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My “Favorite Five” things to do in Paris

A young film editor from Chicago asked me recently if there are any things that I always do when I go to Paris.  We were sitting next to each other at a Hidden Kitchen dinner in Paris discussing the fact it was her first trip to Paris and my tenth.

The question has intrigued me ever since. While some problems exist  with this metaphor, visiting Paris is a bit like peeling an onion.  I think one needs to see all the big major tourist destinations—Eiffel Tour, Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elyse’es, Golden Triangle, major neighborhoods and their cafes.  These places are the outer layers of the onion.

Ignoring the fact onions sting, peeling the middle is visiting the smaller more focused museums. Can you believe there are more than 200 museums in Paris? One can spend a lot of time just working their way through them. I try to get to one new one each trip.  Exploring  the many charming residential neighborhoods, parks, markets, the less well known shopping and the flea markets can keep the traveler happily occupied for days, weeks, maybe months.

At the center of the onion are the more unusual stuff—catacombs, canal trips, viaducts, neighborhoods that tourists don’t go. I believe in getting to that part of the onion.

So, my advice to her was first to see the major stuff and then work her way through to the more obscure destinations.  Not hard to come up with the ten top destinations.  Most guidebooks have them.

But, back to her original question about what do I always do?  As  I thought about it I decided I would lump my “must dos” into categories. Here are five.

  1. I always go TO the Louvre.  Note: I didn’t say I always go IN the Louvre.  Sometimes I do, but most times my visit is simply to the main courtyard where the I.M.Pei designed Pyramid is surrounded with the fabulous old Beaux Arts structure, once home to the king of France.

It’s grand.  It’s gorgeous and I Love seeing these structures in different light at different times of day. I always take photos, trying to capture a new                 viewpoint, an unusual reflection or something fresh. The possibilities are endless.  Here’s the most recent effort.

2.  I love doing something connected to water.  Usually it is a ride on the Batobus, savoring the view of the City of Lights from the water.  It’s a different perspective.  Some times we do the very touristy dinner tour on the Seine, marveling with folks all over the world that silly but magical moment when the Eiffel Tower Twinkles.  On this last trip we spent a morning on the Canal Saint Martin.  I’d do that again.

3.   Food.  Marvelous, visual tasty wonderful food.  Each trip we search out a new market, a street of food shops or the food department in a grand department store. Paris is really all about food.  Looking at the food.  Buying the food.  Marveling the presentation whether the simple vertical chicken roasters to the La Grand Epicerie…… Rue Cler to Rue Montorgeuil…….  Endless delicious possibilities.  Don’t forget the wine.

4.    The Marais It’s my fav.  Always go there…..sometimes to eat on Rue Du Tresor, a tiny little one block street with quiet outdoor cafes.  Most times to sit on the grass on Place des Vosges.  Shopping all the quaint shops in the area with their quirky hours and mix of merchandise.  Watching the mix of people.  It’s quite diverse.  I always take a stroll down the main street of the nearby Ile Sainte Louis as well.  I think it is charming and I love imagining what this was like decades ago.  And not too far from the Marais or Ile Sainte Louis  is Sainte Chapelle where a new “favorite thing to do” is to attend a concert.

5.  A new addition to my “must do” is to eat at roof top restaurants. It is easy to eat on the street at cafes, in Bistros and, well, everywhere, but the new challenge is to find roof top eateries.  Since Paris has height restrictions for buildings (what makes it so charming) a roof top restaurant has the advantage of being “above it all but not too far.”  So far I have enjoyed lunches and dinners at Georges at the Pompidou and Les Ombres perched on top of the Branly right below the Eiffel tower.  Have had a friend recommend the restaurant at the Arabic Institute for the next trip.  Would love suggestions.

So, I ask you to send me leads for my adventures and share your favorite Paris experience. How would you have responded to my new young Chicago friend?

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Jun 22, 2010 Reply

    Hidden Kitchen rather reminds (slightly) of Outstanding in the Field dinners…delightful and unusual foods with accompanying wines enjoyed with total strangers. We’ll be in Paris in August…hmmmm
    Another fantastic post Susan! Thanks! Oh, what would I have told your new Chicago friend? Don’t touch the merchandise! Ever!

  2. posted by
    R. Lyle Boatman, ASID
    Jun 22, 2010 Reply

    In addition to your favorites, my top five picks:
    1) the chic “flea” market at Clingancourt
    2) the Place des Voges especially on weekends when mimes and other “pick-up” artists flourish
    3) l’ escalier en route to Mont Martre, particularly at dusk or on New Year’s Eve, possibly on Bastille Day
    4) le Grand Arch at le Defense near the perimeter
    5) the shops and antiques dealers near Av St. Germain on the left bank

  3. posted by
    Melanie Rogers
    Jun 22, 2010 Reply

    I have one that is going to sound SOOOO pedestrian, and it’s something I have long resisted, but upon discovering the advantages of buying a hop-on, hop-off double decker bus pass, I will be sure to do it every time. It may not be the most direct route to a destination, but upon arrival, if you take the lines through their territories, you get a great intro to the city, a feel for the layout, and a glimpse of parts you want to explore. Add the complementary head sets to plug in and listen to the narrative of what you are seeing and what awaits, and it is a perfect primer. $60.00 will take you close to any place you are apt to want to explore for 2 days, and you never have to wait more than 15 minutes to hop back on.

  4. posted by
    Jun 22, 2010 Reply

    Great ideas. Thanks for contributing. sjs

  5. posted by
    sallie B
    Jun 29, 2010 Reply

    makes me want to go back to paris soon, I love the suggestions/I really love the Eiffel tower at night. so magical. What a wonderful post, again. Hats off

  6. posted by
    Monique Y. Wells
    Jul 21, 2010 Reply

    The Luxembourg Garden is an absolute must! If you are lucky, you will visit when there is a photo exhibit hanging on the gates – they are absolutely stunning. Inside, you will find something for everyone – playgrounds for kids; statuary for those who appreciate art; beautiful flowers and boxed plants, as well as espaliered trees for lovers of horticulture; and perhaps best of all, the boat basin at the rear of the Luxembourg Palace. Watch tai chi aficionados in the mornings, or perhaps catch a free summer concert by a band that sets up in the gazebo. Enjoy the peace and calm around the Fontaine de Médici. Purchase honey made by the bees that inhabit the garden’s apiary in the September. Take advantage of this crossroads between Odéon/St. Germain des Prés and Montparnasse any time of the year!

  7. posted by
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    Oct 1, 2017 Reply

    […] to add to my “to do and see” list.  While I have “must dos” on every trip like the Marais, Place Vosges, Ile Sainte Louis and Saint Chapelle concerts,  it is great fun to check out some new […]

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