Paris is absolutely one of my favorite cities. And it is by far the prettiest city I’ve ever visited. Paris is a fantastic holiday destination, whether you’re traveling alone, with a friend or partner, or with children. There’s something for everyone. In my opinion, the best times to visit Paris are in the spring and the fall. The weather is pleasant, flowers are in bloom and the crowds are thinner than they are in the summer vacation months. The first time I visited Paris, I traveled alone. My company sent me to get inspiration for our Paris themed Spring collection. I was tasked to take photos, shop vintage, find interesting items at the flea markets, and bring back armloads of pastel confections. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was a magical trip- four days in Paris all to myself. But one of my favorite trips was when I took my mom for her 70th birthday. It was amazing to be able to share one of my favorite cities with her, and see it again through her eyes. Which is why I’m sharing some of my top tips for Paris travel. Plus, my neighbors are planning a trip to Paris, and I decided it was finally time to put some of my Paris knowledge to good use, and help them plan an amazing trip.
Above: Tuileries Gardens
Above: the Eiffel Tower at dusk
The first thing to know about Paris, is that you don’t need to know French to get around, so don’t let lack of language skills deter you. Though it wouldn’t hurt to sprinkle “bonjour,” “s’il vous plait,” and “merci” in your conversations, so you can greet, say please, and thank people as needed. And contrary to popular belief, I’ve found Parisians to be pretty nice and helpful, if you’re polite and friendly. (The exception being a few cafe waiters I’ve encountered.) Secondly, you’ll need Euro, so I recommend taking some out before you leave. If you need more, you can always use the ATMs there, but your bank will probably charge you a fee, so try to keep ATM trips to a minimum. Mostly you can pay for things with a credit card, but it’s good to have cash for things like tipping, taxis and flea markets.
Above: biker on rue de Rivoli; the Palais Royale
Above: the view from Monmartre
As far as packing goes, I’d recommend a good pair of comfortable shoes, since Paris is a great city for walking. Just be aware that Parisiens tend to dress up a little more than Americans. Although this has changed a little bit, as streetwear has become more popular there. So just know that your sneakers + cargo shorts + tank top combo will peg you as a tourist. But if that’s your jam, just embrace it and don’t worry about it. You won’t be alone. I also recommend a cross body bag or secure backpack. Unfortunately, like in many big cities, there is pickpocketing in Paris. I’ve seen children causing a distraction while an adult swipes a phone off a cafe table. Keep your valuables zipped up and on your person and you lessen your chance of problems. I’d recommend keeping your passport at your hotel or rental, unless you plan on doing some big ticket shopping. (purchases over 175 Euro are tax-free if you show your passport and get a Detaxe receipt to turn in at the airport.) I’ve never had any issues, but it’s good to be cautious. Overall, though, Paris is a very safe city to travel in. It also has very good mass transit, which makes getting around a breeze. Theres even a train from the airport that goes straight to Gare du Nord station in central Paris, which is a great way to save money on a taxi, (which is about 55 Euro.) As for where to stay, I’ve stayed in both big fancy hotels and small Air B&Bs. Truthfully, I prefer the freedom of the Air B&B, so you can cook a little, which saves money on food. Whatever your style of travel, there are plenty of top notch travel sites that can guide you to your perfect accommodation, much better than I could. Trip Advisor is always my go-to for hotels. And Air B&B is great for apartment rentals.
But as for what to do when you get here, I do have lots of tips, distilled from my 9+ trips to Paris over the years. So below, please find my top recommendations for what to do, what to eat and where to shop in Paris. Or if you’re not one for rigid itineraries, just head to the city center and start walking- it’s a pleasure to get lost in a city this beautiful.
Sacre Coeur and Monmartre- walk up the sweeping steps to the basilica Sacre Coeur and admire the amazing view of Paris. Head to the Place du Tertre and have a drink in the square watch the artists clamouring to paint tourists. (Monmartre has always been a draw for artists, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renior- all called it home at one point.) Characterized by rustic houses and rambling streets, it’s a nice break from the bustle of central Paris, if you can visit on a weekday.
Notre Dame- the rose window really is beautiful, and worth a visit.
The subways- don’t just take taxis everywhere- travel like a true Parisien. I think riding subways in a new city is an adventure unto itself. Just remember that once you’re on the train, the doors don’t open automatically, like they do in NYC, you have to unlatch them at your stop (if someone else doesn’t do it first).
Louvre- you could truly spend a week here. But don’t- Paris has too much else to offer to spend your whole holiday in a museum. Pick an area to explore ahead of time and head straight to that area for a morning or afternoon. I recommend the Napoleon III Apartments- they are a stunning place to experience the pomp of a historic gilded age.
La Roue de Paris- an enormous Ferris Wheel at the base of the Tuilleries. For unbeatable views of the city, day or night. In the winter, get some hot wine to take up with you.
The Catacombs- not a place to visit if you’re claustrophobic or uncomfortable with the macabre. But if you love history, or anything spooky, this is a fascinating, adventurous experience. Show up early to avoid the lines. 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy
Above: La Roue de Paris; the Catacombs
The Musee des Arts Forains- the museum of Carnival arts, located in 19th century wine warehouses in Bercy. Ride hundred year old carrousels, see turn of the century carnival games, carnival props and decor, attractions and organ music. A truly unique experience in Paris, off the beaten track. Most tours are conducted in French, but you can check their website to see when English tours are offered. However, I went on a French tour, even though i don’t speak French, and had a great time anyway. 53 avenue des Terroirs de France.
The Marais- encompassing the 3rd and 4th arrondissements- this is the historic Jewish quarter of the city. It’s a hodgepodge of narrow streets and Baroque architecture. Head for rue des Rosiers for traditional bakeries, delis and falafel shops. Here you’ll also find the Pompidou Centre and Musee Picasso, along with lots of small boutiques and cafes.
The Pompidou Centre- even if you don’t attend a show, you must see this building in person- it’s so unusual and striking. All the “guts” of the building are routed on the outside of the building, and color coded, making it look like it’s been turned inside out.
Palais Royale- a quiet and picturesque garden and enclosed courtyard near the Louvre. At one end you’ll find the famous black and white column sculptures by artist Daniel Buren.
Tuileries Gardens- the beautiful sprawling gardens next to the Louvre. Great for a springtime stroll.
Opera Garnier- even though it’s not haunted by the Phantom, it’s still a dazzling experience. If you’re facing the opera house, head to the left around the corner, to pick up “day-of” discounted tickets at the box office. 8 Rue Scribe
The Eiffel Tower- get a bottle of wine and some cups and head to the park in the shadow of the tower. Go in the evening and wait for the sparkle to start (every hour on the hour). It’s magic.
Angelina- a fancy little spot off the Tuileries, well loved for their delicious hot chocolate. 226 Rue de Rivoli
Le Castiglione- for steak, or Filet de Boeuf. There are many other great places to have steak in Paris, but his one is my favorite. 235 rue Saint-Honore
Avenue- for fancy lunch while shopping Avenue Montaigne (a mecca for designer boutiques). The sea bass is fantastic. 41 Ave Montaigne
L’As du Falafel- for Falafel in the Marais. 34 rue des Rosiers
Parisien grocery stores- a superb way to save money and eat well in Paris. Get some charcuterie, fresh bread, fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine and have a picnic. Try one of the many Franprix or Monoprix chains that dot the city.
Le 404- incredible Moroccan food for a nice night out. This is my favorite restaurant in Paris. Make a reservation ahead of time. 69 rue des Gravelliers
Cafe de Flore- you’ll find traditional French fare at this left bank institution. 172 bd. St Germain
Mipi- tired of steak frites? Kids want some pizza? This little spot has great pizza and is quick and reasonably priced for the area. 11 Rue Danielle Casanova
Eric Kayser- need a quick breakfast or lunch? Parisiens aren’t big on “food on the go” but here you can get pastries (try the financier de pistache), coffee, pre-made sandwiches and sides, all to-go, and at reasonable prices. 4 rue de l’Échelle
Le Marche des Enfants Rouges- a historic indoor farmers market in the Marias- great for lunch. 39-41 rue de Bretagne
Cafe Marly- a trendy cafe-restaurant with an outdoor dining area overlooking the Louvre’s glass pyramid. 93 rue de Rivoli
Bon Marche or Galeries Lafayette- they are both incredibly beautiful high-end department stores. You probably don’t need to visit both, as they have similar wares. I’d recommend visiting the one that is most convenient to where you are staying. However, the food market at Bon Marche is killer- pricey, but worth a visit. I’ve never seen a more beautiful egg display in my life. Good for little gifts of sweets to bring back to friends. And the lingerie departments at both stores are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the U.S., so if you’re in the market for some new intimates, these department stores are unmissable. Bon Marche: 24 rue de Sevres / Galeries Lafayette: 40 Bd Haussmann
Above: Galeries Lafayette
Above: eggs at Bon Marche’s la Grand Épicerie
Above: La Droguerie; Bon Marche
La Droguerie- if you love crafts, this is the place for supplies- gorgeous yarns, notions, and jars full of feathers, jewels and other tiny treasures. 9-11 Rue du Jour
LaDuree- there are several locations of this patisserie, as famous for their beautiful packaging as their delicious macaroons. 14 rue de Castiglione (or any of their other 8 locations)
Buly 1803- an antique apothecary on the Left Bank, this is hands-down my favorite store in Paris. Walking into the store feels like stepping back in time. You can mix your own potpourri from jars of ingredients that line the walls, create a mix of your own facial scrub or mask, or simply peruse their selection of pre-made beauty products, like soap, perfume, mouthwash and lotions. I’ve found that the staff is friendly, if you are polite, and speaks English very well. Also of note is that the packaging is exquisite- they write your name in Calligraphy on the boxes! 6 rue Bonaparte
Above: Officine Universelle Buly 1803
Clignancourt flea markets, also known as Puces de Paris Saint Ouen- this is one of the largest flea markets in the world. Its made up of 16 different markets, spread over 7 hectares. Walk along the rue des Rosiers for access to most of the markets. If you’re at a loss as to where to start, try Vernaison- its tiny lanes are charming and they have lots of small objects, toys, housewares, glass-wear that are more transportable than say, a 1 ton crystal chandelier, like you’ll see at other markets. 142 rue des Rosiers
Above: the Clingnancourt flea market
Le BHV- a more affordable shopping center in the Marais. I like it because it’s prices are more akin to Macy’s or Nordstrom, while Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette are more like Saks or Bergdorf Goodman. They have adorable kids clothes and a housewares section that’s merchandised like a rainbow. 52 rue de Rivoli
Vintage shops in the Marais- Killiwatch (64 rue Tiquetonne), Free’p’ Star (8 rue Ste-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie), Mam’zelle Swing (25 rue du Roi de Sicile)
High-End vintage, head to Gabrielle Geppert (32-33 Galerie Montpensier, in the Palais Royale), Thanx God i’m a VIP (12 Rue de Lancry), Dieder Ludot (125 Galerie de Valois, Palais Royale).
Mariage Freres- either stop for tea-time, or just stop to shop. Their exquisite teas make great gifts. I can’t leave Paris without a new kind of tea from Mariage Freres. 30-32-35 rue du Bourg-Tibourg
Love Stories- teeny tiny lingerie shop. It’s one of my favorite brands. But it’s better suited for smaller busts, as most of their styles are bralets. They do have beautiful knickers and PJs for everyone, though. 75 rue Vieille du Temple
French pharmacies- these warrant a visit for their ahead-of-the-curve beauty products, at reasonable prices. You’ll see many beauty trends here that haven’t reached the US yet. You can find them by looking for the bright green LED crosses that hang outside each shop.
And there you have it: my top tips for Paris travel. You’re going to have an amazing trip- it’s hard not to in a such a beautiful and culturally rich city. Bon Voyage!