Things to do in Paris in May
May 20, 2010 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Paris next week. I'll be alone for three days, and with a friend and her 2 year old daughter for four days. I'd like suggestions for the non-obvious things to do, for restaurants and cafes to go to (by myself and with my friend), for nightlife (there will be a babysitter at night), for places to shop, and for restaurants and activities that adults can enjoy that will be acceptable to a two year old.

I've been to paris before, and i know about the major attractions.

I'm 33, my friend is 28. (i'm canadian, she's american). We're both very well travelled and prize 'getting to know a place', in addition to 'seeing the sights'. Tourist oriented "hidden gems" are great too.

(I'd also love to do an activity or go to an event - the French Open is totally sold out while i'm in Paris though. Other ideas?)
posted by Kololo to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The best "what's on" guide to Paris is the ticket page of Also the Paris tag on here is full of great information, there has been at least one other "offbeat things to do in Paris" question.
posted by fire&wings at 9:06 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: The Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden) was very nice, and would have been a great place to walk and talk with a friend. There's a Menagerie there that would be good for a little one.

The Jardin is in/adjacent to the Latin Quarter, which is a great place to walk around. It's also just across the street from the Seine.
posted by amtho at 9:11 AM on May 20, 2010

It's not really off the beaten path, but if you're interested in history or museums at all, you should definitely go to the Cluny. It's way less overwhelming than the Louvre (you can see everything, in detail, in a couple of hours), it has a beautiful collection of art and artifacts from the Middle Ages, and (coolest of all) the building it's in used to be not only a medieval monastery, but also a Roman bath. It gives you a great sense of the layered, rich history of Paris. It would probably better before the 2-year-old gets there, unless she's unusually quiet.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2010

If you find yourself on the south end of Paris, there is a lovely little boulangerie that I can recommend - I believe this is it. The woman there makes these wonderful ham and cheese sandwiches, which I would eat all the time if I could. I typically took a sandwich and a coke up to the Seine and ate at the riverbank. A good time alone, or with a group.
posted by lholladay at 9:31 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: There are great blogs with enough ways to fill hundreds of days. This one has good ideas, and the Paris blog. Both have current restaurant and exhibition reviews. Bonne (petit) vacance!
posted by bwonder2 at 9:36 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: For the weekend, the flea markets take you out towards the historical edge of the city -- the largest is Saint-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt, northern end of Métro line 4, and is still fun though on the tourist track, and there are smaller, more bargain-friendly ones along with less formal Parisian-style yard sales.

(You'll just miss the brocante de la printemps on the Rue de Bretagne.)
posted by holgate at 9:39 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: these are great so far!

Also: if there are suggestions for short day trips out of the city (ie somewhere that isn't versailles and is within a 1.5-2 hour train ride of Paris), then those would be welcome too!
posted by Kololo at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Markets! My favorite thing to do was walk through the street markets, different than the kind holgate mentioned. Mostly it was produce and cooked food, but also other stuff - clothes, gizmos, coffee, random stuff. I just liked being there while normal Parisians did their daily thing instead of staring at paintings. I particularly liked all the different foods, even just for looking. A fun thing to do is buy some cheese, bread, fruit, etc. at a market and go to the inevitably nearby park for a little picnic.

Here are a number of markets with the nearest Metro stop and Saturday hours. There are others I didn't write down, and you can find them in a single list in the most recent Lonely Planet Paris. If you don't want to buy the book, you could pop into a bookstore and find this page for the full days and hours for each, and the exact location. Some are open most days, some only a couple.

Marché aux Enfants Rouges. 9am-8pm. M: Filles du Calvaire
Marché de Batignolles (organic stuff). 9am-2pm. M: Place de Clichy or Rome
Marché Beauveau (arab & african). 8am-1pm. M: Ledru Rollin
Marché Brancusi (organic). 9am-2pm. M: Vavin
Marché Maubert (near St. Germain de Pres) 7am-2:30pm. M: Maubert Mutualite
Marché President Wilson. 7am-2:30pm. M: Iena or Alma Marceau
Marché St. Quentin. (glass enclosed, mostly upmarket and gourmet food) 8am-1pm and 3:30pm-7:30pm. Forgot to write down Metro stop
Marché Rue Cler (less of a stalls thing and more of a shops/cafes thing on a pedestrian street - very cozy). 7or8am to 7or7:30pm. M: Ecole Militaire
Marché Montorgueil 8am-7:30pm. M: Les Halles Orsentier
Marché Rue Mouffetard (wonderful street but wasn't there during market). 8am-7:30pm M: Censier Daubenton
Marché Rue Poncelet & Rue Bayen. 9am-1pm and 4pm-7:30pm. M: Ternes.

I read that travelers in the know go to the one near the Bastille. But it's only open Sunday and one other day, I think. Look into it.

Here's a site about a few of the markets.

Here's a Metro Map

The Catacombs are neat and a bit different than the museum circuit. I hear they're better if you can find a guide.

I read here about the sewer museum, which is in the sewers. Sounded interesting from a civil engineering and historical perspective, as well as offbeat, but in one of the descriptions I read, it said raw sewage flows just below where you walk and if it rains they've got 30 min to get you out because it floods. I couldn't bring myself to do that, but did see people lining up for it. Check the hours. Musee des Egouts de Paris.

The Jewish area in the Marais has some great food, particularly for lunches. Rue Mouffetard has a number of Greek crepe places that are good for lunch too.

Given the absurd number of wonderful restaurants all over the place, you'll get better dinner recommendations if you name some areas you're interested in. Make reservations in the morning or the day before if you can.

As for day trips, Givenchy is about an hour away, where Monet's home and gardens are. I didn't care about the home (nice kitchen though), but the gardens were beautiful. Everything's blooming right now. You see the big pond with the waterlilies he painted so much and the Japanese bridge going over it, draped in leafy vines and flowers. A picturesque stream runs behind it. Rows and rows of blooming things, wonderful color combinations. Tour operators can take you straight there from Paris or you can take a train from St. Lazare station to Vernon and then a regular bus, very clearly labeled, to Givenchy. There's a little cafe there for lunch if you need it.

The Loire valley is not too far away for wine fans. There are various chateaux to visit.

Chartres Cathedral is maybe 50 mi away. That's supposed to be great. I have to think there's a train.

Bon voyage!
posted by Askr at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Nightlife: Oberkampf has a poppin' bar district circa 2008, Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoille for the club scene. Bring your A game with clubs if you're a dude otherwise you won't be getting in. Fun bars around Pigalle/Clichy...I'd honestly look for blogs.

Another great thing to do in Paris is to soak in its diversity via arrondisement and location. Markedly different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds in peripheral arrondies. Paris is a city you can spend days just walking and absorbing. You'll find your way!
posted by Hurst at 11:45 AM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: Hurst: any particular arrondissement/locations that you'd recommend?

Also: not a dude. :)
posted by Kololo at 11:52 AM on May 20, 2010

Unmissable restaurant in Montmartre.
posted by Biru at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Evening gatherings at the Pont Des Arts are a good way to mingle with fellow travellers as well as young Parisians. Take a bottle or two of wine, though even if you run out, entrepreneurial (do the French even have a word for that?) chaps criss cross the bridge selling wine cheaply.
posted by Biru at 12:17 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Epernay in the Champagne region is a great day trip. Go on a champagne tour, see where/how they make the champagne, and get free samples! Easy train ride away!
posted by CPAGirl at 3:13 PM on May 20, 2010

For a day trip, Chartres cathedral really is amazing. Try to go for an English language tour, with Malcolm Miller if possible. The town itself is cute, particularly the area by the river. Easy train ride.
posted by Nelson at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I haven't done this, but always wanted to try after hearing a story on radio some years back. Dine in complete darkness.
posted by zeikka at 5:06 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Daytrips:
- Rouen: one of the biggest cities in Normandie, but not that big at all. Good shopping, beautiful architecture, and en entry into all of the foodie specialties that come out of Normandy (principally meats and cider). Beautiful architecture and lots of Jeanne d'Arc.
- Giverny: did you go here yet, to Monet's home? If you want to walk in the gardens, it is out there for you. And the weather is just getting nice out here.
- Le Touquet: I don't know about the train accessibility since I went by car, but this is THE place Paris people go to the beach. Very much a chi-chi beach town but totally kid friendly. Easy to walk around in, lots of sandy beach, and the season isn't really started yet.

In Paris, I second the recommendation for the Catacombs and the sewer museum. But save it for a rainier day if you can. Both of them are underground, cool, and involve narrow spaces and climbing. I wouldn't put a 2-year-old through it or put the other visitors through a 2-year-old going through it.

(And screw Versailles; man, I went there last week and it will probably be my last time ev-er!)
posted by whatzit at 3:46 AM on May 21, 2010

After seeing zeikka's comment: the totally dark restaurants are a great experience. The original, in Zurich (Blindekuh), is affiliated with and supports a school for the blind. Don't know about the Paris one. There are so so so many delicious things in France though, I don't know as I would go to a gimmick-meal before hitting all of the regional specialties of France and the major immigrant country foods (West African! Vietnamese! Polish...?!)
posted by whatzit at 3:49 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: This ranks as my most successful askme ever - pretty much every single answer here is fantastic. I want to do it all! It's like you people totally understood what kinds of things i was going for!
posted by Kololo at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2010

Seconding the Pont Des Arts. It's a fantastic experience. And try the Velibs.
posted by fire&wings at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2010

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