Paris was a city I thought I had heard everything about. Of course I still wanted to see it (I haven’t lost my mind after all!) but, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. The reality is that no amount of glossy travel magazines, movies, or blog post can prepare you for the feel of an iconic city like Paris. While strolling down the Seine IS romantic, macarons DO taste amazing, and the Eiffel Tower IS beautiful, the iconic imagery is, dare I say, a bit reductive of a city that has so much more to offer. There are a lot more things to do in Paris that don’t fit the usual narrative.
I confess, I’ve never really disliked anywhere I’ve travelled to. (Yes, I do have an opinion.) Paris was no exception. My love for Paris is like a hazy dream set to an accordion soundtrack. I fell in love with the beautiful buildings, monuments, bridges, and people, but most of all I fell in love with the joie de vivre they exhibited at every sidewalk patio throughout the city. It seems a city built for picnics and people watching, which happen to be two of my favourite activities. Fortunately for me, there were a lot more magic to uncover in a city that earns its magical image. Here’s the Paris guide according to Portjam!
Does this need any introduction really?
France is hands down THE ultimate foodie’s paradise. Why? Three reasons: carbs, sweets, and, of course, butter. Your days will likely revolve around incredible meals, whether you seek these experiences out or not. Modus operandi: let your tastebuds be your Paris guide!
While you can find a good, flaky croissant at pretty much any neighbourhood boulangerie, my favourite was at Maison Pradier, the chic and modern boulangerie/patisserie on Boulevard Saint-Michel, home of the best éclairs in the city. For a more substantial bite, Fragments in Le Marais offers toast, both sweet (cottage cheese and dates drizzled with honey) and savoury (smashed avocado with poached egg).
Lunch & Dinner
Classic french lunch items can be found all over the city. Croque monsieur and Quiche Lorraine are great at the classic Parisian Café de Flore (bonus points for the people watching opportunities). Steak tartare is amazing at La Bombe (pro tip: always ask for it préparée). Savoury crêpes can be found all over the city but I had the best in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (located 30 minutes outside of Paris). Of course Parisians excel beyond the classic french. Their falafels are the perfect balance of crispy exterior and creamy interior. The Marais is pretty densely populated with amazing falafel restaurants, so if there is a lineup at one (usually l’As du Fallafel) you can head on down to the next. We chose King Falafel Palace and it was to die for!.
Admittedly, all food is amazing in Paris but my sweet tooth is the one that is most satisfied. The celebrity of French sweets, the macaron, is a must when in Paris. Ladurée and Pierre Hermé are the classic confectioners of the macaron game. The rebel child, Café Pouchkine, offers unique flavours like the Medovick (buckwheat honey biscuit, scouchonka and smetana creams – trust me, it’s amazing!) and the signature Pouchkine (which I really recommend). If you’re like me, your taste buds will rejoice at the choux à la crème at Odette. It also happens to be the place I had the best café crème in the city. Of course we can’t forget about sweet crêpes! They’re found in crêpe stands and windows pretty much all over the city. That salted caramel one in the pics? It’s also in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
There’s no way anyone will go to Paris without seeing the major sites. The Eiffel Tower is visible from all corners of the city, Sacré Coeur stands at an elevation in the city’s horizon, and Notre Dame pops up just around the corner from most of the neighbourhoods around the Seine. But in my opinion, the neighbourhoods are the real highlight of Paris.
The neighbourhood known for housing the famed Sorbonne university is also an eclectic and lively area filled with shops, both touristy and local, countless restaurants, and so many winding streets that are just ready for exploration and discovery. While the streets of the 5ème arrondissement are well-trodden, they maintain a sort of coziness typically reserved for the neighbourhoods that are off the beaten path. It’s an agora of sorts: some of the oldest buildings in Paris stand tall among a medley of ethnic and local eateries serving a mix of students and intellectual types.
That’s the kind of sentiment that runs through the entire area. The church of Sainte-Étienne-du-Mont sits a few blocks away from the Grande Mosque. The grand boulevards of Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain contrast against the winding and narrow rue Galande and Mouffetard. Every turn presents an opportunity to marvel or discover, sometimes both. The Quartier Latin is the epitome of understated Parisian chic.
The 11ème arrondissement is the younger, hipper counterpart to the 5ème’s established, intellectual vibes. They both exude a comfortable atmosphere that differs from their respective neighbours. Dare I say it’s the Brooklyn of Paris? (Feel free to agree/disagree with me in the comments!). Hip restaurants like Septime, Le Perchoir, and Clown Bar, are a stone’s throw away from the bar scene on rue de la Roquette. Major shopping streets on rue Oberkampf and Charonne satisfy the upwardly mobile hipsters crowd. The open-air Bastille market pops up every Thursday and Sunday in an array of colourful stalls selling foodstuffs galore. The area is cool by day and bustling with a chill nightlife lasting into the wee hours of the morning.
Of course, being deeply entrenched in French Revolutionary history will hold its own interest. Where once there were ditches serving as the link from the Bastille fortress to the Seine river now lies the bassin de l’Arsenal. The original location of the fortress is now Place de la Bastille, centered around the commemorative Colonne de Juillet (July Column). The area is historic and symbolic of the revolutionary soul of Paris.
From the historic to luxury to the unique, Paris has no shortage of hotels to stay in. My senses delighted in so many amazing options, but the two hotels I ultimately stayed at had one thing in common: art. Both were developed by Elegancia Hotels, a hotel chain with many art-focused outposts around the city, each with their own unique flavour.
La Parizienne is the everything we want Paris to be: fun-loving, light-hearted, and effortlessly chic. Created with this vision in mind, the hotel’s muse ties the decor together from the lobby, the hallways, and the guestrooms. The decor is understated yet fun with pops of colour and whimsical lighting. It’s the attention to detail that truly stands out: the elevator and armoires in the guestrooms are “starlit” with fibreoptic lighting and the quilted wallpaper is actually padded. Its location in Saint-Germain-des-Près makes the 28-room hotel the perfect launching point for sightseeing (Jardin du Luxembourg, Montparnasse Tower, and Champs de Mars are among the walkable sights) and, of course, a spot of shopping.
You can see more info in my review of La Parizienne here.
Our love for the 11ème made it ideal as a home base for exploring the neighbourhood. The Hotel Exquis, like the neighbourhood it inhabits, is itself a place to explore. Elegancia has created a hotel in the manner of 20th century surrealist art using the exquisite corpse method. A team of artists have added their work to the previous artist’s to create one single work of art. The experience begins the moment you step into the bright red lobby, where purple, orange, and blue accents are strewn about the room. Each floor has a different theme created by a different Parisian artist, making the 42-room hotel a pretty unique and exquisite experience.
You can see more of the magical mystery tour in my review of Hotel Exquis here.