Visiting the City of Lights: Things to do in Paris

Paris remains one of my absolute favorite European cities and, thanks to my English childhood, I was able to fall in love with the City of Lights at a very young age. Since then I have been fortunate to travel to Paris many times – including a trip in 2007 to watch the Rugby World Cup when I was very pregnant with my first child. Each time I visit, I discover something new – whether it is a new neighborhood or a cozy restaurant tucked away off the beaten path. But I also like revisiting some tried and tested favorites as well.

What follows is a rundown of some of my favorite spots, as well as some great suggestions from a good Franco-American friend of mine who lived in Paris for about 10 years.  Just be sure to pack walking shoes. While Paris’ metro and bus system is top notch, touring Paris by foot is the best way to experience the city. Allow yourself to get lost as you wander from one arrondissement, or attraction, to another.

Best Districts:

Known as the Quartier Latin, the 5th and 6th arrondissements are famous for their intellectuals. This area of Paris is the home of La Sorbonne, Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and a host of cafes and restaurants like Café de Flore and La Coupole that were frequented by literary greats like Hemmingway, Joyce and Fitzgerald. While you’re there, you’ll also want to walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg, as well as visit Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville (at least from the outside – as the lines to get in to Notre Dame are ridiculous). In terms of food, like anywhere in Paris, it’s plentiful but a couple of my friend’s favorites include grabbing a crepe from one of the street vendors on rue Mouffetard and indulging in an ice cream cone at Berthillon on Ile Saint Louis.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg (

The 3rd and 4th arrondissements, also known as the Marais, are located on the right bank of the Seine. The Marais is one of the most historic (and trendy) areas of the city. Enjoy a café crème at one of the numerous cafes lining the Place des Vosges where you’ll experience beautiful 16th century architecture. There’s a ton of great food in the Marais so I would recommend at least one meal there. L’As du Falafel on rue des Rosiers is world-renowned for its falafel (but be warned, the lines there can rival those at Notre Dame!); Le Taxi Jaune is also a local favorite for dinner. While you’re in the area, make sure to wander around the Marche des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris and a great place to pick up all kinds of artisanal delights.

Fountain in Place des Vosges

Fountain in Place des Vosges (


Why not stay in a hotel that offers a room with a view. One of my favorite hotels (and very reasonably priced for Paris) is the Hotel Brighton, which is located right next to the Jardins Tuileries and offers a stunning city view that includes Le Louvre and the Tour Eiffel.


Skip your hotel breakfast and instead head out to a local boulangerie or patisserie for some fresh, hot bread or pastries.

For lunch and dinner there are so many places to choose from. Most arrondissements have their local favorites – so ask your hotel concierge for some recommendations. However, some of our favorite local haunts are Leo le Lion and Les Deux Abeilles in the 7th or Le Taxi Jaune in the 3rd.  Alternatively, why not consider splurging on a meal at a renowned establishment like L’Arpege (which came in 19th place on Restaurant magazine’s “World’s 50 Best Restaurants list” last year), Le Taillevent (which won the best food category in Zagat’s 2012/2013 Paris Restaurants Guide), or La Tour d’Argent (which was the inspiration for the restaurant featured in Pixar’s movie, Ratatouille). Some less well-known but equally excellent establishments are Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes or, if you’re craving “steak frites,” you should definitely check out the original Relais de Venise in the 17th.

The Arts:

It is true that Le Louvre is absolutely fabulous. However why not dodge the crowds and head to the nearby Musee de l‘Orangerie instead? It houses an amazing collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings (from the likes of Renoir, Picasso, Rousseau and Matisse), not to mention one of Claude Monet’s most celebrated achievements: Les Nymphéas.  Another great museum is the Musee D’Orsay which is home to all kinds of French art created between 1848 and 1914 (including paintings, sculptures, furniture, photography, and architectural drawings).

Musee de Orsay

Musee de Orsay (


Like New York, Paris never sleeps and there are plenty of entertainment options for those looking to burn the midnight oil. Why not start your evening with a dinner-and-a-show event, like Moulin Rouge or Paradis Latin? Even though these famous venues are pricey, there is a reason why they are so popular with tourists. Just make sure you book in advance!

However if you are looking for a quiet drink, perhaps Le Fumoir is more your style?


Paris is definitely a city that you can and should explore by foot, if at all possible. And the metro makes it easy to get from one neighborhood to another.

Happy travels!

Featured Image: Eiffel Tower at Night (Vlad G /

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