My love affair with France started in college, when I had an apartment in Nice for a semester. It was the longest I had ever been away from home, partly due to the fact that I kept changing my return ticket. After spending most of my life in South Carolina, I was on the adventure of a lifetime — getting lost on trains, trying different foods (even cooking) and entertaining new ideas. So when I think of Paris, I remember that special time and how it shaped the rest of my life.
Paris still has that effect on me. I love the French because they really know how to enjoy life – they clock out of work on time (for the most part), know how to enjoy good wine and take their food very seriously. And they still smoke … because they just don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. And I, for one, can appreciate the sentiment. Je suis Paris.
NOTE: To help guide you through the city and plan your stay, I’ve included arrondissements for each of my recommendations.
…where to crash and get some R&R
Tucked away in my favorite neighborhood in Paris, this boutique hotel is the stuff French dreams are made of, just two steps from your quintessential Parisian scene – rows and rows of cafés in Village Montorgueil. The blue + white décor is exquisite, and while the standard rooms aren’t “roomy,” there’s plenty of space to settle in. The on-site restaurant is AMAZING; some of the best steak tartare and frites in the land and then the decadent chocolate torte will finish you off. What’s more, there’s also a fun happy hour scene in their small, chic bar. If you haven’t caught the hint — stay here! Stay here!
This is a great find, especially if you’re trying not to spend a lot of money on lodging, but still want to stay somewhere nice. And I mean, who spends that much time in their room when in Paris? It’s a great location and for some reason, the shower was particularly memorable. (Get your mind out of the gutter, it was just great pressure and always warm.) Located in the Latin Quarter, it’s next to the beautiful Jardin du Luxemburg and a short distance from St Germain (my second favorite neighborhood).
Right off the Champs Élysées, this hotel is luxury at its finest, but it’s at the heart of all the tourist traps. I stayed here for a couple of days at the end of a trip and it was perfect for getting some shopping in, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend staying in this neighborhood your entire time in Paris. But the hotel? It was the best. Spacious rooms that were more like apartments with chandeliers, velvet furnishings, huge windows and a bathroom that could easily fit 5 people. Plus, the staff was super helpful in directing us to hidden gems in the area. This place will make you feel like you should shop at Chanel, even if you shouldn’t.
I didn’t stay here, but I did eat at the restaurant. (More on that below.) It only took one trip to the lobby bathroom to convince me that this was a hotel I wouldn’t mind booking. The clinchers — a fireplace, library and the amazing hand soap in la toilette. With dark tones throughout, the atmosphere is cozy but also elegant, as you are, after all, in France. If I stayed here, I imagine myself reading a book with a glass of impeccable wine in the lobby. Next time.
If you are hunkering down in Paris for a week and want to immerse yourself in a neighborhood, an apartment may be just what you’re looking for. These are the crème de la crème – beautiful spaces in some of the best neighborhoods. A week in these digs and you’ll be one step closer to being a Parisian with your own boulangerie, café and patisserie. Personally, I love having a night in to relax when I travel, and with your very own apartment, you can go to the market and cook up your own version of French food. Or just have cheese and wine. Pourquois pas?
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
THINGS I MISSED: There is no way to hit every good spot in Paris and there were two in particular I haven’t been to yet — Septime and Chateaubriand. If you go, let me know what you think.
My friend Molly over at This Yuppie Life went to Paris a couple of months before I did and her Champagne tour guide turned her on to this sceney joint. They specialize in steak – big surprise – and comfort foods like Mac & Cheese and Fries. On a cold night in November, it was just what the doctor ordered. My steak was rare like I like it … and one of my favorite of all time. How’s that for dramatic?
At the Hotel de Nell, this up-and-coming scene was suggested by my British friend who said the food was good and the waiters were hot. Neither disappointed. At just 37 Euros for a three-course meal, this was one of my best dining experiences in Paris and a steal. The food was beautifully presented and delicious — the soup with pumpkin & chestnuts and rice pudding were real standouts on the menu.
I started my day at this bakery in St Germain on three different occasions and the main reason was the quiche de fromage. Sounds boring, right? Talk to me after you’ve had it. This is the perfect example of simple food being the best food. A great way to wake up, not only were the pastries phenomenal, but it was the best coffee I found in Paris.
So I have this thing about Michelin restaurants — while the food is impeccable, I usually find them too stuffy. And I like to have fun when I’m out to dinner. And this experience was TONS of fun. Thanks to one of my travel companions, we got VIP treatment in the form of complimentary Veuve and a visit to the kitchen after our meal. The layout of the restaurant is casual but the food is anything but. I split the tasting menu with a friend for a sample of all the best dishes and every bite was fabulous.
For anyone who daydreams about the Paris of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso, a tour of the cafés popular in the 20s is probably on your list. Especially if you’ve seen Midnight in Paris. So grab a book and a journal and head to one of the oldest coffee houses in Paris. Order some cheese and wine and then sit here for hours reminiscing about what conversations went down here years ago. Or just have a great one of your own.
This is your classic French bistro where you guessed it … the escargot is to die for. They have a million different kinds and if you want to try this delicacy, this is a great place to do it, especially if it’s drenched in butter and garlic (my favorite preparation). But if snails make you squeamish, just choose one of the many other classic French specialties, from veal to lamb to steak.
I love this place, mostly because you truly feel like a local. It’s the kind of place you stumble on and can’t believe how good the food or ambiance is. So I suggest you stumble in on purpose. Grab a table outside. Order a bottle of Côte de Rhone. And if you’re like me, order the beef tartare and frites.
… where to drink up and get down
The Board Room (1st)
Located in the basement of the Beef Club, this place (with no web presence) is a hot spot with the line to match. If you’re eating at The Beef Club, ask one of the staff to escort you below — they’ll even find you an open table. Amazing cocktails, a DJ and dark lighting make this the quintessential under the radar late night hipster spot.
It’s hard to find something cool off the Champs Élysées, but this place certainly does the trick if you want to dress up and “go out” without the club atmosphere. Lush red velvet booths and lounge tables greet you as you enter the bar area and the DJ spins house to add to the ambiance. It’s a martini kind of a place and great for noshing on apps if you’ve had one too many decadent dinners. (Guilty.)
This place holds one of my all-time favorite Paris memories — so good that I almost never want to go back. Ever had an experience like that? It was a week after the terrorist attacks and this Italian piano bar that resembled someone’s living room entertained visitors from many countries. The food was good but the company was even better. We all sang together until 2am, drinking wine and shouting requests at the piano man. And when John Lennon’s Imagine was played, there were definitely a few tears welling in my eyes.
If a local hadn’t shown me this place, I would never have known it existed.
It’s got a speakeasy vibe with lots of dark, hidden rooms and specialty cocktails that will do the job and do it well. Try the St Germain because, well, it’s good and it’s only appropriate as an ode to the neighborhood.
If you want romance, this place is for you. At the rooftop of The Peninsula, this restaurant has unparalleled views of the Eiffel Tower in a sophisticated setting. Read between the lines and dress appropriately. But this place isn’t only for lovers — the veranda is a perfect spot to watch the sunset and sip the serious cocktails that are more like works of art than drinks. Cheers to you!
I JUST BOUGHT THESE PANTS
…where to nab the best threads
One of my favorite French brands, Maje is everything I love about French fashion — feminine details with an edge that make even the most simple designs stand out in the crowd. You can find it in the US, but it’s much cheaper in France. Plus, if you spend enough money (like me), you can get taxes (VAT) refunded at the airport. Locations all over Paris.
You’re gonna need a strong coffee and a game plan before heading into this grand magasin. The architecture alone is cause to give this a visit, but be warned, droves of tourists are awaiting you there. So once you’re over the initial shock, make your way to the floor of your choice and browse your favorite brands, delicately organized into little boutiques.
It’s a no brainer that you need to buy wine in Europe. A 10 Euro bottle of wine is like $50 when ordered off a menu in the US. This wine shop has you covered — I’m sure they’ll ship it back for you but I usually just pack a couple of bottles for the journey home, thanks to the Vinni Wine Bag. Not a drop spilled yet!
A dessert lovers dream, this Parisian establishment is filled with chocolate, macarons and pastries. Plus, every treat is just so gorgeous and so very exquisitely French. The line is long but goes pretty quickly and it’s a great place to buy gifts complete with their signature green and gold packaging. Let them eat cake!
This was a stop on my private tour with Excellency Paris Tours (see below) and a major highlight for cheese lovers (that’s me!). Inside this fromagerie are wheels and wheels of wonderful cheese — from goat, sheep, cow to creamy, firm, truffle-infused and stinky blue. Plus, they’ll vacuum pack it so you can carry it home on the plane. (Shhh … dairy isn’t technically allowed in your bag.)
I am, admittedly, a book nerd. I could peruse a bookstore for hours, getting lost in the titles and I’m usually a bit too ambitious about how much I can read. So I HAD to get to this legendary bookstore in Paris. After a history lesson from my tour guide, I bought a book on Louis XIV and the best part is, they customize your book with their signature stamp at checkout!
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…what to do when you can’t sit still
Ok, I get it. You have to go to the Louvre. So go … and may I point you in the direction of the sculptures and Napoleon’s apartments? Now, go next door to the L’Orangerie, full of impressionist works and the Musée d’Orsay for the building alone (it used to be a train station). And if you love fashion, the Palais Galliera has some kick-ass exhibits. To avoid lines, get your tickets in advance, especially if you are going during the holidays or summer.
This recommendation came from my hair stylist and it was such a unique way to experience the beautiful stained glass and natural acoustics in Sainte Chapelle. Located on Ile de la Cité next to Notre Dame, you can catch a classical concert such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that will truly move you. Plus, you will feel super cultured and sophisticated and worthy of being in Paris.
Step inside and enter a different time in history where you can imagine true grand entrances via the Grand Stairway in a sweeping ballgown. Or, at least that’s what I did. The foyer and veranda are both breathtaking, ornately decorated in gold and accentuated with grand chandeliers. (Everything is grand.) And the theatre isn’t bad either — the ceiling is a masterpiece à la Chagall. I suggest at least taking a tour because my words won’t do it justice, and if you’re lucky enough to be there in season, buy tickets to an opera. It’s next on my list.
I am always skeptical of tours – they can be cliché and boring. This was nothing like that as I was immediately charmed by Iuliana’s love of Paris. We covered some ground during our full-day customized tour that included Le Marais, St Germain and the Ile St Louis, yet still had time to have a leisurely 2-hour lunch at a creperie. Not only did we learn a lot of French history, but also enjoyed a café crème, tasted cheese and noshed on pastries along the way. A great way to get to know Paris … or just get reacquainted.
Grab a picnic lunch and some vino and take in the scene. The weather doesn’t matter — even if it’s cold, you’ll find Parisians appropriately bundled enjoying the fresh air. It’s free to peruse the gardens, ponds and fountains. Oh, and there’s a huge palace on the grounds commissioned by Marie de Medicis now turned museum. And if you’re a runner, it’s a great place to lace up.
This is worth the metro ride and the hike for the view alone — arguably the best views of Paris. Certainly step inside the church, but the real beauty is climbing the tower where you can just revel in the panoramic views of the City of Lights. Bring your good camera and snap away but don’t forget to just take it all in.
This is one of the oldest planned squares in Paris, former home to both royalty and nobility before they moved into the Louvre. In other fun facts, Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables in a hotel located inside the square. (There’s now a museum dedicated to the writer there.) Today, it’s a great place to stroll, peruse the many art galleries and sit a café for a couple of hours.