When I think of Paris I think of flaky, buttery pastries and beautifully crafted patisserie, wine bars where you can order the house wine and know it’ll be delicious, drinking as you sit out on the pavement people watching. Famous historic sights to see, beautiful architecture, excellent cheese and even better bread.
I’ll be honest, the City of Lights was a grower for me. Not that I didn’t like it, but it took me a while to love it (my fourth trip in fact!) Places like Florence and Venice were an instantaneous love affair for me, but Paris took a while. Maybe because it’s big and I favour smaller cities, or perhaps a classic case of slow burn. But after five trips and a day trip at Christmas planned, it really has a hold over me. Paris really is always a good idea.
La Fontaine De Mars
129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007
No trip to Paris is complete without a long lunch in a classic French bistro. Tables sat under an awning with checked tablecloths, those chairs (you know the ones I mean), fantastic house wine and ideally steak frites. Close to the Eiffel Tower, La Fontaine De Mars is a popular choice for a reason – they do everything very well and you can easily spend several hours eating your way through a classic French meal here. Not sure I’ve ever had such a light chocolate mousse in my life!
22 Bd de Clichy, 75018
Like a lot of places these days, Paris can get expensive. If you’re on a bit more of a budget, or simply want to balance things out in order to afford a more splash-out meal, Bouillon Pigalle is an excellent choice. The prices are ridiculous – steak frites is under €13 and desserts range from €2.80 to just under €5. Two of us ate classic French fare: a main and dessert plus a 25cl carafe of wine each for the equivalent of £35. It may not be the fanciest but we rated the food and my profiterole was the biggest I have ever seen.
TOP TIP: You may have to queue a bit for a table if you don’t book, but it moves fairly quickly given the size of the restaurant.
Cafe de Flore
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006
One of the oldest cafes in Paris, Café de Flore in the Saint Germain area is expensive, but delivers that ultimate Parisian experience: great food, superb people watching, and probably a waiter who really wishes you weren’t there. Picasso was a regular, which helps make it as famous as it is.
TOP TIP: Breakfast is fantastic and more friendly on the bank account – serves as a good option to experience a Parisian classic for less money!
28 Rue Henry Monnier, 75009 Paris
Popular in both New York and London, the Parisian outpost of Buvette is the original. Don’t miss classic French bistro style with mega brunch dishes at this restaurant just south of Pigalle.
Le Bon Bock
2 Rue Dancourt, 75018
Traipsing around Montmartre for a reasonably prized menu on a Sunday evening landed us in the most amazing little restaurant with a live opera singer(!) Le Bon Bock is small and genuinely feels like going back in time, even serving absinthe in the traditional way. I can’t promise there will be an opera singer there every night, but someone is usually playing the piano and they do a great set menu.
Le Relais de Venise
One of my favourite restaurants to go to in London, Le Relais de Venise originates from Paris, and is world famous for their one choice only set menu of walnut salad and steak frites, served with their secret sauce. Your steak frites actually gets replenished with seconds as you dine – yes, really! Despite my rule of not going to restaurants with a branch in London when away, I’ve heard the Parisian Le Relais de Venise is even better, so I’m very tempted.
TOP TIP: Get the profiteroles for dessert, you won’t regret it!
5 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010
This famous brunch spot is worth the queue to get in. Huge, fluffy pancakes served with fried eggs, perfectly crispy bacon and Bourbon butter with maple syrup are reason to go enough.
TOP TIP: Holybelly does often have a long queue, but check their website as they cite tips for the best times to go to avoid this.
The Hardware Société
10 Rue Lamarck, 75018
I only know about this place from my time spent living in Melbourne, where the original hails from. Fantastic brunch options and, being Australian run, great coffee – obviously.
Le Vrai Paris
33 Rue des Abbesses, 75018
You’ll see a lot of people stopping to take photos of this spot on the corner in Montmartre, because it looks very Parisian, and they deck the outside with seasonal decorative flowers. It’s a little pricier but it’s a classic French spot: good for breakfast or a small plate and great for a glass of wine. I’ve wound up here a few times at the start or end of my trip as I conveniently break up the journey between train station and hotel.
Briezh is famous for their delicious crepes and Normandy cider. Great option for a casual lunch and very popular – for good reason. Highly recommend, especially if you’re getting fed up of heavy bistro fare but still after something more than cheese and charcuterie.
140 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 75010
This spot is right next to Gare du Nord, which is ideal if you’re trying to fit in some food and the last of the wine before the journey back on the Eurostar. The décor is lovely and the prices reasonable, though beware that late afternoon they have a reduced menu of small plates before serving for dinner at 7pm, so you may want to supplement with a Carrefour picnic on the Eurostar home if you’re getting one of the evening trains (any excuse).
La Fontaine de Belleville
31-33 Rue Juliette Dodu, 75010
Although I’ve not been to La Fontaine yet, I’m including here as reports of their croque monsieur being out-of-this-world is reason enough to pass this spot on. Classic French bistro with jazz sessions on the weekend.
226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001
A queue of tourists snakes out of Angelina on Rue de Rivoli, famous as the old tea room is for their signature “l’Africain” hot chocolate and Le Mont Blanc patisserie. The beautiful room is filled with little tables, most people drinking the rich and thick hot chocolate and sticking a fork in a beautiful pastry. Quintessentially Parisian.
Du Pain et des Idees
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris
Famous bakery serving traditional French pastries and bread. They do a pistachio chocolate swirl pastry which I naturally had to check out, and it was 100% worth doing so.
88 Rue des Martyrs angle, 59 Rue d’Orsel, 75018
Another fantastic patisserie in the Montmartre area. Huge flaky pain au chocolats stood the test of time, keeping overnight for a breakfast in the hotel room the next morning, and the pistachio and raspberry tart still somehow tasted incredible on the second morning.
45 Rue Condorcet, 75009 Paris
Mamiche was a recommendation from a friend but unfortunately for me they were closed for their summer holidays! It’s literally my first port of call planned for a swift day trip to Paris I’m planning. Mamiche is often cited as being amongst the best bakeries in Paris, and apparently the cookies are ethereal.
The French Bastards
Initially enticed by the name, a baker pal of mine recommended The French Bastards on her recent visit, in particular the cookies. The cookies were indeed fantastic, but the winner for me was the chocolate filled cronut invention, which I can confirm as with most pastries from Paris, was sent from above.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred
One of my very firsts stops in Paris on my very first trip ten years ago, Aux Merveilleux de Fred serve a speciality: the merveilleux. This cake is made up of layers of meringue and the very lightest of flavoured whipped cream. So light in fact that my friend kept describing them as “the things that disappear”. They don’t last long – buy several.
TOP TIP: I find these won’t keep as well unless refrigerated, so allocate the ‘pastries to bring home’ quota elsewhere. There’s a lot of Aux Merveilleux de Fred around the world now, with a few in London too.
20 rue de la verrerie, 63 rue des abbesses, 75000
Stumbled across this Levantine bakery in Montmartre as we spotted they also sold gelato, which was highly necessary on one of the most humid days of the year. The tarts looked beautiful, and the gelato was excellent.
There are dozens of wine and cocktail bars that come highly recommended in Paris. I think the only real option is to go back to Paris time and time again and gradually make your way through them all, no? Here’s a handful of my favourites for now.
Although my preference is usually to sit on the terrace at a classic wine bar, people watching the time away, there are some great rooftop bars around too. One of the Le Perchoir rooftop bars is on my list for next time I’m in Paris in good weather. The Marais one would be my first port of call, as the views of the Eiffel Tower in the distance never get old.
La Baron Rouge
1 Rue Théophile Roussel, 75012 Paris
This Parisian wine bar comes as the most frequently recommended and it’s open every day of the week – winner. In the summer they serve freshly shucked oysters outside. Get there early or prepare to stand – this place will be packed no matter the season.
La Cave des Abbesses
43 Rue des Abbesses, 75018 Paris, France
Popular wine bar (and wine shop by day!) on the buzzy Rue des Abbesses in Montmartre. If you’re lucky you can grab one of the few tables on the pavement and people watch, but there’s also a spacious room at the back to hide away in.
6 Rue Charles-François Dupuis, 75003
A few hours were wiled away over a delicious cheese and charcuterie board and plenty of red wine – Le Barav is a fantastic spot not far from some of the big sights such as The Louvre and Notre Dame, the perfect place to relax away from being a tourist.
THINGS TO DO
As you may expect for one of the most famous capitals in the world, there is so much to do in Paris. You can go multiple times and still leave things left for another trip – trust me, I’ve been five times and this is very much the case!
I’m assuming it’s considered a crime to go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never been to the top and honestly I have no desire to – I’d rather see a view of Paris from high up with the Eiffel Tower in it (much as I like to do with the Empire State Building), but it’s always special to see. The views of the tower from the Trocadero gardens are among the best, though it looks fantastic from below, and from the (free!) rooftops of the department stores Printemps and Galleries Lafyette.
Arc de Triomphe
Speaking of views, the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is one of my favourites in Paris. The monument honours those who have fought and died for France and sits in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle which had twelve roads running off of it. Satisfyingly symmetrical as you look down upon the roads stretching out from the Arc, there are fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysees from the observation deck at the top.
TOP TIP: 1st Sunday of the month is free for all between November and March.
Paris Boat Tour
Okay it’s a bit of cliché, but cliches are cliches for a reason, and taking a boat tour down the Seine is a fantastic way to see lots of Paris’ landmarks. Some go for the 3 course dinner cruise, but the hour long trip from the Eiffel Tower and back was perfect for me. Great value for money!
The beautiful white domed church of Sacré Coeur is one of my favourite sights in Paris. It is situated at the highest point of Paris, on the hill of Montmartre, overlooking the city below. You can climb the domes for an even higher view, but lots of people simply sit on the steps below the church to watch the sun go down over the capital. Take cash if you want to buy a cold beer from one of the guys selling them up there.
Of the five times I have been to Paris, four of them I have stayed in Montmartre. I really enjoy it around there, and hotels tend to be more reasonably priced. You can easily spend half a day wandering around the hilly streets of Montmarte: climbing up to La Sacré Coeur and taking in the sweeping views of Paris below, walking pretty Rue de l’Abreuvoir and snapping Instagram famous La Maison Rose, stopping off at cute wine bars and bakeries around Rue de Abbesses. Don’t miss the Wall of Love, where you can read ‘I love you’ in 250 different languages.
Everyone knows of The Louvre, housing the French national collection of art up until the 19th century. You may have heard me say before that I’m not much one for art, so I’ve not gone inside The Louvre on any of my trips (all I hear is disappointment over the size of the Mona Lisa), but I know for many it will be a must. I do love walking around outside and taking in the sheer size of what used to be a royal residence, marveling at the beautiful old architecture teamed with the modern glass pyramid that serves as the entrance to the museum.
Where The Louvre takes us up to the 19th century, Musee d’Orsay displays artwork from the middle of the 19th until the start of the 20th century. There’s a wonderful big clock you can peer through at d’Orsay, and here you will find Matisse, van Gogh, Boudin and Monet. Out of all art, Impressionist is the kind I lean to, so perhaps I should actually make it to Musee d’Orsay next time! You always need to leave things to go back for.
TOP TIP: 1st Sunday of the month is free for all, although a reservation is required.
Musee de l’Orangerie
Situated in Jardin Tuileries, Musee de l’Orangerie is home of Monet’s Waterlilies.
TOP TIP: 1st Sunday of the month is free for all, although a reservation is required.
Centre Pompidou is France’s national museum of modern art. If you’re more interested in the view than the art, it’s just €5 to go to the top of the Pompidou terrace for sweeping views of Paris.
TOP TIP: 1st Sunday of the month is free for all, although a reservation is required.
One of my favourite buildings in the world, and until the most recent trip I never missed going inside. I was fortunate to go up the towers and see the gargoyles up close on my solo trip there about 10 days before the cathedral went up in flames back in 2019. One day it will be open again, and when it is, you must go. I still love seeing the towers that remain, though it is tinged with an air of sadness now.
You may not be able to go inside Notre Dame at the moment, but Sainte Chapelle is under ten minutes walk away. It’s a very small church, but the stained glass windows on all sides make Sainte Chapelle well worth visiting.
TOP TIP: 1st Sunday of the month is free for all between November and March
The Palace of Versailles
A trip out to Versailles takes at least half a day out of the city but is totally worth it. The home of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette is something to see to be believed. With the Hall of Mirrors, gold gilt dripping from every surface and a garden that literally goes beyond as far as you can see with the naked eye, the opulence is other worldly. You don’t need to know much about the French Revolution to get it once you’ve seen this place. Easily the best royal residence I’ve ever seen – highly recommend making the effort to visit Versailles.
TOP TIP: Whilst you could squeeze into half a day if you get up early doors I would recommend spending the whole day exploring Versailles if you have time. It’s easy enough to get to on the train, just Google Maps or CityMapper it!
Each of the houses down this pedestrianized street is painted a different colour, and therefore as you can imagine, is popular for photographs and filming. It’s cute but it’s no Burano!
Shakespeare & Company
Famous English language bookshop on Paris’ Left Bank. At over 100 years old, Shakespeare and Company is a destination for book lovers, once serving as a gathering place for the likes of Hemingway and Joyce in the 1920s.
I’m not recommending Galeries Lafayette for the shopping (although if you do have money to burn, this is 100% the place to do it), but for the sheer delight of the beautiful domed architecture and the rooftop with sweeping views of Paris. Galeries Lafayette at Christmas is a whole other level, so if you’re there for the festive season, add the department store to your must sees. There’s a bar on the rooftop you can enjoy, but there’s no need to buy anything if you don’t want to – entry is free.
Another department store, more domed beauty and another free rooftop with amazing views! There’s also a bar on the rooftop terrace here should you wish to indulge as you take in the views – sundowners, anyone?
The Courtyard of Honor, with an art installation of columns by Daniel Buren and the tranquil gardens next to it are well worth a wander through, even if you don’t go inside the Palais Royal itself.
Place des Vosges
This pretty, picturesque square in the beautiful Marais area is the oldest planned square in Paris.
Paris is pretty flat as cities go, but an exception is Tour Montparnasse, towering 59 stories above ground level. I personally find the building a bit of an eyesore, but on the 56th floor there is an open air observation deck from which you can enjoy sweeping views of the city below.
One of Paris’ remaining covered malls, Galerie Vivienne dates back from the early 1800s and really does feel like stepping back in time. Especially pretty at Christmas time!
Jardin Tuileries is a sprawling public garden reaching from the Louvre all the way to Place de la Concorde. Originally built by Catherine de Medici for the Tuileries Palace (which no longer exists), these beautifully manicured gardens became public after the French revolution. It’s also where you can find Musée de l’Orangerie.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Smaller than Jardin Tuileries, the gardens around Luxembourg Palace (yes, another palace – you can see where the French Revolution came from…) are also worth a stroll around if you’re around the neighbourhood.
Picnic on the Seine/Canal St Martin
I really do like to keep things basic a lot of the time, and just as one of my simple joys at home is a picnic with tinnies in one of London’s beautiful parks in the summer months, I love to grab some bread, cheese and ridiculously delicious wine for less than a fiver at a French supermarket and sit along the Seine as the day comes to a close. Opt for Canal St Martin for something a little different.
I have never flown to Paris, always taken the Eurostar. I favour train travel over anything else, and there’s something glamorous about the idea of getting on a train in my home town and a couple of hours later, stepping out onto the pavements of Paris. Love it. I also love that there are no restrictions on liquids and I can enjoy a Carrefour picnic on the train home.
If you do want to fly, or of course you’re not based in London, it’s a simple 30 mins on the train from the airport (CDG) to the centre of Paris, and it would be a very cheap trip should you want to use your Avios to book a flight, or use your companion voucher!
When it comes to getting around, I find Paris very walkable if you’ve planned your time there by neighbourhood (as I would advise you do anywhere), but it is a big city, and the metro is super easy and cheap. A single journey will cost you €2.10, but if you plan on using the metro frequently, it’s worth getting a day pass for €13.20. Two days is €21.50, and as you can imagine they go up but at increasingly better value up to 5 days. Bear in mind that if you are going out to CDG, Disneyland or Versailles, you will be going outside of zone 3, so you will need to purchase a ticket that includes zones 4-5. Ubers are popular and reasonable, whilst exploring on foot is an endless feast for the eyes.
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