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A friend sent me an email saying that she was coming to Paris for a week and wondered if I could help with where to stay and how best to spend her days.

Yes, sure I can. Here is the email I sent back to her. I’m posting it too as I thought it might be helpful to others who are planning a trip to Paris.


Coming to Paris in May is the perfect time. End of spring, beginning of summer is so beautiful in the city.

First of all, a little bit about Paris. Basically, the city is broken up into arrondissements which are 20 areas which curve around the Seine in a snail-like formation. The center is composed of the 1er-4ème arrondissements on the Right Bank and the 5ème-7ème on the Left Bank. My best advice is to get a little pocket map of Paris and a metro map. I recommend “Plan de Paris Par Arrondissement,” a small thin blue reference. Be sure to bring good walking shoes. Paris is totally walkable and that’s the very best way to take it all in, especially during this fabulous season. You can also rent bikes with a credit card at Velib stations which are all over the city. No helmets are required, so stay on the paths marked for bikes. This is a beautiful way to get from one part of the city to another.

Now, where to stay:

My favorite area is the 6ème arrondissement. It’s on the Left Bank, it’s central, it’s where everything fabulous is happening. Depending on your trip’s budget, you might want to look at either the Hotel Lutetia, Hotel Saint Pere, Hotel Saint Germain, or Hotel de l’Université. These are all perfectly situated. Click for the English websites.

As for places to see/things to do:

If this is your first time in Paris, definitely see the museums (most are closed Tuesdays): le Lourve- Mona Lisa (1re), Musée d’Orsay- impressionists (6ème), Rodin –sculpture (7ème). The Eiffel Tour (7ème), Notre Dame, and the Opera Garnier (8ème). If you can get tickets to a concert at the Opera, it’s magical to go in and not very expensive.

A great day trip is to Chateau Versailles which is a short train ride from Paris, like going from Toronto to Oakville (for our Ontario readers).

Be sure to take a stroll around Ile Saint Louis, the smaller island in the Seine that separates the Right and Left banks. There is a homemade ice cream shop there called La Maison Berthillon. Exceptional.

If you stay in the 6ème, take a stroll down rue Saint Germain and have lunch/a café at Café Flore or les Deux Magots, then walk toward Jardin Luxembourg; the park itself and the area around it are gorgeous. Be sure to meander down rue Cherche Midi, (near the hotels I mentioned above), lots of shops and buy a baguette from Poilâne (the best bakery in Paris!)

Another great idea is to take a picnic (the traditional French picnic includes baguette, bottle of wine, cheese, olives, saussion which you can pick up at Monoprix) and head toward my area in the 16ème. You can cycle there or take the bus or metro. it’s not far. Go to the Bois de Boulogne for the afternoon. It’s a truly Parisian thing to do. You’ll have a moment away from the tourists. Walk toward the lake (like in Central Park, there are row boats you can rent, etc), picnic and relax by the water, watch the little boys playing with their miniature sail boats.

Other things to do are going to see Galleries Lafayette, an old beautiful shopping gallery. There is a giant dome in the center and it’s beautiful to see. If shopping is your thing, don’t miss rue Saint Honoré where all the haute couture stores are situated. Start at the Place d’Elysee (Presidents house and office) and walk toward Place Vendome. You can also go up toward the Madeline which will lead you to Galleries Lafayette and Primtemps on rue Haussmann.

Definitely don’t forget to walk up the Champs Eylsee (although there’s only tourists at that time of year) if you haven’t before and see the Arc de Triomphe.

Another great idea is to come over to my area, perhaps when you are on your way to or from the Bois de Boulogne and walk down ave Mozart from la Muette to Auteuil.

Also an afternoon at the Park Monceau and walking around that area is lovely.

La Marais is the 3ème and certainly  a must see: Place de Vosages used to be a palace after which Victor Hugo lived there as well as other famous French personalities. Take a walk down rue de Rosier. Great little bakeries and restaurants can be found along the street. This is really ancient Paris, the old Jewish quartier.

Now, places to eat:

You should try the brasseries, every quartier has them on the corner. The food is all the same and good. Most have English menus. I mentioned Café Flore and Deux Magots (both in 6ème), but also try Au Pieds de Fouet on rue Saint Benoit (7ème). This is my favorite. It has been in the same family for 150 years. It’s traditional French cuisine, small, quaint. I love it. I actually spent my birthday there in September. Note: it’s busy and they don’t take reservations for small groups so go there around 7:30pm (which is early for dinner in France).

Other places to eat near the 6ème are around Montparnasse: Le Coupole, La Basserie du Dôme (seafood). These are historical: Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald type places. Actually this entire corner had great restaurants. You can walk from Jardin Luxembourg to this area very easily by walking up rue Vavin.

One evening go to rue du Montparnasse (not to be confused with the connecting and much bigger Blvd Montparnasse) and rue de la Gaïeté where you can experience great crepes, a tradition from Normandy. One restaurant that has fabulous traditional food from the Alps region of France is called Plomb du Cantal – order Aligot and cider!! Simply wonderful.

Let me think. I believe that just about covers the city for a single vacation. I’m not sure how much time you have. But this is a good 10 days of things to do. Of course, there is always more.

If you’d like a special restaurant for the birthday evening, rather fancy, let me know. I haven’t included anything super chic or expensive, just all great places to enjoy yourselves.

If you just have a few days, I’d stick to the Left Bank, go for the ice cream on the island, take a picnic, sit in cafés, see the parks.  Paris is such a good idea for a 40th birthday! Romantic, fun. I’m excited for you!!

If I can be any more help or perhaps clarify something I’ve mention, please let me know. It’d be a pleasure.

Bonnes vacances à Paris!