Let’s talk about the many deliciously fun things to do, see and eat in Paris once you’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Musee d’Orsay. This is your chance to “travel deeper” and explore the unique Paris arrondissements, or districts, and discover your favorite!
The Bourse – 2nd arr
Our “home base” during visits to Paris is always the 9th arr. because Don’s office is in the financial district known as the Bourse and he enjoys taking in the details of the magnificent edifices that line Boulevard Haussman and Boulevard des Italiens on his walks to work.
Paris on high alert after the March 22nd Brussels bombings.
Opéra – 9th arr
Richly historic, the 9th epitomizes Paris during la Belle Epoque and its central location is perfect for exploring. On this trip, we stayed at the opulent and historic Paris Le Grand. Our cozy room had a private garret balcony looking out to the stunning Beaux Arts architecture of the Palais Garnier Opera House – constructed from 1861-1875 and the inspiration for the play ‘Phantom of the Opera’- and the golden angels that watch over bustling Place de L’Opera.
The L’Opéra and Bourse area is a belle époque legacy left by the nobility and lords of finance in the 19th century of grand boulevards. The refined old world “passages” transport you to another era as you stroll past traditional French bistros alongside modern brasseries, movie theaters, and shopping that runs the gamut from small boutiques to global brands. La Belle Époque literally means “Beautiful Age” and is a name given in France to the period from roughly the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) to the start of World War 1 (1914).
While walking about the 8th and 9th arr. (or anywhere in Paris) be sure and gaze upward so not to miss the stunning Art Nouveau architecture. Admire some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, including Gare St Lazare, the Palais Garnier opera house and the spectacular Galeries Lafayette department store.
No shopping mall in America looks like this!
Dine at Bouillon Chartier – 9th arr
Experience traditional French fare in a legendary setting: Bouillon Chartier – 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 9th arr. In France, a bouillon, is a traditional (late 19th or early 20th century), spacious restaurant that usually serves simple French cuisine, including a bouillon (broth), hence the name.
In 1896, Bouillon Chartier was born out of a very simple concept – provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and give customers good service in order to earn their loyalty. The restaurant is dear to native Parisians, which might help explain why it is just as beloved by tourists from the world over. Over 100 years later, Chartier is still in the very prime of life with local workers and tourists lining up for lunch and dinner daily.
The dishes are traditional with a wide range of choices at unbeatable prices. Dining is communal during prime time and your check is tallied on the white butcher paper table covers. Enjoy leeks vinaigrette, hard-boiled eggs with mayonnaise, vegetable soup or snails for starters; meat, fish or stews simmered to perfection come next. The menu is a long one, the meals are authentic and the mains are around €10.
Artistic Hub: Montparnasse – 15th arr
Concerts at La Sainte-Chapelle
This breathtaking Gothic chapel, with its stunning stained glass windows, is one of the most exhilarating places in Paris. It was commissioned by Louis IX in the 1240s to house relics from the Holy Land. Imposing and yet marvelously intricate, Sainte-Chapelle is located on the Ile de la Cité near Notre Dame. One of the great achievements of Gothic architecture, the Sainte-Chapelle boasts one of the most extensive displays of stained glass to be found anywhere. Bask in the light of bygone days and feel the warmth and wonder emanating from some of the most beautiful windows in the world.
A definite highlight of our week in Paris was front row seats to an evening classical concert at Saint Chapelle. The stunning virtuosity of the musicians performing Pachelbel, Canon; Albinoni, Adagio; and Vivaldi, The Four Seasons was truly remarkable, but to hear it in such a monumental, acoustically perfect setting was astonishing as if you were seated in heaven’s concert hall.
It’s tough to follow an act like that, but we hailed a taxi and proceeded to dine at the famous La Closerie des Lilas, favored by Ernest Hemingway and the boho literati of Paris during la Belle Epoque. Even on a quiet night La Closerie des Lilas’ lively piano bar, amber lights illuminating sexy crimson settees, hushed service and tableside flambes, all evoke the passion of early twentieth century.
Montparnasse became famous as the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. From 1910 to the start of World War II, Paris’ artists and literati migrated to Montparnasse rather than the Montmartre district. Montmarte had been the intellectual breeding ground for the previous generation of artists but was at the opposite end of the socio-economic and political spectrum from the gritty, virtually penniless emigrant artists — painters, sculptors, writers, poets and composers from around the world — that flockec to Montparnasse.
Fashionable Le Marais – 4th arr
Musée la Carnavelet and L’AS Du Fallafel
Le Marais, which means marsh or swamp in French, is the heart of historical Paris and the closest you’ll come to experiencing medieval Paris. This fascinating historic area of Paris, protected since 1965, offers one of the richest architectural ensemblages in Paris along with a bounty of designer shops, fascinating museums including Musée Carnavalet (entrance gardens shown above), Musée Picasso, and the Musée of Jewish Art and History.
Strike a pose with the Sun King, Louis XIV at Musée Carnavalet
Visit Musée Carnavalet
Musée Carnavalet is a must-see for true lovers of everything Parisian and anyone interested in European history, design, and architecture. The tour itinerary begins in the former Hôtel Carnavalet and does not follow a strict chronological order. The collections have been divided up as the museum expanded to include the Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau to preserve its architecture and interiors and also includes a blue room from the Grand Salon of the Hôtel de Breteuil, circa 1780. Visitors experience life in Paris during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the French Revolution, and through the 19th century era when Paris was a crucible of artistic and literary creativity.
Chat Noir cabaret sign, late 19th century
My attention was captured as soon as we entered the first room with a unique collection of signs spanning the period from 16th to the 20th centuries. These creative, sometimes comical, signs fashioned from metal, wood, plaster and other common materials of the age visually transport you to bustling village streets and merchant life of bygone days.
Note: The Musée de Carnavalet is closed for renovation until the end of 2019. For updates and programs visit the museum website.
You can spend hours wandering the quaint cobblestone streets lined with well-appointed boutiques and magnificent 17th century architecture occasionally stumbling upon tiny parks tucked among stately residences where you can catch glimpses of manicured courtyards behind royal-sized gates.
Must Eat: Falafel at L’AS Du Fallafel
A visit to L’AS Du Fallafel in the Marais is mandatory when I’m in Paris. On Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish Quarter you will see rabbi’s offering blessings and everywhere you look there are people standing, sitting, and leaning while digging with flimsy white forks into the colossal warm pita overflowing with crunchy chickpea nuggets barely visible under a mound of shredded cabbage, cucumber slaw, and dripping nutty tahini laced with spicy sauce (by request). On my last visit, I got “takeaway” and didn’t have enough hands available to snap a photo before being overtaken by anticipation… it actually was a major feat to eat the bulging pita single handedly without getting any on me!
This time, I was accompanied by my French foodie friend who I met at Omnivore last year, and we sat inside the tiny, always busy, restaurant making it much easier to capture the essence of L’AS du Fallafel. Violá!
An eclectic queue forms midday for a taste of what is widely considered to be the best falafel in Le Marais. L’AS Du Fallafel. Today, food was my first priority and, with crispy chickpea balls on the brain, I mapped the Metro route and struck out to fulfill Mission – Best Falafel in Paris. By some hand of fate, I emerged from underground, followed my instinct and, miraculously, took a few right turns until the no-nonsense green lettering stared me in the face. It was not yet midday so the queue was only 8/10 long and moving along nicely. I wasted no time lining up and neither does the Fallafel team which includes an expediter on the ground, a prepared kitchen and window team and, an effective front man.
L’AS du Fallafel (that’s how they spell it) is no hidden secret, its popularity is well known and in the summertime, the queue is halfway down the block. – but everyone says its worth the wait.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at a few of the other fabulous places to see and food to eat in Paris’ charming arrondissements (arr.).
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Top 5 for Creative Foodies in Paris (Getting to Know Paris’ Arrondissements)