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Memories of Paris: Top Things To See, Do and Eat


Visitors to Paris often ask me what my top recommendations are based on my 13+ years of living in France.  Hard to come up with a definitive list or with something others haven’t already covered in a million travel books.  For what it’s worth, here is a list of suggestions that my wife and I have compiled based on our most recent 3 year experience living in the City of Lights.  We’ve broken them down into areas/activities that can each be covered in a full day.

1.     The Marais area

a)    Start with Place des Voges (one of the oldest areas of Paris and it’s full of wonderful small stores and buildings) which is spectacular and one of the oldest parks in the city.  It is surrounded by a covered walkway/arcade with many restaurants and art galleries.  You can visit the house of Victor Hugo (free admission).

b)   Carnavalet Museum (free admission).  This is a fantastic little museum which is a hidden jewel and covers the history of Paris (from the Middle Ages to the Revolution)

c)     Nearby, you can walk the old Jewish quarter (rue des Rosiers).  There are wonderful Jewish bakeries, delis and restaurants (L’As du Falafel, is famous for their falafel sandwiches and its easy to find because there is always a long line at their takeaway stand.  You can eat in or takeaway)

d)    Restaurants.  Robert et Louise (60 rue vielle temple) is a cute french restaurant where they grill their steaks in an open fire. It’s near the Musee Carnavalet and not too expensive.

2.    Notre Dame area

a)    The St Chapelle.  Located near Notre Dame, this is the private chapel of King (Saint) Louis and it is famous for its stain glass windows.  They sometimes offer concerts in the evenings of baroque music (Mozart & Vivaldi) which is a sublime experience if you can do it at least once in your life.

b)   Notre Dame. It is celebrating 850 years this year.  It also just received new bells!  It is a magnificent cathedral and it houses several important relics (including Jesus’ crown of thorns).  If the weather cooperates, definitely take the tour of the roof.

c)     Afterwards, you can head towards the Ile St-Louis (the small island behind Notre Dame) which is a perfect place to walk and do some shopping and to have some famous Bertillon ice-cream.

d)    Restaurants:  Le Reminet is located across from Notre Dame on the left bank (3 rue des grands degres) and offers a nice lunch formula for about 15 euros. Tip: Check as they sometimes offer specials (50% off ala carte menu).

3.    Louvre area

a)    Louvre. This of course is one of the most famous museums in the world but it is crowded and there is so much to see that it can be overwhelming for even regular visitors. Suggest that you avoid the crowds at opening times and try to select a few must sees (like the Mona Lisa) and focus on the less visited but equally nice exhibits ( Napoleon’s apartments and the French and Dutch paintings)

b)   Jardin des Tuileries. These gardens are attached to the Louvre and are wonderful for sitting and people watching on a nice spring day.  The park also has lovely flowers and sculptures.  At the other end is the fantastic Musee de l’Orangerie which contains Monet’s Waterlilies and other paintings from Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, Cezanne, etc…

c)     Place de la Concorde.  Very historic location with an amazing view of the Egyptian Obelisk as well as the Eiffel Tower.  This is the place where nobles and Louis XVI were guillotined during the revolution.

d)    Opera Garnier.  A couple of metro stops away is the famous Paris opera house which is open for tours.

e)    Restaurants.  La Regalade (123 rue faubourg st-honore, near Louvre-rivoli metro stop) has a wonderful lunch formule for 28 euros. Usually booked so reservation necessary. Le Souffle (36 rue Mont Tabor near Concord metro) specializes in souffles and has a special lunch menu for 26 euros.

4.    Champs Elysees & Eiffel Tower area

a)    From the place de la Concorde, walk up the Champs Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.   Enjoy the luxury goods stores (Louis Vuitton, Cartier, …).

b)   Arc de Triomphe.  Go up to the top for wonderful views of Paris.  A nice alternative to the Eiffel Tower if you don’t like the long lines.

c)     Eiffel Tower.  3 metro stops away (Trocadero) from the Etoile metro station is the perfect viewing place for the Eiffel Tower. From there, you can gently walk down through the gardens and across the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower for a closer look.

d)    Restaurants.  Atelier Joel Rubochon has a 1star Michelin restaurant (located downstairs in the publicis store on the Champs Élysées) and offers a 35 euro lunch menu. Reservations are a must.  Another favorite of ours, Cafe Constant (139 rue st Dominique) near the Eiffel Tower doesn’t take reservations but that usually isn’t a problem if you arrive before 12:30 or 7:30.   For about 30-35 euros, you can enjoy a fantastic meal.

e)    Afterwards, take a boat ride on the Seine.  You can catch a bateau mouche a short walk away from the Eiffel Tower.  Tip: outside metro stop: Iena. This is where Princess Diana died in a fatal car crash and there is a small memorial to her).

5.    Left Bank & St Germain des Pres area

a)    Musee d’Orsay.  In a former train station, this is the museum of impressionist art and should not be missed.  The building is as beautiful as the art on display.  Tip:  Beware of the long lines!  Get there early if you can and wrap up if the weather is cold.

b)   Restaurants:  Ze Kitchen Gallerie (4 rue des grands augustin, metro: Odeon) This 1star Michelin restaurant offers a wonderful lunch formule starting at 28 euros).

c)     After lunch, walk away from the river and explore the shops in the Latin Quarter and Blvd. St Germain.  The Jardin du Luxembourg is a lovely park to stroll in and enjoy on a sunny day.

d)    Les Deux Magots.  This famous cafe is known for the writers and artists (Hemingway, Picasso) that spent time there.  The hot chocolate is not-to-be-missed and for about 7 euros, it is well worth it.  Tip:  Be sure to enjoy sitting on the terrace and people watching as long as you like.  Your drinks may be over-priced but they do buy you the luxury to sit and linger as long as you like.  Don’t let others pressure you to leave if you don’t feel like it.  But beware of the smokers outside!

6.    Montmartre & Sacre Coeur area

Well worth visiting for the spectacular views of Paris and the charming scenes of artists painting portraits. However, I can’t lie: It’s very touristy and the area surrounding it is pretty seedy.  Tip: Stop and enjoy some of the great street performers on the steps near the basilica.  Avoid the restaurants in the touristy areas.  Walk down the butte Montmartre and lose yourself in some of the quieter and more charming streets.

7.    Just Outside of Paris  (but accessible by train)

  • Versailles and the gardens (Marie Antoinette’s farm) are fantastic and an easy train ride (RER B) from Paris.  There is a nice restaurant which is not too expensive near the canal as well as a cafe in the chateau (Angelina is famous for their hot cocoa)
  • St. Germain-en-Laye is an excellent day-trip and is easily accessible via RER line A.  The local castle holds a wonderful collection of prehistoric and early man art.  Meanwhile, the forest of Saint Germain is just a few hundred feet away from the RER station and the Terrace offers some of the best views of Paris from the West side.
  • Cathedrale de St. Denis is a must-see for any French history buff.  Those brave enough to enter this decidedly un-attractive and marginally safe suburb of Paris, will be rewarded with a fantastic visual and historical treat:  Most of the French royalty is buried there.

8.    Further away from Paris (accessible by car within 1-2 hours)

  • Vaux-le-Vicomte perhaps France’s most beautiful castle.  So beautiful, in fact, that even Louis XIV was said to have been jealous when he first saw it.  The gardens by architect LeNotre are a sight to behold and were the precursors to those he did at Versailles.
  • Chantilly is best known for its castle and the equestrian academy.  Both are situated next to each other and are, again, well worth the day-trip from Paris.  The castle holds an impressive art collection while the gardens are ideal for a spring or summer picnic.
  • Ecouen and its castle are home to the Museum of the Renaissance.  Set in a beautiful natural park, this is a place that is well worth the visit.
  • Pierrefonds is a spectacular (restored) medieval castle.  Purchased and updated by Napoleon III’s personal funds, the old castle was lovingly restored by Violet le Duc (of Cathedrale de Notre Dame restauration fame) and given a more romantic/fantasy update.  An impressive fortress, the castle of Pierrefonds can regularly be seen in the UK TV series: Merlin.

I hope you find this list useful.  Feel free to share it with others.  You can also leave a comment and follow the Parifornia blog (Insights in International Business and Marketing).

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

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April 2013

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Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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