Dreaming of Paris (and its food, mainly)
The first time I expressed a desire to go to France was when I was approximately four years old. My mom had gotten me the book Linnea in Monet’s Garden at our small-town historical museum and I decided that it was my life’s goal to go to France and see those flowers, that lily pond, up close. It took me more than 20 years, but I did see Monet’s garden in Giverny—and many other sites on my wish list—in June 2018. It totally lived up to the hype and ever since I’ve been dreaming of going back.
I know we’re not exactly back in the casual “let’s go on a big trip to France” post-pandemic life we all hoped to be living by now, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming of our next adventure. I loved every moment of being in Paris and I’m counting down the days until I can return. If you’re planning a real or imaginary trip, I’ve put together a short list of my favorite experiences, sites, and restaurants to help you plan.
Le Recepteur, 16th arrondissement
When we were in Paris, we stayed in an Airbnb in the 16th arrondissement, which is an upscale mostly residential area filled with art deco era buildings and small neighborhood restaurants. If you prefer to stay in a quiet, less touristy area, it was a wonderful experience and the metro will take you anywhere you want to go (our particular Airbnb was right next to the yellow line, which goes to all the major museums and sights).
Le Recepteur was one of our absolute favorite restaurants within walking distance from our accommodations. We loved it so much that we actually went twice—once to sit on the sidewalk for a glass of wine in the evening, and once for dinner. The setting is lovely whether you sit inside in their small dining room or at a cafe table on the sidewalk.
Their menu changes seasonally, so everything is fresh and delicious. When we were there in June, I got a spectacular cod dish that I’m still thinking about. Both times we went, I asked our waiter for a wine recommendation and he did not steer me wrong either time.
Sainte-Chapelle, 1st arrondissement
Sainte-Chapelle doesn’t tend to top “must-see” Paris lists, but it has been on my list for years because of those spectacular windows. It was completed in 1248 and is a beautiful example of the height of gothic architecture.
Compared to the sheer magnitude of Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle’s footprint is relatively small. The thing that makes it stand out as an architectural feat is that it’s taller than it is wide (118 feet long and 139 feet tall, to be exact), and the stained glass windows are nearly the full height of the cathedral. When you step into the upper chapel, the rich blues and reds are almost overwhelming; they make the room glow, even on a cloudy day.
Because it’s a relatively small cathedral, it’s a quick stop to add to your itinerary and well worth the time. Plus, it’s generally a bit quieter than other attractions.
Télescope Café, 2nd arrondissement
No matter what city or town we’re visiting, Marcus locates the best coffee. If you love third and/or fourth wave coffee, Télescope would be a great stop to add to your itinerary. The shop is located a little more than a 10-minute walk from Jardin des Tuileries and a 5-minute walk from Jardin du Palais Royal, so it’s a quick detour to get a delicious coffee. Those familiar with modern coffee roasteries and cafés in the U.S. (think Tandem Coffee in Portland, Maine, which I’ve written about previously) will feel right at home in this adorable little café.
A glass of wine on the banks of the Seine
Look, I don’t care where you get your wine (From our experience, it was all excellent! Ask for a recommendation or get the house wine!), but I insist that you sit by the Seine and drink a glass. If you’re lucky like we were, there will be a live jazz band and people literally swing dancing on the banks of the river and all your Parisian dreams will come true. I mean, just look how happy we look!
Frenchie to Go (FTG), 2nd arrondissement
While Gregory Marchand’s flagship restaurant, Frenchie, may be beyond your budget constraints, make sure to stop at this satellite takeout spot. It's been more than three years since I’ve been there and I am still thinking about the fries I got at Frenchie to Go. They were absolutely perfect and you must go try them yourself. Add in the fantastic Reuben, the variety of dipping sauces, and the laid-back atmosphere and you have the recipe for a delightful experience.
You can technically take your order to go, but I highly recommend taking a seat at the sidewalk bar if the weather permits and ordering a glass of the house wine to accompany your sandwich. Not only was the food unforgettable, but everyone we chatted with while sitting at the bar was lovely and welcoming.
While it’s not technically in Paris, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Monet’s Garden. Located less than an hour’s train ride from Paris in Giverny, the visit makes for a perfect day trip that’ll easily have you back in the city for dinner. Monet called Giverny home from 1883 to 1926 and the home’s gardens served as the subject for many of his best-known works. You’ll feel like you’re walking right into an impressionist painting when you visit.
There are three main sections of the property. When you enter, you’ll be immediately greeted by a beautiful flower garden, crowned by that distinctive pink stucco house with green shutters. After wandering among the flowers, you can step inside the house and take a self-guided walking tour through each of the color-themed rooms (my favorite was the blue kitchen, which you can see in this virtual tour). Finally, make sure to visit the water garden to gaze at Monet’s famous water lilies and the Japanese footbridge. At this point in our visit, I got a little teary with how beautiful it was.
Located a bit out of the way of traditional tourist destinations, O Coffee is worth the detour if you love a great cup of coffee. Since we were staying in the 16th arrondissement, this stop wasn’t too far off our path and I’m so glad we made the effort to stop in. Like Télescope, O Coffee has a modern feel and serves wonderfully roasted and prepared coffee and pastries. The surfing theme of the café also makes it unique among other Paris cafes. Not your average Paris stop, but if you care about good quality coffee, add it to your list.
Musée de l’Orangerie, 1st arrondissement
I feel like I don’t need to tell you to go to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay (and if you weren’t planning to, what are you even doing? Don’t be silly.). While it may not be one of the “big” museums, don’t skip visiting Musée de l’Orangerie. While the whole collection is worth pursuing (I particularly loved the Renoir collection on the lower level), the main attraction is of course Monet’s water lily murals. Monet created these large-scale works specifically for the oval-shaped rooms of this museum and they are completely immersive and breathtaking. In all honesty, I teared up twice—once when I walked into the first room and once when I realized there was a second room. Apparently, judging by this post, Monet makes me cry.
Because this particular museum is a bit smaller, I’d suggest planning to visit close to when it opens in the morning. This will give you the best chance of a quiet water lily viewing experience like the one pictured above (shout out to my talented husband for taking that shot).
Like Frenchie to Go, lai’Tcha is an offshoot of an upscale, Michelin star-rated restaurant (yam’Tcha). We initially heard of both restaurants thanks to episode 3 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table which featured the chef, Adeline Grattard. Since yam’Tcha was a bit out of our price range (plus the reservations typically fill up months in advance), we booked a table for lunch at lai’Tcha and I’m so glad we did. The menu combines influences from Asian cuisine with traditional French techniques to produce a truly unique and delicious experience. Plus, we saw Grattard herself while we were there, which was a real thrill for us food nerds.
The menu changes regularly depending on seasonality and the chef’s experimentations, but let me assure you that everything we ordered was great. We ordered a wide variety of dishes (many of lai’Tcha’s offerings are small plates) and I would recommend that approach to maximize your tasting options.
The Eiffel Tower at sunset from the Pont de Grenelle
Finally, I must recommend the most touristy activity on this list: Seeing the Eiffel Tower at sunset. Pont de Grenelle was located just around the corner from our Airbnb and it turned out to be the perfect spot to see Lady Eiffel and the Seine at sunset. Plus, if you turn around and look in the opposite direction, you’ll see Paris’ own version of the Statue of Liberty, which was built in 1827 and is a quarter of the size of the version in New York.
If you’re staying in an area relatively close to Pont de Grenelle, I’d also strongly suggest using it as a spot to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle, which it does for the first five minutes of every hour after dusk till 1 a.m. It’s magical.
Have you been to Paris before? What was your favorite part? If you haven't been, what would you be most excited to see?