If you’ve never been to Paris, then you really don’t know what you’re missing! Yes, I know that’s a bit of a cliché, but in this case, it’s true.
The problem most people have with this beautiful city is that their first visit there is typically only for a long weekend, and that’s simply not enough to even start to do the place justice.
There are so many things to do in Paris that it’s really hard to know where to begin, and sadly, most people feel obliged to go and see the so-called “must-see” sights, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre (to see the Mona Lisa, of course), and maybe Notre Dame.
And while these sights are impressive, there are plenty of other things to do that are, in my opinion, much more interesting and rewarding – and which won’t require endless queuing to get in.
One of the best ways to see Paris is by walking – the city itself is fairly compact, for a capital city, and you can cover an awful lot of ground on foot. (The transport system is great too, for when your feet get tired.)
Just by wandering around, you’ll find all sorts of treasures that most guide books won’t even mention, such as small, out-of-the-way museums (e.g. the Musée Bricard, which is dedicated to the history of locks, or a fascinating special exhibition of decorative bras – yes, really!), specialist stores (e.g. Games In Blue, a game and puzzle shop at 24 Rue Monge, on the Left Bank), and, of course, restaurants.
Although I’ve used various guide books in the past to find good places to eat, what these books did more than anything (especially Pauper’s Guide To Paris) was open my eyes to the possibilities, which truly are endless.
Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in Paris was uncovered via these random walks around the city, including what is, for me, the best pancake house in the world.
If you fancy a change of pace, then why not visit one of the many parks? However, don’t restrict yourself to the more central, well-known ones (e.g. Les Jardins des Tuileries) – go further afield, and witness local life in a way you won’t find in the more popular places that are full of other tourists.
The River Seine is a focal point of Paris too, and a walk along the banks will reveal more fascinating things, including the famous bouquinistes (i.e. second-hand and antiquarian booksellers with their lock-up cabinets).
If it’s entertainment you want, then of course you can find the big, almost Vegas-like shows at places such as the Lido and Moulin Rouge, but they cater to the masses and are, to a large degree, vulgar.
However, there are plenty of other theatres, for example, where you’ll find all sorts of interesting shows on offer.
If your French is up to it, a visit to the Comédie Française is a journey back in time – I saw Les Femmes Savantes, by Molières, there once (a play that I had studied at school, which was a definite help in trying to follow along).
Another great place to find a variety of shows is L’Olympia, on Boulevard des Capucines. I was fortunate enough one year to find a marathon magic show in aid of Kosovo, but you’ll just have to go and see what’s on while you’re there.
If retail therapy is your thing, then you can’t do better than to visit one of the larger department stores such as Printemps, which is huge – it’s spread over three buildings, each of which is several storeys high. And when you get weary, you’ll find somewhere to sit down and have a drink or a bite to eat too.
I think you’ll agree that Paris deserves more than just a two or three day break, and I’ve barely scratched the surface, so if you can afford the time and money, make a whole week of it – you won’t regret it!
Mark Farrar has travelled to Paris many times over the course of several decades, and as a result of all those trips, has created a short but very personal guide called “My Favourite Things To Do In Paris”, which contains, as the name suggests, some of his personal favourites – places to go, things to see, and restaurants, as well as hints on tips on getting around Paris easily and cheaply.