Paris is so special to me.
The entire city buzzes with je ne sais quoi, this unintelligible quality that’s impossible to explain until you’re there and you can feel it. It’s in the ornate details on the building facades, the confidence of the French people and the level of enjoyment they take in the simplest moments of every day life, and in those blue doors that I can’t stop taking pictures of.
Being in Paris inspires a better version of myself, one that takes life a little slower, savors things a little more and takes more time to appreciate everything around me.
Ending this fantastical journey of ours in Paris was an unspoken agreement across the three of us – it was easy enough to get to from our last stop in Zurich and we could fly home to Chicago direct. And being the last stop on our trip (and being that our luggage allowance bumped up for our flight home), Stephanie and I could stock up on French skincare from the pharmacies and I could stock up on French food staples at Monoprix. We could shop until our suitcases couldn’t fit anymore in Paris.
((Spoiler alert: we did and it was mostly my fault for buying a year’s worth of skincare and any and all French condiments I could fit into my basket. We had to buy an extra suitcase in a random back-of-the-alley type store off the Champs-Élysées. That was an adventure))
On both of our visits, most of our time in Paris has been spent riding around on Hop On Hop Off buses. May is a beautiful time to visit. The days are long and the air is warm and Paris is a city best enjoyed out in the open. From the upper deck of the L’Open Tour buses, we’ve taken selfies with the Eiffel Tower, glided through Bastille, admired the French Gothic stature of Notre Dame de Paris and discovered that the Moulin Rouge is so much smaller than we ever anticipated (and located in the middle of a city block!).
This time, though, we tried to spend less time on the bus and more time on our feet exploring the parts of the city the bus couldn’t touch. Three days could never been enough, but we definitely made the most of them. Here are few of the highlights of our time in Paris:
Shopping (and dining) on the Champs-Élysées
I have an obscene obsession with Louis Vuitton, and I don’t really know why. Well, that’s not entirely true, I kind of know why: my grandma loved Louis Vuitton and as I got older, I found myself drawn to the things she enjoyed. Stephanie and I both had little baby Louis handbags when we were children, but the first one I bought myself was in college, a small handbag that, to this day, sits more in it’s dust bag than it does on my arm because it’s so pretty and the sentimental value is so high that I’m afraid to ruin it.
A few years back on our first visit to Aruba, I discovered that it was less expensive to purchase designer goods in the Caribbean, but last year on our first trip to Paris, I discovered that the real savings on Louis Vuitton were in Paris, and that between the lower prices (even with the Euro to Dollar conversion) you could save you hundreds on the bag and then get a VAT refund on the sales tax on top of that.
So my very first matter of business on our very first day was to buy a new bag in celebration of a promotion I had worked very hard for.
The Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Élysées is the brand’s flagship location. Once you pass security at the door, you enter a golden wonderland of leather and handbags. Everything is so beautiful, you could easily mistake your surroundings for a museum if you didn’t know better (in fact, there is a small museum on the upper floors!).
It was a busy morning – lines can start forming outside before the store even opens, and it’s a mad dash to find an associate to assist you in finding the perfect bag. It didn’t take us long to find someone to assist us who set out on helping me find the perfect bag based on the characteristics I told her I wanted (arm bag, roomy, Damier canvas) and a matching wallet in white to go with it.
She filled out my tax forms and processed my payment over a round of bubbly and then escorted Stephanie and I upstairs to get our new pieces monogrammed (a service they offer free of charge).
As we floated down the Champs-Élysées with our new treasures, we made a stop at LaDurée for petit dejeuner and some of their famous macarons before walking our new purchases back to the hotel for safe keeping.
Lazing Around the Champ de Mars
One of my fondest memories from our first visit to Paris is packing a picnic (Monoprix grab-and-go, of course) and spending an afternoon on the Champ de Mars, taking in the Eiffel Tower and enjoying the spring weather. The Champ de Mars is a greenspace that stretches beneath the Eiffel Tower and makes for the perfect space to spend an hour or two enjoying the fresh air and admiring the tallest structure in Paris.
We split a crepe from a nearby cart and just sat. And stared. And lost all track of time.
Taking In the Best Views of the City
So here’s a little secret we discovered by accident: the best views of Paris are not from the top of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, or even from the steps below the basilica at Sacré-Coeur. Would you believe they’re from the top of a department store?
One of my coworkers told me I had to visit a Parisian department store, and as we strolled down the Boulevard Haussmann one day, we found ourselves outside of Printemps, a high end department store that was as beautiful on the outside as the items it sold.
We made our way through each floor, admiring the inventory they had so artfully put on display, until we reached the top, where we discovered a small cafeteria with outdoor seating. We weren’t sure if a purchase was necessary to enjoy the rooftop, so we ordered a snack and brought our trays outside to discover a bustling space with the most amazing views.
From one side of the rooftop was a stunning view of nearby Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre, the imposing stature of the stark white basilica leering over the neighborhood below.
From the other side, we could see the streets of the 8th arrondissement, the tall trees lining the Rue Tronchet up to the Place de la Madeleine and the Eiffel Tower out in the distance. We could see the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées from another corner. Each step we took brought us a new view.
The best part of it, too, was that aside from our snack, it was completely free to enjoy this space.
Taking the Funicular up to Sacré-Coeur
After our birds eye view from the rooftop of Printemps, we knew we had to see Sacré-Coeur up close during our visit. So the next day, we hopped off our bus near Pigalle, walked up the streets of Montmarte and bought our funicular tickets.
The funicular only costs a couple Euro and gets you up to the basilica in a few minutes. The alternative (and free) option is to walk up the 300 steps from Montmarte to the basilica.
There was a line to get into the basilica when we arrived, so we opted to leave entering the basilica for a future visit and opted to enjoy the views instead. We sat out on the lawn below the basilica and stared out at the city below us while a musician played Imagine on a harp. It was pretty perfect.
The skies darkened as we made our way back down, the rain that had been forecasted but stayed away during the day finally pulling in. We ducked into some of the shops that lined the street back down to our bus stop when the rain got heavier than a drizzle.
Exploring New Neighborhoods
Our usual stomping grounds in Paris is the 8th arrondissement in an area that stretches between Madeleine and the Champs-Élysées, but when the rain subsided and we found ourselves on the other side of the Ile de la Cité, we decided to look around and see what we found.
The first stop we made was at Odette, a shop made famous by their cream puffs. There were nearly a dozen options and each one looked better than the next. We grabbed a box to take back to the hotel for later and continued on our walk.
We found ourselves next at Le Haut du Pové, a souvenir shop that also made custom music boxes. One of my greatest joys in travel is finding unique momentos to bring back. I got to pick out the box and the song, and a little music box that plays La Vie en Rose now sits on my vanity. A little reminder of our rainy day exploring the other side of the Seine.
Our last stop was at Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore that has a bit of a cult following for it’s rich history in the French literary landscape. The store is a treasure trove of new and used books and comfy alcoves to stretch out and read in. We were so taken by it we visited twice!
Crossing Pont Neuf to See the Love Locks
Back in 2015, Paris city workers removed all of the love locks from the Pont des Artes bridge because the thousands of pounds of metal were putting too much stress on the walkway. But tourists are a resilient bunch, and the love locks have found a new home on Pont Neuf.
Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge spanning the Seine, is the current home to the thousands of locks, each one representing a story of someone somewhere. As much as I’m sure local Parisians aren’t too fond of their bridges getting covered in padlocks, I find the concept kind of charming. Think about it – standing on this bridge, looking out on the Seine, with that gorgeous Eiffel Tower looming in the distance – and being surrounded by thousands and thousands of locks, each one a marker of a love story, each one unique and different but all with the same intent: to commemorate and celebrate love. And that’s never a bad thing, right? The world needs more love.
Browsing the Stalls Along the Seine
I love walking along the Seine, especially in the springtime when the trees form a lush canopy above you. Strolling slowly, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the city bustle around you is one of the simplest pleasures I’ve had in my travels.
One of my favorite parts of it is the small stalls that line the sidewalk. I don’t care much for the keychains and Eiffel Tower paperweights – those are all over the city – but I love love love the stalls with art and used books. You never know what treasures you’ll find in those.
Discovering Local Festivals and Celebrations
As our trip approached and I was trying to stay strong on my no carbs until Spain resolution, when my coworkers and I would discuss this trip, I’d tell them all I was going to do when we got to Paris was walk around the city with my camera in one hand and a baguette in the other, snacking on it right out of the paper bag in between shots of the Eiffel Tower. In some hilarious twist of fate, we wandered upon the Fête du Pain outside of Notre Dame on our last day – literally, a festival of bread.
Inside the tent were dozens of stalls selling pastries and fresh baguette from local artisan bakers. You can’t even imagine the heaven of being in a tent where there are at least a dozen ovens churning out hot bread. The aroma is magnificent. Everyone was walking around outside, digging into these warm, freshly baked baguette. And really, who would say no to a hot, crusty piece of bread on a cool, rainy day?
Buying All of the French Groceries
I’d read an article once about the best French souvenirs, and the author mentioned that the best souvenir of all was French groceries. Sauce mixes, mustards, honeys, salad dressings, seasonings. It seemed kind of silly to go all the way to Paris to bring back pantry staples.
But then, after experiencing French cuisine and getting lost in French grocery stores, I understood. Everything tastes better in France. The cuisine is richer and more flavorful. And it’s all cheaper, too. Items like Fleur de Sel or organic honey, items that would cost $10+ at home, were a mere couple of Euros in Paris.
I came home with a basket full of condiments, soup mixes, cookies, coffees, seasonings, everything. It was a way of taking Paris home with me, that after a rough day at work or on a day where I was just feeling kind of bleh, I could make myself a cappuccino with a piece of French chocolate, or a salade du berger and it would take me back to France for a few moments.
…and All of the French Skincare, Too
French skincare is trending in the US, and the good stuff can put a dent in your bank account. But if you’re in Paris, stocking up there can save you a boatload.
It’s easy to lose yourself in these pharmacies. Aisles and aisles of skincare and cosmetics fill the stores. I stocked up some of my favorite products from Nuxe, Bioderma and Avéne, and I also took home a years worth of skincare from Monoprix. Surprisingly, the Monoprix label skincare rivals some of the best I’ve tried – their moisturizers are thick, non-greasy and smell amazing. And they’re, like, two or three Euro.
Just Being There
There’s so much to do in Paris and so much we still haven’t done, but I’ve never left with a regret. Our top highlight from our time in Paris was being in Paris. Whether you experience the city on foot, on the Metro or (our perennial fave) while listening to Les Champs-Élysées on the Hop On Hop Off bus, the best part of Paris is just being in Paris.
We’re heading back to Paris in May! Have you ever been? What are your favorite spots and things to do? Hit the comments and let me know your faves!