Not all who wander are lost
May 28, 2013 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Where to go in Paris alone?

Hey mefites, I am spending two days alone in Paris between trips!! Where should I go?
Likes: art, good food, chic shopping, culture, history, books, pretty views
Dislikes: hipsters, pricey food/shopping, dangerous places

Thank you! Also do you have any tips for solo travelling? Because this will be my first trip alone.
posted by dinosaurprincess to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I loved this restaurant: Les P'tites Indecises. The night we were there, there were families eating with kids, students out drinking, people on dates, etc., so the people-watching was great, as were the food and music being played.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:46 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's hard to go wrong in Paris if you like art and good food. Some ideas:

- browse books at Shakespeare and Company in the Latin Quarter and go to the Musee de Cluny (the Medieval art museum) nearby to visit the unicorn tapestries
- go to the Musee Rodin and especially enjoy the garden, and then walk around the fancy neighborhood it's in
- go to the Place des Vosges to enjoy a beautiful classical Parisian park and then have falafel in the Marais or go to Mariage Freres for the best tea ever. You're near the Pompidou art museum too (modern art)
- go to Montmartre for the gorgeous views
- visit Sainte Chapelle, which has the most beautiful stained glass, and have ice cream at Berthillon on Ile Saint Louis
- visit any of the gardens -- Tuileries, Luxembourg, etc
posted by zahava at 8:03 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Musee Marmottan Monet.

Order kir royales and creme brulee and crepes. Justify this by walking everywhere, like to see the view from the top of Montmartre. (There will be guys who will try to sell you friendship bracelets and trinkets and I would avoid the steps when it's getting dark, but I never felt unsafe.) The restaurant behind the enormous clock in the Musee d'Orsay is a wonderful place for lunch. Visit as many places from here as possible! If they're close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, go exploring afterwards.

Generally speaking, I never felt unsafe in Paris. Be aware of pickpockets and your surroundings, especially in crowded public areas. I probably walked fifteen to twenty miles a day all over the city and never had any problems, though. If you're going shopping, I would time it so that you can drop any packages at your hotel/airbnb afterwards; one of the worst things about discovering a wonderful place to buy olive oil and candles was the realization that the resulting bag weighed at least five pounds, and I was so scared of breaking everything. I have stayed on the Champs-Elysees but it was more fun to stay over the Stuart Weitzman store on the Rue de Grenelle (thanks AirBnB!) which is on a street of many exciting shoe stores.

Honestly it's really hard to go wrong. Don't plan too much, see some gorgeous art, drink wonderful things (coffee-based, champagne-based, sparkling water...)
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:13 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You must wander down Rue Mouffetard in the daytime, then very late at night, when it is still quite lively.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:13 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love the Musée Jacquemart-André, which has some amazing pieces in a lovely late 19th-century private mansion. It's far smaller than the Louvre but you'll see some things there that the Louvre would love to have.

Nowhere in Paris is really dangerous, in comparison with North American cities. I would avoid the northern parts of the 18th and 19th arrondissements at night (though I'm painting with a broad brush), and the area around Pigalle and Montmartre (again, just at night).

You can get good views from the Trocadéro (16th, opposite the Eiffel Tower), the esplanade in front of the Sacré Coeur basilica in Montmartre (18th), and the Parc Belleville in the 20th. If you want to travel a bit further, the commercial development in La Défense (on the RER A, and at the end of Metro line 1) has a viewing tower in the Grande Arche that offers a nice view back toward Paris.

There are no hipsters in Paris. There are analogues, but it's not the same.

I sense a disconnect between your like for "good food" and your dislike for "pricey food/shopping." What you will find in Paris is a good relation between quality and price, if you go to the right places. How much money do you want to spend on a good meal?

For the ultimate single diner splurge: If you're by yourself, and you are willing to spend up to €100 to really have something you'll remember the rest of your life, try L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the 6th (Saint-Germain). They take reservations only for the first seating, at 6:30 pm (insanely early for Paris); after that, it's first come, first served. You're seated at a bar, where (if you're lucky, or you reserved), you can watch the kitchen. Service is efficient without being brusque. And you'll get a meal that would cost you twice as much if you ate it in a more elegant setting.

If that's way beyond your comfort zone, in terms of price, memail me and I can recommend good places to eat for far less. That said, I have found that € 35 (40 including wine) really is a break point in Parisian cuisine: you can eat well for under that, but if you're willing to go over it, you get a much better experience. I'd rather have one €40 dinner and get takeout for other meals than have two €20 dinners.

For books: do you read French? If so, Compagnie (Rue des Écoles, 5th, just east of the Boulevard St. Michel) is a nice, intimate, but well stocked bookshop. If not, then Shakespeare & Co. is worth a visit, as is the Red Wheelbarrow in the Marais (4th), and Tea and Tattered Pages in the 6th (near Métro Duroc). There's also a weekend antiquarian and used book market in the Parc George Brassens, 15th, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:13 PM on May 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Catacombs was my favorite part of Paris.
posted by k8lin at 8:16 PM on May 28, 2013

Picasso museum.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:18 PM on May 28, 2013

Also watch out for the gold ring scam (someone will pretend to pick it up as you approach, ask if it is yours and then demand money) and the women in head scarves who ask if you speak English.

Get hot chocolate at cafe Angelina or laudree.

I've been to Paris by myself three times ( the first with a broken toe!) and loved it.
posted by brujita at 8:30 PM on May 28, 2013

I agree with the suggestion not to overplan, but do have a look at the Metro basics guide and note where things are. It's a fantastic system with convenient stops all over the place, but it's nice if you don't have to backtrack.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2013

As to solo travelling:

- go to the toilet before you collect your suitcase.
- ask if you're in the right line before you stand there for 15 minutes with nothing happening.
- take books/e-reader.
- organise a meetup.
posted by kjs4 at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2013

I loved the Musee de l'Armee because it's deeply relevant to my interests, but I think it'd be pretty good for anyone.

I would have spent more time relaxing in the jardins du Luxembourg if possible.

And take the metro at rush hour. It's like a sardine can where all the sardines are dressed in haute couture. (An exaggeration, but still...)

EDIT: also, if you have an iPhone/iPod touch (or any smartphone, I guess), browse the App Store for Paris guide apps. Baked-in maps that don't require an Internet connection and you don't look like a tourist of you're studying a smartphone.
posted by all-caps relapse at 8:50 PM on May 28, 2013

Hello! I take it this is your first time to Paris? If so, I think the best thing would be to hit up the main "touristy" locations.

I definitely suggest the Louvre... it's one of my favorite places (in the world). You can easily get lost with the artwork there. I believe they offer some tours throughout the day which are free, you can check the schedule online. Nevertheless, get an audio guide to help you understand the artwork better. When you're done, you can hang out outside near the big pyramid and just people watch.

Some other "touristy" things to do:
- Visit Montmartre, an eclectic area, with a church called Sacre Coeur. If you climb to Sacre Coeur, you will get nice views of Paris.
- Eiffel Tower.. of course! One downside to the Eiffel Tower though is that lines can be long to get up.
- Seine River cruise

I also recommend taking a walking tour that walks through major spots. This way you can situate yourself, and be with a group of other people, and ask questions if you want. Here is a link to one such tour... take a look at some others in Viator.

As for traveling alone, you should be safe if you're staying in a crowded area. Try to learn some basic French... Peoale will be so much more receptive if you start a question in French, even if it's "Bonjour, parlez vous Anglais?". The subway system is pretty easy to figure out, but some trains to the suburbs of Paris stop running at a certain time. Hope you have a nice time!
posted by watrlily at 9:11 PM on May 28, 2013

Make sure your credit card has a pin/chip/computer card or you will not be able to use any un-attended machines like train tickets, vending machines, etc..

If it is magstripe only you will require a human to process your card - ask for a new card if you can before you go.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:48 PM on May 28, 2013

I've only been to Paris once (for 7 days this winter) but looooved it, because, well, it's Paris!

If you haven't already booked your housing, I definitely second the recommendation. Paris has some really lovely residential neighborhoods, and it's so great to be able to walk out of an apartment and pop over to the bakery for breakfast or whatever.

I agree that, with such a short period of time, there's no shame in picking a few of the big touristy things you're interested in and hitting those (this is another reason it's great to stay in a neighborhood as opposed to a hotel - it's a good counterpoint to the touristy stuff). I'd definitely recommend over-scheduling yourself, though - the real joy in visiting Paris is wandering around.

The Louvre is overwhelming but amazing. I hear the Musee D'Orsay is great, but I wouldn't know, since the line was estimated to be 3 hours long the day I tried to go! Buy your tickets ahead of time. I'm not a big shopper, but I loved shopping in Paris because all the shops had such amazing window displays. Definitely a highlight. I found the Paris Arcades to be really fun.

My favorite neighborhood was La Marais, where I stayed for the first half of my trip. It's a very old neighborhood of winding little streets and interesting shops and was surprisingly untouristy for its location. I was pretty disappointed with Montmarte - it seemed packed with tourist shlock. But it's possible I missed the cool parts, and the view was indeed amazing.

You'll be fine alone. Paris is pretty safe, and I don't think anyone will look askance at you for, say, eating alone. Bring something to read, or just enjoy the people-watching. Oh, and if you have a smartphone, download a local guide/map app, which less awkward than pulling out a guidebook on a street corner (and you won't want to use your phone's map app, because then you'll rack up data charges).
posted by lunasol at 10:03 PM on May 28, 2013

David Lebovitz has a page of Paris restaurant recommendations that I intend to use as a guide if I ever visit.
posted by asciident at 11:36 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Because this will be my first trip alone.

Paris is very large and there is more to do than you can manage in a week. For two days you want to make it simple.

I would stay here. This is a nice hotel near the Arc d'Triumph with the notable feature that the Air France bus from CDG stops directly across the street and there is a nice, ordinary bistro just around the corner on the Ave. de la Grand Armée for breakfast.

And as you are right on Avenue Carnot you are within easy walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concord and pretty much that is enough for two days.

You should not feel unsafe in this area, but do keep an eye open for scooters now that the weather is getting nicer.
posted by three blind mice at 1:37 AM on May 29, 2013

I'm a big fan of the Musée d'Orsay myself. Of course the Louvre is fantastic, but it'd be awfully easy to use up all two days there....

Seconding/thirding votes for the Sacre Coeur Basilica, which is beautiful inside and out, and the neighborhood it's in, Montmartre, which is my favorite area to stay when I'm in Paris. Very hilly, but lovely to walk around. (To avoid the problem lunasol raises above, go behind the Sacre Coeur and wander back into that area, it's more residential and less touristy than in front of/right around the church.)

There's good cheapish shopping along the Seine across from the Notre Dame Cathedral, lots of artists selling stuff on the street.
posted by solotoro at 4:34 AM on May 29, 2013

I took a 3-day solo trip to Paris which was my first solo trip abroad, and it was great. I decided to go for the Paris Pass and I did the most obvious and touristy things, and it was great. There's nothing better than wandering around a museum and taking as much time as you like. The Musée d'Orsay is amazing and stays open late on a Thursday. If you decide to do the Louvre, get there early and be prepared to queue, and you can easily spend the whole day there. I spent hours just walking around the city, stopping to sit in parks and read whenever I felt like it. I never felt in any danger, although I never went anywhere outside the main tourist beats. A lot of people tried to get me to buy tacky Eiffel Tower souvenirs, but they didn't press me when I refused.

I didn't do so well for food - I planned a nice dinner in advance, but finding a quick lunch or breakfast was trickier. I stayed near the Louvre, which probably didn't help at avoiding overpriced tourist traps, but try and scope out somewhere for breakfast near your hotel.

The Metro is great but a little complicated, and worth reading up about it in advance, especially if you're going to go somewhere on the RER.
posted by penguinliz at 5:45 AM on May 29, 2013

My fave city. The louvre is a must. Take a pique nique for the queue. And the pecheur a poches are everywhere in the tourist bits so be mindful. Montmartre, sigh, just enjoy. I envy you.
posted by BenPens at 5:56 AM on May 29, 2013

Avoid lines at the Tower by buying them online beforehand! Likewise a Museum Pass will let you skip lines.

The bike share program (Velib) in Paris was awesome. I had to enroll online because my American credit card didn't have the right chip or something. But it's such a bikeable city, and I loved being able to cover so much more ground than on foot, and to stay above ground rather than missing the sights by traveling in the Metro.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Sublimity at 7:16 AM on May 29, 2013

Go to the Muse d'Orsay, go early before the crowds and have a pass so you don't have to queue. Look at all the pretty impressionist paintings, sculptures etc enter the room with the Van Goughs in without realising it's coming up. Burst into to tears as the beauty of the paintings catches you all unaware and for the first time in your life you actually understand why people love art so much. Have a nice guard ask if you are OK and point incoherently at the paintings and cry more. Have him smile at you in understanding as your life changes. Or at least that's what I did the first time I went to Paris alone and I highly recommend it.

Honestly hit up all the Major Touristy spots, I went in maximum cynical mode when travelling by myself, assuming they'd all be sell outs for the tourist dollar, but honestly there is a reason these places are famous and pretty much all of them are awesome. Buy the passes and hit up all the major touristy attractions. Get the Metro everywhere, it's worth it for the people watching.

OH be aware if you are a female travelling alone in Paris, a lot of Moroccan men will come up and hit on you, basically they are trying to get a visa to the US. They were cured of their sudden overwhelming love for me when they found out I was Australian. Have fun.
posted by wwax at 8:25 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, the main sights in Paris are main sights for a reason. I remember my ex bf being snobbish about seeing Saint Chapelle (which I'd seen with my dad), and then being totally overwhelmed when there.
It's still one of my personal favorites, along with the Louvre and the Picasso museum.

Newer sights are the Palais de Tokyo and the Musee de Quai du Branly, close to each other, and both quite radical. Behind the Palais de Tokyo, there is a charming Saturday market, with food-stalls and great offers in many genres. I bought the best scarves at an amazing price last time I went there.

As everyone says, walking around should be a big priority.

When I was in Paris all alone for the first time in my life, at 17, I had saved up for a meal at a 1 star restaurant. I've never regretted, though I could have lived a week for the money. The rest of the time, I just had baguettes and pizza slices. Each to her own. There are lots of good, cheap food choices, both traditional French and international. My daughter goes a lot to Paris because her best friend moved there, and she keeps raving about Vietnamese food - Paris has a large Vietnamese diaspora. Also North African food is big and yummy. But the classic bistro can be genius. A rich salad, a steak frites, or a bowl of mussels. And mousse au chocolat for desert.
posted by mumimor at 3:10 PM on May 29, 2013

After visiting Paris a few times with travelling companions, I went there as part of a solo trip a few years ago and had a wonderful time. I did visit friends who lived in the suburbs while I was there, but most of the time I wandered around by myself. Paris is a great city to travel in alone; I felt very safe walking and taking the Metro, and there is always something to see when you are walking. I bought a museum pass and made it my business to go to weird little obscure museums as well as the usual big ones like the Louvre (which is also worth visiting, of course!). The three I remember that were slightly different and quirky were the Film Museum, the Museum of Public Health (all the old medical instruments you could ever want to see), and the Sewer Museum, which is much more interesting and less gross than it sounds. The aforementioned Catacombs are great too.

When you visit the Louvre, don't try to do it all in one go. My hotel was close to the Louvre, and I had the 5-day Paris Museums Pass, so I just popped in to look at an exhibit or two every day on my way to other places--much more enjoyable and less overwhelming. I also took advantage of museum tours in every city I went to alone, because they help you pick out the highlights and it's a nice social thing to go around with a group of fellow museum goers.

Re: restaurants: Chartier is very pleasant for the solo traveller. It was recommended here on the green and I ate there on a non-solo trip a couple of years ago. It's a gigantic, beautifully preserved, turn of the century open plan restaurant with lots of character--and as a bonus, the food's tasty and not too expensive.

You might also like this list of secret restaurants in Paris. In fact that whole blog, Messy Nessy Chic, is a treasure trove of info about Paris.

Have fun!!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:13 PM on May 30, 2013

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