Someone recently emailed me and asked for tips on visiting Paris: What to see, do, eat… etc.
Oh, what’s that you say? you want my expertise on traveling in France? Gee, I mean, I suppose I could…
HELL YES I WILL IMPART MY KNOWLEDGE.
What you see/do/eat in Paris depends largely on how long you will be there, and have you both been there before, and if so, what have you already seen?
Museums: The Louvre is alright, if you’re into that sort of thing… Personally I prefer the Orangerie (for Monet’s work) and the d’Orsay (but it depends on the exhibit). The Centre Pompidou is pretty cool, and they’ll be showing Edvard Munch soon, which I love…
You must go to Sacré Coeur and wander around the neighborhood (it’s known for being really artsy and fun– this is also where Edith Piaf grew up). I maintain that the best gelato in Paris is up there, too. And of course the basilica and the view are breathtaking. Definitely walk up there and back down; don’t take the funicular.
Go to the 5th and 6th arrondissements (the Latin Quarter and Saint Germaine. I lived in Saint Germaine for three weeks and when mom and I went we stayed in the Latin Quarter). Right in between these two districts is the Greek Quarter, which is never on a map and which I have only ever learned to find by accident. But it is totally spectacular, especially for the nightlife. It’s totally worth it, if you do find it: the food is amazing and there are some hookah bars, which can be fun.
Personally I think the view from Sacré Coeur totally trumps the view from the Eiffel Tower, so you could probably skip the tower. But you should endeavor to see it at night, when it’s all lit up and sparkling (I think it sparkles hourly for a few minutes?). Same goes for Notre Dame. It doesn’t sparkle, but it’s amazing at night. And when you’re at the Notre Dame at night, wander along the Seine right by is and see if there is live music down along the bank. Sometimes really good groups play down there and it’s quite the show.
Other music… when you’re wandering by churches (which will happen approximately every 3.2 minutes, if you’re walking at a consistent pace) look for fliers that advertise concerts there the day of. I found some amazing (cheap) classical music concerts on the spur of the moment. Tourists rarely pay attention to them, so they’re attended mostly by locals and the crowd will be small. Just bring a sweater because it gets damn cold in those churches at night when you’re just sitting listening to music.
A lot of people say that going to cemeteries is a good experience, but I never much enjoyed it. I went to Pére Lachaise (if you do go to a cemetery, go to this one) and saw Jim Morrison’s, Edith Piaf’s, and Oscar Wilde’s graves, but the most impactful part was the Holocaust section, because they adorn the graves with incredible, heart-wrenching sculptures.
I’ve always wanted to do the underground tour of the catacombs. If you have time, I’ve heard it’s very cool… if you don’t have time, go to the Panthéon. You can go underground to the crypts there, or go to the top for the view, and the Luxembourg gardens are nearby. Sometimes there are Shakespeare plays in the park.
Don’t miss the footbridge, or Pont des Arts. It’s also called lover’s bridge, because there’s a tradition of putting locks on the chain link that symbolize eternal love and luck in relationships. The view to the tip of the island is sweet, too.
Eat: Have you seen Amélie? If not, watch it and then go to the café where much of the movie takes place. It’s in Montmartre by the Moulin Rouge (12 Rue Coustou), and it’s absolutely delightful. They have a drink called a Black Shadow, I think, which I drank when I was there (because, duh).
Go out on Sundays and look for any street market. They’re fantastic. The locals go out with little carts on wheels and pick up veggies, sometimes there’s live music, and the sights and smells are amazing.
Bakery: I wouldn’t say it’s the best bakery in Paris, but it’s the one I visited almost daily. It’s on rue Dauphine, in the Saint Germaine quarter, about 2 blocks away from the Seine. I don’t know the name, but it’s a little hole-in-the-wall place with very friendly women working there and totally divine pastries. You will also be about 40 paces from the apartment we had while I was there :)