We’ve been to Paris three times in the last three years; at this point, we feel more comfortable in Paris than we do in Los Angeles. Just like our recent trip to Rome, this trip allowed us to stay in a different neighborhood, redo our favorite activities, and check off any bucket-list items that we hadn’t been able to do previously. Here’s some advice for Paris that we learned this summer:
Take a class at La Cuisine Paris. When we were here in November, we took a wine-and-cheese pairing class and loved it so much that we decided to take a croissant and breakfast pastry class this time. Our adorable French instructor Segolene taught us how to make croissants, pistachio twists, pain au chocolat, vanilla custards, cinnamon almond snails, and more. I eat croissants on a daily basis in New York, and now I have a much bigger appreciation for them knowing how much effort each one takes. We learned to throw our dough at the counter for elasticity — “think of someone you hate; I want you to leave here stress-free,” Segolene instructed us. We delicately added butter onto our dough before folding it and again and again and again. We cut the painstakingly folded dough into long triangles, made little Eiffel Towers out of them, and rolled them into croissants before baking and brushing egg wash onto them. I am always the worst one in every baking class, but I am incredibly talented at eating the final products. In the end, we enjoyed our pastries with coffee and tea and were able to bring our remaining pastries home.
Stay in an apartment. This was our first time staying in a hotel in Paris, and though our room at the stylish Hôtel Notre-Dame Saint Michel had a spectacular view of Notre-Dame (I made sure to request this view after booking), I couldn’t help but miss our apartment from last November, with its tiny balcony overlooking a sea of grey rooftops. When in any major city, I always recommend staying in Airbnbs or apartments to feel more like a local.
Have tea at Mariage Frères, a French gourmet tea company founded in Paris in 1854 by the Mariage brothers. Tea is huge in France (perhaps that’s why their coffee sucks?), and the Mariage family was sent around the world on behalf of the royal court just to bring tea back home. There are five tearooms in Paris. We went to the one in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing, elegant afternoon. When we sat down, we were given an entire book about tea, which we spent a couple of hours reading. It covered everything, from the history of tea to proper brewing techniques.
Stroll through Promenade Plantée, an elevated park built on top of old railroad tracks that inspired New York’s High Line. Running nearly three miles from Bastille to Boulevard Périphérique, it passes some very interesting modern buildings. My favorite building is split in half by the park. Most Parisians thought the park was a waste of money when it first opened, but now cherish it, which is similar to their reaction to both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre pyramid. When we were strolling, a sweet Parisian woman stopped her jogging session to randomly ask if we wanted our photo taken. Of course we said “oui”. She took a few from different angles, which I always appreciate, and when we passed by her again a few minutes later she laughed and offered to take a few more in front of this pool. She even directed us to stand in specific spots — and to “Bisou!”, so we immediately obliged. This may have been the best thing about Promenade Plantée. For some reason, many tourists don’t know about it, so we were surrounded by smiling locals (yes! Parisians do smile when you actually stumble across them outside of the touristy zones) who seemed to appreciate that we had done a little more research on our trip.
Visit Shakespeare & Co. once in your life. This was our first time staying on the Left Bank, so we finally remembered to check out this famous bookstore. It’s mobbed by American tourists, but you can understand why when you enter. It’s stuffed with English language books, contains cute little nooks to curl up with a novel, and has a no-photo policy.
Picnic along Canal St. Martin. This neighborhood has transformed from Bushwick into Williamsburg, and while it’s probably become too glossy for true bobos anymore, I felt at home in Canal St. Martin, which was where we stayed in a tiny Airbnb back in 2015. Despite the change, young Parisians can still be found picnicking along the canal. Buy some cheese from a fromagerie, a baguette from the nearest boulangerie, and a bottle of wine. You’ll feel more Parisian doing this than dining at any restaurant.
Unless you are really into Louis XIV, skip Versailles. Visit Neuschwanstein in Germany, Himeji Castle in Japan, or Pena Palace in Portugal instead. Almost everything about Versailles — the gaudy bedrooms, the crowded Hall of Mirrors, and even the overly-manicured gardens — was underwhelming. However, we did enjoy renting a boat and rowing in a lake alongside comical ducks and monstrous swans. If you do decide to visit Versailles, go early in the morning to beat some of the crowds.
Pick up pastries for breakfast from your neighborhood boulangerie. My favorite was award-winning Boulanger Patissier, located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It was just a few blocks from our hotel and put all the croissants I made in class to shame. Furthermore, everything here is dirt cheap. It’ll make you upset that the only things this cheap in the U.S. are Dunkin’ Donuts.
Paris still has one of my favorite metro systems in the world. Sure, it’s not as sleek and shiny as Tokyo’s, but I think it works surprisingly well (except for its absurdly tiny single-use tickets) and runs on time, at least in our experience. Take advantage of its numbered exits in the stations. When you look up a route online, Google Maps will tell you which exit to take. These are so helpful! I wish New York’s subway exits were also numbered so I would know which part of the train I should aim for ahead of time. One more tip for the Paris Metro: Always pay your fare. When we were heading to the airport, the ticket machine at our metro station wasn’t working, and the turnstiles were letting everyone through without tickets, so we caught the train without paying. Sure enough, metro workers were at the airport entrance checking each passenger’s ticket, and we left Paris €100 poorer.
Eat at Pierre Sang Oberkampf, one of the most innovative dining experiences I’ve ever had. It offers a blind tasting menu, which means that each ingredient of your dish is explained to you after you finish eating it. For only €39, I had six courses of French-Korean dishes (think steak with gochujang, beet purée, and beans). We booked seats at the bar and had a direct view of the kitchen. Immediately after our dinner, we attempted to book a table for the following evening, but the menu only changes every two weeks.
Apparently French-Asian fusion is blowing up in Paris because another fantastic meal we had was at Les Enfants Rouges. Again, we sat at the bar to watch the kitchen as they prepared our fried foie gras on creamy corn and coffee mousse, tempura monkfish, and figs with a coconut sorbet and pistachios over matcha cream.
Visit in the fall. As much as I enjoyed the extra-long days and leisurely nights sitting out along the Seine (stay out past midnight to see the Eiffel Tower glitter!), I still prefer Paris in the fall, when the weather is crisp and more locals have replaced tourists.
Each time we visit Paris, we eat better meals, know more about each neighborhood, and notice the little changes that have occurred since our last trip. Anthony and I felt so comfortable in Paris that, although we don’t speak French at all, we could easily see ourselves living here. It’s such a diverse, stimulating city with good food — and, most importantly, cheap croissants. Paris was the perfect way to end our Ireland and France trip. I’m not sure how many more times I want to visit Paris, but I am desperate for an excuse to explore more of the French countryside, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself back here soon. If that’s the case, I will most definitely be making another reservation at Pierre Sang Oberkampf. Au revoir for now!