Here is a list of the top 10 things to do in Paris, and where you can go to do them
1. Drink wine
It is no secret that the French love their wine, and a Parisian lunchtime would not be complete without a demi-carafe. So, when in Rome…
Luckily, there is no shortage of establishments offering to quench your thirst. For variety, quality and a lively atmosphere I recommend J’Go on Rue Clément. For a more low-key setting head to one of the quieter canal-side restaurants at the Quai de Valmy, such as La Marine (who also do gorgeous desserts).
2. Eat patisseries
In my opinion, few activities can top people watching outside a Parisian cafe, savouring a flaky pain au chocolat (preferably dunked into a cafe au lait). Once again, in Paris you will be spoilt for choice – perhaps this calls for a patisserie-crawl to be added to the itinerary?
For something a bit oh là là try Pâtisserie des Rêves on Rue de Longchamp. Wind your way past the large glass domes displaying cakes like scientific specimens and take a seat in the salon de thé. It is quite pricey (around 10 euros for a cake and herbal tea) but it’s certainly different.
For a good, honest pastry with a twist head to Miss Manon on Rue St Antoine and try the choco-pistache (the same shape as a cinnamon swirl but filled instead with chocolate chips, pistachio pieces, raisins and coconut sprinkles). Oh go on, have two.
3. Sample macaroons
The macaroon is something that few countries have managed to successfully adopt. Try an average one and you probably won’t understand what the fuss is about; try a really good one, and you will wonder where they have been all your life.
Treat yourself to an upper-class macaroon at Pierre Hermé on Avenue Paul Doumer. The Mogador (milk chocolate and passion fruit) is to die for.
4. Be a tourist
If it is your first time in Paris, of course you should see at least a few of the obligatory tourist spots, but don’t forget some of the very notable places that tend to get overlooked, such as the Père Lachaise cemetery on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.
Spending the afternoon in a graveyard might not sound all that appealing, but wandering amongst the rows of centuries-old ornate tombs and graves in this absolutely vast cemetery, you cannot help but get swept up in the history of the place. Plenty of French greats are buried there, such as Chopin, Molière, Balzac and Marcel Marceau, along with a privileged few famous foreigners, like Jim Morrison and of course Oscar Wilde.
Be sure to pick up a map at the entrance if you are keen to track down the ‘famous’ graves – see the digital version here.
5. Eat out
An absolute gem of a website is lafourchette.com, offering great discounts for a vast range of restaurants. Filter by location or cuisine, reserve a table online, et voilà! Great Parisian food tastes even better with 50% off the bill.
The first restaurant I went to using this website was a lovely little crêperie called Crêpes Show on Rue de Lappe, near Bastille. The narrow, cosy eatery was full of charm and served delicious sweet and savoury crêpes alongside refreshing boules of Breton cider.
6. Plan to get lost
City travel experts are forever recommending that tourists simply enjoy getting lost. This is all very well while you are wandering happily through bustling street markets in the sunshine, but can lose its appeal very quickly thanks to one wrong turn too many, a sudden downpour, a dodgy neighbourhood and no taxis to whisk you back to safety. Far better to create the impression of being lost, or at least aimless, whilst remaining safely within the boundaries of a particular area.
For this, I suggest heading to Le Marais, the historic Jewish Quarter of Paris. There are plenty of little side streets and cobbled lanes leading to boutiques and bakeries and miniature art galleries. You should stumble across the lovely Place des Vosges, where Victor Hugo lived while writing Les Misérables. The nearby Picasso Museum is unfortunately closed for renovation until the end of this year, but the area is also home to the Musée Carnavalet and the Cognacq Jay fine art museum.
A stroll down Rue des Rosiers will take you past at least six falafel vendors – and this is some seriously good falafel, in seriously generous portions. L’as du Falafel is probably the most celebrated, but be prepared to queue!
7. Absorb some culture
One great thing about trips to European capital cities is that there will be an abundance of cultural buildings and exhibitions to keep you occupied, and sheltered from any passing rainstorms. But for many of us, traipsing around museums and galleries can suck the fun out of a day out. The answer to this, in Paris, is the Musée D’Orsay.
Housed in an old railway station, this museum is spacious and a joy to stroll around. Instead of being herded through an endless maze of identical square rooms, you can wander between side-rooms, the main hall, and upper balconies, perusing the impressively diverse collection of paintings, sculptures and photography. What’s more, admission is free for under-25 EU citizens, and free for everyone on the first Sunday of the month.
If you really want to push the traditional ‘museum’ boundaries, there is always the Musée de L’Érotisme, just along from the Moulin Rouge on Boulevard de Clichy – not for the faint-hearted.
8. Meet the Green Fairy
Whether kick-starting a night on the Parisian tiles, or simply indulging in a wicked lunchtime tipple, it is well worth getting an authentic (re)introduction to Absinthe, the potent drink known as the green fairy, which has supposedly fuelled an awful lot of artistic greatness throughout history.
La Fée Verte on Rue de la Roquette serves up several types of Absinthe in various traditional ways, including with a flaming sugar cube balanced over the glass on a spoon, receiving droplets of cold water from an elaborate water fountain.
9. Enjoy the music
If Paris had a soundtrack, it would be full of melancholy harmonicas and jolly accordions. The Paris Metro offers a plethora of talented (along with a few not-so-talented) musicians, whose music echoes along the subterranean tunnels. You will hear music all over the place in the city, but another hotspot for brilliant buskers is the Pont St Louis, linking l’Île St Louis and l’Île de la Cité.
10. Have a pique-nique
As soon as you get a decent hint at sunshine, get thee to a supermarché (or local market if easily accessible) and stock up on baguette, brie, pâté and a bottle of red. Hurry down to the Jardin du Luxembourg or find yourself a spot at the Seine, preferably with a view of Notre-Dame, and tuck in to your French banquet. Parfait.