I've been to Paris many times, but each visit puts a smile on my face. I enjoy exploring Paris like no other city in Europe. It's eminently walkable, and each quartier has plenty of surprises.
Springtime in Paris is particularly beautiful (the weather was sunny and about 78 degrees on my trip in late April), and many tourists know this; expect the city to be busiest in May and June. It takes some work to find the quieter, non-touristy areas, but two of my favorites are Montparnasse and Montorgueil.
The Vélib bicycle rental system (you’ll see the pick-up and drop off parking spots around all the major neighborhoods) offers a new way to explore the city. The bikes are free for the first 30 minutes, and there’s a nominal fee after that. The only hitch is you’ll need to plan ahead: The on-site machines require European-style credit cards with built-in chips (most American cards only have magnetic strips), but you may purchase a one-day or seven-day rental online; you’ll receive a PIN to enter when you pick up and drop off your bike.
Although Paris is always attractive, the French people seemed a bit pessimistic about the future. France (like all of Europe and North America) is coming out of the recession, but it is still facing economic and social pressures unlike any before. Nonetheless, their zest for the good life is admirable and refreshing to more hurried Americans. Here’s how I spent my four days in Paris.
Day One: I walked from Place de la Concorde into the Tuilerie Gardens, then along Rue Saint-Honoré to Beaubourg (the Pompidou Centre), and finally into the Marais. I suggest stopping for lunch at Chez Julien for a traditional bistro menu. If the weather is nice, sit outside in the square. Don’t forget to check out the charming, nearby bridge, Pont Neuf.
Day Two: On my second day, I focused on Ile Saint Louis, Saint Germain, the Luxembourg Gardens, and Montparnasse . Stop off either at Ralph's for lunch (in the Ralph Lauren store along Rue Saint-Germain) for quality American food, Brasserie Balzar in nearby Saint Michel, or Vavin Cafe in Montparnasse for a traditional French menu.
Day Three: On day three I visited the Arc de Triomphe and took a walk along the Champs-Elysées. Although shopping along the Champs-Elysées might disappoint, it is a must-see attraction that demonstrates the grandness of Paris. I recommend stopping in Louis Vuitton's famous flagship store; there are loads of tourists, but the architecture and design make it worthwhile. Don't miss either Avenue George Cinq, which runs diagonal off of the Champs-Elysées; it is lined with smaller boutiques and has far fewer people on the sidewalks. I also enjoy poking around the boutiques along Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré and hitting the Grand Palais for an exhibit (the building is as impressive as the art). Stop for a late lunch at the Minipalais around the corner and in the back of the Grand Palais. This restaurant has a lovely, grand terrace and is well worth a visit.
Day Four: I spent the fourth day exploring the shops around Rue Saint-Honoré, an area that seems akin to New York's Madison Avenue. For a reasonable, basic department store, consider the Bon Marche.