Fanfare and fantasy surround the capital of France. At age 15, I traveled to Paris for the first time, and it was un coup de foudre, or love at first sight. I’d been taking French classes for just two years, but the thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower and conversing with my broken French changed the course of my life. Not to be dramatic or anything. But those few days in Paris were intoxicating. So much so that I decided to pursue a second major in French and move back to France after graduation. Since then, I’ve been back to Paris for fun and work many times. And here’s my very humble attempt to share some of my favorite things to do in Paris, other than the Eiffel Tower.
A very brief history on Paris
Paris is undoubtedly one of the most filmed capitals in the world, teeming with screenplays featuring directors and celebrities like François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups and Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle all the way to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Over the years, Paris seduced creatives such as Victor Hugo and Ernest Hemingway. The City of Light also attracted many Americans to its glitz and glamor such as dancer Josephine Baker and writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The architecture that screams “Parisian!” — the broad, tree-lined avenues and romantic buildings — is actually the thumbprint of Baron Haussmann. Under the direction of Napoléon III, Haussmann set out to modernize Paris and its urban planning. Although sometimes viewed as controversial, Haussmann introduced water and drainage systems and parks as well as more streetlights and sidewalks in the 1800s.
Love it or hate it, Paris is a city of immense influence and is worth a look. Since my first trip to Paris, I’ve returned a handful of times, and each time I discover something new, meaning that this guide has and will continue to be updated. I absolutely adore the Eiffel Tower, but this city has so many other things to explore. Here’s my humble attempt to share some of my favorite things to do in Paris, other than the Eiffel Tower.
Explore the grounds and church of Notre Dame
And it’s free! We wandered around Notre Dame and oohed and awwed at the incroyable stained glass windows. You can also get a great view of the Seine River right outside of the church.
Make your pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Company bookstore
When you’re exiting the front of the church, take a left and cross the river. It should take you maybe five to 10 minutes to reach this iconic English bookshop. Ladders lean against shelves of thousands of books, and a cat named Aggie strolls about at her own leisure. (She’s very kind!) It’s an old building and is full of nooks. Poetry lines the steps heading up to the second floor, and cushions are conveniently placed throughout the store if your nose gets stuck in a book.
L’Hôtel de Ville
Snap some pictures of this stunning city hall. We hopped on the metro and headed toward the Louvre.
You could easily spend two to three days here alone, but if you’re only in Paris for a day, try your best to cut it down to two to three hours. Some must-see items on your list: Mona Lisa (La Joconde) by Leonardo da Vinci, Venus di Milo by Alexandros of Antioch, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, the glass pyramid, the grounds and indoor sculpture courtyards. We bought our tickets ahead of time online, and I definitely recommend it.
The title of this post may be Things to do in Paris, other than the Eiffel Tower, but it would be silly to completely exclude this iconic sight from my post. Be sure to buy tickets ahead of time! This saved us hours of waiting; we walked past a long line of people. To me, it’s worth it to go up the Eiffel Tower; we took the elevator both ways. But when I went to Paris five years ago, I took the elevator up and the stairs down. They have a cute gift shop, and I paid a pretty penny for some macarons but it’s Paris so get over it.
This was entirely worth it; it is even more magical at night. It sparkles and is just the most stunning sight. It’s true what they say: Paris is enchantingly romantic. Whether you have a boo or not, Paris is sure to sweep you off your feet, and the place that gives me butterflies is the Eiffel Tower at night as it glitters. Those moments remind me of why I moved to France: the romantic experiences that can’t be tasted through a history book or social media.
This is arguably one of the most famous macaron shops, so you must make a stop. We went to the store near La Rue Cler Market, which is about a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower.
La Terrasse Ecole Militaire
We dined at La Terrasse Ecole Militaire, which was very pleasant. It was a very fancy restaurant, but we were surprised that the prices weren’t as bad as we’d anticipated. Cushy red chairs filled the restaurant, and the quick service shocked us. My chicken and mashed potatoes were great.
Arc de Triomphe
Another classic icon of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe is another monument to add to your Paris bucket list. I’ve passed this monument multiple times, but on my fourth visit to Paris, I finally went up the Arc de Triomphe. There’s a small museum inside the massive arch, and the views at the top are unbeatable.
I’d already been to the Louvre several times — it’s casual — and I wanted to explore more of the rich art scene that Paris has to offer. I visited the Musée d’Orsay, which is known for its Impressionist pieces. Although I still recommend going to the Louvre because it’s a classic, I also strongly recommend stopping by the Musée d’Orsay. I wandered through the haunts of Degas, Monet, van Gogh and Cézanne. I absolutely loved Cézanne’s “The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque.” Seeing artist’s renditions of cities and monuments that I’ve visited is surreal, and I taught English in a school at Estaque. I took the bus to this suburb of Marseille for a year, and Cézanne’s piece captured a small piece of my life.
Perhaps you’ve seen this stylish café serving up hot chocolate on the ‘gram. Angelina has been on my Paris bucket list for years, but it wasn’t until my fourth time to Paris that I could finally indulge in Angelina’s thick hot chocolate. Robin and I waited in a long line and ordered our hot chocolate to-go since we just missed the end of dining service. But we sipped on our hot chocolate soup as we walked through the Tuileries and searched for a spot to watch the Eiffel Tower in all her glory. Be sure to get reservations at Angelina, or if not, get there with ample time because there very well may be a line.
Le Franc Tireur
My friend Robin suggested that we eat at this spot not far from her place. The classic French restaurant sits on a relatively quiet street corner. My food at Le Franc Tireur was memorable and packed with flavor.
Hello, gluten-free goodness. On my train ride to Paris, I looked up gluten-free restaurants in Paris and saw that Little Nonna wasn’t far from where I was staying. And friends, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in France. I ate the entire gluten-free pizza, and my non-gluten-free friend Robin said it tasted the same as a regular pizza. They also served gluten-free bread on the table, and I complimented the waitress so much that on my way out, she handed me a loaf of bread for free. Pizza, pasta, tiramisu, cheesecake – everything at Little Nonna is gluten-free.
I mean Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl is a fan of this macaron shop, so you should be one, too, right? Yes, I’m a big fan of Ladurée; I even have their macaron keychain on my purse at all times. Although with less fanfare and with a chiller vibe, Pierre Hermé offers an amazing selection of macarons, too.
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