You know me, always behind with my travel guides! (Very, VERY behind. Eeep!)
Today I’m finally hitting “publish” on my “What to do in Paris” guide. (Don’t miss part one, “Where to eat and drink in Paris!) I thought it was good timing and serve as a nice escape from the unbearable news in the U.S. today. But let’s not dwell on that, let’s think about Paris instead!
It took me forever to compile because I waiver between putting AS MUCH as possible in here and trying to pare it down to a manageable, less-overwhelming level. I decided to go with the latter, so this is by no means all-encompassing–I tried to focus mostly on my personal favorite areas and things to do! (Knowing you can always research the big hot spots on your own!) I have truly barely scratched the surface of all that Paris has to offer, and I’m no expert, but I hope this can help you plan your next trip!
I took my fourth trip to Paris back in October with my friend Whitney as a Co-Host for her first Atlas Adventures Paris trip, along with my friend Rebecca, my fellow Chicago blogger friend and other co-host, and Victoria, our group photographer and Whitney’s Co-planner! We took a group of 20 readers and it was truly the best trip (and best GROUP) ever, and will be one that says with me for a lifetime. (More on the trip and how you can attend our next one at the end of the post!)
What to do and see in Paris
Paris truly is one of my favorite cities in the world. There is nothing else like it, and it’s REALLY hard to have a bad time in Paris. Keep reading for my favorite things to do.
A couple helpful things to note, before we get into my Paris guide:
The city of Paris is broken into different “arrondissements” – which are essentially different districts of the city, numbered one through twenty. (Well, technically now some have been merged so there are now 17.) They are ordered on the map like a clockwise circle. (Which is why you’ll notice, for example, that the 3rd borders the 11th, which borders the 20th.) You can see more details here!
There are also different neighborhoods split up in the different arrondissements. You can refer to the arrondissement as a whole when you’re talking about a group of neighborhoods (I.E. ‘the 11th’) or you can refer to the neighborhood within the arrondissement. (I.E. “Bastille.”) Similar to Chicago, each neighborhood has a distinctly different flavor–which is why it’s so hard to experience all that Paris has to offer in a short time. There’s just SO much to see and do!
Expect a LOT of walking:
If you haven’t been to Europe before, be prepared for more walking than you have ever done in the U.S. Logging 6 miles per day is not unusual. Try to resist the urge to take a taxi or an uber and allow time in your schedule to walk as much as possible–it’s truly the best way to see the city. Make sure to read my tips on how to break in your shoes before you pack, favorite comfortable shoes for travel, as well as my Paris Packing Guide.
Take the Metro:
Walking is the #1 way to get around in Paris, but sometimes you need to get somewhere more quickly, or your feet need a break, and that’s when the metro comes in handy! It’s incredibly easy and efficient to get most places on the metro and much more affordable than Uber or Taxi.
French pronunciation + language:
Despite being a Romance language, it’s a whole different ballgame than Spanish or Italian. It will benefit you immensely if you spend some time on Youtube giving yourself some DIY French pronunciation lessons. Also, learning a few conversational phrases to ensure you’re being polite is always appreciated! It’s been fun to compare each of my visits to Paris over the years, and every time it seems like more and more people speak English. It’s really very easy to get by with little French–but of course, I think it’s always polite to make an effort!
Take your time:
My favorite thing to do in Paris is just BE. Get lost. Wonder down random streets. Stop at a cafe that looks cute and order an espresso or glass of wine to sit and just people watch. Talk to locals. Ask where they like to go. Don’t be rushed! Don’t over-pack your schedule. Leave lot’s of white space in your agenda. Don’t tap your toe waiting for the check. (And remember, you have to ASK for it!) You aren’t in America, so you’re not on American time. Life is just a different pace in France, and that’s just one of the many reasons it’s wonderful.
What to pack and wear:
I cover that in two separate posts: See my packing list here and a recap of all the outfits I wore on my last Paris trip here!
Where to eat and drink:
Also covered in a different blog post right over here!
My personal favorite areas of Paris to explore:
There are SO MANY things to do in Paris and so many areas I haven’t even touched yet. I’m not going to include the main attractions like the big museums, etc, in here–rather, list my favorite areas to explore and hang out in. These are listed in no particular order!
Lunch at Au Petite fer a Cheval in the Marais (See more restaurant reccos here!)
(Pronounced “Muh-ray”) Encompasses all of the 3rd and part of the 4th arrondissement in Paris. The Marais is of my favorite areas of Paris–it’s full of old-world charm with its cobblestone streets and cool shops and cute cafes everywhere you look. It’s also home to the historic Jewish quarter! Don’t miss a stop at the beautiful Place des Vosges–it’s a great place to enjoy a coffee and croissant break!
Above: Bastille Market. See all my Paris outfits in my Paris Outfit recap post here
When Neal and I last came to Paris a few years ago, we rented an apartment in Bastille (pronounced Ba-stee), and fell in love with the 11th–which I would equate to Wicker Park a few years back. It’s a bit edgy, eclectic, and vibrant with amazing restaurants and bars. (Yes, it’s known for being full of hipsters.) It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods. If you’re looking to get away from hoards of tourists–this is a good area to be, as you’ll find a lot less tourists here. I loved shopping along Rue de Charonne, which houses lots of smaller, independent shops and boutiques! (Don’t miss Repetto for classic ballet flats!) Bastille is also a very historical place in Paris as it used to house Bastille prison and is considered to be the starting place of the French Revolution.
One of the biggest allures in the 11th is the Marché Bastille–open Thursday and Sunday mornings and is considered to be the best open-air market in Paris.
For this reason, I’d try to time your visit to the 11th on one of these days, and make sure to get there in the morning! (If you plan to visit on a different day, there’s also Marché Popincourt, which is a different farmers market that operates on opposite days!)
Not only does the Marché Bastille have beautiful fresh produce, meat, cheese, bakery items–but some clothing vendors (I got the CUTEST handmade dresses for June there!) as well as accessories like beautiful scarves, hats, and more!
There is also a famous cemetery in the 11th–Père Lachaise cemetery–where many historical figures like Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde are buried. It’s really cool and definitely worth a walk through–it’s beautiful and has great views!
The girls walking down the hill from Sacre Coeur in Montmartre (such an amazing view!)
Another one of the most famous neighborhoods in Paris and in my opinion, one you can’t miss! (You know this area as it is the birthplace of the Moulin Rouge!) It has a different vibe than elsewhere in Paris, probably because it was at one time considered a separate bohemian “village on a hill.” Full of hilly cobblestone streets with the gorgeous sugar-white Sacre-Coeur church sitting at the top–boasting some of the best views of Paris!
Grab lunch or dinner at Le Coq (best roast chicken in Paris!) or Bimbo, and for an amazing view (you can see the whole city and Eiffel Tower!) a drink at the Terass hotel rooftop bar. I have never seen a show at Moulin Rouge, but it’s voted the best in Europe, so I’m sure it’s worth checking out! Le Consulat is an old historic cafe that was a favorite of many artists including Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet–and across the street is a cute shop with tons of vintage postcards!
Saint Germain + the 6th:
Situated on the Left Bank–considered “postcard Paris”–and one of the most beautiful neighborhoods, so make some time to wander around in this area. A favorite for writers and artists–Hemingway’s Paris, if you will–and where you’ll find his famous haunts such as Les Deux Magots. (I’ve actually never eaten here, but there are tons of great restaurants in this area–I love Le Relais Entrecôte for iconic steak frites. Go for lunch right when they open to avoid a line!) The past couple times I’ve stayed in Paris, it’s been on the right bank, so if you’re also on that side, make your way here by weaving your way through Ile de la Cité and Il Saint Louis (two tiny “islands” in the middle of the Seine–pronounced “SENN”), past Notre Dame (a must-see, obviously), then Saint Germain and the Luxembourg gardens–one of my favorite spots in the city. (More on that below!)
Located in the 7th, this street is considered one of the most charming streets in Paris! Paris Perfect has a good post on it here! Cafe Central is a great cafe to grab a bite or a drink. This area is also not far from the Eiffel Tower so it’s a great thing to tack on before or after! (We came here for a drink after catching the first Eiffel Tower sunset sparkle! Just keep in mind that all of the shops will be closed if you only go at night, so plan to return during the day too!)
Fun things to Do and See in Paris:
Explore Versailles with Fat Tire Bike tours:
If you have more than a few days in Paris, I’d say it’s well worth it to head out to Versailles to explore the palace and grounds! (It’s easy to get there by train and only takes about an hour!) If you haven’t ever been to Paris before and only have a few days, though, I’m not sure I would attempt Versailles. There’s just too much of Paris to see!
This was my fourth time at Versailles over the years between visiting as a high school and college student and returning with Neal–and I CANNOT recommend the Versailles bike tour by Fat Tire enough. It was a completely different (and 100x better) experience than just touring the palace on its own. You not only get to explore the cute town of Versailles but you get a beautiful picnic experience (and get to visit the local market to source your provisions for said picnic, one of my favorite parts!) but you also get to tour a lot of other parts of the grounds that you probably wouldn’t have time (or the energy!) to do on foot.
I really really would not recommend doing Versailles any other way. However, if you just care to explore the palace on your own, make sure to buy your tickets in advance and get there before it opens.
Tip: You do need to actually be familiar with riding a bike. There were times we rode through some smaller, busy streets that felt a bit harrowing to those in our group who hadn’t been on a bike in many years! (Totally doable, but at times more stressful than originally anticipated, haha!)
The Fat Tire Versaille Bike Tour
Cooking Class at La Cuisine:
If you love to cook or bake, then you will love a cooking class at La Cuisine! I can’t recommend it enough–we took the macaron making class on our trip, and it was so much fun! Next time I visit Paris, I would love to book one of their French Market visit + cooking classes, where you go to the market to source your goods and return to cook your own French meal and learn some great techniques and tips! The owner, Jane, is a Chicagoan who now lives in Paris and is SO lovely. Her whole staff is so great, patient, funny, and of course–very talented and passionate about teaching you! See all their classes right here.
See the Eiffel Tower sparkle:
Of course, you can’t go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. I say you have to go up it at least once in your life. (I recommend looking for skip the line tours/tickets if you’d like to do that). But another beautiful way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower is to simply grab a bottle of wine and enjoy it on the lawn and wait for the sparkle! (It sparkles every hour from dusk until 1am!) See Rebecca’s post on all the places you can see the Eiffel Tower sparkle! For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I highly recommend hiring Paris Foodie Bag to arrange a gorgeous picnic for you!
Seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night never gets old!
Spend some time in some of Paris’ most beautiful gardens:
I’m partial to the Luxembourg gardens if you’d like to relax somewhere, people watch, maybe read a book–whether you lay back in the iconic green chairs or spread out a blanket for a picnic–I could spend hours here. If you have small kiddos, they also have toy sailboats you can rent for a few euro (it’s an honor system) to sail on the pond! I am dying to bring June back soon to spend some time with her here. The Tuileries are another very famous (and beautiful!) stretch of park right next to the Louvre. Time Out Chicago has a great roundup of other beautiful Paris parks as well!
Taking a break in Luxembourg Gardens is a must
Visit Shakespeare & Co:
The most famous bookstore in Paris! A great location right on the Seine. Purchase a few books to bring home! (They have great children’s books too! Whitney picked out some adorable books for June!)
Peruse Les Bouquinistes:
You’ve likely seen the charming stalls full of art prints and vintage books that line the Seine–it’s a quintessential Paris scene! This is a great place to buy a cute piece of art for a souvenir or a gift.
Rebecca admiring the art prints along the Seine
A trip to the Paris Flea Markets:
If you love a good flea market, you’ll definitely want to check out the ones in Paris! They are huge and all run together which is actually quite convenient! A word to the wise: this is not a nice area of Paris but it’s by no means dangerous. Don’t let the heckling street peddlers distract you–and be aware it’s a big area for pickpockets. Stay off your phone, limit your English speaking, and follow the Marchés aux Puces signs. Paris Perfect has a great guide with more info!
Check out a Brocante:
If you just want a taste of vintage/flea shopping but don’t want to commit to trekking up to the big Paris Fleas above, there are smaller pop up street markets called Brocantes all over the city. We happened to walk right by one–I could’ve easily spent an hour there but we just had time for a quick loop–but I found an amazing vintage scarf vendor and scored a beautiful vintage Hermes scarf for Janine! You can find a calendar list of them here. (Note, the website is in French, but it’s fairly straightforward to navigate!) You’ll find the most on the weekends but some on weekdays as well.
Pretty vintage glassware at a Brocantes
Shopping at Sezane:
One of the most iconic French brands–a stop at Sezane is a must. There are multiple locations, but the lines are often long–expect to queue! I highly recommend investing in one (or more!) of their core staples: Gaspard sweater, a striped Mariniere top, or one of their beautiful belts. As part of our Atlas Adventures Paris trip, they opened the shop after hours especially for us for a night of private shopping and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!
Stop into Hermes:
If your budget allows a modest splurge, stop into Hermes and treat yourself to a classic Hermes scarf–go at the beginning of your trip so you can wear your scarf throughout! You’ll have it forever and it will always be a reminder of your wonderful trip!
The girls after our stop into Hermes!
Trip to a Pharmacie:
French pharmacies aren’t like American pharmacies! They are small with a great selection of French beauty products at a great price. You can pick up Kerastase, Klorane, Caudalie, Avene and more. (This is a fun roundup of the best products you can find at the Pharmacie!) A fun place to pick up some French beauty essentials!
Where to stay in Paris:
During our Atlas Adventures Paris trip we stayed at Hotel Adele & Jules which is adorable and very conveniently located! It’s tucked away on a side street but you get the convenience of being right off Grand Boulevards. The staff is wonderful and provided great recommendations as well–so definitely lean on them if you need ideas of spots to check out or help locating something! (Rebecca has a whole blog post review on the hotel here!)
I’ve had several friends rent apartments from Paris Perfect with good things to say. They have a lot throughout the best neighborhoods of Paris and some also have amazing Eiffel Tower views so you can see the sparkle from your own flat!
One of my favorite areas and one of the most romantic areas of Paris–I’ve never stayed here but I’ve had drinks on the roof and it’s a nice, stylish boutique hotel that’s mid-range in price–I recommend visiting the rooftop bar here even if you aren’t a guest!
Other hotels and Air BnB’s:
Air BnB near any of the areas I mentioned above. Honestly, there are SO many great areas to stay in–it seems like everyone has a different favorite! I’m partial to the 11th, Whitney loves the 7th–but it’s hard to go wrong. I would check out Whitney’s hotel guide which was written several years back but still has a ton of value! Even if you don’t stay in those hotels, I think the neighborhood/area notes are helpful!
Atlas Adventures Paris girls during our private shopping night at Sezane. We may have purchased half the store.
Me, V and Whit in Montmartre
More about Atlas Adventures:
What is Atlas Adventures?
Atlas Adventures is a company created by my friend Whitney to serve a big hole in the market–group travel for women who are looking for authentic cultural experiences and authentic connection with fellow likeminded travelers! Basically, if you want to experience new places and cultures, meeting new friends in the process–you’re in the right place! Not your grandmothers group trip, that’s for sure!
Do you have to be an influencer to go on the trip?
No! These trips aren’t for influencers at all! (Although of course, anyone is welcome regardless of what they do for a living or whether or not they have a social media presence!) Whitney is a travel influencer and Victoria, her #AtlasAdventures partner in crime is a travel photographer/influencer, and they will often team up with other influencer friends (like me!) to co-host, but these are not influencer trips and the vast majority of the attendees are not influencers.
Is there an age range/limit?
Not at all! Trips are welcome to all ages and to everyone who identifies as a woman. Anecdotally, I will say most attendees happen to be in their thirties (but have ranged from late twenties to fifties!) many are single, but not all! It’s really a mix–and that’s what makes it so much fun!
How much does it cost/what’s included?
You can see the cost and what was included in our Paris trip on this page. Prices will vary based on the destination!
How much free time is built into the schedule?
There is typically one scheduled group activity per day. Sometimes this will be an all-day excursion, others it might mean a cooking class one afternoon, a walking tour all morning, etc. There is plenty of group time but also plenty of free time if you’d prefer to break away from the group. There are also optional suggested activities that Whitney and team can help you arrange during those free time windows if you need suggestions!
When is the next one!?
No Paris trips on the horizon right now, but Whitney, Victoria and I are planning a group trip to LISBON in October! See more details and get on her email list right here so you don’t miss when we open the doors to secure your spot! (We’ve had a ton of interest in this trip so far–yay!! So we expect the spots to go fast! 🙌🏼)
Can Whitney organize a trip like this for me and my girlfriends/family?
She sure can! That’s what she specializes in! Whether you need help planning your honeymoon or a big group trip, I can’t recommend her enough! Not only is she a wealth of knowledge on how to experience a new city like local (and avoid the tourist traps!) as a travel agent, she can also get you access to special discounts and other perks, like free upgrades, free breakfast, champagne, and more! See more info about booking her travel consultant services here.