The Best of Paris: My Guide to the City of Lights
I almost shouldn’t be surprised that this post is quite overdue. Over 1.5 years overdue, in fact.
My favorite city in the world after NYC, Paris is actually as magical as they say. There is something there for everyone— knockout food, amazing wine, stunning architecture, art for days, famous sights, shopping, design, oh là là! Speaking personally, it’s also one of my favorite cities to travel alone because it’s easier to soak it all up at your own pace, but it is special in different ways when you come here with loved ones.
I had over 2000 photos from my visit in spring of 2017, so you can imagine how difficult it was to narrow things down, then I just shot a ton of film images as well— yet I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I want to capture there! It’s also amazing because the people behave so differently there— the pace is slower yet brisk, and people don’t have their faces buried in their phones while walking around or on the subway. Even in restaurants, I barely see any phones out except for tourists. It is BEYOND refreshing. I’ve included a bunch of galleries and slideshows in this post for you guys to hopefully transport you there!
Anyhow, I wanted to create this post for you guys because I have sent these recommendations to about 15 of my friends now— everyone has said how helpful this guide was because it’s honest, written from a local city-girl perspective, and it’s organized by arrondissement (district/neighborhood— Paris has 20 arrondissements), so it’s easier to plan a more efficient trip rather than having you bounce between 6 neighborhoods unnecessarily in a day.
I’ve also created a little easy shortcut for you guys here, to jump to each Arrondissement for reference, since there are a LOT of photos breaking the sections up:
But first, I can’t get into the guide without a little mention of my visit last week and how different it was due to the riots and climate.
This visit in December and the riots
This past visit was a bit different in several ways. I went with my best friend for a girlfriends getaway weekend, so we just wanted to hang around Paris and live like locals, so the intention of the trip was not to zoom everywhere around town (even though we did end up doing a lot of that!). But then there were also the “gilet jaune / yellow vests” riots happening. The atmosphere was quite different than the past two times I had been to the city, and many locals were considerably subdued in what normally is full of holiday cheer this time of year.
All major sites, museums, palaces, and many restaurants + business shut down on Saturday, nearly 80k police officers were deployed, and tear gas was used. It was jarring to walk around and see windows of nearly every store (even in an arrondissement the main riots were not in) smashed and vandalized. It felt a heartbreaking to see such a beautiful city in political chaos and people hurting on all sides.
I feel this is all the more reason to share my guide to Paris now to hopefully encourage you to visit, as I believe it’s important to not let things like this stop us from traveling and exploring the world. Of course it’s important to stay safe, but I also think it’s important to be aware that traveling and a city should not be kept in a bubble— in this era, I feel like a lot of people travel or sightsee just so they can post pretty photos, rather than immersing themselves in the local culture and it’s a bummer. Anyway, onto my guide!!
North of the Seine (River)
Montmartre (18th Arr.)
Montmartre is like an entirely separate world, at the top of the hill. It’s a nice eagle eye view of the city of Paris, has the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica, and a ton of picturesque winding streets that make you feel like you’re Amélie. I’d recommend taking the train up (the 12 line on the metro gets you right up there), as it’s a steeper hike up. My must-sees in Montmarte:
Sacre Coeur: The “Sacred Heart” basilica, it is a stunning church. Even admiring the structure from the outside on the many steps leading to the church is a sight enough to not be missed. If cathedrals / churches are your thing, entrance is free, and open from 6am-10:30pm every day. After your visit, walk around Rue du Mont-Cenis and Rue Norvins for all the yes, slightly kitchy and touristy, but still cute cafes, creperies, and shops.
La Maison Rose: the Insta-famous pink + pistachio green cafe. I hear the food is subpar but it is indeed beautiful on the exterior. I think the little street leading up to it (Rue de l’Abreuvoir) is even better though. Pastel colors and cobblestones galore— when you’re there in the spring, you’re ambushed by #wisteriahysteria that makes you feel like you’re in London.
Rue Lepic / Rue des Abbesses: Just keep walking down and all around those windy roads— there are a ton of cute shops, patisseries (bakeries), cheese shops, wine shops, and small businesses. If you can do cheese, don’t miss Butte Fromagere— it’s one of the best little cheese shops!
*Place des Abbesses Christmas Market: Obviously only available during the holiday season, this cute little market is easy to access (12 Metro to Abbesses pops you right out in the middle of the market), and has all the essentials. Vin chaud (mulled wine), marrons chaud (roasted chestnuts, my fave!), escargot, all kinds of food cooked in massive pans, toys, and random gift stands
The 9th arrondissement (including Saint Georges + Pigalle areas) is the land of shops, nightlife, and good restaurants— definitely a younger, hip crowd the further north you go.
Galeries Lafayette: kind of like the Parisian Saks 5th Ave— a massive department store with everything. Worth a whirl if it's rainy, and the interior is beautiful.
Opera National de Paris: the opera at Palais Garnier is an 19th century Italian-style opera house that houses ballets and well, the opera.
Nightlife: the classic Moulin Rouge is the iconic cabaret, but there is little local spot called Le Bar a Bulles that serves up tapas and cocktails (and has a rooftop!) right behind the Moulin Rouge. Dirty Dick and Baton Rouge are some popular cocktail bars.
Eats: Juicerie, a juice bar, has locations all around, but a spot nearby. Then for the gluten-intolerant, Helmut Newcake is a gluten-free patisserie! There’s the classic French restauarant, Buvette, where most go for the Croque Monsieur. Big Mamma is the very Instagrammable bar / restaurant that serves up modern Italian fare.
The 1st arrondissement is home to the Jardin Tuleries, Museé de l’Orangerie, the Louvre, the main highlights of Rue Rivoli and Rue Saint Honoré (hello, shopping!), Galeries Lafayette (more shopping!), Palais Royal, and Place Vendôme.
Jardin des Tuileries/ Tuileries Garden: Probably my favorite gardens in Paris. Grab a hot chocolate from the notorious Angelina right outside the gardens on Rue Rivoli (TIP-- don't wait in line for seating, just walk straight into the cafe and there's a separate bakery inside there where you can get a hot chocolate to-go!) and walk around. It’s honestly pretty, no matter what season you visit.
Musée de l’Orangerie / Orangerie Museum: At the west end of the Tuileries, is home to Monet’s famous water lilies and contemporary arts. It’s 9€ for entry (free for 18 and under), and a perfect place for a rainy day pit stop.
The Louvre Museum: On the east end of the Tuileries is the famous Louvre. Not much explanation needed here, but in case you live under a rock, it’s the home to the “too-crowded around with cellphones to even see” Mona Lisa, with over 650,000 feet of art. You could spend 2 days here and not cover it all, but it’s truly beautiful and I think a must. Don’t forget to take a cheesy tourist picture near the glass pyramid entrance! 9€ for entry, 6€ for entry after 6pm on Wednesdays or Fridays (and is open til 9:45pm)
Place Vendome: an absolutely stunning square- the detailed architecture of the buildings there are a personal favorite.
Rue Rivoli + Rue Saint Honore: go wander. Feels a lot like chic SoHo in NYC with all the beautiful stores of things you probably can’t afford but it’s so fun to look anyway— but there are also a ton of little local shops too, and it’s a great place to go gift shopping.
Eats: Maisie Cafe on Rue du Mont Thabor (right near Place Vendome) has delicious + allergen friendly foods, juices, and more (pictured above). If you're looking for a beautiful $$$ restaurant to splurge at, Clover Grill is consistently a popular destination. L’as du Fallafel from what I remember from my first visit to Paris was the best, spiciest falafel I have ever had.
The 8th is kind of like 5th Ave in NYC, with the Champs-Élysées that leads up to the historical Arc de Triomphe. While I don’t have many food/shop recommendations around this area because I find that most of the restaurants around there are touristy / overpriced and the shops are mainstream chains, I would not miss walking down that big avenue— I love it at night in particular, when it’s all lit up.
Grand Palais + Petit Palait: the Grand Palais has some cool expos (a Michael Jackson one is going on right now!) and is a gorgeous building, and the Petit Palais is also such a stunning museum (I think 15€ for entry)
Champs-Élysées: the 5th Ave of Paris with endless shops. From Ladurée macarons, the flagships of stores like Louis Vuitton and other French design houses like Dior, along with the classic chains like Zara (they’re so much better in Europe!) and H&M (also better in Europe).
Arc de Triomphe: the famous arch— not only is it one of the most stunning structural designs I’ve seen in person, but I am 100% convinced it’s the best birds-eye style view of Paris. Why go up the Eiffel Tower when you can go up the Arc de Triomphe (view pictured above!)and see the Eiffel Tower and the incredible buildings and street mapping of Paris? It is 12€ for entry.
A few but major spots:
Trocadéro: take the 6 or 9 Metro lines and you’ll pop out right at Place du Trocadero. Cross the street and head to Palais de Chaillot across the esplanade into the Jardins du Trocadéro for a beautiful vantage point of the Eiffel Tower
Carette: Right a street over from the Metro entrance, Carette is my favorite little cafe at heart in Paris. Yes, it may be on every guide to Paris but it’s a classic and I’m convinced it’s the best croissant I’ve ever had in my life. Their espresso is also fantastic, and my friend Steph said they were the best macarons she’s had (better than Ladurée!)
Again, a few but major spots:
Tour Eiffel / Eiffel Tower: need I say more? Should you choose to actually go in the tower, the ticket prices vary depending on how you want to go.
Parc du Champs de Mars: one of the most beautiful lawn / gardens in Paris, of course complete with the best close-up view of the Eiffel Tower. I’m a sucker for it in the springtime, with colorful blooms like magnolias and marigolds everywhere, but it’s pretty any time of year. If coming during temperate weather, pack a picnic and eat on the lawn for a free, world-class view.
Les Invalides: the army museum, I went during my first visit to Paris. It’s an amazingly extensive exhibit, especially if you’re a history buff! 12€ for entry.
Le Narcisse Blanc: the most epic hotel I have ever stayed at in my life, this 5-star hotel is actually immaculate and made of Parisian dreams. Read all about my stay and tour the hotel in my blog post here!
South of the Seine (River)
The Latin Quarter (6th arr.)
This district is home to the stunning Luxembourg Gardens, lots of university buildings, and some sleepier streets for some hidden gems of shops. Simply wander all around, but particularly on Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue du Four.
Luxembourg Museum + Luxembourg Gardens: to be honest, I know nothing about the museum because I have never been (but here is the website), but I have spent hours on these garden grounds. In the spring, you’ll see some of the most beautiful tulips you’ve ever seen, but regardless of season, the garden grounds are magical to wander and get lost in.
Le Bon Marché / 24 Sevres: a high-end department store of sorts, it is a dreamy place to go wander.
L’Avant Comptoir: fast casual tapas place that is a local favorite, by chef Yves Camdeborde, who is nicknamed the chef of “bistronomy”. Open noon-11pm, there are no reservations, but you can get crepes, sandwiches, and waffles for silly affordable prices for top-tier ingredients.
Île de la Cité / Island of the City (4th arr.)
Best known for where Notre Dame is, but it’s some of the prettiest nooks and crannies of the city with the bridges all around the Seine.
Notre Dame: The famed Notre Dame, it is truly stunning on the inside and the outside. I couldn’t stop staring at the stained glass, the architecture, and insane detail. Make sure you stick around to listen to some of the church bells, as they are magical. Entrance is free, and open from 7:45am-6:45pm.
Saint Chapelle: the sometimes overlooked chapel in favor of Notre Dame, I actually loved Saint Chapelle even more dare I say. There are over 1000 stained glass windows and it’s dazzling.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole: this is a super classic French café that I actually found through Instagram— no idea how the food is, but the exterior is so stunning at night and also during spring with the florals all about.
The Bridges: walking across the bridges at night when the Seine is illuminated is the best. Make sure you walk across the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts (the one where everyone used to put the love locks). Head down to the walkways down below right on the river too, as there are staircases all around.
Le Marais (3rd arr.)
My. Favorite. Part. of. The. City. I could honestly just stay here for an entire month, and I’d be totally cool with it. A lot of people describe it as the SoHo of NYC, but it feels more like NoLita and the West Village to me— the best small shops in all of Paris (everything from high end designers to smaller mom/pop style stores, including clothes, jewelry, food, wine, home goods, bakeries— everything!).
The neighborhood is shaped kind of like a triangle, and you should just walk up and down every street you can, you won’t be sorry. Also have so many recos that I need sections within sections here. I don’t even need to describe some of the stores though because I would just say the same things of “amazing, beautiful, adorable, bury me here, you must go.”🤣
Rebours Shop: where an insane aunt (me) got her niece a 42€ recycled, eco stuffed giraffe 🙈… but they had an amazing, amazing design shop with stationary, ceramics, fun gifts, clothing, and more.
Madeline and Gustave: an eco design shop with tons of plants and interior goodness. I got a couple cute bud vases here and actually one of my favorite necklaces as well. They also have coffee. Basically, this is me as a retail store. Look at the Instagram.
Les Mots à la Bouche: quaint little bookstore called “Words in the Mouth” and definitely a very interesting variety of books (warning, explicit books were everywhere so maybe keep the kiddos away)
Merci Merci: this feels a little like the ABC Home (in NYC) of Paris. Home goods, elevated to an aspirational level, but dang is it beautiful to look around in.
Fleux: A little bit of everything here— home goods, gifts, kitchen goods, leather goods, all the goods!
Square du Temple: grab a coffee from The Broken Arm and go sit in this little park. In the spring, it’s particularly lovely with all the flowers!
Place des Vosges: a beautiful little square that is the idyllic place to take a coffee and a book to sit for hours. Or take pictures for hours like I did.
Lafayette Anticipations: a super modern, small art exhibit space (also where Rebours and Wild & the Moon are).
The Broken Arm: very small coffeeshop (they have oat milk fyi!) by Square du Temple and is also attached to a very high-end boutique. Excellent strong espresso, an offering of little bites, and a ridiculously good-looking / trendy staff.
Fragments: a cute little coffee shop/cafe close to Place des Vosges. Grab a pastry and go sit in the park!
Wild & The Moon: 100% organic, gluten-free, vegan, this coffeeshop / juicebar cafe is wellness heaven for all us wellness nerds out there— probably the best variety of juices (they even had a CBD-infused juice!), adaptogens, and bowls I’ve seen in Paris. Oh, and all their packaging is 100% biodegradable. Overachievers, dang 🤣
Le Potager du Marais: this is a vegan restaurant with takes on classic French fare. I haven’t been, but heard great reviews of this place!
Hank Restaurant: also all vegan, it’s full of burgers and pizza and had a line out the door. We didn’t end up getting to try it, but it’s staying on my list as it looks awesome!
MORE RESTAURANTS + FOOD / WINE SHOPS
Robert et Louise: an institution, you have to make reservations to ensure a spot. I ate there solo my 2nd time in Paris and it was the best steak frites and red wine combo of my life— it’s not a fancy shop, but a cozy, classic Parisian restaurant.
Bellota Bellota: they have multiple locations, but we just accidentally stumbled upon this little meat + cheese shop. They also have sandwiches. Seriously some of the best charcuterie I’ve ever had— the Iberico ham they slice right in front of you is UNREAL.
Bouquet des Vins: this tiny little wine shop also has a table I believe you can do a wine tasting and charcuterie/cheee board at. The staff was super helpful with picking a bottle of wine for us, and dang… good wine is so much cheaper in France because you’re not far from the best grapes!
This is a bit north of the Marais, but continues with the cute little streets that get a little more city-like as you walk through. A ton of other little shops, so I recommend just walking all around— but here are some highlights below:
Republique of Coffee: great coffee (they offer only a soy/almond blend for milk alternative!), amazing brunch food. Love the huevos rancheros bowl full of veggies and nourishing ingredients, their pancakes look amazing, and there are lots of vegan / gluten-free choices!
O/HP/E: gorgeous cafe with tons of beautiful ceramics, kitchen + home goodies, pastries, and gifts galore. There are plants hanging atop the coffee bar and is so beautiful! I’ve gotten mugs and multiple gifts here before and they have oat milk too!
Holybelly: people line up 30 minutes before opening, and I suggest you do the same on a weekend or you’ll be facing a very long line and a 1-2 hour wait (they don’t take reservations). It’s my must-go brunch place in Paris! It’s kind of like an Aussie-style cafe with their healthy and more indulgent offerings, delicious coffee (yas, oat milk here too!), and the staff and little flourishes are full of cheeky humor.
Rue Legouvé: Just a cute little street that if you’re in the neighborhood near Holybelly and O/HP/E, walk down (but don’t go out of your way for it, it’s not anything extraordinary)— but it’s a personal favorite area of mine and it makes you feel like you’re in a little nook of Paris.
Liberte: a very popular local bakery. I didn't get to eat any of their pastries because they’re classically gluten-filled, but there's always a little line and it smells divine from 5 blocks away.
Canal Saint-Martin Pont d’Amélie: beautiful little canals and bridges around here. Walk all around the Quai de Valmy (the street that lines the canal) and get lost. There are a bunch of cute little shops up north of the bridge on the west side of the riverbank too!
Peonies: an adorably pink and green coffee shop with great small breakfast dishes (many healthy options too!), and so many flowers all around. Hint hint, it great for the gram.
The 2nd arrondissement actually reminds me a bit of Murray Hill in NYC- not exactly cute, filled with bars and restaurants that are whatever but cater to young crowds at night, but this area is also filled with a ton of hotels as it is an extremely convenient and more affordable area to stay in. Easy access to a lot of trains that will get you wherever you need to go, and I actually love staying in this location for that reason!
Hotel Panache: a very cute hotel in design and exterior (I didn’t love staying there last time, the rooms are very small and not as maintained as hoped), but I love the cafe / restaurant inside! Breakfast is great there, as they have a variety of goods, including gluten-free pastries from Noglu, and then I’ve heard great things about dinner there too.
La Creme de Paris: While I probably wouldn’t call this the ‘must-go’ for crepes and ice cream in Paris, it’s an easy crowd-pleasing place to get your sweet tooth fix— plus the interior is very old-school pop diner and very cute to have dessert in.
L’Appartement Sézane: If you want to die in interior and clothing heaven, go here. We in NYC are lucky to have a Sézane open up in SoHo, but I shopped this women’s clothing brand online before it even did and the Paris apartment is the OG and I think better than the NYC store.
Galerie Vivienne: cute little interior shopping gallery with beautiful architectural detail.
Noglu: a famous gluten-free bakery that makes me not feel bad about missing gluten in Paris! Their goodies are in a lot of hotels and restaurants in Paris. Try their carrot cake or madeleines, and they have gluten-free mini croissants too!
11th + 12th Arrondissement
I literally have 2 things on my list because I didn’t see much of these areas and it’s not as densely populated with sights to see (as far as I know). Passager is a cute cafe on my list still (looks great for brunch, coffees, and to hang for a bit) in the 11th, then Rue Crémieux is the Instagram-famous little cobblestone street with the crazy colorful houses.