The north side of Paris (or Right Bank, when facing downstream on the Seine) has a justified reputation for magnificence and sophistication. Its grandest street, the Champs-Élysées, lost some of its luster as major global brands moved in, but with the return of luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton, the avenue has regained much of its former cachet. The nearby Avenue Montaigne is the epicenter of the French fashion industry, while the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is home to auction houses and upscale art galleries. South of the Seine, the Rive Gauche has traditionally figured as the bohemian and intellectual counterpart to the Rive Droite. Sartre and de Beauvoir once conversed in the cafés of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, but today the worldwide chains have largely replaced the galleries and bookstores. The Latin Quarter is still the locus of Parisian university life — the Sorbonne is here — and its narrow streets are crammed with cinemas and inexpensive Mediterranean food.
No stay in Paris is complete without a visit to one of the city’s colorful open-air food markets. Favored by many top chefs for the variety and quality of its produce, the Marché Ave du Président Wilson (Avenue du Président Wilson, 16e) is held every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Shopping Like a Parisian
Shopping at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, is an enjoyable and profoundly Parisian experience. Designed by the architect Louis-Charles Boileau and the engineer Gustave Eiffel, the store occupies a handsome 19th-century building that fills a whole block between Rue de Sèvres and Rue de Babylone. Le Bon Marché showcases cutting-edge design from France and all over the world in clothing, shoes, bags and accessories. The store also has one of the largest selections of luxury watches in Paris, plus an impressive homeware department and a grand total of eight restaurants between the main establishment and its adjacent twin, La Grande Épicerie, one of the greatest food stores in Europe.
Books and Chocolate
An intriguing literary haunt since 1801, Librairie Galignani is one of the oldest independent bookshops in the world. Browsing among the hardwood shelves, you sense the ghosts of a more cultivated age. Afterward, I usually stop in next door at Angelina for its thick hot chocolate and Mont Blanc pastries. Opened in 1903 by confectioner Anton Rumpelmayer, this elegant Belle Epoque-style tearoom was a favorite of Proust and Coco Chanel.
Perfumes, Scrubs and Soaps
One of our favorite shops in Paris is Buly 1803. Founded in the late 18th century by Jean-Vincent Bully, this apothecary-like store features water-based perfume collections, high-quality body scrubs and scented soaps. A professional calligrapher hand-labels your purchase on the way out. A personalized engraving in the acetate on some products, including hairbrushes and toothbrushes, can be requested.
Museums, Shops and Galleries in Le Marais
Le Marais, which spans the third and fourth arrondissements, was, historically, Paris’ Jewish quarter. Today, the neighborhood has maintained its traditions while becoming one of the trendiest parts of Paris. Of the many popular museums in Le Marais, visit the often-overlooked Musée Cognacq-Jay and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme. Two of my favorite shops are Merci and L’Eclaireur, and the Marian Goodman, Thaddaeus Ropac and Perrotin galleries should not be missed.
I recommend booking a day class at the well-run La Cuisine Paris cooking school in the Marais district. Excellent two- to four-hour-long courses, all taught in English, are offered, as are market tours and walking tours to gourmet boutiques. Public courses are limited to a maximum of 10 students, and children under the age of 13 are not permitted.
A more formal option is to sign up for a class at the École Ritz Escoffier cooking school. Courses are small, and instruction is hands-on, so you come away from these lessons not only with additions to your gastronomic repertoire, but also having mastered valuable culinary techniques..
France is one of the world’s largest consumers and producers of oysters. Most Paris vendors offer two types of oysters, creuses (cupped oysters that will fit into the cup of your hand) and the much rarer plates (“flat” oysters that are native to Bélon).
Some of our favorite places for an oyster feast are the Huîtrerie Régis in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Michelin two-star chef Michel Rostang’s more formal Dessirier and Amélie for their selection of more intriguing oyster dishes, including smoked oysters, oyster tartare and oysters flambéed with ginger, soy sauce and onion.
A Stunning Museum
The Fondation Louis Vuitton, situated in the Bois de Boulogne, is a beautiful art museum and cultural center backed by LVMH and its subsidiaries. Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the building itself is a spectacular piece of art. Twelve immense sails are formed using 3,600 panels of transparent glass and 19,000 uniquely designed panels of Ductal (fiber-reinforced concrete). The constantly changing colors of the adjacent water garden and surrounding gardens are reflected in the panels.
This impressive tour de force encompasses exceptional contemporary and modern art galleries and intriguing light and sound installations, plus a well-stocked bookshop and a restaurant overseen by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Louis Nomicos. The museum stages unique events, including classical concerts and theater performances, and children’s workshops and storytelling hours are regularly hosted.
The Luxembourg Gardens
One of the most enjoyable places to spend an afternoon is the Jardin du Luxembourg. This 57-acre park, situated on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, behind the French Senate building was created in the 1610s, when a palace was built for Marie de’ Medici, the Italian wife of King Henri IV of France. Inspired by Florence’s Boboli Gardens, the park was modeled after classic Italian Renaissance green spaces.
In 1630, the Carthusian monastery adjacent to the park was abandoned and the Queen hired designer Jacques Boyceau, renowned for his creation of several gardens at the Château de Versailles, to expand the park. Boyceau designed the extension in a more traditional, symmetrical French style. I like to read in peace at the Medici Fountain, and on weekends, Parisian families launch model sailboats on the circular basin. A vintage carousel dates to 1879.
For Chocolate Lovers
A visit to any really good Paris chocolate shop can be a real education, since French chocolate culture mimics the country’s connoisseurship of wine. You’ll be told the provenance of the beans from which the chocolate was made, given small tastings and generally tutored in what makes an excellent chocolate and why. Founded in 1761, À la Mère de Famille is the oldest chocolate shop in Paris and remains one of the best to this day. It is especially well-known for its pralines and crunchy truffles. The chocolates at Damyel are superb, especially the palets fleur de sel and the fruit- and nut-studded chocolate bars, and Jacques Genin’s atelier, shop and tearoom in the northern Marais attracts devotees from all over the world.