Last November I spent a few days in Paris en route from Bangalore back to SF - because, why not? I had a splendid time, despite starting the trip recovering from food poisoning and ending it by coming down with the flu - and you know a city is something special when you still love it with a fever while it's raining and cold.
While in Bangalore, I lucked out and met a French iOS developer (Frank Lefebvre) at trySwift Bangalore, the conference I was speaking at. Frank was amazing and gave me a fabulous list of Paris tips and my favorite type of tip - where to eat! I've had a few friends ask me for this, so I'm summarizing this with some pictures from my Paris backlog! Included are all some of my tips on how I saw so many cute parts of Paris, checked out art without going crazy from all the tourists, and bought so many cute clothes (seriously everything I bought in Paris is my favorite thing ever and now I only want to shop there).
Landing in Paris:
(From Frank) The fastest way to reach Paris from the airport is by train (RER B, about 30 minutes into the city center). It connects to the subway network (the RER ticket is still valid in the subway, until you exit). To buy your ticket, use the « île de France » kiosks, not the « grandes lignes » ones <- This was the best tip he gave me! An Uber or taxi can take about 1h during rush hour. Don’t expect the driver to speak English.
The one thing that did confuse me for a while was figuring out which train ran on my line. I felt better once some people came up to me asking me for help in french - I was not the only confused soul. Then I struck up a conversation with an Irish fashion woman and together we decided to gamble on a train that ended up being the correct bet.
And now the most important part - FOOD.
(From Frank) Prices usually range from 20~30€ for lunch to 40-50€ for dinner, except for fancy places (there is no limit.) Anyway menus with prices are always displayed in the restaurant windows (it’s the law), so you have no surprises. Prices shown on the menu include taxes + service, you don’t have to tip (but if you want to it’s a few €, not the 15~20% you give in the US.) A good app/website to help you with your selection: http://lafourchette.com (“the fork”). Usually it is a good idea to book for most restaurants, or at least to call them 30 minutes - 1h in advance to make sure they are open. I ended up trying to book the sites online where I can before calling, mostly because I was feeling shy about attempting that phone conversation.
The République-Bastille area:
One of Frank's favorite places (but quite expensive, expect about 100€ for dinner if you have wine) is Qui Plume la Lune. 50 rue Amelot. +33 1 48 07 45 48. There is no menu, it is always a surprise - and always very good.
This place was apparently more traditional and not as fancy - le Villaret. 13 rue Ternaux. 01 43 57 89 76. This was actually my first meal in Paris! There's a fun story here. I actually got food poisoning on my last day in Bangalore. I slept it off on the plane like a champ - did some mapping and saw that le Villaret was actually pretty close to the hotel I spent the first night at. Frank said that their cheese platter was impressive and that you can even have a cheese-only meal...and well I LOVE cheese so that's exactly what I did.
(Not pictured is yet a 6th cheese, a whole tub of brie.) Also I had foie gras before the cheese. Go big or go home right?
Some more of Frank's recommendations:
Another classic: le Repaire de Cartouche. 99 rue Amelot/8 bd des filles du calvaire (same location, two entrances). +33 1 47 00 25 86.
Good seafood restaurant (and nice Cognac cellar too): la Cagouille. Place Constantin Brancusi. +33 1 43 22 09 01.
Nice inexpensive place, more for lunch: Hugo, 12 rue Papillon. +33 1 44 83 01 63.
Original, with a Japanese/Korean inspiration: Blue Valentine. 13 rue de la Pierre Levée. +33 1 43 38 34 72.
Chez Casimir. 12 rue Belzunce. +33 1 48 78 28 80. Good cheese. Not very expensive IIRC.
Here's one that I went to dinner with a friend who happened to be in Paris at the same time, Anna! La Pharmacie. 22 rue Jean~Pierre Timbaud. +33 1 75 50 77 22. This place was adorable and the food was delish.
Continuing on with Frank's recommendations:
Playtime. 5 rue des Petits Hôtels. +33 1 44 79 03 98.
For the view mostly (the food is good but not very original): le Train Bleu, inside Gare de Lyon.
Want to try snails? L’escargot Montorgueil, rue Montorgueil. A bit on the touristy side, but ok nonetheless.
Oysters? Charlot, boulevard de Clichy. Or most brasseries such as Boffinger (rue de la Bastille) probably.
Regional specialties: too many to list. To name a few:
- cassoulet (Toulouse area): auberge Pyrénées-Cévennes, rue de Malte
- choucroute (Alsace): chez Jenny, boulevard du Temple. Another very good one near porte Maillot, can’t remember the name but I can check
- crêpes (Brittany): many good ones, like la Crêpe Dentelle rue Léopold Bellan, or Josselin rue Delambre (or is it rue du Montparnasse? not sure)
- mussels and fries (north of France, Belgium): au Trappiste, rue Saint-Denis (close to les Halles). Definitely not Léon de Bruxelles, ever.
There are a few wine bars where you can have a snack while enjoying a glass of wine (or more).
Frank's last big tip: Be in no hurry at restaurants, the service can be slow sometimes. Just enjoy the place. 1-hour lunches and 2-hour (or longer) dinners are typical. (I found this to be true in Italy as well, so I suspect this could be a European or central/southern European thing.)
One more thing - I actually had lunch with Frank and some other local iOS devs! We ate at L'Ange 20 and yes, the lunch lasted 2 hours, on a week day. They're doing it right in France.
For random neighborhood walks:
Here, I actually used the Rick Steves audio guide. I actually love using this walking tours when I visit new cities in Europe - I often get to see a lot of the main sites, at my own pace, and get a little bit of history thrown in - and of course, it's free. I did this on my second day in Paris, and got a lot of the major sites out of the way combined with a beautiful fall stroll. Another pro tip - if you think you'll be hitting up a lot of sites while in Paris, get a museum pass, and don't wait in line for it. I got mine in the mall that's basically under/adjacent to the louvre.
One more thing - they actually play the music you hear in the movies that makes you think of Paris. I thought this was a Hollywood thing but it is in fact real. Check out the second part of my instagram post (the video) below to listen. I felt like I was in Amelie.
From Frank: If you enjoy walking, the best areas (in my opinion) where you’ll like to wander randomly are:
- le marais (roughly between Hôtel de Ville and Bastille)
- le quartier latin (5th arrondissement)
- l’île Saint Louis (the more eastern of both islands on the Seine)
- Montmartre (the basilica is uninteresting, but you may like the streets around it (it is very touristy though)
You’ll find good jazz bars rue des Lombards. I definitely wish I'd gotten to hit up some jazz bars, but I did randomly find a piano concert in an old church that was playing one of my all time favorite piano pieces (both to play and listen to), Gymnopedie by Erik Satie. It was glorious. The guy selling the tickets at the front *did* seem confused at how I'd found this concert.
Everyone suggested that I go to Orsay before the Louvre because the Louvre can be overwhelming, and I'm definitely glad I went to the Orsay first. I have yet another pro tip here - I really wanted to see the Mona Lisa, so I went on a Thursday night (the Louvre is open late on Thursdays) and went by the Mona Lisa close to closing hours. Don't even attempt to see everything in the Louvre, be very clear about what you want to see, and try to go in off peak hours if possible. In Paris, Rick Steves even has audio guides for the major art museums, and that can also help with finding a less overwhelming highlights path through the museum!
I absolutely adored shopping in Paris. Basically every time I wear something I purchased there (which is often) I get a compliment or someone asking me where I purchased it. Most of my purchases were in le marais, which makes sense, this is where a lot of the boutiques are. Pro tip - there are big sales twice a year. I happened upon one of the medium sized sales around Thanksgiving. I ended up getting a lot of stuff at Comptoir des Cotonneirs, and a random boutique I found on my first day. I even found a lot of adorable jewelry stores, got some great finds for my sister! And you know me, I can't go to a city without going to a bookstore and buying at least one book.
- Les Fleurs, 5 Rue Trousseau
- Shakespeare & Company, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie
- Matières à réflexion, 19 Rue de Poitou
- Dante & Maria, 3 Rue de la Grange aux Belles
- Comptoir des Cotonneirs, 35 Rue Étienne Marcel (there are multiple locations but I think this is the one I went to!)
That's it! And by that's it I mean this isn't even close to a summary of the entire trip I took, but then if I waited to finish writing that this would never escape my drafts folder - I even did a half day trip to Versailles! Eat all the food you can, and definitely have some crepes from street vendors, those were delicious and quite cheap. Bon appetit!