I’ve already covered some basic travel tips for Paris, but this post is for the people who really want to live it up. The people who are okay with flipping off the guidebook and still getting shit done. The people who enjoy all things magical and weird and radical in foreign places. The people who read Paris: The Fun Seeker’s Guide, and say “Hey! I’m fun, and I just so happen to be going to Paris. Perfect.” Those people.
So here we go.
On my first and only trip to Paris, I successfully mastered the Metro, walked nearly 100 miles of the city, partied with Dutch strangers at Jim Morrison’s grave, drank expensive champagne at an underground Parisian cabaret, danced with old men at a jazz club, momentarily lit my hair on fire, choked on bacon, rode several merry-go-rounds, learned how to make a real French baguette, witnessed a French roller blade posse, watched the sunset from atop the Eiffel Tower, walked through underground tunnels lined with millions of skeletons, and shortened my life by at least 3 years due to immense amounts of bread, cheese and wine consumption, among other things.
If that sounds like your kind of trip, here are my recommendations…
Paris: The Fun Seeker’s Guide
Walk the Promenade Plantée (12th Arrondissement) – An elevated park built on an old railway system, this is a lovely walk to do in the morning time. While it would be most beautiful in the Spring when everything is in bloom, I still recommend it for the cool architecture and views.
Visit the Musée des Arts Forains (12th Arrondissement) – I’m so grateful that our traveling partner, Ashlyn, found this place. By far one of the weirdest and most enjoyable places I’ve ever been, this museum is full of old fair memorabilia collected by antique dealer Jean-Paul Favand. If you enjoy a horse’s ass sticking out of a beautiful wall, a creepy unicorn in front of a piano, riding high speed human-powered bike merry-go-rounds and watching strangely beautiful Venetian opera puppet shows, you’re in luck. At 17€ per person, it’s also one of the cheapest guided museum tours you’ll find. Sure, the whole thing was in French, and we may have been the only group without small children, but that only added to the awesomeness. Do it.
Check out the View from Montparnasse Tower (14th Arrondissement) – Pay 15€ and ride 56 floors up to the top of one of the ugliest buildings in Paris. The views are amazing! Some even say they’re better than the views from the Eiffel Tower because you can actually see the Eiffel Tower and not Montparnasse Tower. I’d say that’s fairly true. They have a snack and wine bar, so grab your homies and have a glass of wine or three before checking out the city views from the open-air rooftop. Also there’s no line, so that’s killer.
Relax in the Jardin du Luxembourg (6th Arrondissement) – Even when it isn’t in bloom, this is a great place to hang out, sip some coffee and people watch. I can only imagine it’s even prettier later in the Spring. Ahh…
Spend Some Time in Montmartre (18th Arrondissement) – Parisian cuteness overload lives in Montmartre. Tiny art galleries, wine bars, dessert cafes, charming shops, on-point street art, the stunning Sacré-Cœur, the best nut salesman (not a metaphor, look for him by the Sacré-Cœur – he sells the best nuts in the world), and more. The higher you get (again, not a metaphor, there’s just a lot of steep hills), the cuter it gets. Spend some time walking around the neighborhood and check out the Moulin Rouge, which is still beautiful and lovely to see in person despite being a total tourist trap.
Visit the Louvre at Night (1st Arrondissement) – Alright, so I didn’t go inside the Louvre, but to be fair, I don’t know enough about art to really appreciate it beyond staring at it for 10 seconds and walking away. Also, the day I attempted to go, there was a huge long line of humans, and I had more important things to do, like drink wine in the daytime. My suggestion is to go at night when the pyramid is way, way, way cooler looking.
Walk the Catacombes de Paris (14th Arrondissement) – Attention, dark lords and ladies. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to walk among the super dead super far underground in France, here’s your chance. In the 1780s, the ‘Cemetery of the Innocents’, which had housed the dead for almost 10 centuries, started to cause infection. In 1785, the French government decided to remove the remains, along with all the other cemeteries in Paris, and put them underground, which continued until 1814. Today, the remains of 6 million people are housed underground in a system of tunnels. As a heads up, the stairs are extremely steep and the floors are wet. It’s also a pretty fascinating thing to see and do, and at 10€, totally worth it.
Visit the Arc de Triomphe (8th Arrondissement) – Despite being surrounded by the traffic circle of death, it really is a beautiful sight.
Have Champagne Atop the Eiffel Tower (7th Arrondissement) – Yup, it’s touristy. But I can’t go all the way to Paris and not go to the top. That’s just jackassery. Even better, pay 40€ (group rate, I think?) and completely skip the insanely long line. There’s a champagne bar at the top (because Paris has the best ideas), so time your visit to catch the sunset whilst sipping champagne and enjoying the view. It’s just gorgeous, and at least on the night we went, freaking freezing. Clothe accordingly.
Visit the Palace of Versailles (Île-de-France Region) – Buy special tickets for the RER C (not the regular Metro), and take the train about 30 minutes outside of Paris. While it definitely wasn’t my favorite thing we did, it is holy-crap levels of gaudy and the train ride is pretty neat. The gardens weren’t in bloom while we were there, but cool nonetheless. Self guided tickets are around 15€ each, which you can easily purchase across from the train station once you arrive. If you feel cool about lying (or you’re not), students in the EU can get in for very cheap or free. Do what you will.
Gander at Notre-Dame (4th Arrondissement) – Yet another touristy thing on the list. That’s okay. Walk through to see the amazing stained glass, and check out the crazy architecture, gargoyles and sculptures on the outside. It doesn’t take long, and if anything, it’s a good landmark for future reference.
Hang at Père Lachaise Cemetery (20th Arrondissement) – It’s not often that I recommend hanging out at a cemetery on vacation, but this one is different. Famous people buried here include Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Chopin, among other cool note-worthies. Bring a bottle of wine and hang out at Jim Morrison’s grave for a bit. I ran into some Dutch people (with speakers and The Doors on cue, obviously) and spent a lovely afternoon partying the afternoon away. If you’re a Doors fan, I suggest you do the same. Also it’s just a really beautiful cemetery, if you’re into that.
Eating, Drinking & General Parisian Merriment:
Dance it Up / People Watch at Le Caveau de la Huchette (5th Arrondissement) – Holy smokes and buns, this place is the absolute shit of all shits. Or something less disgusting. But seriously, if you’re looking for an underground jazz bar in a cave (and who the hell isn’t?!), voila. The music is sexy and wonderful, as is the general setting and lighting, and the crowd is older but amazing, especially on the dance floor. On the night we went, one woman was basically passed around (in a nice, unsexual way) to dance with multiple old French guys, all of whom stole my dancin’ heart.
Order a glass of wine or a beer (the cocktails were holy smokes horrible and terribly overpriced), sit back, and let your eyes and ears do the work. I got to dance with several guys and gals, but my favorite was a French photographer and shimmy’er extraordinaire named Alexandre Lewkowicz. You may even run into him if you’re lucky.
Have Tea & Macarons at Ladurée (8th Arrondissement) – Go to the one on Champs-Elysées. It’s the cutest. This place (there are tons of locations) sells 15,000 macarons a day and have been in business since 1862, so they clearly know a thing or two about some damn sweets and fancy tea time. The location is like being in your own mini-castle, and is oddly quiet. Or we’re oddly loud. Either way, it’s pricy, adorable, and a fun way to get fancy.
Attend a Parisian Cabaret at Aux Trois Mailletz (5th Arrondissement) – My job for the trip was to find a cabaret for us to attend, and snap! I did my fucking job and then some, y’all. In search of an anti-touristy cabaret, in favor of something higher on the local-raunchy scale, I made reservations for an evening at Aux Trois Mailletz in the Latin Quarter. A piano bar on the ground floor and a cabaret underground, the show doesn’t really get started till around 11:30pm or midnight.
Be warned: the drinks are crazy expensive here, so have some cocktails elsewhere beforehand, then drink slowly once you’re there. Or do what we did and make friends with a Saudi Arabian millionaire and let him buy you and your group 800€ worth of Moët & Chandon. And drink it all.
Since we went on a slow night (I think it was a Tuesday), there was a single dancer, who was beautiful and sexy and changed costumes a billion times. She danced on our table and it was, for lack of a better word, badass. There’s also a rotating cast of singers and performers, who sing pretty much whatever the hell they want to… gorgeous French songs, Katy Perry, opera, funk, you name it. The tickets are 25€ per person (a total steal compared to the 200+€ tickets at the Moulin Rouge), and this was probably my favorite night of the entire trip. Must. Go. Back.
Go on a Seine Riverboat Cruise (15th Arrondissement) – For 45€ per person, the Paris en Scène includes a 2 hour cruise in a climate-controlled boat, a three course dinner (where we tried foie gras for the first time), water, a half bottle of wine for two, and views of the sparkling Eiffel Tower and surrounding buildings. It also included various jams by Mariah Carey, Boys II Men and Edith Piaf. Primarily meant for couples (we may have been the only non-couple couple, but that’s familiar territory for Anna and I), it also includes hilariously staged romantic couple photos, which of course we bought for an additional 15€.
Hang Out on the Canal St. Martin (10th Arrondissement) – If ever there was a perfect place to people watch whilst drinking wine and eating bread and cheese, it is here. This place was packed! And for good reason. If you didn’t know this, it’s perfectly legal to drink and walk around in Paris. And it’s even better if you’re sitting by a large canal of water with solid homies and endless bottles of wine, which, by the way, were unshockingly cheap as hell when bought from a tiny grocery store as opposed to a restaurant (good bottles for 8€ and under). Go here, hang out, relax, drink, repeat.
Put Love Locks on the Pont de l’
Drink Hot Chocolate and Watch the Sunset (1st Arrondissement) – Hot chocolate is on a whole new level at Angelina. It’s like fondue in a cup. Grab a cup of hot chocolate to-go from the one (there are several) close to the Louvre and hop across the street to the Tuileries gardens for sunset and a view of the Eiffel Tower with your liquid treat. YUM.
Eat, Drink, & Be Generally Merry (All Arrondissements) – Cool things are everywhere. Walk aimlessly and find what speaks to you, whether it be flower shops, cafes, ponies, bars, gardens, street markets, vintage clothing stores, charcuteries, boulangeries, patisseries, whatever. It’s all wonderful. Explore it. And don’t go home without consuming escargots, fondue, crepes and rosé.
The cocktail menus in Paris are all the same, and all contain a very strange assortment of cocktails to drink in Paris. The most popular menu items are pina coladas, a sex on the beach, mojitos, margaritas, a gin fizz, and tequila sunrises. Say whaaa?! Stick with wine.
Besides the Latin Quarter and specific late-night venues and businesses, most things close surprisingly early. If you want to party into the wee hours of the morning, plan accordingly. Wandering only leads to weirdly silent, weirdly deserted streets. And sometimes a man in a tuxedo roller blading his heart out to classical music, which is neat.
My favorite area to walk around and shop was Rue de Rosiers in an area known as Le Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It has an assortment of strange and intriguing shops.
Browse some record stores. A French guy who owned a random funk and blues record store (bonjour, dream job) picked out records for me to listen to while I drank wine. Lovely.
Au revoir for now, Paris. Because there will always be a next time.