I’ve been to Paris numerous times and I really can’t get enough of this city. If it were more affordable, I’d seriously move here. I love the buzz and vibe, the lights and animation, the quaint boutiques, the little dogs, the long stretches of city blocks adorned with prominent wrought-iron balconies, and the delicious smells… And, contrary to popular impression, I quite find the Parisians friendly.
When you understand the etiquette of simply starting out any interaction with a local, with a, ‘Bonjour’, you are treated quite nicely. And it’s just simply polite to say, ‘hello’, before moving on to whatever you want or need. I tend to visit Paris in the off-season. It’s more affordable, and while the weather is less predictable, you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself.
Paris’ arrondissement, or post code, system is set out like a winding snail; quite fitting for this escargot-loving country. The 1st Arrondissement starts in the heart of Paris near the Louvre, and winds around clockwise until you reach the 20th Arrondissement on the outskirts of town.
I’ve babysat a chubby kitty named, Balou, in the slightly grungy 11th Arrondissement. I’ve stayed a few times in the chic 1st near the Champs Elysees, where a glass of Meursault will set you back €37 (@$40) a glass! I’ve stayed a couple times in cheaper digs in the 5th by the Sorbonne University buzzing with college students, and I’ve stayed a few times out by the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Why? Because it was free! The airport is decent if you’re flying out early, but it is a ‘schlep’ to town if you want to stay out late.
I have now come to the conclusion I’m a ‘South-of-the-River’ kind of woman, or Left Bank as they refer to it in Paris. The 6th arrondissement, in general, and more specifically, the area around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is the best location to stay and explore Paris. Some of this has to do with ‘a gut feeling’ I’ve had while staying in Paris over the years. The 6th is easy to move around and see the tourist spots, it’s very safe, it has a traditional Parisian neighborhood feel, and it happens to be where you will find many of the, ‘Best of’ in Paris. There is quite a level of sophistication with upmarket retailers like Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cop Copine; there are several superb brasseries and cafes, and the enormous green spaces of Luxembourg Gardens are just serene. You’d never know you were in a metropolis of more than two million people.
As soon as you exit the St-Germain-des Prés Metro station, you’ll discover the impressionable Abbey of St-Germain-des Prés, which is the oldest in Paris founded in the 6th Century. This area was also the literary and artistic heart of Paris in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Monet, Renoir and Picasso were well known around these parts, as well as famous writers and philosophers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is the birth of the philosophy called, ‘Existentialism.’ An easy way to describe this is basically, ‘humans define their own meaning in life and try to make rational decisions despite living in an irrational universe. Individuals are free and must take personal responsibility for their actions.’ It’s a heavy concept, but can also make sense if you consider the world in which we live today. I’ve often had a feeling of ‘deja-vu’ when I’ve wandered this neighborhood.
Here’s what you’ll find the ‘best of’ in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris. While these are all my personal choices, I was surprised to find these had all been noted by prominent websites online. I was just surprised so much of my stomping ground happened to be on these comparison lists. No wonder I love it so much, so does everyone else.
Best Baguette in Paris
Looking for the Best Baguette? – In 2016, La Parisienne boulangerie was named maker of the Best Baguette. They offer a variety of ready-made baked good including loaf breads, tarts, croissants, and salads. If you want a treat, grab a ‘Parisienne’ baguette, select some cheese and some charcuterie near the local Marche (market) on Rue Buci, stash a bottle of wine in your pack and head to Luxembourg Gardens for a picnic. La Parisienne is located at 48 Rue Madame, 75006.
Best Patisserie in Paris
Looking for something sweet? Look no further than the highly acclaimed Pierre Herme Patisserie, found at 72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006. Considered the one best Patisserie in Paris, you will find exquisite hand-prepared chocolates and thick chocolate ‘tablettes,’ cakes, cookies, macaroons and more. The lines were OUT THE DOOR on two different days when I was there. This place isn’t that large so no wonder the line was outside, but it is thee place to buy sweet treats and confectionery. I personally like the caramels that melt in your mouth, and the big, dark chocolate tablettes – go big or go home!
French Onion Soup in Paris
Hands down, The Best French Onion Soup in town is found at the La Jacobine at 59-61 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006. I love this little restaurant and stumbled upon it several years ago. And while I often have to wait for a table, it’s worth it. Actually, it can be quite daunting. The place gets really busy with people literally sitting a foot from the next patron, and I hate asking for a table for one, because clearly they make more money off of two people. But then I suck it up, go in and ask. It’s tucked away in an ancient cobble-stoned arcade that is dotted with shops and restaurants. Sometimes this place isn’t easy to find if you aren’t familiar with the area. Aside from the French Onion Soup, they offer a variety of unique starters, such as traunches of goat’s cheese with honey, baked filled rolls of eggplant, snails from €10 ($11), and healthy-portioned salads for €16 ($17). They have a fixed menu at €24 ($26) for an entree and main, or main and dessert.
Mariage Freres Teahouse
The Best Tea House/Retailer is the gourmet tea shop, Mariage Freres, located at 13 Rue Augustins, 75006. Actually it has become quite popular and their locations are dotted around Paris and worldwide. This location is a tea retailer along with a restaurant. The ground level is a small boutique with an impressive selection of loose teas in tins reminiscent of days gone past. Select your loose tea and they use antique-style scales to weigh the ‘gold.’ They have a huge selection whether caffeinated or not of bagged and loose teas, and the menu in the restaurant upstairs will recommend a certain tea to accompany your meal. It’s a step back in time.
The Best Cafe in the 6th
Not only according to me, but even readers of Leisure + Travel say The Best Cafe in the 6th is Le Bonaparte Cafe at 42 Rue Bonaparte, 75006. This is my favorite hang-out and I typically spend hours here just enjoying the coffee or a glass of wine while writing. The Bonaparte offers a super view of the Abbey while sitting out on the terrace, and their menu is known for offering a variety of organic ingredients. There’s not the same competition to get a table here as there is at the uber famous Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore, just a block away, and Le Bonaparte is more ‘chill,’ without all the traffic speeding by.
The Best Bistrot in Saint-Germain-des-Pres
Saint-Germain-des-Pres is fortunate to have a number of bistrot hitting the Top 10 in Paris, but one in particular is Le Comptoir du Relais, head up by master French chef, Yves Camdeborde, who’s been titled the Chef of Bistronomy. This tiny bistrot has about 20 seats inside and getting a table is often best by reservation. For lunch, I went early and opted to sit outside under the heat lamps, and it made not only for a great gastronomic experience, but also a super people watching/meeting experience. The menu is reasonably priced with salads and soups from €8-20 ($8.60-25), and mains from €5 – €17 ($5.50-18.50), so you get quality for the money. Either reserve or get there early so you don’t have to stand in a queue. 9 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006
I stayed at Le Deux Continents Hotel on Rue Jacob, which is my favorite street. It is two streets from the main road and quieter. I booked a double room for a single rate for €99 versus €215 p/n. This was a great, last-minute find in a super location. I was on the top floor (with elevator) with a view of the Abbey steeple. It was quiet and quite a lovely hotel. The room, while modest in size, was well kitted out. The bathroom will be a challenge if you are tall. I’m short and my knees almost hit the wall while on the loo, so the bathroom is quite narrow. And there is no shower curtain so you need to be strategic with the shower head! Wifi worked great and there was plenty of space to hang/store clothes and get my suitcase out of the way. Highly recommended.
So for an authentic experience of Paris, head to the 6th Arrondissement and use this information as a guide to have a great, tasty experience! Let me know how it goes!!