A river runs through it
The majestic River Seine winds its way through the heart of the city and its banks are a proven pathway to explore Paris on foot. The history of Paris is uniquely tied to the river, as it is one of the oldest trade routes navigated through the centuries by migrating tribes, Romans, and Vikings. Meander beside it today and you’ll never be bored with all the playgrounds, benches, public chalkboards and games tables to check out along the way. Browse the stalls of the Bouquinistes for unique books, posters, artwork, and trinkets, or take one of the many stunning boat cruises (the sunset cruises is a must for the bucket list).
There are 37 unique bridges that span the Seine in Paris. Each one, from the oldest—Pont Neuf (which ironically means ‘new bridge’)—with its stone carved faces on both sides of Île-de-la-Cité, to the controversial ‘love locks bridge’ of Pont des Arts, has its own architectural style and unique place in Paris’ history. These bridges are also engrained in popular culture: the opulent Pont Alexandre III, with its gilded statues of frames and nymphs, is easily recognizable as the bridge where Carrie and Mr. Big were reunited in the series finale of Sex and the City, and the Bir-Hakeim bridge features prominently in the thriller Inception (2010). Following any one of these bridges will always lead to new adventures and discoveries.
Bakeries and pharmacies on every street
As you explore Paris, you’re bound to work up an appetite and your feet will eventually get sore from hitting the cobblestones. Luckily, the city provides for her people and you’re rarely more than a few minutes walk from either a bakery or a pharmacy. You’ll find quick and delicious pastries, sandwiches and cold drinks to keep you going, bandages and medication to treat your blisters and headaches. With these Paris institutions, you’ll hardly miss a beat in your day. For a bakery and pharmacy that are in close proximity to the Saint Germain neighborhood, try Boulangerie Carton and CityPharma, both on rue de Buci in the 6th arrondissement.
Though it’s a bustling metropolitan city, Paris is actually quite easy to navigate. You can thank the visionary Georges-Eugène Haussmann for this, as it was his responsibility to reorganize and renovate the city; a huge task that started in 1853 and ended in 1870. Because of his ordered grand scheme, there are twenty arrondissements and you can always tell which one you’re in because most street signs clearly indicate the number. You can get around Paris quite easily with these options: metro, bus, RER trains, Vélibs (rentable bicycles), or on foot. A new metro station will greet you every 500 meters and some, such as Place de la Bastille, with its tiled murals, or the copper-encased Arts et Métiers, are surprisingly beautiful places. You might sometimes spend more time standing than sitting but it’s always full of interesting characters and it’ll get you where you need to go.
Endless art and history
If museums are your love then Paris is the city for you, with a whopping 153 to explore. The Musée d’Orsay, The Louvre, l’Orangerie, Centre Pompidou—some of the most famous art and historical museums are right in the heart of the city. But there’s more to the museum and culture scene in Paris than the Mona Lisa. The Musée Carnavalet offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Paris as a city. You can get right up close to The Thinker and The Gates of Hell at Rodin’s sculpture garden and wind your way through the bone cluttered tunnels of The Catacombs. Locals and those in the know wait for the first Sunday of the month, when many museums offer free admission.
The sounds of the city
The toll of majestic church bells. Conversations in multiple languages. All the different inflections the French use to exclaim “Oh la la!”. Footsteps on cobblestone streets. The crunch of biting into a fresh baguette. The collective “ooh!” when the Eiffel Tower lights up at night. The rapid shutters of cameras snapping photos of the Mona Lisa. This is the soundtrack of the city. No matter where you are, if you close your eyes for a brief moment, you’ll experience Paris through its vibrant cacophony of sounds, each moment different from the next.
Every week could be fashion week
For high fashion in Paris, you’ve come to the right place. Head to the Champs- Elysées and Avenue Montaigne for luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and Jimmy Choo, and for window shopping at its finest. But for the French, fashion goes deeper than labels and shopping. The people here equate being well dressed with good manners and putting your best self forward. You won’t see a French person doing the grocery run in their pyjama bottoms. Instead you see a culture that values looking polished and put together, whether it’s for work or casually strolling in the park.
When you want Paris to come to you, take a café terrace seat and watch as the city goes by. Or maybe you want to discuss the latest art exhibit from one of your museum jaunts, debate a political issue, or solve the problems of the world. Either way, the Parisian café experience is not to be missed. This tradition dates back to 1689 when the first, Café de Procope, opened in Paris on what is now Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. Its prime location in the Latin Quarter attracted many authors, scholars and philosophers, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and even American founding father, Benjamin Franklin. These great thinkers would linger for hours over their drinks, discussing and debating, and that tradition is proudly upheld today.
Market streets abound
The market streets in Paris are a lively kind of shopping experience. Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter is perhaps the most famous foodie street in the city, while Rue Montorgueil in the 2nd caters to world renowned chefs. Stock up on meat, cheese, bread and other provisions for an Eiffel Tower picnic at the various shops on Rue Cler. On Rue Daguerre in the 14th, you can check out the fresh fruit and vegetable stands on your way to exploring the nearby Montparnasse Cemetery. Pop up farmer’s markets are also hugely popular, and happen all over Paris every day of the week.
Live music everywhere
You never know when you’ll stumble upon a spontaneous concert on a street corner or metro stop. You’ll hear all styles of music, from full classical music ensembles, to French rap. On sunny evenings in the summer, there is usually a musician on a guitar or piano on the pedestrian bridge spanning the two islands in Seine (Cité and Ile Saint Louis), creating an atmosphere as classic and romantic as the Paris depicted in a Woody Allen film. And what would Paris be without an accordion playing the Edith Piaf standard ‘La Vie en Rose’? You’re bound to hear it played somewhere. In the evenings there are classically trained musicians playing the cello and strings in the arcades of the Louvre and some other oft-frequented performance venues include Rue d’Arcole, between Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame, Metro Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre, Metro Bastille, Place de la République and the steps of Palais Garnier.
See dance, music and theatre
You could easily see a dance, music or theater performance in Paris every night of the week. The Paris Opéra Ballet season runs from September to July. Les Etes de la Danse is a festival that invites a different dance company to perform at Théâtre du Châtelet for a few weeks every summer; in 2015 it was the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, in 2016 it’s New York City Ballet. There are weekly classical music concerts at Saint-Chapelle, Église de la Madeleine, Cathédrale Notre Dame, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. L’Opéra de Paris has performances throughout the year at Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille, and there is always something amazing going on at the Philharmonie; just check the posters in any metro station to find out what’s playing. A favorite is the long running comedy show How to Become Parisian in One Hour.
Paris is at the heart of Europe
The City of Light is a central hub of travel. With high speed rails zipping off into every direction and many discount and legacy airlines to choose from, it’s easy to use it as a stepping stone to your next big adventure. France has many regions that offer their own flavor and culture. So if Paris is not to your taste, a trip to the Loire Valley, the northeastern champagne region of Châlons en Champagne, or the mountains of Auvergne, lie only a few hours away.