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Personal recommendations by Gary T. Johnson


Paris Advice


Guidebooks:  The best overall guidebook is the "Dorling Kindersley Travel Guide for Paris."  I believe this may have been called the Eyewitness guide in the past.  I will assume that the reader has a good guidebook and that it is not necessary to add information about addresses and opening times in the lists of recommendations below.  For food, the best guide is "Time-Out," an English-language magazine in Paris that publishes a restaurant guide annually.  This is very comprehensive, listing cafés, bistrots and restaurants both alphabetically and by neighborhood.  Try to get a copy before you leave home and make reservations by telephone to the restaurants you won´t want to miss.  Even without reservations, that guide will be indispensable.  These two guides, plus a good street map, are all you need.


What follows, of course, is very personal advice.  The Must-See list is for any U.S. visitor, as is the General Advice.  The Special Interest Recommendations include highly recommended sites, but choosing to go there will be a matter of interest and taste.  My own To-Do List, which is very long, is based on a careful reading of guidebooks regarding places that by and large I have not yet seen in my dozen or so trips to Paris.  If I am lucky enough to go again, I will try to see some of these.  What is missing from any list is what might be called standard monuments, churches and parks  -- the Arc de Triomphe, the Church of the Madeleine, Tuileries Gardens, and so forth.  You will want to make your own decision about which of the famous standard places to visit, but the ones that you should not miss at any cost are in the Must-See list.


Bon voyage!


Gary Johnson,

August 2002


Must-Sees for American Visitors


Musée d'Orsay (allow a half day for this fantastic museum with a focus on 19th century art, set beautifully in an old railroad station)


Musée du Louvre (unless you have a lot of stamina or specialized interests, just seek out the standards)


Musée Rodin (allow time for the gardens)


Nôtre Dame (many enjoy a view of the city from the tower; a walk around the buttresses in the back is a must after viewing the church)


Sainte-Chapelle (some of the best stained glass in the world)


Ile St.-Louis.  (Walk around this quiet island, that has the feel of a small town.  Fantastic views of Notre Dame.  Buy Berthillon ice cream from one of the many vendors.)  Here is a description from the Rough 


"Often considered to be the most romantic part of Paris, the peaceful Île St-Louis is prime strolling territory. Unlike its larger neighbour, the Île de la Cité, the Île St-Louis has no monuments or museums, just high houses on single-lane streets, tree-lined quais, a school, church, restaurants, cafés, interesting little shops, and the best sorbets in the world at Berthillon, 31 rue St-Louis-en-l'Île. It's also where the likes of the Aga Khan and the pretender to the throne of France have their Parisian residences, and the island is indeed the most coveted of the city's addresses. A popular approach to bring you right to Berthillon is to cross Pont Louis-Philippe, just east of the Hôtel de Ville; you're then positioned to join the throngs strolling with their ice creams down rue St-Louis-en-l'Île for a spot of window-shopping. Alternatively, you can find seclusion on the southern quais, tightly clutching your triple-sorbet cornet as you descend the various steps, or climb over the low gate on the right of the garden across boulevard Henri-IV to reach the best sunbathing spot in Paris. The island is particularly atmospheric in the evening, and dinner in the area , followed by an arm-in-arm wander along the quais is a must in any lovers' itinerary."


Montmartre (Ask the taxi driver to take you to the funicular stop, and start your tour of this artist´s quarter at Sacré-Coeur, the church on top of the hill.)


Marais District (begin your walking visit to this neighborhood at the Place des Vosges).


Musée Carnavalet (Set in a beautiful villa in the Marais, this museum tells the history of Paris.  The descriptions are in French, but even for an English speaker, the beautiful building, furnishings and the impression of the city gained from the paintings makes this a key destination.)


Musée Marmatton-Monet.  (Superb collection of Monets and other impressionists in a beautiful villa, located in a lovely, uncrowded neighborhood on the edge of town.  Allow time to explore the neighborhood.)


Luxembourg Gardens (possibly the best park in town; do not go on a Sunday or holiday too crowded)


Musée de lOrangerie (if it ever reopens from an endless renovation!  Monet´s water lilies painted in large oval rooms, in a museum under the Tuileries gardens.)


If you have time, Must-Sees also include:


Versailles (Allow a full day for the palace and gardens.  It is very easy to get there by rail via the RER station at Saint-Michel-Notre Dame.)


Giverny (Allow a very long day for this day trip trip to Normandy.  We saw Monets home and studio on a dreary day in October, and even then, it was beautiful.  The ponds and gardens inspired his paintings of the water lilies and many other works.  We arranged a van trip through our hotel, but we understand that Giverny is reachable by train, which would be a much less expensive alternative.  The van driver waits in the parking lot, so, either way, you will be exploring the home and gardens on your own.)


Special Interest Recommendations

Musée Picasso Works from the artists private collection that his estate left to the French government in place of taxes.  Includes some works by other artists, but most are by Picasso.


Musée de Cluny medieval art (including the famous Lady and the Unicorn series of tapastries) displayed in old monastic buildings.  Includes Roman ruins, some of which are visible from the street.


Pavillion des Sessions, Musée du Louvre.  This new museum in the Louvre, with a separate entrance, is a gorgeous display of primitive art from around the world.


Le Jules Verne.  Consider dinner or lunch at this restaurant as a unique way to experience the Eiffel Tower.  (Reservations are hard to get; call long in advance.)  Set on the second level of the tower, the restaurant has its own canopied entrance and elevator.  The restaurant is expensive, but you are paying for the experience, as well as the food.  The food, by the way, is superb.  No need to order dessert, because the restaurant will serve a variety of dessert surprises.  Expect to find many other Americans; don´t be shy about taking your camera.  We were offered a table in the smoking section, but there were no smokers present, so this should not put you off.


Jewish sites The Marais is the traditional Jewish neighborhood.  Sites there include a school many of whose students were deported to Nazi death camps (as in Louis Malle´s movie Au Revoir les Enfants), a number of synagogues, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation and Jo Goldenberg´s delicatessen (which was bombed during the 1980´s).  When we were there in May 2002, security was high.  There also is a plaque on the Ile St.-Louis commemorating students deported from a school in the Rue des Deux Ponts.  The Deportation Monument on the tip of Ile de la Cité opposite le St.-Louis is a stark memorial to the 200,000 French who were deported to Nazi camps.


St-Gervais-St-Protais There are many historic churches to see in Paris, but this Gothic church dating originally from the 500s stands out for a number of reasons.  Its back entrance is set in a quiet corner of town, with a medieval setting.  The church has beautiful stained glass, both new and old.  There is a strong musical tradition that continues today, and in the past inspired Couperin to compose some of his most famous organ music.  The Jerusalemmonastic community of men and women bring an active spiritual life to this church.  If you are interested, look for a posting of times for prayers and services at the back entrance.  Enter the church quietly because at every time of day, you will find people in prayer in this very spiritual place.


General Advice

Paris Museum Pass (Carte Musée-Monuments) In tourist offices in major Metro stops (such as Louvre) and in other locations, it is possible to buy passes for unlimited entry to many museums.  These passes are highly recommended, not only as a money saver, but as a time saver.  At the Musée dOrsay alone, a pass can save an hour of standing in line.  With a museum pass, just go to the front of the line at every included museum.  The pass activates on the day of your first use, so it is worth buying it when convenient, even if your first museum visit is not until later on.  We also understand that these can be purchased from French tourist offices in the US.


Taxis  These are convenient and relatively inexpensive; cabfare compares favorably with the Metro fare for a party of three or four. The drivers are very professional and knowledgeable.  The problem is that taxis are hard to find.  The official taxi stops are few and far between, and empty cabs often won´t stop at other locations.  Ask your hotel to call taxis for you, and the wait will be short.  Get a business card from a taxi called by your hotel because you may need to call one later in the day.  Not all taxis will accept a party of four, and when they do, there is a small surcharge.


Holidays There are national and religious holdidays in France that will come as a surprise to an American visitor.  (We found two during a single week in May Ascension Day and Victory in Europe Day.)  Find a list before you go, and remember to find out whether museums are open on those holidays.  Avoid disappointment, consult:  Holidays and Closings


Crowds You will want to avoid crowded public places on Sundays and holidays.  Those days, the Parisians all seem to turn out in places like the Luxembourg Gardens, but, to our taste, they are better visited when the crowds are thinner.  Even on an ordinary weeknight, you may find the Champs-Elysées too crowded.


Tipping Service is included, unless it is indicated that it is not.  Leave a little extra for special attention in restaurants.  For taxis, round up (a fare of 4.20 becomes 5, one of 13 becomes 14 or 15.  Dont worry about adding a tip for a taxi ride if the fare is a round number and you don´t have an extra coin to give the driver).  Of course, you will tip bell hops and maids and anyone who offers extra service, such as door men who find taxis for you.  If the concierge has offered you special service such as arranging restaurants or calling museums, remember to leave something when you check out.


Cash Cards ATMs are everywhere in Paris.  Using your US cash card is a better way to get Euros than carrying traveler´s checks (some places won´t even honor them any more).


Personal Security As everywhere, there are security issues.  On our last trip, I saw someone flagrantly trying to steal purses in the Place-St-Michel. Some Americans report trouble on the Metro.  I never have had a problem in the Metro, but with any urban transportation, the risks are higher at night and in remote locations.


Precautions I was the victim of a pickpocket on a Sunday viewing the Eiffel Tower from Place Trocadero.  This was a first for me, so I developed a set of safety suggestions that apply to Paris and any destination:



Confirming airlines It always pays to confirm your international travel arrangements.  Ask your concierge to confirm your return flights a day or two in advance, or call the airline office yourself.


Breakfasts These are generally not included with a night in a Paris hotel, but why would you want to eat in your hotel anyway?  Try your local coffee bars and patisseries for breakfast.  If you are wedded to an American style breakfast with bacon, eggs and cereal, it will take some effort.


Tax Rebates Certain stores will offer to complete paperwork for you to rebate the VAT portion of your purchase price (in Europe, this is between 15 and 20%).  The store will require that you purchase a minimum amount, so be sure to ask about that.  At the Tax-Free kiosk at the airport on your way out of the county, you will need to show your paperwork and all the items you have purchased, so keep these purchases together and accessible.  (This system is the same in many countries in Europe.)


Department Stores I am a bad source for shopping recommendations, but I do have one tip.  There was a 10% discount card from Galeries Lafayette available in our hotel for foreign visitors.  (You may need your passport when you shop.) The other big department stores may have similar arrangements, but we did not visit them.  This store is well worth visiting because it has a wide selection of items available in specialty stores around town, such as Longchamps and Lalique, all at competitive prices. Galeries Lafayette also offers the tax rebate.  The art nouveau dome is gorgeous.


Travel for the Disabled Nothing is like the US for accessibility, but many museums in Paris offer wheelchairs and the use of elevators, always with unfailing courtesy.  We never asked for a bathroom for the disabled, but the use of combined bathtubs and showers will provide obstacles.  Talk to your hotel, and expect difficulties when using the very cramped washrooms in cafés and restaurants, often up or down a flight of stairs.




Our favorite hotel is the Hôtel du Jeu de Paume on the Ile St-Louis.   The hotels own description says:


Located in the heart of the Ile Saint-Louis and nestled between the branches of the river Seine, a most unique hotel. A former royal "jeu de paume" commissioned by Louis XIII in the 17th centurry, this mansion has been entirely restored at the dawn of the 21st century by an aesthete architect determined to respect the original identity of the place.

This large comfortable guest house is suffused with art and history. An atmosphere you'll find from the hall, the lounge bar, the dining-room and the mezzanine library room to the 21 bedrooms - including 5 duplexes and 1 junior suite all decorated in their own way and opening on an indoor patio-garden. With the passing years, several leisure spots have been created around and inside the hotel in order to meet the expectations of the regular clientele : an antique gallery - the bridge of the ship -, a billiard smoking-room to be enjoyed before a dinner in town. Under the 300-year-old woodbeams - which once witnessed the dull noise of the "esteuf" (the jeu de paume ball) and the server's call "tenez Messire!" - the decoration pleasantly combines simplicity and refinement. The unusual transparency of this exposed wooden frame gives the volume a timeless feeling. Formerly the refreshment rooms for the jeu de paume players, the cellars now offer a lounge where visitors may either relax or work. This place with no age also offers a Norwegian sauna, balneotherapy and a small fitness room. The Hôtel du Jeu de Paume : unique elegance and a certain art of living in Paris...



Hôtel du Jeu de Paume
Phone: 011-33-1-43-26-14-18;
Fax 011-33-1-40-46-02-76;
51 rue Saint-Louis - en - l 'Ile,


We are looking for a back-up on the island, and tentatively would choose the Hôtel de Lutèce, but we have never stayed there.  According to


"Another good choice is the Hôtel de Lutèce.  The hotel resembles a Breton country house and has flourished despite forever refusing to raise its rates. Its rooms, with antiques and fine reproductions, provide an affordable elegance."


Hôtel de Lutèce
Phone: 011-33-1-43-26-23-52;
Fax 011-33-1-43-29-60-25;
65 rue Saint-Louis - en - l 'Ile


Off the island, we have friends who have stayed at the Hôtel Mayfair.  According to the Josephine Barr website:


"One of the finest small, elegant Parisian hotels is a well-kept secret among sophisticated European travellers. Greeted by pleasant, English-speaking staff, guests will then find excellent accommodations, marble bathrooms, and all the modern conveniences here. Air-conditioned bedrooms and junior suites are located on smoking and non-smoking floors. Additional services available include arrangement of sightseeing tours, theatre tickets, and restaurant reservations. This delightful hotel has a large number of repeat guests!"


Hôtel Mayfair

Phone:  011-33-1-42-60-38-14
Fax: 011-33-1-40-15-04-78

3, rue Rouget de Lisle



We also have friends who recommend Hôtel le Notre Dame.  Ask for a room facing Notre Dame.  Here is the hotel's own charming description:


"its exclusive view of the cathedral Notre-Dame
and the river Seine, will offer you a memorable stay in a cosy
and charming hotel, entirely renovated few months ago.
In the middle of the magnificient and most touristic area of Paris,
with its small streets full of attractions and littles shops that you
will have the pleasure to discover within walkable distances
from the hotel.


"The bedrooms with view are uncluterred and full of light from the river, with original wooden beams, warm fabrics, light cherry-wood desktops and bedheads block panelling, hand enamelled bedside lights. New dark green marble bathrooms with bright white fittings behind their translucent japanese style doors. Powerfull double-glazing keeps the noise and air-conditionning makes the air breathable.


"The young and smily staff at the desk will quickly make you felle belong to here and will help you with your reservations of restaurants, excursions, transfers and directions."  Who could resist?!


Le Hôtel Notre Dame

1, quai Saint-Michel

Fax :



One four-star hotel that looks intriguing is LHôtel, a refurbished historic hotel.  We have never stayed there, but the hotels own description tells an interesting story.  Check out the photos of the historic rooms on the website.




Any list is personal; any list quickly falls out of date.  The most we can do is to offer some recent experiences, but this is not any kind of Top Ten list, because a visitor´s experience is limited.  Our bias is towards bistrots and brasseries, not haute cusine restaurants.  Obviously, to know whats hot and whats not in those rarified circles, buy the latest Michelin guide.  With all French restaurants and bistrots, the menu on a given day may be very short.  If your tastes are narrow, read up on what kind of food will be offered.  Always make reservations.  Here are some personal choices:


Le Jules Verne (in the Eifel Tower, see above).  2d platform, Eiffel Tower.  01 45 55 61 44.


On the Ile St-Louis:  Our favorite on the island is Auberge de la Reine Blanche, 51 rue Saint-Louis - en - l 'Ile,  01 46 33 07 87 01 40 51 77 65.  We love the décor and the food at LIlot Vache, 51 rue Saint-Louis - en - l 'Ile, 01 46 33 55 16.


Hot spots, now discovered by tourists:  Les Bookinistes and Brasserie.   Les Bookinistes is chef Guy Savoys satellite bistrot. Les Bookinistes: 53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 01 43 25 45 94.  Bofinger is said to be the oldest brasserie in Paris, and is filled with turn-of-the-century charm.  Shellfish and Alsatian food are among the specialties.   Brasserie Bofinger: 5 rue de la Bastille, 01 42 72 87 82.


A hot bistrot, but not yet discovered by tourists:  Chez Casimir. This will be a cab ride, but is well worth it.  This is the satellite bistrot for young chef, Thierry Breton, whose Chez Michel is down the street and always packed.  6 Rue de Balzunce.  01 48 78 28 80.


Bistrot in fantastic art deco setting:  La Fermette Marbeuf 1900. 5 Rue Marbeuf.  01 53 23 08 00.


For specialized tastes off the beaten track for tourists, try Au Boeuf Couronné and Thoumieux.    After a cabride to a neighborhood away from the tourists, you will find Au Boeuf Couronné.  It has beef, beef and more beef, including the best chateaubriand anywhere.  Owner Mme Epinasse buys the best cuts from specialist Paris butchers.  One chef is dedicated entirely to the soufflé potatoes.  Service is excellent.   Au Boeuf Couronné:  188 avénue Jean-Jaurès.  01 42 39 54 54.  Thoumieux (near the Eiffel Tower) has very hearty food, including cassoulets (white bean and meat stew).  Old fashioned décor, throwback to another era.  Good value. Thoumieux , 79 Rue St-Dominique.  01 47 05 49 75.


Interesting locations:  If you seek out each of the following for drinks or lunch, you will find yourself in interesting locations:  La Muette,  (pleasant and prosperous residential neighborhood near Musée Marmatton-Monet; corner Boulevard Emile Augier and Rue de Passy),  café located at corner of Rue des Trois Frères and Rue Tardieu (a fine corner of Montmartre, near the funicular entrance), and Brasserie de lIsle St-Louis (tip of the Ile St-Louis, facing Notre Dame).  The city is full of equally interesting corners, but we enjoyed these. 


If I am lucky enough to return, here is my personal to-do list.  You will see that one trip won't do it:  Paris - Personal To-Do List


Playing the game of jeu de paume, ancestor of tennis. Our favorite Paris hotel is a jeu de paume co

Last updated August 25, 2002.