Here are some of my favorite places to eat and stay, and things to do in and out of Paris. I update this list regularly as places open and close, and I discover new favorites.
The Marais and Upper Marais are currently home to the city’s hip spots, but I remain loyal to my beloved Left Bank, particularly the area around St-Germain-des-Prés, where you’ll find some of my favorite hotels.
Hôtel de l’Abbaye – We used to stay here back when living in Paris was just a dream. Since then, it’s gotten more luxurious and, if anything, more lovely.
Hôtel Bonaparte – A cozy, reasonably priced hotel (think shabby genteel); the location around the corner from St-Sulpice can’t be beat.
Le Walt – Small, chic hotel near Ecole Militaire (7th arrondissement) with reasonable prices – if you book in advance. Friends have enjoyed staying here.
Perfectly Paris – Lovely furnished apartments from an honest and reputable agency. Mostly in Montmartre.
Astier – Old-fashioned bistro serving things like marinated smoked herrings and rabbit in mustard sauce as part of a €46 set menu (entrée, plat, fromage, dessert). Don’t miss the spectacular serve-yourself cheese board, heaped with at least 10 varieties, like a greatest hits of French fromage.
*Cosi – There was a time in America when you couldn’t set foot in an airport, strip mall, or food court without seeing one of these places. I’m not sure what happened to them, but this one is the original. The owners sold the name well over a decade ago, but kept this Paris branch going – it has little in common with its American cousins. Salads and sandwiches are on the menu, with the flat pizza-crust-like bread (baked on site) stuffed with fillings like tandoori turkey with confit tomatoes. The casual menu, counter service, and bus-your-own-tables make this a good place for a fast lunch (unusual here) and also good for kids.
La Cigale Récamier – A French publishing hangout – and Michelle Obama has also eaten here! – there’s a book-lined dining room, a sweeping terrasse, and a menu specializing in textbook-perfect soufflés. I love the Henri IV, a cheese soufflé with a chicken-in-mustard sauce that gets spooned into the molten center. More info.
La Fontaine de Mars – A classic Parisian bistro near the Eiffel Tower. Obama ate here. It's got red-and-white checkered napkins, old-world service, and solid classic fare. I like the terrine de foie gras and confit de canard, but the steak tartare is also faultless. No surprises here, but if you're looking for a traditional bistro meal, this is it. More info.
La Table d’Akihiro – A tiny, jewel-box restaurant with only 16 seats and a French-trained chef, Akihiro Horikoshi (formerly of the three-starred L’Ambroisie), who executes everything flawlessly. The menu is prix-fixe, fish-centric, and not for the inflexible, or anyone on a special diet. One of my favorite restaurants in Paris. More info.
Le Mistral – If you’ve read Mastering the Art of French Eating, you know how much this café means to me. It’s just a simple place with paper placemats and mustard in foil packets but, open for over 65 years, it’s also a neighborhood institution. The menu features charcuterie, steak, and aligot, a whipped cheesy potato purée from Aveyron in south-central France, which is the ancestral home of the owners, our friends Didier and Alain Miquel. More info.
Le Petit Cambodge – At this bright spot near the Canal St-Martin, you’ll find communal tables and a chic crowd tucking into Southeast Asian fare. I recommend the bo bun (pronounced “bo boon”), a salad of rice noodles, lettuce, fresh herbs, peanuts, and grilled lemongrass-scented beef, drizzled with a sweet-savory dressing, and topped with a crispy pork spring roll. Light, fresh, and colorful. More info.
Les Deux Abeilles – A quaint tea salon with the feel of an English country house, the ladies of the 7e arrondissement come here to lunch and gossip. Everything is made on the premises and the quiches, salads, and homey desserts are all seasonal and delicious. I particularly love the omelette à la brousse (eggs softly folded with mint and a ricotta-like cheese) and I dream about the chocolate almond cake. More info.
Miznon – I have a love-hate relationship with this casual Mediterranean café because the food is soooo delicious, but the actual experience of eating here is soooo disorganized and stressful. The cauliflower is their muse, whole roasted until meltingly tender and stuffed into a pita with garlic tahini, lemon salt, and lashings of olive oil. They also offer sandwiches filled with juicy grilled lamb, Moroccan tuna, chicken salad, or even boeuf bourguignon . . . but the true star here is the cauliflower. A second location near the Canal St-Martin is more spacious and slightly more on the ball. More info.
Pizza Chic – This place elevates pizza to an art form (as does its Right Bank sister restaurant Grazie). Try the carciofi (artichoke) pizza, topped with parmesan-artichoke purée and a salad of arugula, parmesan, and shaved raw artichokes. More info.
*Rosa Bonheur sur Seine – This is a guinguette, an outdoor café, on the banks of the Seine, serving wine and pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven. This place can get insanely busy in the evening, but if you go early enough (around 5 or 6pm) the counter service and picnic tables create a relaxed, casual vibe that’s really good for kids. Note: they serve pizza nonstop from noon to midnight.
THINGS TO DO
American Library in Paris – A English-language center for community and culture; the library requires membership, but the evening events, featuring a dynamic lineup of authors, are free and open to the public.
Context Travel – Small-group walking tours led by expert docents that focus on art, architecture, food, history and more.
Eiffel Tower – If you’d like to avoid long lines and/or you haven’t reserved elevator tickets in advance, the best thing to do is to go is at night, as late as possible (last entry during the summer is 12am). You’ll have to climb the stairs to the second level, but if you’re relatively active, it’s an easy walk. DO NOT go first thing in the morning – that’s what everyone else does. Check out this post from Secrets of Paris for more tips.
Girl Meets Glass – Learn about French wine regions, grapes, and of course taste wine, with noted wine expert, Tanisha Townsend.
Horse in the City – Custom horseback rides with private tours in some of Paris’s most magnificent locations, including the Bois de Boulogne and Château de Versailles. Each session begins with coffee and concludes with a picnic. Owner Baptiste Auclair is a licensed riding instructor and excellent teacher. This is a truly special experience.
La Cuisine Paris – A cooking school in the heart of Paris, near the Hôtel de Ville. They offer English-language cooking classes that teach French food and pastry, and also market and tasting tours.
Paris by Mouth – Food and wine walking tours – including tastings! – offered on the Left Bank and Right Bank.
Paris Canal cruise on the Canal St-Martin – An alternative to the Bateaux Mouches, this boat tour starts at the Musée d’Orsay and passes the usual suspects along the Seine (the Louvre, Ile de la Cité, Notre Dame, etc.). But then the boat turns north into the entrance of Canal St-Martin and proceeds through nine locks and an amazing subterranean boat tunnel. You float up the Canal St-Martin and the Canal d’Ourcq, ending at Parc de la Vilette. It’s a marvel of civic engineering and glimpse of a side of Paris that few people know. Note: At 2 hours, 30 minutes, this tour is not particularly good for kids (the bateau mouche is only 60 minutes).
Patricia Wells – The ne plus ultra of cooking classes led by the brilliant Patricia Wells, in Paris and Provence.
Pictours Paris Photography – Lindsey Kent, an American photographer, offers photo shoots for families, engagements, weddings, new babies, and anything else you’d like to capture against the backdrop of Paris.
KIDS IN PARIS
Champ de Mars – The park surrounding the Eiffel tower has a few playgrounds, but the best (and largest) one is in the center near avenue Anatole France; it’s a good place to burn off energy before / after photo ops. A nearby food kiosk sells coffee, popsicles, industrial crèpes, wine, beer, etc.; there’s also an old-fashioned carousel. (The park’s other playgrounds are kind of hidden, isolated, and dare I say, sketchy?! I’ve seen them used as a staging area for groups like the people who pester tourists with their “petitions.”)
Jardin d’Acclimatation – Small Paris amusement park with a vaguely homespun feel. Free activities include sprinklers and playgrounds, but most attractions (pony rides, roller coasters, etc.) are ticketed. Native Parisians have a nostalgic fondness for this place (and it does have a certain charm). I recommend bringing your own picnic because the food here is truly terrible.
Jardin du Luxembourg – My favorite park in Paris. There are many kid activities here including a playground for big and little kids (€3 entry for kids, €1 adults), pony rides, toy sailboat sailing in the Grand Bassin, a carousel, and puppet show.
Musée en herbe – A children's art museum that's an offshoot of the Louvre, hosting exhibitions with activities that keep kids engaged. The bilingual staff are great at presenting the works in a fun and accessible way. Check the website for the calendar of ateliers, which last about an hour and allow kids to dabble in the arts. Parents of kids aged 6+ are actually requested to leave during the atelier!
Parc Floral – A park and botanical garden on the eastern edge of Paris (but still metro accessible) the real draw for kids are the multiple playgrounds that appeal to a range of ages. There’s also miniature golf, a ropes course, a stage for concerts, bicycle cart rentals and more. Pack a picnic and stay all day!
Park near the Bon Marché and the Grande Epicerie – Across from the Bon Marché
department store – situated in the triangle formed by rue Babylone, rue de Sèvres, and boulevard Raspail – this park and playground is officially called Square Boucicaut. It’s a perfectly pleasant green space, with benches, shade, play structures, and a sandbox, but there is nothing
in particular to recommend it, except that it is very close to my favorite gourmet food hall,
La Grande Epicerie. I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I’ve spent here.
*Dining out with the bairns? Kid-friendly spots are marked with asterisks in the restaurants section.
TRIPS OUT OF PARIS
Some of my favorite French food destinations are Lyon, Toulouse, the Côte d’Azur, Brittany, and Alsace. You can read more in my article from the New York Times.