Don’t make the mistake of feeling you must tick off every museum and historic site when visiting Paris.
Following your nose, buying flowers, and enjoying great bread, wine and cheese at a cute café in your quartier can be just as rewarding. Eat, drink and be merry, and don’t let a haughty waiter in central Paris put you off. Give him your biggest smile and get on with revelling in the magic of the French capital.
Enjoy this Paris travel guide.
Paris for history lovers
A practical way to get your historical bearings in Paris has always been to visit Notre-Dame Cathedral in the centre of town.
On the 15th of April 2019, the world looked on in shock as the 12th century edifice went up in flames. The attic, roof and spire collapsed. Reconstructions are underway, beginning with a strengthening of the main walls to ward off further devastation. The reconstruction project is headed by chief architect Philippe Villeneuve, in collaboration with Rémi Fromont and Pascal Prunet. All three report to the Minister of Culture. Their aim is to preserve (as best as is possible) the artistic, architectural and historic integrity of the famous monument. French President Emmanuel Macron has set a five year deadline for the completion of the project. That has caused plenty of debate, given the cathedral took centuries to build.
Just behind the cathedral is the famous English bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Once an intellectual hub in the Latin Quarter for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the shop offers a great collection of books and manuscripts on the history of Paris.Pick one to suit your taste covering the history of Parisian food, love, language, race or perhaps the complex relationship with the much-maligned British.
Next, cross the road to the bouquinistes — the second-hand book sellers on the banks of the Seine. You can pick up tales of times past, along with Belle Époque post cards and posters (which make fabulous souvenirs).
Cultural things to do in Paris
Theatre, opera, music, dance, literature, fine art, photography — whatever it is that floats your artistic boat, you’ll find a thriving scene for it in Paris.
Start by whiling away an afternoon in centuries past at the Louvre, Musée Marmottan Monet, Museé d’Orsay or Musée du quai Branly. In the evening, splash out on tickets to the iconic Paris Opéra in Bastille or a show at Folies Bergere in the 9th.
If the weather is appropriate and you have a spare day, track out to the 20th to Père Lachaise cemetery to pay homage to Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Beethoven, Chopin, Proust and Marcel Marceau. Then back track up to Belleville and enjoy the vibrant street art along rue Dénoyez.
Great places to eat in Paris
Nothing in the world beats Parisian croissants for breakfast.
Dunked in milky coffee (café crème), they’re the best way to start the day.
Next, head to the markets. Fresh food markets are set up on various street corners across the city every day of the week, and the atmosphere is convivial and very local. Tuesday to Sunday you can visit the Marché des Enfants Rouge — the oldest covered market in Paris, which is located in the 3rd arrondissement. Buy flowers and fruit, gawk at the gigantic cheeses and try some street food. Lebanese sandwiches, Indian snacks, and mahjouba — succulent Algerian crepes — are all on offer.
Later, try a French-style crepe. They’re best simply with cheese and ham. Munch one on the move in the back streets of Montmartre or among the restaurants by Gaumont Cinema near Montparnasse.
Bouillon Chartier has been a much-loved fixture of the Parisian dining scene since 1896 and is a must for first-visitors to the city. For a gastronomical experience you have plenty of options, including Le Grand Vefour and La Coupole. Le Bachaumont is the city’s latest dining hotspot. It offers simple French classics served in a beautifully restored heritage hotel dining room.
Leave room for dessert — perhaps an ice-cream while strolling on Ile Saint-Louis, or cheese and vin rouge in the Marais. Book a guided walking of this fabulous part of Paris and discover more of its delicious delights — including cured meats, chocolate and macarons. If you are looking for a great wine bar, try Frenchie (opposite the restaurant of the same name).
Where to shop in Paris
Shopping isn’t just a pastime in Paris — it’s a way of life!
If independent and up-and-coming designers are your thing, head directly to Le Marais in the 3rd. Rue de Turenne, rue Charlot and rue Vieille du Temple have a tonne of funky and fun shops that offer perfumes, clothing and to-die-for homewares.
For elegant clothing and accessories, the 1st and 2nd arrondissements are home to all the top labels. Rue St-Honoré is the place to shop for designer perfumes.
To get on the trail of more unique treasures, head to the huge Marché aux puces de Paris Saint-Ouen flea market (just watch your bag).
On the way back through the multicultural 10th, treat yourself to a manicure for perfect nails for the rest of your trip. There are many salons to choose from but Chez Hélène is my favourite.
Top ways to relax in Paris
There’s no shortage of delightful ways to kick back and relax in Paris.
Parisians are fond of the after-work apéro: a kir (white wine with syrup), a demi of beer, or perhaps a Perrier (the champagne of sparking mineral water, which is served with a slice of lemon). Order on the ‘terrace’ (outside seating area) of almost any street café. Then sit back, relax and watch the world go by.
Settle into one of Paris’ many public gardens or parks and read your new history book. Then get off the beaten track and explore the surrounding streets. There really is something special to discover around every corner. When you get tired (or lost!), find the nearest Metro station and head for home.
Try my Paris self-guided walking tours during your stay:
Paris self guided walking tour from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame
Paris self guided walking tour from the Eiffel Tower to Les Invalides
Paris self guided walking tour of Belleville
Paris self guided walking tour of Montmartre
They will introduce you to some charming parts of Paris that many tourists miss.
Five Paris tours we love
The last thing you can afford to do in Paris is waste time queuing! This Louvre Museum prioritised guided tour includes skip-the-line entry and an introduction to several of the gallery’s most famous pieces. After the tour you can stay on and explore at your own pace.
Only got a day or two to conquer Paris? This full day sightseeing tour will ensure you see all the key sights. Highlights of the tour include a visit to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, a Seine river cruise, and lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant.
This is what you came all the way to Paris for! Chocolate! Delight in this delicious mix of desserts, history, and culture as you explore Saint-Germain or the Marais on foot with a local guide.
Combine a night out in Paris with some amazing sightseeing on this evening dinner cruise down the River Seine. Enjoy a three-course à la carte dinner and live music, and see sights like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre – all lit up!
The famous Moulin Rouge cabaret show is the top-selling live performance in Paris. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the resident Cancan dancers doing their thing on the historic stage. Choose from the 9pm or 11pm show – with champagne included! Dinner and show packages are also available.
Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.
Do you have any tips to add to our Paris travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.