The only thing that can cheer me up on a cold Tuesday morning (aside from a killer cup of coffee) is reminiscing about my sweet trip to Paris last month. I vowed to give you a La Dolce Pita guide to The City of Light, so I’m making good on my promise. Let me tell you – there is nothing more beautiful and awe inspiring than seeing Paris for the first time dressed up in millions of twinkle lights for the Holidays. I feel truly fortunate to have gotten the chance to explore Paris – which has long been on my travel bucket list – during my favorite season, with some of the people I love most (my parents and sister! My poor husband had to stay home for work). Despite the freezing temps, we covered a lot of ground and my expectations for the city were far exceeded, which was no easy feat considering how long I’ve dreamed about coming here. My only gripe? Feeding a family of four vegetarians/vegans was no easy feat, especially when trying to have an authentic French culinary experience. Despite our challenges, we managed to find some great eateries with veg friendly options that I would wholeheartedly recommend to any of you, so it wasn’t all bad.
Paris is often cited as the most visited city on earth, and it doesn’t take long to see why. The city – both visually stunning and rich in history – is a tourist’s dream. A turn down any street will land you at a chic boutique, a cozy cafe, or a famous landmark. And if you’re into all things epicurean (and I assume you are, loyal reader), Paris is where it’s at. The city is very walkable and has a good public transportation system, so getting around is hassle-free.
I flew into Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport, which is a 20-30 minute ride from the city center. From the airport, we took a taxi directly to our hotel doorstop, which, in my opinion, is worth the expense over cheaper public transportation after a long, red-eye flight. You’ll likely be exhausted and desperate for a shower and soft bed.
Paris has nearly 2,000 hotels and B&Bs to choose from, so choosing accommodations can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re traveling on a budget and don’t want to sacrifice cleanliness, comfort, and a good location. Thankfully, I really lucked out with my hotel and so I’m happy to share this little gem with you all. I spent my week in Paris at The New Orient Hotel, located in the 8e Arrondissement and within a short walking distance from several Metro stations, markets, coffee shops, restaurants and department stores. The hotel was also a stone’s throw from the Parc Monceau (ideal for morning jogs and strolls) and a short distance from the famed Opera Garnier. Despite its convenient location, The New Orient still manages to feel tucked away and off the beaten path – which is a huge boon to anyone looking to find a little peace and quiet in the midst of the bustling city.
The hotel has an adorable lobby and breakfast nook, oozing warmth and hospitality and decorated in traditional French style. Breakfast is an additional 8-12 Euro per day, and includes a selection of pastries, breads, jams, cereals, yogurt, as well as coffee, tea and juice. The food was good, but frankly, for the money you can do better elsewhere.
The rooms were small but very clean and well appointed, with comfortable beds and free Wi-Fi. The service was fantastic – which comes as no surprise since the hotel recently picked up a Trip Advisor award for Best Service – we were given spot-on dining and sightseeing recommendations whenever we consulted the front desk for advice.
For the location, service and cozy quarters, the price at The New Orient Hotel can’t be beat – rooms go from 85-185 Euro/night, a relative steal in pricey Paris.
As I mentioned earlier, I was traveling with my family and we are all vegetarians/vegans, so our dining choices were largely influenced by the availability meat-free menu options over price, reputation, or authenticity. In full disclosure, we struggled at times to find the “perfect” place to grab lunch/dinner, and at several points during the trip, ended up choosing the restaurant out of sheer desperation (the combination of freezing temperatures and rumbling bellies was not ideal). Of course, this is not the way I would have preferred to choose a dinner spot in arguably the most famous food city on earth, but you do the best you can with what you have, right? I think given our restrictions, we still did pretty well. Here are some of our favorite spots:
Il Piccolino - Just a few steps away from our hotel entrance, Il Piccolino is a cozy Italian restaurant serving up delicious, fresh, authentic fare. The friendly owner – happy to speak English, French, or Italian to his customers – gave us a plate of green olives, country bread, and sun dried tomatoes (on the house!) upon being seated. For my entree, I ordered the penne with gorgonzola cream sauce with black pepper and crushed nuts. Absolutely delicious and worth every sinful bite. For dessert? Affogato, which is essentially cold vanilla gelato floating in hot espresso. Heaven. Il Piccolino was also able to accommodate vegan requests as well.
Il Piccolino, 10 rue de Constantinople, Paris
Le Petit Chalet - Le Petit Chalet was a happy accident. After an evening of shopping at the Christmas Markets in Saint Germain Des Pres, we were very hungry and just so happened to stop in front of this inviting spot to glance at their menu. Imagine our delighted surprise when we learned that the restaurant offered a 3 course prix fixe vegetarian menu for only 12.50 Euro. The French-country style food was served in generous portions and was fresh and tasty. My order consisted of a pureed vegetable soup, traditional ratatouille, and chocolate mousse. The owner – Eva – was very friendly and helpful and made our dining experience all the more enjoyable…be sure to chat her up if you visit this sweet little restaurant!
Le Petit Chalet, 17 rue Gregoire de tours, Paris
Mucha Cafe - Mucha Cafe – located in the beautiful Saint Germain Des Pres district – is perhaps the closest we came to a classic French Bistro experience, but unfortunately that meant minimal meal options for vegetarians. To be fair, there were different meat-free omelets on the dinner menu, but you probably know by now that I’m really picky about eggs (see my FAQ page for more details) so that wasn’t really an option for me. I ended up eating a delicious pureed vegetable soup and some of the French bread with Dijon mustard that came with our meals. It doesn’t sound like much, but I was satisfied and just happy to be having a meal in a French bistro! The food was good, service was average, and prices were fair.
Mucha Cafe, 227 blvd Saint-Germain, Paris
L’As du Fallafel - L’As du Fallafel – or, “Falafel Ace” – is well known in Paris for a reason. Their falafel is out of this world! We managed to score a table during the very busy lunch hour and immediately ordered their famed oversized pita sandwiches stuffed with creamy hummus, crispy falafel, tahini, homemade hot sauce, and veggies. With a side of fries, of course. I’m getting hungry just writing about it. Prices are cheap for the portion size and quality of the meal.
L’As du Fallafel, 34 rue des Rosiers, Paris
Chez Marianne - Just down the road from L’As du Fallafel is Chez Marianne, a little hole in the wall serving up Middle Eastern mezes, including big platters of salads, falafel, creamy hummus, and smoky eggplant. It’s a bit cramped but a great spot for a filling, healthy dinner and a cold beer. The host serenaded us with his acoustic guitar during dinner.
Chez Marianne, 2 rue des Hospitalieres Saint-Gervais, Paris
Risi et Bisi - Risi et Bisi, just a few blocks away from our hotel, was another spot-on choice for great Italian food. One of my most memorable meals in Paris was their fresh Tagliatelle pasta with truffle butter. Everything was expertly prepared, perfect sized portions, swift service, and an intimate atmosphere.
Risi et Bisi, 81 rue du Rocher, Paris
Scus’y - Yet another great Italian place near our hotel (I never get sick of Italian food, OK?). This one is much more casual than both Risi et Bisi and Il Piccolino – you come to Scus’y for their thin crust pizza, cold beers, and to catch a live soccer game. It’s a fun place with a lively atmosphere and a perfect late night spot after a day of sightseeing.
Scus’y, 41 rue de Constantinople, Paris
Diep - I hesitate to include Diep here because my feelings about it are very mixed. On one hand, it’s a gorgeous space with exquisite decor and serves up really excellent Chinese food. On the other hand, their prices are so inconsistent and in some cases, ludicrous. For instance, a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s Delight was in the neighborhood of 12 Euro (not bad). In order to bulk up the dish a bit, I asked for some tofu to be added. Little did I know, a few cubes of tofu costs an additional 8 Euro (roughly $10 US). We also asked for a pot of tea for the table (not priced out on the menu) which ended up costing us 24 Euro (roughly $30 US). Want a bottle of Heineken? That’ll cost you $10 US. Out of control. Good thing the food was really good…eat here only if someone else is paying!
Diep, 55 rue Pierre Charron, Paris
Paris is full of things to do and since I was only there for a week, I focused on the major tourist attractions – if I return, I’ll likely plan an itinerary that’s a bit more more off the beaten path. Our chosen activities also were influenced by the season/weather and the fact that we were traveling as a family. I think we got a great taste for what the city has to offer during the holidays! I’m not including the traditional “must-see’s” here – such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, etc. – because they appear in great detail in every tour guide to Paris. We visited them all and they are definitely worth your while! In addition to those famed spots, I’ve put together a list of some of our other activities that I felt were highlights of our trip and worth a recommendation.
Les Grands Magasins (Department Stores) - A visit to Paris in December is not complete without stopping by Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, the city’s answers to New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Come to see the beautiful holiday window displays and the breathtaking 70 foot tall Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette, which is decked out with 120 Swarovski crystals and rests on a base chandelier with 5,000 smaller crystals. Once you’re done snapping a billion photos of the tree, do some souvenir shopping for your lucky loved ones back at home!
Musee D’Orsay - Musee D’Orsay, located on the left bank of the Seine, is an impressive museum housed in the former Gare D’Orsay, a late 19th century Beaux-Arts train station. The Musee D’Orsay houses one of the most impressive collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world, with pieces by painters Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, and Renoir, to name a few. I’m no art geek by any stretch, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day admiring the artwork and beautiful surroundings of this museum. If you plan on eating at one of the dining establishments on premise, know that vegetarian options are extremely limited, and vegan options are non-existent.
Seine Night Cruise - I had read in several online travel guides to Paris that a Seine night cruise was a must-do, and I’m so glad I followed through and booked one! What a gorgeous, unique way to see the city lights… cruising down the Seine was unforgettable, not to mention one of the more romantic ways I can think of to see the city! The boat was (thankfully) heated, making this an activity you can enjoy year-round. We went through Les Bateaux Parisiens, which does a great ticket combo deal with Les Cars Rouges (see below).
City Bus Tour - OK, I know this they are cheesy and extremely touristy, but I’m a big advocate of the double-decker bus tours available in most cities. You get a great overview of the city sights, landmarks, and layout, plus free point-to-point transportation for the day or two that your ticket is valid. We went through Les Cars Rouges, through the combo ticket with Les Bateaux Parisiens (above).
Christmas Markets - I was pretty psyched to check out the Christmas Markets in Paris, mostly because I knew it would involve getting my hands on traditional vin chaud (hot mulled wine) and fresh Nutella crepes. These rows of little chalets bedecked with twinkle lights are a great place for souvenirs – you can get your hands on French soaps, wool scarves, artwork, jewelry, wooden toys, and countless other items
all while getting shoved by the massive crowds around you. Kidding aside, these markets are great – just know that if you go to the large one on the famed Champs Elysees, you will be crushed like a sardine due to the sheer number of fellow revelers around you. Instead, I’d go to the market in Saint Germain des Pres, which offers a similar – albeit much smaller – selection of goods with far more manageable crowds.
A couple of spots for the food obsessed -
I wholeheartedly recommend a stop at the famed – if not slightly overpriced – Laduree for their ridiculously good Macarons that come in a rainbow of pretty pastel colors. If you’re from New York, you know we now have a couple of Laduree outposts in the Big Apple but who cares? I want the real thing.
Laduree, 16 rue Royale, Paris
If you love to cook, do not leave Paris without stopping at E. Dehillerin, the city’s shopping mecca for professional chefs and avid home cooks alike. Think of a stripped down, no frills Williams Sonoma, only with lots more hard-to-find stuff, and you’ve got E. Dehillerin.
E. Dehillerin, 18-20 rue Coquilliere, Paris
My favorite neighborhoods for strolling & boutique browsing - In truth, I loved all of Paris, but my favorite neighborhoods by far were Le Marais and Saint Germain des Pres. Both were filled with cozy cafes, great boutiques, wine bars, and cobblestone lined side streets. If you’re looking to fill a day without a set itinerary, these two neighborhoods would be my personal recommendations for a fun day of strolling the streets of Paris, doing some people watching, and ducking into some great shops.
So that pretty much concludes my guide to Paris! I loved, loved, loved the City of Light and hope this guide serves you well should you ever get a chance to visit.