As one who has spent a considerable amount of time in Paris, studied French for three years of college and seen tons of French films (yes, I am obsessed), I feel qualified – obligated even – to write a guide for those who may find themselves in Paris in the capacity of a tourist.
Paris is a truly magical place and it is no surprise that it’s been a mecca for artists, writers, dreamers and romantics for centuries. However, since most tourists can only stay for a week or two, if one doesn’t know what to expect or doesn’t have a vague plan for their stay, one may simply not get it. So here is some useful information to help people avoid confusion and enjoy all that Paris has to offer.
Photo taken from the magnificent Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
- We’ve all heard that French people hate Americans, right? Well, I can’t tell you if that’s true, but I can tell you that they hate when Americans approach them, speaking English, assuming that they too speak English. It is inconsiderate and borderline rude to make the assumption, especially since most Parisians don’t speak English fluently. If you don’t speak their language, my advice is to buy a book of French phrases intended for English-speaking travelers and learn how to pronounce a few key phrases. “Bonjour/au revoir/merci, madame/monsieur” and “Une baguette, s’il vous plait” will do you a world of good.
- If you aren’t staying with a friend or relative, be frugal when choosing a hotel. After all, you’ll only need a place to sleep, shower and store your luggage, so no need to get fancy. You’ll wanna be spending your money at the museums, boutiques and restaurants… trust me
- This is probably true for most destinations but be sure to pack clothes that you can layer. In my experience, the day can start out cold and gray, then turn sunny, and be followed by snow at night. Be ready to add an extra layer or shed one, if necessary. And remember to carry an umbrella.
- Make a list of all the places you’d like to visit, keeping in mind the length of your stay. Only visit the ones that you really think you’ll love – don’t just shlep from one place to another, from morning to night. You’re on vacation, remember? And always check the website of the museum/restaurant that you have planned for the day to make sure it’s open and to see if you can book a ticket/reservation online to avoid long wait times.
- Check out www.paris-walks.com It’s a small team of English-speaking tour guides who do walking tours of Paris every day, rain or shine. The price varies but the tours are generally super affordable, and the guides are very knowledgeable and passionate about Paris. The tours are themed and there’s something for everyone. I’ve done three and have yet to be disappointed.
- We all know the importance of having a photo of you near every famous landmark up on Facebook to make your friends jealous, but believe it or not, that is not the most important thing about your trip. The most important thing is a the meaning of a little French word that is flâner. Due to our widespread utilitarian nature, a translation of this word doesn’t exist in English. But basically, flâner is to walk the streets aimlessly, to take in the sights, and to get lost in one’s thoughts. This is the ideal Parisian activity and in my opinion, the only necessary one to do while there. One will naturally grow tired of strolling, of course, at which point it is best to find a cafe and sit on the terrasse for a while, drinking wine and watching the passersby. Flâner-ing and cafe-ing is the best way to understand what the city is all about.
And now, the food! Here is a list of restaurants that I thoroughly enjoyed:
La Cremaillere 1900: If you didn’t get it from the name, this Montmartre restaurant has been open for 113 years! We barely have anything in America that has existed for so long… This restaurant is spacious, with ample garden seating in the back, and I’m pretty sure the ritzy decor hasn’t been altered since 1900. Come here to replenish the calories you burned whilst climbing up to Sacre-Coeur and to sample their classic French menu at reasonable prices. Photographed above is their confit de canard with potatoes au gratin. Tip: Ask for some of their homemade mayonnaise to dip your bread into. You will not believe how luxurious mayo can be.
Cafe Etienne Marcel: This unique cafe is just one of the many outposts of a famed Parisian restaurateur team. Their mostly French menu is specked with Thai and Italian influences, and while the food is good, I fell in love with this place for another reason. I rarely recommend a restaurant for its decor but in this case, I simply must. Jewel tone-colored walls, stationary, pleather, booth-like seats, and lighting fixtures that I’m pretty convinced were inspired by A Clockwork Orange, the movie – this place is truly one-of-a-kind.
Cafe Constant: This Michelin-recommended place is a classic brasserie, but with a 21st century menu. The items listed on the carte are recognizable but have been updated just enough to be thought new. It’s located near the Eiffel Tower so you can visit both places on the same day. Photographed below is their parmentier de cuisse de canard: a duck leg braised in red wine served with a mini mushroom shepherd pie and delicate apple fritters, garnished with crispy waffle fries. (I went here for dinner on the day of my arrival on my recent Paris trip, and as soon as I took the first bite it hit me. “Yup. I’m in Paris,” I thought).
Cafe Lateral: While strolling the Champs-Elysees, you may be tempted to pop into one of the poor quality, overpriced restaurants on the main strip. Don’t. Walk two extra blocks down Avenue Mac-Mahon and find yourself at Lateral instead. Enjoy the chic decor, relaxed atmosphere and fantastic food whilst lovingly gazing at the Arc de Triomphe. Ah…
Le 122: This Michelin-recommended restaurant is located practically next door to one of my favorite places in Paris, Musee Rodin. Here, they take classic French flavors and ingredients and make them into art. For 41 euros, you can feast on three delectable courses, which is actually a pretty great deal for a restaurant of this caliber – it’s the fanciest of all the places in this guide. Photographed below is an appetizer of escargots and mushrooms with garlic butter in a puff pastry shell and an entree of seared scallops served atop squid ink risotto and a creamy foam of something that I couldn’t decipher.
Laduree: Of all the places on the Champs-Elysees, this is one worth going into. Ask to be taken to the salon de thé upstairs and enjoy the super lavish decor of velvet drapes and crystal chandeliers. Their desserts are so overpriced compared to a regular pâtisserie – macarons are 2.20 euros each! – but they’re worth it just to be able to spend some time in the vintage-ness of it all.
And, if you are visiting Paris in the warmer months, you simply must have a picnic at least once. Buy yourself some cheeses, a container of grape tomatoes, a baguette and a bottle of wine (yes, you can drink outside!) and park your rear on a patch of grass someplace. It’ll be an absolutely divine experience, I promise!
I hope this guide has been of some help to those of you who have plans to visit the happiest place on earth in the near or far future. If you have more specific Paris questions, feel free to email me.
Have you been to Paris? What was your experience like?