The Montparnasse area of central Paris is a great place to begin to explore Paris. These six things not to miss is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good way to get started!
Continued from here.
In case you haven’t been following along or clicked the previous link to see where I was before this, here is a quick summary since I’m exactly at the halfway mark of my European Culinary Tour: I went from England to Belgium, to Switzerland, to France, and at this point, I am just arriving in in Paris with my new friend, Jill from Mad About Macarons.
Disclosure: I was given a media ticket for the top of the Montparnasse Tower. All opinions are solely my own.
The scenery on the way to Paris was spectacular; despite speeding down the tracks, the views were still stunning.
When we arrived at the Montparnasse station in Paris, Jill was very kind and walked me to my hotel. It was a very sad parting of ways when she had to leave to go home, as we both just wanted our fun to continue.
Before she left, Jill suggested I have crepes and French cider for dinner which was a great suggestion as the area near my hotel was dotted with crêperies, and I would never have known to order cider in France. All the crepes were made with buckwheat flour, so they were quite different than ones I’m accustomed to, but they were tasty. I ordered a savory one, and a sweet one filled with chocolate (surprise)! The cider was delicious, too! So this is the first thing you shouldn’t miss in the Montparnasse area:
I had a lovely time wandering the Montparnasse area after sunset. It’s obviously a very lively spot.
2. THE MONTPARNASSE TOWER
It would be a shame to be in this area of Paris and miss going to the top of the Montparnasse Tower for the best views of the city. However, if my Paris-obsessed friend, Lisa, had not told me about it, I probably would never have known about it. The Montparnasse Tower is a lone-standing skyscraper (the only one in Paris) office building, but at the very top, you can just imagine the views that can be had of Paris! It was literally a five minute minute walk from my hotel, so I grabbed a gorgeous pain au chocolat, and headed to the tower.
It wasn’t that easy though: look at what I was tempted with!
But I was happy with my choice. (You can see the Montparnasse Tower in the background.)
My next obstacle was unforeseen: a market! And it was directly in my path to the Tower! (The market is actually #3 on my list, but I’ll get to that after I show you the views from the Montparnasse Tower.)
I can tell you that it took me more than five minutes to walk to the Tower, given my the market was smack-dab in my way! However, I did finally make it and took the super-fast elevator to the top. I spent quite a bit of time taking in the views from the observation deck on the very top of the building.
The views were breathtaking.
The most iconic symbol of Paris: the Eiffel Tower.
And more of the views~
Here is a great interactive 360° view of Paris from the Montparnasse Tower, which gives you a great idea of what you can see from the top.
TIP: if you are able to go just before sunset, you will see the view during daylight, be extremely lucky to see the sun set over Paris, and then see the twinkling of the city’s lights (including the Eiffel Tower), after sunset.
There’s even a cafe at the top, and of course a gift shop, too.
When I was ready to go back down, the fastest elevator in the Tower whisked me down 643 feet in 38 seconds! I didn’t waste any time getting back to the market.
3. THE MARKET
I was in Paris on a Wednesday, and I believe they have markets here on the weekends also, but check before you go. Once again, I was frustrated in not being able to buy the beautiful meats at the butcher and cheeses, and gorgeous vegetables, but if you rent an apartment nearby, options are much more open. I did buy an apple! After I perused the market, I headed back to my hotel as I was meeting another (future) blogger for lunch, Mary from Simply French. Mary had seen photos of my European travels on social media and contacted me to ask if I was coming to Paris, which indeed I was. We made plans to meet, and she suggested meeting in front of La Grande Épicerie de Paris, which I had only read about (it also happens to be number 4 on the list). As I walked to meet her, I got another view of the Montparnasse Tower from further away.
I also noticed something disappointing. Somehow, America has an effect on people from other countries which makes them want to emulate what we do and have here in the US. Whether it’s due to our movies or another reason, there are certain aspects of this phenomenon which I think is great (American customer service standards, for example), but when I saw this outside of a bagel and brownie shop…
yet not a soul at this patisserie across the street, it made me sad. Hopefully it was just because it was lunchtime and the teens were grabbing a sandwich. I’d hate to think that French pastries may be replaced by bagels and brownies, one day.
I met Mary outside La Grande Épicerie, but we went to have lunch before exploring the nearby area. We ate at what Mary referred to as a place where “your French grandmother would be cooking”. The quintessential French style of the restaurant reminded me of Café Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo (a British comedy) which I love! Have you seen it? :)
We chatted after ordering our food, and I learned that Mary is an American who married a Frenchman, moved to Paris, went to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and is now a certified chef teaching culinary classes and catering many events in in the city! And soon, she will launch her blog. You can sign up here to receive updates, and in the meantime you can see all her gorgeous photos on Instagram.
Mary had ordered a steak and I requested a lovely goat cheese and lardon salad. It was delicious, as you can probably see.
4. LA GRANDE ÉPICERIE de PARIS.
If you’ve ever been to Harrod’s food halls, this is the French equivalent. If you haven’t been to Harrod’s food halls, you can’t even imagine a grocery store like La Grand Epicerie. Not only is it massive in size, but it has the best of everything and all neatly displayed, not like a normal grocery store, mind you. This is just the bottled water!
Suffice it to say that you’d really have to visit it yourself to truly appreciate it, which is why it’s on my “don’t miss” list. Even if you don’t/can’t buy a thing, it’s still worth visiting.
5. THE GARDENS OF LUXEMBOURG (Jardin du Luxembourg)
This area is rather like New York’s Central Park, according to Mary, who offered to show me around that afternoon. The gardens were perfectly manicured and it was such a pleasing setting. The sky was being a bit petulant, but couldn’t really make up its mind, as you can see.
We walked and chatted (mostly about food, can you believe it?)
We left the Gardens and saw some beautiful statues, fountains and archictecture in buildings and more.
Lo and behold, we were in front of one of Paris’ most famous cafés: Les Deux Magots. We just had to sit and have a little afternoon treat! Which brings us to number six on the list.
6. LES DEUX MAGOTS
But this was even lovelier!
We chose the Opera Cake. How can you go wrong with Opera Cake in Paris? I also had a thick hot chocolate.
Mary and I had a lovely few hours together and she was such a sweetheart to offer to show me around her adopted city without ever having met me before. Thank you Mary, I had a wonderful time!
After our afternoon treat and a little people-watching, Mary put me on the Metro back to my hotel as it was time for me to catch the bus to the Orly airport. Where was I off to next?
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Information for tickets and more for the Montparnasse Tower
Disclosure: I was given a media ticket for the top of the Montparnasse Tower. All opinions are solely my own. I am disclosing this in compliance with FTC regulations.