The ultimate solo travel guide to Paris. Where to sleep, what to do and where to eat :)
I can't remember the exact number of times I've been to Paris, but it's something like 8 or 9 times. Paris is temptingly easy for me (being based in London - it's less than 3 hours by train), and I've been smitten ever since my first trip as an awkward 15 year old.
Travelling to Paris alone
If you're thinking 'but Paris is far too romantic for a solo traveller?', then I promise, that's not the case. In fact I've only ever been to Paris once with a guy, twice with girlfriends, and the rest of the time I was on my own. I even came for the day once, I bought a last minute ticket and jumped on the Eurostar when I found myself with a spare Saturday, and was desperate for a different kind of weekend to the norm.
Best places to stay in Paris as a solo traveller
Is this the best hostel in Paris?
Les Piaules looks more like a Shoreditch co-working space than a hostel. The combination of squeaky-clean rooms, the highly instragrammable bar and the rooftop with stunning views, means you're all set. It's a great place to meet people if you're travelling solo, but also has gorgeous private rooms for your own space too. Rates start from €45/£40 for an 8 bed dorm, or for a private room (which looks more like the Ace Hotel than a hostel), you're looking at €125/£110. Located in Belleville, although not super central, it's only a 10 minute walk to one of my favourite parks, which has great sloping hills and views of the city, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and is less than 30mins on the Metro from Notre Dame or The Louvre.
The most French Airbnb in Paris?
I stayed in this achingly chic apartment near Place de la Republique. Complete with heavy drapes, creaking parquet flooring and a velvet chaise lounge,it's pretty much impossible to NOT feel French in here. There is also a supermarket just down the road (which also serves freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast), and a bakery too for super cheap croissants and irresistible chouquettes (only €0.70 each!).
What to pack for Paris
Layering is key when it comes to packing for Paris. Bring comfortable ballet pumps or trainers as you'll no doubt do a lot of walking. If you're visiting in the Spring (possibly my favourite season in Paris!), bring a light mac and who could resist bringing a breton stripe top? August can be stiflingly hot and humid (which is why many businesses close for the entire month as everyone escapes to the coast). Something to bear in mind when you're deciding on when to visit.
The top ten things to do in Paris
I've popped down some of my favourite things to do in Paris. This might not be a typical list, you'll see the Eiffel Tower doesn't feature (perhaps it would have been number 11 on the list ;-) but there are some old favourites in there (I couldn't *not* have the Musee d'Orsay), but there are some more unusual activities, like dancing with the locals, and getting your hair whipped up in to a chic chignon! I've also made a note of some of my favourite Parisienne shops for everything from chocolates to sunglasses.
⭐ 1. Get an early morning French art fix
Situated in a former riverside railway station, Musee d'Orsay houses dreamy Impressionist art such as Monet, Seurat and Manet, and sculpture by Rodin. This airy space is less daunting and more manageable than the Louvre. Get there for opening time to avoid the crowds, then reward yourself with a pain au chocolate in the cafe ;)
⭐ 2. Explore the Marais on two wheels
Paris' hire bike scheme, Velib is such a fun (and cheap) way to explore the bohemian streets of the 3rd arrondissement. There are docking stations all over the city, so you can hire your bike for as long as you like. Sign up online before you leave.
⭐ 3. Relax and watch the world go by at a Parisian pavement cafe
Taking it all in at a pavement cafe in Paris is an absolute must. Sip a cold glass of wine (or bubbles!) and watch the world go by. My favourite is Cafe Le Bonaparte in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Get one of the seats that look out across the little square for prime people watching.
⭐ 4. Step back in time for dinner in 1920s Paris
Located in Odeón, Polidor is a perfectly preserved slice of French culinary history. Sit at one of the long communal tables in the centre of the restaurant and try traditional hearty French food. This is popular with foodies and students of the nearby Sorbonne alike. Neither the cuisine nor the decor have been updated in around 100 years, (and that includes the toilet ;-)
⭐ 5. Walk off the wine with an evening stroll along the Seine
Particularly lovely on balmy nights, take your time and take in the beautiful architecture such as the Institut de France on the left bank. Cross the Pont Neuf bridge and take time to sit outside 12th Century cathedral Notre-Dame on the Île de la Cité. One of the most recognisable and iconic Parisian buildings, Notre-Dame has survived both The French Revolution and World War 2. Yes it's full of tourists outside, selling random flashy tat, but don't let that put you off as it's a great place to sit and take it all in.
⭐ 6. Take in all that Jazz at Le Caveau de la Huchette
Rue de la Huchette, in the Latin Quarter, is jumping on an evening but don't let the neon lights put you off, because downstairs at no.5, there is a subterranean Parisian Jazz institution. Caveau de la Huchette is set in 16th Century arches underground, and has been hosting sublime live music and dancing since the 1950s. There is a mixture of regulars and tourists for sure but get a glass of wine, perch up on the seats at the side and observe. The petite dance floor fills up fast. You can tell the regulars as they are amazing dancers (one of whom kindly whisked me around for a few minutes! I had such a great time, despite my lack of coordination!).
⭐ 7. Grab a shady spot and relax in Jardin de Luxembourg
In the 6th arrondissement, these beautiful, relaxing 17th century gardens of the Luxembourg Palace, have plenty of chairs scattered around so you can take it all in, with your macaron and coffee. Local children sail their toy boats on the circular boating lake in front of the palace, and everything seems to move at a slower pace. Perfect.
⭐ 8. Observe a museum of modern art, from the inside and out
Before you head inside the Pompidou Centre, take a seat on the square outside, Place Georges Pompidou, and take in the free entertainment. Packed with tourists, jugglers, mime artists and hawkers keep an eye on your bag but it's definitely worth lingering for a while. Designed in the late 70s by Italian architect Renzo Piano and British Richard Rogers, The Pompidou houses modern masters such as Matisse, Chagall and Dali. If you time it right, the museum is free on the first Sunday of every month.
⭐ 9. Get a speedy hair style at a chignon bar
Get your hair whipped up in to a chic chignon at Christophe Nicolas Biot in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. You pay for as fancy as you would like your hair to be (I opted for 'attache et nature' - the quickest option). My medium length hair only took 10mins and cost €20. So much fun and it felt like a very French experience (in fact you may need a couple of phrases as my stylist didn't speak English). Julie Delpy was in salon at the same time (how Parisian is that!)
⭐ 10. Watch the sunset over Paris
Despite groups of students perched atop the hill of Montmartre, playing Hey Mr. Tambourine Man on the guitar, there is still something magical about the Sacre-Ceour. This is a relatively young church (building was only completed in 1914 - in fact, it's still covered in scaffolding in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, which takes place in 1899), however is still striking and the atmosphere on an evening is buzzy yet relaxed. Take the fenicular up and the stairs back down.
My favourite independent shops in Paris
When in Paris, it would be rude not to pop into a least a couple of unique stores to pick up some French fancies ;-)
It's pretty much the coolest shop in Paris, from interiors to fashion to sunglasses and jewellery, it reminds me of a French version (and therefore way more chic) of Anthropologie.
Shakespeare and Company
This cramped book shop is full of history and charm, and even offers aspiring writers a place to stay in exchange for helping out in the store. Named after the original book shop (which was located a little further down the left bank, and was a meeting place for 1920s authors Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce - this original building closed during WW2 but is the inspiration for the one standing today).
Surely this is the most beautiful chocolate shop in Paris. Located in the Marais, Meert has gleaming trays full of sweet treats, and the helpful staff will pick out your favourites to take away.
Although La Duree is an international enterprise now but it's pretty much mandatory to pop in for some macarons when you're here. The huge store on the Champs Elysee is usually a bit manic, I prefer this one in Saint-Germain-des_pres.
What to watch, read and listen to before you go to Paris
So many wonderful movies and books based in the city of light. I've popped my favourites below.
Midnight in Paris
Join Owen Wilson as he escapes his high maintenance fiancé and conservative in-laws by time travelling back in time at midnight, to 1920s Paris. Hanging out with Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, Wilson's character (an aspiring novelist) learns lessons about his unhappiness in his present life, via his evening adventures. This movie is wonderfully evocative of that era (and even features the Polidor restaurant!).
The loveliest chocolate shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan
Ok, major guilty pleasure alert. I actually read this book when I was in Majorca a few years ago. British girl gets the opportunity to work in Paris after she suffers an industrial accident at work. It's super light read but whisks you away to the back streets of Paris.
Ok bare with me but this is another guilty pleasure of mine. Writer Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and environmentalist Julie Delpy (Celine) are reunited by chance in a Paris bookstore, nine years after spending an impromptu 24hrs together in Vienna. Their feelings unfold as they catch up on their intervening years over a few precious hours walking the streets of Paris before Jesse's flight home.
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
This culture clash tale starts when 20 something Sarah meets a Frenchman whilst backpacking Europe. After agreeing to visit him for a week, she stays and ultimately marries him. Her witty writing is a wonder insight in to Parisian do's and don'ts, and how she adapts from her Aussie background.
Take my Paris Spotify playlist with you!
A perfect curated soundtrack for sipping your morning coffee in your Marais apartment :)