36 Hours in Paris (Left Bank)
1. Appetite Awakener, 3:30 p.m.
The Left Bank is home to cultural, fashion and artistic riches, but one of the best ways to immerse yourself in French culture is with food. Among the half-dozen or so stops are Poilâne Bakery, which has been churning out the same large wheels of tangy sourdough from its basement wood-burning oven for 83 years; Le Marché Couvert , where moneyed locals scoop up their saucisson, fresh milk and seasonal produce; and Pierre Hermé, France’s “Picasso of Pastries,” which sells cakes and macarons almost too pretty to eat. Along with the tour’s treats, you’re fed historical and cultural bits that will help you navigate the local food scene on your own.
2. To the Top, 7:30 p.m.
You can’t visit Paris and ignore the grandest dame of them all. The Eiffel Tower, a majestic 1,063 feet of latticed iron work planted firmly on the flat green Champ de Mars near the Seine, is the tallest structure in the city. Four elevators will whoosh you to the top (or, if you’re feeling dauntless, tackle the 1,665 steps; 17 euros and 7 euros, respectively) and by now it will be l’heure bleue, that magical time in the evening when the whole city is suffused in an ethereal light. If you linger long enough taking in the panorama, you’ll also be treated to the top-of-the-hour light show, when 20,000 bulbs affixed to every side of the tower twinkle and dance for five mesmerizing minutes.
3. Drama With Dinner, 10 p.m.
Enjoy the relative tranquillity as you amble through the Anglicized Seventh Arrondissement to the Basque restaurant — the first one to open in Paris, more than 80 years ago — Chez L’Ami Jean. Inside the tightly packed dimly lit restaurant you’ll be elbow-to-elbow with boisterous locals and tourists feasting the night away. As you ponder the menu, watch the theatrics (and occasional temper) of the chef, Stéphane Jégo, through the kitchen window as he perfects dishes such as mackerel in leek vinaigrette and pork belly with oysters and rabbit. Save room for dessert. The restaurant’s legendary rice pudding, accompanied by salted butter caramel and crunchy meringues, comes in a bowl large enough to feed four and may forever change the way you think of the oft-maligned treat.
4. Avant Garde Art, 11 a.m.
If national museums like the Musée d’Orsay are too large, and St. Germain’s galleries too small for your art appreciation fix, you’ll love the scale of Paris’s fondations and the stellar exhibitions they attract. The Cartier Fondation and Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, which are within walking distance of each other on opposite sides of the famed Montparnasse Cemetery, are sized to offer just the right dose of the familiar and the cutting edge. Exhibitions rotate several times a year, with the Cartier — housed in a light-filled, contemporary Jean Nouvel building — bringing acclaimed talent such as the Japanese pop artist Takeshi Kitano and the Australian sculptor Ron Mueck. The Cartier-Bresson, smaller and more modest, concentrates on photographers like Walker Evans and Saul Leiter.
5. Lunch Worth Waiting For, 1:30 p.m.
Unless waiting for bread at the boulangerie, queuing for food is not something Parisians do. But they make an exception for Le Comptoir du Relais, and so should you. On a sloping corner in St. Germain, the sliver of a restaurant is, in fact, most noticeable for the line of hungry people waiting for the first-come-first-served weekend service from the chef Yves Camdeborde, who’s often credited with starting the “bistronomy” trend currently rocking the Right Bank. This blend of a casual bistro environment and gastronomic cooking reveals its magic with simple yet otherworldly dishes like a creamy-crunchy smoked salmon croque monsieur or even a seasonal salad, heaped with at least 10 kinds of vegetables and dusted with fine bits of crunchy onion.
6. Oh, La Mode, 3 p.m.
Since you’re in the heart of a bustling shopping district, why not put those credit cards to use for some French treasures? (Be sure to ask salesclerks for VAT refunds.) Alexandra Sojfer makes the most ornate umbrellas and walking sticks you can imagine, with details like carved wood animal-head handles and taffeta parasols adorned with Swarovski crystals. Deyrolle appears to be a modest gardening store at street level, but ascend to the second floor to find an exotic emporium filled with rhino heads, panther skeletons, tortoise shells and all manner of taxidermy. And leave it to the French to peddle even candles with pedigrees. Cire Trudon, established in 1643, once supplied King Louis XIV’s court with candles. Today, you can take home your own piece of French history of sorts: a burning bust of Marie Antoinette or Napoleon.
7. Terrace Views , 6 p.m.
Parisians dine later, so you have the excuse to indulge in one of their prime pastimes: people watching from a cafe terrace. Snatch one of the coveted seats at Café de Flore, where figures such as Simone de Beauvoir and Picasso once sipped, puffed and pontificated, and watch the coiffed regulars come in and kiss-kiss the maître d’hôtel while harried waiters in long white aprons weave and wend, delivering trays of aperitifs. Try a bitter Campari or a sweet kir, white wine with a splash of cassis.
8. Nouveau Cooking , 8 p.m.
Neither trendy nor nostalgic, Semilla manages the perfect balance of nouveau Parisian cooking. Opened in 2012 by the international team of Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré, the sparse but sophisticated restaurant (marble tabletops, concrete floors, wood-beamed ceilings) attracts an urbane clientele from the neighborhood’s galleries and bourgeois homes. The menu is organized into categories like “raw,” “steam and broth” and “from the oven,” with crowd favorites like black truffle arancini with onion cream and the côte de boeuf for two, which is presented tableside before being taken to the open kitchen, where it’s sliced and then returned with mashed potatoes and horseradish cream.
9. Get Fresh , 10 a.m.
Every Sunday from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., the air on Boulevard Raspail, between the Rue Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes, fills with the tantalizing smell of sautéing onions. It’s the onion galettes — shredded onion, potato and cheese — frying at one of the dozens of stands at the Marché Biologique Raspail. This organic market has been a neighborhood jewel for 26 years. Stroll by, admire, even ogle, but do not touch the beautiful displays. Once you’ve decided among the loaves of bread chockablock with dried fruit; towers of chevre and Comté cheese; baskets of fresh herbs and lettuces; honeys, jams and various other edible delights, the vendors will be happy to help you.
10. Sunday Stroll , Noon
No longer are the Luxembourg Gardens the only nearby spot of green where you can eat your market loot. Les Berges de Seine, a nearly 1.5-mile stretch along the Seine reserved for pedestrians, debuted in 2013, so what was once a diesel-fume-choked highway is now thronged with strolling families, joggers, bicyclists and skaters. Start at the Pont de l’Alma entrance to the west and make your way past the rotating art exhibitions, climbing walls and stations for hopscotch and paddleball. Once you’ve arrived at the eastern end, near Musée d’Orsay, climb the wood-plank bleacher seats for a view of the boats chugging along the river.
11. Sweetest Closing Trip , 2 p.m.
There’s always room in the belly (or in your carry-on) for French chocolate. And, seeing as St. Germain is the unofficial center of the chocolate universe, counting at least a dozen renowned chocolatiers, make a final sweep of the neighborhood’s offerings, winding up in a cobblestone alley at Pierre Cluizel’s Un Dimanche à Paris. This boutique is also an 8,600-square-foot salon de thé/restaurant/lounge devoted to high-end chocolate. A spot of the pastry chef Nicolas Bacheyre’s chocolat chaud, served warm, not hot, in traditional Limoges porcelain, is guaranteed to send you off in classic style.