The Quintessential Guide to Paris - The Curated Collective
What to do in Paris
The Quintessential Guide to Paris

May 31, 2017

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“I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night…”

“No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.” – Midnight in Paris

Sitting down to write this post makes me inexplicably giddy. As I try to find the words to describe the City of Lights, I find myself falling short. Because Paris, this city, it truly can’t be explained in words. Paris is a feeling, something that sucks you in, mind and soul, and never lets you go again. This place in the universe has had a hold of my heart since before I ever stepped foot into it’s magical boulevards and streets, and when I actually had the opportunity to visit, well, let me just say that Paris will forever hold a piece of my heart. The mystique this locale holds is something intangible, you just can’t quite put your finger on quite why you feel so enchanted. But alas, that feeling of enchantment will never leave you. 

My heart has actually begun to speed up as I write this and I’ve got a smile I can’t wipe off of my face. Paris will sweep you up in it’s charm, and you’ll never want to come down. I could spend weeks (months…years…) in this idyllic city, and despite how much time you spend here, it’s impossible to ever discover every hidden boulevard, every charming nook, every cobblestone alleyway. Despite that, I’m going to try to breakdown some of my must-see, and must-do places in this enchanting city to truly experience that certain je ne sais quoi. If it’s your first time to Paris, this guide is for you. If you’ve been before, and the city calls you back over and over again, this guide is also for you.

So, let’s jump in to this fairy tale city, shall we? First things first, when should you go?

When to Go to Paris

When to go to Paris, you ask? The better question is when not to go. And the answer to that question is never. Paris can be equally lovely anytime of the year. We’ve gone in early summer and late summer/early fall and each time had it’s own quintessential charm. If you find yourself in Paris in the winter, you will be able to bask in the silence and grandeur, and there will undoubtedly be less tourists around. The city will, without a doubt, be magically charming around the holidays. If you go in the fall, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the chilly air, falling leaves, and potentially more chic Parisian fashion than you could ever possibly wrap your mind around. Fitzgerald was likely talking about Paris when his infamous Gatsby quote came to life, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall”. Why yes, Old Sport, I think you’re right about that. 

If you happen to be so lucky to find yourself in the City of Lights during the spring, your sweet little eyes will be fortunate enough to gaze upon Le Tour Eiffel herself as blossoms, and the city itself, literally come to life around her.

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit this city twice, once in early summer (when we happened to get engaged, but more on that in a later post) and again the next year for our honeymoon in late summer/early fall. Most recently, we arrived in late August, and this was such an incredible time to visit my favorite city on earth. Why, you ask? Many Parisians head out of the city during August for holiday for the entire month (Um, hi, America? Can we please catch on to this? Thanks…) Meaning? The city felt slightly less crowded than it would have otherwise. This won’t help a lot with the extreme tourist attractions, but it will definitely help when boarding the metro, riding your bike, and traffic in general. But those are just the logistical benefits. My favorite part about visiting this iconic city during August? Paris Plages. 

What are Paris Plages, you ask? Well, I had no idea either. Paris Plages literally translates to “Paris Beaches”. Each Summer, from late July-late August, the city of Paris brings in ACTUAL SAND to create beaches along the Seine. I cannot even tell you my excitement as Zach and I were walking along the Seine when suddenly we were surrounded by an oasis of beach chairs which looked like they belonged in the South of France, and more sand than you would ever think possible.

Only in Paris do they bring actual sand to the Seine to create a city-like oasis for all to see. If there’s one thing this city knows how to do, it’s decadence. Surrounded by places to grab delicious nibbles and a cold beer, find yourself a beach chair and make yourself comfortable. Believe me, you won’t want to move anytime soon….

Our first sighting of the iconic Paris Plages, nestled along the right bank of the Seine

No matter what season you find yourself in this alluring city, there’s one thing for sure: you will always find something to do. I plan to go back during every season, just to be safe of course. I mean, a girls got to do her research, right? Good, glad we agree on that. Now that you know when you’re headed to Paris, let’s figure out where you should stay, shall we?

Where to stay in Paris

First things first: Paris is compromised of 20 different neighborhoods, referred to as arrondissements, that create somewhat of a spiral shape. The city is separated by a river, the Seine, and thus divides the city into the left and right bank. Each arrondissement is then comprised of multiple quartiers. It can be a bit confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Each one of these delectable areas presents a unique personality, creating the perfectly irresistible melting pot of enchantment. Peel back each layer and you’ll discover hidden gems in each and every crevice of the city.

Each area is bursting with magic and whimsy, and enough charm to make you want to spin in circles and sing out loud (may or may not have done this multiple times..)

If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, check out the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, as they are somewhat centrally located to many of the things you might want to feast your eyes on. If you’ve been to this lovely city before and want to try something new, perhaps consider staying in the 18th, home to Montmartre one of the city’s quirkiest and most fascinating areas. We’ve stayed in three different arrondissements, and location wise, my favorite was staying in the Latin Quarter. Bordering the 5th and 6th, we were incredibly close to many of the areas we wanted to see. An added delight was that the area itself was incredibly whimsical. I expected to have to hunt for the magical boulevards I’d seen so many photos of, but as it turns out, that’s just Paris. Magic behind every corner you turn down.

We stayed in an Airbnb for the entirety of our stay, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Paris is loaded with Airbnb’s, which give you such an authentic experience in this alluring city.

What to do in Paris

Pack a Picnic (or pack ten, just in case)

I’ve raved again and again about how much I love packing picnics when traveling. Nowhere is this more true than in this enchanting city. Paris is known as one of the most decadent locations in the world, and it absolutely is, but it’s possible to experience every ounce of charm in this place on a backpackers budget. One of the best ways to do this is to picnic like a Parisian. Some of my absolute best memories in Paris have come from picnicking throughout the city. Some of my favorite places to do this include Jardin du Luxembourg, along the banks of the Seine, in front of Sacre-Coeur at the tip of Montmartre, and of course, in front of La Tour Eiffel in all her sweeping glory. 

If you find yourself perched along the banks of the Seine, you’ll be privy to a show of artists and musicians perched along the edges doing their thing. Close your eyes and enjoy the sounds and melodies happening around you. Just when you think you’re dreaming, open your eyes and remember you’re in the most romantic city on earth. Try grabbing a spot near Pont Alexandre III, one of the city’s (and world’s) most stunningly beautiful bridges. Crack open that bottle of rosé, let your feet dangle over the edge and soak up every enchanting moment as you gaze into a candy-pink sky. Not sure how this place always seems to have this gorgeous hue-d sky every night, but alas, you can’t question the magic of Paris.

If you happen to be picnicking near the stunning basilica that is Sacre-Coeur (which sits at the tip top of Montmarte, but more on this soon) grab a spot on the grass and enjoy one of the most panoramic views of the city. This is the highest point in Paris, so you’re bound to get some good views to go along with your bites. Forgot to bring beer, bubbles or wine with you? Don’t you worry your sweet little self for a moment. You’ll absolutely be asked by local vendors if you want to grab a cold one from them. You can likely talk them down from what they’re offering, so try haggling with them a bit, it’s part of the fun.

Visit the Arc de Triomphe

at Sunset

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most iconic structures in our fair city, and for good reason. Finished in 1836, this structure has stood as a symbol of this city through both peace and war times. Located in the 8th arrondissement, and sitting at the head of the iconic Champs Elyées, this is a perfect place to end your stroll down one of Paris’ most famous boulevards. The Champs Elysées is something everyone must do while in The City of Love, but be forewarned: it can be busy. And busy is an understatement. Luckily, the crowds are made up for by it’s ornate beauty. You’ll find the luxurious gold plated Louis Vuitton store as you stroll along, and pass the enchanting storefront of Ladurée. Pop in for a decadent macaroon, the interior is to die for, then continue your stroll toward the Arc that looks over the city.

My pro tip: go in the evening, right before sunset (shoutout to my sister-in-law Bailey for this recommendation!) Not only will it be a bit less crowded, but you’ll make it up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe right as the sun sets over the city, and you’ll have front row seats to Paris transforming from day to night. You’ll experience first hand why this is indeed the city of lights. Side-note: the staircase to the top of the Arc is very narrow, and very long. Take a deep breath, you got this. I promise the stunningly memorable views you’ll be met with at the top will be more than worth it. One more pro tip: the Arc de Triomphe is surrounded by one of the busiest/craziest traffic circles in the city. I’m not going to admit that we ran across the traffic circle like a couple of crazy people… (just kidding…but not really). Probably don’t do this, you know, just in case you actually want to make it to the top ;).

Visit the Louvre in the Evening (potentially for free…!)

Paris is full of museums, history, and massive amount of culture, and I encourage you to not miss the places that house these treasures. I’ve never been a huge museum person, but when the city you’re in is home to potentially the most famous museum in the world, you need to get your little behind inside. That little museum I’m talking about is of course, the Lourve. Home to some of the most renowned works of art in the world (I was a huge fan of the Egyptian exhibit) there’s probably no way you’ll make your way through the entire thing. Of course swing by the Mona Lisa to see her mischievous grin, though, I can tell you the picture you’re going to take of her won’t be as good as just viewing it in person. Some things are better memories in your mind. After you see her devilish grin, make sure to check out the other masterpieces that exist within this ornate building.

I’m going to drop a huge knowledge bomb on you: if you’re 26 or under, you can get in for FREE to the Lourve on Friday after 6:00 in the evening. BOOM. All you need to do is show your passport and you’ll be golden. We went Friday evening and stood in line for about 10 minute, which is insane. The line for this place can last for hours, so again, highly suggest going very early in the morning or in the evening. Sensing a theme yet? 🙂 If you can’t make it inside this ornate building, which spans for blocks, the exterior is equally stunning. Walk around the courtyard and take it all in. We came during the day and found the line to be a bit too overwhelming, and came back during the evening later in the week. It’s definitely worth the trip inside, so make sure to rise and shine early, or head there a bit later in the evening to beat the lines.

It’s nearly impossible to put together a list of all of the incredible museums in this decadent city, and even more impossible to see them all. The city does offer a museum pass, so if you’re short on time, that might be super helpful for you! You can find more information about that, here!

Don’t Miss Montmartre

Montmartre, Montmartre, how I love thee. I could stay in this nook of the city forever, and luckily, we did stay here for a brief period. If people are in Paris for only a few days, Montmartre tends to get overlooked, it’s a bit out of the way of the heart of the city, but it’s so worth the trip there. If you take one thing from this guide, take this: do NOT skip Montmartre. Located in the 18th arrondissement, this district will sweep you up in it’s ultra bohemian atmosphere. The picturesque streets will leave you aching for more long after you leave. I can say with every ounce of me that part of my heart has been left in Montmartre…

There are two ways to approach Montmartre: get caught up in the round of crowds, get talked into having your portrait sketched, and walk away with tchotchkes and souvenirs you don’t need. The second way: get lost in the cobblestone streets, and try to find the inspiration that iconic artists like Picasso and Van Gough found when they walked these same quirky streets many moons ago. Starting with the daring and famous Moulin Rouge at the bottom of the hill, and ending with the sweeping basilica Sacré-Coeur at the very tippy top (keep an eye out for Robert Langdon), it’s what’s in between the two where you’ll find the charm that made this location an artist’s safe haven. Make sure to stop by picture-book restaurants like La Maison Rose and Le Moulin de la Galette, where artists like Renoir found inspiration for their future masterpieces. But if you go a bit further off the beaten path, you’re sure to find something that won’t stretch your pockets as much, but will still be just as much of a postcard scene. I ate the best creme brûlée of my life on this hill filled with wanderers, gypsies and lovers, and I’ll never forget the feeling I had walking these streets. Neither will you, I promise. Make your way to Montmartre, you won’t regret it.

Rent a bike and get lost

Oh my goodness. This. This this this. This was probably one of the best decisions we made the entire trip. Paris’ transportation system (the metro) is amazing, efficient, and incredibly easy to get the hang of. It’s also MUCH cheaper than taking a taxi everywhere, so do this when you can to get around. Plus, it will give you a better sense of the city as a whole. Despite how wonderful the metro is, it’s secondary to my preferred method of transportation: biking. Paris has public bikes available all over the city, these bikes are part of a system known as Vélib’. You simply stick your credit card in the machine, and pick out your bike (remember to check and make sure the tires aren’t flat!) and you have the transportation for the rest of the day. It cost us each about 5 euros for the ENTIRE day to have these bad boys.

The joy of pedaling through Paris is invigorating beyond belief. There were points when I had to look around and pinch myself because every nook, alleyway, and boulevard we turned down was more enchanting than the last. It is by far the best way to truly explore this aesthetically rich city. Just think about it, if you’re on the metro, you’re underground for the entirety of your trip. Ride your bike around every quartier your heart desires, and you’ll discover a world you didn’t know existed. You’ll also discover that Parisian women absolutely kill it on bicylces. Every woman I saw was dressed to the nines (of course) and many were wearing heels, all while looking chic AF. I, on the other hand, was sweating and trying to not let my skirt fly over my head. It was pretty much the same…

The double edged sword to riding everywhere you go? You may very well get lost. But that’s okay. Getting lost and just wandering may just end up being one of the best things that happen to you in sweet Paris. This is precisely how we ended up at the most glorious street my eyes have ever laid eyes on, Rue Crémieux. This beyond-belief eye catching street is located in the 12th arrondissement, and we stumbled across it on our way back to our Airbnb. That wouldn’t have happened had we hopped in a taxi or the metro, and I’ll be forever grateful we decided to pedal our way home this day. I could have spent hours gazing at the beautifully pastel colored homes which lined this street. Even if you don’t get lost on your bike and wind up here, it’s worth the trip. A bit more hidden than most attractions in the city, this one we had to ourselves for the majority of the time we were there.

Moral of the story? Sometimes getting lost can be the best thing that happens to you. Find out all you need to know about biking your way through Paris using the Vélib’ system, here.

Go café hopping (all day everyday)

Similarly to getting lost on our bikes, Café Hopping became my favorite pastime while in Paris. We would leisurely ride around until we saw a café that tickled our fancy (or we needed an espresso, or a glass of wine, we’re in Paris after all!) The café culture of Paris is something I desperately wish we had in the states. Some patrons will stay for hours, others will grab a quick cup of espresso and sit down for a few minutes to enjoy it. Side note: there are very few places that offer coffee to go. Sit down, relax, and enjoy the scenery. This was my absolute favorite time to catch up on reading. Grab an espresso here, some frites there, and top it off with a glass of rosé and your day will be quintessentially Parisian. Some of the most iconic café’s in Paris include Brasserie Lipp, located in Saint-Germain, and Café de Flore, also located in the 6th arrondissement. Both also happened to be hotspots for Hemingway, so if you happen to be a fan of his literature, these might be worth the stop.

Added note: Paris does a lot of things beautifully, but it does one thing epically: crêpes.  If you don’t have time to sit down for a crêpe in a café, there are tons of walk up crêperies that are absolutely to die for. Most are incredibly affordable (I’m talking one euro affordable). We did this often, then hopped back on our bikes to continue our stroll through the city of dreams.

Some of our favorite café’s existed within the Latin Quarter. This area, filled with its twisty labyrinths, is full of surprises at every corner. There was one area in this arrondissement we returned to again and again because it had everything we were possibly looking for. I’d tell you where it is, but every time we tried to go back it seemingly disappeared. That sly Paris, keeping her best secrets locked up only to be discovered again when the moment is right.

Visit the Notre Dame in the morning

Similarly to heading to the Louvre and the Arc du Triomphe in the evening, make your way over to the city’s most famous church, The Notre Dame in the morning. The lines will be significantly shorter, and believe me, you absolutely want to head inside this iconic cathedral. Pictures truly don’t do this work of art justice. Something that makes this even more surreal? The first stone of this building was laid down in 1163. 1163, people! Get up early. Go inside. It’s completely worth it. This beauty is located along the right bank in the 4th arrondissement, and just can’t be missed.

After you’ve had the opportunity to check out one of the world’s most notable cathedrals, take a short walk to Shakespeare & Co., one of the city’s most legendary bookstores. Originally opened by American ex-pats, the lure of this literary hub has drawn in visitors for generations. Complete with sofas, creaky floors and more books than you could ever possibly read, it’s a true reader’s heaven. It’s less than a three minute walk across the Seine, and completely worth the pit stop.

Head to the backside of the cathedral and you’ll find a bridge filled with locks. I was slightly heartbroken when I heard that the city was tearing down the infamous “love lock” bridge right before we went. Well, turns out worry I shouldn’t have. The city is filled with bridges and locks, and one just so happens to be behind the very church you’re now standing near. Sounds like a win win to me.

P.S. while you’re on the cathedral hunt, do not miss Sainte-Chapelle. It’s a bit less well known, but just as much worth the visit.

Explore Le Jardin du Luxembourg

Oh the Parisians, they know nothing of subtlety. And I absolutely love it. This decadence even drips over into the cities many gardens and parks. Le Jardin du Luxembourg (also known as Luxembourg Gardens) are no exception. In fact, this ornate public garden is complete with a palace. A PALACE. No biggy. From the perfectly manicured lawn, to the gorgeously curated flowers lining every row, you truly feel like you’re walking in a garden straight out of heaven.

This has long been a quintessential Parisian relaxation spot, and that remains true to this day. Many times we packed up small picnic, and headed to Luxembourg to relax with our rosé and were surrounded by locals of the land. It was completely dreamy, and no trip to Paris is complete without a stop here. Spanning 61 acres, exploring all of it is no small feat! Don’t worry, that’s what your rosé’s for (rough life you’re leading these days..)

While Luxembourg has the top place in my heart, Jardin de Tuileries is equally exquisite. A particularly popular spot during the summer, when the garden plays host to a large carnival complete with the most pinterest-worthy rides you’ll ever lay your eyes on.

Watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night

Oh, be still my heart. There are certain moments in life that you know you’ll never forget. Certain moments that when you’re in them, you can actually feel you’re going to hang onto that feeling for the rest of your life. For me, seeing the Eiffel Tour for the first time was one of those moments. This was something I had dreamt about for just about as long as I could remember, and didn’t know if it would ever actually happen. When I found out that this dream was becoming a reality, I had to constantly pinch myself. Was I talking this up to much in my head? Could it possibly live up to the hype I was building for it? There’s just no way…

Oh. But there is. 

After walking for hours (sorry Bailey and Zach!) we finally turned the corner and I saw the steeple of one of the world’s most famous landmarks for the very first time. I felt like my heart was actually flying out of my chest. It was completely surreal. I wasn’t sure that feeling would ever be surpassed, until I saw this iron lady light up the night. Is it possible to actually pass out from pure joy? Because that’s what it felt like. Mmmm, there’s nothing in the world quite like seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night sky. My advice? Try to catch this show every evening if you can. Upon dusk, La Dame de Fer twinkles at the top of every hour for five minutes, until around 1:00 A.M. So, grab a bottle of bubbles and some bites, and pick your favorite spot in the city to watch her sparkle into the evening. It’s the best show in the city, and it’s completely free. The City of Lights, indeed. 

Soak in every moment of this my sweet, you’ll never forget it.  

If You can’t make it to Versailles…head to Palais Garnier

I almost didn’t include this one in my list, but think I would have kicked myself because this place is just THAT good. If you’re only in Paris for a few days, and don’t have time to make it to Versailles, do not fret my dear friend. Because inside the city of Paris lies something just as deliciously decadent as Versailles itself. Enter; Palais Garnier, also known as The Opera House. It’s not that I wasn’t excited to come here initially, I was. It was more so that I didn’t know what I was missing, and ohhh was I missing something. It turns out I was missing something so much, that I’ve now added seeing an actual opera in this architectural masterpiece to my bucket list. 

Located in the 9th arrondissement, and surrounded by some of the most gorgeous hotels you ever did see, lies an opera house so ornate it’s hard to believe it’s real. Step inside, and your eyes and mind will ogle over every ounce of minuscule, artful, thoughtful detail. I truly don’t believe this magnificently glamorous site gets enough credit. But that’s a good thing, for you. It was so quiet when we were there, we almost had the place completely to ourselves. 

If you’re in a need of dose of lavishness, look no further than here my dear. 

And now, I think I’m ready to head back to Paris to continue my goal of attempting to discover every delightful turn in the city that will forever have my heart. Oh, my sweet Paris, you are a moveable feast indeed.

If you’ve been to Paris, what were some of your favorite things to do? Any must do’s I need to add to my list? Share with me here, or join me over on Instagram (@thelyonbadger).