Ah, Paris. The city of light, love, butter croissants.
It’s beautiful, it’s old in the best way possible, it’s distinctly French, it’s inspiring, it’s smoky, it’s creative, it’s feisty—it’s wonderful if you can find the right things to do in Paris and places to go and love.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Paris is a huge city, so this list is by no means a list of everything you should or must do in the city. I won’t pretend to know that because there’s still so much about Paris that I haven’t even discovered! This list is a roundup of some of the things I did and loved and I’m passing it on to you.
*Disclaimer: This list slants heavily to Le Marais as that’s where I stayed and spent a lot of my time. But the area is so cute, it’s worth spending some time in.
Sip wine by the Seine
Though walking along the Seine might sound like a typical touristy thing to do, Parisians make pit stops there for a beer on their way home from work, and friends and couples will grab a bottle of wine and some cheese and sit anywhere along banks of the city’s river to spend some time together, no matter the day of the week. Stop at Maison Maison, a simple but beautiful open air restaurant/cafe for wine and cheese. You’ll feel a little like you’re in a dream (or in a movie) and it’s the perfect spot for aperitifs at sunset.
Stop time at the Musée d’Orsay
Built in an old railway station, the Musée d’Orsay is just the right amount of museum, not too big that you tire before you’ve seen everything. It’s got the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world, with considerable works by Monet, Manet and Degas, and pieces by Renoir, Cézanne and Van Gogh too. The bonus there? The massive clock on the top floor, and you can stand in front of it, looking out at Paris below, and the photos make you appear as a pretty cool silhouette (see it here on Instagram).
Shop in Le Marais
For me, boutique shopping is where it’s at because you’re finding one-off gems that you’ll almost never see anyone else wearing ever. Shopping when you travel means two things: one, you’ll get to tell people “Oh this? Yes, I got it in Paris/Hong Kong/Wherever else in the world,” and two, you’ll need extra room in your suitcase. If you’re after boutique browsing, the best place to do it is in Le Marais. Though a lot of the options are on the higher end of things, there are still shops for us regular folk to buy from. Two of my favorites were Leon & Harper, a Parisian brand, and Merci, a French fashion + home concept store with lots of fun stuff, both on Boulevard Beaumarchais in Le Marais.
Eat at La Mangerie
France has always been known for its cuisine, and in many cases if you walk into any reasonably busy restaurant, chances are the food will be pretty good. But when the food is good, the ambience is good and the vibe is good, that’s an even bigger win. That was the case at La Mangerie, which was recommended to me by a local (remember what I said about always asking a local for food recommends?). The place is simple, with decor that’s quaint but creative—there’s an orange tree growing out of one table and baskets of oranges hanging on the walls—but it’s cute and warm and inviting, just like the people who work there. When you arrive, hosts will greet you like you’re a long lost friend, and when they seat you, they’ll introduce you to your neighbors, and when you leave, they’ll still remember your name. Good feels aside, the food was a tasty too. It’s a place of share plates, which goes with the friendly vibe, and you’ll find things on the menu like smoked ham with truffle, cardamom salmon and braised cod fish fritters, and everything will feel like a treat for your tastebuds.
Snack on streetside crêpes
Instead of hot dog stands in its popular tourist areas, Paris has crêpe stands (which I personally think is a very big trade up). For anywhere between 2 and 7 euro ($2.37 – $8.30) depending on your fillings, you can have the freshest and likely best-you-ever-had crepe in right around 2 minutes. I had mine with Nutella, strawberries and bananas, and there are really no words for how good it was. OK, maybe there are words: It was close-your-eyes-at-first-bite good. I thought it would be nice to enjoy my crêpe at the Jardin de Tuileries, which was about a three minute walk from where I bought it, but I tried this twice and both times finished it before reaching the garden. Had to eat it while it was still warm, you know.
Relax in the Jardin des Tuileries
When you get to the Jardin des Tuileries, you’ll feel like it was fit for a queen—which it actually was. Catherine de’ Medici had it created as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in the 1500s and it opened to the public about 100 years later. Go there on a sunny day and you’ll find locals lounging on green garden chairs, taking in all of the beauty and spending time with friends and loved ones. It was my favorite place in the city to just sit still and let Paris wash over me.
See the Eiffel Tower sparkle
OK, forgive me if this is my one very touristy suggestion. Every evening from sunset to 1:00 a.m. (or 2:00 a.m. in the summer months) the Eiffel Tower lights up on the hour in a spectacular show of sparkling. Some find it cheesy (I am not one of them, I loved it!), but when you’re standing under it, accepting or dodging offers of “beer, wine, champagne?” from savvy peddlers trying to capitalize on the moment, it’s pretty magical.