This post is for all my friends who are travelling to Paris or who are blessed to live in the City of Light.
You have asked me when to go, where to stay, what to see, and what to eat. Before I begin, I would just like to mention that these are personal recommendations and that I have not been endorsed by any particular company.
When to go: Having been born in Singapore, where shopping could be said to be our national sport, I recommend going during the sale periods, of course! The French are legally allowed to have sales twice a year - in the beginning of January and at the end of June - and they usually last for six weeks.
Just a tip for my budget conscious friends, you will get the best deals during the last week of the sales so if you are living there, fight the temptation to even window shop until the last week! When you find something that you like and that is in your size, you will have the joy of knowing that it was a steal! If not, you will know that you kept your pocket book in check! Either way, you win! (For those of you who must have the iconic Longchamps Pliage bag, it is the cheapest at the airport!)
All national museums are free during the first Sunday of the month in Paris so if you would like to save a little money on attractions, try to schedule your trip during this period. Also, for my friends who are younger than 26 years old, do not forget that you can get a cheap day pass (i.e Ticket Jeune) for public transit in Paris during weekends and public holidays.
There are plenty of free events in Paris during the summer. When I used to live in Paris, I definitely made the most out of the complimentary kayaking on the Seine during Paris Plages and concerts during the Fête de la Musique. If you are travelling to Paris during the summer, girls, please dress a little bit more conservatively than you would in North America. This means no short shorts, mini skirts/dresses, tank tops, blouses with plunging necklines, etc… you get the picure. If you do get unwanted attention, just walk fast and do not make eye contact (which is generally good advice to follow in Paris regardless). Please also note that the Parisians, unlike popular belief, are not unfriendly. Some may come across that way only because their English is not great and they are uncomfortable with the way they sound in English. If you know a little bit of French, I am sure they will appreciate your efforts to communicate with them in their beautiful language.
Where to stay:
- MIJE (from 31 euros/night): This hostel is in the Marais, my most favourite neighbourhood in Paris. I love getting lost in the Marais - you may not know exactly what you are looking for here but you will eventually find it if you keep on walking. You will encounter people with such creative energy here (I once saw an African guy with a Fresh Prince of Bel Air haircut wearing a white shirt, a tuxedo jacket, a tutu, and heels!). It is home to trendy shops and restaurants (more below) and is within walking distance to most tourist attractions. The hostel facilities may not be the best but it is great for its location and its price.
- St. Christopher’s Inn (from 26 euros/night): This is by far the best hostel I have ever been in anywhere. The facilities are clean and modern and they have a bar where you can find friendly like-minded travellers. It is near to Canal St. Martin and the Buttes Chaumont Park, but since it is in the 19th arrondissement, you would need to use the metro to get to most tourist attractions. (On the flip slide, I love shopping at the André outlet in the neighbourhood - you can find good quality leather boots sometimes for 20 euros!)
What to see: I am going to refrain from the famous tourist attractions here - you can find them by doing a quick Google search or just by watching a movie set in Paris. I do prefer the Musée d’Orsay to the Louvre, but you can’t go to Paris without being able to say that you saw the tiny Mona Lisa. I love walking around in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Yes, it sounds a little morbid, but the architecture of the tombstones is amazing. If it is a nice and sunny day (don’t bother going if it is not) and you have already seen most of the sights, you can go a tombstone hunt for famous people like Jim Morrisson or Oscar Wilde here. Don’t be fooled into buying a map - you can get one free at the information centre or you can just take a picture of one of the signs.
As you can probably tell, I have a particular affinity to the Marais. Not only is there good food here (more below), it is also a fantastic place to shop. Some stores I particularly like are COS (for modern structured designs), Free’P’Star (for vintage clothing), and Satellite (for jewellery). If you have the time, plan to spend at least half a day exploring and soaking in the atmosphere of the Marais. If you like contemporary art, the Centre de Georges Pompidou (or more fondly, ‘Beaubourg’) is in the area too.
If you are in the Saint-Germain-de-Près area (tourist attractions: Café de Flore and Café des Deux Magots - rich in history but highly overpriced; Pierre Hermé macarons - see below), check out the City-Pharma pharmacy. It sells the best priced products in all of Paris (and the world, I imagine) - I have French girlfriends who make a pilgrimage to this pharmacy every so often just to stock up on their beauty supplies/medicine. If you get lost among the shelves of beauty products, my personal recommendations include Avène’s Cicalfate (this is my miracle cream which works on everything from eczema to pimples to blisters), Bioderma’s Créaline (a non-rinse cleanser and makeup remover), and Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse (a dry oil that perks up dull skin - note: I have never had problems but I know a friend whose skin did not react well to this).
If you speak French and are craving a little theatre, the Comédie française is free for those under 28 on the first Monday of every month. If operas and ballets are your thing, try to catch a show at the Opéra national de Paris. Since 1% of the French national budget goes to the arts and culture, ticket prices are heavily subsidized in France. I went to see the Nutcracker with a friend one Christmas and it was the most exquisite thing I have ever seen. The costumes and set designs were phenomenal!
For my brothers and sisters in Christ, if you would like to hear God’s Word and to worship Him during your holiday, Hillsong Church Paris is a great church that offers services in English and in French.
What to eat:
- L’As du Falafel: I am not kidding - they have the best falafels in the world. The line goes pretty fast so don’t be dissuaded by the long line ups. A gigantic falafel costs 5 euros and it is in the Marais - need I say more?
- Mariage Frères: Tea lovers, you should already know this tearoom! For people who are looking for gifts, their tea, which comes in gorgeous black tins, is a great present! If you are intimidated by their large selection of teas, I recommend Marco Polo, their most popular tea. And yes, they have a location in the Marais.
- Pizza Sant’Antonio: Delicious thin crispy crusted pizzas. Also in the Marais.
- La Caféothèque: For good coffee in Paris.
- La Crêpe Dentelle: To me, this the best crêperie in Paris. I found it when I was interning for a French entertainment law firm in the area and I decided to get lost in the neighbourhood during my lunch break. It is a family-run business with a great lunch menu (it is rather expensive otherwise). This type of crêpe is from Brittany, super buttery, and would be difficult to find outside of France. It is near Rue Montorgeuil - another very touristy street in Paris - where you can find bakeries like Stohrer (famous for their baba au rhum cakes and so well known that they sell postcards of the Queen in their store) there.
- Pierre Hermé: Ok, I know some of you may get offended when I say this, but Pierre Hermé’s macarons are better than Ladurée’s. They have a location near the pharmacy I talked about above.
- Angelina: This tearoom is famous for its hot chocolate, which is definitely something to experience. If you go with a friend, I recommend sharing a pot because it is very very rich!
- Boulangerie Boris Portolan: When I was living in the 19th arrondissement, this was my favourite neighbourhood boulangerie. Since this area can be little sketchy for tourists, this recommendation is more for my friends who are living in Paris. I love their traditional baguettes here. For my tourist friends, you can’t go to Paris without trying a French baguette somewhere.Tip: Ask for ‘une baguette de tradition’ and if you like, you can also ask for half a baguette (i.e. une demi-baguette).
- Le Baron Rouge: This is a great place to go if you want to enjoy a glass of wine with a plate of French cheese or charcuterie. I make it a point to catch up with friends at the Baron Rouge each time I am back in town. Click on the link for David Lebovitz’s review of my favourite wine bar.
Friends, I hope that this post has been useful to you in some way. I can’t wait to hear about your Parisian adventures, and am eager to hear about your own recommendations! Be blessed and bon voyage! ♥