Paris: the Insider's Guide
Renowned world over as the home of Western modernism, haute cuisine and high fashion, Paris often escapes the need for formal introductions. The city dazzles first-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike with the grandeur of its uniform Hausmann buildings and the distinct haze of its diffused natural light.
Although Paris usually evokes an unmistakable Old World glamour, the European capital has transformed itself into a world-class contemporary metropolis thanks to a new wave of young creative trailblazers reinvigorating the city's neighbourhoods. This guide, divided into three parts, showcases what this cultural destination has to offer, from specialised concept stores and unique art museums to experimental restaurants and slow garden walks.
Arc de Triomphe
For the Aesthete: Art & Design Destinations
ATELIER BRANCUSI / Art Studio / 5th Arr.
This reflective oasis, an homage to modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi, lies to the left of the Centre Pompidou – one of Paris’s most noteworthy modern and contemporary art institutions. The Atelier Brancusi, which displays Brancusi’s biomorphic sculptures in the same arrangement as his original studio, articulates the artist's concern for the spatial relationships between his artworks. The sculptor’s main interest, in how art relates to space, makes the atelier an artistic statement in its own right, as it endows his elegantly constructed figures with a collective and metaphysical meaning.
Le Bal Arts Centre
LE BAL / Arts Centre / 18th Arr.
This independent exhibition space, right by Place de Clichy, is dedicated to showcasing ground breaking contemporary art in all its forms - particularly photography, video and film. Le Bal's exhibitions have a thoroughgoing critical dimension as they reflect on the production and consumption of the contemporary image while assessing its socio-political implications. Visitors can also enjoy a browse through the bookshop or have a bite at the café.
JEU DE PAUME / Arts Centre / 1st Arr.
Located in the Jardin des Tuileries, opposite the Musée de l’Orangérie, Jeu de Paume is dedicated to exhibiting modern and contemporary photography. Known for showcasing internationally recognised photographers that have redefined the medium, the centre’s exhibitions have become a must-see for any photography enthusiast.
EUROPEAN HOUSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY / Cultural Centre / Marais
Since its opening in 1996, the private house has become a world class venue for exhibiting contemporary photography. European House of Photography boasts a collection of 20,000 works covering all artistic processes on the topic of photography.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON / Museum / 16th Arr.
Since its opening in 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has received praise both for its critically acclaimed exhibitions and its stunning architecture. The building, designed by Frank Gehry, is a paean to architecture as a study of sculpture and technological innovation. Furthermore, Fondation Louis Vuitton's multi-floor space allows for the most comprehensive exhibitions on any artistic movement or renowned collection.
MUSÉE D'ORSAY / Museum / St Germain des Prés
The Musée d’Orsay has one of the most impressive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. From Monet’s Woman with a Parasol to Gauguin’s Les Repas, the museum gives visitors access to spectacular works that have shaped the Western narrative of art history.
MUSÉE MARMOTTAN / Museum / 16th Arr.
This small private museum located in the charming and residential 16th Arrondissement showcases the largest collection of artworks by Claude Monet. Musée Marmottan's highlights include Monet’s iconic Impression, Sunrise as well as the works that comprise the artist’s renowned water lilies series.
MUSÉE D'ART MODERNE / Museum / 8th Arr.
Situated by the Seine, across from the Eiffel Tower, Musée d'Art Moderne contains one of the most comprehensive collections of modern and contemporary art in Paris. Arresting artworks such as Bonnard’s Nu dans la Baignoire and Vuillard’s Portrait de Pierre Bonnard are not to be missed.
Installation view of Monet's Water Lilies in Musée de l'Orangerie
MUSÉE DE L'ORANGERIE / Museum / 1st Arr.
Within the Jardin des Tuileries lays one of Paris’s most unique museums. Visitors can escape the city’s hustle and bustle to experience unparalleled serenity in three minimal oval rooms dedicated to exhibiting Monet’s immersive works from his Water Lilies series. At Musée de l'Orangerie, viewers are confronted with large engaging canvases that guide them towards a calm observance of infinity and emotive expression.
For the Aesthete: Style Destinations
The Adjacent Café to The Broken Arm
THE BROKEN ARM / Concept Store / République
The Broken Arm in many ways captures the ideal that several concept stores strive to articulate. Located on a quiet street corner near République, the store asserts its unassuming presence in an elegant and quintessentially Parisian building. Guests walk into a minimally designed space where they can glance at a curated selection of artfully crafted clothing, visually captivating art & design publications and uniquely designed objects. Everything displayed in the store, from the crisp trousers by Lemaire to the latest issues of Mastermind and Document, express the founders’ vision of a design-conscious contemporary lifestyle. Even more, guests can relax and converse over specialty coffee and seasonal lunch dishes in the cosy and warm interior of the store’s neighbouring café.
FRENCH TROTTERS / Fashion Store / République
This chic boutique displays clothing and an array of everyday items that speak to a certain elegance and timelessness. In the space, delicate merino sweaters by Fillipa K hang next to stiff dyed shirts by Our Legacy while modernist-informed sofas and carefully positioned cacti subtly populate the interior. Such attention to detail alters the typical retail experience and elevates the store’s ambience, evoking what the founders refer to as their “contemporary and cosmopolitan universe”.
Yvon Lambert Bookshop
YVON LAMBERT / Bookshop / Marais
This is arguably the bookshop to end all bookshops. First off, the impressive selection of high quality art, design and photography publications will make any aesthete or bibliophile weep. Second, whereas bookshops are often known to embrace clutter, Yvon Lambert proudly rejects these expectations. Instead, the shop’s airy minimalist interior offers visitors a carefully selected offering of magazines, books, prints, catalogues and first editions. The store also possesses a rear gallery space, which puts on informal but engaging exhibitions.
ARTAZART / Bookshop / Canal Saint Martin
Situated right on Canal Saint Martin, Artazart is a reputable bookshop offering visitors a unique retail experience. Besides its noteworthy selection of art, design and photography books, the store is also known to host exhibitions and offer an array of lifestyle objects, geared toward a creative audience.
For the Epicure: Restaurants, Cafés and Bars
Ze Kitchen Galerie Restaurant
ZE KITCHEN GALERIE / Restaurant / St Germain des Prés
One of the best restaurants in Paris, Ze Kitchen Galerie always brings highly skilled flavour pairings, vivid colours and quality produce to the fore. The restaurant’s discreet location off the scenic Quai de Conti, in the chic neighbourhood of St Germain des Prés, nicely contrasts the bold flavours produced by the chefs. Like many restaurants of its caliber, Ze Kitchen Galerie epitomises casual elegance – waiters are equally knowledgeable and friendly, guests are dressed in an understated but refined manner and the ambience possesses both a sophisticated and an intimate quality. The experience is simply not to be missed. Guests get the best bang for their buck with the €50 3-course lunch menu.
L'ASTRANCE / Restaurant / 16th Arr.
Their €70 5-course lunch menu is as good as it gets for three Michelin stars. The restaurant reminds one of the precision of the French cooking tradition – the almost scientific approach to balancing flavours and textures on each plate. The service is also of a quality that one rarely comes by. L’Astrance may not be the place to return to every week (for practical reasons) but it surely is the kind of place that one ought to experience in moderation.
SEMILLA / Restaurant / St Germain des Prés
This is another restaurant that gets relaxed sophistication down. The dishes are rich and sexy and reflect both French and Spanish culinary traditions. The restaurant is part of a new wave of ‘neo-bistros’, which essentially elevate the complexity of casual bistro dining. Dim lighting and a gourmet crowd are to be expected with light gleaming from the open kitchen where the chefs work together, perfectly coordinated, as if they shared a collective consciousness.
VIVANT / Restaurant / 10th Arr.
Also part of the emerging neo-bistro scene, Vivant welcomes guests to enjoy inventive small plates that combine the French culinary approach with influences from Japan and Scandinavia. The intimate bar-like establishment is the brainchild of Pierre Touitou (son of A.P.C. founder, Jean Toiutou) who prepares his playful, eclectic dishes right behind the bar counter, in the presence of his guests. One should also take advantage of the restaurant’s rather impressive wine collection.
CLAMATO / Restaurant / Bastille
This seafood restaurant artfully merges ingredient-led dishes with pared-back interiors and an au courant crowd. The establishment is the sister restaurant to critically acclaimed Septime, but remains more accessible because of its no-reservations policy and lower prices. Visit during the day to bathe in the natural light that illuminates the interior and, assuming seasonal availability, order the citrus infused raw scallops or the cockles in garlic broth.
CAVE DE LA BOURGOGNE / Restaurant / 5th Arr.
The idea of the Parisian neighbourhood bistro is often romanticised in any traveller’s imagination. Cave de la Bourgogne indulges such idealisations. The bistro is located at the foot of Rue Mouffetard, the quieter end of the bustling market street, on a calm roundabout. The dish to order here is the duck confit, which in my view, is among the best in Paris.
The Savoury Stack at Hollybelly Café
HOLLYBELLY / Café / Canal Saint Martin
This café is one those rare places that lives up to its hype. Located in the hip Canal Saint Martin neighbourhood, the café is known to be the go-to place for casual weekend brunch and good coffee. Although an American label seems tempting, the founders say their establishment most resembles a Melbourne-style café, which explains the eclectic menu. The Savoury Stack is definitely the dish to order here; the masterly combination of the fluffy pancakes, rich eggs, succulent bacon, sweet maple syrup and salty bourbon butter inevitably place the brain in a state of prolonged euphoria.
CAFÉ KITSUNE / Café / 1st Arr.
The café’s unassuming location in the stately Palais Royal makes it the ideal retreat for specialty coffee and a solid music playlist. The café’s distinct ambience – a physical representation of the Maison Kitsuné brand – is no surprise given the backgrounds of its founders, Gildas Loaëc (the former manager of Daft Punk), and Masaya Kuroki (a Japanese architect).
FRAGMENTS / Café / Marais
One could have found me here every other weekend when I lived in Paris. The small café is located in the heart of the Marais (a hub for Parisian creatives) and consistently serves up fresh baked goods, good coffee and classic breakfast dishes. The cafe’s intimate and unperturbed atmosphere, ideal for thought-provoking conversation, is what kept me coming back. My go-tos were the rich avocado toast and the warm raisin scone.
Baked Goods at Du Pain et des Idées Bakery
DU PAIN ET DES IDÉES / Bakery / Canal Saint Martin
This iconic bakery is widely renowned for making some of the best bread and croissants in Paris. The bakery does not shy away from discussing its philosophy, one of paying homage to traditional Parisian baking while engaging in continuous innovation. It’s hardly surprising that such principles have led to the bakery’s extensive reputation.
Pastries at Jacques Genin Chocolate & Pastry Shop
JACQUES GENIN / Chocolate & Pastry Shop / République
As one of Paris’s most reputable chocolatiers, this haven of pastries and chocolates is sure to please any dessert connoisseur. The shop’s sleek design communicates a kind of precision that is very evident in its sweet creations. The dessert pictured below is one of the most memorable desserts in the world – one could almost taste the mastery in the flaky pastry, the rich vanilla cream custard and the crunchy sugar tuile.
LE COMPTOIR GÉNÉRAL / Bar / Canal Saint Martin
This bar, which proudly celebrates Afrocentrism, offers guests an experience like no other. The bar is located in an old house right by Canal St Martin and takes on a bohemian vibe with its eclectic furniture and African souvenirs. Visitors from all subcultures can be found here drinking African- inspired cocktails and dancing to rhythmic Afrobeat music. Visit on a weekday to avoid the long queues.
PRESCRIPTION CLUB / Bar / St Germain des Prés
This upscale bar is known for making some of the best cocktails in Paris. The bar’s chic location, dimly lit interior and mellow house music gives rise to a lounge-y ambience that is equally seductive as it is snug.
LULU WHITE / Bar / Pigalle
Craft cocktails, an intimate space and stimulating late-night conversations are to be expected at this refined cocktail bar. Taking its inspiration from 1920s New Orleans, the bar also hosts live music on Tuesdays with music ranging from Jazz to Blues.
THE BAR AT HOTEL COSTES / Bar / 8th Arr.
Situated on the iconic Rue Saint Honoré and behind the walls of the glamorous Hotel Costes lies this this swanky establishment. Elegance and opulence perfectly describe the bar’s ambience and its guests. Ideal for shopping breaks or for an evening treat, this bar will leave one wanting more.
LE PERCHOIR / Rooftop Bar / Marais
Paris isn’t exactly populated with many rooftop bars, which is a shame given the city’s architectural appeal. Luckily, Le Perchoir is able satiate the needs of those that long for memorable social gatherings complete with marvellous views of ‘The City of Light’.
For the Flâneur: Off the Beaten Path Destinations
Interior of Palais Garnier
PALAIS GARNIER / Opera House / 2nd Arr.
With grandeur nearly rivalling the Palace of Versailles, an evening at the Palais Garnier remains one of Paris’s most prized cultural experiences. The building’s palatial interior is particularly noteworthy. Before performances and during intermissions, guests can socialise in the opulent Grand Foyer, which opens up to a scenic terrace with views of the Avenue de L’Opera. The building’s breathtaking auditorium features accents of gold, plush red velvet chairs and a ceiling painting by Marc Chagall.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
PARC DES BUTTES CHAUMONT / Park / 19th Arr.
Although far away from the centre of town, a sunny day at this majestic park is a day well spent. The park features waterfalls, a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel and a romantic temple atop a towering hill. These quirky characteristics come together to create a mystic oasis on the outskirts of what one would call an urban paradise.
Place des Vosges
PLACE DES VOSGES / Park / Le Marais
This park remains a favourite green space in Paris for its small size and its quaint location in the heart of the Marais. The park is surrounded on all sides by beautifully aged red brick and stone facades and features pristine water fountains as well as an imposing statue of Louis XIII.
SUNSET/SUNSIDE / Jazz Club / Latin Quarter
Ever since its introduction by African American soldiers during WWII, jazz has had a significant impact on Paris’s music scene. Sunset/Sunside was the first jazz club to open on rue des Lombards, a reputable street now known for hosting similar iconic jazz venues.
About the Author: Kojo Abudu
Kojo Abudu is a writer and aspiring curator based between London, New York and Lagos, currently working in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art division. In 2013, he launched Kojo London, a cultural online space dedicated to cultivating a slower lifestyle for young, reflective minds through select aesthetic, culinary and travel experiences. Recently, he also launched @nmoderno_ , an interdisciplinary social platform showcasing a curated selection of art, fashion, architecture and design. Kojo is a graduate of Duke University where he studied Philosophy and Political Science, and served as Editor-in-Chief of FORM Magazine, the premier art and culture publication in Durham, North Carolina.
(All Images Courtesy of Kojo Abudu)