Your first time in Paris is a champagne-soaked vision of dreams come true. You eagerly check off all the must-dos, the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, a Seine picnic. Paris the first time is all about throwing yourself fully into the postcards (or Pinterest images) you’ve seen your whole life. But the City of Lights draws people back again and again – so what to do on your second visit to Paris?
I actually had no desire to go to Paris a second time. My first visit was fine, but the city didn’t sparkle for me. Little did I know that fifteen years later I would inadvertently stumble into my own Parisian daydream. Because maybe some cities are just better the second time around. So if you need ideas of things to do in Paris if you’ve been here before, I have a few suggestions–
Stay in a posh Paris apartment
First time Paris visits are about being a tourist – second Paris visits are about immersing yourself in Parisian culture. The best way to slip into your alternate European life is by checking out knockout rentals in France. French living in the epitome of style, whether it’s modern chic or tasteful baroque. Because what’s more dreamy than a romantic evening out in the streets of Paris, ending with a glass of champagne at home in your jacuzzi bath? Or waking up and enjoying your morning coffee with your own personal view of the Eiffel Tower? Indulging in a little bit of luxury is one of my favorite ways to see a new side of an ‘old’ city.
Eat the baguettes the president eats
Not all baguettes are created equal, even in Paris. Did you know that each year, after a grueling competition, a bakery is chosen as the Meilleur Prix de Baguette de Paris and is invited to supply the president’s table? Scattered throughout the city are boulangeries that have received the gold stamp of approval from this Best Baguette in Paris competition, a high-stakes grand prix that maintains the grueling standards of traditional French baking.
I would never say that there is a best bakery in Paris – but I’m saying maybe it’s worth researching. (I hope you brought your stretchy pants with you.) The 2017 winner of Best Baguette in Paris was Sami Bouattour, who runs Boulangerie Brun at 193 rue de Tolbiac. Bon appétit!
Take an alternative Paris day trip
For first-time visitors, the number one day trip is Versailles. And rightly so. It’s an epic, sprawling palace of history and excess. But, after you’ve checked Versailles off your must-do list, there are so many other places to explore. My suggestion for an alternative Paris day trip is Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Accessible by train, Rouen offers a taste of French medieval villages – yes, built up to a proper city now. Get your Norman products straight from the source, all the cheese, cider, and caramel you can stomach.
Normandy is a fantastic, under-valued region in France. Read my other article to find out why you should visit Normandy.
Go to an alternative Paris museum
Ok, to be honest, Paris is so stuffed with museums that you’d have be on your fifteenth visit to get to any of the lesser-known ones. But, if you’ve already ticked off the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Centre Georges Pompidou (to name just a few, I literally can’t list all the ‘big name’ museums here), it might be time to branch off into other pursuits. What about the Paris Sewer Museum? Or if you want to slip completely into pastel nostalgia, how about the Musée des Arts Forains, the Fairground Art Museum? Or maybe disappear into the slightly off-kilter world of the Musée de la Magie, Museum of Magic? There’s so much diversity in the off the beaten path Paris museum scene, you’re bound to find something to match your own personal niche.
Go on a Paris street art scavenger hunt
Paris has been a flashpoint for art and culture for hundreds of years, but some of the most intriguing modern works aren’t seen in a museum. With several prominent street artists hailing from the city, including the famous Invader, who makes 8-bit style tile mosaics, the streets are just as absorbing as a curated exhibit hall. One of the things I love about Paris street art is the sheer variety. From paint to glass to paper, the artists are resourceful in their exterior decorating.
Discover 1920s Paris
Is there a period of time more romantic than 1920s Paris? Not only are we talking glitz and glam and jazz, but also a dynamic arts community where intellect and pathos jostled elbows. So while you’re in Paris, you can step back in time for a little glamorous nostalgia. Whether it’s going on an Art Deco scavenger hunt, slipping into a speakeasy, or immersing yourself in a jazz concert, you can keep the spirit of the Roaring Twenties alive.
Go for a festival or special event
One of my favorite ways to experience a city I’ve already visited is to go during a festival. You can enjoy the event without worrying about missing out on the top sights since you’ve already seen them. Paris, of course, has a calendar packed with special events. Paris hosts everything from EDM concerts to wine festivals to Comic Con. Outdoor opera performances, candlelit nights at stunning chateaus, Fashion Week spilling onto the streets. And then, just when you thought Paris couldn’t get more romantic, Christmas arrives with gilded wreaths and glowing markets, multi-colored fairy lights twinkling all over the city.
And dare I mention shopping as one of Paris’s special events? Twice a year, and only twice a year, the stores have epic sales, “les soldes” – so if you dream of a Paris shopping spree, book your trip around one of them!
Take a class in Paris
Love to eat French food? Get in the kitchen with a real pro! Dream of days painting iconic French vistas? Learn from a Parisian artist! Wish you could master the language of love? Get flirting tips from a local! When you’re out of the daily grind of your own life, you’re more open to new thoughts and ideas. Why not seize the opportunity to pick up a new skill? You’ll think of your trip whenever you make coq au vin or pick up a paintbrush or whisper “t’as des beaux yeux, tu sais?”
Eat with local Parisians
The Paris dining scene is, at the same time, one of the most time-honored and inventive food scenes in the world. The city shines with Michelin stars. But restaurants, no matter how iconic they are, can be impersonal. Now, there are numerous websites that let you join a local for a dinner party. Talented amateurs – or even professional chefs – host intimate dinner parties in their homes for locals and visitors. Get a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a Paris local by savoring French food in a Montmartre flat! I did one of these in New York and had a fantastic Japanese-influenced vegetarian meal in a Williamsburg loft (seriously, can you get any more Brooklyn??), one of my favorite meals to date. Or, if you’re on a budget, you can find locals to eat with through websites like Couchsurfing or Wanderful – it may be not a gourmet meal served at home, but a chance to connect with locals always makes a trip memorable!
Go for a wander
Your first time in Paris, you are trying to pack in as much as possible in the precious limited time, and so many nuances can get overlooked. But on a return trip to Paris, you have time to wander, get lost, take detours, double-back.
It was my second time in Paris that I discovered the village-esque street of Rue Crémieux, a row of cotton candy colored townhouses. And I was lured over to the opera house one evening by the sound of music – to see an impromptu dance party on the steps of Paris’s iconic venue. And I finally searched out the Galeries Lafayette terrace for a spectacular view of Paris – not once, but twice in just a few days. And it was my second time in Paris when I finally fell in love with the whimsical daydream of the city and an idea was planted in my head… that maybe I’ll just have to come back to Paris a third time.
So many people visit the French capital again and again – what are your tips for an unforgettable second visit to Paris?