Best Things To See and Do in Paris (on your second visit)
My first trip to Paris was overwhelmed by a mad rush to see all of the city's essential sights.
I adored every moment, chaotically rushing from palace to museum to arch on my whirlwind five-day self-guided tour of the City of Lights.
My second visit to Paris was a little different. Seven years older, with slightly more weight to my wallet, and having seen many of the bigger sights during my first visit, I was free to explore new places and experiences.
I didn’t think it was possible to fall more in love with Paris but my second visit proved that you certainly can. During my dazzling trip to Paris, I visited some incredible museums, sampled more than my fair share of pastries, hit up a jazz bar and casually and lovingly explored the beautiful streets of La Marais and Sentier.
I hope you'll fall madly in love with Paris like I did on my second trip to the City of Lights.
Underground Jazz at Cafe du 38 Riv
Descend into Cafe du 38 Riv, the subterranean jazz bar in the heart of La Marais, for a truly authentic Parisian jazz experience. It may be unassuming at street level but descending the darkened stairwell of the 12th century vaulted cellar will find you immersed in the sound of energetic piano, drums and double bass. It’s a compact space with just a few seats placed in front of the band and a cosy bar tucked into the far left corner of the cellar. A jam session at this underground jazz cafe is an intimate and immersive experience you won’t want to miss.
Walking around La Marais and Sentier
On a first trip to Paris, you’re likely to spend some time exploring Montmartre (home to the Sacre Coeur) and the 1st arrondissement (for the Louvre) but it is in wandering through the neighbourhoods of La Marais and Sentier that you’ll gaze upon some of Paris’s lesser known attractions. From the immense Saint Denis Porte arch and Paris’s shortest street (Rue des Degrees) to the quiet arcade of Passage du Grand-Cerf and the lively cafes and restaurants of Rue Montorgueil - there’s no better way to get acquainted with Paris than by casually strolling through its quieter neighbourhoods.
Choux pastries at Odette Paris
If you are only to sample one sweet treat while in Paris, you would be remiss not to stop by Odette Paris. The patisserie oozes classic Parisian style and boasts a view of the Notre Dame that is second-to-none… and then there is the choux pastry. Light and crisp on the outside and sweet and creamy on the inside, these moreish desserts will have you longing for more well after the last bite. Dine in and enjoy the charming art deco interior of Odette Paris or take them away in a box of 6, 9, 12 or 18.
Reading at Shakespeare and Company
A bookstore with a twist. Opened in 1951 in Paris’s 5th Arrondissement, this quaint bookstore has remained a local meeting place to this day. Selling new and old books and providing nooks and crannies for visitors to rest and read, Shakespeare and Company is a small bookstore filled to the brim with literature across all genres. It’s well worth a visit just to see its overcrowded shelves, narrow staircases and its eclectic decor. More worthwhile still, Shakespeare and Company has been known to provide beds to travelling writers looking for a night’s accommodation. All they ask for in return is a day’s work in the store, along with a “one-page autobiography”. 30,000 people have reportedly found a night’s rest at this bookstore since it opened in 1951.
Waterlilies at Musée de l'Orangerie
A gallery exhibiting impressionist and post-impressionist works from some of the most influential artists of the period, this one is not to be missed. Among the collection are pieces from the impressionist pioneers, including Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Modigliani and Matisse. The star attraction of the gallery, however, is one Claude Monet. On the second floor of the Musée de l'Orangerie are two elliptical rooms exhibiting wall-to-wall paintings of Monet’s world-renowned water lilies. This section of the museum fills out quickly — arrive early to beat the crowd.
Smaller in stature than the Louvre but no less expansive, the Musée d’Orsay houses French art from 1848 to 1914. The museum has taken up residence in the enormous halls of the former Beaux-Arts railway station, whose chequered history also included roles as a mailing centre during World War II, a set for an Orson Welles film and residence for the Renaud-Barrault Theatre Company. Key pieces here include Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Van Gogh’s self portrait, Monet’s Woman with a Parasol and Gustave Courbet’s controversial, L’Origine du monde.
French toast at Big Love Cafe
Starting the day with a pain au chocolat in one hand and a café au lait in the other is the Parisian ideal. However, spare a thought for Big Love Cafe before you decide your morning meal. It may be an Italian cafe but it serves up some of the best French toast (pain perdu) in the city. This is trendy brunch with a French/Italian twist and a dining spot to line up for.
Sacre Coeur and the Painters Corner
This imposing Romano-Byzantine basilica sits atop the tallest hill in Montmarte, providing some of the best views of the sprawl of Paris. On a clear day, you can easily spot the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay, which are over 4 kilometres away. Don’t get too carried away with the view, however, as the basilica itself is a sight to be seen. 83 metres high and 85 metres long, construction on this monument took almost 40 years, with the basilica finally consecrated in 1919 to mark the end of World War I. Most tourists mill around the front of the basilica for the view, making it a crowded spot, even on a quiet day. Make sure to take time to circle to the rear for a quieter spot to take your photos. While you’re at it, make a few more turns and head toward Place de Tertre. This bustling space is known as ‘The Artist’s Square’ and it is filled to the brim with painters, caricaturists and portraitists.
Duck Confit at Bistrot Victoires
Duck confit is to Paris what the hot dog is to New York — an essential dining experience. It’s no wonder then, that finding a bistro that serves top-quality confit at a reasonable price is incredibly challenging. After a week of sifting through Google search results, I settled on Bistrot Victoires. In a somewhat quiet part of town, this unassuming bistro is exactly the kind of experience you hope for in Paris. Beautiful vintage decor, complete with dark wood fittings and gold plated lamps, is matched perfectly to its bustling atmosphere. Then there’s the duck confit. A leg of duck with wonderfully crisp skin and incredibly tender meat is served with delicious fried potato slices and a leafy side salad. Book a table. Now.