More than a place, a dot on the map, Paris is a love story.
Ecru buildings with decadent windowsills and doorframes stack along the Seine, one by one, neatly in a row where the land is flat enough to allow for it. Cobblesone winding streets crawl up hills in Montremartre, where pâtisseries and bistros cling to whatever ground they can get before the natural staircase carries up to the belle Sacre Coeur.
The star of the show is none other than the Eiffel Tower, the city’s heart and light. And every evening, under the cloak of night, she lights up, dazzling, drawing every eye in the city.
When you’re not walking down cobblestone streets embraced by gorgeous architecture, you’ll be called inside shops of every kind by a tempting window. Every few feet, the scent of something marvelous in a bistro oven will stop you in your tracks.
A place like this calls any traveler more than once. Paris has called my name three times, and her siren song continues. After four visits to the City of Love and Lights, this is every piece of advice I have for you.
Bienvenue to Sarah’s Ultimate Guide to Paris.
My #1 Piece of Advice for Visiting Paris
Wear comfortable shoes. No one is looking at your shoes. If someone is judging your choice of footwear, you’ll probably never see them again anyway.
Wear the shoes you can walk 10+ miles in, because that is how far I walked on my first day in Paris.
I practically live in running shoes. I’m a staunch loyalist of Nike Frees for travel—they pack flat and have never let me down after long, full days of walking. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Nikes in Paris, so you’ll fit right in with sneakers.
A Mini Guide to Paris Airports
Fly into Charles de Gaulle (CDG).
Do not fly into Beauvais if you can avoid it. Beauvais airport isn’t actually in Paris and it takes almost 2 hours to get to the city from there. The only affordable transit option from Beauvais is a bus that costs 20 euros roundtrip. Or at least it did years ago—it’s probably more now.
From CDG or Orly, you can take the Metro to the city center. I’ve never flown into Orly, so I don’t have an opinion on that airport. If you’re coming from the USA, you’ll most likely be flying into CDG anyway.
Where to Stay in Paris
I’ve been to Paris four times and have stayed in five local boutique hotels and Airbnbs. Out of all those trips, I have stayed in only one of those accommodations twice: The Hôtel Rose Bourbon.
I absolutely adore this place. It’s a quintessentially Parisian boutique hotel, with charming, chic, romantic décor and a location close to two Metro stations, local bistros, and a short walk from a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.
Where to Eat in Paris
On our mother-daughter trip to Paris, my mom and I ate the best food of any Paris trip I’ve taken. This list comes from that trip, and the Paris eats I loved from former trips are in my Paris vegan guide.
Jet-lagged and cranky after a short night’s rest on American Airlines, our first stop was Land&Monkeys. I inherited many traits from my mother, a sweet tooth chief among them. It was only natural we would gravitate towards a pâtisserie in our time of need.
The Amsterdam location is best for seating. We hung out there all day, in wait for our awful Airbnb (which we later traded for a God-sent last-minute deal on HotelTonight). Over the hours, we tried many of their gorgeous pastries and took a bag for the road.
We highly recommend the tartelette citron meringuée and pure origine (you can see both in the second picture below). I also ordered an almond croissant and two quiches for breakfast, one butternut squash, the other mushroom and kale. All of it was pure decadence. We returned again and again.
I saw this place on HappyCow years ago, but never tried it until recently. The veggie burgers here are phenomenal, and the sauces! Oh, the sauces. This is an easy UberEats find and was devoured in our hotel room after a very stressful day before any blogging was thought of. That’s when you know it’s good.
This cozy all-vegan bistro was the apex of our Paris culinary experience. The French onion soup is by far the best I’ve ever tasted, and the seitan bourginon was unforgettable. Call ahead and get a reservation—it’s teeny-tiny and fills up quickly.
This spot near Notre Dame (hence the name) has a delicious vegan cassoulet that almost made me forget it was 30 degrees outside. I wanted to try more traditional French food on this trip, and Le Grenier de Notre Dame was where I got my start. Love!
This intimate restaurant with such a kind owner was a five-minute walk from our hotel, and it’s the kind of place where they tell you what to eat. I ordered the vegetarian plate, which was chef’s choice. I still to this day can’t tell you what all of it was, but it tasted even better than it looks and I’d eat all of it again heartily. They even offered us a free dessert so we could try more Lebanese cuisine!
A short walk from Paris’ iconic Opèra sits this pan-Asian vegan restaurant. We started with spring rolls with charred cabbage on the ends, a flavorful touch that made the dish positively vibrant. I paired them with a tangy hot and sour soup. For entrées, the bento boxes have many creative protein options with rich sauces bursting in flavor. Highly recommend!
This cozy, intimate Thai café is the perfect place to duck inside for relief from Paris’ infamously moody weather. From the moment we stepped in, it felt like a warm embrace. The pad Thai at Nampla is one of my two favorites I’ve had to date, so you can’t go wrong trying it.
This chic bistro is Paris’ gluten-free gem offering delish pastries and quiches. Highly recommend their donuts, almond milk hot chocolate (mostly bitter, velvety dark chocolate with the slightest touch of sugar), and mushroom quiche. This one’s for vegetarians and flexitarians—the quiches do contain real eggs. The quiches themselves have the most perfect texture of any I’ve tried before.
What to See in Paris
This one is obvious, but there are a few ways you can see the Eiffel Tower when in Paris. On my first trip, we bought tickets and went to the top. I give the experience a 6.5/10—the lines are many and each is very, very long. The weather at the top is cold and windy. But! We were on top of the city, literally. It was worth it, but I’d only do it again if I were with someone who wanted to see it for the first time.
Aside from actually going up to the top, the Eiffel Tower is best seen from literally anywhere in Paris. At night, it’s a sparkling speck in the distance if you’re far away. My favorite view was on my last trip there in December 2022, when I was taking a short break from walking in the Musée d’Orsay. From a window on the third floor, the tower started to twinkle and I stood there, mesmerized.
Home to the artists and creative souls of Paris’ past, Montremartre is still that slightly rough-around-the-edges bohemian area that hosts the world-famous Moulin Rouge. It’s worth a stroll and plenty of photos.
For a magnificent view of the city, walk uphill to this towering ivory cathedral and admire the winding city streets below. This is one of the best ways to see the city, even better than the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, IMO.
A Parisian icon and home to fictitious Quasimodo, Notre Dame is the belle of Île de la Cité. Pass by for a few pics and admire the edifice, then you’re off to wherever else you have in store! It’s always been a quick stop on my trips to Paris, especially since you can’t go inside right now.
This ancient cathedral was commissioned by King Louis IX and it is spectacular inside. Buy the tickets in advance and go—you won’t regret it. I also left with the most beautiful bookmark I’ve bought to date, so check out the gift stands in the bottom floor before you go inside for the main event.
Museums to Visit in Paris
Does this bear explaining? By the way, the Mona Lisa will be the most underwhelming thing you’ve ever seen in your life. The crowds she draws are almost comical to watch. If it were allowed, I’d tell you to bring popcorn and watch people trip over one another to get a picture of her.
This is one of Paris’ many world-famous museums, and I chose it because of its Van Gogh collection. Frankly, there’s too much to see in this museum and truly take in what you’re seeing, so I recommend to have a strategy based on what you really want to look at. The answer for me is Monet and Van Gogh, so we went to the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism wing first.
For a more relaxed museum experience off the beaten path, the Marmottan Monet is in a house in northwest Paris, far from the most popular tourist attractions. Room after room on soft blue walls hang massive, grandiose Monet paintings. Any Impressionism lover will be swept away in this place.
English Bookstores to Peruse in Paris
For my fellow bibliophiles, there are two bookstores I can wholeheartedly recommend in Paris.
Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company is the stuff of legend. More than a bookstore, it could be a book itself. Its owner nurtured so many iconic writers of the 20th century and even stood up to Nazis who demanded she remove their censored books from her shelves.
From the moment you step inside, you’re completely surrounded by whimsical book quotes painted onto the walls and paperback spines crammed into shelves built seemingly everywhere—alcoves, walls, a stairwell, even a teeny-tiny children’s section that only a mini reader can reasonably fit in.
The best part about this immersive experience is that no phones are allowed. No influencing, no Instagram pics. None of that. Just the magic of being inside such a place and the words to tell everyone you know about it.
I left with my own copy of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, a novel she wrote during the war and whose manuscript was found by her family after she was deported to Auschwitz.
Smith & Son
This is Paris’ original English bookstore, a beacon of the literary community for hundreds of years. We popped in while waiting for our dinner reservation at a nearby bistro and I managed to snag not only my own copy of Olive Kitteridge, but also a Christmas gift for my sister. Highly recommend!
Easy Train Trips from Paris
Brussels Day Trip from Paris (on the cheap!)
Brussels is the easiest day trip from Paris if you want to visit another country. I have a full guide on a quick train layover that will tell you where to get the BEST chocolates.
To save money, steer clear of the Thalys high-speed and instead book an SNCF train from Gare du Nord to Lille, then switch at Lille to another SNCF train bound for Brussels. Eurostar is another option. I’ve saved hundreds of euros doing it this way.
You can continue traveling north and will run into Amsterdam soon. I don’t recommend Amsterdam as a day trip from Paris, but I do recommend using the train to get there if you want to see the charming city of canals. If you take the train to Amsterdam, a quick stop in Brussels is a must! All you really need is an afternoon unless your Brussels wish list is especially long.
Luxembourg Day Trip from Paris
In case you haven’t heard of Luxembourg, it’s a tiny country nestled between France and Germany. It bears a striking resemblance to Mia Thermopolis’ Genovia (even though those scenes were filmed on a set built in LA).
A train ride from Gare l’Est to Metz, then a transfer to Luxembourg City is the easiest way to get there. Once you arrive, this quaint little country is an absolute pleasure to visit. The government made all public transportation free in 2020, so all you have to do upon arriving is walk 2 minutes outside the train station and hop on the next tram to the historic center.
We enjoyed perusing the little shops, and I found a copy of Klara and the Sun at one of their English bookshops. We also ate at a vegan restaurant that was inside the contemporary museum! Such a cool find—highly recommend.
The One Thing You Must Do Before You Leave Paris
Before you leave Paris, you must see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.
Videos and photos don’t do it justice, and it never gets old. See it up close, see it from a distance. As long as you see it at least once.
I’ll always cherish the unexpected glimpse I got of its sparkle in the distance from a window of Orsay. This is Paris—magic peeking from every corner, ready to pull you in.
The only thing that’s left is to say Yes.