Oh mon dieu, where to even begin. We recently took the road oft-travelled and went to Paris to see whether it lives up to its hype of being the most visited city in the world. From its worldly charm and radiance to its awe-inspiring monuments and landmarks, here is why you should book your ticket to Paris this instant:
Before we start exploring the neighbourhoods that make Paris so beautiful, giving suggestions on which gym memberships you should be getting so you can stuff yourself with Paris’ delicious food, and tips on where you need to be partying it up while in Paris, let us begin by letting you know about one of the most important things that make Paris so hip and awesome and beautiful: its residents.
Before our vacation, we were warned about Parisians; about their rudeness and dislike of North Americans. It scared us a little to have to interact with people that could potentially not like you. So when it came down to our first interaction with a Parisian, this is what happened: Thanks to Paris' incredible metro system, we had navigated our way to the closet metro stop to our hotel, but could not figure out where to go next. As we walked down rue Belgrand, a stranger approached. We gulped and began withour horrible french “Excusez-moi. Ou est la rue de Bagnolet…”
To our shock, the stranger, a woman in her early 30s, replied with the most beautiful accent ever heard (Parisian. duh) “I’m not 100% sure and I don’t want to lead you the wrong way, so I’ll just wait with you here until someone walks by that knows.” And that she did. She waited until another Parisian walked by and translated her directions. Getting over our shock of not being pelted with rocks, but instead welcomed as tourists with very little grasp of the french language, we thanked her about a million times and walked towards our hotel. This was the first of many interactions with the people of Paris, who not only helped us when we needed them to, but did so eagerly, with complete willingness. And a trick we learned that may have helped us win over all those apparently ‘mean’ Parisians?
Learn a little bit of French
Imagine being approached every single day by a person speaking a completely foreign language, demanding directions to this place or the other. Totally rude, right? Think how Parisians must feel. Don’t fall into the stereotype of being an ignorant tourist and learn to say a few phrases in French. Simple things like “Where is ______” , “How much is ____” , “Excuse me” and “Thank-you” will go a long way. Brownie points if you can memorize some simple menu items so you’re not THAT guy at a French restaurant, loudly asking the waiter “What’s that?!” after every.single.menu.item. Seriously. Who knows…you even may end up falling in love with the language and signing yourself up for French lessons the moment you get off the plane…
Now on to the fun stuff. Paris is split up into 20 arrondisements. Frommer’s has a great intro to each neighbourhood. Here are my some of our highlights:
4th Arrondissement (Ile de la Cité/Ile St-Louis & Beaubourg)
The aristocratic-like 4th Arrondissment is home to two of the most breathtaking Gothic churches in the world; Sainte- Chappelle and Notre Dame. Walk down Ile St.Louis and take the time to admire the beautiful mansions and apartments that line the streets.
If you go: Make sure to visit Sainte-Chappelle on a sunny day – the city’s oldest stained glass windows will astound you.
Our most memorable moment: aside from the obvious – admiring Saint Chappelle and Notre Dame and climbing up the cathedral’s towers to see picturesque Paris – while in line for Saint Chappelle, the crowd was kept amused by a masked man who would walk beside unsuspecting passerbys, taking that opportunity to scare the begeebus out of them once they noticed him. happening. Parisian street comedy at its finest.
7th Arrondissement (Eiffel Tower/Musée d’Orsay)
Because it’s home to one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Eiffel Tower. A definite must see for any first-time tourist to Paris, even if you’ve no intentions of going up the tower.
If you go: Forget what we said about not having intentions; you should really go up the tower. You’re already here. Might as well go all the way up. Trust. This coming from people terrified of heights, who went up to the VERY TOP of the tower and lived to tell the tale. Also? Keep checking the Eiffel Tower’s website. They sometimes hold fun contest and you may even end up winning free passes to the Tower. And free is always pretty awesome!
Our most memorable moment: An impromptu break dance routine at the bottom of the tower.
11th Arrondissement (Opéra Bastille)
Right on the uh…right bank of the Seine, this working class area has become quite the trendy place to be with both a rich mix of immigrants and Parisian “Bobos”, our favourite french term.
If you go: Make a night out of it and get off at Metro Parmentier. Take one of the many winding alleyways and discover some of Paris’ trendiest bars and restaurants!
Our most memorable moment: Finding our favourite bar in all of Paris in this wonderful neighbourhood.
18th Arrondissement (Montmartre)
Perhaps the famous area of Paris, the 18th Arrondissement is home to the city’s top tourist destinations: Montmarte, Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge and place du Tertre.
If you go: Just go. You have to. The view from Sacre-Coeur will always be worth the other tourists and massive crowds.
Our most memorable moment: Listening to an Italian busker serenade hundreds of tourists on the steps of Sacre-Coeur.
20th Arrondissement (Père-Lachaise Cemetery)
Our personal favourite, this authentic Parisian neighbourhood is home to one of the most stunning cemeteries in the world, Pere Lachaise. Parc de Belleville adds to the neighbourhoods charm and at 108m, is the highest park in Paris.
If you go: Visiting Pere Lachaise is a must do.
Our most memorable moment: Falling in love with everything this neighbourhood has to offer, from the incredible Mama Shelter, to the serene Pere Lachaise, to the delicious boulangeries. le sigh.
There is no shortage of delicious food on every street corner of Paris. Here are my top recommendations.
Bread and Roses: Located on Rue Boissy D’Anglas, Bread and Roses has just about the most delicious of everything: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Situated at the back of the restaurant is a New York Style deli selling not only mouth-watering desserts but also high-end and unique grocery items that would make a perfect Parisian gift for any foodie in your life; olive-oil, spanish cured ham, and maple syrup as owner Philip Tailleur goes above and beyond in search of only the best products! And their bread? To-die-for and baked in-house. As for the dinner itself? Bread and Roses offers rich and delicious dinner portions for great prices. Try their duck liver pate as an appetizer. A traditional hamburger for the entree. And famed cheesecake for dessert. You will thank us. It’s to die for. And while you’re sitting around the brightly lit and beautiful eatery, take a quick look around as you never know who you’re going to catch enjoying themselves at Bread and Roses. Fashion’s elite, rock royalty and even Arabian princesses have been known to frequent here.
Au Fil des Saisons: We came across this restaurant while aimlessly looking for another by getting serendipitously lost in some random alley. As we walked by the place, we peaked in to this tiny beautiful place and saw it brimming with life. We decided to give it a try, and the results? Delicious! This traditional Parisian bistro feels not unlike a cozy country-inn upon walking in as the wafts of the season’s most delicious offerings create an urgency to try everything on the menu. If it’s still there, go with the Duck Confit. You are in Paris, after all.
Chez Robert et Louise: Another traditional French bistro, Robert et Louise offers delicious french dishes cooked in an open wood burning fire. Expect to be seated with other patrons at one the restaurant’s long tables, providing a fun and lively atmosphere. Be sure to try their delicious lamb and signature potatoes, which are cooked in goose fat. YUM. A reservation is highly recommended.
As is the case during the day, Paris at night has also plenty to see and do for virtually everyone. Us? We like our bars. Here are our favourites:
Pilli Pilli: Another one of those serendipitous moments, we stumbled uponPilli Pilli while looking for a completely different bar. Walking down Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, we were drawn to the ambience of the place as much as the beauties inside. This ultra adorable watering hole offers a great atmosphere and very reasonably priced drinks (expect to pay 5euros a pint). Even if we are begrudgingly writing about this place because we want to keep it all to ourselves, you should definitely go and experience Paris nightlife how beautiful Parisians do at this ‘trop’ adorable place.
Mama Shelter: Not only is this the most exquisite hotel, Mama Shelter is also one of Paris’ trendiest bars. A great way to meet other people staying at the hotel over a drink at the island bar during the week, the bar is packed to capacity on weekends, hosting DJ and Band nights that will make you want to come here every single night of your stay. Don’t forget to try one of their specialty drinks. We recommend ‘On the Road’. Dare you to order just one.
Fleche D’Or: It’s no secret that there is almost nothing else in life we love more than music. Even when planning a vacation, one of the first things we look at after having booked flights and hotel is the city’s concert listings. Conveniently situated across the street from Mama Shelter, this fantastic music venue has kept some of its old decor from when it used to be a railway station, giving it a very eclectic and open, industrial feel. Expect a lot of up and coming indie bands to play here. Bragging rights for life telling your friends you saw them way back when...in Paris!
Check out the agenda page of their website to see who’s playing at Fleche D’Or next!
Where to Stay
In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, we fell head over heels for Mama Shelter. Read our review here.
Before you go:
Fodor’s Forums are an invaluable resource for anything you’ve ever wanted to know about Paris. Just type in key words into their search engine and get suggestions from thousands of the Forum’s seasoned travellers!
Download the RATP app to your smartphone. You’ll be amazed just how easy it is to find virtually anything in Paris with this app at your fingertips.
Paris’ Convention and Visitors Bureau is a one-stop shop for anything you’ll ever need to know about Paris. From Paris fun facts to accommodation suggestions, don’t hesitate to start your research about the best vacation of your life here!