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Paris is huge and grand, requires a lot of preparation, and deserves at least 4 days for your first visit. Try to avoid bringing a car, and make all your bookings well in advance (hotels, restaurants, museums). Note that the museum pass can save time, but you still need to individually reserve an appointment for most venues – and the pass only covers a relatively small subset of museums.

We stayed in the Marais most recently and really liked it – walkable, packed with boutiques, great restaurants. The Saint-Germaine area and surrounds on the left bank are also popular shopping areas, but of the more chain-oriented variety. Map view of sites here. Using the public scooters was one of my favorite things – it’s easy to rent (Lime in particular, using the Uber app), and a quick and fun way to get around.

Churches and Cemeteries

  • *Cimetière de Montmartre: it’s nice, but there’s only one entrance and it’s not well marked. We walked forever…
  • **Cimetière du Montparnasse: beautiful. Cold and involves a lot of walking.
  • **Cimetière du Père Lachaise: prettier, more interesting than Montparnasse. Great on a hot day – lots of shade available.
  • ***Notre Dame: huge and impressive. As of 2022, still very much under construction – worth going by to marvel at the scale of effort.
  • **St. Augustin Church: worth peeking in to see the stained glass.
  • ***Sainte Chapelle: gorgeous, even on a cloudy day. Smaller than I expected.
  • **Saint-Eustache: impressive exterior, slightly run-down interior, interesting mix of old and new (Keith Haring altarpiece).
  • **Saint-Louis en L’ile: beautiful, if a bit oddly decorated, smaller church with accomplished stained glass and sculpture. Felt grand, yet intimate. In 2005, and still in 2022, under extensive reconstruction. 
  • *Sainte Marie-Madeleine à Paris: cold and secular, feels like a government building.
  • **Saint-Pierre de Montmartre: very modern and impressive stained glass.
  • *St. Severin: fairly unremarkable, but impressive organ.
  • *Ste. Trinite Church: pretty setting, but not really worth visiting

Monuments and Gardens

  • *Arenes de Lutece: Roman ruins of the 2nd century arena. Not that interesting to look at.
  • *Bois de Boulogne: mixed. Bring a bike (and watch Gigi first). It’s pretty but very large and there are very aggressive prostitutes (male and female) lurking everywhere. Not safe at night. The Pre-Calatan gardens are nice, the Bagetelle gardens far better – but it’s really a hike to get to them.
  • **Les Catacombes: cold, dark, and packed with bones. Very crowded (with tourists). Interesting.
  • *Chateau de Vincennes: forgettable
  • *Conciergerie: former prison. Very large, limited appeal. I wouldn’t recommend a visit.
  • **Eiffel Tower: way better in winter! Air quality is better and the crowds are less insane. Viewing the lights (on the hour, after dark) is worthwhile.
  • The ***Ferris Wheel next to the Louvre: do it at night! You can’t beat the views.
  • **Jardin des Tuileries: Pretty, a nice place to stroll in the summer or have a picnic.
  • **Mémorial des martyrs de la Déportation: very somber and effective. A bit claustrophobic, as was intended.
  • **Montmartre/Sacre Coeur: the hill itself is charming and pretty. Everything around it is seedy and yucky (though I’m told it’s more gentrified now; my last visit was a long time ago). It was best in the morning, with almost no tourists.
  • **Pantheon. Kind of interesting. I liked the neighborhood.
  • **Parc Monceau: small and lovely. Great place to stroll on a sunny day.
  • **Place de la Bastille: fun to watch the car chaos from the top.
  • **Place des Vosges: in winter, rather cold and uninviting. The garden of the adjacent **Hôtel de Sully is much more intimate, and a better place to stop. Note that as of Dec 2022, the garden is closed, presumably will be replanted in the spring.
  • ***Promenade Plantee: LOVE this. Only do it on a sunny day – it’s the highline of Paris.

Museums

  • **Centre Pompidou: dramatic modern building with great views. It’s good, if you like contemporary art.
  • *Hotel des Invalides: not my favorite (though Galen would love this – war/weapons museum)
  • **Louvre: completely overwhelming. Get a weekly pass and see it in 1 hour increments.
  • **Musee Carnavalet:: massive, a bit overwhelming, but a truly great collection and quite empty of crowds. (Note: I haven’t visited since the last renovation)
  • *Musee Cognacq-Jay: pretty setting, but not really worth visiting
  • **Musée d’art et d’histoire du Jaidaisme: grand, well-designed, elegant setting. Interesting artifacts, well-written overviews of sections. Primarily concerned with explaining what the rituals of Judaism are, with extensive props. Fairly light on the history part.
  • **Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature): one of the odder museums in Paris. It’s full of taxidermy and hunting art, with occasional more modern exhibits. The building is lovely (a grand former home) and the rooms are carefully curated.
  • [To Do] Musee de l’Orangerie (I’ve never actually been, it’s been under construction for years, but I hear it’s good)
  • ***Musee d’Orsay: one of the world’s best museums. 
  • Musee de la Poupee: very odd, but with some charm. Collection of old dolls. (now closed)
  • **Musee Gustave-Moreau: an off-beat favorite. This was his home and studio.
  • ***Musee Jacquemart-Andre: Excellent! Similar in scale and focus to the Frick. 
  • ***Musee Marmottan: one of my favorite museums in Paris. Great building, great neighborhood, impressive collection. In addition to the extensive number of Monets, there were illuminated manuscripts, Manets, Degas, etc.
  • ***Musee National du Moyen Age (Musee de Cluny): awesome. Beautiful building over looping the Gallo-Roman baths. I loved the book collection, tombstones and coffins, unicorn tapestries, wooden statues and carvings, and the jewelry collection.
  • **Musee Nissim de Camondo: fascinating place with great audio guide. The home was donated completely intact in the 1920s to be used as a museum. The family died in Auschwitz (later), which leaves an interesting sadness over the experience.
  • **Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris: a small but worthwhile experience for fashion fans. It’s not at the scale or level of the Moroccan YSL experience, but they fit as a pair in rounding out the importance of his work.
  • **Palais Galliera (Musee de la Mode et du Costume): small but very worthwhile; on my first visit they had exhibits on Japanese dress and western antiques. Lovely neighborhood.
  • **Rodin Museum: impressive grounds and collection. I didn’t love this as much as expected, but it’s a nice place to hang out on a sunny day.
  • **Sewers Museum (Les Egouts de Paris): surprisingly interesting. Hot and smelly. Good overview of the infrastructure of the city.
  • *The Wine Museum: skip. Smells bad and is expensive.

Restaurants and Lodging

  • **Aki Boulangerie appears on a lot of the recommended lists for Japanese-inspired pastries. It was good, had limited selection when we visited, a worthwhile stop if you’re in the area (Japan town).
  • **Beefbar: A very designed space with a 19th-century, beautifully preserved Art Nouveau atrium. It’s all very elegant, and the food is interesting (meat heavy, mostly Asian-inspired but with creative fusion touches). Wine only at lunch, fancy cocktails available in the evening. Dress up, call ahead for a table in the atrium itself (though the other spaces are pretty too).
  • **BO&MIE bills itself as a ‘Boulangerie Creative.’ They have several locations and do brisk business, with lines out the door. Everything we tried was very good and they cater to a very wide range of tastes, from beautiful desserts to flaky pastries to very toothy breads with nuts and fruit. It’s also a great place to seek out a wide range of coffee types in American style.
  • **Cafe Marley: fun if someone else is paying. Overlooks the pyramid at the Louvre. Romantic, decent (if not great) food. Very elegant.
  • ***Carboni’s: excellent! Small and regularly updated menu, handmade pasta, good wine list. Everything was perfectly done, setting charming, friendly service.
  • **Chez Toinette (Montmartre): a cautious recommendation – it’s been 15 years since my last visit, but I had a lovely meal at the time.
  • **La Fée Verte: a decent brasserie in the 11th, not overly formal and well-executed classics.
  • **Hotel Sookie was a very good choice. Rooms are tiny, but warm and well-appointed. If you want to be in the Marais, the location is very good, prices reasonable.  
  • ***Ober Mama: I really liked this place. Food was excellent (Italian), cocktails top notch (have the negroni!), service attentive and professional. Interiors are a nice modern/industrial mix. Clearly popular, with a long line out the door waiting for no-shows. Reserve in advance!
  • **Le Temps des Cerises: very cute restaurant hidden in a quiet section of the Marais. I give it one star (typical menu, not particularly great execution), but Galen’s burger was very good. I wouldn’t seek this place out, but if you’re staying nearby, it’s cozy. (Also note this was featured in Season 3 of Emily in Paris, reservations are likely hard to get!)
  • *Sacré Frenchy is fine, a brasserie catering to the tourist crowd. The servers are welcoming, it’s a cute space, and the menu is diverse. Execution is average. 
  • **Terra bar à vins: just barely a two, though it wasn’t bad at all. In a city with this many restaurants, I wouldn’t go back. They’re doing a lot with a very tiny kitchen, trendy/creative small menu, and long wine list. The wines by the glass were pretty traditional, I was hoping for more range. Shared tables.
  • https://www.eater.com/maps/best-restaurants-paris-france

Shopping

  • ***Deyrolle: amazing! A very old shop devoted to taxidermy. It’s gorgeous, almost a museum, worth going out of your way.
  • **Palais Royal: lovely, expensive shopping, pretty garden. Not very crowded.
  • **Place Vendome: lovely square filled with jewelers

Day Trips from Paris:

  • See Chartres 
  • **Versailles: About an hour by train from the Bastille. The Chateau is everything it claims to be – opulent, historical, beautifully preserved. It’s also massively crowded, and has long lines. I did enjoy the audio tour of the King’s apartments, the Grand Trianon, and the gardens in particular.
  • **Basilique de St. Denis: quite interesting, lower level dates to the 5th century. Packed full of tombs of Kings, Queens, and other royals. Area around the church is sketchy.

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