When planning things to do for any trip, I find that Coco Chanel's famous quote is true: many of the best things are free, and the second best are often pretty expensive. To keep a balance, I choose a couple things to spend on and otherwise enjoy all of the best, free things. After all, no private tour can really beat wandering through your new favorite park or neighborhood unguided. During our two weeks in Paris, these are the best (and second best) things we did, in no particular order:
1. Promenade Plantée:
This pretty, tree-lined path stretches for almost three miles atop a defunct railway viaduct, and is the park that inspired The High Line in New York City. It's not exactly an undiscovered spot, but we found it pretty calm on a Saturday afternoon.
Walk as far as you like along the path, enjoying the plants, flowers, views of the city, and the quiet! You'll probably want to turn around at some point - the Eastern end of the promenade will apparently drop you off into a pretty dull area. Whichever direction you're walking, there are plenty of places to stop and sit or look out over the streets below.
2. Rue Crémieux:
Not far from the beginning of the Promenade Plantée, this colorful little street is definitely worth a visit. It might be the most charming street in Paris, but you'll have to be the judge of that. Cars aren't allowed on Rue Crémieux, so stroll freely along and make sure to take a few pictures - this is one very photogenic spot.
3. Food Tour:
The website Paris by Mouth is a fantastic resource for English-speaking food-lovers: they keep tabs on all the Paris restaurants worth a visit, with helpful details and past reviews. Their team also offers several food tours per week in different neighborhoods of Paris. We took the Taste of Saint-Germain tour: bread, pastries, cheeses, desserts, wines! Other tours are more savory-focused, but in my opinion, sweets are the thing in Paris.
Our wonderful guide Catherine led our small group through Poilâne bakery, Pierre Hermé pâtisserie, Patrick Roger chocolatier, a covered market, and a charming wine shop. We did some tasting along the way, but sat down together at La Dernière Goutte to enjoy the spoils of our food hunt. Catherine gave us insightful background about each thing we ate - history, traditions, etiquette, which cheeses were illegal in the US (almost all) - and answered our questions. We ate and drank and chatted with the handful of travelers and expats that made up our group of seven. It all ended with a final sweet at Henri Le Roux, and a follow-up email from our guide detailing each stop and every cheese from the tour. Absolutely worth every Euro and more!
Staying in an apartment for two weeks meant that every couple of days we visited a market or a Monoprix to buy groceries and the occasional bunch of flowers. Even if you aren't shopping to cook, visit a market to feel fleetingly local (until someone responds to you in English) and gather supplies for a picnic.
5. Parks and Gardens:
In any city, parks and gardens are always a good idea. We originally went to Place des Vosges for Carette, but it turned out to be one of our favorite parks in Paris. Like many other squares, it has beautiful architecture, rows of perfectly trimmed trees, and tall fountains - but on a smaller scale, and usually less crowded than others.
6. Champagne Seine Cruise:
Being a tourist is not en vogue, but I love to start my first trip in a new city with a shamelessly touristy tour. It's so nice to have something easy scheduled right away, and to spend a little time getting acquainted with a place before you venture out on your own. Also, being able to check off most of the major sights means you don't need to revisit anything unless you love it. River cruises are perhaps the best version of a sightseeing tour, and we decided on a champagne cruise along the Seine.
With less than ten other people, we filed into a section at the front of the boat where we were greeted by our host with a glass of champagne. Over the next hour we sailed along the river and tasted three different champagnes, each with a generous pour and refills offered. The knowledgeable guide gave us details on each champagne and recommendations for our time in Paris while he pointed out landmarks and answered questions. It was a fun, relaxed atmosphere with an outdoor deck for taking in the sights and fresh air. Not a single passenger fell overboard, and we found our new favorite champagne, so it was a complete success.