It’s easy to fall in love with Paris. The abundance of good bistros and cafes, the beautifully aged cathedrals and streets, and the twinkling lights are as paean-inspiring now as they were a century ago. We at Journy aren’t here to convince you to visit Paris—we’re here to show you how to do it smartly.
We’ve pared Paris down to the essentials—the top places to see, eat, and explore—so that you leave equipped with a good primer of the city and can come back knowing exactly where to explore next.
Paris’s Must-See Sights
The monumental Louvre museum, with I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid at its center, would take weeks to explore completely, so focus on the galleries most appealing to you. The best time to visit is at night, when the largest crowds have dispersed and the museum is as free of visitors as one can hope. You’ll get more time to spend with the Mona Lisa, though it would be a pity to come to the world’s largest art museum and see nothing else.
Most tourists will drop by the Musée d’Orsay as well for its unrivaled collection of Impressionist paintings, but art aficionados would be remiss to skip Monet’s water lily murals at the Musée de l’Orangérie or the thousands of pieces housed in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, both of which are nearby. A short walk away is the Rodin Museum, dedicated to the master’s expressive sculptures.
Arguably the most famous street in the world, the Avenue des Champs-Elysées continues to delight, even as capitalism has filled its storefronts with fast-food restaurants and mid-tier clothing stores. The 230-feet-wide boulevard stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, bridging two of Paris’s famed monuments.
If you’re looking to be dazzled by high-end designers, you’ll only find the Louis Vuitton flagship here. For Chanel, Hermès, Givenchy, and others, head instead to Avenue Montaigne, which intersects the Champs-Elysées at the Franklin D. Roosevelt roundabout, or slightly farther to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Notre-Dame De Paris
Live out your Gothic fantasies in the setting of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. Perched on the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, the cathedral acts as both the spiritual and geographic heart of the city.
Be aware that Notre-Dame is a generic name for churches in French, though if you’re asking for directions, locals will certainly know what you’re referring to. Le Saint-Régis, located on the neighboring option, is a good option for lunch post-church visit.
City upon a hill? Not exactly, but this basilica has the majesty and cultural import to make it a landmark highly regarded by all. Begun in 1875 and finished in 1919, it stands in memory of the struggles of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.
Even if churches aren’t your thing, the dome of the basilica offers stunning views of Paris that you’ll want to see. Standing as the tallest structure in the city, Sacré-Coeur also makes for an easy reference point if you’re scanning the skyline or orienting yourself among the thousands of streets that wind below.
We couldn’t stop you from visiting the Eiffel Tower even if we tried, so instead we’ll give you some tips on how to optimize your visit to one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
Resist waiting in line to climb up the tower; remember that it’s impossible to capture a picture from within. If it’s views of the city you’re after, you’re better off surveying Paris from Montmartre instead. Champ de Mars and the Trocadéro Gardens—located at the tower’s front and back, respectively—are popular options for snapping a pic, but consider some of the nearby bridges, like Pont de Bir-Hakeim, as well. Montparnasse Tower offers a stunning vantage point.
Most of the establishments in the immediate vicinity of the Eiffel Tower are uninspired tourist traps, so walk a little farther afield for a more authentic experience. Le Petit Cler, a classic bistro just fifteen minutes away by foot, is one of our favorites.
Paris's Must-Eat Food And Drink
Savory or sweet, garnished or filled, the crêpe is highly versatile but undeniably French. This day-to-night café offers some of Paris’s best, with dozens of set variations and a rotating list of daily specials. Breizh Cafe is popular among both locals and visitors, so reservations are recommended.
Auberge Nicolas Flamel
Harry Potter fans will recognize the name, but this restaurant is far from an homage to the books. Cozy and intimate, it sits within the fifteenth-century alchemist’s former home, the oldest in Paris. Classic French dishes, available à la carte or as part of a degustation menu, make this a good choice for a special dinner.
Qui Plume La Lune
Whimsy permeates this Michelin-starred restaurant, which takes its name—“who fleeces the moon?”—from a French tragicomedy film. Though the decor, with exposed stone walls and light-wood furniture, veers traditional, the dishes are more inventive, with combinations like barley and beetroot, or citron confit and sea urchin. A single tasting menu is offered for dinner; try lunch for a more economical option.
The source of many amateur chefs’ culinary nightmares takes breathtaking form in this casual restaurant near the main art museums. Dishes can be ordered individually, but for 39 euros, the “menu tout soufflé” allows you to try one appetizer, one savory, and one sweet soufflé.
One of Journy’s favorite speakeasies, Danico manages to blend the characteristic charm of Parisian interiors with innovative mixology. You’ll need to head to the back of Darocco, a lively Italian restaurant, to reach it. Expect to find drinks that incorporate unusual ingredients, such as soy sauce and mustard grains, as well as more crowd-pleasing combinations like Kota Ternate, a riff on a piña colada that adds lemon and black tea.
Paris’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
Start in Le Marais for the quintessential Parisian experience: gorgeous old buildings, snaking cobblestone streets, and enough art galleries and bistros to satisfy the most ardent of Francophiles. “Old Paris,” as the neighborhood is lovingly referred to, has been well maintained by the Jewish community that once filled the area and is now one of the trendiest parts of the city.
Place des Vosges, the city’s oldest square, and Marche des Enfants Rouges, its oldest market, are two must-see destinations in the neighborhood. You’ll also want to check out Musée Picasso and the lesser-known Museum of National Archives.
Come night, enjoy dinner at Au Bourguignon de Marais, which serves hearty fare like boeuf bourguignon and French onion soup. You could also opt for oysters and small plates at Le Mary Celeste. If you’re still up for fun post-dining, stay for the nightlife; Marais is the gay neighborhood of Paris.
Saint-Germain-Des-Prés / Latin Quarter
You may not find Hemingway wandering Saint-Germain-des-Prés or the neighboring Latin Quarter any more, but the charm of these two neighborhoods remains. What was once the stomping grounds for intellectuals and artists has become a trendy destination for retail and dining.
The Pantheon and Luxembourg Gardens are a stone’s throw away, but you should also make time for the Cluny Museum, which is dedicated to medieval art. Shakespeare & Company, a bilingual bookstore that’s been operating since 1951, is worth a peek. Les Deux Magots, the cafe favored by Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, and others, is now overrun with tourists; skip it in favor of neighboring Café de Flore.
There’s a decided student presence as well, in large part due to the presence of one of the oldest universities in the world, the Sorbonne. As a result, you’ll find affordably priced restaurants catering to all manner of tastes. Kebabs, North African restaurants, and dive bars can all be found here, if your palate needs a change of pace from all the French food.
The best views of Paris can be had from Montmartre, which sits atop a hill to the north of the city. Once home to celebrated artists ranging from Monet to Van Gogh to Picasso, the historic district still retains its bohemian air.
Sacré-Coeur, the gleaming white basilica, dominates the neighborhood, and the grassy steps leading up to its doors offer some of the most comfortable vantage points for taking in the city. Afterward, stroll across the nearby Rue de l’Abreuvoir, one of the most picturesque streets in Paris.
Journy’s favorite restaurants in this relaxed neighborhood are similarly unpretentious: La Boîte aux Lettres and Jeanne B both offer cozy bistro fare. However, Montmartre takes a seductive turn come dusk. Just down the hill, in Pigalle, is some of Paris’s raciest nightlife. Most iconic is the Moulin Rouge, which remains ever as evocative as it was portrayed in Baz Luhrmann’s film, albeit updated for the twenty-first century.
If you need a break from the tourist crowds that unfortunately occupy much of Paris, head for this neighborhood in the northeast of the city. The uniform, plain-faced buildings hugging the banks of Canal Saint-Martin belie the area’s reputation as one of the most stylish in Paris.
Situated comfortably away from Paris’s largest tourist-draws, Canal Saint-Martin enjoys a more local feel. Film buffs may remember that the titular protagonist of Amélie enjoys going to the canal to skip stones. In real life, you’re likely to find similarly brooding, creative types here as well. Fantastic bakeries and restaurants sit on both sides of the canal; Ten Belles and Du Pain et Des Idées are two of our favorites.
Cover photo. Image by @misteur_z
Eiffel Tower. Image by @jasontks
Auberge Nicolas Flamel. Image by @mualicemu
Montmartre. Image by @quentinfuric