An Insider's Guide to Paris by Sandrine

Tuesday 26 July 2011
I've been to Paris on six different occasions yet each time, I left with a feeling that there were so much more I've yet to see. I've always wanted to find out all the favorite local haunts that remain undiscovered by tourists. To my delight, Sandrine and Tiphaine, my two Parisienne friends who are now based in the UK happily agreed to subject themselves to my torture. I will feature Tiphaine's interview at a later date.

We'll be spending a week in Paris soon so these tips couldn't have come at a better time. I'm looking forward to checking out all the places that Sandrine has mentioned. Paris is a fashion mecca for those of us Francophiles who revere the names Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Laduree to name a few. Let's not forget the incredible French cuisine, architecture, art and multiculturalism all represented here in this city. I hope you have fun reading these tips. Many thanks to lauraloo and febster for their help with the questions.



View of Paris

View of Paris from the top of Eiffel Tower

1. In your opinion, what are the 5 must sees in Paris and why?
La Tour Eiffel (view from the Trocadero)
Metro: Trocadero
At the age of 18, I moved from my small village in Southern France to Paris to seek freedom and adventure. Young and alone in the big city of Paris, the Tour Eiffel was for me, a comforting figure and a reminder of endless opportunities. I would get up at dawn and go to Le Trocadero to reflect on my life under the attentive eye of “Miss” Eiffel as the day rose. Today, I still think the Trocadero is the best place to view the Tower for the first time. Then it is an easy walk down through the Gardens and across the River Seine to end up at the feet of this glorious building. 

Le Musee d’Orsay
1 Rue Belle chasse, 75007 Paris – 01 45 49 42 33
The history of the museum is quite unusual as it used to be a former railway station. It was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900). The building is magnificent and is situated in the Centre of Paris, on the Seine River Banks, opposite the Tuileries Gardens. I especially enjoyed their Impressionist Collection.

Le Musee Rodin
79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris – 01 44 18 61 10 – Metro : Varenne or Invalide
The house and especially the garden are a lovely oasis of peace in the centre of Paris. Rodin’s sculptures are beautiful and sensual. You can view Rodin’s most famous sculptures including Le Penseur (The Thinker) and Le Baiser (The Kiss) among other famous pieces. Who could resist Le Baiser, a very romantic destination indeed!

Le Musee du Louvre
Place du Louvre, 75001 Paris – 01 40 20 50 50 – Metro: Palais Royal – Musee du Louvre
It goes without saying that you cannot go to Paris without visiting Le Louvre. But due to the overwhelming size of it, I would suggest not to be too ambitious and select before end the sections you would like to visit. If the prospect of an exhausting day in a crowed place is too daunting, only come to see the building from the outside. The building itself is a piece of history. It was originally built as a fortress in the 13th Century and rebuilt in the 16th Century as a royal residence. In 1793, the Revolutionary Convention turned it into the first national museum. In the 1980s, Francois Mitterand our then President decided to revamp the museum and commissioned the Pyramid. I still remember the controversy surrounding the project at the time, but like most people, I believe the Pyramid is a success and complement the old palace. 

Notre Dame de Paris/ Le Sacre Cœur
(Notre Dame : 6 Place Parvis Notre Dame, 75004 Paris – 01 56 81 14 20 – Metro : Cite)
(Le Sacre Cœur : Place du Terte, 75018 Paris – 01 53 41 89 00 – Metro : Anvers or Abbesses)
One is a Gothic Cathedral that took almost 200 years to build between 1163 to 1345, the other is a Romanesque-Byzantine style basilica that took 40 years to build in the 19th century. Those 2 churches and their surrounding cannot be more different but both are equally worth visiting. Notre Dame de Paris is located in the Ile de la Cite, a very posh area of Paris, close to the Seine River. Not too far is “le quartier latin” (the latin area) where the Sorbonne University is located. The basilica of the Sacred Heart is located to the highest point in Paris, the Butte Montmarte (Montmarte Hill) where you have a lovely view of Paris. During the 19th to the early 20th century, Montmartre was a place where painters such as Pissaro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Picasso and many others met. The place has kept a village atmosphere but is a bit too touristy for my taste. 

Gargoyle Notre Dame

Gargoyle (Notre Dame) pondering over the view of Paris

2. What are Paris' best kept secrets?
Le Cafe Maure de la Mosquee de Paris (The Great Mosque)
Rue Saint Hilaire, 75005 Paris – 01 43 31 18 14 
The Café Maure d is a North African cafe and tea room located within La Grande Mosquee de Paris and serves wonderful traditional pastries and mint teas.I used to go there with friends to enjoy a lovely mint tea and relax in the beautiful exotic surrounding.

3. Eating places popular with locals. And Boulangerie?
La Boulangerie du Moulin Vert 
Rue du Moulin Vert, Rue des Plantes, 750014 Paris
This boulangerie is not located in a tourist area, so not sure how many of you would like to go there just for their pain au chocolat, but if you do, you won’t be disappointed.

Hediard, Fauchon, Dalloyau
Of course, you also have all the “epicerie fine” that sell extremely refined food and wine, it is great for bringing presents back home. The most famous are Hediard, Fauchon, Dalloyau. Shops are scattered all over Paris and it would be too long for me to list all of them, but I am sure you can easily find their locations. I was a bit disappointed by Fauchon last time I went there to buy some Madeleines. 

Vietnamese restaurants (13eme)
I was introduced to Vietnamese food by my friend Dorothee who had many Vietnamese friends. As student we used to go to China Town and gorged ourselves with Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup with beef and coriander). I definitely recommend Vietnamese food in France. It is excellent thanks to the large Vietnamese community in France.

I love creperies! Savoury French pancakes are delicious with a large selection of fillings. This is great with a glass of cidre (slightly alcoholic apple drink). And then you finish the meal with a sweet pancake. This is very French (the galettes de sarasin – savoury pancake - are originally from Brittany), delicious and cheap. It is not fine dining but a lovely meal out. 

4. What would you consider as quintessentially French?
To be honest, I am not sure.

5. Where do most Parisiennes prefer to shop? 
I would say, the easiest places are Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, close to the Opera. Those big department stores are elegant, beautiful and very convenient with all you need under one roof. Service is not great, as sometime arrogant sale assistants would look the other way when you try to get their attention. 

6. Which area (where) would you recommend if I want to rent an apartment for a week? I'd like an authentic French experience and avoid places that only cater to tourists. In addition, I'd like an area that's not too far from the main attractions, restaurants, shops as well as child-friendly.
There are several areas of Paris which I like, le Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter, area of Sorbonne University, not too far from Notre Dame de Paris and quartier St Germain); le Marais (the Gay quarter of Paris – station Hotel de Ville or Saint Paul), Opera Bastille where the modern Opera is located. All those areas are fun, with lots of cafés, restaurants and shops.

7.  Both of you know that I'm such a handbag girl, which brands do Parisiennes tend to buy?
Longchamp is a popular choice. Nice, practical bags at very reasonable prices. Louis Vuitton is also popular if you have a bit more cash to spend.

8. What's your number one simple pleasure that can be found in Paris? 
Going to le Musee du Parfum and buy Fragonard perfume. The museum and his boutique are located on 39 Boulevard des Capucines, 75009 Paris – 01 42 60 37 14 
Staff are lovely and helpful.

9. Paris splurge and steal: What's one thing you love to splurge on in Paris (food, a special spa treatment, drink, etc..)
As mentioned above, my little treat is a little trip to Fragonard boutique. I also cannot resist going to the Trocadero to say “hello” to Miss Eiffel. My 2 sons love the Eiffel Tower too, so this always a must-see for us.

10. Paris is considered to be a very expensive city to travel to and live in. What's one little known Paris steal or bargain that you want to share with others?
Maybe because I've lived in Paris for 5 years when I was a student, and maybe because I always stay with friends when I visit again, I don’t find Paris more expensive than anywhere else.

11. Where do you go in Paris to find a bit or serenity or peace and quiet when you need it? 
The Seine River banks. I’ve always find the river bank a romantic place, it is even better at night, with the lights reflecting on the water. 
Les jardins du Trocadero, as metioned before I love this area. 
Les Buttes de chaumont. This a lovely hilly park. Unfortunately you cannot sit on the grass in France.

12. What does Parisian-Chic mean to you?
I generally find the French women has a good sense of what suit them. They don’t necessarily follow the fashion but develop their own style that suits their body shape. They seem to manage to mix all and new effortlessly.  (I love this answer!!)


  1. I think Blogger ate my last comment!
    Anyway - too bad I will missyou guys in Paris. Loved your post though!

    S in NY

    ps - hi Laura!

  2. Hi S!
    Le Sigh....just got back from Paris and now I can't wait for my next trip. I think Paris makes you leave a little something of yourself every time you go there. What a magical city!

  3. Thanks for the great post! I feel the same way as you - I've been to Paris twice but always feel like there is so much to see! Can't wait for the next time to explore (with this list)!!

    xo, sam

  4. S, we'll definitely have to meet next time. Too bad our timing was off thisyear.

    L, the 3 of us should have a Purseaddict reunion!

    Sam, I'm arming myself with this list when I hop on the Eurostar soon.

  5. This entry should have appeared before I go for my Paris trip....:)

  6. chicology, now you have the perfect excuse to make ANOTHER trip back to Paris!



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