It's official. We love Paris. But it took us a while and a few visits to get there, and we did have a rocky relationship with Paris: on one hand, it is clearly one of the most beautiful cities anywhere. On the other hand, we always had some kind of experience in Paris that made us less appreciative of its beauty. Like getting our iPhone grabbed from your hand on the street, followed by a running chase, followed by a police chase, for instance. (The police chase was actually kinda cool.) But we have kept coming back and always gave the city of lights another chance.
Coming from Prague, the sheer size of Paris can get overwhelming: a single week is not enough to even begin to understand how big the city is and how different the districts are. Throughout our visits, we have noticed a shift. At the beginning, we saw parallels between Paris and Vienna: the Belle Epoque charm, the monumental palaces and so on. During our later visits, and as we gravitated towards Marais as our district of choice, we have started to see similarities to Berlin: bright New Balance sneakers, fixie bikes, baristas that look like ZZ Top roadies and Australian university drop-outs. Yes, Paris has turned hipster. And we kinda like that.
Unlike many visitors to Paris, we have been very satisfied with the service. (Except at Charles de Gaulle Airport, probably the worst airport in the world.) The staff is in general friendly and helpful, although menus are still predominantly in French only, so speaking at least some French really helps. That said, we've always managed to get around with English, and even without raised eyebrows.
Also, Paris is the city of fashion. As one of the guests of our food tours put it, she always feels bad in Paris because all the women look better than her. But we found the style in Paris not to be as crushing as in Stockholm, where all the men and women seem to be picture-perfect and ready for an Elle photoshoot. French style seems a bit more leisurely, a bit more casual and less intimidating. We’ve noticed that many people, and men especially, wear glasses. And really cool glasses at that. Paris is a city of lights… and opticians. We actually both bought frames in Paris and asked the shop owner why there were so many opticians in town. “I don’t know but it’s true. It’s my problem, too.”
We travel for food, and Paris is no exception, so we have a few recommendations in that department. First, planning ahead helps. Some of the most popular restaurants tend to be booked out for weeks ahead. But with a bit of luck, you can play the system (see our note about Septime below). Also, make sure you know the opening days of the venues you plan to visit because you might be in for a surprise.
In case you want to visit a popular venue that does not accept reservations (like the Frenchie wine bar), we recommend coming some 30, 15 minutes before the opening time. This is a strategy that seems to work: it worked on our first visit to Frenchie, and it failed completely when we came too late on our second visit there. The lesson is: be there on time.
One last word of caution: if you like bread, croissants and the like and you are not particularly strong in the self-control area, you will be leaving with lots of extra weight. And we are not talking about luggage. But come on, it's Paris, right?
Hotels in Paris are fairly pricey. We did house-swap once and that was great. Out of the hotels we stayed in, two were of note. Hotel Fabric, located near Oberkampf and La Republique (i.e. near all the food we love) is fairly new and pretty hip, and the price is right. The interior is smart and - most importantly - the beds are huge, which is a big bonus. What we really loved was the steam room that you could reserve privately for an hour. Every hotel should have this. No, scrap that: every apartment should have this. We should have this!
The other hotel we really liked was the Jules et Jim hotel, also in Le Marais. The rooms are elegant and the design is very modern. This is a bit more upscale but still has an edgy feel to it we liked. The price is higher but you can find a nice deal if you look around.
Holybelly This is a great place with good coffee and delicious simple food - their uber delicious pancakes and fried eggs with crispy bacon and bourbone butter and maple sirup to top it all are definitely something not to miss in Paris. So bad it's good. The place tends to be packed with long lines in front of it. We got in after a 30-minute wait for Sunday brunch. Also, the experience sometimes tends to be a bit rushed because of the demand. But hey - it's so cool you're going to stand in the line and you're going to like it, okay? The next time we'd probably skip Holybelly over the weekend and come on a weekday (they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). That said, Holybelly is still the place in Paris for a proper breakfast. If you can tolerate hipsters serving other hipsters, that is.
Telescope Telescope is the place to go in Paris when you want to talk about your coffee: the owner/barista was surrounded by three coffee nazis the last time we were there and handled the situation with flying colors. They don't seem to settle for the mediocre: on one visit, we waited a bit too long for our cappuccinos, then the owner came with an apology that the cappuccinos he made for us originally did not seem nice enough, so he made new ones for us. The coffee is served in lovely turquoise cups. Come to think of it, it's our favorite place for coffee. But it's tiny so prepare to stand and/or wait, and prepare for no privacy: the three tables are very close to each other so you'll hear other people's conversations. Which can be fun. Or not.
Ten Belles A very small café/espresso bar/bakery with a friendly staff and food cooked in house. Whenever we visit, we always agree that the scones look delicious. We really like the vibe and atmosphere of both the cafe and the surroundings. Again owned by French and Australian owners, and using BelleVille coffee the last time we were there. We like it a lot and visit it quite regularly. On our first visit, we spent about half an hour talking to a French girl who spoke nearly fluent Czech. How rare is that? Very rare!
Café Coutume Owned by an Australian-French couple, this cafe/roastery offers great coffee and daily specials for lunch which seem to be very popular. We have tried it once and it was tasty and affordable. They also do very popular brunches over the weekends. We really liked the looks of their Pavlova; unfortunately, someone ate it all before we even had the chance of ordering one. Diners eat mostly at cramped communal tables but no-one seems to care. Great, very lively atmosphere. We bought a pack of their coffee for the baristas at Cafe Lounge and they said they liked it. Also seems like a good place to get some work done with wifi and a bar and table in the back ready for laptops. Maybe that's why it's so popular among local students although honestly, their wifi is more torture than a service: you keep looking at the screen trying to persuade the spinning wheel to stop and the phone to connect but that rarely happens.
Fragments Paris Another must for serious coffee lovers. This little cafe can be easily missed when walked by, but once you enter the simplicity of the interior just gets you. Great coffee (espresso or filters) and really friendly staff will make you fall in love with this place: the French barista and Gwen, the Australian cook, talked to us about Bruce Lee posters (they have a very cool one behind the bar), Pilsner Urquell, the golem (!) and just about anything else. They also spin records on site and their soundtrack was really cracking.
Fondation Cafe This hipster paradise near La Republique definitely serves some of the best coffee in Paris. With very simple interior, this place makes it clear what's important from the beginning. Your eyes can't help but stare at the wonderful (and surely expensive) coffee machine immediately after you walk in. They source their beans from the local roasters (Belleville) and their passion for great coffee is obvious from every cup. The barista was very helpful, making sure our phones were charged by the time we left. Our tip: buy something to read at 0fr next door and get a flat white to stay.
Broken Arm The Broken Arm is something we'd love to have in Prague: a cool cafe and bistro with an even cooler fashion shop next door. Think Voo Store/Companion Coffee in Berlin, but with twice the budget. Our piccolos were actually very nice and although we did not order food, we could not help ourselves and stared at the smart and beautiful salads and sandwiches the kitchen was producing. A nice stop near La Republique. Nice outdoor seating, too.
Lockwood This cafe and bar is clearly hipster-approved, with a gold-painted fixie bike parked in front of it. The place is fairly small but nicely decorated. During the day, we had coffee there. The place was nice and calm. Although our macchiatos were very, very high in acidity, we liked them. We came for the second time while we waited to get in to Frenchie - when we found out we would wait for an hour or more, Frenchie actually recommended Lockwood. The second visit was a much louder and more energetic experience and people actually waited in line to get in to the bar.
Frenchie Frenchie is actually three venues next to each other: a restaurant, a wine bar serving food and "Frenchie to Go", a breakfast spot and a "fast food" place.
Frenchie to Go serves breakfast, and it was delicious: we had the Eggs Benedict with pastrami and sous-vide eggs and the burrata with figs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Nice way to start the day. We came for lunch and had burrata again, this time with strawberries and fresh peas. It was good but the highlight was the Reuben sandwich: toasted sourdough bread with pastrami, cheddar cheese and coleslaw (using red cabbage). You wait in a line for lunch (about 10 minutes) but it's absolutely worth it. The small street has a great atmosphere: the executive chef and his henchmen run in between the three Frenchie locations, smiling and greeting customers. We recommend the bar stools outside if the weather's nice.
Finally, we had dinner twice in the wine bar, which gets packed immediately on opening. Sadly, we came at a very wrong time on our second visit, some 20 minutes past the opening, and we had to wait for over an hour to get in (we spent the time in the nearby Lockwood bar). That said, the atmosphere is great and the food is very good, too. They offer an eclectic selection of great French wines produced by smaller producers. The small communal tables mean you will meet people and talk to them, too (our hi goes to Chad and Katie from LA). If you want privacy and your personal space, this place is not for you. If you want good wines, great food (we loved the mussels) and the bustling atmosphere of a club, make sure you give them a try. The place is small and eating in is a contact sport: the red wine stain on Jan's favorite shirt can attest to that. All things considered, we think a bar like this is sorely missing in Prague.
Verjus Again, Verjus is really two places in one: a wine bar at the bottom, and a restaurant on top of it. Opened by an American couple that used to run a supper club. This place is very popular among expats from the US: English is the predominant language here. That said, we really enjoyed the food and the wines. It's clear the chefs like to play with the food and like to combine different flavors and textures. We also though it was great value. Must try their French fries, really.
David Toutain The lunch menu at this restaurant is a steal at EUR 45. You think you're going to get three courses? Yes, you will, but also lots of smaller dishes in between the main ones. David Toutain used to work for Alain Passard and it shows: while the restaurant is not vegetarian, the vegetables play a leading role in many dishes. The cooking is innovative but playful and unpretentious. We liked the presentation: we have a weak spot for nice plates and designer cutlery.
Au Passage Au Passage is not something you would walk into because you just looove what they've done to the place: it is fairly run down and bare, and looks like something a cheap student hangout from the outside. But what will lure you in are the crowds of locals eating and drinking in a loud, cheery atmosphere. Be sure to make a reservation for dinner, or come after 9pm because they do not take reservations for the second seating. We chose the latter strategy. In addition to the wines, they serve small plates to share, and we loved all of them: creative dishes with bold flavors. We spent an hour discussing how can they pull these kinds of dishes off in a kitchen the size of a shoebox. We haven't found the answer. They just can.
Le Dauphin So how is this bistro that serves lunch specials (a combination of about five appetizers and three mains) and a la carte dinners different from Le Chateaubriand, a famed restaurant next door with which they share the same chef and kitchen? Well, Le Chateaubriand only serves tasting menus, while at Le Dauphin you get to choose a la carte. To go with the food, they serve interesting natural (read "bio-dynamic") French wines. On our visit, the service was a bit edgy (there was a small misunderstanding about our wine order) but we thoroughly enjoyed the cooking: the flavors were bold and fresh and the plates were the right size. We went away truly happy.
Bones We also wanted to go to Bones but never got to it. The place is divided into two parts: the restaurant serves a fixed four-course menu for EUR 55, while the bar serves organic wines and tapas-like dishes to go with that. But we have this on our to-do list so we include it here. Perhaps the next time.
Septime and Clamato We've learnt a very important lesson at Septime: don't get turned off by the fact that a restaurant is fully booked for lunch. Simply arrive and try your luck. We did come without a reservation and got a table within three minutes. The place is beautiful: a kitchen open to a simple room with an eclectic style and lots of small tables. They did cram lots of tables in there, so don't expect privacy but a buzzing atmosphere of both cool locals and even cooler foreign visitors (we swear we saw three Leicas on that Japanese diner next table!). The three-course lunch menu is a bargain at EUR 30, and their selection of wines by glass may be small but it is very interesting: lots of natural wines, including an orange wine. They use fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. We did like the flavors, the atmosphere and the concept. There was just one thing...
... and the thing was the little brother next door, Clamato. While we liked Septime, with its sophistication and hip diners, we absolutely fell in love with Clamato. The place is unpretentious and we could spend hours just because of the laid-back atmosphere. The food is served in smaller portions to share. While in Septime the flavors are delicate and balanced, we found the flavors in Clamato to be bold and strong. The scallops in butter and herbs were easily one of the best meals we had in Paris. The wines were nice, too, and the service was lovely. We would definitely come back for a late lunch again.
L'Atelier St Germain de Joel Robuchon A very, very famous place, and the original venue of what now is a global chain. It's funny: the supermarket across the street sells microwaveable dinners with Joel Robuchon's face on them, and then you go and spend EUR 200 for a proper meal next door. The place has a more relaxed feeling than what you'd expect from a two-Michelin star restaurant, with all the diners sitting at a bar facing the open kitchen. The food was good, but it lacked the wow factor we expected. Sure, the potato mash is great, of course. Their Paris-Brest looked absolutely fantastic. Still, we will not hurry back the next time we're in Paris. We think you can get great food for less money. Eating here is like getting married in Prague's Old Town Hall: everybody wants to, and everybody does, and you have a short spot reserved for you and then it's bye-bye as another couple already takes your place.
Du Pain et Des Idées We visit Du Pain et Des Idées virtually every day when we're in Paris. Some may call it addiction, and we would totally agree. We recommend the small salty buns that come in many flavors and fillings (we like the bacon and plums, for instance). The banana pain au chocolat and the bread are also delicious. Whenever we sit at the outside table, we hear young expat chefs talking about their work while eating the wonderful croissants, and we're happy this place is not in Prague because we would have gained half a ton by now. Go and eat there, and for drinks go to Ten Belles nearby.
Poilane This is a very well-known bakery with a few branches throughout the city, famous for their Poilane bread. Their sourdough bread with the letter "P" on the top, weighting at 4 pounds, is so famous that actually Cafe Savoy in Prague bakes a copy of it, too. No baguettes for sale, though.
Gontran Cherrier A small bakery in the Montmartre district famous for their flavored breads and buns. His breads and buns are colorful, infused with various flavors. We tried the squid ink black, the arugula green and the paprika red buns.
Coquelicot A very popular bakery in the Montmartre district with a huge variety of baked goods for sale. The place was packed when we got there at 10 am. They also serve brunches and lunches.
Arnaud Delmontel A very popular bakery at Rue Des Martyrs, always ranking high in the Best Paris Baguette awards by Le Figaro. They serve everything from baguettes to croissants, including pastries. From the outside, the place does not look like much but the long line outside the bakery on Saturday will persuade you to wait, too.
Maison Landemaine Another bakery at Rue Des Martyrs. We really liked their croissant and tasted their hazelnut bread, which was delicious, too.
Pierre Hermé One word: addictive. In general, Zuzi does not particularly like sweets, but fell in love with Pierre Hermé anyway. So good we visit it almost every day. If you've never had macaroons (or if you've had them), this is the place to start… and end. We've tasted ten varieties and loved each and every one. We've also tried their croissants (best in the city according to Le Figaro daily) and the Plaisir sucrée, and they were great, too. You are not discovering a hidden gem here: you will be standing in line with many other foreign visitors to Paris and locals alike.
Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki We have heard good things about their salted caramel tart, and when we hear "salted caramel", we just go. The pastry shop is tiny, with just a counter and a small till, but the design is clean and light. The pastries combine French flavors with Japanese precision and esthetics. In the end, we opted for the macha tea salted caramel tart. It was incredibly filling and sweet, but the macho topping was a nice touch. Would we have it again? You bet!
Jacques Genin A truly marvelous chocolate, caramel and pate de fruits salon in the Marais district. The salon also includes tables and serves tea with the chocolates. The shop has a very modern, luxurious, high-end feeling to it. Don't leave without a sack of caramels.
Ladurée This is a well-known patisserie and macaroons shop with several branches in the centre. We tried their macaroons and while good, they were no match for the macaroons at Pierre Hermé. We did not try their pastries, though. Seemingly old-fashioned, the shop we visited was clearly targeting the tourists.
L’éclair de genie Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store. This is exactly the excitement you get when you enter this shop that made eclairs famous. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, with such a broad selection, it is hard to choose the right one… so there is a tendency to buy them all. Or nearly all. You don’t want to miss out, right? Are they good? You bet. We had three all across the spectrum (salted caramel, passion fruit, strawberries) and liked them all. Their flavored caramels in a glass make for a great souvenir, we think.
Sébastien Gaudard This patisserie at Rue Des Martyrs (which was very near our apartment) looked great both from the outside and the inside. We tasted their croissants (so rich it was hard not to feel a sense of deep shame when you ate them) and their Paris-Brest, which was delicious, too. You can see the chefs preparing the pastries when you're in the shop, which offers great versions of all the usual suspects.
Patisserie Des Reves A very luxurious-looking, designy and playful patisseries shop (take-away only) in the St Germain district. This shop is so luxurious and cool that the napkin you get with the pastries is actually a proper cloth napkin. How cool is that? All the pastries (Paris-Brest, mille-feouille) looked absolutely delicious and even the traditional pieces have an untraditional take. We tried their raspberry-macha cake and it was great.
Ice cream and creperies
West Country Girl We loved this place! We know it's only a creperie which there are thousands in Paris, but this one stood out for us. It is apparent that people who run this place put so much care into every dish and pick every ingredient locally with a lot of care. This place is little hard to find - we walked down the street thinking we were lost but then finally we saw the neon arrow - but if you crave crepes in Paris, it's definitely worth the try.
Breizh Cafe A hugely popular galette/crepes cafe. You will be waiting for a table even with a reservation. The waiting times without a reservation may spill over an hour. But the wait is worth it. The galettes and crepes are made of local, fresh ingredients, organic eggs, and the fresh cheese and butter on our galette was the best we've had in Paris. Again, this is not a hidden gem - you will be dining with many foreigners and locals alike.
Marché des enfants rouges A very lively, if a bit hidden market in the Le Marais district. A wildly popular place for locals that offers many dining options. The Moroccan stand seems to be the most popular choice, followed by the Japanese stand. This is a great place if you want to blend in with the locals and pretend you speak French. (Nobody will believe you, anyway.)
Rue des Martyrs If you love food, Rue des Martyrs, a sloped street beneath the Montmartre, is the street for you. You can literally go from door to door and you won't be disappointed... and gain about five pounds on one side of the street only. (Especially when you walk down the hill.) Cheeses? Check. Hams? Check. Bakeries? Sure. Patisseries? Of course. Ice cream? Get outta here. Whatever food you like, you will likely find it at Rue des Martyrs.
Chez Virginie This cheese shop is located in the Montmartre district, and looks great from the outside and the inside. The vintage decor helps. The focus of the shop is clearly on cheeses from raw milk and on the best artisan, cured cheeses available. We wish we had this shop in Prague, too. Warning: if you don't like smelly cheese, avoid this like the plague.
Centre Commercial We came to this shop opened by the people behind the Veja brand of sneakers and thought to ourselves that this must be a mistake. Cute things for small children. Then we realized it really was a mistake: we arrived at Centre Commercial Kids. But around the corner we found the true Centre Commercial: a cool shop that focuses on young fashion that is ethically produced (read no child labor, no misuse of Southern Asian slave workers and so on). Really nice pieces by local brands and New Balance and Veja sneakers made in Europe or in the US.
A.P.C. Surplus If you know what A.P.C. is, you will be thrilled to know they have an outlet shop near the Sacre-Coeur. If you don't know what A.P.C. is, you can skip this. The iconic fashion brand is usually out of our reach at full price, but with a 50% discount, you will be happy to fight with the other customers for that last shirt in your size. This is a true hit-or-miss place, but that hit is sooo sweet when you find it. We never leave empty-handed, just on principle.
Le Labo While it may look like a pharmacy, Le Labo is a fragrance shop. You don't come in and just buy a fragrance. Oh no. They will mix a fragrance for you specifically. You can settle for some of the few premixed fragrances they have but you can also used them as a starting point for your own creation. A really cool idea if you are up for it.
Artazart Design Bookstore A nice art and design bookstore in a lovely part of the town near the canal. A great assortment of books for children, too. We could have easily spent a few hours there.
Colette The cathedral of cool in the heart of Paris near the Louvre. Selling everything from scented candles to USD 4000 pimped out iPhones to electronics (they had the Apple Watch in store before the Apple Stores) to designer clothing, so prepare to spend big, or nothing at all, depending on your budget. The cafeteria in the basement of the shop is uber cool and uber crowded.
Merci While it is hard to find at first (the associated bistro helps), once you enter the store from the small courtyard you have to go through, you realize just how big Merci is. The three floors are full of men's and women's fashion, fashion accessories and cosmetics, kitchen appliances, plates and cutleries and home accessories. The assortment is clearly well curated and we could buy just about anything sold there. They change the concept of the central area: the last time we were there, you could buy vegetables from the farm and gardening tools. All the profits go to charity, so if you don't spend anything, you're a true hater.
French Trotters A small clothing and design shop and a fashion brand showroom. The pieces by some of the freshest labels are modern and well chosen. French Trotters also has its own line of clothing that looks very good and... the ubiquitous scented candle. You have to have a scented candle, right? Now with two locations, the smaller one conveniently located near Septime and Clamato.
0fr A beautiful and chic art bookstore. Just one room but a wide selection of books about arts and so on. We were thrilled to see a book about the plastic toys by Libuse Niklova, a Czech designer, right at the counter. 0fr has also designed and sells a small line of its own souvenirs and design objects for the thinking man and woman.
The Broken Arm A shop and a café and bistro in one. It was hard getting into when we arrived the first time because Julie Delphy was just shooting a movie there. In any case, Broken Arm sells very nice, high-quality clothing items on two floors, including the freshest Adidas or Nike Air models that will make heads turn. This is a place where you go to have a look at the fashion pieces your younger, more adventurous and extrovert self would wear.
Le Garde-Robe Good choice if you want to try some local wines and have some nice snacks to go with that. Seemed to be a very local place. Not fine dining but very authentic.
Velib The Velib project is something painfully missing in Prague. For EUR 8, you get a weekly access to the Paris public bicycle stands. You basically pick up a bike from a stand nearby (there are several iPhone apps to help you find the one nearest to you), ride the bike anywhere you like and then park it in a completely different stand. A bit of planning is probably required to find where you'll park the bike at the end of your journey, but otherwise this is a great service we were very happy to use. The fact that you're burning all the calories from all the pastries does not hurt, either.
To finish of the article, we have set up a map of “our Paris”. Most of the things in the map are described in the article, but the map also includes several other honorable mentions worth visiting. Please take your time to go through the map and set up your Paris itinerary. Have fun!