New Yorker's Guide to Paris: Our Approved List for living the Parisian Life
When I travel my main mission is to visit places in Paris that are not tourist traps. I want to experience a city like a local vs going to places frequented by and designed for tourists — one, because the quality may not be the same and two, you are most likely going to pay more for subpar quality. I, of course, will see any of the major attractions that are on my list to see, but as far as my dining and exploring go, would rather go to gastronomic musts and places off the beaten path, or at least the touristic beaten path. Also, coming from NYC I’m used to a certain level of service, as well as a certain type of charm. Living here for almost three years, I’ve discovered many gems. If you want to discover those gems, this guide is for you.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are visiting Paris, I suggest you stay central, or in the center circle of the arrondissement map above (basically arrondissements 1-9). Most likely you will want to hit some of the tourist attractions, and, if so, you want to be centrally located. I may be biased here, but I think the best place to stay is Saint Germain on the left bank. It’s just more picturesque and not as congested as the right bank, which is definitely more touristy. If you want to feel like a true Parisian and can secure a hotel or airbnb in the 6th or the 7th arrondissement, that is your best bet. If you prefer the hustle and bustle of Paris, I would do the 1st or the 8th for a more upscale feel or the 3rd or 4th for a more artsy vibe.
Pro-Tip: Renting an apartment in Paris is the best way to get the whole vibe of the city and is pretty cost effective compared to NYC. Also, the space will be bigger. Most Parisian hotel rooms are tiny, so if you don’t require all the creature comforts of a hotel, an apartment is truly the way to go!
Super Pro-Tip: For more affordable lodging and a less congested atmosphere, you can also stay along the borders of the hot neighborhoods, i.e. the 15th in the part bordering the 7th, or the 17th in the part bordering the 8th or the 11th in the part bordering the 3rd and the 4th.
WHERE TO EAT
So, you are in Paris, one of the culinary capitals of the world. One cardinal rule to remember, you seriously cannot get any bad food here. It is nearly impossible unless you go to somewhere on my avoiding list . And the lovely thing about Paris is you can eat anywhere based on your budget type and get a pretty solid meal. Here are my top three by category.
Traditional Paris Brasserie popular with the media types located in Saint Germain
What to get: Duck Confit, Baba au Rhum, Bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape
The brasserie where Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton eat in one of my movie faves, “Something’s Gotta Give”
What to get: The hot foie gras, beef bernaise, bottle of the Gevry Chambertin
Where all the old artists like Hemingway, Cézanne and Wilde used to frequent. There are many seating options including an outside or indoor garden, main brasserie and piano bar
What to get: A gin or vodka martini to start, the foie gras, the lamb, crepes suzette flambé, any bottle of red
One of the best tasting menus I’ve had in my life and the priciest, but totally worth it. You can either do a land/sea tasting menu or a veggie tasting menu. Both are equally delectable. Alain Passard is a genius and usually visits each table during the dinner seatings. You can eat downstairs in the cave, which is more intimate (I did find out that this is where they usually seat the tourists, but it’s better IMHO). You can also request to sit upstairs if you want to be seated with the locals.
Amazing Japanese French Fusion Tasting Menu and one of the better tasting menus I have had in Paris. Space is small and minimalist, but food is amazing. There are 3 tiers-discovery standard and luxe. We did the luxe bc I really wanted the truffles but it was honestly too much food, for me at least!
One of the trendier tasting menus here in Paris so make sure to make your resis months out in advance. If you can’t snag a ressie for your stay, Frenchie Bar à vin is across the street from the main restaurant. They don’t take reservations, so make sure to show up a few minutes or half an hour before they open to snag a table. They serve AMAZING wine and tapas style dishes for dinner. If you happen to be just wandering in that neighborhood, Frenchie to go (another part of their family) is great for lunch and sandwiches to go.
Pro-Tip: Have the sommelier choose your wine when you do a tasting menu as they do know best. And, always do the wine pairing if that option is available.
Off the beaten path
Located down a side street where the 6th meets the 7th, this brasserie is charming and serves up some of the best southwestern French food you will eat in your life. All ingredients are locally sourced and the cheese and wine come from local shops from a few blocks away.
What to get: Foie gras (toast the bread with your private toaster), the duck confit or cassoulet and the cheese plate. Wash it down with some pinot noir or another red of your choosing.
Way down the beaten path in the heart of the 15th, this little restaurant is not one to miss. With a prix fixe menu that changes almost daily, you really are in for a treat. You get to choose a starter, main course and dessert for the small price of 39€ that is a steal since the food is Michelin Grade!
What to get: Menu changes daily, but get the foie gras for your starter if they have it as it is homemade. They also have bottles of the moment, which are usually treasures.
This restaurant is where French people go to dine and treat themselves. Comprised of a slew of great young talented chefs it is hard to go wrong. You can opt for their normal prix fixe set at 39€, or go all out with their 5 course tasting menu for 59€, both a steal for gastronomical dining!
What to get: Menu changes so if you do the normal prix fixe menu where you have a choice just ask for their reccommendations.
If you are hankering for a flavor of the Mediterranean, head over to Balagan. Vibe is trendy and fun and the cuisine is light yet filling.
What to get: Anything with zatar and the snickers dessert. Their international wine selection is a top on my list!
Craving Italian? For a nice cozy feel, head over to Cherche Midi on the street of the same name. Spot is a cute little neighborhood spot where mostly locals go. The food is pretty amazing and you won’t be sorry.
What to get: The lobster ravioli if they have it or any of their pasta/seafood dishes.
Japanese Fusion hot spot in the heart of Saint Germain. They don’t take reservations, so make sure to go either at the beginning of dinner service or towards the end of primetime dinner. If you are here in August, you will have no issue as most of the Parisians are on holiday.
What to get: The cocktails and a few small dishes to share.
Where to drink
So in Paris, you have two options—you drink wine like the french do (and seriously it’s a crime not to) or you drink cocktails. I like doing both. You can find and drink good wine anywhere, seriously, ANYWHERE—a cafe, a brasserie, even McDonalds, so I hear. But if you want to go to a true wine bar or have a real cocktail, read on.
For those of you who are truly french beginners—this is basically a bar for natural wines. Even though I am not a big bio wine fan, I don’t discriminate as they have pretty good wines here, as well as good vintages. They also have a location in NYC
This is a great lively joint in the 9th arrondissement. Love this place because you can either sit in a main bar, but if you prefer a more intimate setting you can book one of the underground caves and enjoy your wine and nibbles in there.
This is more of a brasserie, than a wine bar, BUT they make my list because they have a cellar of 250+ wines. The best is you can even buy a few bottles to take home.
Pro-Tip: If you are not looking for a full out wine experience you are best served going to a brasserie for apero hour, where the french enjoy a few nibbles (charcuterie and cheese plates, or as they call it “planche mixte”) with their apertif of choice.
Love, love , love the Ritz because it has as many bar options a girl can dream of! If you are going for a speakeasy vibe, you must try Hemingway Bar. Regardless of what you are looking for, you must try Hemingway Bar—their bartender is a legend in his field and the cocktails made there cannot be found anywhere else, including the other bars at the Ritz Paris. They also have two outdoor bars, which are lovely on a nice day or evening or a tea room where you can enjoy a proper tea and champagne.
If you are looking for somewhere off the beaten path and a night of surprises, head over to the Marais to this gem. Cocktails are curated in a special artist’s book that would make a nice addition to your coffee table collection. The vibe is fun and lively.
Wanting to hang in the left bank? Then head here for fantastic cocktails, a great vibe and amazing beats. They also make one of best sazeracs I have ever had.
Pro-Tip: If you really cannot live without a true cocktail, make sure NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances order a cocktail at a brasserie unless you want to be majorly disappointed. Always order your cocktail at a hotel bar, a cocktail club or one of the brasseries on this approved list.
WHAT TO DO
Tourist Trap Tips
If you are coming during the first of the month and the Louvre is on your list, entry is free the evening of the first Saturday of the month. Saying that, you can still purchase tickets for the VIP section so you don’t have to wait on the super long line. I personally find the Louvre overwhelming and find a guided tour better able to manage my visit—you can still wander around on your own after the guided tour if you wish. This two hour one is my favorite, and as an extra bonus you get to skip the line!
If you really have no interest in going to the top of the tower, and you just want to see it, head over to the steps of Trocadero, which is the best spot to see her majesty. If you do go in, enjoy a glass of champagne at the top or just book reservations at one of the restaurants to avoid the line completely.
Best time to go here is when it is a sunny day with no bad weather or the balcony/tower areas will be closed off. It’s also better and safer to wander the winding and steep streets of montmarte when it’s not raining or snowing.
You can actually climb to the top of the Arc if you just don’t want to be just another one of those tourists trying to get the perfect shot from the Champs de Elysée. I will warn you that this climb is not for the weak of heart—there are no elevators, the staircases are beyond narrow and the air quality leaves much to be desired.
Pro-Tip: If you happen to be touring Paris with a young one in a stroller, you are in luck. You can get to the front of any museum or tourist attraction line. I have often thought about buying a stroller and putting a baby doll in it just for this perk.
Off the beaten path
Totally innovative for Paris, this is definitely a must see. Imagine seeing works of art projected in a loft like space with music playing in the background. Book tickets way in advance especially if you are looking for Saturday/Sunday tickets, as this is when the French go with their families.
Pro-Tip: Book Friday evening tickets as they have a bar open during these hours
If you happen to be in Paris during Opera and ballet season, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing tickets to a performance.
Pro-Tip: For a more elegant feel and a true Opera experience, make sure to book at Palais Garnier. If you want more of a casual vibe, head over to Opera Bastille.
Taking a daytrip out of Paris is an easy thing to do whether you decide to go by train, car or uber. If you want to go north, take a train and check out the beaches of Normandy. If you want palaces and to see how the royals lived, head over to Versailles. Want to explore your artistic side? Head over to Giverny and get a little taste of Monet. Looking to get your drink on? The Champagne region is your best bet. The possibilities are endless.
Pro-Tip: If you are going somewhere not too far, totally worth it to check uber pricing. Sometimes it makes more sense than taking the train and is less stressful.
Versailles Pro-Tip: If you do Versailles, highly recommend doing a horseback excursion through the gardens before actually touring the Trianon and the Palace. It truly is an unforgettable experience. If you choose only to do the Palace, I would do the guided tour route like the Louvre, as it is massive!
Being one of the fashion capitols of the world, Paris is definitely somewhere to spend those dollars especially since you get your VAT back, which depending on the purchase, can add up to a lot. You can read more about shopping here.
Live like a local
One of my favorite things about Paris is shopping the Farmer’s Markets. The produce and quality of food here in France is superior to the US mostly anywhere, but there is something special about the farmer’s markets. It is more fresh because they make that morning drive with the produce for one and it feels great to support the local markets and smaller businesses.
Marche de Avenue Saxe (Thurs & Sat)
Bio Market Avenue Raspail (Sunday)
A trip to Paris is not complete without visiting a fromagerie. Even if you are staying at a hotel, you must visit a local fromagerie and do a sampling of cheeses. Love the cheese here vs. US because it is unpasteurized and the variety and the special types they make here are simply second to none.
Pro-Tip: You can also ask them to vacuum pack your faves for transport to the US. FYI-this is illegal and I’ve never done it, but if you want to try your luck with customs as many do, by all means, go for it!
To feel like a true Parisian just sit at a café in the afternoon or morning and just take in the beauty around you. If you are here for creative purposes, it is sometimes a nice treat.
Pro-Tip: At cafes, you can sit anywhere that is available. You do not need to be wait to be seated. If you do, it will tell them right away that you are a tourist! And if you don’t know French, no problem! Here’s a little cheatsheet that will help you get around.
Picnic in the Park
Another great thing to do is just chill in the park. The lovely thing about Paris is that you can pretty much set up shop in any of the green spaces. The other great thing is there are no close rivals to the type of picnic assortments you can create here—foie gras, saucisson, fromage, wine, champagne…Create your own adventure and curate your basket to the nines!
Saint Germain de Laye (outside of paris but def worth the uber ride)
Pro-Tip: Bring the wine. If you didn’t know, drinking outside is legal here, bien sûr!
Paris is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world and true Parisians walk aimlessly everywhere. Sometimes it is nice to get just get lost wandering the side streets in Saint Germain and the Marais. My best discoveries in Paris have been made by accident! Best time to walk is in the morning before the sun gets too strong and in the evening after dinner to burn off all the calories you just consumed!
So, there you have it—your Parisian visit at your fingertips. Obviously, I have a long, long list of favorites, but we’d be here for hours if I published that! For the full list, click here and put “Paris list” in the additional info field. Until next time, happy exploring!