It would take less than a minute to Google “Things to do in Paris” and find out all about the top landmarks, museums, famous shopping, gardens and cafes. In fact, you probably don’t even have to use google to know of a few already.
So instead of telling you what you already know, I want to tell you about a few of my favorite finds off the radar…
I’ve been to Paris three times, and it wasn’t until the third time that I had a great experience and left with a real appreciation for the city. Yes, I loved the Eiffel Tower from the get go, especially at night when its sparkles…. AMAZING. It gave me the chills seeing it for the first time. But that wasn’t enough to convince me that this infamous city was living up to all the hype.
I was certain that I must be missing something. I hadn’t found the quaint alleyways of bars that fill up at night with loud music and people’s chatter. I wanted to find the places that Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” took place in. Where Gill would find the magic of Paris walking the streets at night crashing the parties that Hemingway and Fitzgerald frequented. I wanted to know what it is about this city has inspired poets and artists for centuries.
Where was this Parisian scene?
Determined to find the charm in Paris, I took a different approach and started looking up local spots, unique hole in the walls, and places with a lot of character. After tons of research, I kept finding that Le Marais, the area between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, is the most reminiscent of the Parisian lifestyle.
Visiting here did the trick, and made me love Paris in a whole new way. Here are a few of my favorite finds…
This area is the most encompassing of Old Paris. Historic tattered buildings dot the narrow windy cobblestone alleyways. It’s always bustling with life throughout the day and into the night. Everyone walks the streets checking out the trendy shopping boutiques, bars, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, wine shops, bookstores, and bakeries.
It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways while window shopping, admiring the old architecture and rustic antique doorways mixed in the funky street art. It’s an interesting contrast to see so much history mixed in with a new hip culture that has surfaced here.
Locals were walking along wearing a beret with their fresh baguette in hand from the bread shops, can it get more French than that? You almost forget you’re in a huge city and get lost in the tranquil world in-between these streets.
It also happens to be the Jewish quarter of Paris as well home to large Chinese and LGBT communities, making it not only a trendy area but a cultural hub. We arrived on the same day as the Gay Pride Parade, with the festivities centered right in Le Marais. The whole area was going off; it was such a fun experience to be in the middle of it all! Every bar filled to the brim and overflowing with patrons, at the same time people were in the streets singing, dancing, and yelling in excitement. It was the perfect day to capture the liveliness of the area.
If you imagine your Paris holiday as; walking to get coffee in the morning, reading a book in a cafe or on the grass in a park in the afternoon, tasting the wine at local wine bars, window shopping at adorable boutiques, dining in family owned restaurants, grabbing a craft cocktail in a hidden bar, and listening to live music in the cafes till late in the night…then this is the ideal area to stay in! It’s fun, hip, historical and aesthetically pleasing!
In Le Marais, you can experience Parisian life firsthand and live like the locals.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
Just two blocks from the Norte Dame tucked away on a narrow road you’ll find Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, once the home of the main priest of Norte Dame and one of the oldest buildings in Paris (circa the 1500’s).
During spring and summer, the purple wisteria vine that grows up the building creates a beautiful display, and that was the picture I saw on Instagram that caught my attention! But that’s just on the outside; the inside looks like you’ve entered a medieval museum; stone walls, antique furniture, elaborate decor filling the small and cozy space. The ambiance makes you feel like you’ve stepped in a time capsule.
The menu is seasonal, with sourced organic ingredients from farms in Aveyron in Southern France. They serve omelets, pasta, salads, mussels, soup, rabbit and other French specialties.I ordered the vegetable soup, potato cakes, and the omelet. We were shocked at how big the omelet was, and it was filled with fresh vegetables, needless to say; we ended up ordering another to share. The table next to us raved about the mussels, so we had to try them as well. There wasn’t anything we ordered that we didn’t love.
I never realized how hard it would be to find a good omelet in Europe. Breakfast options in most places can be a little redundant; usually just fruit, pastries, and coffee. Some places serve an English breakfast which includes eggs, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to how spoiled we are with our breakfast options in the states. So finding a delicious omelet here was a big score!
It was pretty pricey; lunch entree’s ranging around 20 euros. One thing I will mention is the service was extremely slow. Our waiter was funny and entertaining, but he often seemed overwhelmed and not too eager to answer questions. Although he certainly wasn’t the only server in I’ve encountered while traveling that wasn’t too pleased to respond to questions about the menu, I’ve learned not to take it personally.
Overall, the atmosphere and food left a great impression on me!
Little Red Door
I love speakeasy’s, so I was sure to do my research on the coolest one’s to check out in Paris. The Little Red Door happened to be walking distance from our Airbnb in Le Marais district, so naturally, it was on the list.
When we arrived the doorman was already turning people away, giving the essence that it was pretty exclusive. The doorman wasn’t friendly, much like the Vegas security I’m used to, but he said to try back in 15 minutes and so we did. Once we got inside, I realized how small the venue was, so it made sense why they keep the occupancy to a minimum to maintain the chill vibe.
The narrow dark bar has brick walls, cozy couches, dotted with candles that dimly light the room. The cocktail menu is the coolest feature; a booked filled with various pictures in which each correlates with a different cocktail. You choose the image that speaks to you the most, or if you don’t feel like being risky, you can pull out the hidden tab to read the ingredients.
I didn’t love my first drink, determined to make me something I liked, the server quizzed me on my favorite ingredients and came back with a spicy ginger martini. It was delicious! You can tell they take pride in their mixology and put a lot of thought into each drink. If you love craft cocktails and exclusive bars, this is a great find! It was worth the wait!
A friend recommended I check out Le Georges for the incredible view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. It’s a restaurant and lounge at the top of the Pompidou Centre museum, just seeing the building is pretty cool let alone taking the 5+ escalators to the top. And since there is nothing I love more than a drink and a great view, I made it a part of our cocktail tour.
We didn’t eat while we were here, but it was the perfect place for a drink. The atmosphere is super swanky with an industrial-chic decor meets art disco, great music, a rooftop terrace and panoramic views of the city through the HUGE ceiling to floor glass windows.
While other bars and restaurants in the surrounding Le Marias district are more casual, this venue is a bit more upscale. That’s not to say you can’t skip the expensive dinner and just pop in for a cocktail like we did. It’s a perfect vantage point to take in the Paris rooftops and the Eiffel Tower.
When good Americans die, they go to Paris. -Oscar Wilde
What are some of your favorite Paris finds off the radar? Have you found local spots you love? I’d love to hear all about them!