Free visitors guide to Paris

A paean to Paris, unfettered and alive…

For years I owned a place in Paris, a sixth floor walk-up (really 7th if we count them the American way): no elevator, alas, but that’s what made it affordable and justifiable- excellent cardiovascular exercise to counter the problematic effects of the deliciously rich food. Two sun-splashed rooms, in thirty-three efficiently designed square meters that were “well distributed” as the French are fond of saying, close to the now popular Canal Saint Martin area, with a view of the Sacré Coeur if you peered out the corner of the front balustrade window and arched forward just enough, and even a metro station (Goncourt) a few seconds walk from the front door of the building; not a bad deal for less than the cost of a brand new German sports car back then.

“Two rooms” isn’t quite an accurate description- there was a living room and a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen that could still be called eat-in when three backless stools around a petite table were squeezed in, a comparatively large entrance hallway with one whole wall a dedicated closet from floor to ceiling, a toilet room (WC) with its own window, and a shower/half-tub room without.

I loved this “appartement” and got to know Paris quite intimately thanks to my time there, and took that firsthand knowledge and poured it into a hybrid travel course that would allow my students to learn about Paris through literature and film.

I taught the course exactly three times and probably would have offered more had certain heinous terrorist acts not befallen the city in such rapid succession that journalists couldn’t help but publish their reports and articles often with a same or similar title that now gives a sad, new twist to the meaning of the name of my course, “Darkness in the City of Lights.”

It had worked well; a dozen or so students first took the classes with me on campus at home in the States during the fall semester to discuss, analyze and research a variety of readings and films related to the topic, and then, over winter break, we would visit as a group, important places in Paris directly related to the academic content. Sometimes we visited the birthplace, a home or burial spot of our authors. Other times we would re-trace the steps that were taken by our heroines in our readings and films. We also stopped for a drink or meal in cafés or restaurants that were frequented by some of our protagonists, or similar to their favorite spots. We saw bridges, canals, monuments, theaters and gardens that inspired our main characters or our poets. We walked through the sewer system of Paris in honor of one of our heroes. And so forth.

I loved that course and its travel experience, as did the students. It endowed our readings and films with extra dimensions of complexity, for which our appreciation of the works only grew. It gave our visits to those beautiful locations deeper meaning as it connected us more closely to the history of that great city and its citizens, and it allowed us to understand more viscerally what life was and is like as a Parisian, bestowing upon us a profound spirit of grace for how lucky we were to savor the treasures of the French capital, even if only briefly.

Free visitors guide to Paris, what to do and see in Paris:

So, now, upon request, I am including here on a snapshot of our readings and films (without our discussions or research), and the corresponding visits that we made. See the Paris of Guillaume Apollinaire, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Agnès Varda, and more. Paris itinerary, (Free Visitors Guide to Paris, what to do and see in Paris, the perfect itinerary for one week or more), will follow. 

We read, in alphabetical order by the author’s last name:

Guillaume Apollinaire– the poems Le Pont Mirabeau, Hotel, Trip to Paris and some of his Calligrammes,  for example:


Marcel Aymé– the short story The Passer through Walls

Honoré de Balzac– the novella The Girl with the Golden Eyes

Charles Baudelaire– the prose poems Eyes of the Poor, Cake

Alexandre Dumas– the novel Lady of the Camelias

Victor Hugo– the novel Les Miserables

Patrick Modiano- the novel Out of the Dark

Guy de Maupassant- the short stories Minuet, That Costly Ride                                           

We watched, in alphabetical order by the title of the film:


Cléo de 5 à 7

Femme Nikita

Hotel du Nord

and from Paris, je t’aime– the following shorts:

Pére Lachaise

Quai de Seine  (recommended viewing for our president-elect)

Tour Eiffel


Free Visitor’s Guide to Paris, what to do and see in Paris,the perfect itinerary for one week or more.

Here it is: where we went, places I love, and now your Free Visitor’s Guide to Paris, my recommendations for What to Do and See in Paris:  The Perfect Itinerary for One Week or More, from my course, “Darkness in the City of Lights” and my previous years of experience there. Note: you can click on whatever is in aqua or a green, for more information and pictures. You can also learn which Nights Paris Museums are Open and which Days Paris Museums are Closed. 

Certain activities were planned according to the time of sunsetSome days are full, others are less so. For those extra pockets of time, at the end of this post I include suggestions of other favorite places that were not part of the course.

Arrival: Day 1, go outside (fresh air is good for jet lag!) to…stroll around the beautiful Hotel de Ville (City Hall), and if you’re feeling sporty in the wintertime, you can bring your own or rent skates here and go ice-skating on the rink they set up in the front courtyard area. This neighborhood also offers one of the best walks in Paris at night, too.

– Walk over Pont des Arts (but do not leave a lock of love there- it’s bad for the structure…) (also beautiful at night)

– Visit the Louvre inside and out (go in through the underground Metro entrance, lines are shorter). It’s huge, be selective.  Skip La Giaconde, and enjoy the Cours Marly instead, and at your leisure.(Free first Sunday of the month) (open at night Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45pm)  (closed Mondays and May 1, November 1, December 25)

– Check out the Orangerie to see Monet’s precious waterlilies (Nymphéas) (found in the basement level) (This virtual visit is nice, but it’s not the same) (Free first Sunday of the month) (closed Tuesdays and May 1, July 14 morning, December 25)

– See the Musée D’Orsay (in a gorgeous converted old train station) (Free first Sunday of the month) (open at night Thursdays until 9:45pm) (closed Mondays and May 1, November 1, December 25)

– Visit the Sainte Chapelle  (hundreds of magnificent stained glass windows) (Free first Sunday of the month) (closed January 1, May 1, and December 25)

– Eat fresh crèpes anywhere on the streets (3-4 euros)

– Have a serious sandwich (with cornichons pickles, of course!) or a savory soup and good bread, at La Tartine

– First walk around the entire block of the exterior of the Centre Pompidou (AKA Beaubourg/ Modern Art Museum) to fully appreciate its unique design, then, if you’re in the mood, go inside (cool escalator views of the city, too). (Free first Sunday of the month)(open every night until 10pm, Thursdays floor 6 till 11pm) (closed Tuesdays and May 1) While outside, walk around the back of the square to take pictures of the fabulously colorful and whimsical, and famously photogenic Stravinsky Fountain by Niki de Saint Phalle. Best Parisian selfie location!

– Check out the wonderful studio and elegant sculptures at the small, and therefore manageable, (Atelier) Brancusi Studio (Free every day, open 2-6pm only) (coincidentally, also another favorite of mine)

– Buy funky postcards or très cool calendars at the bookstore nearby: Mona Lisait

– Walk over to the Ile Saint Louis and get an ice cream at Berthillon (lines are shorter in January…)

– Walk to and around Place de la Bastille (many popular casual cafés)

Day 2                 9:30- 11:00 = visit Père Lachaise cemetery (Apollinaire, Balzac, et al) (one of my favorite places for a long serene walk) 

11:20- 11:50= Take a leisurely promenade around the Canal Saint Martin area (Amélie) (Hotel du Nord)

12:00- 1:45 p.m. = lunch at La Marine (one of my favorite lunch spots, lively atmosphere, brasserie setting, busy with locals, excellent food, nice 2 course menu options)

2:30- 4:00= Enter the depths of the Musée des Egouts (Sewer Museum) (Les Misérables) 

4:30- 5:15= Have a dessert and a hot drink and a bit of tranquil rest, while you sit and enjoy the view at Chez Francis (Apollinaire) (Baudelaire) (not cheap, but a worthwhile stop)(lovely views at night, but of course…)

5:30- 7:00= Become enraptured by Paris with its monuments lit up at night, from the viewpoint of a boat on the Seine as you cruise a little while on the Bateaux Mouches (In the evening one of the most magical and romantic things you can do in Paris)

Day 3               12:45-1:00= Visit Saint Paul Church  (Les Misérables) 

1:15- 1:45 = Admire the unique sculpture Le Passe Muraille / The Passer through Walls in its tiny square Place Marcel Aymé

2:00- 3:15= visit the Sacré Coeur Basilica and Montmartre (=Amélie) (and if you are female and like to shop by rummaging through bins of budget clothing to occasionally find designer gems for dirt cheap, walk down the Rue Steinkerque from here, and check out the boutiques on the right.)

3:45- 4:15= visit the Tuileries Garden (The Girl with the Golden Eyes, Les Misérables, Tuileries)

4:30- 5:50= Stop in and tour the beautiful structure and collections at the Petit Palais (another of my most favorites, happens to be free all the time, except for special exhibits)

5:50-6:00= Walk along the Pont Alexandre III  (my favorite bridge and best Eiffel Tower view) (this is one of the best walks in Paris at night, too, especially if you can be here on the hour, to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle)

6:00- 6:10= From there see the Eiffel Tower sparkle

6:15- 7:00= Stroll down the Champs Elysées (The Lady of the Camelias, That Costly Ride) especially pretty during the Christmas season, in the evening

7:30- 9:30= Dinner at La Touraine (on Rue Croulebarbe) (Les Misérables)

Day 4  8:45-10:30= Walking Tour of Latin Quarter: Notre Dame, Quai de la Tournelles, Shakespeare and Company, Boulevard Saint Michel, Boulevard Saint Germain (Out of the Dark, Cléo de 5 à 7), Luxembourg Gardens (Minuet, Lady of the Camelias, Les Misérables)

11:15- 1:30p.m.= Museum visit (of mostly, but not exclusively, Italian art), then lunch (and view of the Tiepolo frescoe ceiling) at the Jaquemart André (Out of the Dark) (a favorite must-see)

2:30- 3:30= Opéra Garnier ­guided tours in English (Lady of the Camelias) (another favorite must-see)

3:45-4:00 = Café de la Paix (Eyes of the Poor)

4:10-4:30 = Gare Saint Lazare (Out of the Dark)

4:30-4:40 = Galeries Lafayette (stained glass cupola in cosmetics/fragrance area)

5:00-5:50= Maison Victor Hugo  (Les Misérables)

6:00-7:00 = Crèpes (not dinner) at Ma Bourgogne, just around the corner from Maison V. Hugo

Day 5            11:00-11:45am = Visit the Mosque of Paris  (Quai de Seine) (another favorite, and a must-see that is not what you typically expect.  Be transported, just like the Parisians are…)

11:45am-1:00pm= Lunch at the Restaurant at the Paris Mosque 

– 1:30- 2:00= Stand on the bridge, enjoy the river, think of the poem, and sigh, on the Pont Mirabeau (Apollinaire)

– 2:30- 4:00 = Visit Maison de Balzac (The Girl with the Golden Eyes) 

– 4:30- 5:45 = Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (impressive collection in handsome structure in important setting) (Matisse’s enormous La Danse is here)

– 5:50- 6:15= See Eiffel Tower and visit Trocadéro

– 6:30- 7:00= Walk down Avenue Montaigne: home of chi-chi boutiques, the Théâtre Champs Elysées, and the Plaza Athenée hotel

– 7:30-9:30 =  dinner at Bistro du 17ème (Out of the Dark) (Enjoy being spoiled a little here without breaking the bank. Excellent food, proper service, nice setting, many options for each course, and for one price, you get a light punch cocktail ( apéritif), an appetizer (entrée), a main course (un plat), a dessert, and half a bottle of wine per person. Menus in English upon request.)

Day 6   10:00-11:30 = One year we had our farewell breakfast followed by macarons at Ladurée (and don’t bother getting them anyplace else, they are NEVER as good.) Another, we had it at the opulent Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon (La Femme Nikita).

Le-Pont-mirabeau-Bridge-Paris-Poem-ApollinaireOn the Mirabeau Bridge of Paris, and a lovely poem by Apollinaire

Day 7 Free day- what else to do in Paris:

Visit the Marais! Discover the eateries, shops, churches, architecture and museums (see below for two of my free favorites) of the Marais.  See the Place des Vosges, and walk around the Rue des Archives, Rue des Francs Bourgeois, Rue Vieille du Temps, and more. Some of my favorite shopping is here. For example, for the ladies, I love Monic, a tiny but adorable boutique packed with costume jewelry and more,  with something nice for everyone’s budget. I have bought adorable rings here, for ONE EURO, literally, cute (but plastic) replicas of Murano glass style rings from Venice, and received so many compliments, and nobody had any idea what I paid or that they were plastic).

Musée Carnavalet in the Marais, exhibits, paintings, sculpture and furniture featuring the history and culture of Paris. One of my favorites, and always free- nice courtyard, too!)

Musée de Cognac-Jay  also in the Marais, private mansion and art collection of a department store owner, (Oui, another of my favorites, and quelle surprise: free, too)

Institut du Monde Arabe  Gorgeous architecture and art (one of my favorites, but not free)

Visit Place de la Concorde – take a ride on the Ferris wheel for a superb view

See the aristocratic Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré and fancy fashions housed in the shops there

Visit the Place de la Madeleine and the church

Musée Guimet and/or Musée Cernuschi – both with stunning collections of Asian art (two of my favorites- and I don’t know how they do it but the Cernuschi is always free except for visiting exhibitions)

Rodin Museum (wonderful sculptures i.e. The Thinker, The Kiss, and a great garden, too) (free on the first Sunday of every month)

Walk around Rue Cler and buy food for the perfect Paris picnic with a pretty perspective of the Eiffel Tower on the Champs de Mars , just a short stroll away

Window shopping on the Rue de Grenelle, or Rue du Bac and other streets in the très chic 6th and 7th districts

Visit the beautiful Printemps department store with its terrific rooftop café and panoramic view

Musée Marmottan Museum if you are a Claude Monet fan

Palais Galliera Musée de la Mode This is Paris for fashionistas, connoisseurs, aficionados and aficionadas, and historians, too. Stunning and important fashion collections and exhibits

What to do at night in Paris:

See the Panthéon (nicely lit- Victor Hugo entombed here) (free the first Sunday of every month November to March)

For the younger set, walk around/dine/dance on Rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contréscarpe, and enjoy its many ethnic restaurants, bars and cafés

FREE MUSEUMS in PARIS:  If you are 26 or younger, most of these places are always free- lucky you!  If you are older than that, here is the list of museums that are free on the first Sunday of every month, all year long:

Museums that are free on the first Sunday of every month, from October to March, inclusive:

  • Musée Rodin (another personal favorite, and their garden is lovely, too!)

And finally, the list of museums that are free on the first Sunday of every month, from November to March, inclusive:

By the way, no matter what age you are, if you have a sweet tooth, (but are just not in the mood for the politically correct, I mean nutritionally correct, dark chocolates), then I recommend you visit Léonidas (multiple locations in Paris) and buy yourself a quarter or a half kilo of their very yummy Lingot Lait candies– vanilla creams covered in milk chocolate. (My mom’s favorites) Délicieux!



Next up: Other favorite restaurants, cafés and shops. I’ll be back…

The-passer-though-walls-Paris  Le Passe-Muraille, the infamous Passer-through-Walls, at the Place Marcel Aymé


la “Travel Chérie”

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