Every sight and bite in Paris, known as the City of Lights, seems luminescent. Dishes shine whether they consist of basic bistro fare, café snacks, cheese plates, the perfect pastry, or a sublime splurge. Majestic architecture, quaint quartiers, artistic treasures, and the River Seine all create beautiful backdrops for sipping and savoring.
The Louvre Museum and Pyramid and the Tuileries Garden
The Musée de Louvre's extensive collection features European paintings and sculptures; Asian, Greek, and Egyptian antiquities; and, perhaps most famously, Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." The I.M. Pei-designed pyramid entrance was inaugurated in 1989. Across the way, stroll through the pretty Jardin des Tuileries, where Catherine de Médicis built her stunning Palais des Tuileries in 1564. The picturesque park features fountain basins, plenty of outdoor seating, the La Terrasse de Pomone café, and the Musée de l'Orangerie, which most notably showcases works from Monet's "Water Lilies" series, as well as large collections by Cézanne and Renoir.
Classic food option: Since the Louvre can be an all-day affair, bistro-driven classics that can be eaten at any time are best. Early birds can try Café L'Imprimerie for a flaky croissant and a café au lait or opt for a heartier omelet. For brunch, lunch, or a light dinner enjoy a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese) or madame (with a fried egg on top). For lunch or a snack and wine head to Les Fines Gueules, where the zinc bar and stone walls add to the warm ambience. The steak tartare, oysters, and selection of ripened cheeses are fantastic on the palate and the wallet. Classic dinners of poulet rôti (roasted chicken), moules marinières (mussels in white wine), or steak au poivre (steak with peppercorn sauce)—all avec frites (with French fries)—beckon at Chez Georges, an art nouveau bistro.
Trendy food option: Go from admiring the masters to having a masterfully created and well-priced meal at slick and sassy Zebulon, located a couple of blocks from the Louvre. Don't be put off by the prices of coffee and cocktails at haute-cool Café Marly. Think pourquoi pas—why not?—and sip something while enjoying its superior views of the Louvre.
Unexpected food option: At tiny, charming La Cordonnerie, copper pots hang on the wall and the owner/chef personally prepares dinner (menu changes nightly).
Eiffel Tower and Invalides (7th Arrondissement)
Built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the French Revolution's centenary during the Paris world's fair, the Eiffel Tower is a sight to behold and worth climbing by elevator or foot. The maze of buildings that makes up the Hôtel National des Invalides includes the beautiful veterans' chapel, the Cathédrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, and a military museum. Napoleon's tomb is located in its gold-domed church. The adjacent Musée Rodin features a cast of the artist's famed "Thinker."
Classic food option: The lovely Le Petit Cler serves meals all day long. Look for buttery brioche and croissants, tempting tartines (open-faced sandwiches), and soups and salads. L'Ami Jean is a lively bistro where the chalkboard Basque specials alter daily. Grilled seafood, hearty stews, and rice pudding are specialties. Café de Musée Rodin is ideal for an espresso, a glass of wine, a baguette sandwich, or an ice cream.
Trendy food option: Juice is revered at Alain Milliat, a unique contemporary restaurant with the freshest of dishes and pure fruit concoctions. A perfect view is always in vogue, and Au Bon Accueil obliges. The sidewalk tables are nice, as are the prix fixe options and lighter fare.
Unexpected food option: A Michelin star is a culinary badge of honor that doesn't necessarily have to mean excruciatingly expensive. Enjoy Garance, a small, impeccable restaurant near Les Invalides. It's just earned a Michelin star, yet the prix fixe menu at lunch or dinner remains impressively well priced for award winning dishes. Near the Musée Rodin is Michelin-starred Auguste, where contemporary chef Gaël Orieux takes classic elements such as cod or duck and presents them in creative ways that match the restaurant's modern design.
Musée d'Orsay and Saint-Germain-de-Prés
Initially a fin de siècle train station, this unique building now houses art dating from 1848 to 1914, including works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Gauguin. After the museum, stroll a bit to Saint-Germain-de-Prés in the 6th arrondissement and partake in the café culture, people-watching while sipping and snacking at the haunts of literary greats like Sartre, Hemingway, and Stein. Les Deux Magots and neighboring Café de Flore are on one side of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, while Brasserie Lipp is on the other.
Classic food option: Le Vin de Bellechasse is a pleasant brasserie on a street behind the museum. Classics include escargots à l'ail (snails in garlic), steak frites (steak and French fries), salade aux rillettes (country pâté), and tarte tatin (caramelized apple tart) for dessert.
Trendy food option: Near the Musée d'Orsay, have lunch or dinner at La Bonne Excuse, a small, stone-walled restaurant with a modern vibe that has fantastic foie gras as an appetizer and a mouthwatering apple tart for dessert. Around Boulevard Saint-Germain, sip wine and enjoy small bites at tiny L'Avant Comptoir's standing-room-only pewter bar, savoring anything with jambon cuit iberique (Iberian ham), especially the croquettes or crepes. Behind a blue door on a narrow side street off Boulevard Saint-Germain is La Grande Crèmerie, which offers cold platters of cheese and charcuterie, terrines, and pâtés with fresh bread. For something on the sweet side, the macarons are a must-have at patisserie Gérard Mulot.
Unexpected food option: Head to the museum's fifth floor to have an impressive breakfast or lunch at Café Campana. The menu is excellent and the decor delightful thanks to the large clock window that provides great Parisian views. Fish La Boissonnerie is a fish lover's dream. The outside mosaic motif is the first sign that the food and drink here are special. Great seafood, mussels, oysters, warm bread, and wine at a good price make it all memorable.
The Seine and the Latin Quarter
Gliding along the romantic River Seine, by day or night, is a wonderful way to appreciate the area's beauty and architecture. Take an hour's boat ride from Pont Neuf to see landmarks such as Notre Dame de Paris and the Louvre from another perspective. Afterward, stroll along the river toward Boulevard Saint-Michel, the Latin Quarter, the Panthéon (Place de Panthéon) and Place de la Sorbonne.
Classic food option: Drink, dine, or do both at Brasserie Balzar. Soupe à l'oignon gratinée, salads, fluffy omelets, and profiteroles are among the specialties enjoyed by a clientele of Sorbonne students, professors, and fashionistas.
Trendy food option: Michelin-starred L'Agrume serves a reasonably priced and astoundingly flavorful five-course prix fixe menu in a vibrant, modern setting. Reservations required.
Unexpected food option: Numerous wine bars grace the city, but for happy hour or late-night cocktails, visit dark and quirky Le Crocodile, just behind the Panthéon. Vietnamese food is popular in France. Near the Sorbonne, Maison Sen serves terrific brochettes, bun bo xao, and noodle and vegetable dishes.
Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, and Musée Montmartre
Sitting atop a hill in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre is a colorful and funky turn-of-the-century artistic village with cobblestoned streets. Artists still paint en plein air at the Place du Tertre, and the neighborhood's bohemian history is recounted at Musée Montmartre. The glorious Basilique du Sacré-Cœur flaunts spectacular city views.
Classic food option: Have a memorable meal at Le Grand 8, a tiny restaurant with unbeatable food and views.
Trendy food option: Poulet rôti on a spit is a French meal staple. At Le Coq Rico chef Antoine Westermann cooks up organic Bresse chicken with added spices and sides.
Unexpected food option: French flair with a Moroccan twist can be found at Le Petit Bleu near Sacré-Cœur. Terrific tagines, tabbouleh, and couscous beckon. Phenomenal pâtissier and chocolatier Gilles Marchal has gone from creating stunning hotel desserts on the ritzy Right Bank to opening his eponymous shop in this artists' enclave. The pastries are well worth the splurge.