Paris certainly needs no introduction. It’s one of those destinations that sells itself and is likely to be on every traveler’s bucket list at one point or another. However, I often hear mixed reviews. For some, the city exceeds all their expectations and more. For others, it falls short and is nothing more than another overrated European city propped up by movies and magazines. From my experience, how you tackle Paris, makes all the difference between loving it or outright hating it.
Paris is one of those places that is filled with notable attractions like The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and Palace of Versailles – just to name a few. If you’re planning your trip, you will surely not run short of things that qualify as must do or must see. Not to mention, the world renowned restaurants, cafes, and pâtisseries that everyone and their mothers are putting on a list for you. If you’re an avid planner like me, sure enough, your itinerary will be jam packed. Before you know it, your trip will be a whirlwind of getting from point A to point B. In your quest to check off all the boxes, you will likely miss all the little things in between that the city has to offer, which in my opinion, is what makes Paris, Paris.
The irony is that, despite so many things to do and see, the real love and appreciation for Paris comes from simply wandering the streets with no set agenda where you will stumble upon hidden gems, getting lost from one arrondissement to the next where you will experience the unique charm that each neighbourhood has to offer, and in true Parisian form stopping at a local cafe for a cafe au lait (multiple times a day), having picnics and drinking wine in a garden, people watching, and eating more bread and cheese than you can probably stomach.
Having experienced Paris both ways, I am happy to report that I had been doing Paris all wrong, up until our most recent trip, where A and I surrendered from the need to plan every last detail. Instead, we spent a week in Paris, immersing ourselves in the Parisian lifestyle and had no set schedule dictating how our days would play out. To this day, Paris is still one of my favorite cities in the world!
STAY + SLEEP
There is no easy answer to, “where should I stay in Paris” or “which district is most central” because every district has it’s own allurement and appeal. For a simple and rather accurate breakdown of the different districts in Paris, check out this article, to help you plan which district suits you best. You can also do what we did and split up your stay – one night near the Eiffel Tower and another night in Saint-Germain-des-Prés – to get a taste of what each district has to offer and what resonates with you most.
Paris Attitude: Hotels can be quite pricey in Paris so if you’re travelling on a budget, I find that opting for an apartment rental is the most cost effective. Paris Attitude is the Paris version of Airbnb and there are many other websites just like it (Paris Stay, Paris Address, Lodgis, and the list goes on). A and I rented a studio apartment in the 3rd arrondissement using Paris Attitude and we had an overall great experience. We paid 350 euros or $525 Canadian dollars for a full week. The location was central and in a fairly local neighborhood, which we really enjoyed. We were able to easily walk or metro anywhere we wanted to go.
Hotel le Walt: If you want to be a skip away from the Eiffel Tower, this boutique hotel is in the heart of the 7th district. The location and proximity to Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower is unbeatable.
Hôtel Le Malown: We stayed at this boutique hotel located in the 8th arrondissement for one night during our stay. It was centrally located to major attractions like The Lafayette Galeries, the Louvres Museum, the Palais Royal, the arches of Rivoli Street, the Garden of the Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and Les Champs Elysées. It was a little taste of Paris luxury where the toiletries were Hermès and the decor was très chic.
All in all, there is a variety of accommodations in Paris for every budget. The lower budget places are harder to come by and require a little more digging to get the perfect mix of location and price. But if you’re looking for an ultra luxurious apartment or hotel with a killer view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, you can certainly find plenty of those and the hefty price tag is expected.
WINE + DINE
There is certainly no shortage of restaurants, cafes and pâtisseries in this lovely city. After all, Paris is renowned for their gastronomy. On our trip, A and I didn’t place a high priority on hitting up all the latest and greatest in the Paris food scene. We had some hits and misses. I will only speak to some of the places that stood out for us.
Café Madam: If you’re looking for a delicious brunch this is your spot!
Robert et Louise: If you’re anything like A and I, you crave steak the minute you step foot outside of Canada. This place was incredible. Their specialty is wood fired steaks. You can see the chef prepare the meats in the open kitchen before grilling them on an open flamed fireplace.
Marche des Enfant Rouges: This is Paris’ oldest covered market built in 1615. The market has around 20 food stalls with dishes from all around the world from Moroccan to Caribbean. It’s a popular spot among locals in Paris
Bon Marche: Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche was the first department store in the world, opening it’s doors in Paris in 1852. Inside this ultra luxury and gorgeous department store is also a high end food market where every detail is of the utmost importance. Pick up some bread and cheese here and stroll over to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens for an afternoon picnic.
Ladurée: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Ladurée. Some may say this place is overrated but it has the best Raspberry and Passion Fruit tart I’ve ever had. It also goes without saying that their macarons are second to none.
Les Deux Magots: A famous cafe in the chic district of Saint Germain des Près where writers such as Ernest Hemingway would write.
Le Bonaparte: Another one of the finest cafes in Saint Germain des Près with a beautiful terrace. If you follow anything travel related on social media, you will likely have seen a photo of this red, blue, and white cafe symbolizing everything Parisians love – a terrace, a view, and a whole lot of people watching.
SEE + DO
In Paris, the wonderful places to see and things to do are a dime a dozen. However, here are a few of the unexpected experiences that A and I had, which made us fall in love with Paris.
Le Maris District: This district spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and is the closest you will get to the feel of medieval Paris. Get some pastries and enjoy them in Place des Vosges – the oldest and most beautiful square in Paris. The perimeter of the square is made up of red brick and stone houses. Below the houses is an arcaded covered walkway lined with art galleries, shops, and cafes.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés: To me, this district feels the most Parisian. What you see when you imagine the romance and chicness of Paris. It’s a vibrant district known for high end shopping and iconic bars and restaurants. My favorite part is the historic feel with its many narrow streets, some of which can be traced back to the 14th century.
Arc de Triomphe: The first couple times I visited Paris, I always made sure to snap a picture of this famous monument standing at the end of Champs-Élysées. However, it never occurred to me to actually go up to the top. We opted to walk to the top as opposed to hoping on the elevators – a decision I thoroughly regretted halfway up. Nonetheless, when we got to the top, the panoramic views of Paris were definitely worth the climb.
Montmartre District: When travelling to the northern section of the city to visit the Montmartre district which is a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, make it a point to spend a little more time there. This district is primarily known for the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur – which is the highest point of the city – and the famous Moulin Rouge. Grab a bottle of wine and drink it on the Steps of the Sacré-Cœur. Wander through the quiet and winding little streets, snap pictures of the cute pastel homes, climb the big hills and steep staircases, get dinner at a cafe, and get your dessert at the local ice cream shop or crepe cafe.
Eiffel Tower: Skip the line and forget about paying money to go to the top of the tower. Instead, pick up some pastries and wine and have a picnic on Champ de Mars – a large public greenspace that stretches between the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire. Particularly at night, when the tower sparkles and groups of young Parisians are having dance parties with their boomboxs. C’est la vie.
Another spot to catch breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower is the Trocadéro Gardens which features the Fountain of Warsaw. Situated above the gardens is Palais de Chaillot, offering spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower together with the gardens.
Luxembourg Gardens: Stroll through all 23 hectares of the Luxembourg Gardens, snatch up a couple of lawn chairs, and take a nap against the backdrop of the Palais du Luxembourg.
Decide on our final destination and then fill your day with things that are along the way. We started in the 3rd arrondissement where our apartment was located and spent the entire day walking, with the end goal, to make it to the Eiffel Tower. We wandered around and lost ourselves from one district to the next as we alternated our path between the small cobblestone streets and the walkway along the River Seine. In between, we discovered so many things that would have otherwise been missed on a taxi or on the metro.
Just bring your camera, some comfy shoes, and be prepared to let Paris captivate you in the most unexpected ways and steal your heart, as it did ours.