This summer my husband and I went on my dream trip of a lifetime: two weeks traveling throughout France, as a result, we’ve created the Ultimate Paris Travel Guide. You guys, I have dreamed of France. Even – Paris specifically, ever since I was a little girl. In my imagination, France always seemed to be encapsulated in a tipsy haze. Music in the streets. Tiny bistros with coffee and epic people watching. Much of this fascination stems from my favorite movies, like Amelie and Midnight in Paris (special shoutout to Moulin Rouge). And there’s no denying the obsession with the iconic Parisian women: she seemingly drinks wine and eats all the croissants while staying impossibly slender, she is super chic with effortless style and she has a carefree, cool-girl attitude that my Type-A self can just never seem to achieve.
When we booked our perfête trip to France, I got right to work researching the best places to eat and drink, all the must-sees and must-dos. I spent months doing this! You should see the detailed excel spreadsheet of our trip…LMK if I should share. I honestly think a part of me likes trip planning even more than I like the getaways. So you can trust that these recommendations are legit. I scoured reviews, blog posts, Instagram, the pages of reddit… You name it, I looked into it. We decided on visiting three regions on our trip: Paris (obviously), the Provence region (inspired by our friends at Happily Ever Adventures!) and the glamorous French Riviera. I’ll be sharing a recap and *beaucoup* detailed recommendation list for all three à la our Ultimate Paris Travel Guide. Today, we’re starting with the glorious French capital that sparked all the magic. Allons-y, oui?
Perfête Paris Travel Guide
An American in Paris
Before getting into the must-sees, it’s important to take a minute to discuss etiquette. There’s a pretty widespread stigma out there that the French are rude and don’t like Americans. Based on our experience, I wholeheartedly disagree. That said, we researched a lot on local etiquette and manners. And, we did our best to respect and attempt all of them (which you should do in EVERY country you visit, btw). In turn, I believe this made all the difference. Every single person we encountered was lovely. Here’s a few tips:
- Highly recommend downloading Duolingo and learning some French basics a few months before your trip. Of course, no one expects you to be fluent. However, some effort and knowing a few key phrases is much appreciated. We learned the basic greetings, how to order and emergency words (AKA “We need more wine” and “Where is the hospital). Many times we had to ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” if the conversation went too long. Yet, we found it very easy to navigate the city of lights in general.
- When entering a store, restaurant, uber or any business, always say “Bonjour!” (in the day) or “Bonsoir!” (in the evening). When leaving, always “Merci, au revior!” This is general courtesy. I honestly miss it so much. I wish it was commonplace here!
- Meals are longer and later. I really hope one of the reasons you want to go to France is for the amazing food and wine. And, these experiences cannot be rushed. Expect at least a 2 hour dinner (ours were more like 3). Also, don’t even think about dinner before 8:30pm. Take your time. Savor each bite. And don’t rush the waiter. Lastly, it is very normal to get an apertif before dinner, which is a perfect opportunity to order a refreshing Aperol Spritz.
- Über is a game changer. Make sure you get an international data plan so you can take advantage. Their metro is also very easy to use and much cheaper. But, ride sharing is great if you’re feeling a little travel shy or just want to get to the next stop quickly.
Okay – on to the good stuff!
Ultimate Paris Travel Guide: Where to Stay
Our trip started and ended in Paris, so we took advantage and tried out two neighborhoods: the Marias and St. Germain. The Marias is such a cool area, it was definitely our favorite of the two. It’s an artsy district with such a neighborhood feel. There’s so many beautiful streets, cafes, bars and little shops. This is a great neighborhood to stay in if you want to really immerse yourself in the culture. We rented an AirBnB which was fantastic (linked here) and it was nice to have our own little slice of Paris. Plus, Paris in the summer is pretty expensive, and it was less than half the price to have an entire apartment to ourself verses a hotel room.
For our second stop, we stayed in the St. Germain area. This area is a bit more touristy IMO. However, it is very walk-able to a ton of great sights, like the Luxembourg Gardens and the Louvre. We stayed in the Hotel Da Vinci and cannot recommend it enough. It was more expensive than our AirBnB, but it was so lovely to stay in a Parisian hotel with those rooftop views you see in all the pictures. We had a beautiful balcony off the room where we enjoyed champagne and cheese like every day. Nights were spent walking along the River Seine, which is convenient to walk to from St. Germain as well.
Your first instinct might be to stay near the Eiffel Tower, which I would recommend against. That area is mobbed with tourists and it would be very hard to find authentic restaurants, bars and shops in the area due to that. So while you def need to see the Eiffel tower, don’t stay near it. Choose a cute neighborhood instead! Here’s a few other hotels to consider in both areas:
Ultimate Paris Travel Guide: What to Eat & Where to Drink
We spent every single morning having a leisurely breakfast either in a cafe or at one of our hotels. One of my absolute top tips on how to best enjoy dinner is to simply BE and people watch. Sip a cappucino or wine and take in the sights and smells. Stroll. Get lost. Take it slow. An indulgent breakfast is the perfect way to set this mood for the day. You can’t go wrong at these spots:
If you’re looking for crepes, this is your spot. They have two locations and an amazing menu of both sweet and savory crepes. Also, as was EVERYWHERE in Paris, the cappuccinos were on point. Like, I hate my coffee at home now. We both got savory crepes at this spot, with a mix of eggs, veggies and ham. Best part? You can get them to go. There was a line out the door to be seated, so we grabbed ours and headed to a nearby park to enjoy them, which honestly was probably even more enjoyable!
- Chambelland: Another charming breakfast spot in the Marais, Chambelland was a favorite of ours. We went three times! Everything is gluten free (I have an intolerance, so I sought this out!) but my husband, who is not GF, enjoyed every single bite. We both had different quiches, cookies and tartes on our visits. We also always took a loaf of their amazing bread every day to go, to enjoy during lunchtime picnics in Paris’s amazing parks.
- Helmut Newcake: Another GF haven, this place had the most AMAZING croissants! Committed to our journey of no carb left behind, we also split another quiche and the dreamiest ham and butter sandwich of all time. I’m still thinking about it.
Wild and the Moon: L.A. has made its way to Paris with Wild and the Moon. This place is very trendy, and for good reason. If you’re looking to cure your jet lag with some amazing juices, smoothies or acai bowls, this is your spot. Very instagrammable and also a good stop to get some much needed fruit and veg during our meat and cheese expedition.
Okay, fair warning, I don’t have specific spots to add here, for a few reasons. First of all, days in Paris start late. Most breakfast spots don’t even open til 10 or 11am. Our approach was have a super hearty breakfast and then hit the city to explore. Our midday snack/lunch go-to was to stop at a local fromagerie and butcher, grab some fresh meats and cheeses, and split them with a baguette and a bottle of wine in one of Paris’s many many stunning parks (Tuilieries gardens, Luxembourg gardens, sitting along the Seine – you really can’t go wrong). Stopping for a full lunch honestly felt like a waste of time, and we much preferred sitting among locals and taking in more sights in beautiful locations. This always kept us full until dinner and added another experience to the day. 10/10 recommend!
- Chez Janou:
We went to dinner here three times. I’m almost afraid to share it, promise me it won’t get ruined k? This is the quintessentail French dinner experience. Hot tip about dinner in Paris: if there are more Americans than French, run. If there’s a menu printed in English, run. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, go here and be prepared to wait. We sat at the bar for about an hour each time we went, sipping delicious (and cheap!) rosé and snacking on housemade olives. It’s a smaller space with an amazing ambience. Try to goat cheese salad, grapefruit/avocado/crawfish appetizer, sea bass and duck entrees. Do not leave without getting their famous chocolate mousse. Warning: it’s gigantic. This place is a true gem.
- La comptoir de la gastronomie: A one stop shop to try all of the French classics. Here we tried snails (I hated, Brandon loved. No fault to the restaurant, just not my vibe.) 100% orgasmic French onion soup. Truffle pasta. Perfectly seared duck. You can’t go wrong!
A hot spot for the locals, this is where you should go for your insta moment. It’s 4 levels, with the stunning top floor being the most coveted. People start lining up at 6pm to put their name on the list (in a city where you don’t even think about eating dinner til 9pm). Known for their pizza, cocktails and seriously chic decor, it’s def a spot to check out.
If you’re looking for the ultimate fine dining, French gastronomie experience, this is your spot. Call ahead months in advance for a dinner or lunch spot, get the prix fixe menu and let your senses be delighted by this Michelin rated gem.
A very cool speakeasy that has a super interesting way to order. The waitress gave us a book to flip through and pick a photo & country that resonated the most with us. I chose Denmark/hygge and my husband chose a picture of cherry blossoms from Japan. We both got interested crafted cocktails meant to transport us to those places. Mine was delicious and tasted like a cozy warm fire.
If staying at the Ritz is a little too rich for your blood (same) then you at least need to get a cocktail there. This place is the COOLEST. You will for sure feel like old money the moment you walk in. We came him for pre-dinner drinks and were blown away. I had my first Kir here (white wine with creme de cassis) and they served it with a big ass rose. 10/10 recommend.
Amelie fans, this one’s for you. If you love the French movie, you have to go to the cafe that was the setting for Amelie’s day job. They even let me go behind the bar like a real dorky tourist.
Probably the coolest place we went in Paris. It’s an underground jazz club in a cave. It doesn’t really get cooler than that. Dance, drink, find a dork corner to makeout in (check, check, check) – you’ll have an unforgettable evening here.
Ultimate Paris Travel Guide: What you Need to See
There’s is so much beauty and history and Paris, this list is a real doozy, so I’m gonna go ahead and do a bulleted list:
- The Louvre: Get your art fix at one of the world’s most famous art museums. At the Louvre, you’ll find all forms of artwork such as the Egyptian tombs or the sculptures from Ancient Greece like the Venus de Milo and of course- da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
- Musée d’orsay: The Musée d’Orsay is one of Europe’s largest museums. It’s built in a former railway station on the Left Bank and includes a remarkable collection of great artists such as Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Cezanne, a variety of sculptures, photography artwork and furniture designs. And if you go to the museum’s balcony, you’ll enjoy an amazing view of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
- Rodin Museum
- The Centre Pompidou: Found in Georges Pompidou Square, The Centre Pompidou is a modern art cultural site in Paris. You’ll find a variety of contemporary masterpieces ranging from surrealist, cubist to pop art. Even the building’s exterior reflects a modern style with all the plumbing, piping and elevators exposed. It’s fancy and exactly what you need to be doing in Paris *wink*.
- The Eiffel Tower (day and night!): Because the Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited architectural wonders in the world, you’ll usually face long waiting times in queues. But, to avoid the wait, you can book your tickets through its online site. Prices can be steep, but most tourists find the attraction worth it.
- The River Sèine: You’ll fall in love with the serene River Seine which crosses the city flanked by century-old museums, churches, and neoclassic buildings. You’ll also adore the elegant Parisians who gracefully pass by on their way to the café, the bistro or the market. For a fun, leisurely ride check sign up for the Seine Riverboat tour.
- Arc de Triomphe
- Champs-Élysées: For our #perfete stylists, It’s Paris’ most popular avenue and considered to be a mecca for shoppers. The mile-long Champs-Élysées stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. You’ll find a variety of luxurious and chic favorites like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
- Notre Dame
- Sacre Coeur
- Moulin Rouge: If you’re looking for an exclusive Parisian experience, visit the famous Moulin Rouge Club. As the world’s most popular cabaret club, it’s been entertaining audiences with stunning dancers and extravagant elements such as a huge elephant in the courtyard. You can book a table and buy tickets online for a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Parks to lunch in
- The stunning Jardin du Luxembourg (the Luxembourg Gardens) is the perfect place for a relaxing picnic next to the River Seine. This 61 acres beautiful oasis is also kid-friendly with many activities to keep children entertained. Kids can take a sailboat trip at the Grand Basin, ride ponies or catch a puppet show at the Theatre des Marionettes.The on-site Musée du Luxembourg is the first museum in France which opened for public visits. It comprises more than 106 sculptures including a stunning copy of the Statue of Liberty. And although you can visit the gardens for free, you must pay an entry fee to access the museum.
- Jadin Des Tuileries
- Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
- Parc Monceau
Neighborhoods to stroll through
- Latin Quarter
- St. Germain
Ultimate Paris Travel Guide: What to Wear
Unless you live in Europe (hi) it’s gonna be a long flight, so you’re going to want to be comfortable. Pop on your comfiest athleisure, enjoy the free transcontinental wine and watch 3 seasons of Sex and the City (unless you’re sitting next to a child).
Once you’re there, you’re gonna want to class it up a bit. I won’t get into seasonal attire, because of course you’re going to dress differently in the winter vs summer. We went in July, peak tourist and heat season, so I’ll speak to what I know. First of all, get yourself some cute white sneakers. You’re gonna to walk like a minimum of 8 miles a day and no other shoe is going to cut it. Luckily, white sneakers are very very chic right now so you’ll fit right in. At night, I recommend a cute, low heeled sandal (cobblestone streets are no joke).
Now, here’s the hard part, especially if you’re a SoCal girl like myself – leave the leggings for the flight. Women in Paris simply do not wear them. Ever. Unless they’re going to the gym. So unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb, I recommend cute, airy dresses for both day and night. Pack a few pairs of shorts and cute tops and of course some light jackets for evening strolls. Parisian women strike a perfect balance of elegant and put together without being over the top – nothing too tight or flashy. Neutrals with pops of color are your friend here. And if you don’t have the perfect wardrobe already sitting in your closet, what could be chic-er than finding a few key pieces in the most fashionable city in the world?
Up Next: Provence!