Paris Guide

Last updated: February 2020

I often get asked for my recommendations for Paris. After years of sharing a mix of Google Docs, I collected everything into one awesome guide. Disclaimer: some venues might have closed since this guide was last updated (if so, drop me a note). I hope you have a great time in Paris!

The Great Paris Walk

First, let me outfit you with my special itinerary map that I've given to many first-timers to Paris.

Follow it to the letter and you're in for a lovely stroll where you'll encounter some of the biggest sights of Paris, all on foot (A few of the sights, like the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, you will only glimpse from a distance on this itinerary)

The map was conceived of originally for someone who was going to be in Paris for the first time and only for a day. So no real chance to really dive deep. But if you’re in the city for a bit longer, I still recommend this walk (that I actually still do with regularity when I visit, as it is so incredibly lovely), and you can come back to specific spots to actually visit the churches and museums, or linger for longer…

Also, the map offers suggestion for great places to grab a bite / drink along the way (the spots marked in yellow)

Where to Stay

I don’t have recommandations for hotels because, well, I’ve never stayed in a hotel in Paris. But that's what TripAdvisor is for!

And at this point, folks also like to scout options on Airbnb, which makes even more sense for Paris where hotels are expensive, and the markets are very attractive, so an option where you'll have a way to cook yourself a nice dinner makes a lot of sense (Also, the French think of wine as a foodstuff, so it’s for sale in all supermarkets and corner stores)

In order to aid in picking a location for your stay, here’s a list of central, fun neighborhoods with good transportation, great nightlife and all that

Le Marais

Super central. Hip, gay-friendly, lots of bars, restaurants. Tiny streets.

Great places of the neighborhood:

Chez Janou for dinner (Provencal style); La Perle, an otherwise-average bar that turns into this mob scene, spilling onto the street at night.

The 9th/Lower 18th (Rue des Martyrs, Pigalle / Lower Montmartre)

Also party friendly. Very central. It's my childhood neighborhood.

Great places of the neighborhood:

Le Cul de poule for dinner;  L'Hotel Amour (its restaurant) also for late drinks.


The Williamsburg of Paris.. the area of Oberkampf is kinda close in vibe, just Paris-style. I recommend this nice guide.

Great places of the neighborhood:

I can personally recommend La Chair de Poule for dinner, and L'Alimentation Generale for late drinks (really, really great place.)

Canal St Martin

The area around the Canal St Martin, also Hipster Central.

Great places of the neighborhood:

There's Le Point Ephemere, an event/art space that's usually fun, and across the canal, Chez Prune. Great vibe too (I ll let the Google lead you to the details). All the late night drinks in the awesome Comptoir General (Terrible lines on the weekend)

So, your recs are all on the Right Bank uh?

Yes. I was raised on the Right Bank and other than brief period where I lived on the Left Bank (against my better judgement), I remain a woman of the Right Bank. But while a majority of Paris's big touristy 'gets' are on the right bank -- so you will spend time there -- I totally understand that folks love the romantic streets of Saint Germain des Pres or the lovely paths of the Luxembourg Gardens.

In any event, all this is to say that you’ll have to ask a better informed person for good spots in the Quartier Latin, St Germain or the 7th (Only a few places in my Eats list to follow are on the Left Bank)

Where to Eat

Beside the places mentioned in the Great Paris Walk map (in yellow) and the places mentioned above, here are a few more.

Remember, tax and service are included in the quoted price of a French menu. No surprises!

And many places are closed on Sunday evening, and in August, so definitely check that before heading out someplace (the bigger brasseries tend to be open week- and year-round)


La Coupole, at Montparnasse.

The Brasserie Lipp is very famous (St Germain des Prés), and from a tourist standpoint, it's a great scene.

The Closerie des Lilas in the 14th

I prefer La Coupole, but all are good choices. Also, le Grand Colbert (none of these places are cheap, like 80 euros a head.)

Smaller, more intimate

Smaller, more intimate with great products - the menu is on a blackboard and that's it: Les Fines Gueules, in the 2nd. Also, it's open Sundays.

Mini-brasseries (less touristy, I prefer them):

Au Petit Riche in the 9th

Brasserie Thoumieux near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th

Hip, West Village style

La Fidelite in the 10th

Blowout and amazing

L'Astrance in the 16th

"New style" French cuisine

Le Chateaubriand in the 11th. No booking and loud, but really interesting.

Lovely Neapolitan pizza

Amici Mei in the 11th.

Old-School French cafe in a great spot

Le Nemours, on the place Colette, just by the Palais royal.

Trendy with the fashion set

Ferdi (and its McFerdi burger!) in the 1st. It’s minuscule, so I can only recommend booking!

"Grandmas of the Upper East Side" tea parlor

Angelina's on the rue de Rivoli. Amazing, onctuous hot chocolate!

Carette on the Place du Trocadero (really, the ultimate ‘Grandmas of the Upper East Side’ spot). Have an eclair!

It’s about the view / the location

Le Marly, overlooking the Louvre.

Le Georges, on top of the Centre George Pompidou (best view in Paris, especially since you’re sitting on its ugliest building -- and therefore don’t see it)

Les Ombres on top of the Musee du Quai Branly. Great view of the Eiffel Tower nearby. Really passable food (for Paris, anyway)

Le Train Bleu, in the Gare de Lyon. It sounds like a bad idea, I know (a restaurant in a train station) but it’s great brasserie food and the location is just extraordinary

If I don’t know where to go (Drinks + Dinner)

Le Fumoir never lets you down

If the weather is nice (al fresco)

I've lost track of what restaurants are still there, but the Place du Marche Saint Honore in the 1st, is pedestrian, and has many restaurants with outside seating. If the weather is nice, none of the restaurants there are the best you’ll have in Paris (but they are fine) but it’s very pleasant. Also, le Saut du Loup in the Jardin des Tuileries.

And Rosa Bonheur in the Buttes Chaumont in the 19th!

Do This; Know This; Think About This

Le Pont Royal, at night

There is nothing like crossing Le Pont Royal at night (I usually have done so in the back of a taxi going from the Left Bank back to the Right bank, but as you are half-way on the bridge, in the silence of the night and with just about every beauty of Paris in your line of vision … It is very difficult to imagine that there could be a more beautiful city on earth)

Walk into the courtyard of L’Institut coming from the Rue de Seine

I explain precisely how to do so in the Great Paris Walk map (the entry marked “Follow me very precisely)

Walk the Cour Carrée du Louvre at night and come out Cour Napoléon

The Cour Carrée closes at 10pm or so, so, when the time gets near, come into it, and come out to the West on the Cour Napoléon of the Louvre where the Pyramid is.

If you are there in the winter: A walk in the Tuileries

The Tuileries are a quintessential example of a very French garden. Its precise design is best appreciated in the winter -- not that summer isn’t lovely, but with foliage, it’s a bit harder to take in the minute design of the garden, and the interplay of the alleys, statues and the fountains. To be clear, you should visit the Tuileries any season, but I believe you will gain something extra from visiting it in the winter

The best view isn’t the highest view

The second floor of the Eiffel Tower is too high a view of Paris: Paris is built relatively low!

And the Eiffel Tower is a little bit off-center from the heart of Paris so you really don’t see the city as well as you might think.

In my view (!), the best view of Paris is from the roof of the Centre Georges Pompidou, which is only a bit higher than neighboring buildings, is very central… and the museum building itself is not exactly to my taste (it’s out of place in Paris, but the matter has been endlessly debated), so, not having it in your line of sight is a win, I think.

There is an overpriced restaurant on the roof of the museum, but so, totally worth it for its view: Le Georges

If you only visit one museum

Make it Le Louvre. There is no other. And I’ve visited a lot of museums all over the world. But … Le Louvre.

In the Louvre, I am particularly fond of La Victoire de Samothrace (the Winged Victory, as she is known in English). And Le Louvre has a few treasures that will presumably never travel (beside the Mona Lisa, known in French as ‘La Joconde’): la Venus de Milo, Delacroix’s Liberte Guidant le Peuple, Gericault’s Radeau de la Meduse, and Veronese’s Noces de Cana.

If you only visit two museums

Add Orsay. It has a second-to-none collection of 19th century art. If this is specifically your jam to the exception of all other art, I could understand the argument that Orsay should be the first museum you visit BUT Le Louvre is truly of a class of its own.

See a ballet at the Opera Garnier

If there is a ballet, go see it. Paris has two opera houses: Garnier, in the 9th, with its beautiful ceilings painted by Chagall, and Bastille, in the 12th, which is a modern building.
Most lyrical productions are at Bastille (better acoustics), most ballets are at Garnier. If you love opera, of course, Bastille is totally worth it. But if you want a combo culture + architecture, you won’t regret an evening at the Palais Garnier!

The best angle to take in Notre Dame

(This entry was written prior to the Notre Dame fire) Most tourists will see Notre Dame ‘from the front’ as in, from the parvis -- the square in front of it. You’ll appreciate its incredibly carved portals and gargoyles. BUT, this is not the best view of Notre Dame! I would argue it is far more beautiful from the side and from the back -- where you can appreciate the volumes of the church which its ‘flat face’ sort of hides.

To see it from the side, you can ride a bateau-mouche (flat-bottomed tourist boats that go up and down the Seine and are more pleasant than you might suspect), or from the Quai de Montebello / Quai de la Tournelle on the Left Bank. From the rear (the best view, IMO), the best spot is the Pont de l'Archevêché

2020 Update: Notre Dame is slowly getting wrapped up in huge scaffolding. You can still see quite a bit of her as I write this (Jan 2020) so do make your way to a viewing spot on the left bank. Alas, the area immediately around her on the Ile de la Cite (her island) is closed off as it's highly contaminated with lead from the structure that melted in the fire. So you can only really see from the left bank.

Hard truths: The Eiffel Tower isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be

I don’t think a visit inside the Eiffel Tower is really worth it (especially considering the lines). It’s a little bit like the Empire State building in NYC. I understand you might want to punch it off your list, but consider this prediction: you won’t remember it as the highlight of your trip.

The best view OF the Eiffel Tower is from the Jardins du Trocadero, across the river on the Right Bank. And if it’s open, the Cafe de l’Homme in the Musee de l’Homme (inside the Palais du Trocadero) is a lovely place (Do book, and specify you’d like a view)

2020 Update: It is now possible to buy your ticket for the Eiffel tower online, with timed entries. I really recommend you do this, because the lines can be brutal. I believe the ticket with timed entry is slightly more expensive than the regular ticket you can get directly at the site, but your tourist time is probably worth the difference.
Note that the area to access the tower is much more secured / fenced off than it used to be. So take a moment to check online your points of access, as you may find that you cannot just 'walk straight' to it but will have to go quite a bit around.

Hard truths: …. And neither is the Sacré Coeur

The area around the Sacré Coeur is ultra-touristy. That’s true of many places in Paris but really, there are only tourists in this part of Montmartre (the lower Montmartre, Amelie’s neighborhood aka “le bas de la butte” is totally different and a very fun neighborhood -- check out my Foursquare recs for Abbesses, Lepic, Caulaincourt etc). But the area around the Sacré Coeur has been ultra-renovated in a style that makes the neighborhood feel like Disneyland.

The Sacré Coeur basilica itself is not a gem of architecture by any means: it is a somewhat recent (100 years old) bulky church and other than it occupying an advantageous position on top of a hill, there is not much to say for it in my opinion. Having said this, I understand this is on many visitors’ list, and I hope you enjoy your visit to the neighborhood but I wouldn’t place it anywhere near the very top of what you should see if you are strapped for time

Hard truths: Versailles

Versailles is tricky. It’s definitely a world heritage gem, but it’s pretty much a day trip (you need an hour to get there and an hour back from Central Paris), and because it’s very big and spread out, you’ll walk a lot -- and wait in line quite a bit -- and you’ll be tired when you come back even if you don’t spend the full day there. So a visit to Versailles will pretty much take up a day of your visit.

So, to do Versailles or not … If you have a whole week, sure. If you have less time, Versailles kind of works like other large castles/palaces that you might encounter elsewhere in the world. Sanssouci near Berlin is of course much like it (it was modelled after Versailles), or Schonbrun in Vienna, Vaux-le-Vicomte (and in general, the Chateaux de la Loire) -- all these very grandiose buildings + gardens that kind of exist in their own universe but don’t necessarily connect to the people who live in the country in this day and age. To me, in that respect, Versailles is a different trip than Paris. It’s nearby, and it’s spectacular, but if you haven’t gotten your fill of Paris, you might want to keep Versailles for another trip.

In general: walk Paris!

Paris is made for walking. You could never tire of it. But more than this, the distance between two metro stops is actually pretty short -- much shorter than the distance between two NYC subway stops or two tube stops in London. (Something to think about if you see that a place you’re looking to get to is a couple of stops away -- it’s probably walking distance)

Update (2020): This handy map highlights the walking time between the main points of Paris. Though the map is in French, it's readily understandable even if you don't speak French. (Paris walking distances map from Le Parisien)

Practical tips and tricks

- Get an American credit card with a chip -- even if it’s a so-called “chip & signature” card (rather than the Euro standard of “chip & pin” which is more secure), it will make all services available to you. For example, if you buy a train ticket online from the French railroad - the SNCF - and opt for delivery in the automated teller machines,  you will need to feed the machine the purchasing credit card in order to obtain your paid tickets. Without a chip, you will have to to go the ticket counter (read: wait in line). But even a pin-less ‘chip and signature’ card will work to retrieve your tickets from the machines. As well as buy from them, and buy from the automated machines of the Paris metro system.

If your card only has a magnetic strip, you are out of luck.

- Contactless credit cards are a Euro thing (America got on this much later) -- but the amount you can pay is often limited to 30 euros. So don't be alarmed if you're trying to Apple Pay / use contactless and you get an error message from the card terminal. Try the very same card in its physical form, and it will most likely work just fine.

- Paris has Uber, and particularly if you speak no French this will save you as you enter both your starting and final destination in the app. Also, Uber does fixed fares from both airports - unlike Paris taxi cabs (a potentially pricey proposition if you happen to run into traffic). Try these French/European alternatives in addition to Uber: Kapten and Bolt

- Speaking of airport transfers… If you are headed to the airport anywhere near rush hour (7.30a-10a; 5p-8pm weekdays), I do not recommend anything other than the train (RER B). You either would have to giganticly pad your travel time in order to be safe, or you run a real chance of not making your flight.

- Unlike in the U.S., you often run into bill minimums before you can pay with a credit card. You’ll need euro bills! (Do not get them at the airport, just use an ATM). And if you bank with Bank of America, use BNP-Paribas ATMs where you’ll be charged only minimal fees.

- American Express is only accepted in the larger restaurants and bigger stores. Visa/Mastercard is accepted widely.

- Many restaurants have English-language menu cards if you ask!

- If asked “Beurre ou ordinaire” in a bakery while buying a croissant, the only acceptable answer is “beurre” (Ordinaire means vegetable shortening / margarine). The price difference is negligible…

- Speaking of pastries, here are special ones that the French excel at: the Paris-Brest (probably my most favoritest), the Eclair (which is not like what Americans think of as eclair) and the Religieuse (a close relative). Tarte au citron and tarte aux fraises. And les chouquettes!

- Also food-related, items that I will specifically seek out in Paris (as in, you can find them in New York restaurants - because you can find anything in New York - but I would wait til I’m in Paris to get those): Un steak tartare (raw meat, though this sounds gross somehow, and it’s really wonderful); l’oeuf mayonnaise (aka ‘l’oeuf mayo’) and the other humble bistro staple le Poireau vinaigrette. And les profiteroles au chocolat.

- Buy “un carnet” of metro tickets (10 pack) rather than single tickets, which are more expensive (and even more expensive if bought on a bus!) More details on your metro travel options are here. For myself, I don’t think that the Paris Visite / Mobilis options are good value. Just buy “carnets” of metro tickets. Also, they don’t expire or lose value (think of them as forever stamps) so if you end your trip with a few extra tickets, just keep them for your next trip!
Update 2020: Paris is getting the equivalent of a contactless Oystercard, which will replace metro tickets on paper. 

- Paris has blue laws but a few neighborhoods have exemptions (Champs Elysees, les Halles, some parts of Le Marais, etc). In general, though, if you have designs to go shopping, plan on doing this on another day than Sunday.

- Speaking of Sundays … Many restaurants are closed Sunday nights, and sometimes Monday nights too. Best to check before you head out if you don’t already have a booking (The site Le Fooding, full of good advice, allows you to search with parameters like ‘Open Sundays’ and ‘Open Mondays’)

- VAT refund at the airport! In most stores where you buy 150 euros+ worth of goods in one visit, you can ask for a VAT tax refund form (“La detaxe”). You get 12 percent back from your purchase… The way this works is that the store where you purchased will give you a form to bring to a special counter at the airport (there’s one such counter in every terminal), get it stamped there, and then either mail it in (in a special envelope that will be provided) or take the stamped form to an Amex counter just next to the Customs office where you’ll collect cash back. You MUST accomplish this stuff before you check in any luggage that might contain the items that you are collecting tax back on (the Customs officer might ask to see the items mentioned on the form). If the item(s) in question can be transported in your carryon, you can check in first, then go handle the VAT refund procedure.

If I may provide some hard-earned advice: It takes extra time at the airport, and you’ll collect slightly less money, but do go with collecting cash from the Amex counter rather than getting cash back by credit card / via mail. I’ve had forms that mysteriously never were processed for cash back to my credit card. And do plan on the whole affair adding an hour at the airport (You’ll see a long line of tourists with huge piles of Louis Vuitton shopping bags)

- August (really, July 20-August 20) is a very dead month in Paris, and many stores and restaurants will be closed. Now, it also means Parisians will have deserted the place which may or may not be such a bad thing (you will definitely hear a lot of English in the metro in that season!) But it does mean that you should be extra cautious to check that the restaurant / store that you are looking to visit is open.

If you’re visiting during this period, google “Restaurants Paris ouvert en aout” and even if you speak no French, you’ll see articles on the topic and will be able to then research individual suggestions in Yelp / Le Fooding etc

Read; Watch; Listen

Read: Paris by Julian Green. Bilingual edition | English-only

Listen to: My Paris-themed Spotify playlist

Watch: Paris vu du ciel (Paris from above) by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Parting Words

From Ernest Hemingway, who captured exactly the luck of my birth, (emphasis mine)

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”