I lived in Paris for one dream-like summer. At the time, I was young and naive and hadn’t done very much research on how to take advantage of the city. Perhaps that was to my advantage, as I ended up falling in love with a Paris very different from the guidebooks. (Please keep in mind that the college version of myself wrote the following. 🙂 )
Obviously there are the major attractions: the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur cathedral, the Loeuvre, L’Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral. Certain streets are also renowned for their shopping and strolling, such as the Champs Elysee, Rue St. Honore, Rue de Rivoli, and the Galeries Lafayette. My favorite thing to do, however, was to explore different districts around Paris.
- Le Marais (the Jewish quarter) was one of my favorite areas. There’s a wealth of vintage shops here! This is also where i discovered the power of falafel (L‘As du Falafel is said to have the best falafel, ever, but we favored King Falafel Palace.)
- Montmartre is an absolute must-see. A lot of Amelie was filmed in here, if you’re interested in stopping by cinematic landmarks. The Moulin Rouge is also located close by in the Red Light District; I had friends who went to the show and enjoyed themselves, but generally it’s quite expensive and only worth it if you are actually into cabaret.
- Quartier Latin is where all the students hang out — you could find my school, cafes, and shops in the neighborhood. We used to bar-hop here at night, and the atmosphere was always nice and laid-back.
In terms of specific places, I had a few beloved haunts.
- The parks are so wonderful! Parisians love to sunbathe and lounge around and play petanque. Les Jardins Luxembourg is the most central park and is perfect for strolls, picnics, etc. It even has a pond where (impeccably dressed) Parisian children float toy boats. I’ve heard many good things about other parks, too; my friends highly recommend Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which is in a beautiful/ritzy neighborhood and boasts gorgeous views.
- Le Pont des Arts is a wooden bridge reserved for pedestrians only. At night it becomes a hip spot where young people gather at night, drink wine, play music and socialize (though there are dead nights too, and I’d imagine during winter it might not be as busy).
- There are very beautiful cemeteries in Paris, with thousands of incredible above-ground grave markers. Many of them are populated by some very famous dead people; Oscar Wilde resides at Pere Lachaise, though it’s a real trek to find his grave.
- Shakespeare and Company was significant in shaping a lot of ex-pat writers (and it doesn’t hurt that there’s a bookstore of the same name at my alma mater!). Relatedly, if you’re interested in any author/artist who was ever, at any time, in Paris, you can probably find an original site s/he lived in or frequented. Personally, I love Victor Hugo and enjoyed visiting his home in Place des Vosges.
- Museum-wise, there’s obviously the Louvre (breathtaking but so overwhelming). My favorites for both their architecture and art were the Musee d’Orsay for classics and Centre Georges Pompidou for modern art. Tiny but charming is L’Orangerie located in the Tuileries: a really serene setting for a handful of immense, gorgeous Monet canvases.
- In terms of nightlife, my friends and i liked going to La Fleche d’Or or Nouveau Casino. A word of advice: concerts usually start on the dot or shortly thereafter. My French friends also loved going to Batofar and Le Bataclan for dancing or music. (Note: it is very likely that these places have changed in terms of atmosphere or audience since my time in Paris.)
- One of my favorite destinations outside of Paris was Monet’s garden at Giverny. So, so magical — just as beautiful as his paintings.
I was a broke college student while in Paris, so my diet was dominated by baguettes and cheap wine. However, I do have a little bit to say about eating/drinking.
- David Lebovitz, a former pastry chef at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse, lives in Paris and writes a lot about food there. His restaurant recommendations (and must-read tips on dining etiquette) are here.
- Laduree is the most famous patisserie in Paris and their macarons are practically worshipped — plus it’s right on the Champs Elysee.
- Les Deux Magots, a cafe in the cute St. Germain de Pres neighborhood, is a must for English buffs, if only because you can pretend you are channeling the spirits of old regulars Hemingway, Sartre, de Beauvois, et al, there.
- I really love the La Brioche Doree chain, especially when you’re on the go. They’re bakeries with relatively cheap, but delicious, sandwiches and pastries.
- A lot of the time I ate at cheaper bistros to save money, but one of my favorite things to get were the “grec frites” (or doner kebabs) you can find on Blvd St. Michel in the Quartier Latin. This was perhaps the most satisfying street food of all time.
My final piece of advice: try to come to Paris with an open mind. One of my friends had such high expectations going into the trip, she was quite disappointed at times. Like many people, she thought it’d be a magical vision of romance and beauty — which it is, but I think sometimes you have to wait for it. Paris is a city first and foremost, including inherently urban qualities, areas, and problems. Once you are able to settle in and get a feel for it, though, the city opens up and endears itself to you.