During our 5 night and 6 day stay last week in Paris, we tried to explore and immerse ourselves to the maximum in this amazingly beautiful city. Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to visit everything we wanted, including Versailles, more art museums, palaces, operas, and key contemporary architecture works like Frank Gehry’s Louis Vouitton Foundation. However, we will hopefully continue our adventures in Paris in the near future. But more of that in another ocassion.
Nevertheless, if you are visiting Paris for the first time, this is the place for you. Scroll down below to see a summary of basic sightseeing, an architecture, art, and culture guide of the city, including our favorite restaurants, cafés, and bakeries we visited.
While there are many European cities that are charming merely because of their culture, atmosphere, and history, Paris is not limited only to that. It is actually one of the most physically beautiful cities you will ever visit and there are reasons why.
The City of Light counts with a very unique mixture of styles and even with exclusive ones. It went through basically every architecture period starting from the Middle Ages, which is why you will encounter buildings ranging from French Gothic/Romanesque cathedrals such as Notre Dame, Renaissance houses and hotels, Baroque palaces, to Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Haussmannian entrances and facades. The structure of the city is actually the product of a medieval city rennovated through Baroque urban planning.
Random Pictures of Paris’ Typical Architecture:
Styles that emerged during the Belle Epoque and afterwards dominate Paris’ apartment buildings and streets. You will find so many Art Deco styled balconies and Art Nouveau metro entrances at several stations.
The Tour and Main Attractions:
Above, I’ve illustrated how we toured Paris, which was basically in geographical order. We went from Northeast to Southwest, i.e. in a flow. I recommend to follow this order, because you will find most of the main attractions on the right bank of the River Seine. Therefore, I think it’s best to stay at a hotel anywhere in the Montmartre district, where the northernmost attraction begins, i.e. the historic Montmartre and Sacre Couer, so that from there you can tour south towards Les Marais, visit Centre Pompidu (this might take a whole day, though) and continue all the way through Notre Dame. Afterwards, you can go from Notre Dame all the way to the Louvre and from there, continue to Champs Elysees and finish the tour at the Eiffel. The main reason why you should stay at Montmartre is also because historic Montmartre might be the loveliest district to explore and to stroll around, so it’s awesome to have it reachable.
Where to stay and transportation recommendations.
We stayed at Hotel Montmartre in Rue Ramey and I really recommend it, since it has super friendly service, it’s very clean, while not luxurious at all but really OK if you are planning to be outside all of the time. If not extremely close to all attractions, everything is quite reachable from there within minutes with the metro (a metro station is just around the corner and even a supermarket). While I mostly recommend you to walk to experience the city, I am aware that at points you need to recur to the metro. I do recommend the metro over any other transportation service, as it’s cheap and fast. By the way, I am not sure if buying a day or week ticket is worth it, unless you are planning to go through really long distances constantly. Otherwise, I recommend you mostly to buy single tickets, as they are super cheap for such a big city (each way per person costs around €1,50). Besides, remember that the main and most of the sightseeing sites are extremely close to each other and even go in a flow, so you will not need the metro often.
1. Historic Montmartre & Sacre Coeur
Our adventure began here, just minutes away walking from our Hotel.
Montmartre might be my absolute favorite spot in Paris. It’s not only because the hill-elevated district offers the best view of the city once you’ve reached the top. It’s also not a must-see because of the breathtakingly beautiful white domed Sacré-Coeur Basilica, a place that comes straight out of dreams and by the way, not an original Renaissance/Baroque building, but a more recent political construction(1800s) which is rather a thing of its own.
One of the main charms about the historic quartier is the fact, that it was the place for some of the 20th century’s greatest painters. You will not only find a lot of great talents wandering around these streets, but geniuses such as Renoir, Picasso, Dalí, Van Gogh, and Juan Gris found their homes there. The Montmartre Museum, which you find just around the corner from the Sacre-Coeur Basilica was once the home of Pierre Auguste Renoir and just a few houses away was the home of Eric Satie.
The district on the hill also counts with countless charming cafés, creperies, and musicians adorning its streets.
Historic Montmartre is a place frozen in time, where you can almost feel the zeitgeist that once dominated the atmosphere where Picasso and other of Modernism’s great minds worked and lived. You can almost transport yourself to the roaring 20’s and see flappers dancing to Charleston. It was the ultimate place for artists, free spirits, and great thinkers, which is why it is, in my opinion, Paris’ artistic soul.
Tip: There is a very good Dalí museum close to the Renoir Residence/Montmartre Museum and according to Dalí fans, it is quite a good one, so don’t miss it. Sadly, we had to catch a concert that evening, so we couldn’t visit it and spend enough time exploring Montmartre.
2. Centre Pompidou
This is one of the best modern art museums I’ve ever been to so far. It’s definitely up there with the Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Tate Modern in London, both which I had the privilege to visit in previous trips. So, if like me, modern art is your cup of tea, this is a must.
The high-tech styled complex (composed by the art museum itself, two libraries, and a music research centre) was designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. When you are inside the museum, you can really feel how contemporary architects were responsible for the design, because they really thought of everything and made it a comfortable and visually interesting place to see and experience art.
From cubist masters Georges Braque to Picasso, to abstract expressionist geniuses such as Kandinsky, almost every relevant artist and their works starting from the 1900’s till today is exhibited there.
I had the luck to visit a special exhibition: A Paul Klee one, which was beyond amazing. It focused on the influence of irony and sense of humor on the artist’s works. I’ve been a fan of Klee’s work since I was an architecture student and was presented to his masterpieces in a design class, where we had the task to create a composition with similar techniques.
Last, but not least, the museum counts with a stunning view of Paris and you can basically see everything from there.
I almost had a heart attack when first entering the modernist art gallery and encountering this Otto Dix portrait of Sylvia von Harden which is one of my absolute favorites ever.
The view from the top:
From here, the Notre Dame cathedral is not far away and you can easily spot it.
Around the museum:
This is the Igor Stravinsky Fountain with sculptures of Niki de Saint-Phalle and her husband, Jean Tinguely. They were all inspired by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and other works.
Also recommended: Strolling around Les Marais district that is not far away and visiting the Picasso Museum which is also around. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to do the former in detail and to visit the latter. Till next time.
3. Notre Dame Cathedral & Surroundings
Just before you reach Notre Dame coming from the north side, you will encounter this carrousel outside of Hôtel de Ville, a gorgeous Rennaissance revival building, which used to be the City Hall.
Above pictured is Notre Dame, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture cathedrals in the world.
4. Palais Royal
Palais Royal was definitely one of my favorite spots in Paris. It’s an undeniably perfect location for fashion shoots due to its monumental Beaux-Arts architecture, beautiful courtyards, and breathtaking gardens. The famous galerie d’Orléans’ colonnades, arcades, and les Deux Plateaux’s repetitive columnal elements on its Cour d’Honneur lets you play with different angles and perspectives. Make sure to stroll around the beautiful gardens of the Palace.
5. The Louvre
The Louvre is literally just in front of Palais Royal.
No, we were not inside the Louvre’s art galleries. Why? As this is one of the biggest museums in the world, it would take probably a week or so just to see everything inside. I also must confess that it’s hard for me to relate to the type of art inside this gorgeous Renaissance-styled palace. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all art, but I prefer avant-garde to traditional.
5. Jardin des Tuileries
The Corinthian styled Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is a mini Arc de Triomphe (not to confuse with the bigger Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, which comes later on this post) is just outside of the Louvre Palace and it leads you right into the Jardin des Tuileries.
6. Musée de L’Orangerie
Inside the Tuileries just before reaching the gate that leads to Place de La Concorde (on your left), you will find this museum which features major impressionist works from Monet (Water Lilies), and post impressionist masterpieces by Matisse, Cézanne, Modigliani, and others.
7. Place de La Concorde
The main and biggest square in Paris is a must see. Not only does it lead you towards Champs-Elysees, but it has truly beautiful fountains you can’t miss!
9. Strolling Down The Seine River
Almost in front of the Musee de L’Orangerie, on the left side of the River Seine, you will also find another major impressionist/post-impressionist art museum: The Musee d’Orsay. This one is much, much bigger than Musee de L’Orangerie and in fact it contains the most important masterpieces of impressionist and post-impressionist artists.
10. Ponte Alexandre III
This and Prague’s Charles Bridge must be two of the most beautiful bridges in the world. Beaux-Arts architecture mixed with Art Nouveau adorning elements make this bridge a really magical place to be at, not to mention that it is a breathtaking backdrop for outfit pictures.
11. Avenue des Champs-Élysées & Best Shopping Areas in Paris
If you are looking for a luxurious shopping spree, then Avenue des Champs-Élysées might be right up your alley. From Louis Vuitton to Cartier, this is a paradise for passionate shoppers and fashion lovers. Personally, shopping was the least that interested me when in Paris. I preferred to get to see the architecture, art, experience the culture, and get to know the city. But hey, I might try the shopping part in some other occassion.
Tip: Le Marais district also includes a great shopping area, which includes Cos, Sandro, The Kooples, Maje, and others. We discovered it on our way to a restaurant and only stopped shortly to see a Sandro shop (probably my favorite French brand).
Galleries Lafayette is also a must not only for seeing, as it is an absolutely gorgeous Art Nouveau styled building, but it’s also a shopping paradise where you find high street brands like Topshop and high end ones like Victoria Beckham. We wanted to visit it and Galerie Vivienne, but couldn’t find the chance to, so we will do so during our next trip.
Colette is just around the corner from Jardin des Tuileries and very close to a super recommended lovely patisserie, Angelina Paris, so you can visit both at once. It is the hippest high end concept store in town and houses brands like Dior and Céline. It has a bookstore and several other elements that makes it different from your average designer shops. We visited it shortly and while it was not that interesting for me, I can see why others might enjoy it.
Somewhere between Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, you will easily find Ladurées gorgeous façade and sign.
Famous for its delicious looking pastries and macarons, I think Ladurée is a must-see if you want to experience seeing and tasting really exquisite and fine-looking sweets, something very typical of Parisian culture. Even though you can find incredibly yummy cakes all over the city, Ladurée is admittedly a great stop for the sweet tooth.
12. Arc de Triomphe
Just at the end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées you find the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
Trocadéro is an area full of beautiful sites including Palais de Chaillot and the Jardins du Trocadéro. It offers the best view of the Eiffel Tower in the entire city, so it’s a must if you are craving to make a great picture in front of it.
The Jardins du Trocadéro used to be the garden of the old Palais du Trocadéro and was created for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne by architect Roger-Henri Expert.
14. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is not only an icon for the city of Paris, but it is also one of the most important Industrial Revolution architecture works coming out of the Word Paris Exhibition in 1889, celebrating the centenial after the French Revolution. The jaw-dropping colossal structure needs no introduction. Sadly, we couldn’t make it to the top, as it would have taken a whole day just to just get to the cashier, due to an enormous line.
This is a major complex composed by a series of military history buildings and monuments including this military museum of the Army of France pictured above. It’s worth seeing mostly due to its majestic architecture.
Eating in Paris: Breakfast, Lunch/Dinner, Cafés, and Bakeries I recommend
In the vicinity of Centre Pompidou, just in front of the Igor Stravinsky Fountain, you find this great creperie, right at the end of the block consisting of cafés, bars, and restaurants. This might not be the absolute best creperie in Paris, but I assure you that the fact that the crepes were great and I had there the most delicious milkshake I’ve ever tasted, makes it a more-than-decent place to have breakfast at, especially if a super long walk is ahead of you at the Centre Pompidou.
Bakery Le Grenier à pain
Just some minutes away from where we stayed at, i.e. Hotel Montmartre, you find this great bakery which apparently won a national price. It has the most delicious pastries I’ve ever eaten and the sandwiches are comprised of the best baguette you will ever dig your teeth on. I promise! We ate here often as it was close and practical to just have a fast thing to eat.
KB Café Shop
Located in South Pigalle, one of the hippest neighbourhoods in Paris, this is a place for real coffe-heads. While the menu is not huge, I assure you what they do offer is outstanding. I loved my cappucino and hubby loved his hot chocolate. To accompany the coffee, I ordered one of my favorite pastries ever, aka banana bread. Coming from someone whose roots lie in the Caribbean, I assure you this banana bread is really good, so give it a try.
Restaurant Le Petit Lutetia
This restaurant offers a variety of French delicacies and traditional cuisine. So if you’re looking for a great (real) French food restaurant that is affordable, this is the right place for you.
We ordered ‘La putain d’entrecôte’ accompanied by sliced, fried potatoes. Both were 10/10.
We intended to originally visit Josephine Chez Dumonet, since this was one Instagram follower’s recommendation. Unluckily, it was full to the bone. This is why I strongly recommend to book a reservation before venturing into simply stopping by without previous notice. How can you tell that a local restaurant is good? Quite simply: It is full of locals and so is the case of Le Petit Lutetia. Do you want to know which are the worst restaurants? The ones located at highly touristic sites or super near. You will always find the worst food there and mostly tourists eating there. This is a tip I learned during my years travelling across Europe.
If you want to experience multicultural Paris, which also constitutes one of the aspects that makes the city as culturally rich as it is, then Café Chilango, a Mexican taquería, is a place to try. These tacos were, by a far stretch, the best ones I’ve had within Europe and very good (yeah, I love Mexican food and big cities offer often the best Mexican cuisine). They are seriously cheap for Paris standards and really, really tasty. I strongly recommend the chicken tacos and as an appetizer the crunchy tortilla enchiladas with beans.
During our 6 day stay, all we experienced was politeness and warmth from Parisians. Strangely for us, they sort of have a bad reputation for being rude, but like said, this was not at all what we saw. In fact, the people were friendly to an extreme and open to help. Often they were super funny and made us laugh. We’ve never experienced something of this sort in any city. As a matter of fact, I had the biggest amount of rudeness and misleading replies coming out of Berlin locals than anywhere else.
If you kindly ask, Parisians will politely reply. However, I suggest you try to communicate in French and if you can’t speak the language, try learning some basics online, it’s not hard and will take just a few moments. In any case, if you must speak in English and ask kindly, I assure you they will help you. I think you should go with an open mind and a positive attitude. There are nice and rude people everywhere, but sometimes we can run out of luck and encounter the latter. When we do cross ways with someone rude, even if we crossed ways with 10 other people who were lovely, they mark our lives in a way, that we only remember that and forget those who were nice all along. So scratch those stereotypes and just enjoy your experience!
Some of our funniest and loveliest annecdotes regarding Parisians:
-When we were on our way to historic Montmartre heading towards the wrong direction, a charming gentleman overheard us and stopped us. As I was speaking in Spanish to my husband, he started explaining us the right way in broken Spanish (what a lovely gesture!). He was wearing a beret, dressed in black from head to toe, and had a Daliesque moustache and wore round spectacles, like literally a French character from a film. He joked as he spoke to us and we laughed.
-The hotel reception guy welcomed us so warmly and showed us everything to detail. His explanation as to how to open the door was so graphic and funny, we were all laughing, including himself.
-When telling a taxi driver where we needed to go and the taxi driver asked my husband if that was the right place, my husband answered ‘Sí’ instead of ‘Oui’ (my husband had 6 years of French in school, but can’t remember a single thing after learning Spanish). The taxi driver then joked around telling us ‘Sí, Senor’. We all laughed.
So, this is my Paris travel guide. If you have any questions, you can leave them on the comment section below.
Wishing you all a happy start of the week. x