Must-Do(s) in Paris?

Spring is not quite yet in the air, but the days are getting discernibly longer and, now that the holidays have passed (as well as the anxiety associated with them), thoughts of friends and family are turning towards ‘summer vacation’. Although it has been many, many years since any of us officially got an annual three-month break from hard work, as academics we all still plan according to that September-May calendar. Luckily for me, my new hometown tends to be a major stop on many European tours, and with my foldout couch, great location and knowledge of the metro system, I have become an essential pit stop for many friends along the way.

In the past few weeks I have heard from a number of friends and family (and family of friends) who are starting to tentatively plan to travel this way for their spring or summer vacation. Some, with Paris as their main destination, have been welcomed to share my space as their home base, taking the time to explore everything Paris has to offer in those warmer months. With others, I am just hoping to catch a coffee or dinner as they pass through the city on their way to more exotic locales. Lastly there is quite a large group of casual acquaintances who, knowing I have settled here, inquire about recommendations for what really must be visited, seen, eaten or done while visiting the City of Light.

I have developed a general tour I give first-time visitors – a long day’s walk, which can take us past most of the big sites with a few tasty bistros along the way. However, once this is finished and we sit, discussing the best and worst of our day over a delicious French meal, I am often at a loss of what to recommend for someone’s remaining time here. There is just too much. This city certainly suffers from an embarrassment of riches. Depending on the time of year one visits, beyond the innumerable museums, there are the open air concerts, the lush, endless gardens and – within a short drive of Paris – castles, cathedrals, forests and chateaus that deserve tours of their own.

So, I am turning to you. If you were to make a trip to Paris (or the general Île-de-France), what would you absolutely not miss? If you only had one or two days, what sites/activities would be on the must-see list, as opposed to those that would get shuted to the second tier of priorities?

Are there particular museums that you rave about?

This is a hard one for me, as I often get asked if I had time for one museum, which would it be? For me, it would have to be the Musée d’Orsay – the Louvre is beyond amazing – but I am often paralyzed by the enormity of it. The Orsay can be seen, inside and out, in a day and has such an amazing collection of pieces that I always leave in awe of the beauty some have the potential to create. Yet, I have also heard that nothing can compare to the water lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, a picnic sitting next to “The Thinker”, or the entirety of the Centre Pompidou.

What about restaurants? Meals that were quintessentially Paris for you? Or places you have heard of or read about that, if here, you could not wait to try? Admittedly this request is purely selfish, but I’ll share all associated eating adventures with you!

Please share your thoughts, ideas, best-of(s) (and/or worsts). Not only will it help with those recommendations I need to give, but will also help me figure out what I am going to do with my weekends once spring really does arrive!

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6 responses to “Must-Do(s) in Paris?

  1. My picks would definitely be the Musee Rodin and Musee Picasso. Both are small and very manageable. Also along those lines, the Musee Marmottan which houses a very nice collection of Monet’s works as well as pieces by Degas, Manet, and Renoir. Weather permitting, I love the Luxembourg Gardens. When I was there for my summer semester I would read there almost every day. During summer, la fete de musique is fantastic…bands literally at every street corner. La Villette usually hosts a fun jazz festival during the summer. As for places to eat, if I had more money, definitely Robuchon, La Tour D’Argent, Chez Denis, and Chez Robert et Louise. Those are just to start, and I’m sure I’ll think of more soon ;).

  2. And I totally forgot Montmartre. Sacre Coeur for sure and checking out the stairs surrounding it. And riding the Metro line 6 to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile.

  3. I always love to take people to the Musée Marmottan. The walk across the park from the métro is a treat, the house itself is lovely, and then there are the Monets!

  4. I love the Orsay, too. And Pompidou is cool because it’s ever-changing. Jeu de Paume is great for anyone interested in photography and/or film.

    Eats? Bread at Du Pain et Des Idées (and while you’re at it, a walk along the Canal St. Martin), pastries at Pierre Hermé, and chocolates at Jacques Génin.

    If it’s cold out, a meal at L’Ambassade d’Auvergne. If it’s warm, picnic! Arsenal is awesome people-watching, and parc de Belleville has some beautiful flowers in the spring, and great views of the city year-round.

  5. What a great list of ideas!
    I am getting genuinely sick of the cold and damp Paris winter and this list got me excited for all the things I’ll be able to do (and see) once the sun stays out a bit later and the mercury inches up.
    Side note – does anyone actually use mercury anymore?
    And the Marmottan? I haven’t even heard of that one before, but am a huge fan of the Monets. Officially moved up on the list.
    And hopefully, I’ll have some of you to join me? I’m looking at you, Camille – picnics and movies at Villette in store? I hope so!

  6. Pingback: My Seven | Researching Paris

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