How to Spend a Week in Paris

People say Paris is the most romantic city. They also say you have to be in love with yourself before you meet your special person. The first and last time I went to Paris five years ago, I was highly disappointed. I wondered where all the cute French style outdoor chairs like they have at June’s All Day were and why did I have to try so hard to find a boulangerie?

Well, I just went to Paris to stay with a friend for her birthday and New Year’s Eve, and everything I had dreamt and imagined about Paris showed up for me. I can see the frown on your face as you read this because how did I not see any last time? But this time, I did see a boulangerie on EVERY corner, and sometimes even two! Plus, I saw all the cute chairs and French cafes. I was in the right area this time, living the local life instead of hitting the pavement around the Seine by the museums, leaving the city for a champagne tour, or making a daily visit to Versailles. So I guess that’s how I missed it all! This visit, I FOUND THE GOLD. 

My intention was to fall in love with Paris and find laminated pastries worth fighting for. My friend had to work during the day, so it was up to me to twirl myself down the streets and discover the food jewels this city had hid from me on my first trip. Walking between 7 to 11 miles a day, I dove into every boulangerie my nose took me to. Can you believe the street smell of sugar and butter vs. the BBQ pit scents Austin emits?  

While bopping around art museums, to The Palais Garnier, to swooping in vintage shops and fiddling with jewelry, I told myself to just focus on having one fun adventure a day instead of trying to do everything. Back to what I said in the first two sentences – Paris is romantic and dating/loving yourself is the golden key. Well, guess what, y’all, I skipped down those cobblestone streets and found THE BEST pastries oozing with Nutella, stuffed with Salted Caramel Butter Cream, hidden with triple chocolate coatings, and Madeleines covered in white chocolate AND gold crumbs. I moved my body, took note of the culture, stumbled upon some great lunch spots by myself (which typically makes me a little uncomfortable), however, I successfully befriended chefs and Parisians and left with a smile on my face and a satisfied appetite. I romanced myself in the “most romantic city” and learned what a good time I am. Paris is for anyone willing to put forth the effort and tasteful care!

 

FOOD

Boulangeries

The French Bastard (Oberkampf) — This boulangerie with many locations had the most jaw-dropping, diverse selection out of any I saw all week (and I walked into almost every bakery I passed, even for just a looksie!) I’m telling you, this place is NUTS. Eclairs, Banana Caramel Pecan Cake Loafs, Muffins, Regular Croissants, Ash Croissants, Cookies, Muffins, Babka, Baguettes, Bread, etc. Honestly, it’s really best that I attack these places alone because of how long it takes me to examine each item, ask a few questions here and there (it IS written in French after all), and come to terms with the fact that I have to choose only a couple things instead of the whole case to keep room for other meals since I always eat the entire pastry. I chose the craziest, chocolatey, babka-like dough ball, topped with cookie crumbs and Nutella and shaped in a tall cylinder. I also got a plain Croissant because I rarely eat them. I don’t really have the words to explain this chocolatey firecracker. There were so many smooth, crunchy, and soft bread-like textures, and the interior wasn’t sweet, allowing the toppings to add a dramatic sweetness that sealed the deal. I chowed down on this in the park and then finished off the plain buttery Croissant full of layers right then and there before I hit the Picasso museum. This place has my vote if you want a variety and a case that will stimulate your brain and be unlike any other in the city. 

L’Éclair de Génie Café At the end of my trip, I saw this cute blogger Estelle’s top 3 favorite croissants of the year. After seeing one topped with chocolate shavings and filled with cream, I made it my mission to visit this bakery on my last day! Not realizing there were two locations, we walked 45 minutes from my friend Hyo Jin’s apartment to the Marais and after unsuccessfully looking for these stuffed croissants all around their chocolates and eclair case, I was convinced I was crazy. We asked them where the croissants were and then had to pivot to walk 30 minutes to their other location, the only one that actually carries them, 122 Rue Montmartre. Whoops! It’s OK, it’s all part of the journey as I ended up picking up a French hat and finding the best vintage shop (Kiliwatch). Anyway, when we walked into what I’ll call the kingdom that actually has tables to eat the desserts at vs. just being takeaway, and trays they serve the pastries on with gold silverware, I KNEW I had saved the best for last. There were about half of the layered guys left – mostly plain, one with white chocolate shavings on top filled with vanilla cream, one filled with Mexican chocolate and my ears stopped listening to the rest when I heard one filled with Salted Caramel Butter Cream and topped with Salted Caramel Drizzle and Chocolate. THERE WAS ONLY ONE left, so thank goodness, we got here in time or I would’ve been so upset.  We sat down with a knife and fork, which I totally prefer by the way, and I delicately broke  the croissant to see the cream ooze out. Remember how I said The French Bastard made the best plain one I’d ever had? WELL, watching the multiple layers of the laminated dough flake before my eyes with caramel cream tucked in the center made me lose my breath and sharpen my focus. THIS is the best pastry I had all week, and I’m just so in disbelief how a city with so many could have one that stands out above the rest with no doubt whatsoever. I ate the whole thing in probably 2 minutes, and almost shed a tear before it ended, while my two favorite flavor combinations were making love in my mouth. When I realized the transcending experience had come to a close, it felt so impossible it had just happened. The high this delectable treat gave me kept me floating down the road to the L’Orangerie museum…

Graine This spot is nestled across from The French Bastard Oberkampf location. I stumbled upon it because I saw fat cookies and pound cake in the window — ha! I couldn’t bring myself to buy a cookie here because my mission was all about laminated desserts while in France. I got the triple chocolate thing (milk, white, and dark). The bread was chocolatey, and I ate the sides of the folded pastry because that’s where all the chips were concentrated.

Ritz Paris Le Comptoir If you saunter through the entrance of the Ritz, you’ll find it might take you a good 10 minutes to get to the opposite side of the hotel where the boulangerie is located — not just because it’s further down the road, but because everything in the hotel is so ornate and worth stopping to ooh and ahh about. Even the bathroom has a golden swan faucet. When you get to the bakery entrance, don’t wait in line like a rookie if you want to do take away because there are two separate lines. I got the White Chocolate Madeleine coated with gold and laced with vanilla cream inside and the Lemon aka Citron. I loved the coating of the chocolate because it was fun to bite into with that outer layer. The two paired well with each other. Other flavors include: Caramel, Chocolate, and a red fruity looking one. They even had a circular cookie pie with pecans that was about 18 euros — I couldn’t try it because I had just eaten a chocolate chip cookie from Micho an hour before!

Chez Meunier So when we got sidetracked because we went to the wrong L’Éclair location, I passed this boulangerie that stopped me in my tracks. They didn’t speak English here, and I reached for the pastry that looked like a cross between babka and a pound cake. Covered in layers of green (pistachio) and topped with a bark that had real pistachios and some icing, I actually saved this in my bag for the next day and it was still as fresh as can be! I loved the crunchy topping paired with the doughy, fresh bread layers. Honestly, I’d eat this as a birthday cake.

Restaurants

Frenchie Bar à Vins You’ve probably heard of the popular tasting menu spot called Frenchie that is 5-courses and 140 Euros each, but I bet you haven’t heard of their simpler wine bar located across the street called Frenchie Bar à Vins that is walk-in only with no reservation required. I like this style because planning a tasting menu dinner months in advance is tough when you have no idea how you’ll feel running around Paris all day eating pastries. The menu at this wine bar had about 12 dishes and 4 desserts. From Ricotta with Anchovies to a vegetarian Beetroot Arepa, Shrimp Tacos, Roast Chicken & Cabbage and Tapioca Buns, this was the least “French” menu I experienced, but I still got their “Frenchie” creativity. I ate the Mackerel Mousseline, which held tender pieces of mackerel layered upon a long cracker bathed in smoked eel bouillon and tamarind. The Scallops were creatively  served in a shell with a parsley crust, yuzu condiment, and radish pickles. The Frenchie Banoffee dessert was so good with a frozen banana ice cream stuffed inside the soft pie, and topped with caramelized pecans, nutmeg and dulce de leche.

MichoThis was my favorite dining experience and when you hear the story, you’ll know why. I saw these challah sandwiches on Instagram (didn’t read or get a recommendation from anyone), and I knew I had to have one when I saw the fluffy bread and the cute chef behind the counter making fun and joyful content. I ducked into the sandwich spot and snagged a solo seat at the kitchen counter so I could watch the chefs make all the veggie appetizers and sandwiches. I saw Chef Julien feeding something to the hostess and his girlfriend perched on a stool next to me. I knew this was my chance to get in with them, so I asked what it was and he generously put the special tuna belly for that day on a side plate for me to try. (Read: he did not feed me). This tender tuna, while not raw, tasted like pure bliss at sushi restaurants. Julien recommended the fish sandwich with chimichurri on the regular menu to me so I gave in. When I asked which veggie starter I should try, he put down a plate of roasted potatoes with some type of mayo in between his girlfriend and me and the three of us shared. I’m telling you, they were the real life “Emily in Paris” couple! I had so much fun chatting with them and the sandwich had perfectly flakey fish with a little chimichurri in the center, followed by cashew paste smeared on the sides of the bread. It felt like the biggest hug I’d ever eaten. Made with so much love, unique flavors, and total fun and discovery coming from his eyes, I didn’t want my sandwich to end. I chatted with the guest that replaced his girlfriend’s seat, a friend of the hostess who was actually a French musician and had lived in Austin years before. He came for the chicken sandwich, and I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie that was sitting on the counter in front of us as if we were all in someone’s home. The cookie tasted like brown butter and was made with semisweet or dark chocolate, chunks of cashews you wouldn’t see until you ate it, and sea salt. It was chewy and soft all at the same time. I hovered at my counter seat far longer than I spent eating, still thinking about the challah, and then I was off to the Ritz after to try the madeleines that my friend Chef Amanda Rockman swore by.

Krung Thep Mahanakorn (Thai) You shouldn’t go out of your way to come here, but if you happen to be staying up in Belleville, this authentic Thai spot has a menu that is only written in French. They have the best coconut water on ice, Pad Thai, shrimp dumplings that I lost my mind over, and a Vietnamese bún. My friend lived right next door, so we went twice for lunch.

Hotel Costes This is probably the most expensive cocktail menu I’ve ever seen in my life. The first time I went to Paris, I spent about $100 on three cocktails, so when I found out we were being treated by my friend’s friend for their New Year’s Eve set menu, I couldn’t imagine how much they were shelling out. Turns out, there were $30 negronis to be exact! This is the most sceney bar and restaurant in Paris, and it looks like a moment from “Sex & The City” — Parisian style. The extractable roof outside creates a fun mood booster as you get to watch the plants and rooftop unveil here and there in between looking at the other tables around you. I actually really enjoyed the food! Not sure if these dishes are on the regular menu but I’d happily enjoy the Lobster Tom Yum, Roasted Sea Bass with the best Steak Cut Frites, and Raspberry Napoleon again.

Tekés We sat down at this vegetarian Israeli spot at 10 p.m. after the ballet, and it was still popping off when we left at midnight! Another bar/counter seating overlooking the chefs at work won my heart over. All I wanted to do was talk to these people and their eagerness to help us with the French-only menu led them to just sending us their favorite dishes. This is the most fun vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to, and I don’t think anyone would even know that it is due to the big, bold flavors and fun riffs on dishes like “Chicken Liver.”

Le Petit Marché I love all the framed impressionist art on the walls in this cozy Marais spot. It makes me feel like I’m actually dining in a small museum room where the artist just finished their work. There are also cool neon glass pieces in the back that brighten up the space. Many restaurants close  at 3 p.m. for lunch before reopening a little later at 7 p.m. or so for dinner. I snuck in at 2:45 p.m. and ordered the tuna appetizer over the Chinese Chicken Salad they kept recommending to me. Glad I trusted my gut because the giant squares of tuna with sesame and spicy dipping sauces were exactly what I was craving.

Chez Julien This was on a friend’s list and we were in the area planning to eat and then saunter to the Pompidou Center. I honestly hadn’t really had any traditional French food after 3 days so we went for it. The poor service was laughable, but the fries and smoked salmon were tasty. I would go here for a drink or a snack but wouldn’t plan a meal around it.

Le Voltaire This was the classic French meal we went out with a bang with on my last day. This restaurant, perched right off the Seine River, has been open since 1908 with a change in ownership in 2016. The white chemist-like coats the staff wear reminds me of Jeffrey’s and the dark brown panel tables show off that this is a special and fancy restaurant. Traditional escargot, steak, and roast chicken populate the menu. They serve you radishes, butter, and celery with the bread basket. I went for the omelette because for some reason, after eating so many omelettes at Keith McNally’s Pastis and Balthazaar in NYC, I wanted to see if the French omelette really was something in actual France. Yep, it was! So creamy on the inside with the cheese and cooked perfectly on the outside. The French Onion soup (25 euros, whew!) was delightful and warming and we don’t know whose meal came with the fries (probably mine), but they were crispy and rounded out our meal. This was a great place for a late lunch for us and would make for a special evening for someone who really wants to feel like they’re in Paris.

Restaurants on my list for my next visit include: Restaurant Diep (Chinese), Forest (Micho’s nicer restaurant),  Mokonuts, L’Ami Jean, ChoCho, Siena (party vibes), Ober Mamma, Racines, Frenchie Tasting Menu, Le Comptoir des Resistants, Café de Flore, Parcelles, Le Baratin, Le Clown Bar, Double Dragon, Clamato. 

Pastries on my list for my next visit: Rose Bakery, Popelini, Mamiche, Cedric Grolet Opera, Breizh Café for Crepe, Jeffrey Cagnes, Chapon et la Chocolaterie de l’Eglise, Valhrona Shop, Tapisserie – Charonne (owned by Septime team)

MUSEUMS 

Musée Marmottan Monet – My favorite museum in Paris is the Musée Marmottan Monet, just a train ride outside of Paris, or a short car ride depending on where you are staying. On my first visit to Paris, my aunt told me not to miss this. I always do what she says because she is my kindred spirit and equally as adventurous as me. I knew it was a house full of Monet’s work, but I did not expect to be in the basement by myself with hundreds of never-before-seen (to me) works in so many more  colors than I was used to seeing in  Monet’s  water lilies. They are all side by side and big square pieces as opposed to  the long ones you’ve seen, perhaps  at L’Orangerie (which I’d skip to go to Marmottan) or the MoMA in NYC that take up entire walls. Of course, you’ll see the blues and greens you would expect, but when you get to the red and yellow pieces full of fiery colors, you just won’t believe it! There are several rooms, and if you get there right when they  open, you’ll have all the art to yourself like I did! While you are out there, take the 45 minute walk to the LVMH museum, an art museum sponsored by the LVMH group, which passes by some ponds and is probably not something most people would walk to, but I did. 

Musée Picasso-Paris – Picasso is my favorite artist because he has so many different styles, mediums of work, and lots of bright colors and uniquely shaped women that always catch my attention. This Marais district museum is one of the prettiest buildings in Paris and has a great gift shop. 

The Centre Pompidou – This exhibition has the largest modern and contemporary art collection in Europe, with over 1,000 works from among the 140,000 kept by the centre. The displays are changed regularly, and I got to see a selection from 1905 to 1965 featuring  artists such as Kandinsky, Chagall, Miró, Frida Kahlo, Mondrian, Sonia Delaunay (who I loved discovering there). I was also lucky enough to see a special Picasso exhibit in honor of the 50th anniversary of his death. I couldn’t believe so many of these pieces were his, and the exhibit was filled with sketches, drawings, prints, and videos of Picasso painting. This building is gigantic, and you see crazy pipes on the outside. As you go up in the escalator, you’ll get a great view of the Eiffel Tower at night! Make sure not to miss the Stravinsky Fountain just a few feet outside the center.

Palais Garnier aka Opéra Garnier – This historic house was built for the Paris Opera in the 1800s, and while not considered a museum, this is the most divine and electric place we entered all week. You can pay to take a tour during the day, but it’s actually cheaper to get a ticket to the ballet or opera at night for a measly 10 to 12 euros for the nosebleed seats. That’s all that was left the day we went to visit, so we snagged them and then gasped in awe as we walked  inside. This is THE most beautiful place in Paris, complete with giant columns, gorgeous paintings on the ceilings , and once inside the actual performance area, you’ll see real Chagall colorful paintings surrounded by gold décor and red velvet seats. Being here during Christmas made it even more magical as there is a large atrium room with a brightly lit Christmas tree in a room full of even more paintings and gold. Since we couldn’t see a thing from our seats in the ballet, we spent the rest of the time playing around in this “palace” taking photos and it was the best 12 euros we spent!

Musée D’Orsay is another popular art museum full of French painting, sculptures, photography, and other Impressionist art. It’s important to buy tickets in advance or you’ll be waiting in line!

SHOPS

The best shopping is in the Marais, where you can get lost wandering around seeing jewelry, art galleries, and clothes made in  Paris, with crêpe smells everywhere. Make sure you walk down Rue Montorgueil just for people watching and looking at the cute cafes. A few shops I’ll call out are:

Kiliwatch – Kiliwatch, which is on the way to the L’Éclair de Génie Café, has the best selection of jackets I’ve ever seen in my life. From fur coats to leather in fun colors like light blue, painters coats, fringe, you name it. I wish I had room to take one back with me! 

Palmaccio  This local designer is who you buy the actual dress or leather jacket from. She has one shop and all of her clothing is very fine!

Maison de Ville – Located across the street from Chez Meunier, you’ll find french berets, beanies, modern hats, and  all types of hats in so many different colors. I love the hat I brought home with me, which is like a beanie but doesn’t cover my forehead or stand up too high!

Fabien Ajzenberg – Even though I really don’t need to buy more jewelry, I got some great gold earrings with green gemstones here and I could’ve gotten way more – they have everything! 

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Nuxe Spa – I was looking for a place to swim and ended up finding a Watsu massage, a massage in the water where they stretch and move you and honestly, it was weird, but I was glad to have time in the water.

Hammam de la Grande Mosquée de Paris – We went to this Turkish bath on my friend’s birthday for some relaxation. We paid about 70 euros and got to go to the steam room before the typical scrub, added a 20-minute massage, sat in the atrium on soft daybeds and relaxed with amazing tea. This was so rejuvenating during a trip full of walking and eating!

Things to do next time: If you make it to Montmartre, make sure you climb up to The Basilica of Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre for the views which will be on my list next time! The Gardens of the Musee des Impressionnismes Giverny are where Monet painted the water lilies! Visit the Yves Saint Laurent Museum.