I've been lucky enough to spend some good periods of time cat sitting in Paris, and every so often folks ask me what I love there if they're going to visit. I thought I'd write out a bunch of it for fun and for people to be able to read and share. Here goes:
One of my favorite things in Paris is Angelina's hot chocolate. It's molten dark chocolate, and I look forward to it every time. Anglelina's is on the Rue Rivoli about halfway down the Tivoli gardens from the Louvre. There's usually a line, but that's for a table. It's a lovely old tea room, and fun to sit, but things are twice as expensive with table service. You can also just go on in and stay to the right and order hot chocolate to go (a emporter). It's about 5 euros but worth it. I carry it into the park to sit with. There's a bathroom upstairs as well (just past the front of the cafe line on the left), and no one will challenge you if you just go up there first. I always think hard about bathrooms in Paris and where I can go.
Galeries Lafayette is a huge department store just behind the Opera building (which is well worth going through). It has a gorgeous four story atrium at its center as well as a fun hat and scarf section right at the corner doors out front. The roof garden is free on top for a great view of the city, and there's a cafeteria on top too. Another good bathroom opportunity. And there are plenty of reasonable things in there as well as pricey ones. It tends to be organized in small sections with fancy labels right next to some of the nice but modest ones. I love the sleepwear and lingerie from Etam and Oysho. (Both of those also have independent shops scattered around Paris.) And the top floor with the cafe has a nice book, stationery and tourist gift (more classy than most) section.
I adore the Sunday market at the Bastille. Such a mass of international food, street musicians (my friend Rene Miller plays deepish in there many Sundays), and very cheap silk scarves made from saris. The soap vendor at the front (nearest the main plaza with the statue) is lovely too. Fig and raspberry soaps. The aisles are narrow and crowded, but it’s fun to wade in and see what you find. There’s a great galette maker (savory crepes) halfway back on the right hand side as you start.
The Saturday market at Place d'Aligre (straight away from downtown past the Bastille) is delightful and one of my favorite things. Smaller and funky with a flea market (brocante) at the center and food around the edges. I tend to go sit at the cafe on the corner when Rene is playing there, though that's not every week. At the back of the market (the corner of Rue de Cotte and Rue Emilio Castelatar) is Le Penty, a cafe that that has a marvelous (and cheap for Paris) mint tea with a big bunch of mint and pine nuts floating in it. If I haven’t sat at the other cafe, I like to get the mint tea here. If you follow Rue Emilio Castelatar away from Aligre, there are a couple of small book and art stores in the next couple of blocks that are also well worth exploring.
Street food falafel in the Marais district is amazing and also very reasonable. L'As du Falafel or any of those clustered around it. You can order outside and eat on the sidewalk or go in and sit in an informal atmosphere. It’s SO good. I always get the falafel in pita, and it’s a huge, messy, glorious meal in a bundle. And creperies are good for a very reasonable indoor meal. Look for “Formule Midi” at cafes --- a two or three set lunch with a choice of appetizer/entree or entree/dessert. You usually get a couple of choices in each category, though not the full menu.
Luxembourg gardens is gorgeous and peaceful, more peaceful than the Tuileries, and they have a small branch of Angelina's as well. Plus nutella crepes. (Try those somewhere on the sidewalk. Street food is widely available. But make sure they're making the crepes as you wait and not grabbing one from a stack of premade ones.)
The Montparnasse cemetery a little bit further south is wonderful (Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre, among others, along with lovely statues and a great Saturday morning market just outside), and nearby is Kapunka, one of three thai restaurants of that name across Paris. Their yellow curry is my favorite meal to go get in Paris. The red and green for those who like them are good, but the yellow is special. Nice sidewalk tables too.
Another location for Kapunka is Rue Montorgeuil, which runs north from Les Halles. It's a serious foodie street, pedestrian, with lots of shops and restaurants.
Notre Dame has a lovely little garden behind it with wifi and a tourist bathroom. The bridge just opposite it often has street musicians, and the Bertillon ice cream stands across the bridge and just a little in to Ile St. Louis are marvelous. They have ice cream from fresh fruit in season. The fig ice cream, if you can catch it, is a small and delicious miracle. There are several small and quietish creperies on the island too.
There is a MASSSIVE series of brocantes (flea markets/antique stores) north from the Port du Clignancourt metro station. You'll pass pushy sidewalk vendors. Keep going. You'll pass a series of outdoor tents. There's one nice scarf place in there, but keep going. You'll go under the huge Periphique interstate. Keep going past that first road with outdoor booths and turn into the second left, Rue des Rosiers. On your right a little way will be a small door marked “Marche Vernaison” (in yellow, I think), and you will dive down a rabbit hole of tiny antique shops in small alleyways. It's delightful and fun. There's one place that has just antique key chains, which are great souvenir/presents. There are other, more upscale markets along that same road, and one two story one on the left that's fun as well.
When I stay down south, I’ve also learned to love the Porte de Vanves flea market on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s in the mornings until 1:00 and starts just south of the Porte de Vanves metro station (you can see the start from the plaza) and runs along Ave. Marc Sangier for several blocks.
Erik Kayser has bakeries scattered around the main part of Paris. They have bread made of figs, which is amazing. A couple with seating areas (and lunches you can get) even have bathrooms, which is unusual in a bakery. Almost all bakeries will heat up small quiches (Chauffe is “heated”) for you to carry into a park. Salmon ones abound.
Pastel del natas are some fantastic Portuguese pastries that pop up in various bakeries and are wonderful.
My very favorite bakery for bread is Del Montel, which is along Rue des Martyrs, an old shopping district that is fun to wander, north of the main tourist areas. It drops you out eventually in Abbessess, another neat, non-touristy area with a gorgeous old art deco church with tile work. The Abbessess metro is there in the main area. You could take the metro out to it and then walk down Rue des Martyrs towards town instead of climbing the hill up. You're also quite near the Montmartre cemetary at Abbessess. It's a neat one, not as big as Pere Lachaise, and with a super cool under-a-road area.
Also, I figure the Musee d'Orsay is self evident, but don't miss the back tower of vertical rooms going up through the art deco and Scandinavian work. It's quiet and lovely back there, and the huge Odilon Redon panels, the Vuillard portraits, and the carved deco furniture are all treasures. The Orsay and the Rodin museum are my two favorites in Paris. At the Orsay you can get a double ticket to see the Orangerie also, their sister museum, with two enormous round rooms of Monet waterlilies that simply enfold you. There are always a lot of people (especially in the first room -- don’t miss the second one behind), but it’s worth it to go and sit and drink them in. The Rodin Museum has a gorgeous garden with sculptures scattered throughout, but the museum is small and doable and Rodin's own home with a few paintings from his own collection (Van Gogh, Munch) that I also love.
For getting around, I really like the Ulmon Paris Travel Guide and Official City Map that has an app for your phone. It covers the whole city instead of just the central tourist district, and it’s been amazingly useful.