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-Elysées, 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 and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Bookshops and Chocolate
An intriguing literary haunt since 1801, Librairie Galignani (224 Rue de Rivoli, 1e) 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 (226 Rue de Rivoli, 1e) 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 my favorite shops in Paris is Buly 1803 (6 Rue Bonaparte, 6e). 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
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.
Two of my favorite shops are Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais) and L’Eclaireur (40 Rue de Sévigné). Additionally, the Marian Goodman (79 Rue du Temple), Thaddaeus Ropac (7 Rue Debelleyme) and Perrotin (76 Rue de Turenne) galleries should not be missed.
I recommend booking a day class at the well-run La Cuisine Paris (80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4e) 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.
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 (3 Rue de Montfaucon, 6e) in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Michelin two-star chef Michel Rostang’s more formal Dessirier (9 Place du Maréchal Juin, 17e) and the new Amélie (24-26 Place de la Madeleine, 8e) 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 new Fondation Louis Vuitton (8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 16e), 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. On the first Friday of every month, 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.