20 Ultimate Things to Do in Paris
September 16, 2013 5:26 pm(2 comments) Post a comment
Explore the Musée d'Orsay
Housed under the soaring roof of one of Paris's grand old Beaux Art railway stations, the recently renovated galleries of the Musée d'Orsay contain the world's largest collection of Impressionist masterpieces by the likes of Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gaugin, and many others. With two excellent cafés and a magnificent restaurant original to the train station, dining is a breeze and guided tours of the museum highlights in English are available every day (see the museum website for times and scheduling). There's also a fabulous bookstore for stocking up on gifts.
Visit the Musée Rodin
Once the great sculptor's studio, this stately 18th-century mansion is one of Paris's most beautiful museums and contains more than 6,000 of Rodin's sculptures, including his great masterpieces The Thinker, The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell, along with 8,000 drawings and gouaches. The lovely grounds of the Musée Rodin, complete with a fountain, rose gardens, and a pleasant outdoor café make for a delightful afternoon outdoors. The museum also hosts special exhibitions and a cycle of exhibits on contemporary works.
Enjoy the Palais-Royal Gardens
Far from the noise and bustle, these serene formal gardens and elegant shops tucked behind the walls of a 17th-century palace are a delightful haven and one of Paris's best-kept secrets. Once a royal residence, the hushed arcades and manicured gardens of the Palais-Royal are now home to world-class perfumers, antiquaires and designer boutiques—including Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, and Pierre Hardy-and two of France's most important glove makers (Maison Fabre and Lavabre Cadet). Enjoy lunch or teatime outdoors or splurge like Zola, Proust, and Colette did at the gorgeous Grand Véfour restaurant.
Explore the Promenade Plantée and Promenades des Berges
This three-mile walkway of verdant gardens atop the Viaduc des Arts, a former railway, includes flower gardens, climbing rose arbors, fountains, sculptures, and some wonderful vistas of Paris streets and architecture seen close-up. A refreshing respite, the Promenade Plantée a great place for an early morning jog or shopping at the artisan galleries housed under the arches below.
The brand new Promenades des Berges along the Seine that begin just in front of the Musée d'Orsay has something for everyone. In summer, take in an outdoor movie, live music, or have a drink at the floating cocktail lounge while enjoying gentle breezes from the Seine.
Stroll the Luxembourg Gardens
Nothing says Paris like the Luxembourg Gardens. Bordered by Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, these lovely gardens are beloved by Parisians longing to bask on a lawn chair in the sunshine or enjoy an impromptu picnic. Children of all ages race their sailboats in the basin behind the Sénat, romp in the enclosed children's' playground, take in a puppet show, or ride the city's oldest merry-go-round. A favorite circuit for joggers and amblers, the many paths are also perfect for an afternoon stroll past espaliered orchards and the old apiary, where beekeeping is taught and the honey is sold in the fall. Don't miss the excellent art exhibits at the renowned Musée de Luxembourg.
Walk the Ile Saint-Louis
Just behind the Notre-Dame gardens, the Pont Saint-Louis pedestrian bridge leads to the atmospheric streets and lively shopping of the Ile Saint-Louis. A perfect walk for flaneurs just taking in the majestic facades and quiet courtyards of beautiful 17th-century mansions, this peaceful island is truly an oasis. Enjoy traditional Parisian fare at the Brasserie de l'Isle Saint-Louis or sample one of the 90 scrumptious flavors of handmade, all-natural ice creams and sorbets—in flavors like wild strawberry, noisette, rum raisin, and white chocolate—at Bertillon, Paris's most famous ice-cream maker.
Ride the Bateau Mouche
There's nothing quite like seeing Paris from a boat on the Seine—and there's no lack of boats to choose from. See Paris's graceful bridges up close along with the city's most famous landmarks on a relaxing 2 to 4 hour boat ride. The bateaux mouches offer everything from a gourmet meal, a flute of champagne or just sightseeing with commentary. Another option: the Bateau Bus operates continuously from 10am until 9:30pm every 20 minutes from eight stops around Paris. For 15€ you can hop on or off wherever and whenever you like all day long. Stops include the Musée d'Orsay, Louvre, Eiffel Tour, Champs Elysées, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Lunch at Bistrot Paul Bert
Serving classic French fare with a gourmet twist in a bustling, high-energy atmosphere, Bistrot Paul Bert is a quintessentially Parisian bistro, and one of the best and most popular with the foodie crowd. Classics like golden pomme frites and côte de boeuf, a superb sole meunière, or more rarified dishes, like duck and roasted pear keep the crowds coming back. Ingredients are seasonal, the cheese plate overflowing, and the wine list superb. Best of all, it won't break the bank. What's not to love about that?
Cocktails at Le Meurice
Once the domain of a few choice hotels, cocktail bars in Paris, like most cities around the world, are proliferating faster than bunnies. This is all good news, but if you want an experience that really says Paris, hotel bars are still some of the best. With the storied Hemingway Bar at the Ritz closed for renovations, Le Meurice's Bar 228 is picking up the slack and then some. Along with masterfully prepared cocktails you'll be treated to all the extras that transform a drink into an experience. Wine lovers can try the 228 Nocturnes, wines paired with special canapés (90€).
Saturday wine tasting at La Dernière Goutte
A convivial wine shop if there ever was one, Cuban-American owner Juan Sanchez and his staff of knowledgeable wine lovers at La Dernière Goutte host a popular tasting every Saturday from 11:30 am until closing. A favorite neighborhood cave of wine-loving expats and Parisians alike, all the wines on offer—mostly natural or biodynamic—are meticulously handpicked from small producers in every region of France. By the time you leave you'll know something more about wine, and you may even have met a new lifelong friend.
Window Shopping on Rue Saint-Honoré
If designer shopping and elite French brand names set your heart all aflutter, get thee to the rue Saint-Honoré. The favorite haunt of fashionistas the world over, here you'll rub elbows with everyone from Japanese DJs to Saudi Princesses. Whether it's the ultra-hip (Colette, Damir Doma, Comme des Garçons), French status labels (Goyard, Hermès, Chanel), or something a bit less pricy but every bit as stylish as the big boys (Zara, & Other Stories) you're sure to find it here. Beginning at the Palais Royal and ending at the Elysée Palace, it's an afternoon prowl to satisfy the most indefatigable shopper.
Shopping at Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
A world unto itself, the 150-year-old market is the world's largest and most famous flea market. Within the Marché aux Puces‘s labyrinthine alleys and stalls can be found every imaginable curiosity and treasure at a price for every pocketbook—from vintage couture and antique luggage to gilded mirrors and burnished silver, there is truly something for everyone. Even if you don't love antiques, you'll still adore the market's ambiance, totally unique to Paris. Just opened in June, the new Village Vintage offers the best of mid-century modern fashions and furnishings, and all of Paris is flocking to Philippe Stark's stylish Ma Cocotte restaurant.
View from the Eiffel Tower
Crowded though it may be, the Eiffel Tower is still Paris's most beloved monument, but there's much more here than a just spectacular view: ice-skating in winter, a treasure hunt for kids, special exhibitions, and fun gift boutiques. With world-famous restaurateur Alain Ducasse at the helm of the tower's eateries, there's even more reason to visit. Enjoy a glass of champagne at the top of the tower, lunch at the new 58 Tour Eiffel on the first floor, or an elegant dinner at Le Jules Verne. There are also two well-priced cafés with healthy salads and sandwiches.
Afternoon in the Marais
Hands down the best shopping neighborhood in Paris, the Marais is all that and so much more. Located in the historic 3rd and 4th arrondissements, the Marais's ancient hôtel particuliers (private mansions), superb museums (Musée Carnavalet, Cognacq-Jay Museum, and the soon-to-reopen Musée Picasso), great restaurants, cafés, Paris's famous old Jewish quarter, and the lovely Place des Vosges make it an absolute must-see. Wander up the rues Vieille du Temple and Franc Bourgeois, two of the neighborhood's central spines, and discover the charming side streets and the quartier‘s many hidden delights.
Strolling the Rue des Martyrs
Paris's old market streets are often overlooked by visitors busily running from one monument to the next. This is a mistake, since they are an authentic part of Paris that's not always easy to come by, especially on a short trip. If you visit only one, this bustling street full of fromageries, boulangeries, and boucheries should be it. A central neighborhood market for over two hundred years, the older purveyors of everything from fruit to fish share the street with newer, more high-end pastry shops, chocolatiers, gourmet cafés, and upscale boutiques, adding to the street's considerable charm and lively atmosphere.
Chocolate Crawl in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Something miraculous has happened in this most storied of Left Bank neighborhoods—it's become chocolate central of France. Within less than a single square mile can be found no fewer than 15 world-class chocolatiers, each with its own signature style and specialties. In a single afternoon, chocolate lovers can sample the world's creamiest ganaches, scented truffles, liqueur-filled bon bons, pralines, caramels and any other chocolaty confection under the sun. Shops not to miss: Henri Leroux, Jean-Paul Hévin, Patrick Roger, Jean-Charles Rouchoux, La Maison du Chocolat, Christian Constant, and Pierre Marcolini.
Dinner at Restaurant L'Arpège
If you treat yourself to only one culinary splurge in Paris, you can't do better than L'Arpège. Many a chef in Paris and beyond will confess that chef Alain Passard was their role model and inspiration. Passard shocked the culinary world when he removed all meat from his menu. Using the freshest produce from his own garden outside Paris, chef Passard singlehandedly revolutionized fine dining and showed the world that the freshest vegetables prepared simply and imaginatively could add up to a most memorable dining experience.
Visiting a Paris Legend: Deyrolle
A cabinet of curiosities par excellence, the superb taxidermist Deyrolle has been charming and educating Parisians since 1831. But the word "taxidermist" falls short in describing the wonder of this beloved boutique. More like an enchanted forest, with tigers, bears, and a gigantic giraffe lounging peacefully before cases brimming with birds, insects, butterflies, animals, shells, corals and reconstructed skeletons. Drawers hold every imaginable insect and butterfly to create your own box or peruse examples of the many botanical, entomological, and zoological posters that have graced the walls of French classrooms for 150 years.
Traipsing Through Covered Passages
Precursor to the shopping mall, these architectural gems, with glass ceilings, marble walls, and mosaic floors, were a place for well-heeled Parisians of the early 19th century to gather under the glow of gaslights in the warmth of the heated arcade's luxurious shops, restaurants, and cafés. Now the charming vestiges of a time long past, these beautifully preserved passages offer a cornucopia of alluring boutiques, bookshops, art galleries, candy shops, and much more. Although there are dozens to see, some of the best include Galerie Vivienne, Passage du Grand Cerf, Passages Joffroy & Verdeau, Passage Molière, and the Cour du Bel Air.
Terrace Pleasures at Mini Palais
There's nothing like a spacious outdoor terrace to while away an hour or two; but even better—a terrace with a view, great food, and terrific wines by the glass. The gleaming new Monsieur Bleu restaurant at the Palais de Tokyo center for contemporary art is just such a place. With sweeping views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, the large, open terrace is fast becoming Paris's most sought-after spot. But with one of the most beautiful decors in all of Paris, you may be torn between indoors or out. For a less pricey all-hours spot, try the Mini Palais‘s soaring terrace overlooking Pont Alexander III. Open nonstop from 10am to 2pm, it's a rarity in Paris.