I've spent tons of time in Paris these last couple of years (we're talking over 4 different trips totaling well over a month). Most of my European experiences are a couple of fleeting days in one city before moving on to the next, so I practically feel like a local (of course, I'm sure an actual local would put me in my place). Regardless, I’ve recently found myself answering lots of questions and sharing all my recommendations over and over with people who are planning their own Parisian adventure. So while it's impossible to include everything there is to see and do in one blog post, I've pulled together the places that were my absolute favorite or left the best impression so you can plan where to eat, where to shop, and what you need to see and do while visiting the city of lights.
What are the best places to eat in Paris? You'd have to stay for months to try them all! But if you're looking for a short list, here are a few of my favorites:
This sidewalk cafe is in an idyllic setting in the heart of the 7th arrondissement (my favorite area in Paris). I stumbled upon this gem and decided to give it a try simply because it was adorable, but I ended up discovering the best dessert I've ever had (their crème brûlée à la vanille will change your life). (129 Rue Saint-Dominique)
Strolling along Avenue Montaigne is one of the most quintessential Parisian stereotypes I can muster. The street is brimming with well-manicured trees and well-dressed women. Top it all off with the Eiffel Tower in clear sight as it protrudes over impressive fashion houses like Dior, Chanel, and Céline. I've never felt more sophisticated than I did on New Year's Eve (in my custom Olia Zavozina dress) sipping champagne while watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle from my seat. But don't count on this to be one of the cities best kept secrets, because you've likely seen a paparazzi shot of celebs like Eva Longoria, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber dining here as well (and for good reason). (43 Avenue Montaigne).
While I was in Paris, it was my intention to cover as much territory and experience as many of the charming cafes as possible. But the scallop risotto at Cafe Central was so incredible that I ate there twice in one trip, and I've made a point to return every single time I've been back to the city. I think it's pretty safe to say it's my favorite place to eat in Paris. It's also located on Rue Cler, my favorite (and arguably, the most charming) street in Paris. (40 Rue Cler).
Getting lost in the narrow streets of Montmartre is one of the most romantic things to do in Paris. On an afternoon with no agenda, I stumbled upon Rue de l'Abreuvoir, a quaint and sleepy street where you'll find La Maison Rose. The atmosphere is hard to beat if you're looking for a cozy cafe to embrace laissez-faire. (2 Rue de l'Abreuvoir).
Looking for a charming sidewalk cafe to sit and embrace idyllic Montmatre? Look no further than Le Consulat. You've likely seen this picturesque place on Pinterest, but it's worth visiting in person as well. It offers quintessential Parisian fare such as French onion soup, croque monsieur and frites, and it seems to taste even better whilst sitting outside and people watching. (18 rue Norvins)
There's a lot of incredible pastries in Paris, and you're bound to taste dozens that you'd call "the best you ever had." I was more than satisfied with everything I had tried, but one afternoon at Bread & Roses (another great lunch gem that a friend recommended to me) my server recommended Pierre Hermé if I wanted to try the best macaroon in Paris. Of course I did. So I went immediately upon paying my tab, and life would never be the same. A lot of prominent macaroon establishments (such as Ladurée) have to produce such a high quantity of product that they have to freeze them in the process. Pierre Hermé strategically opens only the number of locations that allow for everything to be made fresh that day, ensuring the highest quality. I had never really eaten macaroons before I went to Paris, so I was by no means an aficionado, but I could most definitely taste the difference. Be prepared to stand in a line, but know it will be worth every second you wait. I recommend their most popular (and unique) flavor, mogador (chocolate + passionfruit) or infiniment rose for another classic. (72 Rue Bonaparte).
You may recognize this famous bookshop from movies like "Midnight in Paris" or "Julie and Julia", but it's history goes much farther back. This English-language bookshop is in the heart of Paris (opposite of Notre-Dame) opened in 1951 at Kilometer Zero, the point at which all French roads begin. Since the first day of business, writers, artists & intellectuals have been invited to sleep among the shop's shelves and books on small beds that doubled as benches during the day. Since then, it's estimated that 30,000 artists have stayed in the bookshop (including Ethan Hawke and David Rakoff). Pick up a classic like "The Sun Also Rises" in the same spot where Hemingway wrote his famous novel, and be sure to get your book stamped with the Shakespeare & Company seal for an unforgettable souvenir. (37 rue de la Bûcherie)
Fragonard is the perfect spot to pick up Parisian souvenirs that aren't a cliche. Everything smells lovely, which makes it both easy and difficult to pick something out to bring home. I've purchased everything from soaps and perfume to cosmetic bags and beautifully embroidered laundry bags. Regardless of what you're looking for, you're bound to find some sort of scent to bring home and remember Paris by. (Multiple locations, including Carrousel du Louvre, but I prefer the one in Montmartre: 1 Bis Rue Tardieu).
I love bringing wine home when I travel that I can't get in the states. Both times that I've been to Paris, the staff at Le Repaire de Bacchus on Rue Cler have gone above and beyond to help me find what I'm looking for. They have a wide selection of high quality (yet affordable) wine and champagne, and lots of options from small growers in various regions of France that don't export to the US- ensuring a bottle with a good story to bring back. (29 Rue Cler).
There are so many things to do in Paris, I don't even know where to begin! Regardless of how long you stay, you can't miss these attractions:
It goes without saying that you have to visit the Eiffel Tower when visiting Paris, but it can be done a lot of different ways (and I highly suggest that you experience as many as possible). If you don't have tons of time, try to carve out at least an hour during the day and a few hours at night. During the day, it's great to sit out on the lawn with a book, bread and wine and give your feet a break from walking all around the city. At night, I loved sitting on the opposite side at Trocadéro by the fountains with champagne (and more bread). Depending on the season/ when it gets dark, the tower sparkles every hour on the hour for 10 minutes, and it's magical to watch. I never grew tired of sitting and marveling at this famous landmark, as cliche as it may sound. It was by far my favorite thing to do during both of my trips. (5 Avenue Anatole).
In the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre, you can't miss Sacré-Cœur (or Sacred Heart) Basilica. Not only is this Roman Catholic church beautifully structured, it also has breathtaking views of the city. Take a picnic lunch (or if you're like me and my friends, a bottle of champagne for breakfast) to enjoy on the steps and take it all in. (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre).
Jardin du Luxembourg
One of my very favorite places in all of Paris is the Luxembourg Gardens, known for its stunning lawns, tree-lined promenades, and gorgeous flowerbeds. It's the perfect place to rest your feet from all the wandering around Saint Germain, people watch, take a book, or bring a picnic lunch. You'll also find a few stands where you can pick up a croissant or other light snack (although I'd suggest picking up take-away from Bread & Roses around the corner, as dining options in the gardens is limited). (6th arrondissement).
Deciding where to stay can depend on a lot of variables (budget, preferred neighborhood, etc.) Head to my Paris Hotel Guide blog post I created specifically to address all of those considerations! For what it's worth, my personal preference is always to stay in the 7th arrondissement (near the Eiffel Tower). It feels quintessentially Parisian + not as touristy as other areas like Notre Dame. Plus, I love being so close to the Eiffel Tower so I can sit and watch it sparkle every night!
OTHER Notes to consider:
The Louvre is wonderful, but beware of selfie sticks and tourists galore. If you're looking to go beyond Mona Lisa and experience a Monet watercolor or Van Gogh's self-portrait, be sure to carve out time to explore my favorite museum in Paris.
It doesn't get more touristy than an open air bus, but I'd argue there's no better way to see the city your first day if you're suffering from jet-lag. I was so excited to see and do everything right away upon arrival, and this allowed me to get a lay of the land and see all the sights (even just for a moment) that I was so excited about.
Paris is an extremely walkable city, but to save yourself time (and give your feet a break!) buy a carnet (bundle of 10 Metro tickets) to get around the city. If you don't have cell service to use Google Maps, the maps posted are easy to understand (and the locals in my experience have been very helpful if you ask- especially if you attempt to do so in French!) Another great option if you're pinched for time is Uber (no different than the states!)
Be sure to pick up a crêpe from a stand and stroll along River Seine. Not only will you see a lot of Paris' most famous landmarks (like Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower) but you'll also see green tents filled with books, paintings, jewelry and other forms of art you can purchase.
This famous boulevard (while mostly touristy chains like H&M) is worth walking along, if for no other reason than marveling at the Arc de Triomphe. If you happen to be in Paris during Christmas, you'll find the Christmas market that's filled with delicious foods and artisan gifts available for purchase. And if you stick around until New Year's Day? Don't miss the celebratory parade!
I'm cutting myself off now, because I could ramble on endlessly for hours and hours. But rest assured, no matter what you plan, you're bound to have the time of your life exploring this incredible city. Paris left a greater impression on me than almost anywhere else I've ever been in the world. So see and experience as much as you possibly can. Pick up French phrases you can speak to your shopkeeper. Sit for hours in the cafes. Pop lots of champagne (santé!) Eat all the croissants, macaroons and other pastries your stomach can handle. And savor every single moment down to it's last drop.