“An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
No city comes close to the hearts of writers, poets, and painters as much as the French capital. I find the City of Lights to be like a canvas that has been splashed on with bold colours of paint with hints of black stemming from its edges.
Paris has many quirks that walks along its cobblestone streets. But it is also a city that I feel only a few will truly love. I’ve met so many tourists who have been, arguably, disappointed with Paris. So much so there’s actually a psychological syndrome about it. But I digress.
As to avoid this and maybe guide you some, I’ve brought together a list of activities and places to see the best of what the City of Lights has to offer. This bucket list includes the off-beaten paths mixed with tourist-y destinations and overall puts everything together.
#1. Drink hot chocolate at Angelina
Even though I thrive on coffee, it’s never as great as the hot chocolate served at the most popular tea and pastry shop: Angelina. I found this patisserie by accident, walking from Grand Roue de Paris and ending up needing a place to stay to fight the cold winds.
#2. Have croissant with black coffee for brunch
If you’re really into being like the French, order croissant at the nearby bakery and drink black coffee with two spoons of sugar. Oh, and don’t have breakfast. Instead, go for brunch as no one really eats breakfast over here.
My recommendation: Eric Kayser at Rue Monge, and L’Artisan des Gourmands at 60 rue de la Convention
#3. Order macarons well into the afternoon
Although I’m not one for sweets, not trying macarons while in France is like heresy for every tourist! You’ll find it’s difficult to for any one macaron that isn’t as good as the other nearby bakery, which is only 100 metres away. That’s the French for you.
My recommendations: Pierre Herme, Gerard Mulot, and Ladurée
#4. Go for dessert — specifically, sorbet — at Berthillon
If you’re looking for the best sorbet in the city, look no further than Berthillon! A shop nestled in rue Saint-Louis, which is arguably one of the best parts of the city as well.
#5. Experience how to have a French picnic
For what it’s worth…I totally packed healthy food for this one. Even when you’re battling against the cold of Paris, sitting down and eating a healthy salmon sandwich in one of their parks was one of the highlights of my trip.
Next comes having allergies from eating too much salmon.
My recommendation: Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens
#6. Go to the underground mall at the Carrousel de Louvre
I think it’s because I’m such a tech-fanatic that’s why I recommend going here. My cousin, who has been to Paris a few years before me, told me about this place and I was surprised at how very few people knew about it. Oh, and it helps when there’s a giant Apple store inside.
#7. Walk all the way to Champs Elysees from Grand Roue de Paris
Admittedly, it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas — especially under the 2 degree weather and rain. But it was also one of the most memorable (Note: I literally bumped into Eddie Redmayne somewhere around here!!) with the scenic sights and the park along the way. Also, it’s a great walk if you’re headed to Pont Alexandre III.
#8. Climb to the top of Cathedral de Notre Dame
If you arrive early, you can climb to the top of the Gothic Cathedral and be greeted with the sight of the city’s left bank. This offers you a great view of the Latin Quarter and most of Paris.
#9. Spend hours rifling through books at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore
According to many tourists, Shakespeare and Co. is the most popular bookstore in the city. Well, it’s hard to argue with that logic especially with the wonderful selections you’ll find inside the tiny store. If you happen to be at the one located in the Latin Quarter, go have fun playing the piano at the last floor.
#10. Explore Rue Saint Dominique
In my time at the city, it doesn’t get as authentic French as having a late lunch along Rue Saint Dominique, bringing home a baguette, and looking straight towards the Eiffel Tower.
#11. Admire the colourful houses at Rue Cremieux
If you’re a fan of the Bo-Kaap houses in Cape Town, there’s a similar neighbourhood in Paris called Rue Cremieux at the quiet 12th arrondissement.
#12. Wander the backstreets of Montmartre and get lost looking for hidden gems
There’s a reason why Montmartre is also called the ‘Artist’s Paradise’ in Paris. Even though it’s more tourist-centred now, there’s still a lot to find in this neighbourhood — especially if you’re looking for the best crepes or off-beaten museum.
#13. To the off-beaten path: Musee de Montmartre
While many tourists flock to the Sacre Coeur, enjoy a quiet time at the Musee de Montmartre’s garden and learn about the artists who have lived here, look at old French movie posters, and find out how this neighbourhood transformed into the one we know today.
#14. Bask in the beauty of art at the Musee d’Orsay
I’m a big fan of Musee d’Orsay, and impressionist art. What’s even more appealing to me is how the museum used to be a train station, which now a days will transport you back in time to a simpler era. Midnight in Paris, anyone?
#15. Go ice skating at Hotel de Ville
If you happen to be in the city around winter time, many locals and travellers alike have recommended going ice skating at Hotel de Ville. It adds to the charm and magic of the upcoming holidays.
#16. Learn about underground Paris via their catacombs
Surprisingly, one of my favourite tours! There’s like a secret society for the cool, and die-hard history fan when you explore the French capital’s catacombs. What’s even better? It’s like there’s also a society for bars and restaurants in their canals. The streets don’t lie.
#17. Rummage through great deals at one of the best flea markets in the city
You can thank me later when you’ve found antique paintings, novels, and furniture alongside some eccentric items at one of the best flea markets in the city.
#18. Watch a French film at one of their outdoor cinemas
I’m beginning to believe the French began the what we know about art and film today. But anyhow, if it isn’t too cold or if you aren’t too tired, head on over with your picnic basket and enjoy an old French film show at one the outdoor cinemas all over the city.
#19. Take a day trip to Chateau de Versailles
A trip to Paris just isn’t complete if you’re not going to this World Heritage site. The chateau is breathtaking (for lack of better term), has a beautiful garden to get lost in, and will also make you feel like you’re royalty as well. Yep.
#20. Have coffee and read a book at Place Dauphine
It was such a simple moment but one of my favourite ones. During my free walking tour, I was taken to this area surrounded by residents and a street of coffee shops where you may order an espresso while taking your time reading a good book or the latest issue of Philosophy.
I came back here after our tour, drank good coffee, and got lost failing at trying to read French.
Obviously, there’s still so much to see and do in the City of Lights! In fact, this is such a short bucket list that I’m afraid I didn’t do Paris any justice. However, I’ve also come to discover that the best of what the city has to offer are the simpler things. Ones where you feel you’re a little bit closer to understanding its character, but also where you feel you’re nowhere as close just yet.
For what it’s worth, there are so many experiences in here that’s both overrated and underrated at the same time. But I believe you’ll find your way once you’ve taken a look at Paris beyond the cliches.
Over to you:
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