Discover Paris in the best way! This guide is meant to give you an incredible journey through Paris by Arrondisement or neighborhood. Take an off the beaten path and enjoy the city the way locals and well experienced travelers have; without the typical touristy itinerary that leaves you feeling underwhelmed and overspent. I have spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and have come up with the best way to enjoy the city. I think you will find this guide so useful!
Before I break down the Districts and sites for you, there are certain pieces of information you will find super valuable for your trip. This guide is for the traveler who avoids “touristy attractions”… it is also meant for the “foodie” traveler who happens to have a great appreciation for art, culture and history. If you want a bullet point of all the most obvious sites to see… having coffee at Le Consulat, spending hours climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, shoving your way through the masses to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, there is a schmorgasborg of information out there on the internet that will give you lists like that. This will not be that list!
I would also like to share with you tips to make your trip easier, pleasant and slightly less expensive than what you would end up paying without these little tidbits:
Before You Go: Make sure to check out events that may be happening during your stay! Paris has some amazing events that only happen yearly or during certain times of the month and it is great to plan your day around the event if it is something you are interested in. I was SO lucky to check because I found out Taste of Paris was happening during my trip! It was AMAZING to say the least and I would’ve missed it had it not been for me checking this calendar.
Packing for Paris: Pack lightly and bring an extra duffel! I spent loads of time making sure I packed only what I needed so that I could bring home a bunch of goodies. I spent two weeks in Paris using only a carry on! The beauty of staying in a flat vs. a hotel room was that I was able to wash my clothes and wear them again, which minimized what I needed to pack.
Tips for packing light for Paris:
Check the weather before going
Only take two pairs of COMFORTABLE shoes - I took a bootie that doubled as a nightime/dressy look and a pair of flats that don’t get painful after hours of walking
Pack layers - the weather can change or get hot, etc. Pack items you can take off when needed or make multiple outfits with using the same pieces.
Your toiletries should be minimal. Parisians hardly wear any makeup/hair products… feel free to rock a natural look and you will fit right in
Hide a vinyl duffle bag into one of the pockets of your luggage so that you can bring it back home filled with all your favorite Paris souvenirs, gifts, and treats! This way, you can check a bag and carry on a bag en route back home
Money Exchange: Resist the urge to exchange your currency before you go. Two weeks before your trip, start checking the exchange rate. Familiarize yourself with the rate and start researching local areas that would make ideal places to change out your money. Resist the urge to change money at the airport… those exchange rates tend to be ridiculous UNLESS, you’ve researched before your trip and you recognize that the rates are cheaper than what you’ve been seeing! In that case, go for it.
Most places accept credit cards so if you have a card that doesn’t charge international travel fees, use that as much as you can. However, there are certain situations and places where cash is only accepted so you will need Euros on hand. In that case, withdraw cash from a local bank ATM and withdraw as much as you think you’ll need but not too much (you don’t want to be left with extra euros when you come home). This was my best option because the more you withdraw, the more fees you’ll incur. Their bank will charge you and so will your bank… the fees add up quickly!
Getting from CDG to your Accomodations: Order a Rideshare! You won’t need to get cash from the airport, which will overcharge and you won’t end up in a taxi that isn’t authorized.
Accommodations: If you love to stay like a local, rent an Airbnb near the sites and places you will spend most of your time in. The flats are much more spacious than the hotel rooms and much less expensive. Plus, you’ll have the added luxury of cooking meals from the local markets if the urge strikes you. This is highly encouraged… the markets have some of the best produce I have ever tasted and it is an experience all on its own. I was lucky enough to rent from my Danish friend, Charlotte, who owns a small flat in Montparnasse. The flat was so charming and just perfect for my stay; I could spread out, get around easily and got to step right out into daily Parisian life. When I was so exhausted from walking all over the city and just wanted to spend the rest of the evening in the flat, I would stop at a local street market and pick up whatever I wanted; cheeses and baguettes, fresh fruit, paella… and then made myself a little meal at home. It was the best.
Getting Around: Walk the city as much as you can. Don’t waste your money on taxis. The Metro and buses were my favorite way to get around. The passes are inexpensive and the transit system is very easy to navigate, (similar to the NYC subway system). Download the Transit app to your phone and you will never get lost! Bonus: you get a free visual tour of the city when riding the bus! I absolutely loved plopping down on a seat after hours of walking and just seeing the sites through my window. You can buy a stack of transit passes from a local Tabac shop for slightly less than what they cost at a kiosk. At night, I preferred using Uber, although when travelling alone, I always shared my location with family back home to stay safe.
Interacting with Parisians: Don’t believe the hype. Parisians are very friendly and helpful. Just be mindful of their customary practices and their cultural differences. Always greet someone with a ‘hello’ in French before asking for anything. Learn a few basic phrases in French that will help you get great service such as, “do you speak English?” or “can you assist me?” You should have absolutely no problem if you follow these basic guidelines when trying to get help… most locals speak English very well and are used to helping foreigners.
Avoiding Tourist Traps/Wasting Time: Look, if you’ve only got a couple days, do yourself a favor and skip massive time killers such as the Louvre or Versailles. They are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but they will kill ALL your time and you will not get the most out of your trip on such a limited itinerary. Save day trips and giant museums for when you’ve got enough leisurely hours to spend in these places. You will thank yourself in the long run and will never feel regretful not having gone… trust me on this!
Ok! So, without further ado, I am breaking down Paris through the first six Arrondissements, or Districts, which start at the city center and spiral outwards. Stay tuned for the next installments of districts!
See: The 1st is where you’ll see major sites and museums, stroll along the Seine and relax in the main squares. I would start the day bright and early here and then make your way to the 2nd and 3rd Arr. to finish the day.
If you’ve got time, here is where you’ll visit the Louvre, but buy your tickets ahead of time, here
Walk through the beautiful Tuileries Garden
Visit Musee L’Orangerie to see Monet’s Waterlilies in the circular rooms and other great exhibitions. You can download a guide and get ticketing info, such as free entry days, etc., here
Visit Saint-Chapelle for the stunning stained glass and Gothic style and La Conciergerie to see where Marie Antoinette spent her remaining days
Round out the 1st by making your way to the oldest stone bridge in Paris, the famous Pont Neuf. You can make your way down Rue de Rivoli into the 2nd Arr. from here.
Eat: If you must eat in the 1st, make it Adeline Grattard’s Michelin starred darling, Yam’Tcha, as featured on Chef’s Table. If you find yourself wanting a snack or sweet, grab a hot chocolate cup, to go, from Angelina’s or some macarons from La Duree or Pierre Herme while you are strolling through the gardens.
If you have a hankering for food in the 1st, you can also get the fried chicken at Ellsworth or take a break from French food and head to Little Tokyo on Rue Sainte-Anne and have some Udon at Kunitoraya. There is a big Japanese culture in Paris and the food is very notable.
See: There aren’t a ton of sites to see here, in the 2nd arrondissement. Head down Rue de Rivoli for shopping in Les Halles. You can wander about the streets and stop at mostly chain shops. Most notable are the picturesque markets along Rue Montorgueil that have a multitude of specialty cheese shops, seafood stalls, and pastries.
Galeries - Galeries are covered passageways that are now home to specialty tea shops, bookstores and other hidden Parisian treasures. Most notable for me was Galerie Vivienne
Eat: If you do anything in the 2nd, make a reservation at Frenchie. Gregory Marchand does not disappoint with his, now famous, menu serving up some of the best food in Paris. If you can’t get reservations to his main dining room, get to the Bar au Vin early and you’ll be sure to grab a seat at his casual space right across the street. If that’s not a possibility order something to go from their take out window but do NOT pass up this culinary adventure!
Rue de Nil is also known for it’s specialty shops known as Terroir d’Avenir. These shops specialize in artisanal seafood, local and country specific agricultural products and specialty wines. There is also a buzzing nightlife close to the restauraunt. You’ll find some great wine bars and cocktail bars… just wander in and out where ever the mood strikes you. You can have dinner and make your way around the local nightlife without needing get in a cab or rideshare, which I think, is perfect for a perfectly planned, unplanned evening.
Bonus: Get a spa treatment at Spa Nuxe, between the 1st and 2nd arr. This brand has a cult following and I am one of their biggesset fans! You can indulge in the intoxicating rose scented waters and then pick up all their face and body products in-house or at a local Pharmacy. I swear by their Micellar Rosewater Cleansers and their cult-favorite all over body oil, Huile Prodigieuse. I make sure to always load up before my trip back home.
See: The So-ho-esque area of Le Marais is not to be missed. It encompasses the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and it is best to plan lightly and go on foot. Put a few sights on your list and venture out along the streets, get lost and wander... wear comfy shoes!
Your first stop should be Musee Picasso… the museum itself is a beautiful piece of architecture and wandering through it at your own pace and check out the exhibits. I was lucky enough to see the incredible Guernica while I was there and this little museum boasts plenty of his work along with his private collection.
After strolling through the museum, stop at Breizh Café for a famous Briton Crepe and a cold stone cup of cider. Sit outside and watch all the locals and tourists pass by. I even ended up sitting next to a very recognizable actor and foodie!
After your rest stop, wander the streets… pop in and out of shops, galleries and juice and tea shops. Have a pastry. I ended up buying some beautiful French lingerie and window shopped for hours. Slowly make your way into the 4th arrondissement.
Notre Dame is first and foremost on this list! If you’d like, you can start your day here and make your way down this list and into the 3rd arrondissement, finishing your day at the Picasso Museum.
When you are tired and ready to eat, grab a famous falafel at L’as du Fallafel. The lines are long but the pita is worth the wait my friends. If you’d rather not deal with the lines, go to Chez le Libanaise… those pitas are delicious as well and if you happen to go on a day when you run into a closed falafel shop, this will more than please but add the turnip pickles to your pita!
Continuing your way into Le Marais, make your way over to Place des Vosges and explore the garden and beautiful buildings that surround it. After, feel free to make your way over to Maison de Victor Hugo… the writer lived and worked there for 16 years and it is a great little free, small museum.
The 5th is in the heart of Paris’ Latin Quarter. Here you will find the Pantheon, Jardins du Plantes, and the famous Sarbonne University.
I didn’t end up spending too much time in the 5th as it can be quite touristy but I do have a list of sites if you’d like to spend time here:
Jardins des Plantes - Parisian botanical garden and zoo
Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore - famous English-language bookstore which will often host public readings and was a favorite spot of Hemingway
Cluny Museum - review art from the Middle Ages, observe the medieval gardens, and check out the remains of a roman bath dating back to the first century
La Grande Mosquee - sip moroccan tea, enjoy some hooka and taste classic Middle Eastern sweets at the cafe.
Visit Julia Child’s favorite market - Rue Mouffetard; one of the oldest streets in Paris and full of bohemian charm. It is a Market Street where you’ll find buzzing cafes, specialty food shops, fresh produce and the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Eglise Saint Severin - one of the oldest gothic style churches in Paris
Rue Mazarin - art lovers will appreciate this street loaded with independent galleries
St. Germain des Pres is one of my favorite areas. Although it can get super busy with tourists, it’s still a lot of fun roaming around, stopping at beautiful churches right in the middle of all the buzz, shopping, stopping at cafes… all by foot!
Start your morning by grabbing a Jambon-Beurre, a classic french baguette sliced open, slathered with butter and filled with sliced ham. This simple three ingredient sandwich is addicting and makes the perfect breakfast to-go! Trust me, you won’t be dissapointed.
As you are biting into your scrumptious sandwich, you should make your way to Luxembourg Gardens. You don’t need a plan here, just stroll. However, if you want some ideas, check out this post here. The gardens are massive and so beautiful… you can stop at the fountain, walk through the tree halls and take amazing photos at every turn.
After the gardens, GO TO L’Avant Comptoir for lunch or a snack. You can not miss this amazing bistro/counter. It is fabulously delicious and a foodie’s dream come true. Anything you order will be just plain awesome… read this.
Once you’ve refueled you can roam the streets, taking pictures along the way. Stop and shop if the urge strikes you; the shops in this area are some of the best in Paris… and if you don’t get easily claustrophobic, you can attempt to visit the famous CityPharma. Here you can find some of my favorite french face products like Nuxe, La Roche Posay, Bi0-Oil, etc.
If you happen to make your way to St. Sulpice, do not pass it by. It is beautiful and full of amazing history and art dating all the way back to the 12th century. (This also happens to be one of the sites in The DaVinci Code)