Paris City Guide (updated)

STORY BY JONATHAN RANDALL GRANT

Images by Nicodem Creative

Images by Nicodem Creative

It is an act of courageous vulnerability to share a Paris city guide. This guide is as much a confession as a resource. No matter what places are shared, I am sure to get a few Parisian friends who think to themselves: "There is no way I would be seen there, dead or alive!... Of course it was okay to be seen there a few weeks ago, but we don't go there now." 

At the risk of being seen as dreadfully uncool, I share with you here the places I actually go. I love them, and I don't feel bad about being seen in these spots. 

Over the years, I have written a number of city guides for Culture Keeper as well as a few other publications. Most of my favorite places have remained untouched, but some have shifted dramatically. Paris itself is always shifting (don't believe what you have heard), so this guide includes a few updates for the places I love to haunt. 

We will keep this page updated with changes, so don't hesitate to bookmark it for your next trip! 

 

Where to Find Good Coffee

Perhaps the most stylish of the choices. Also the most beautiful. Also has a chic boutique. 

Sit outdoors and chill with the fashion-week crowd.

No Wi-Fi, but a stunning and peaceful place. 

A standard on the coffee scene. This location near Le Bon Marché is the one to try. Always staffed by rad kids. 

Perhaps the most popular listed here. A great terrace near the hippest spots in Paris. 

Probably the coolest coffee shop in Paris at the moment. Drinks are pricier than in most cafes, but the ambiance, service, and general vibe are welcoming and warm. It is tucked away from the bustle of the city, and they also do juices.

Off the normal tourist track, and the adjacent Rue des Martyrs is quickly becoming one of the hippest streets in Paris. A.P.C. and Kitsune just opened up shops nearby, so you know the area is hot. I keep going back for a pour-over of their Brazil roast. KB is always busy with a stylish crowd.

Cute and tiny. Enough said.

  • LE PELOTON - 17 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004

I could go on all day about all of the cool new coffee places sprouting up in Paris, but this one is my current fave. Friendly, adorable, simple. The vibe is unpretentious, and their back courtyard will be opening late next spring. (Also, they have Wi-Fi, so double win)

Tiny but perfect, and always filled with fascinating international folks. 

 

Where to Brunch

Too cute to handle. Vintage vibes, Near the canal. A great spot to grab a cup of tea and slice of cake. 

Holy Belly serves up some great food with Brooklyn vibes. This brunch spot is all the rage at the moment. It is situated near the canal, the perfect location for a post-brunch stroll.

  • SEASON - 1 Rue Charles-François Dupuis, 75003

Lately, I have been going to SEASON several times a week, most often to read in the afternoons with a cup of coffee. It is beautiful and well lit. The staff are lovely, and everything I have eaten there has been amazing. They have a fantastic acai bowl, and it is a great place to mingle with a stylish crowd.

This Saint Germain spot might be the coziest in Paris. When you make your way through the courtyard off Rue des Saints-Pères, the owner greets you kindly and offers fresh biscuits (those are rare in Paris). She will probably chat with you for a bit, and then scurry off to help her staff make you a mind-blowing meal.

 

Places to Wander

Grab an evening drink along the Seine at the Berges au Seine (between Pont Alma Marceau and Invalides). The best place to be on sunny evenings. 

Hang out along the canal in the evening with friends and a bottle of wine. 

One of my favorite gardens, because it is small and hidden while still maintaining a sense of grandeur. This garden is perfect for picnics, strolls, and games of hide-and-seek. Rodin’s sculptures are scattered throughout, so you can get a close-up view of his work. I like to imagine it as it was when Rodin lived there with other artists like Isadora Duncan. At that time, the garden was overgrown with plants and Roman antiquities.

Hidden from the bustle of Paris, but just a block from the Louvre. Unlike the major gardens, this one has a soft and easy feel. Its elegant vibe (and cafe Kitsuné) has made it a hit with the Fashion Week crowd. You can also browse the arcade of tiny shops filled with vintage couture along with the outposts of ACNE and Stella McCartney.

Endlessly elegant. 

Great cafés and tiny streets.

A tourist-free market experience. A convergence of cultures. Tuesday and Friday, 7am-2.30pm; Sunday, 7am-3pm.

A complete universe to explore. The grand canals and lawns are crisscrossed by modernist bridges and playgrounds. You can stroll around fantastic architecture and through miniature forests. Go on a sunny day and bring a picnic. This is modern Paris.

Market street that has lately become hip.

Hidden from most tourists in the heart of the 5th arrondissement. 

 

Museums Not to Miss

The place every up-and-coming artist wants to be seen or exhibit. If you are in Paris for one of their openings, you will be treated to a mix of the coolest people in Paris. Of course, you should get a Ricard (traditional Parisian beverage) at the tiny, but stunning bar.

The home/workshop of the symbolist painter. It is a mesmerizing experience. 

Don’t neglect the classics. The Louvre may be on everyone’s list, but it is worth it. No one is too cool for the Louvre. I recommend a few alternatives to the major tourist obsessions: check out the work by Jacques-Louis David, the Rubens “De Medici series,” and the courtyards of sculpture. Even if you only spend an hour or two, no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to its epicenter.

My fave Paris museum. Always filled with mind- and heart-altering exhibitions. The Palais features contemporary installations from around the world. There is also a great restaurant/cafe/bookstore/club. I try to go once or twice a month.

 

Shops I Cannot Do Without

This huge department store is next to the Hotel de Ville. The hardware section in the basement is a regular haunt. 

  • COS - 4 Rue des Rosiers, 75004

COS is the one brand that all of my fashion-world friends agree upon. Bold, structured pieces in muted colors. Chic, with a beatnik, space-aged twist. Prices are comparable to Gap. There are now locations spread throughout Paris, but those on Rue Montmartre and Rue de Rosiers are the best.

I pop by once a week to see what is new in this massive shop. Pricing is by weight, and while it is not the cheapest vintage in the world, the location near the BHV has become the go-to spot for vintage clothing in Paris. Perfect if you are looking for a scarf, an old fur, trench coat, or worker’s jacket.

Christophe Lemaire used to be the creative director of Hermes, and now he has his own boutique. This is my favorite store for the senses. All of this designer's creations are perfect in every way. The scents and textures. Visiting this little place is a healing experience. 

Vintage excellence. In the heart of all the coolest spots. 

  • MERCI - 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003

Part concept store, part department store, Merci is a haven for everything simple and well-curated. They have a few cafés, the best linens in Paris, and all the little objects for your home that you didn’t know you needed. (If you can’t find it here, try the BHV.)  

  • OFR - 20 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, 75003

Ofr is a magical set of shops near Temple. Their magazine selection is unparalleled. Stacks and stacks of magazines and art books await your perusal. They even stock old editions, little art prints and treasures, and sell vegetables out front on weeknights. Ofr recently separated the bookstore from the gallery, but they are only a block away from each other. (While you are there, stop by Marché Noir, the most mesmerizing vintage shop in Paris, at 18 rue Perrée.)

Open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, le Marché aux Puces is an endless labyrinth of antiques and curiosities. When you exit the metro, you have to fight your way through the crowds and sellers-of-fake-hermes-belts to get to the good stuff, but the trip is worth it. The Paris Flea Market opens up a beautiful world of hidden alleys and tiny shops filled with treasures. Go on Saturday morning. Bring cash.

 

Where to Find a Beautiful Meal

When I say that l’Industrie is my favorite restaurant, I actually mean that it is really the ONLY restaurant to which I return on a regular basis. I am not a creature of habit, but the decor and vibes at this place make me feel at home. The staff is always lovely, and it is cozy on a cold day. There are locations on both sides of the street. GO TO THE BROWN ONE. Trust me.

Candelaria has the best tacos in Paris, with an amazing grotto-like bar just behind. Don’t miss this place.

I have put a few oddities on this list, and Chez Louisette is one of them. Imagine that someone decorated their basement for Christmas in 1948, and then left up the Christmas decorations. Now imagine that they also invite their grandparents to perform classic songs by Aznavour and Piaf every Saturday. That is this place. Their food is classic and inexpensive. It is located in the Paris Flea Market, so many of the regulars are antique dealers. Chez Louisette is an amazing and bizarre experience that I adore. 

Everyone seems obsessed with Les Chouettes since its renovation. On rainy afternoons, the upstairs balcony is a discreet place to meet for a drink or read a book, and the ambiance is chic. It is located near the epicenter of Parisian cool: the Carreau du Temple/Quartier des Enfants Rouges.

  • MARLON - 159 Rue de Grenelle, 75007

Chic, California vibes near Rue Cler. This is where I take American friends who are missing home. 

If you are looking for a meal of ultra-fresh food and a comfortable vibe, then Nanashi is the right spot. It is perfect for reading in the late afternoon with a cup of tea. They have amazing bento boxes and a veggie-fueled menu. There is plenty of seating, which also makes it a great location for larger groups. (Also, vegan-friendly Pinson is just across the street.)

 

For a Drink

A classic Parisian establishment. This bar was a cornerstone of beatnik Paris in the 1950s. The wait staff are always fun and flirty, and they all wear caps and overalls (salopettes, in French). Bar du Marché doesn’t try too hard. They have good music and a terrace that is a great place to see and be seen.

A cozy hideaway in Paris, on Quincampoix - a little alley near the Centre Pompidou. Bohemian vibes. This used to be my go-to spot in inclement weather. The kids who work here are always in a good mood, so I can bring American friends to practice their manners. 

Le Mary Celeste has wonderful cocktails, chic ambiance, and a generally cool vibe. I am not a cocktail connoisseur, but this place always wows me.

I was hesitant to share my secret spot, but it is really a fave. This spot is for experts only. I don't bring American friends. It is home to a chic, older crowd. Very snobby, and perfect in every way. Don't expect to speak any English here or expect not to get glares if you behave terribly.

When I need to meet friends for a drink on the right bank, this is my go-to spot. Not too cool, not too traditional, it is the perfect mix of both. Prices are reasonable, and the people-watching is fantastic. I think it is one of the most underrated spots in the Marais.

 

Nightlife

  • LA JAVA - 105 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75010

Young, fun, diverse. A great spot for costumed dance parties. Also, Edith Piaf performed here. 

My favorite place I have ever danced!!!!! A diverse crowd of people, with a tropical, 1960's vibe. I have never experienced such a rad and welcoming environment in a Parisian dancing environment. Also, it was simple to gain entry. 

  • POP UP DANCE PARTIES

The best dance parties are always the pop-ups. I have enjoyed events at Maxim's, La Java, l'Espace Pierre Cardin, and the Palais de Tokyo. 

A cute spot for hearing good music. I have seen a few smaller rock acts and a fair amount of Canadian folk performances. Upstairs you will find their restaurant and bar, so go ahead and arrive early for a burger and fries (the French are currently obsessed with burgers, so ironically, this is perhaps the most French thing you could order).

The cutest gay bar. Super-friendly, dancing in the basement, very chill vibes. 

 

Where to Stay

Duh. You will get to stay like a local...but do be aware: the use of Airbnb is also dramatically increasing the cost of living for Parisians, so your presence is not always welcome, and this choice is slightly problematic. If you have fave Airbnb rentals, be sure to share a link in the comment section below!  

This is my favorite spot to stay on a budget. Also, you get to hang with the coolest monks. Community Mass and dinner on Sunday evenings. 

Crazy-expensive, but also cray-amazing. If your travel expenses are covered by your employer, book this place. This is the place to stay if you want to feel like an anonymous rock star.

One of my fave hotels in Paris. Très-cher, but also très-lovely. It just reopened after an extreme renovation, and I am dying to see the results. 

Because it is the cutest. Also, reasonably priced.

 

Advice

DO - Dress well. Wear the nicest shoes you can manage. (Bring bandages.) Learn some French phrases. Ask politely. Stay hydrated. Sit and watch the world. Leave technology in your hotel. Bring a book to a cafe. Wear that bright red lipstick you have been saving for a special occasion. Bask in the appropriateness of an all-black wardrobe. Plan to look chic at all times. Sit on a bench or steps to eat. Use your inside voice even when you are outside. 

DON'T worry about your clothes. I promise you there is every type of person in Paris wearing every type of thing, and you certainly won't be the worst-dressed person strolling the streets. That said, if you care about looking nice, avoid shorts. Don't eat as you walk. Don't walk and hold an open map. Don't walk and text. Don't ask for Wi-Fi codes if they are not posted. Don't talk too loud. Don't leave your apartment or hotel with wet hair. Don't do your makeup in public. Don't expect professionals (especially waiters) to be your friends without a little effort. 

RULES FOR PEOPLE-WATCHING FROM TERRACES: Keep your phone hidden. Be thoughtful about how much space you are using. Don’t be too loud. A drink buys you 2-3 hours. Flirt with your eyes not with your smile.

Do you have any other good suggestions for visitors to Paris? We would love to add other helpful do's and don'ts.

 

Miscellaneous

My home away from home. This is the place where I first got connected to the life of the city when I moved to Paris in 2008. The young-adult group has been going strong since the 1920's with 20-somethings from around the world. Also great community and pizza. 

A fantasy world. You enter down an alleyway into a garden and what appears as a long hallway of a 1960s hotel in some sub-Saharan capital. At night the bar is packed with a fun crowd, mingling and dancing. During the day, this spot has a relaxed vibe. Be sure to check ahead, as they are often closed for events. If you go after 9 p.m., you might have to wait in a long line.

The former royal taxidermist is another favorite stop of mine. Head upstairs and peruse the tigers and lamas and cases of insects. They don’t allow photography, but this place is full of inspiration.

A lovely spot to rest, pray, and hide from the weather. You will rarely see another tourist in this church. Normally the only other person around is a sweet old lady who will explain to you the history. It is just off the intersection of the Boulevard Saint-Germain/Rue du Bac, so it is central, but hidden from view. The style of the church is crisp and simple, but retains a strong elegance. It is one of the most peaceful spots in the city.

Some of the most stunning contemporary dance and performance art I have ever experienced has been in this space and with this community of dancers and artists. Check their performance schedule for something radical and life-changing. 

For a more intense experience with stuffed animals, this place is magnificent.

A creative community, gallery, and gathering space. If you want to exhibit your art in Paris, this is the spot to connect. It is run by a tiny but passionate band of friends who are very dear to me. Be sure to check out their collaborations with the Paris College of Art (formerly Parsons, Paris). 

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Jonathan Randall Grant

Culture Keeper

Jonathan Randall Grant, Culture Keeper's creative director and founder, is always exploring the intersection of aesthetics, culture, and theology, and he can’t stop traveling. He splits his time between South Bend and Paris. Jonathan paints for churches, writes books for children, advocates for his friends on the front lines of peace-building, directs photo shoots, and goes swimming every chance he gets. Diana Vreeland is his spirit-animal. He’s on Instagram here.

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