First time in Paris? 8 activities not to miss

Posted in: Paris Sights


Gazing down the Seine is not to be missed. Photos by Theadora Brack
Gazing down the Seine is not to be missed. Photos by Theadora Brack

By Theadora Brack in Paris—

Rumor has it you’re planning a trip to Paris! So bless your soul and grab my hand. I have a few recommendations for a dreamy Parisian bucket list, big or tall. Here is where I find my inspiration!

Hang out at Shakespeare and Company.

1. Book it!

While kicking down the cobblestones, why not pick up a Paris-related book or novella? Check out Shakespeare & Co. at 37 rue Bûcherie (Metro: Saint-Michel). Located near Notre Dame, it is the most enchanting bookshop in the city!

Through the hard times and the good, I also praise the San Francisco Bookshop at 17 Rue Monsieur le Prince (Metro: Odéon). Here is where I recently found a well-loved copy of “A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller”. Talk about the ultimate starry-eyed read!

Henry wrote: “I have not dared until now to say what I think. But I am plunging—you have opened the void for me—there is no holding back. I am in a fever.” Oh, sigh!

(Read more about our favorite bookstores in Paris.)

Get cheesy at the fromagerie.

2. Eat, Drink and be Merry

And speaking of Henry’s valentine, he also penned, “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware: joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware!”

Here’s the squeal! Paris is made up of beaucoup boulangeries, poissonneries, caves, and cafés, éspiceries, fromageries, charcuteries, pâtisseries, chocolatiers, confiseries, and glaciers. Clipping The Left Banke, don’t walk away, Renée—spurge away! Also, ask for tidbit samples and recommendations. Cheapos, they know.

My gastronomical checklist:

Don’t leave the city without trying a crème brûlé, a meringue, and at least one macaron, along with a baguette, a pain au chocolat, and a selection of young fromage (difficult to find outside of France). Let’s not forget the wine and the crêpes! “Je voudrais une crêpe fromage-jambon, s’il vous plaît,” is what I always say!

(Read more about our favorite cafes and bakeries in Paris.)

3. Big City, Bright Lights

I also advocate sipping a round on a café terrace. Winter, spring, summer and fall, you won’t forget it! For pumped-up kicks, give Suze a shot! A gentian-based apéritif, this old-school bar favorite is typically served on ice with equal parts water or orange juice. Challenge your mates to describe its strange and peculiar flavor!

Back in the day, Picasso quipped, “I put all the things I like into my pictures—too bad for the things, they just have to put up with it.” Yes, the iconic bottle played muse to Picasso back in 1912. Hands-down, his super-cube collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze” always sets my rain on fire!

(Read more about drinks to try at any cafe in Paris.)

Hanging out in the Jardin du Luxembourg

4. Parks and Rec

After you’ve picked up your reads and nibbles, head to one of my favorite parks: Jardin du Luxembourg (Metro: Notre-Dame des Champs, Rennes or Vavin), Jardin des Tuileries (Metro: Tuileries, Concorde, Palais Royal/Musée du Louvre, Pyramides) and the Jardin du Palais Royal (Metro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre).

WWHD? (What would Hem do?)

Hemingway would most likely mosey on over to the Square du Vert-Galant (Metro: Pont Neuf, Cité or Saint-Michel), and chill with wine, books, and sausages while watching the fishermen. “They always caught some fish,” he wrote, “They were plump and sweet-fleshed with a finer flavor than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all.”

(Read in detail about our favorite parks in Paris.)

Lovely, moody Pere Lachaise.

Last stop

Cemeteries are also perfect spots for a little peace, love and understanding. I often curl up with Oscar Wilde at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. Like a new pair of cat eyeglasses, the calm terrain not only changes perception, but also attitude. The surrounding beauty both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time.

Here you’ll also find comfort with Chopin, Modigliani, Proust, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. It’s free, and the perfect Paris experience, rain or shine. Come with a journal or sketchbook in hand. In the words of the dashing Wilde, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” Oh, yes.

5. Taxi!

After nightfall, treat yourself to a cab ride in the City of Light. This is when the city truly twinkles. If you’re not already a wee intoxicated, you soon will be. I guarantee it.

To catch a ride, keep your eyes peeled for a cabstand. You could also hoof around the city after sundown. In Paris I always feel safe as houses, even when I roll solo.

6. Eiffel Tower

Like the moon and stars, the Eiffel Tower is a free show from almost anywhere in town, but better yet go there! Add it to your list. Just do it. Looking for a picture-perfect shot? Shoot up from below, center stage. Here the tower’s iron lattice resembles classic French black lace knickers. Oh, la, la!

I also highly recommend scoring an Eiffel Tower key chain at one of the souvenir shops in Montmartre. For the true love of corn, you’ll thank me one day in the near future. I have no doubts and no shortage of miniature replicas in my very own big box of life’s mementos. Just saying.

View from the rooftop.

7. Up on the roof

Right smack dab in the middle of town, I have a pet rooftop haven. Galeries Lafayette has never let me down! Up here, you’ll spy the Opéra Garnier, the Tour Eiffel, and Sacré Coeur. It’s another perfect spot to recharge your spirit, soul, and soles with sunsets and to-the-horizon boulevards and buildings of Haussmannian architecture!

(Read more about visiting the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette and tips for visiting the Sacre Coeur.)

8. Quill Power

Go vintage! Buy your postcards at the flea market! In the world of texts and emoticons, a little handwriting will feel good to the hand, spirit, cat sitter or paramour! Start the search for “cartes postale ancienne” at either the Porte de Vanves Flea Market or Clignancourt Flea Market at Caveyron Devey, located at stall number 7 and 8 in the Passage Lecuyer (off Rue Jules Vallès).

(Read our tips for shopping at flea markets in Paris.)

Signing off with yet another passage by Hemingway, Cheapos, “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.”

Bon Voyage! Carpe diem, Cheapos! Now start planning that trip!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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2 thoughts on “First time in Paris? 8 activities not to miss”

  1. Constance Birmingham

    Read the review of Hotel de la Tour Eiffel with interest. Judging from the review, I can only surmise that this hotel has been cleaned up since we stayed there some years ago. At that time, it was very poorly run . .we had never stayed in any hotel as dirty, and the desk staff were surly and unhelpful. We have stayed in at least 10 hotels in Paris over the years, but never had experienced such an unpleasant hotel. We have been back to Paris many times since, and on the basis of this review, we would be tempted to try this one again. The location was great . .it was quiet .. no street traffic on the tiny street . ..many good nearby restaurants and the 7th is always a delight.

  2. Pingback: Sunday reading | Bite-sized Travel

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