Favorite Paris experiences

Business bustles at the Cafe de Flore in Paris.
Business bustles at the Cafe de Flore in Paris.Michel Euler / AP file
/ Source: Frommers.com

Whiling Away an Afternoon in a Parisian Cafe
The cafe is where passionate meetings of writers, artists, philosophers, thinkers, and revolutionaries once took place -- and perhaps still do. Parisians stop by their favorite cafes to meet lovers and friends, to make new ones, or sit in solitude with a newspaper or book.

Taking Afternoon Tea à la Française
Drinking tea in London has its charm, but the Parisian salon de thé is unique. Skip the cucumber-and-watercress sandwiches and delve into a luscious dessert like the Mont Blanc, a creamy purée of sweetened chestnuts and meringue. The grandest Parisian tea salon is Angélina, 226 rue de Rivoli, 1er (tel. 01-42-60-82-00; Métro: Tuileries or Concorde).

Strolling Along the Seine
Such painters as Sisley, Turner, and Monet have fallen under the Seine's spell. On its banks, lovers still walk hand in hand, anglers cast their lines, and bouquinistes (secondhand-book dealers) peddle their mix of postcards, 100-year-old pornography, and tattered histories of Indochina.

Spending a Day at the Races
Paris boasts eight tracks for horse racing. The most famous and the classiest is Hippodrome de Longchamp, in the Bois de Boulogne, the site of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Grand Prix. These and other top races are major social events, so you'll have to dress up (buy your outfit on rue du Faubourg St-Honoré). Take the Métro to Porte d'Auteuil and then a bus from there to the track. The racing newspaper Paris Turf and weekly entertainment magazines have details about race times.

Calling on the Dead
You don't have to be a ghoul to be thrilled by a visit to Europe's most famous cemetery, Père-Lachaise. You can pay your respects to the earthly remains of Gertrude Stein and her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas; Oscar Wilde; Yves Montand and Simone Signoret; Edith Piaf; Isadora Duncan; Abélard and Héloïse; Frédéric Chopin; Marcel Proust; Eugène Delacroix; Jim Morrison; and others. The tomb designs are intriguing and often eerie. Laid out in 1803 on a hill in Ménilmontant, the cemetery offers surprises with its bizarre monuments, unexpected views, and ornate sculpture.

Checking Out the Marchés
A daily Parisian ritual is ambling through one of the open-air markets to buy fresh food -- perhaps a properly creamy Camembert or a pumpkin-gold cantaloupe -- to be eaten before sundown. Our favorite market is on rue Montorgeuil, beginning at rue Rambuteau, 1e (Métro: Les Halles). During mornings at this grubby little cluster of food stalls, we've spotted some of France's finest chefs stocking up for the day.

Window-Shopping in the Faubourg St-Honoré
In the 1700s, the wealthiest Parisians resided in the Faubourg St-Honoré; today the quarter is home to stores catering to the rich, particularly on rue du Faubourg St-Honoré and avenue Montaigne. Even if you don't buy anything, it's great to window-shop big names like Hermès, Dior, Laroche, Courrèges, Cardin, and Saint Laurent. If you want to browse in the stores, be sure to dress the part.

Exploring Ile de la Cité's Flower Market
A fine finish to any day (Mon-Sat) spent meandering along the Seine is a stroll through the Marché aux Fleurs, place Louis-Lépine. You can buy rare flowers, the gems of the French Riviera -- bouquets that have inspired artists throughout the centuries. Even the most basic hotel room will feel like a luxury suite once you fill it with bunches of carnations, lavender, roses, and tulips. On Sundays, the area is transformed into the Marché aux Oiseaux, where you can admire rare birds from around the world.

Going Gourmet at Fauchon
An exotic world of food, Fauchon offers more than 20,000 products from around the globe. Everything you never knew you were missing is in aisle after aisle of coffees, spices, pastries, fruits, vegetables, rare Armagnacs, and much more. Take your pick: Tonganese mangoes, Scottish smoked salmon, preserved cocks' combs, Romanian rose-petal jelly, blue-red Indian pomegranates, golden Tunisian dates, larks stuffed with foie gras, dark morels from France's rich soil, Finnish reindeer's tongue, century-old eggs from China, and a Creole punch from Martinique reputed to be the best anywhere.

Attending a Ballet or an Opera
In 1989, the Opéra Bastille was inaugurated to compete with the grande dame of the music scene, the Opéra Garnier, which then was solely for dance and soon closed for renovations. The Garnier reopened a few years ago, and opera has joined dance in the rococo splendor created by Charles Garnier, beneath a controversial ceiling by Chagall. The modern Bastille, France's largest opera house, with curtains by designer Issey Miyake, features opera and symphony performances in four concert halls (its main hall seats 2,700). Whether for a performance of Bizet or Tharp, dress with pomp and circumstance.

Sipping Cocktails at Willi's
Back in the early 1970s, the first-timer to Paris might have arrived with a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and, taking the author's endorsement to heart, headed for Harry's Bar at "Sank roo doe Noo." Harry's is still around but now draws an older, more conservative clientele. Today's chic younger expats head for Willi's Wine Bar, 13 rue des Petits-Champs, 1er (tel. 01-42-61-05-09; Métro: Bourse). Here the longhaired young bartenders are mostly English, as are the waitresses, who are dressed in Laura Ashley garb. The place is like an informal club for Brits, Australians, and Yanks, especially in the afternoon. Some 300 wines await your selection.

For more on what to see and do in Paris, visit our complete guide online at www.frommers.com/destinations/paris.

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