TravelFilter: What to do in Paris?
November 22, 2004 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Paris this weekend. It will be cold and rainy. But hey, I'll be in Paris.

What do MeFites (aka, you) think my SO and I should do?
posted by taumeson to Travel & Transportation around Paris, IL (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was in Paris with my SO about this time last year, and yes it was cold and rainy, but I would use that to your advantage and visit the Marais, Montmartre, and other medieval-y quarters -- maybe it's just me, but I love narrow cobblestone streets and crowded cafes on rainy gray days. I think places like the Champs Elysees and other big, broad tourist-y places will be filled with bedraggled unhappy tourists, which are a definite mood killer, so I'd stick to the smaller neighborhoods. Bon voyage!
posted by occhiblu at 8:16 AM on November 22, 2004

Also, buy Time Out's Paris guide (the travel guidebook, I mean, not necessarily the magazine). My favorite guide series ever.
posted by occhiblu at 8:17 AM on November 22, 2004

Indoor activities: Take (and smell) the subway. Go to the Musee D'Orsay. Use what's left of the dollar's value to shop at Les Halles.
posted by thijsk at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2004

The Rodin Museum. My favorite places in Paris. The Musee d'Orsay - all the Impressionism and architecture you could ever want. Bundle up and browse in the Latin quarter.
posted by gregchttm at 8:22 AM on November 22, 2004

If you like art, you could spend weeks at the museums in Paris. The Louvre, of course; I really liked the Centre Pompidou (modern art) and the Picasso museum there.

For shopping, the Champs-Elysees is the most famous. Rue St. Jacques in the 5th is pretty good, Les Halles is kind of a Paris mall that has a ton of French shops. For open-air markets, I absolutely love Rue Mouffetard.

For history, Notre Dame, the Bastille/Concorde, any number of other places.
posted by gramcracker at 8:22 AM on November 22, 2004

I was backpacking by myself, but around the time I was in Paris I had a little Finnish lady with me. An excellent thing to do if the weather clears up for a while is go to a grocery store (the Monoprix ones are excellent), buy some brie, a big baguette and a bottle of cheap wine, then trek up the stairs in Montmartre and sit down in front of the Sacre Couer. The view is amazing even when it's cloudy, and the whole afternoon will cost you less than ten euros. Just watch out for the agressive African guys trying to sell you bracelets.

Aside from that, the catacombs are great for crappy weather days. I also agree with Occhiblue about the tight street thing, those are very cool. One of the best places for that is the Ile de Saint Louis - I didn't see many tourists there in the height of Summer, and it feels like you're stepping back into the 17th century.

It sounds like you've traveled before, so I won't be stress this much, but don't assume the stereotype of rude Parisians is true. They're just as nice as other Europeans if you don't act like a dumb American, and since it's not tourist season anymore they'll likely be a lot more tolerant.

Good luck!
posted by borkingchikapa at 8:29 AM on November 22, 2004

Definitely do the museums, if you haven't visited them before (especially the Rodin). And the catacombs, although my husband had a spell of claustrophobia on the stairway down. Also, they don't like it if you pick up one of the skulls and do the Yorick thing.

If the cold and wet threaten to overwhelm you, I seem to remember that, at least 10 years ago, almost every movie ever made was playing in some French cinema or other. There are often some wonderful film festivals in the Latin Quarter. Not that you want to go to another country just to see a movie, but if your at all interested, pick up a copy of Pariscope at the newsstand.

Oh, and eat. Eat, eat, eat. I never was in Paris with any money, but I'm sure some gourmands can chime in. And if not, I was always happy with mussels and beer or bread and cheese.
posted by bibliowench at 8:43 AM on November 22, 2004

Don't forget to go eat: L'épi Dupin (rue Dupin) is fabulous, but you must get a reservation to get in, and it's also closed on Saturdays/Sundays, so I hope you arrive on Friday night.
posted by NekulturnY at 8:44 AM on November 22, 2004


I am curious what you meant by "smell" the Paris Metro. This really resonates for me as an idea. Just one aspect: I was devastated when, in 1992, I returned to Paris to discover that certain stops no longer reaked of Gaulois.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:49 AM on November 22, 2004

eat some good algerian food.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:52 AM on November 22, 2004

Some rainy-day ideas:

Go to a covered market, such as the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais. It's the oldest market in Paris, and was founded in 1615.

The marchés des puces (flea markets) are mostly covered also. Try the one at Porte de Clignancourt.

Museums, of course. You can eat lunch in the beautiful restaurant at the Musée D'Orsay for about 15 euros for a main course and dessert- a great deal. The restaurant at the Centre Pompidou is much more expensive.

Hot chocolate at Angelina's is the traditional rainy-day treat. It's delicious - made with melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder.

On preview - yes! Old movies in the Latin Quarter! Or at Le Grand Rex which is a huge old movie theater with a planetarium-style ceiling. The movies they show at the Rex are usually dubbed in French though.
posted by hazyjane at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

One other thing - the Rodin is great but try to go when it's not raining. The nicest part about it is the gardens filled with huge sculptures..
posted by hazyjane at 8:56 AM on November 22, 2004

Go to the Catacombs! It's pretty cool and creepy.
posted by trbrts at 9:14 AM on November 22, 2004

The Paris metro, to me, has always smelled too much like the sawdust stuff teachers scattered on children's vomit when I was in grade school.

Here are my usual recommendations for Paris (where I lived for a year and have visited two times since):

First, buy "Pariscope" as soon as you arrive. At the airport. It's a smallish magazine of absolutely everything to do: museums, shows, movies, exhibits, etc., recently copied in format by L Magazine here in New York, although they haven't copied the completeness. Costs about a half-Euro, I think. Pariscope comes out on Wednesdays and has a few pages in English, writen by the TimeOut Paris staff, in the back. (I also second the Time Out Paris guide). That will be your key to finding good spur-of-the-moment things to do.

For an untrammeled neighborhood, visit Rue de la Butte aux Cailles. It's in the Thirteenth Arrondissement, not far from the Corvisart Métro stop on the 6 line. Any comprehensive map of Paris should have it (and I do hope you don't buy one of those hopeless maps which only show the center of Paris, but instead, one of those many-paged highly detailed beauties which also show the banlieue, just in case you have a reason to go to Malakoff or Montreuil, or even if you don't). A like-minded friend and I spent many a pleasant night in that quarter: a narrow street or two of small bars and restaurants, with an almost one hundred percent French clientele, mostly young. I don't think we met a tourist any time we went. Go on a Friday or Saturday night, walk down the couple of blocks, take a couple of side streets, have dinner (only a couple of the places should require reservations; there was a decent Middle Eastern joint, I remember, and several excellent non-brasserie French cloth napkin restos), then do a little drinking in one of the bars. Many free French lessons were had on the curbs there, usually in the course of discussing the perfidious Americans and how one might go about studying in the US.

The March at Porte Clignancourt is good, as mentioned. In any guidebook. Be aware that the first little burst of vans and vendors you see when you exit the Metro is *not* the market. You need to walk under the highway overpass and then, to your left, you will see it. It's actually a neighborhood of markets, rather than a single market.

I also second or third the movie notion. At any given time there are more than 300 movies showing in Paris. In "Pariscope" you can find many English-language movies. Look for the ones marked "VO" (for version original), which means they will not be dubbed but will have French subtitles. I've seen dozens of movies, even in busy areas, by myself. Me, in the middle of hundreds of empty seats. It feels so, well, indulgent that it can only add to any vacation. It's also a great way to catch a movie you missed in the US. Also be on the lookout for American films which are showing in the theatres only to qualify as movies released in 2004, which will put them in the running for various movie awards, which they will then use in marketing campaigns when the movies hit wide release. Such movies are usually listed in Pariscope, but there will be no ads or much other attention. They tend to only run for a week or two near the end of the year.

Also, though it's a little rougher and no secret, I also still recommend Rue Oberkampf. It's in every guidebook. Best at the French dinner hour. Lots of bars, restaurants, and cafes, on the edge of a downtrodden Maghrebian neighborhood.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:14 AM on November 22, 2004

I second the recommendation for L'Epi Dupin. I would also recommend Maison Courtine, which (last time I checked) was the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. It seems much less well known to tourists. As far as I could tell, there were no Francophones in L'Epi Dupin when we ate there--but no English speakers in Maison Courtine. Not that there's anything wrong with dining amongst your fellow Anglophones. Anyway, Maison Courtine was deeeeeeeelicious.

Also--it's probably too late for this trip, but if you possibly can, try to dig up a copy of Henry Holt's ParisWalks. The holt series of *walks books are the best guides to every city they cover--in addition to ParisWalks, there's LondonWalks, VeniceWalks, RomeWalks, PragueWalks, and possibly others. I've never been able to figure out why most of them are out of print.
posted by yankeefog at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2004

(re: The Smell in the Metro)

I think it is the combination of rubber tires and electricity, but I may be way off. Whenever I am in Paris, I go into the subway and the smell immediately brings back a every Paris memory I have. No other subway has it. I have heard others about the distinctive odour, and read a story in a (Dutch) paper the other day where the author found a Paris metroticket on the street. `I could smell the subway', he writes.

Interestingly, I have a similar thing with really old escalators.
posted by thijsk at 9:53 AM on November 22, 2004


if you're not vegetarian check out Anahi, *49, rue Volta; 0148878824, metro Arts et Métiers (IIIe)*
Argentine restaurant in an old butcher shop, dinner only.

the cous-cous at Chez Omar is to die for, just don't tell them you know ParisParamus *47, rue de Bretagne; 0142723626, metro Temple (IIIe)*

Chez Janou is one of my favs, close to Place Des Vosges,
*2, Roger-Verlomme; 0142722841, metro Chemin-Vert (IIIe)*

an excellent bar à vin is Le Pré Verre
*19, rue du Sommerard; 0143545947, metro Cluny-la Sorbonne*

for haute cuisine at good prices go to Atelier de Joel Robuchon *5, rue de Montalembert; 0142225656, metro Rue-du-Bac (VII)*, Roubuchon rocks

my favorite Japanese in Paris is Tokyo Eat
*13, avenue du Président Wilson; 0147200029, metro Iéna (XV)* at the Palais de Tokyo: supercool

great brunch at Café d'Enfer *22, rue Daguerre; 0143222375, metro Denfert-Rochereau (XIV)*, rue Daguerre is a lovely, lovely, pretty unknown to tourists place in the least-touristy part of Montparnasse. it also close to the Foundation Cartier (Boulevard Raspail), the Jean Nouvel-designed building


rock concerts at Le Triptyque *142, rue Montmartre metro Bourse (IIe)* (

good techno at Le Nouveau Casino *109, rue Oberkampf metro Saint-Maur*
posted by matteo at 10:06 AM on November 22, 2004

I skipped the Notre-Dame and went to the Sainte-Chappelle, which is just a few blocks away but small and less busy and absolutely amazing. It's best on a sunny day because of the beautiful windows and the wall paintings, but it is a fantastic thing to see on any day.
I also recommend the Musée d'Orsay - I skipped the Louvre too and I don't really feel like I missed anything there or at Notre-Dame.
posted by librarina at 10:11 AM on November 22, 2004

thijsk., thanks. It's probably the tires+brake pad. I agree that the smell is evocative beyond belief; that and sound....Makes me want to go back, if only to be sad at how the place has probably changed since 1984; since 1992, 1995.

I vote for a sandwich grec near the Rue St. Severin, with lots of greasy frites...I can almost see the 10franc pieces now....
posted by ParisParamus at 10:13 AM on November 22, 2004

GO GO GO to the Orangerie. Most people miss it, but it has, IMHO, one of the best installations in the world- Monet's Water Lilies in two oval rooms specifically designed for them.

You'll have a hard time finding food that doesn't suck. In general, the less English on the menu, the better- just ask for the "prix fixe" and you'll be fine.
posted by mkultra at 11:03 AM on November 22, 2004

You'll have a hard time finding food that doesn't suck.

Odd. Should that have been, "You'll have a hard time finding food that sucks"?
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: You guys are awesome.

Also, I still remember tons of my 4-year high school french, so don't hesitate to tell me to do stuff that requires conversational literacy.

I'm going to come back here tomorrow and map it up. :)

Musee d'Orsay is on the list, along with Saint-Chappelle, Sacre Coeur, and the Catacombs.

Also, le Tour Eiffel, cause I mean, you have to. Prolly Notre Dame too, if it's not too crowded.

Man, I'm finally starting to get excited. Word!
posted by taumeson at 11:25 AM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: Also, I want to drink some Absinthe...will any bar have that?
posted by taumeson at 11:38 AM on November 22, 2004

the real thing would fry your brain like it fried Verlaine's. it's also almost impossible to come by, just like true 1800-style opium. the watered-down absinthe drinks you can find in Paris are not worth it. have some Pastis instead
posted by matteo at 11:49 AM on November 22, 2004

Also, get some sweet pastries and mint tea at the Mosque de Paris, by the Jardin des Plantes

utterly wonderful.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:56 AM on November 22, 2004


Your ability with a little conversational French will take you far in Paris. Observe the forms de politesse (e.g., greet shopkeepers formally when you enter their shops) and make an effort to speak the language, and you'll find that the "rude Parisian" stereotype almost never applies. (I speak execrable French but was almost always received warmly whenever I made a decent effort. I live in New York City, and New Yorkers are a hell of a lot ruder, on average, than Parisians.)

Advice? On arrival, go to almost any newsstand or bookstore and buy a copy of Plan de Paris par arrondissement -- it's a pocket-sized map-book/street finder broken up by district, utterly invaluable for finding your way around town.

The suggestion to pick up the latest copy of Pariscope is a very good one too.

Depending on how often you plan to take public transport (Metro or bus), buying a Paris Visite card can offer real savings.

Sights? The street market on the Rue Mouffetard is wonderful. Even in the cold, rainy fall, the public gardens and parks in Paris are lovely places.

There are more wonderful museums and art galleries than you can possibly take in on one (or even ten or thirty) trips. Having said that, if you like modern art at all be sure to visit the Centre Pompidou.

Ditto wonderful restaurants. There are many worthy destinations, but on our last trip my wife and I found the following algorithm nearly infallible, especially e.g. at lunchtime:

(1) Go one or two blocks off of a main thoroughfare or avenue.
(2) Look for a restaurant with a crowd of French people.
(3) Eat there. And drink lots of wine.

Have a wonderful trip!
posted by enrevanche at 12:23 PM on November 22, 2004

The Musee d'Orsay is an excellent bang-for-the-buck trip. You can see it in a day, and it's chock full of amazing stuff. I've never tackled the Louvre but I hear it's too big to hope to cover in even a couple of weeks.

I also recommend a stroll through Luxembourg Gardens. It's a plush, soothing, wide-open-spaces park with botanical gardens. There was something really mellow about that place that I just really, really enjoyed.
posted by scarabic at 12:28 PM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for reminding me about Paris Visite!

Anybody ever head out to La Defense? I remember that that's where the skyscrapers are, and I figured it might have a cool Times Square type of area or Apple store. I wanted to check it out. Thoughts?
posted by taumeson at 12:40 PM on November 22, 2004

My boyfriend went out to La Defense and loved it, but he has a definite thing for post-apocalyptic industrial architecture, so I never really trust him on those recommendations. He says there's "a mall and some shops out there, but not that much." You're probably better off on the Champs-Elysees.

Also, absinthe is illegal in France (though legal in Spain). The real stuff will not actually fry your brain -- I've had it many a time -- but you won't find it in Paris. As someone upthread suggested, though, Pernod or another pastis is absinthe minus the wormwood, so you get the taste without the hallucinations.
posted by occhiblu at 1:20 PM on November 22, 2004

Though if you want pre-cleaned-up Times Square, hit Pigalle. Neon neon neon, strip clubs, and bars. It's actually fun, I think -- kind of like a sophisticated Bourbon Street.
posted by occhiblu at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2004

Pariscope update: it no longer includes the engloish language TimeOut section. Still a good source for goings-on though, as is Zurban.

The Orangerie is (still, I believe) closed for renovation.

If you buy your métro tickets by the "carnet" you will likely find it a btter value than the Paris Visite card. (For the three day Paris Visite card, for example, you will need to ride over five times a day (17 over the three) to better the price of €1,05/ticket when purchase by ten. I've found that this is rarely the case as walking is fun and easy in Paris but your mileage may vary. The 5-zone pass might work out well if you use it to and from CDG but I'm not doing the math for that one and it will depend on your length of stay. [On preview: do I sound like an ass on this point?]

Study the RATP route finder and bus maps before you go and try to use the bus at off-peak. (I started a project to write guides for certain bus routes in Paris but it is languishing on the shelf.) Some routes are great for sightseeing while getting somewhere. Speediest bus hours are 10 am to 4 pm and then after 7 pm. Most routes stop around 9 pm.

Beware of pickpockets. [Self link.] Especially on the "B" line of the RER from CDG and line 1 of the métro. The bus to the aiport is a great choice; from the airport depends on your arrival hour.

Excuse this pseudo self-link to three restaurant choices. I had to write a newsetter recently; I have more but this will do for a little variety. Many more choices abound but it was easy to link here.

If over at the mosque de Paris, the Natural History museum underwent a beautiful renovation a few years back; the paleotology hall has not changed for what appears to be 100 years. Really remarkable. A good small museum off the beaten path is the Musée Guimet.

Movies this weekend. More playing than this of course. My favorite cinemas: Studio 28 for intimacy and Sunday night oldies, Ciné-Cité Bercy for best multiplex and the Grand Ecran Italie for the biggest screen in all of France.

I've gone on too much here. Available for follow-up if you have more questions.

On Preview... La Défense: not worth the time in my opinion. I would never recommend it to the average tourist -- more fo an urbanist and "what the hell is that Grande Arche like up close?" kind of thing. Answer: pitiful (and this coming from a devout modernist architect). And while I am at it: stay away form Les Halles as a shopping venue. It's a dismal piece of architecture and no different than shopping anywhere else on the planet. For something you will noot find in a department store (in the US although I've not seen anything like it anywhere) go to the basement hardware section at the BHV. I'll also chime in on Sacre Coeur. Go for the view. I had someone tell me just two days ago how beautiful the building is but I immediately chalked it up to a severe lack of paying attention. It is sad Byzantine Revival pile of stone.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2004

La Defense isn't worth it, IMHO, if you've only got a couple days. It's a long ride to see skyskrapers, and there's absolutely nothing to do once you get there except turn around.

Odd. Should that have been, "You'll have a hard time finding food that sucks"?

Yeah, the wistful memories must be clouding my judgment...
posted by mkultra at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2004

Well, everything I was going to recommend has been mentioned, so I'll second (third, fourth, whatever) Sacre Coeur, rue Mouffetard, and the Rodin museum. I would also suggest, if you haven't been before, that you go to Shakespeare & Co., if you're into that sort of thing. It's quite close to Notre Dame.

When you go to Sacre Coeur, it's worth the few euros to explore the crypt under the cathedral and also to climb up to the top for the view - if you're going for the view, as Dick Paris suggested, at least get the real thing.

Aside from that, save some time for sitting under the awnings at sidewalk cafes and absorbing the feeling of a place that so lovely when it's grey.

Damn, I wish I were going again this Christmas.
posted by gkostolny at 1:57 PM on November 22, 2004

Rue de la Butte aux Cailles is worth a look. A few nice bars and the restaurant "Temps des Cerises" is quite nice, off the beaten path -a bit. The Pear with Roquefort sauce and their Cassoulet is really good right now.
posted by gsb at 2:31 PM on November 22, 2004

- I second Chez Omar.
- Best Falafel: L'As du Falafel 34, rue des Rosiers
- There's a boulangerie on Rue De Turenne near Rue Des Minimies or Rue Du Foin that has the most amazing croissant.
- if you had more time, Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace in le Bourget.
posted by heather at 3:54 PM on November 22, 2004

L'As du Falafel /= l'Ass de Falafel /=Assas ;- )
posted by ParisParamus at 7:58 PM on November 22, 2004

What everyone else said about the Musée d'Orsay, but if you'll be there only a short time, and nobody is overly worried about getting wet, just walk. The Ile de la Cité is a short walk all around (and you can get dry in Notre Dame afterward); the Victor Hugo Musem is at the Place de Vosges, which is lovely and there's shops and cafés handy if you need to get out of the weather. It sort of depends where you're staying, and what you're after. But if there's clear skies, just wander.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:37 PM on November 22, 2004

Links failed me, sorry (and I failed Preview 101): Victor Hugo Museum (or more to the point, the Place de Vosges).
posted by goofyfoot at 11:41 PM on November 22, 2004

Listen to Dick Paris. He really knows his stuff!

Just wanted to add my favorite movie theater also - it's the MK2 Bibliothèque, because they have little love seats for two! You can see a picture of them on the linked page. Great for snuggling during the movie.
posted by hazyjane at 1:02 AM on November 23, 2004

Plus, MK2 Bib has a great DVD shop. So if the movie sucks one can always gain comfort in an impulse buy.
posted by gsb at 2:58 AM on November 23, 2004

One museum that hasn't been mentioned is the Musée de Cluny, a true gem. The Unicorn tapestries can be found there, among many other fabulous medieval works.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2004

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