a meandering guide to paris

wandering itineraries through the city of light

If I had one day in Paris, I would start it early in the morning, before the tour buses gas up for the day, before the tourists finish breakfast, before the street vendors lay out their blankets, when the soft morning light glows upon soon-to-be brides as your only company will be (foreign) couples and their engagement photographers.

If I had one day in Paris, my day would begin as other people’s nights end: on the very first metro runs of the day. Ligne 6, or perhaps ligne 9. Straight to Trocadéro. Out the sortie, around the corner. A few steps, the golden statues glittering in the still morning air. Turn into Palais de Chaillot, and into that glorious view of the Eiffel Tower. Always slightly bigger than I expect.

If I had one day in Paris, I wouldn’t cross Pont d’Iéna. Instead, I’d walk through Jardins du Trocadéro, and turn left onto Avenue de New York, walking along the Seine as the city wakes up, my favorite thing to do in Paris: wander.

Whenever people ask for recommendations, I have a hard time giving them. My relationship with Paris is introspective. When I’m here, I live in my head. The streets vaguely mapped in my mind, with some idea of a destination, but really, the streets are my entertainment. So I don’t really have recommendations. At least, not for the best attractions or restaurants or bars. After all, I’m pretty content doing nothing. Doing nothing is Paris is to me more fun than doing something somewhere else. 

What I can give is this: my meandering guidelines to wandering the city. Roughly organized in geographic sense, with times roughly estimated, detours highly encouraged. The streets in this city seem like a nonsensical web, until you realize all streets lead straight to where you’re going. So go ahead, get lost, walk around in circles. You’ll find your way eventually, and who knows what you might discover with each shifting perspective?

So here we are. Six wander-tineries, that kind of blend together. That can be done forwards or backwards depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going next.

A perfect morning stroll: Trocadéro to Concorde

  • Start at Trocadéro (lines 6,9). Walk through Palais de Chaillot to the best view of the Eiffel Tower. Don’t cross the bridge. Instead, walk along the Seine, either on Avenue de New York, or down at the river level.
  • Just a few minutes away is Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Contemporary Art (which has free admission, by the way). Keep going (and ogling at the view from every angle) until you reach the most beautiful bridge in the world: Pont Alexandre III. Give yourself some time to go up and down, across and back, to appreciate this beautiful construction.
  • And then walk back to Grand & Petit Palais, twin palaces, exquisitely ornate: one with one of the world’s most beautiful glass ceilings, the other, pretty in pink. See what exhibitions are on, and appreciate how beautiful these two constructions are too.
  • Then, continue through Jardins des Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde. Marked by a large obelisk flanked by two golden fountains, this is the largest public square in Paris. The shitty part is trying to cross this thing…because there are no pedestrian traffic signals. So maybe just try to go around. On one end is Rue Royale that leads straight to Madeleine. On the other end is the bridge, Pont de la Concorde that leads to the National Assembly.
  • If your back is to Champs-Elysées (and the Arc du Triomphe in the distance), you are facing Jardin des Tuileries (with the Louvre in the distance). See what I mean by everything leading to exactly where you’re going? Pop in and go to Musée de l’Orangerie for a healthy dose of Monet. Then, (if you’re up to it) head back around to Champs-Elysées. Enjoy the gardens and relative peace before you get to the commercial part of the street as you get closer to the real chaos of Place Charles de Gaulle, and the Arc du Triomphe.
  • As long as it’s not rush hour, you can make a pretty smooth exit via Charles de Gaulle Etoile (lines 1, 2, 6).
  • Alternatively, you can continue toward the Louvre…

Heart of Paris: from the louvre to the opera

  • Start at Palais Royale Musée du Louvre (lines 1, 7) or Pyramides (lines 7, 14). If it’s early in the morning, go first towards the Louvre. Enjoy the plaza before it gets too hectic. Be sure to walk through the middle section of the Louvre into the much more peaceful courtyard towards Colonnade de Perrault, the other façade of the Louvre.
  • Otherwise, head straight to Palais-Royale, walking past Comédie Francaise, the rather tacky kiosque des noctambules sculpture…thing, and Les Nemours, a touristy but still iconic café that is great for people watching). Palais-Royale is another great place to be in the morning, though it doesn’t get overly crowded throughout the day. The gardens are pruned and peaceful, the iconic Colonnes de Buren look great in morning light. Stop by Café Kitsune for a coffee and enjoy it in the garden.
  • Exit out the other end and turn left. There should be a stairway passage that takes you straight to Rue de Richelieu. Welcome to Paris’s Little Tokyo. Turn right and then left onto Rue des Petits-Champs. The next intersection should be Rue Sainte-Anne. A mecca for Asian food in the middle of Paris. While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the beautiful historic arcades, such as Galerie Colbert and Galerie Vivienne. While you’re at it, take a quick detour to Place des Victoires and say hello to Louis XIV, whose rear I had a great view of all summer from my bedroom window.
  • Then walk north, past Notre-Dame des Victoires to Bourse. Turn right and head towards Sentier along the beautiful Rue Réamur. Right past the metro station, turn right and enter Marché Montorgueil. This street is full of cafés and bakeries, grocers and market stands. Grab lunch here, or at least stop by Stohrer, one of the oldest patisseries in Paris. Or, go to Frenchie, one of the most popular trendy restaurants in the area.
  • If you continue all the way down the street, you’ll hit Les Halles, a former market and now shopping mall. It’s also connected to the biggest metro hub in the city (Châtelet – Les Halles). By the way, the large church you just walked by is Saint-Eustache.
  • Continue down to Rue de Rivoli and walk back towards the Louvre. You’ll also pass Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Take a stroll into Jardin des Tuileries a safe distance away from the Louvre lines. Then, duck back out for an afternoon tea / chocolat chaud at Angelina. It’s touristy, sure. And expensive. But it’s a Parisian institution and still worth it.
  • Once you’re full of chocolate, turn the corner at the next block (Rue de Castiglione) to Place Vendôme. A fashion lover’s dream. And also the most beautiful Haussmann facades that just amplify the magic of Paris. Then, continue straight until you hit Opéra, my personal favorite building in all of Paris.
  • If you continue past Palais Garnier, you’ll reach Galeries Lafayette, a department store that, tbh, has more Chinese tourists than I care to see. But the building itself is worth popping in there. The stained glass ceiling is iconic. Further down the street is Printemps, another upscale department store.
  • If you keep going, you’ll eventually reach Gare Saint-Lazare and Eglise Saint-Augustin, but I usually turn back and follow Blvd Haussmann in the other direction (towards Bonne Nouvelle and Grands Boulevards). This street also has a bunch of shopping, theaters, and some historic arcades. Oh, and Grand Rex, a rather gaudy historic cinema. Both Bonne Nouvelle and Grands Boulevards connect lines 8 and 9. Or, continue to Strasbourg Saint-Denis for line 4 too.
  • Or, go straight towards Saint-Lazare and take line 12 up towards Pigalle.

For golden hour views: Pigalle to Montmartre

  • Start at Pigalle (lines 2, 12). Walk along Blvd de Clichy towards the Moulin Rouge. From there, walk up Rue Lepic. A block in, you’ll pass Café des Deux Moulins, of Amélie fame. If you go up and around to the left, you’ll reach the Montmartre Cemetery, less famous than Père Lachaise, but also with a lot of artists tombs.
  • Turn right and follow Rue des Abbesses. When you reach the little plaza in front of the church (right by the Abbesses metro station), pivot and continue on Rue Yvonne le Tac. There are a bunch of boutiques and concept stores in this area too. About a 5 min walk will take you to the bottom of the Butte (you’ll know when you see a park, a merry-go-round, and a shit ton of stairs that lead up to the Sacré-Coeur). Go to the lower station of the funicular and save yourself the climb.
  • Once you reach the top, turn right (aka walk towards the crowd) and take in the view of the city. Then, walk up the stairs to Sacré-Coeur.
  • After exiting the church, turn left and follow the street along the side of the church. Right behind Sacré-Coeur is actually another church, Carmel de Montmartre. But before you reach there, turn left towards the gift shops. When that street ends, turn left again and you’ll be in Place du Tetre. Here is the most touristy square, lined with restaurants that have terrace seating in the middle. There will probably be artists trying to get you to sit down for a portrait. Ignore all of this and continue past the place to the much quieter streets around the corner. There are also a bunch of art galleries tucked away, as well as museums like the Dalí museum.
  • These streets are great to get lost in because they make you feel like you’re in a quaint village, but it’s actually pretty easy to find your way back to the bustling parts. The most efficient tour would be to continue along Rue des Saules and you’ll pass picturesque restaurants like Le Consultat and La Maison Rose. Turn right on Rue Saint-Vincent and follow it (it curves) until you reach the back of Sacré-Coeur again. Then you can either funicular back down and take the metro at Abbesses, or leisurely make your way down through the stairs and streets back towards Pigalle.
  • Pigalle/Saint-Georges has a lot of shops and restaurants. I’d recommend eating here rather than up by the top of Montmartre, which is a lot more touristy. There’s also a couple smaller museums: Musée de la Vie Romantique, Musée Gustave Moreau, that I would literally save for a rainy day.

Meandering the local Paris: a taste of the Left Bank

  • Start at Jussieu (line 7, 10) and walk past the Sorbonne campus over to Jardin des Plantes.
  • Then, walk towards Place Monge. This neighborhood feels very Parisian and local, read: fewer hotels, more residents. A good place to grab a bite or a drink before continuing over to Panthéon.
  • Straight down Rue Soufflot, you’ll reach Jardin du Luxembourg. Sure, there are a ton of jardins all around Paris, but this one is popular for a reason. Maybe it’s the trees. Maybe it’s the little sailboats in the fountain. Whatever it is, this is a great place to grab a green lawn chair and soak up some sun while people watching.
  • For an indoor activity, continue west-ish towards Le Bon Marché and La Grande Epicerie, a large department store and its own supermarket. Except it feels wrong to call it a supermarket. It’s like a French Eataly. Minus the restaurants…although there is a café area, a lot of prepared foods, and a charcuterie bar where you can dine. Give yourself a good hour or so to peruse the aisles. Pretty much anything you buy here will be an upgrade to your pantry.
  • From there, take Rue de Babylone and walk towards Musée Rodin. Right beyond that is Invalides, home to a couple different museums, as well as a church and the tomb of Napoleon. If you were to continue farther, you’d reach Champ de Mars, aka the Eiffel Tower. But I prefer walking back towards the Seine (towards Pont Alexandre III), and then turning right to Musée d’Orsay. Plus, you get a great view of the Louvre.
  • Then continue east along the quai towards my…not so favorite neighborhood, the Latin Quarter. Avoid the small streets filled with cheap mediocre, backpacker trap fast food and go past Fontaine Saint-Michel to Shakespeare & Company to pretend to read amongst the crowd of tourists before getting the hell out via Saint-Michel (RER A, B, C, and line 4).
  • Or, simply walk across one of the bridges and enter the world of Cité.

the islands of paris: cite and ile saint louis

  • Start at Pont Neuf (line 7) or Saint-Michel (RER A, B, C, and line 4). Walk across the bridge to the statue and little park area in the middle for a perfect view of the Seine towards Pont des Arts. Then, walk in towards Place Dauphine (one of the 5 royal places in Paris, the others being Vosges (4), Victoires (1-2), Vendôme (1) and Concorde (8)).
  • Then, continue across the other half of the bridge at Pont Neuf and go to the left bank. If you wanted to explore the Latin Quarter, now’s your chance. I personally am not a fan, so I usually just follow the river (Quai) towards Fontaine Saint-Michel. On nice days, the bouquinistes are all open, selling old books, prints, music and art along the quai.
  • Continue a little past Saint-Michel to check out Shakespeare and Company, probably the most Instagrammed bookstore in Paris. But I prefer Gibert Jeune, a local chain bookstore that sells second hand books. There are branches all around the Latin Quarter, each specializing in different genres of books.
  • Anyways, then walk across Pont Saint-Michel back onto Cité. On your left, you have Sainte Chapelle and Conciergerie. Turn right onto the middle street and you’ll reach the metro station Cité, as well as a flower market. If you see a ton of people lined up, that’s because there’s a large hospital around the corner. Keep walking and you’ll be met with the grand facade of Notre Dame; the line may seem long but it moves fast: drop in for a quick tour (note: the cathedral and that entire half of the island has been closed off since the April 2019 fire).
  • If you walk past Notre Dame, you’ll eventually reach the end of Cité, and a bridge that leads to the smaller Ile Saint-Louis. There’s only one main street on this island, and about halfway in, you’ll reach Berthillon, the reason you’re here. Stop for a boule or two of their famed ice cream (I’d go for the salted caramel).
  • If you keep continuing to the end of the island, you’ll hit Pont de Sully. Turn towards the right bank and you’ll reach Bastille. Turn towards the left bank and you’ll reach Sorbonne.

HIP Paris: Marais, Bastille, and République

  • Start at Hôtel de Ville (lines 1, 11), and walk towards Pompidou (opens at 11a), Paris’s modern and contemporary art museum. If you have the time, check out the exhibitions and/or main collection. If you don’t, just buy a ticket (5€) up to the roof for my favorite views of the city.
  • On your way out, stop by Fontaine Stravinsky off to the side, a modern fountain juxtaposed alongside a gothic church. Take a detour to the house of Nicholas Flamel, which is the oldest house in Paris.
  • Then walk towards the Marais. Or rather, shop your way in that general direction. Fleux is a popular home & lifestyle store. Le BHV is a large department store complex. But I’d recommend turning into the small streets and alleys rather than walking along Rue de Rivoli (one of the major shopping streets). You’ll see beautiful facades, quiet neighborhood parks and gardens, art galleries, and many many hôtels (aka old mansions that are now preserved as historic buildings). And you’ll get a better sense of why people love the Marais.
  • There are a lot of museums in this area, including the Picasso museum, Maison Victor Hugo, and Musée Carnavalet, which focuses on Paris history (but as of 2019, it’s closed for renovation). Make sure to detour to Rue des Rosiers. The Marais was the Jewish quarter, so there are a bunch of historic Jewish bakeries and restaurants here, including the famous L’as du Falafel.
  • Make your way towards St Paul, the heart of the Marais. Nearby, there’s some notable medieval homes at 11 Rue François Miron. Then, walk to Place des Vosges, the iconic red brick square, and one of the most historic squares in Paris.
  • Keep walking until you hit Bastille, the iconic green column that marks where the prison used to be. On Thursdays and Sundays, there is a market that extends from here along Boulevard Richard Lenoir where you can put together your own picnic to enjoy in the elevated garden, Coulée Vert, Paris’s more quaint version of the High Line. Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine is also a popular shopping street if you’re headed in further east.
  • Otherwise, make your way north towards Oberkampf to Marché des Enfants-Rouges, one of the most historic covered markets in Paris. It’s open everyday except for Mondays. The Oberkampf area + northern end of the Marais has a ton of cute cafés, coffee shops and bistrots for a nice, less touristy meal / coffee break. There’s also a ton of local shops and boutiques in this area, including Merci, a clothing/lifestyle/bookstore/cafe establishment well loved by bloggers around the world.
  • Eventually, you’ll hit Republique, another large plaza, this one with a statue of liberty at the center, an icon that has seen many a protest over the years. North of this is Saint-Martin, also another hipster-y area great for food and shopping. Stop by Du Pain et des Idées for some of Paris’s most famous pastries (grab some to-go and walk over to enjoy at the park along Canal Saint-Martin). Take a detour to Artazart, a bookstore specializing in books on art and design.
  • A good place to end is Port Saint-Martin, aka a large arch that is not the Arc de Triomphe. This is right by Strasbourg Saint Denis, aka a convenient metro station that connects lines 4, 8 and 9. If you’re in the mood for Asian food, the neighborhood around Arts et Métiers in the 3rd (lines 3, 11) or on the other side of the canal, around Belleville in the 20th (lines 2, 11), both have plenty of options for Chinese and Vietnamese food

[ Last Edited: AUGUST 2019 | Last Visited: MAY 2019 ]

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