This is the first post in a series of a guide to Paris, organized by area. Here we are starting with central Paris - the area bordering the Seine where you will certainly head to, especially if it's your first time. This is where you can find all the must-sees: the Louvre, St. Germain, the Palais Royal and the long lines for a teeny scoop of salted caramel ice cream at Bertillon.
The central part of Paris is probably the Paris you pictured before you went for the first time. It's pale beige limestone buildings, with slate grey roofs and wrought iron balconies. It's windows framed with wooden shutters and adorned with flowers, parks with rolling lawns shaded by neat rows of linden trees with their thin, flat green leaves that catch the sunlight. It's the sun reflecting off the waters of the Seine, and cafés with woven rattan chairs spilling out into the sidewalk. It can also be, especially during popular holiday times, masses of people, rows of tour buses, selfie sticks waving in the air, long lines, and pricey not-so-great espressos.
It's still probably the first area you should head to if it's your first day or first time in Paris, to really make it feel like you're *there*. And although some of the lines cannot be avoided, know that even in this most well-traversed of areas there are quiet alleys, hidden gems and great, (fairly) reasonably priced cups of coffee.
11:30AM MY FAVORITE PETIT PETIT DEJEUNÉR:
From the same team as Verjus (which you should definitely go to as well), Ellsworth also does small plates and it is one of my favorite breakfast spots in Paris. Small plates for breakfast means you can get eggs and fried chicken AND a yogurt parfait and not leave stuffed. And of course since this is no Denny's the scrambled eggs are dotted with morel mushrooms and swirls of homemade ricotta and pesto while the strawberry parfait looks like that (below).
My mom actually declared this her favorite meal in Paris and was sad to find out that the team behind it were amèricaines...
12:00PM THE PERFECT DAYTIME PICNIC SPOT:
Not revolutionary by any means - and this will be obvious by how packed it will be on a sunny day - but the Luxembourg Gardens are a great spot to have a picnic. Lots of lawn space, chairs to read in, leafy paths, lawn bowling and the last time I went - miniature pony rides? Bring a book, a blanket, fruit, some pastries from Pierre Hermé, a baguette, some charcuterie and a bottle of wine - and you're all set. If the weather turns on you, the trees provide some decent coverage from the rain.
1:14PM WHEN YOU HAVE AT LEAST A HALF DAY TO SPARE:
It's huge, and there are lines and the Mona Lisa is pretty underwhelming. But. It is awe-inspiring, from the architecture of this grand former palace to standing a couple inches away from iconic art pieces and thousand year old relics. The Louvre can feel like a treasure hunt: make sure you look up at the ornate ceilings (especially the Cy Twombly painted one in the Objets d'Art wing), down at the intricately patterned marble tiled floors, and around nooks and crannies, where the less notorious but at times most fun pieces are tucked away. Get there early, wear comfortable shoes, and the lockers make life much easier if you are carrying a lot of stuff (shopping, umbrellas, et. al). My favoritest wing is the Objets d'Art one, with all the gem-studded, exotic leather covered, solid gold monogrammed and mother-of-pearl inlaid royal artifacts. Although it is a symbol of the preposterous wealth inequality at the time it is fascinating to look at everyday items like hairbrushes, tea cups, and snuff boxes that cost more than anything I've ever touched in my life.
4:37PM FOR AN ESPRESSO TO REFUEL POST-LOUVRE:
After getting your 10,000 steps in at the Louvre the beautiful Café Marly is right on site and the perfect place to catch your breath (and maybe some wifi to post that Mona Lisa snap) for a bit. Although prices are a little steep, an espresso and freshly squeezed orange juice shouldn't break the bank. The outside terrace is lovely and faces the iconic Louvre pyramid while the inside is all rich reds, velvet black and touches of gold. The waiters are notoriously rather good-looking and last time we were there, there was a friendly calico cat chilling underneath one of the tables inside the restaurant. A little something for everyone.
5:16PM WHEN YOU WANT ICE CREAM BUT DONT'T WANT TO RUIN YOUR APPETITE:
It's pricey no doubt and there will be lines but the salted caramel is unequivocally worth it. Plus if you have a whole day of eating planned, take comfort (or glass half full it) in the fact that the scoops are definitely on the small side. And IMHO, the extra euro for the seasonal fraises des bois is not worth it, go for the regular strawberry (or double up on caramel au beurre salé).
There are actually carts that sell Berthillon all over Paris so if you don't want to wait in lines, or go to Ilê-St-Louis you certainly don't have to. The island is worth a peek though, especially the quieter outer streets that are more residential.
6:30PM WHEN YOU MISS HOME ALREADY:
It's not the *best* burger in Paris and it's not a budget spot. But it's a pretty decent burger, and most of all there is something fun about eating cheeseburgers, tomato soup, and cobb salad in a stately French courtyard, smack dab on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
8:11PM FOR THE BEST SUNSET PICNIC VIEWS:
Although you could go up to the fancy restaurant at the top of the Eiffel tower, I much rather sit at the edge of cobblestone paths on the Quai de Seine, legs swinging above the lapping waves of the river, with a bottle of wine and a bite of bread and cheese. For free. As the sun goes down you can witness the full color spectrum of the Seine: the water goes from a forest green, to a dark grey, then a pale orange-pink as it reflects the light of the sunset, and finally an inky midnight blue. The area facing the Eiffel Tower (shown above) or Notre Dame (down below) are especially scenic as the sun goes down. If it's a nice day, you will see many Parisians following your cue.
9:24PM BEST MEAL AT A COUNTER:
If you can't get a seat at the perpetually packed restaurant Le Relais du Comptoir head on over to the more casual stand-up counter operation next door, L'Avant Comptoir. The menu is hung up on the rafters, and anything pork is a solid choice - especially the jambon. If in season the white asparagus might be one of my favorite dishes in Paris. Order a glass of wine and make (generous) use of the communal baskets of bread, giant mound of butter and giant-er jar of cornichons. If the bartenders take a liking to you, you can use the Sharpies to leave your initials (at least until the next time they wipe them clean) on the tiles that line the walls.
10:45PM FINISH THE NIGHT WITH A COCKTAIL OR TWO:
Prescription Cocktail Club is right off a busy portion of St. Germain, but as soon as you walk into the small bar, you are transported to another world. The shades are always drawn, candles are the only source of light, and the murmur of conversation and clinking glasses mix in with the background music. The drinks are strong and the mule and anything with mezcal are sure shots.
9:01AM AND OF COURSE, SUPPLIES FOR ALL THESE PICNICS:
Uhh actually that's the restaurant Claus, but on the opposite side you have Claus the store (below), that sells pastries, coffee, juices, yogurt, jams, chocolate hazelnut spread...you get the idea. With some charcuterie (from Gilles Verot if you want the best) and a baguette from wherever (there is a La Parisienne nearby), maybe some of the passion fruit macarons from Pierre Hermé, and some libations; I think you'll be all set.
9:47AM WHAT TO DO ON THE DIMANCHE WHEN THE RESTAURANT YOU WANT TO GO TO IS CLOSED:
The Marché Biologique Raspail in St. Germain is one of my favorites. It is certainly not one of the more affordable markets as everything is 'bio' (organic) but you can find a wide selection of breads, meats, fish, cheeses, & produce as well an assortment of clothes, Turkish towels, carved olive wood cutting boards and other home goods. I highly recommend the Middle Eastern flatbreads fresh from the griddle, the fruit & nut breads and the onion pancakes from the 'onion pancake man' at the end of the market. There may be a short line but have your exact change ready and bite into this perfectly browned mixture of griddled cheese and shaved onions.
10:58AM COFFEE AND COOKIES WITH A VIEW:
The Maison Kitsuné café in the Galerie de Valois probably has one of the most pleasant little backyards ever - just casually inside the Palais Royal gardens. Grab a coffee or a matcha latte and some of their (gluten free) kitsuné shaped shortbread cookies and head out to the tables in the back. If you are so inclined the Acne store nearby is a good one.
12:17PM WHEN YOU COME IN AUGUST, AND EVERYTHING IS FERME POUR VACANCES:
Yes Le Relais de l'Entrecôte is a chain and the line out the door has a lot of fellow tourists. In fact the first time I visited the restaurant, I was not in France at all but in São Paulo in Brazil. But they serve good food efficiently, year-round. The menu is also rather (extremely) streamlined as they only serve one thing: entrecôte (rib-eye steak) with their famous sauce, fries and a simple green salad. The only decision you make is whether you want salad or not, and to what doneness you want your steak done. Their sauce is quite tasty, the service is très efficient and the fries are bottomless (!): in other words this is the closest thing you can probably get to a French version of fast food.
1:45PM WHEN THE LINES FOR NOTRE DAME ARE TOO DAMN LONG:
The stunning Saint-Chapelle is probably my favorite cathedral in Paris (and right around the corner from Notre Dame on Ilê-St-Louis). When the sun is shining through the colorful stained glass windows in the morning you can see rays of magenta pink, royal blue and golden yellows streaming into the church. The lines and crowds are minimal compared to its more famous brethren like Notre Dame and Sacré-Couer and it feels like being inside a jewel box.
2:37PM WHEN YOU HAVE SOME MONEY TO BURN:
Hard to beat Rue Saint-Honoré if you are after some *fancy* stuff to bring home. Remember that the tax-back minimum is 175 euro, so if you reach that amount you can get a form to get about 12% of your purchase value back to you by just scanning and dropping off the forms at the VAT Refund kiosks in the airport. If you shop at department stores like Le Bon Marché you can also get your VAT refund on the spot. Some of the stores can get packed - the teensy Hermès stores will ask you to come back later if they are full and it can be a bit trying to get someone to assist you at some of the more popular stores like the perpetually packed Louis Vuitton. This is yet another opportunity to get some macarons at Pierre Hermé and chill. If you are after something a little less stodgy, the Colette store always has fun clothes and merchandise.
3:50PM BEST SUNNY DAY WALK:
The Tuileries on a nice day is a truly joyful experience with a wide expanse of rolling green grass, colorful flowers, and the ferris wheel ever slowly spiraling in the background. And on a sunny day the airy all-white Museé de L'Orangerie seems particularly vivid, with the purples and teals of the grand Monets hugging the curved walls seemingly sparkling. When I was there in the spring a blanket of tiny white flowers was covering the shadier parts of the grass and sprouting out of cracks in the walls, the tulips were in full bloom and purple and pink flowers were cascading out of the somber stone vases.
5:48PM BEST RAINY DAY WALK:
The Musée d'Orsay is housed in a former train station built in the late 1800s and the building alone is worth a look, with its domed glass ceilings and grand Beaux-Art style clocks spread throughout. It houses mostly French art from the mid 1800s to early 1900s including Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh and my favorite painting in the world by Gustave Caillebotte. It can be crowded but it has an interesting mix of art and is easy to do in an hour or two. I especially love the room with art inspired by Asia and the Middle East, which has a different feel from the rest of the depictions of mostly Europe-centric art. With no gardens or outdoor areas, it is a good one to head to when it starts to pour.
7:36PM WHEN YOU FEEL THAT (FUTURE) VAT REFUND BURNING A HOLE IN YOUR POCKET:
Hotels like the Plaza Athenée and the Hôtel Costes have beautiful interiors, with leafy courtyards, impeccable decor, and minimally lit, maximally luxurious bars all mahogany panels, eggplant purple velvet and flickering candles. And 19 euro cocktails. But hey, the spiced almonds, chips and olives are free so...
8:55PM FOR A TRADITIONAL FRENCH DINNER AND NOT A MICROGREEN IN SIGHT:
Polidor was recommended by a friend of my dad's who lived in Paris. It serves up no-fuss French food in a decidedly cozy and unpretentious atmosphere. The prices are extremely reasonable and the crowd leans older and French-er. The blond lentil cream soup was served simply with a few torn hunks of bread. The beef carpaccio was sprinkled only with grated parmesan and came with a hefty side of French fries. Lastly, the blueberry Bavarois was feathery light, swimming in a pool of inky purple coulis. There was not a shred of green in sight but fear not, if this seems a little too French: after handing me the fries the waitress whispered that 'of course we don't normally serve it - but if you want we do have le ketchup in the back'.
Ces't tout for now! Last update June 16, 2017.