Keith's Paris City Guide: Day 1
Much ink has been spilled on the pleasures and delights of Paris, and there are bookstores with entire aisles devoted to Paris guidebooks, not to mention the novels and songs and poems written about the place. So, what follows is hardly definitive, not in the least comprehensive, and possibly repetitive for anyone who knows Paris well - and I am sure there are those reading this who know it far better than I do.
All that said, I’ve shared this itinerary over the years with friends and family traveling to Paris, and I’ve revised it at least twice recently, tailoring it to the tastes of my two grown children who recently had their first visits to Paris without their parents, which they both argue was the only “real” trip they’ve taken to the City of Light.
Whether it’s your first visit to Paris or your 100th, the best way to experience the magic of the city is to wander its neighborhoods one quartier at a time. The French even have a word for the practice of wandering: la flânerie - which loosely translates as aimless strolling, but has a meaning all its own to the Parisian. (If you’re interested in more on the subject, bring along Edmund White’s wonderful book, Le Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris).
What follows is one of my favorite itineraries for a few days in Paris organized by neighborhood. It includes restaurants and shops, museums and parks, churches and markets, organized as you might encounter them on a nice walk through a few neighborhoods with no need for an uber or a cab (unless there’s a downpour). This itinerary has been honed over 30 years of visiting Paris and many of the places on the itinerary, I first visited in the early 90s when I was lucky enough to live and work in France for a time.
Where to Stay
My favorite place to stay on any trip to Paris is in or near the Saint-Germain-des-Près. There are so many charming (and very reasonable) hotels in this beautiful neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement, and here are a few favorites:
Hotel Duc de Saint Simon in the rue de Saint-Simon for its pretty Pierre Frey fabrics and its cozy cave where breakfast and drinks are served in a space that feels like a wine cellar.
Hotel de L’Abbaye Saint-Germain for its excellent price, the availability of a balcony if you book in advance, and its lovely garden-view breakfast room where ample baskets of baguette and croissants are served every morning.
Hotel Montalembert, in the 7th arrondissement is also fabulous, if a bit more expensive. It’s filled with an interesting mix of modern art and pretty furnishings, and there’s a pretty sidewalk dining area and bar.
Many people prefer the grand hotels of the Right Bank (Le Crillon, Le Meurice, the Ritz, to name a few). I’d never pass up a few nights of luxury at the Ritz, but there’s something romantic about the small boutique hotels scattered across the city.
A Day in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the 7ème Arrondissement
My sister and I love to start any trip to Paris wandering from our hotel to the 7th arrondissement for lunch at Le Recamier, a restaurant devoted entirely to the soufflé. Start with a simple green salad, a cold bottle of Sancerre, and your choice of salé (salted) followed by the sucré (sugared). My friend Courtney, who first introduced me to the place, said she once saw Catherine Deneuve having lunch there, smoking a cigarette with one hand and eating her salted caramel souflé with the other.
Our next stop, just around the corner, is Le Bon Marché, Paris’ most beautiful department store, built in the 19th century and as famous for its iconic escalator as it is for its collection of great clothes, shoes, home accessories and books.
After the Bon Marché, wander around the shops in the neighborhood. Check out the new Hermès store on the rue du Four which is architecturally gorgeous. Rue du Four, rue du Bac, rue St. Dominique, rue de Grenelle, rue de Varennes are all nice for smaller boutiques, though many shops are popular and chic chains. I like Soeur (there’s one on the rue Bonaparte), and the Inès de la Fressange boutique on the rue de Grenelle.
Make sure you stop at Deyrolle in the rue du Bac. It’s the chicest taxidermy shop you’ll ever visit. Established in 1831, the shop is a cabinet de curiosités, where a stuffed zebra and ostrich preside over a room filled with stuffed songbirds, foxes, display cases of brilliantly-colored butterflies.
This is a good day to see the Musée Rodin, with its incredible collection of Rodin’s sculptures and its beautiful gardens. This is a manageable museum, unlike so many, and the sculpture garden is so pretty on a sunny day.
Equally lovely, but in the opposite direction from the Bon Marche, is a 25 minute walk back towards the 6th and the Luxembourg Gardens. Stop along the way at the Place de St. Sulpice, visit the church, and cross your fingers that the stalls selling books and antique prints are still there. There’s a café on the corner, Café de la Mairie, that has the best café crème I’ve ever tasted. Sit for a while and enjoy the view of the fountain and the church. End the afternoon with a stroll through the gardens and a walk back to the hotel.
If you still have the energy, or want to skip some of the above itinerary, another wonderful walk is from the hotel to the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Près where you can wander the backstreets, have a coffee at the famous Café des Deux Magots of Hemingway fame and have a delicious lunch of steak frites at Relais de L’Entrecôte on rue St. Benoit. There are three locations, so make sure to choose the one in the 6th arrondissement.
From lunch, wander over to the Quai Voltaire on the river and pop into Magasin Senellier where the art students from the Latin Quarter get their art supplies. It’s a great place to find gifts to bring home.
If you’re up for a long walk, head through the Latin Quarter past the Sorbonne and the felafel shops towards a quiet corner of the 5th arrondissement where you’ll find one of my favorite shops in the world, La Tuile a Loup, known by design lovers far and wide. Eric, its owner, travels all over La France Profonde (the backcountry) to discover artisans who create the most beautiful ceramics. Make an appointment via Instagram @latuilealoup.
Where To Go for Dinner
After a long day across the river, it’s nice to walk to dinner, and when I’m staying in the 6th or 7th, these are my favorites. Most are simple (with the exception of Joel Robuchon’s place) and serve bistro fare with a warm, bustling vibe.
La Fontaine de Mars Everyone seems to know this one. Have the chicken with morels.
Le Petit Saint-Benoît - French staples like cassoulet and boeuf bourguignon. Since 1901, they’ve been serving the same hearty fare and the waiters still keep their torchons (serving napkins) in special wooden drawers that line the walls. (Not to be confused with Michelin-starred Benoît, Alain Ducasse’s lovely restaurant in the 4th arrondissement, which is also a good option.)
Atelier Joel Robuchon next door to the Hotel Montalembert is also great for dinner, more high end and sleek. You will never taste mashed potatoes like this again.
Le Comptoir du Relais doesn’t take reservations and it’s tiny, but so worth the wait.
Brasserie Lipp stays open until just before 1 am, is open on Sunday nights, and is a happy, brightly lit brasserie that deserves its fame. It’s slightly touristy, but everyone needs to eat a proper choucroute in France.
Read my Paris Guide: Day 2