Belleville Rendezvous
March 7, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Paris at the beginning of April. What should I see? Where should I eat? How much should I take? And what's the best thing you've done there?

Am going with my OH for three nights. We're not on an unlimited budget (in fact, I'm wondering what the minimum one needs to take is and will then decide how much I can add to that - my bank charges £1.25 for every foreign currency transaction so will probably need to be cash) and mainly plan to wander round and take photos.

I know I'd like to see Bellville and Pere La Chaise cemeteries, the taxidermy shop (name escapes me now), have hot chocolate at Angelina's and visit one of the markets - preferably one selling textiles and bric-a-brac rather than furniture - for people-watching. I don#t speak French but am happy enough buying picnic lunches from the supermarket as they're probably nicer than the London version! Also, I know that museums are free on the first Sunday of the month which gives us freedom to see as many as briefly as we like and then go back and pay if we want to see more. Beyond that...I'm not sure.

Suggestions welcome! I like crafts, thrift-hunting, books and quirky things. OH is really into boardgames so we may check out one of the stores there.
posted by mippy to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (21 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
mippy: "(in fact, I'm wondering what the minimum one needs to take is and will then decide how much I can add to that - my bank charges £1.25 for every foreign currency transaction so will probably need to be cash)"

Can't help you with what to see and eat but please get a decent bank account/card. You should have enough time to get it sorted. There are plenty of cards that don't charge for load or spending fees on foreign withdrawals and it'll save you money on all your future trips too.
posted by turkeyphant at 9:30 AM on March 7, 2011

I'd skip Pere Lachaise- it's out of the way and fairly underwhelming (not to mention how sad it is to see the entire area around Jim Morrison's grave utterly desecrated).

Get to museums early. April is high tourist season. The lines will be epic. Consider getting a museum pass- even if you think the economics won't work out in your favor, it's worth it just to jump the queue.

Any of the numerous boulangeries you'll see on the street will sell you a simple sandwich (usually some combination of ham, cheese, butter, egg on a fresh baguette) for your lunch.
posted by mkultra at 9:38 AM on March 7, 2011

If you like history of science and technology stuff, the Musee des artes et metiers was one of my highlights. As was wandering the Paris Arcades.

Next time I go I want to walk the Promenade Plantee - an elevated garden on abandoned railway lines.
posted by carter at 9:48 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm jealous! You'll have a wonderful time just walking around (which of course, is free). You can: 1) walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc d'Triumph; 2) take the metro to the Eiffel Tower (do it at night!), and 3) walk around the Louvre and the Jardins du Tuilerries.

We took a Paris Walks tour of Montmartre, which we very much enjoyed.

We tried to get hot chocolate at Angelina's but the line was EPIC so we gave up.

Our favorite restaurant is Fish la Boissonerie in the St. Germain neighborhood. It's run by an American ex-pat so they're quite accommodating of people with limited French. We don't like to spend a ton on food, so this was our "fancy" meal.

Have a great trip.
posted by slmorri at 10:00 AM on March 7, 2011

slmorri: "Fish la Boissonerie"

YES! I walked into this place at random back in the 90's and had a great meal there. Glad to see it's still around.
posted by mkultra at 10:02 AM on March 7, 2011

David Lebovitz of Chez Panisse fame resides in Paris and has an excellent blog. More importantly, for you, he has a section devoted to places to eat and shop here. He also makes suggestions on what one should get as gifts for the foodie in your life. He also does Paris tours as well. I like his suggestions because they are not tourist traps.
posted by jadepearl at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2011

The highlights of my trip to Paris were visiting Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, and The Place du Tertre.

The Place du Tertre is a tourist trap but it's fun. The rest of Montmartre is exciting to explore. The streets are cobbled and narrow, with lots of little curves and loops. The church is beautiful. Word to the wise - they do not allow any photography in the church and get really mad if you try, so keep your camera in your pocket.

Like you, I planned a whole day for flea market exploration and that was fun. You really can't go wrong. I just picked one out of my guidebook and followed the metro directions there one morning.

Make sure you ask someone in your neighborhood when the market is. Each neighborhood has a fresh food market at least one day a week. I was lucky and woke up one morning to find the market outside the front door of my hotel. You really don't want to miss that experience. Plus is a good opportunity to get some fresh food for your picnic lunch!

A word about cafes and restaurants. Don't ask for ice in your drinks and don't bother asking for nonsmoking. They will try to accommodate you but the restaurants just aren't set up that way. Also, dinner in Paris is a late affair. They are not ready to serve dinner at 6pm. Have a snack and plan on eating late. I'm not a huge fan of fancy french food but I really enjoyed the offerings at bakeries, cafes and family style restaurants. Bakeries and cafes are plentiful, there's just about one on every corner.

I packed very light. Mostly all black so that things were interchangeable. Good black tennis shoes that didn't look terrible with a skirt and tights.

Whatever you do, I'm sure you'll have a ton of fun. Everyone was really friendly and helpful when I was there.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:22 AM on March 7, 2011

We tried to get hot chocolate at Angelina's but the line was EPIC so we gave up.

Whereas I walked right into Angelina and got a table. There were only a few other people there. (This was in June, and we went early, before the Louvre opened).

The museums will be crowded on the first Sunday, so don't count on being able to get in and out quickly. Seconding mkultra, the museum pass will save you time if not money, but on the first Sunday, all bets are off.

I really enjoyed wandering around Pere Lachaise, Montmartre, the Marais, and along the Seine.
posted by donajo at 10:34 AM on March 7, 2011

I went to Paris in the fall of 2009 and had a fantastic time! My favorite part was the Notre Dame tower tour -- I showed up maybe a half hour to an hour before it opened and got in line to save myself some waiting time. In general, I found that going to the top of places to look at the view was definitely worthwhile, so I recommend climbing the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. (For the Eiffel Tower, I went at the end of the day and took the stairs rather than the elevator to avoid long lines. Totally worth it!)

The best food I ate was at L'As de Falafel -- there was a long line, but it was cheap and delicious and I took it to the Place des Vosges to eat it outoors.

If you like books, you should go to Shakespeare and Company. If you like nice parks, you should go to the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Have a great time!
posted by cider at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2011

My top recommendation is Sainte Chappelle -- an absolutely amazing chapel a couple of blocks from Notre Dame. A bit hard to find (you have to enter through the Palais du Justice -- any guidebook will take you there). Perhaps the most beautiful room in the world. The towering walls are almost entirely stained glass. The entrance fee is probably covered with the aforementioned museum pass, but even if not, this is a place not to be missed! Evening concerts are given there, often with ancient instruments. Again, incredibly worth it.

"Books and quirky things" department: Here's one that may no longer be true (I went to this place 10 years ago -- no guarantee that it still exists). Stand in the Place Saint-Michel with your back to the Seine. Take the right fork of the main street you are looking at (to the right of the fountain). Walk a block and take a right through a small open area to reach the Rue Saint Andres des Artes. Take the first right off of Saint Andres onto a small side street -- Rue Git le Couer. Ten years ago, on the left side of that small street was the most amazing used book/comic book/erotica/miscellany store I've ever been in. Tons of odd stuff stacked to the ceiling. From 1950s Mad magazines to serious art stuff. Cheap and quite varied. All languages. If it is still there, you'll love it. Something for everyone.

And the Rue Saint Andres des Artes has lots of good, cheap restaurants and markets.

One more: the Catacombs. A mile+ walk underground through incredible bone yards. You have to see it to believe it. Check your guidebook.
posted by rexknobus at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2011

I would see if you can find some of these invaders around town. I found out about them a month *after* being in Paris last summer and was pretty sad I missed them.
posted by nat at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2011

For the minimum you should take, we would be better able to say with a little more information, like what class of restaurant you plan to frequent, whether you drink with dinner, how often thrift-hunting turns into thrift-buying, etc. But generally speaking, if you don't plan to spend most of your time hunting for the cheapest possible meal in all of Paris, I'll throw out 35 euros a day per person as a starting point for a crepe for breakfast, light lunch, inexpensive supper, and a couple of Metro rides. Add on more for wine, souvenirs, snacks, Batobus, hotels if appropriate, etc. Someone else might want to provide a differing perspective.
posted by troywestfield at 1:01 PM on March 7, 2011

I'd skip Pere Lachaise- it's out of the way and fairly underwhelming

Depends on why you're going there. Some like to visit the graves of the non-Jim-Morrison famous people who are also there, like Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Balzac, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Fourier, Apollinaire, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust, Chopin, etc. And, seriously, Oscar Wilde's monument is worth the trip in and of itself.
posted by aught at 1:55 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was just in Paris, so hopefully this info is useful:

Food & Restaurants:
- food markets - this was a handy guide to hitting a bunch of them in the various neighborhoods. My hotel was near Rue Cler, and though it was really charming, the prices were slightly higher than others.
- The best croissants in Paris - these adventures singlehandedly account for a couple vacation pounds, but it was so worth it. I thought Le Moulin de la Vierge was the best. Note that each location is closed on a different day, so plan accordingly.
- Le Cheri Bibi - wonderful bistro at the foot of Sacred Coeur. Went here on my last night in Paris and it was a great way to wrap up the trip.
- If you're going to Belleville, you may want to hit up some Vietnamese or other Asian restaurants in the 13th Arrondissement. Food was excellent and budget-friendly. I thought the Banh Mi here was really good. And Lao Lane Xang 2 was fabulous. The beef salad was delicious, as was the spring rolls.
- Nos Ancestre les Gaulois - this was mentioned in a previous AskMe, and I really wish I had time to go - it looks amazingly fun.
- David Leibovitz's blog was a great guide, as mentioned by jadepearl. One thing I found is that he may have more luck getting into the smaller, more exclusive (but oh-so-worth-it) establishments. Speaking French is key to that (more later).

Museums & Shopping:
- Tombes du Camion - great little store in Montmarte stuffed with knicknacks and charming things.
- Palais de Tokyo - great exhibit space, shop and restaurant Tokyo Eat. Next door to the Museum of Modern Art, so worth hitting both at once.
- Musee Eroticism - near the grand historic Moulin Rouge in Montmarte/Pigalle.
- Edith Piaf Museum - this small museum is only available by appointment.

Getting around without French:
I know you didn't ask for advice, but I thought it would be worth mentioning that learning some key French phrases really goes a long way. I learned French in school, and I had an easier time than my travel companion in coaxing useful info and help from locals. For one thing, most restaurants require reservations, and you're more likely to get a decent one if you try to speak French. David Lebovitz has some great tips on dining in Paris to help you out.
posted by hampanda at 2:05 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Given your interests in crafts, books, and boardgames, the neighborhood around the Sorbonne has (1) the Musée de Cluny, featuring medieval tapestries and chess pieces, (2) used (French language) bookstores, (3) a Jeux Descartes on the Rue des Écoles and another game store called Starplayer nearby, and (4) a comic store called Album that keeps all its (huge, beautiful) French comics in one store across the intersection from the English comics.

Incidentally, I really loved visiting Père Lachaise and agree that Oscar Wilde's tomb alone is worth the trip.

I don't know if you'll be there on a Monday or Tuesday, but note that those are the days where you have to watch out for museums being closed.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:12 PM on March 7, 2011

Considering your interests, I heartily endorse the recommendations above for the Arts et Metiers, the Catacombs, and the Musee de Cluny.

Another couple of unusual and interesting museums: The Sewer Museum and The Paris Public Health Museum. You might also like the Cinematheque Francais. All of these are included in the Paris Pass deal (worth it if you plan to go to a few museums).

As for restaurants:

Chartier--I came across the recommendation on Metafilter, actually--it's a crazy huge art deco dining room where they serve tasty and reasonably-priced food; come early because there's often a lineup
Chez Marianne--delicious, well-priced mediterranean/middle-eastern food in a dark, cozy, informal setting
L' Ambassade d'Avuergne (warning: loud classical music plays upon opening site)--this restaurant serves traditional food from the Auvergne region. It's very filling, hearty food, so make sure you're hungry before you go. I really liked the aligot--starchy, cheesy goodness.

Since you are a crafty person, I would suggest checking out La Droguerie. I had to tear myself away when I was there!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:58 PM on March 7, 2011

Dear me! Forgive the typos in my previous comment. My French spelling is atrocious. Anyway, I remembered a couple more restaurants: L'Encrier (friendly service, great traditional food with some modern touches, not cheap but decent prices) and Le Tambour (authentic wine bar, frequented by locals).

As for a rec on what to bring, clothing-wise--I have found it very useful to bring a large scarf/small shawl on my travels. Packs up small but provides some warmth as a wrap; makes you look put-together and well-dressed with little effort.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:27 PM on March 7, 2011

Depends on why you're going there. Some like to visit the graves of the non-Jim-Morrison famous people who are also there, like Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Balzac, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Fourier, Apollinaire, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust, Chopin, etc. And, seriously, Oscar Wilde's monument is worth the trip in and of itself.

I hear ya, but truthfully there's more beautiful art all over the city. Unless you've got a connection to one of the artists, I don't think it's worth the trip on a tight timeframe. I point out Jim's grave because there's practically a trail of garbage and graffiti leading to it.
posted by mkultra at 8:22 PM on March 7, 2011

Thanks for all the responses so far!

- I plan to learn a few phrases before I go!
- I went to Pere La Chaise ten years ago, when I went ot Paris for the first time as a student (took 100euro for three days; we ended up eating in McDonald's because we ran out of money) and want to go back as I have since developed interests in cemetery architecture and photography. Also interested in Bellville as I share a birthday with Serge Gainsbourg...
- Les Refuge des Fondues was mentioned on blogs - is this a fun evening or impossibly wanky and annoying?
- Dining - when we eat out in London it tends to be places like Pizza Express or Taro, where it's £20-£30 for two. But of course, we're here all the time so we pick somewhere reasonably priced for a treat rather than 'you must have x'.
- OH is allergic to pulses so sadly no to falafel. I might have one though... It rules out Indian and possibly Middle-Eastern food too.
- There was a large used bookstore which was advertised all over the Metro when I went, with the image of a little cartoon man with an orange shirt. Does this ring a bell? I might pop down and get a book for a trilingual friend if anyone can tell me where this is!
posted by mippy at 1:45 AM on March 8, 2011

I have to disagree with the "skip Pere Lachaise" suggestion because I think that's a staggeringly awesome cemetery. It isn't all about Jim Morrison's tiny little stone; it's a haunting, Gothic wonderland. When you're done there, go to the Catacombs for more death-related fun! Someone has provided a link upthread.

Saving money? Eat at cute backstreet bistros. Many do very good value Prix Fix deals and the food is generally delicious. Oh, and drink the house wine, especially the stuff that comes out of a barrel behind the bar. It's incredibly cheap and almost always decent, in a rustic way. Oh, and beer can be pretty crazy expensive in Paris.

Oh, and go to a creperie in Montparnasse. Make sure you have Normandy cider with your galette.

Also, The Rodin Museum is cool.
posted by Decani at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2011

If you're looking directly at L'As du Falafel, down the street to your left will be another falafel stand, painted red. I forget the name. I think the "Red Falafel Place," as my friends and I call it, has better sandwiches than L'As (but no Lenny Kravitz endorsement!). I'm a student in Paris this semester, so I eat lots of falafel. Both places are great, though. If you eat meat, the shawarma is just as good.

Pere Lachaise is a nice stroll in the afternoon. It's a little spooky, especially in the gloomy winter months, but I'm sure it's especially gorgeous once the sun is out and the trees are in bloom.

  • Montparnasse creperies (watch out for major lines) and Normandy cider
  • Angelina's for hot chocolate (try the Montblanc dessert too)
  • Laduree for macarons or other desserts
  • the Montmartre neighborhood and its myriad views overlooking Paris
  • Museum Pass, or at least not waiting until the first Sunday to visit for free.
  • the Rodin Museum, which is absolutely fantastic.
I go to school in Belleville and get lunch every day from La Rotisserie. It's not actually a rotisserie, but a bunch of friends who cook together every day and sell what they make. It's really great. If you want, you can bring your own plates and get the plat du jour for 5.50 euros; then take your lunch to a nearby park or even bench and people-watch. You'd have to deal with the weird looks of carrying a plate of food throughout the city though.

If you like coffee/cafes, check out La Cafeotheque near l'Hôtel de Ville. It's "the best cafe in Paris," says me and the New York Times, but for some reason you can almost always get a seat. It's managed to remain this awesome, cozy little place where you can get expertly-made coffee. Read the article for more info; but it's an excellent place to relax if you need a break near the middle of the city. It's also neat to say you've been in the best cafe in Paris.

And if you're into churches, I have a whole swath of recommendations. Sainte-Chapelle is worth any line you have to wait in, though.
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte at 1:24 PM on March 8, 2011

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