will see the stylish folks effortlessly picking out vintage clothes and antiques. There’s the Bastille, the catacombs, Montparnasse–all places I’ve been pre-camera phone. Just wander around.
The last place you should visit is my favorite place in all of Paris. Monmartre.
This artsy area boasts Sacre Coeur cathedral. There are painters, charcoal artists drawing people and scenes in the central square of this area. There’s cafes lining every street (try Cafe Bruant for buckets of mussels) and it’s la vie boheme in real life. From it’s high vantage point on a hill, you’ll experience the most picturesque view you’ve ever seen in your life here.
Before you bid adieu, make sure you have a crepe suzette en flambe.
And once more with feeling, the Eiffel tower at night.
Au revoir, a bien tot!