This post originated as an email that I’ve sent to many people who are going to Paris for the first time, so instead of continuing to have to email this list out, I’m putting it here for posterity. Bear in mind, I am not a Michelin Guide, these recommendations are based on my own experiences in Paris and my preferences as a woman who usually travels to Paris alone while my husband is on business elsewhere in the country. I prefer to be away from major tourist destinations and instead like to rent an apartment somewhere in a neighborhood that has a bunch of bakeries/cafes nearby, close to the Metro, and crowded enough where I feel safe walking around after dark. Paris is my favorite city in the world, so I hope you it as much as I do!
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
– Reservations recommended at this restaurant run by the Levha sisters, Katia & Tatiana. They are Filipino/Russian and raised in France, and their food reflects that. They had a super memorable asparagus dish flavored with adobo sauce when we went. Don’t miss the blood sausage wontons! (32 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011)
Mobilis in Mobili
– Great place for seafood, they do seafood platters at quite reasonable prices (you’ll pay triple the price in the US, for sure). Many come here for lunch for a quick bowl of moules-frites for 10 euros. Sometimes if you book through LaFourchette.com (French version of OpenTable), you can get a major discount on your food. (94 Rue Saint Denis, 75001)
– Right next door to Le Comptoir de Relais (also owned by Yves Camdeborde), this standing room-only spot is perfect for mid-afternoon “apero” (happy hour) where you can order several small plates, a glass or two of wine, and maybe a charcuterie board – adjust quantities to your level of hunger. Take full advantage of the bread and butter, it’s beurre Bordier
, the Bentley of the butter world.
– Classical French food in a very classic French bistro now owned by Alain Ducasse. Go for lunch and get the formule midi
, a lunch special at 35 euros (expensive by French standards) where you’ll get the trio of entree-plat-dessert. On our last visit, I had artichauts barigoule, blanquette de veau, and chocolate mousse – it was divine. (41 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006)
Le Petit Canard
– Super rustic, tiny, duck-centric restaurant in the 9th. Amazing baba au rhum. Actually everything was good. Open fairly late for Paris standards. Their menu is available in like 5 languages, and the owner is a very kind man who was the smiliest Parisian I’d ever seen.
Roger La Grenouille
– Open late, casual restaurant serving classic French favorites – particularly frog legs. Deep fried is the only way I really like them, but they do them in wine sauce as well as in a burger form.
Others worth mentioning: Clown Bar, Yamtcha (mentioned on A Chef’s Table France), L’As du Fallafal (super popular = long line, but fairly cheap and my cousin swears it’s the best falafel she’s ever had), Septime ($$$), L’Astrance ($$$$), L’Ami Jean, Chez Paul Bert. For something sweet, get French hot chocolate (chocolat chaud) at Angelina or Les Deux Magots.
I’ve never run into a truly bad bakery in France, so you’re pretty safe when it comes to croissants/pain au chocolate/morning pastries – you can go just about anywhere. Some favorites: Du Pain et Des Idees, Eric Kayser, Le Grenier a Pain (more here). They don’t really do American-style drip coffee in most places, so you should order an Americano or a cafe creme (if you take milk in your coffee). If you want truly great coffee, go to Holybelly, Fondation Cafe, Cafe Coutume, Loustic, Kitsune, Telescope, or Peloton.
If you want more original items, Le Marais is a great place to find super unique boutiques. My favorite shop by far is Merci
(111 boulevard Beaumarchais), they carry clothing, jewelry, home goods – all very beautifully curated and not super expensive. It is a classification of store known as a “concept store” which there are quite a few of in Paris.
There is shopping practically everywhere in Paris:
- Rue St. Honoré/Rue de Rivoli/Place Vendome in the 1st/2nd is upscale shops (Longchamp, Chanel, etc),
- Le Bon Marche & Grand Epicerie de Paris in the 6th (lots of shops in the surrounding streets).
- Boulevard Haussman (8th arr.) is home to the Galeries Lafayette (department store) and shops (Place de la Madeleine)
- Les Arcades, the covered passageways, are also home to some hidden away boutiques and restaurants
- Champs-Elysees: to be fair, I haven’t actually shopped here but only because I don’t like shopping in these stores that we already have here in the US (Zara, Louis Vuitton, etc).
If you want to go out for a drink, Paris isn’t really a cocktail town like New York or Los Angeles, but there are a few places worth visiting! Check out this site, she is a cocktail reviewer and her guides are spectacular: http://www.52martinis.com/
- Dirty Dick – Tiki bar in the 9th near the Opera. Fun.
- Hotel Costes – where all the beautiful people hang out.
- Le Tres Particuler – a bit out there since it’s in Montmartre, but very cool.
- Frenchie Wine Bar – Sister restaurant to Frenchie. 6 Rue du Nil, 75002
NEIGHBORHOODS (Arrondissements) & Where to Stay:
1st Arrondissement: Near the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Notre Dame, Rue St. Honore shops. Pros: super centrally located, lots to see. Random fact: there’s a little pocket of Japanese/Asian restaurants tucked into an area near the Boulevard de l’Opera. Cons: Super touristy. Beware of pickpockets and people shoving clipboards in your face to distract you as they steal your things (pretty much a general rule in Paris). Accommodations here will be expensive.
2nd: Rue Montorgueil & Etienne Marcel are two trendy streets with lots of cafes/restaurants. Pros: Also very central, less crowded than the 1st. Cons: Very small neighborhood, also home to textile industry so you may hear trucks early in the morning. Accommodations here may be expensive.
3rd/4th: Le Marais/Île Saint-Louis– The Marais is a very hip/trendy neighborhood that is also the gay district and the Jewish quarter. Pros: Excellent shopping and restaurants, pretty central. Cons: Lots of students so can be a bit noisy at night. Accommodations here will be expensive. The 4th is also home to the Île Saint-Louis, where you can get some of the best ice cream ever at Berthillon.
5th: Latin Quarter, where the Sorbonne is. I’ve walked around at night thinking it was going to be a pretty lively neighborhood and it was pretty calm. Should be fairly quiet over the summer, however, that may translate to “empty”.
6th: Saint-Germain-Des-Pres – my favorite area. Full of great restaurants and shops, like CityPharma (stock up on well-priced, cult favorite French skincare here). Historic cafes de Flore and Deux Magots are here too – great for people watching, just a bit on the spendier side. Accommodations here will be expensive, unless you stay towards the edge of the 6th near Montparnasse. I love it here, and found it pretty central.
7th: Eiffel Tower. The area is beautiful. Mostly residential, mostly old money, not a lot to do, except maybe try to figure out which house is Karl Lagerfeld’s. Don’t stay here, you’ll be bored out of your mind.
8th: Champs-Elysees/Bordering Opera & Palais Garnier. Galeries Lafayette is here (which is beautiful, but also just a shopping mall/department store). If you need help with your iPhone (which I did), the Opera location is the best location, IMHO. I did find that the Airbnb options were reasonable here, which is great since it’s a pretty upscale area and central.
9th/10th/11th: Pigalle/Canal-Saint-Martin/Bastille. A little further out, but because of that will be less expensive. The 10th and 11th are where a lot of the newer restaurants are (Le Chateaubriand, Le Servan, Clown Bar, Clamato, Septime). It’s spread out, so some parts can be a bit sketch – beware of the senior citizen prostitution hangouts off of Rue Saint Denis.
12th-20th: Too far from everything, in my opinion, but much more affordable and residential that the other neighborhoods. Even Montmartre is a bit far for my taste, but worth a day trip for the Basilica and the view from the hill. Plus, you can take the gondola up the hill so you don’t have to walk, useful if you have a stroller.
GENERAL TIPS ON BEING A TOURIST IN PARIS
- If you need to know one rule of etiquette in France, it is to always ALWAYS say “Bonjour” when entering a shop/establishment and ALWAYS say “Au revoir” or “Merci” when you leave. If you rush into a cafe and start giving your order to the person behind the bar without doing so, they might be inclined to stand there, give you a dirty look, and then pointedly say, “Bonjour” before even beginning to address your request.
- If you speak French, attempt it – most of the time French people appreciate the effort. If you don’t, no worries – most Parisians speak a little English.
- Wear comfortable shoes – my feet had never hurt so much before I visited Paris for the first time. The key is, wear sneakers that aren’t trainers (you’ll see 50% of Parisians wearing Adidas Stan Smiths or some variation thereof).
- Tipping is not required, but it is recommended.
- Getting the check at a restaurant can take forever – the style of service is not a “turn over tables really quickly” pace like in the US, they generally won’t come by too often.
- Avoid getting pickpocketed by keeping your belongings on you, and preferably, in front of you (i.e. in a crossbody bag with a zip top). Don’t leave anything of value in your stroller. Don’t leave your cash all in one place (I tend to stash a bill in a front pocket so I don’t have to take out my whole wallet). Pickpockets in France are no joke, they are super stealthy – I had my wallet stolen while I was on the train and had my hands full. I looked down and my zipper-top purse was open and wallet gone.
- If someone approaches you with a clipboard, or is aggressively trying to sell you stuff, just say NO firmly (or simply ignore them) and keep walking. The clipboard is another pickpocket tactic, and sellers of trinkets in high tourist areas can be very aggressive.