A weekend in the City of Light
For some ridiculous reason when I first visited Paris five years ago I expected it to be a bit too cliché for my liking. But, like so many others, within about two hours of arriving I was hooked on the city I now happily declare one of the best in the world.
The Eiffel Tower is bigger, better and far more awesome than it looks in photos. There’s something gold, sparkly or unexpected on every corner. Sacré-Cœur dazzles against the blue Parisian sky and Notre Dame makes you feel like you’re in a Disney movie.
And then there’s the Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Orangerie, the Louvre, Luxembourg Gardens and the Arc de Triomphe. The cheese, the wine, crepes, croissants, baguettes and the croque madames.
If you haven’t been to Paris before you should absolutely do all the touristy things. I think everybody should climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa and hum Les Champs-Élysées as they walk along it.
But if you’ve been before and you’re wondering what to do on your second, third or you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve been trip, here are my top 9 alternative things to do in Paris.
I first stumbled across and fell in love with GROM a few years ago in Florence. I only recently realised it was in Paris too (even though it’s been there for years…whoops). Despite it being a chain, GROM somehow keeps its charm. Their motto is ‘il gelato come una volta’, which means gelato ‘like it used to be made’. Who wants artificial flavors when you can have a scoop made from Sicilian lemons?
Their yoghurt is tangy, sweet but not sickly, the pistachio is out of this world, and how do they get the caffè espresso to taste like that?
GROM is definitely worth the detour, but considering it’s located in the cutest little street in Saint Germain and it’s only a short walk from Notre Dame, there’s a good chance you’ll want to swing by the area anyway.
2. Covered Passages of Paris
One of the loveliest things to do in Paris, particularly on a rainy day, is to explore its covered passages. Built in the 19th century, the glass-roofed galleries were the city’s answer to the modern shopping mall.
Galerie Vivienne is the prettiest, Passage Jouffroy with its second hand bookstores is the most interesting and Passage des Panoramas is packed with cute restaurants including one styled like a train carriage. Many of the shops are expensive so I just window shop, but it’s worth the trip to see a quaint and quirky side of Paris.
3. Les Papilles Restaurant
Les Papilles has a set menu that changes every day, so it’s perfect for indecisive people like me who get anxious about ordering the wrong thing. You get what you get, but I promise it’ll be delicious. It has a quirky set up, with colourful tiles and walls lined with wine and art. On a hot summers night we had beautifully light gaspacio, slow cooked beef that melted in my mouth with roasted vegetables, a blue cheese course and mango pancetta. Located in a quiet street just around the corner from Luxembourg Garden means you can swing by after a relaxing afternoon in the park. But this place is always packed so make sure you make a reservation well in advance.
4. Browse the quirky jewellery at Galeries Lafayette
This is hardly off the beaten track but I love the jewellery stores on the bottom floor of Galeries Lafayette. N2, in particular, is my fave. Years ago I got a necklace with a big enamel strawberry dipped in chocolate connected to a mini silver fork. Sounds bizarre but it was beautiful and I couldn’t go anywhere without people asking where I got it. If you love quirky jewellery or want to get a unique gift for somebody N2 is the place to go.
5. Eat an Instagram worthy éclair
L'Éclair de Génie will have you thinking ‘is it food, or is it art’? The answer is both. Don’t be deceived if you’re not a big éclair fan either – it’s not your traditional plain sponge cake full of whipped cream dessert. They taste as good as they look. I always go to the Lafayette Goumat shop but they have lots of locations across Paris so you won’t have too much trouble finding one.
6. Le Bon Bock
Le Bon Bock is the oldest restaurant in Montmartre, one of Paris’s most iconic suburbs. They serve simple, well-seasoned traditional French cuisine. Because it’s a little tucked away I’ve found you won’t bump into too many tourists, which is refreshing for Paris. The décor gives it an other worldly feel, like you’ve stepped back into a different time. To feel perfectly Parisian, start with the onion soup, before moving on the to duck confit and finishing with a creme brûlée. C'est délicieux.
7. Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre at night
Sacré-Cœur is amazing by day, but have you seen it at night? I’d never really thought about visiting it at night until I stayed at an Airbnb in Montmartre with a view of Sacré-Cœur. It’s beautifully lit up at night and Montmartre is buzzing. Grab a drink or a takeaway crepe and wander up to see the basilica in a different light.
8. Tour Montparnasse
Want an amazing aerial view of Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower? Tour Montparnasse is the place to go. On top of the view, it’s got bars and restaurants inside and the Montparnasse area in general has heaps of cool bars so you can’t really go wrong.
9. Sunday Market at Bastille
Charcuterie, raw cheese, freshly shucked oysters, wine, macaroons, fresh fruit and veg – basically any food you can think of can be found here. It’s foodie heaven. But it’s not all food – you can also find cheap flowers, jewellery, bags, scarfs or paintings. Get there around 2.30pm to grab a bargain when stalls start to slash prices to offload fresh produce before the markets close.