I was SO excited to bring Tyler to Paris for the first time in the winter of 2016–we wrapped up our road trip through Central Europe there with a four day stay.
I’ve been enamored with Paris since the day I set foot in it as a broke and bloated college student years ago. However, I have encountered a select few individuals who somehow fail to fall in love with the dreamy architecture, flawless food, and overly romantic atmosphere. So I was very nervous that I had talked it up way too much and that it was going to fall flat for Tyler.
It was like when you accidentally over-hype your favorite movie and spend the entire night giving yourself a side-eye headache from cautiously glancing to see if your friend likes it as much as you do. I would not shut up about the blasted macarons and cafes and really worked myself into an un-cute anxious state as we drove into the city.
As a fail-safe, I planned that we spend our first night in the city at a Paris Saint-Germain football game. Naturally, Tyler was obsessed right off that bat. (more on the game later). The rest of our time was smooth sailing.
Since then, it’s become one of our favorite cities to visit. Tyler spent quite a bit of time in France for work in 2017, so he made a few pit stops (and I was able to join him for one of those, too).
Even though we’ve both been a handful of times now, like there is still so much to see and experience. We have managed to stumble upon some really amazing spots, though, and I feel like we have a pretty good handle on where to start in this sometimes-intimidating city.
How to plan your trip to Paris
Paris can be intimidating–the size, the layout of the neighborhoods, the sheer volume of things to do. We have a few recommendations about how to set yourself up for success and not be completely overwhelmed when you get to La Ville Lumière.
Familiarize yourself with a city map
Paris is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements. The districts are mapped out clockwise, in a spiral, starting from the 1st which is on the Right Bank of the Seine (where the Louvre is).
I’m not trying to go all geography teacher on you, but it’s actually really helpful to familiarize yourself with a map of the arrondissements before you get there because it is really confusing.
Unlike many of the cities we visited on this trip, Paris isn’t completely walkable. Sure, it’s lovely to get lost and walk for hours through the various neighborhoods, but the city is just really big. For example, it takes over an hour to travel by foot from the Le Marais neighborhood to the Eiffel Tower. Just trying to manage expectations, people.
We are ALL for mom-walking and getting those steps in, but it might behoove you to invest in a metro pass for your time in Paris. We actually didn’t find the metro system overly confusing, and it’s a great way to maximize your time if you are trying to squeeze a lot in.
Relax, and do you.
Paris can be really overwhelming, but we are here to tell you that it is OK to skip the Louvre if the only reason you are going is to see the Mona Lisa. Because unlike Paris, the Mona Lisa is less than overwhelming, and we think there are much better ways to spend your time if you aren’t amped about the art housed in the Louvre.
Furthermore, feel free to cut anything else out of your Paris itinerary that you are not 100% excited about. We recommend you pick a FEW select things that you know you will love and just SLOW. IT. DOWN. Choose the museum that interests you the most and go dessert-hunting for an afternoon (or whatever strikes your fancy).
Do your research. Figure out what you want to do. Don’t cram your schedule with things your Instagram feed made you feel obligated to do.
Paris is an amazing city. There is no need to make yourself go crazy by trying to see every classic art piece within the city limits. You can experience so much of the culture by just parking it at a (strategically-selected) cafe, sipping hot chocolate, and enjoying your companions.
Where to Stay in Paris
This brings me to my next point. Everyone has an opinion about which neighborhood to stay in, and the great news is that there is a neighborhood for everyone.
We LOVED staying in Le Marais (aka the 4th arrondissement) on our first trip together. It’s on the Right Bank and SO dreamy. Le Marais has some of the oldest medieval streets in Paris, and there are SO many yummy restaurants, bars, and patisseries. Le Marais is charming, romantic, and relatively calm compared to the rest of the city.
The other great thing about Le Marais is its location. A quick walk across the river leads you through Île Saint-Louis (ritzy island in the middle of the Seine River) and then over to the Left Bank in the trendy Latin Quarter. Or, head towards the 1st arrondissement, and you’ll stumble upon the Louvre.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Le Marais and think an apartment is a really great way to go in Paris, ESPECIALLY if you are staying for more than a day or two. Renting your own apartment will ensure that you get the true local experience. You can cook your own food, relax, enjoy tasteful decor, and live like the Parisian king or queen you’ve always wanted to be.
On a more practical note, Paris is very expensive. Having your own kitchen can help mitigate costs. For example, on that particular trip, we cooked eggs every morning for breakfast to help save a little money.
If you do decide to go the Airbnb route, use this link to sign up and get $40 off your first stay!
Saint Germain or the Latin Quarter
A couple other areas we recommend staying in were Saint Germain (6th arrondissement) or the Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement). Both are vibrant and somewhat centrally located. If your time is limited in Paris, we recommend staying in one of these areas.
Hôtel Saint-Paul Rive-Gauche: We decided to stay here one trip because of the hotel’s location in the heart of the Saint-Germain neighborhood and its proximity to the Luxembourg Gardens. We love Saint-Germain and wanted to stay a night there so we could have a chance to explore it more thoroughly.
We had a really great experience here. You could be at the gate of the gardens or grabbing a glass of wine at a lively bar in less than five minutes.
Consider the 16th (If You’re Just Passing Through)
Hotel-Residence Foch: We chose this hotel for the price and the location. The rooms start at just 90€, and it is tucked away in the 16th arrondissement. We had an early flight the next day (the theme of this trip), and it was super easy to hop over to Charles de Gaulle from that location.
In addition to its convenience, the hotel itself was lovely. The staff was helpful and kind, and the room was spacious by European standards. But I have to say that the rain shower and huge bathroom are what really sold it for me. This is the perfect place to stay if you are just stopping in for a night or if you prefer the refuge of a quieter, more put-together neighborhood.
What to do in Paris
In an effort to help you map out your relaxed, targeted itinerary, we narrowed down our absolute favorite things we did in Paris:
Hop on the football bandwagon
As I mentioned earlier, we went to a Paris Saint-Germain football game on our first night in the city. Just doing what we can to assimilate with European culture, you know. This was SO fun. The fans were absolutely nuts, and not in a wasted-Oakland-Raider-fan way. They were so into the game, cheering in complete unison the entire 90 minutes. Alcohol is not allowed in the Parc des Princes stadium, so there weren’t any drunk fans badgering us (very different than NFL games in the U.S.). PSG played Angers that night, and the atmosphere was on fire.
Even if you are just pretending to be a football fan for the duration of your Euro trip, this experience is an absolute MUST. We bought €44 tickets from Viagogo website a couple of months in advance.
Pop some bubbly at La Tour Eiffel (but not until sunset!)
If it’s your first time in Paris, you obviously need to pay your dues at the Eiffel Tower. Brace yourself for wound-up tourists and aggressive street vendors. Wait until just before sunset to head over. After the sun goes down, the tower sparkles (yes, sparkles) on the hour for a few minutes. It is glorious. Swing by this market around the corner to grab a beverage of your choice. Find an available bench at the park behind the tower, and enjoy the show.
Revel in literary heaven without shame
As you cross from the Right Bank over the Île de la Cité, you’ll see Notre Dame (currently under construction after a devastating fire earlier this year). Keep walking towards the Left Bank, and find the Shakespeare & Company bookstore on the other side of the river.
This historic English bookstore is famous for having once been the social hub of the literary greats of the golden age–Fitzgerald, Hemingway, the whole gang. I am obsessed with this place. It is virtually always crowded with American students and tourists, but it’s worth the stop nonetheless. They have beautiful books, a fun vintage section upstairs, and they stamp the inside cover of anything you purchase.
BUT. Just buy one book, if you can help it, at Shakespeare and Company. Book sellers line the entire river, just outside. Find the French versions of your favorite novels at majorly discounted prices.
Scavenger hunt through Saint Germain (then picnic with your findings at Luxembourg Gardens)
We did this by accident, sort of, but it ended up being just the best afternoon. We loved aimlessly roaming the pretty streets of Saint Germain and watching effortless chic Parisians live their effortlessly chic lives.
If you’d prefer to put a mission to your wandering, collect a few picnic essentials and head to the Luxembourg Gardens. First, grab a couple of fresh baguettes at Poilâne (rumored to make the best baguette in Paris, and we have to say that it did not disappoint). Then, stop by the Marché Saint-Germain and ask the friendly cheese vendors to help you select a couple of locally-produced, life-changing cheeses to snack on.
Take a lap around the Luxembourg Gardens (constructed in 1612!) before settling down on a bench for a picnic. Make sure to get there with enough time to enjoy your meal before the gardens close just before sundown.
Pack some tissues, and go gawk at Monet’s waterlilies
If you visit one museum the entire time you are in Europe, make it the Musée de l’Orangerie. Even if you are typically the weak link yawning at the back of every museum tour you’ve ever been on, you will still be impressed by Monet’s water lily murals. You can find the museum in the corner of the Jardin des Tuileries.
Adult admission to get into l’Orangerie costs €9. However, if you are interested in seeing the Musée d’Orsay (more impressionism and post-impressionism in an old train station) as well, you can purchase a joint ticket for €16.
Also, if you are willing to deal with the crowds, most major museums in Paris are free for everyone the first Sunday of every month. (And free for students every day!)
Walk the Champs Elysee, and scale L’Arc de Triomphe
Though many complain about how busy and touristy this is, we definitely think it’s worth checking out if you are in Paris for the first time. It’s easy to access after you’ve checked out either the Louvre or L’Orangerie.
Stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries and head up the Champs Elysee, towards the Arc de Triomphe. It is about a mile, but don’t worry. You can make a quick stop at Laduree for sustenance about halfway up.
Once you get to the Arc de Triomphe, DEFINITELY go on top of it. During our time in Paris, we found a few different spots to look out at the city, but nothing beats the vantage point from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The symmetry of the boulevards stemming out from the Place Charles de Gaulle is unlike anything you can find in the U.S. We absolutely loved it and felt it was worth the 40 stairs and €12.
Where to eat in Paris
We are not Michelen-bred eaters. We occasionally eat dinner at the Costco food court. So look elsewhere for the fancy-pants restaurant recommendations. We did eat at a few pricier places in Paris, but we try to never go nuts for a meal.
LUCKILY, Paris (though generally on the more expensive side) has plenty of options for those not willing to shell out an airfare-sized credit card hit.
Most of the following list came via sound recommendations from friends/bloggers and a book called Bright Lights Paris by Angie Niles. Check it out if you are looking for a comprehensive guide to Paris, complete with dreamy pictures and interviews!
Here are our top picks from our time in the greatest city in the world:
Café de Flore: Yes, Café de Flore is overpriced and a *tad* touristy. BUT, if you adjust your expectations and plan to split something, the patio at this Saint Germain staple is the perfect spot to relax and people-watch. We split the club sandwich–so good. Café de Flore opened in 1887 and has been a destination for chic and noteworthy Parisians ever since. This is the perfect spot to experience the very real Paris “café culture.”
Chez Janou: This is my favorite restaurant in the world, and it probably always will be. Definitely make a reservation and prepare to sit on the lap of the person next to you, but you will love the cozy vibes and friendly staff. The portions are huge, and the food is to-die-for. Try the risotto! We spent hours here. ALSO. I don’t even know how to adequately describe the chocolate mousse. Just order it please.
The Brasserie (at Hotel Thoumieux): We will never forget this meal. Hotel Thoumieux boasts a two-Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant upstairs called Sylvester. But we ate dinner one night at the Brasserie, downstairs. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in Paris. We were greeted with a foie gras appetizer on the house which was delectable (our first time trying foie gras!). Tyler got the chicken, I ordered the scallops, and we split the lobster bisque… all of which were INCREDIBLE. Definitely, definitely worth checking out.
Le Relais de l’Entrecôte: This place is NUTS. We heard the words “best steak and fries in Paris” and were en route within minutes. We had to make aggressive eye contact and squeak out “Bonsoir” about four times to a handful of hostesses before they acknowledged our presence. We were dropped off at a sidewalk table, without a menu in sight.
I spent the next several minutes begging Tyler to stop staring at everyone else’s food when finally a server swept by our table and asked how we wanted our steak cooked. That’s it.
They brought our plates about 25 minutes later: two piles of steak and frites, along with a cup of sauce that Tyler describes as the nectar of the gods. Apparently short term memory loss is real when the food is good enough. The meal completely redeemed the brusque service.
When we were just about finished with our plates, we glanced up to see a server dropping off an entire extra plate of steak and frites for each of us–that’s right. REFILLS. Can’t get better than that.
(I just read this out loud to Tyler who immediately yelled, “OH MAN I COULD EAT SOME OF THAT RIGHT NOW” and stormed into the kitchen for a snack).
They don’t take reservations, but it is SO worth the wait.
L’Atelier Ramey: I just realized that we are likely alienating every vegetarian who will ever stumble upon this blog with this post. I’m so sorry, but there’s more red meat in this story.
We wanted to check out Montmartre, so we got a reservation at L’Atelier Ramey. Contrary to our experience at Le Relais de l’Entrecote, the staff welcomed us with open arms. As soon as we sat down, our server dropped off a complimentary truffle souffle which Tyler swallowed whole by the time our menus arrived seconds later.
At our server’s recommendation, we decided to split la côte de bœuf (“cut of beef,” lol). The meat was absolutely incredible, and we were just about dying over the side salad and potatoes.
This place also has an amazing wine selection that the staff helped us navigate through. We had a fabulous evening and can’t recommend this place highly enough.
Frenchie To Go: Not to be confused with its expensive and gourmet counterpart Frenchie, Frenchie To Go (FTG) is an order-at-the-counter sandwich shop that is absolutely amazing. Order the lobster roll, and prepare for a food coma of drastic proportions.
Myrthe: This gourmet deli of sorts is right near the Canal St. Martin. Stop in for a carefully crafted sandwich or chai latte, or swing through to pick up some high-quality French groceries. This place is SO cute and cozy.
Angelina: This is a true gem, and it’s conveniently located right across the street from the Jardin Tuileries. I’m honestly not that big of a hot chocolate person. If it’s hot and brown, it should be coffee. But, a ton of people told us we just had to come here and try it. And I mean, wow, they were right. This is other-worldly hot chocolate. Also, try the Mont Blanc. And ship one to us, s’il vous plaît.
L’Eclair de Genie: There is an (intricately decorated) eclair for everyone here. A great stop for an afternoon (or morning or evening) snack, because Paris. We obviously went with the all-chocolate this time around. Also, the one we linked here is on Rue Pavée, which is a really fun and busy street in Le Marais. It is also conveniently located down the street from Frenchie To Go (mentioned earlier).
Eric Kayser: Not much to say here except that this bakery makes amazing baguettes. These babies may cause you to start looking up apartment rentals in the area and wonder exactly how much would it be to ship your stuff to Paris. Swing by and grab a couple before heading to a park for a picnic.
And lastly, a novel about macarons.
Because I’m crazy and debilitatingly romantic, I’ve actually made it a life rule of mine to never eat a macaron outside of Paris. I just love macarons, and I love Paris, and I want macarons to be a sacred Paris thing. IS THAT SO WRONG?? Anyways, if you know or care about macarons even half as much as I do, you know that there are two patisseries in Paris that rule the macaron scene: Ladurée and Pierre Hermé.
The first time I was in Paris, I sprinted off the plane to Ladurée. It was a time in my life where I did not stray for a second from the recommendations or regime of Blair Waldorf. I could not be stopped, and Laduree did not disappoint.
Fast forward a few years, when Tyler and I started planning this trip, we decided that we would sacrifice. We would take one for the team, try both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, and weigh in on the world-wide debate.
We started with Ladurée, ordered a box of six macarons, ate them in front of the Eiffel tower, and we’re writing this from heaven now.
The next day, though, we set out for Pierre Hermé in Le Marais and ordered another box.
Ok, I’m not trying to be dramatic here (although I can already feel Tyler rolling his eyes at me), but the macarons at Pierre Hermé were disappointing.
First, the macarons at Ladurée were light, airy, melt-in-your-mouth soft. The ones from Pierre Hermé were honestly a bit hard, and too dense in the middle. (I sincerely hope at least one person reading this knows what I mean here. I’m not meant to be a bakery blogger).
The real kicker, though, was the difference in flavor. Ladurée is known for having more classic flavors (chocolate, rose, lemon, etc.), and Pierre Hermé does more daring flavors (foie gras, truffle, etc). And maybe we just weren’t prepared, but the strong, savory flavors at Pierre Hermé were off-putting, and we could barely finish them.
So we’d like to officially document our stance on the Ladurée side of this debate. Take it or leave it.