Having recently returned from my first visit to Paris, I thought it appropriate to sift through the experiences I had during my stay and translate them into a brief city-guide. However, I wanted to do something a bit different. Most guides I’ve read highlight the obligations (i.e. “must-sees” and “must-eats”), but then follow with a phonebook-sized list of almost everything else available in the city. While it’s wonderful to have so many options to choose from, I thought a curated guide would give a more intimate glimpse into the side of Paris I enjoyed. My hope is to shed light on rewarding experiences that one might not seek out on their own. After all, there is so much to see that it’s easy to overlook what’s in our periphery.
Just because it is the biggest, oldest, or most famous attraction does not guarantee that it is the most impressive. Below are my top two visits that many may overlook. But before deciding where to go, it’s good to know how to get there…
The Paris Pass
The first thing you should do after booking flights and accommodations is look into the Paris Pass. There are different options available, but the basic principle is to streamline your visit as much as possible through unimpeded use of mass transit (buses, RER, & metro), free entry into almost all museums/monuments, and the ability to save time by skipping lines. You pay a given fee upfront for your pass before it is mailed to you, but the price is more than reasonable given how much money and time you will save during your stay. You can find more information here.
When planning your visit, it’s worth noting that many shops/boutiques around the city are closed on Mondays. Similarly, a majority of museums are closed on Tuesdays. There are exceptions though, so it’s worth the research. Many museums also have late night admission 1-2 times during the week. If that’s the case, see everything else during the day and enjoy the given museum at night when the crowds have dispersed and you have the collection to yourself.
Sainte Chapelle (wiki-rendering)
Although Sainte Chapelle barely escapes the shadows cast by Notre Dame, visitors often skip this relatively small chapel when visiting Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris. Originally built to house King Louix IX’s expansive collection of relics, the chapel is now known for its incredible stained-glass windows that encompass the entire building. While it’s important to see as many sights as possible, I was actually far more impressed by Sainte Chapelle than I was with Notre Dame. In a pinch, I would choose to visit the former.
A taste of the stained glass (post restoration)
The chapel is currently in the final stretch of a 3-4 year restoration project, so a small portion of the glass is obscured at the moment. However, now is a great time to visit as you can’t find cleaner glass anywhere else! Check the website for a calendar of events that often features classical music recitals. I’ve heard the chapel has wonderful (albeit ethereal) acoustics.
4 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: (33) 01 44 54 19 33
1 Mar – 31 Oct: open everyday from 9:30A to 6:00P
1 Nov – 28 Feb: open everyday from 9:00A to 5:00P
Closed: 1 January, 1 May, & 25 December
Palais de Tokyo
The Palais de Tokyo is a modern space with a heavy emphasis on contemporary installation art. That said, it is also harbor to a constant flux of video, 2D work, design, and musical performances.
The work there tends to be cutting-edge and thought provoking, so it promises to be a memorable visit for any fan of the arts. The complex is also known for its incredible bookstore.
13, Avenue du Président Wilson,
75116 Paris, France
Tel: 01 47 23 54 01
Wednesday through Monday from 12:00P-12:00A
***Closes early at 6:00P on 24 & 31 December
Closed: Tuesdays; 1 January, 1 May, & 25 December
When looking for dining options in Paris, virtually anybody can find great restaurants like Café des Musees or Robert et Louise. Not that these cafes are a dime a dozen, but I enjoyed stepping out of the “Parisian” culinary experience in seeking out something a bit different…
Soya – Cantine Bio
Although Paris is known for its epicurean standards, it is not regarded as vegetarian-friendly. However, the casual yet elevated vegetarian fusion at Soya is a notable exception and is worth seeking out even if you are an omnivore.
The restaurant is tucked away on a not-so-busy street in Le Marais, which is a great area in and of itself. The atmosphere is open and laid back, yet they remain very calculated in what they serve. Their menu is comprised of changing seasonal dishes, all of which are all made using local and organic ingredients. They even have many naturally gluten-free dinner options for those with dietary restrictions.
20, Rue de la Pierre Levée, 75011 Paris, France
Tel : 01 48 06 33 02
Mon-Fri: 12:00 P – 3:30P; 7:00P – 11:00P
Sat-Sun: 11:30A – 4:00P
It might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but the best pastries I had while in France were from Helmut Newcake – a gluten-free café/patisserie located in the 10th arrondissement. While my diet is the last thing one could call gluten-free, I was nonetheless floored by the textures and flavors in their crusts. Nowhere else in Paris could I find a better lemon tart (believe me, I tried), but everything they served was exquisite – including their daily lunch selections which featured various quiche and rice dishes among other offerings.
Unfortunately, they don’t have a website but you can find them via Facebook or by visiting:
36 Rue Bichat, 75010 Paris, France
Tel: 09 82 59 00 39
Wed-Sat: 12:00P – 8:00P
Sun: 10:00A – 6:00P
Personally, shopping is always an important aspect of any trip. I find however that it pays to be a curator rather than a consumer. Here’s a good way to go about it:
Repetto Stock Store
For decades, Repetto has been a staple of Parisian style. Although the label began by solely making ballet slippers, they quickly branched out into the fashion world by introducing their hand-made, everyday shoes to the everyday market. If you searching for a pair, be sure to visit their ‘hidden’ stock store in the 9th Arrondissement for a good deal. Although it’s apparently a well-kept Paris secret, my girlfriend and I noticed a couple eager shoppers collecting outside the unmarked entrance just before opening time. They had a solid collection of last season’s shoes, interesting colors, and assorted handbags, so there is sure to be something there for everyone. Remember though, you didn’t hear about it from Procured Design.
24 Rue de Châteaudun, 75009 Paris, France
Tel: 33 01 53 32 84 84
The area surrounding Rue du Pont Louis Philippe just north of the Seine is packed full of interesting shops and cafes. However, the best visit I had was Calligrane – a store devoted to stationery, specialty paper goods, book arts, and leatherwork. Originally founded in Cannes, the boutique has been in operation since 1979. Their phenomenal stock of rare papers and unique handmade goods is the product of years spent traveling the world, conversing with artisans in Nepal, India, Japan, Brasil, Bhutan, and Europe.
Paper Sculpture by Miki Nakamura
The shop showcases a diverse stable of different paper, book, and leather artists who work towards vastly different realizations of their given craft. It is an incredibly rich experience to poke around the shop and talk to the owners, who just recently took the reins of their family’s business. It’s also a great opportunity to pick up some well-curated handmade goods – or even order custom stationery, notebooks, and business cards.
6 Rue du Pont Louis Philippe, 75004 Paris, France
Tel: 01 48 04 09 00
While there is so much more to see and do in the city, it’s best to leave the rest to you to discover. Each trip will have different highlights for different people. That said, feel free to share your favorite places and experiences in Paris – or anywhere for that matter. It’s always nice to know where to go!