Downtime in Paris

In Paris: Hidden gems and classic locales make the best layovers.

Inside Musée Bourdelle, the former studio of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.
Photograph by Hemis, Alamy Stock


By Joshua Levine

IF PARIS HAS A PROBLEM, it’s the “been there, done that” problem. The Louvre? The Michelin multistars? Montmartre? Paris’s greatest hits are the world’s greatest hits. As Louis Jourdan sang in his ode to ennui to Maurice Chevalier from the movie Gigi, “It’s a bore.” No one needs to have their arm twisted to prolong a business trip in Paris (more than 11,200 foreign companies operate in the city), but if you want to get off the sentier battu—French for “the beaten path”—it helps to ask the locals. This doesn’t always yield the unexpected. Unlike, say, New Yorkers, who are always in search of novelty, Parisians adore their classics because, well, duh! But Parisians like their hidden gems, too. Herewith, a mix of both from some knowing residents.


La Palette

I love that this bistro in the Saint Germain neighborhood, in the 6th arrondissement, has been here forever. Cézanne drank here. So did Picasso. And Jim Morrison. Order a wooden planche of cheese with your wine and watch the students from the École des Beaux Arts around the corner.

Musée Bourdelle

Everybody flocks to the Rodin museum, but nobody goes to the former studio of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, in the 15th arrondissement. His Hercules the Archer is monumental, but I like to sit in the lovely garden and read. They’ve recently restored the whole thing and added a new wing.

Le Syndicat

Everything about this cocktail bar is unexpected. The area, Faubourg St. Denis, isn’t terrific, but the place drips cool. An Irish mixologist and a French guy use only French liqeurs to make interesting concoctions, and the crowd is perfect.


Musée de Montmartre and Jardin Catherine-Labouré

Sarah: I like to sometimes escape the bustle of the city without leaving the city, so I head to green spaces, which there are fewer of than in London. Two of my favorites are the little garden at the Musée de Montmartre (skip the museum) and the big Jardin Catherine Labouré park near Le Bon Marché on the Left Bank.

Noël Linge de Maison

Sarah: Simply the best place to buy sheets. Everything here is so Old France—it was founded in 1883. We have the sheets embroidered with dragonflies.


Philip: This small bistro is my latest food obsession. It’s run by a Japanese man and a French woman, so in addition to wine pairings, you get tea pairings. Lunch is barely $30 for four courses, and it will blow your mind wide open.


Il Vicolo

Fantastic Italian food, which isn’t so easy to find in Paris. The charming owner, Loredana Schettino, has become a friend. In the 6th arrondissement, it’s our favorite lunch place, a stone’s throw from Jacques’ gallery.


I’m a little biased about this great Left Bank fish restaurant: Jacques and I fell in love here. But Pierre Gagnaire is the chef—it’s his second place—so how wrong can you go? The designer Violaine Jeantet added sapele wood panelling not so long ago, which makes it cozier.

Musée Nissim de Camondo

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One way to discover how France got to be France is to visit Comte Möise de Camondo’s house. He was a wealthy collector who built a 19th century townhouse to display his spectacular 18th century furniture and paintings. Everything is intact, down to the kitchen and bathrooms. This is how to live, except almost no one can afford to anymore. I love taking my daughter and her American friends here. It’s always a hit.


Mama Shelter

I don’t go out to dinner much, but when I do, I often come the restaurant at this hotel. Not for the food, so much, but for the crowd, which is a cross section of today’s Paris—artists, lawyers, young, old. That kind of openness makes it atypical for the city, where many restaurants are turned inward on themselves. It’s a little out of the way—in the 20th arrondissement— but I don’t care. It’s a breath of fresh air. There are Mama Shelters in other cities now, but this was the first one, founded by the guy who co-founded Club Med.

Musée Albert Kahn

The rich banker Albert Kahn bought a series of land parcels in the early 20th century in Boulogne-Billancourt—it’s right next to Paris, and you can get there by metro. With each parcel, he created a different style of garden—French, English, Japanese. Close to 10 acres in all, almost in the heart of Paris. It’s a terrific spot no one knows about. This is where I come to meditate.

La Seine Musicale

After years of bureaucratic paralysis, Paris finally figured out what to do with the Ile Seguin, the island in the Seine where the old Renault car factory used to sit. La Seine Musicale—it’s a pun in French—is a collection of auditoriums devoted to all kinds of music. It only opened in April 2017. The director of programming is Jean-Luc Choplin, who used to run the great Théâtre du Châtelet and is one of the most creative minds in Paris (Michael Eisner brought him to L.A. to work for Disney when he was CEO.) Whatever Choplin has in mind for La Seine Musicale, it’s bound to be interesting.

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