12 Hours in Paris

Three and a half years ago, I followed my friend Adam’s lead and imagined what I would do if I was given just Twelve Hours in Paris.

I still stand by the choices I made then. But, prompted by reader Patricia’s recent comment on that post, I thought it would be fun to revisit that theme now, and dream up another ideal Parisian day, featuring shops and restaurants that have opened in the meantime.

My twelve hours in Paris, 2012 edition, will begin in late morning with a croissant from Gontran Cherrier’s bakery, which I think is one of the best in Paris, extra flaky and extra good. I will also buy a half loaf of his rye and red miso bread, so good I won’t mind schlepping it around with me all day.

I will then spend a couple of leisurely hours walking up and around the Montmartre hill, which remains full of secrets even when you’ve lived in the neighborhood for many years. I will climb up staircases and down cobblestoned streets, check out the vineyard, peek into courtyards (and tiptoe in for a closer look if the gate happened to be open), and enjoy the village-y quiet and the greenery.

Hopping onto the metro or catching a Vélib’, I will go and have lunch at Bob’s Kitchen, the vegetarian restaurant where I cooked for a short while last year. I will order the day’s veggie stew, the satisfying mix of grains, legumes, roasted vegetables, and crudités I lunched on day in, day out during my stint there. I might also get one of their irresistible maki (garnished with avocado, mango, and daikon radish) to share.

French Food Cheat Sheet

After that, depending on my mood and the weather, I will either go and sit in the Square du Temple park to enjoy the sunshine and a good book, or retreat to one of the nearby museums — perhaps the Musée des Arts et Métiers or the Centre Pompidou.

If I feel like a treat in the middle of the afternoon, I will go and have a cup of tea and a fresher-than-fresh pastry at Jacques Genin‘s: he specializes in rejuvenating French classics, and his salon de thé is a bright and comfortable haven. He also crafts exquisite chocolates, smooth caramels, and delicate pâtes de fruit, so I might get a box of one or the other for later consumption, or as a gift.

After that, I will take some time to walk around the Haut Marais neighborhood, explore the little streets and their designer boutiques, and drop by Première Pression Provence for some olive oil and Poilâne for a bag of punition cookies. I’ll walk up to Merci on Boulevard Beaumarchais to see what’s new in their kitchenware (downstairs) and dinnerware (upstairs) selection.

I will then rest my tired legs at Candelaria, a cocktail bar that’s “hidden” behind an unmarked door at the back of a tiny taqueria, before heading to dinner at Septime, where I would sit back and delight in Bertrand Grébaut’s vibrant and intuitive cuisine.

My twelve hours will likely be up by the end of the meal, and I will be exhausted, but well fed and happy with the feeling that I’d have made the most of my time in Paris.

What would you do with twelve hours in Paris? And how about twelve hours in the city you know or like best?


Gontran Cherrier Boulanger, 22 rue Caulaincourt, 75018 Paris, M° Blanche. Closed on Wednesdays.
Bob’s Kitchen, 74 rue des Gravilliers, 75003 Paris, M° Arts et Métiers. Open daily.
Centre Pompidou, place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, M° Rambuteau. Closed on Tuesdays.
Musée des Arts et Métiers, 60 rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris, M° Arts et Métiers. Closed on Mondays.
Jacques Genin, 133 rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, M° Filles du Calvaire. Closed on Mondays.
Première Pression Provence, 35 rue Charlot, 75003 Paris, M° Filles du Calvaire. Closed on Mondays.
Poilâne, 38 rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris, M° Filles du Calvaire. Closed on Mondays.
Merci, 111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, M° Saint-Sébastien-Froissard. Closed on Sundays.
Candelaria, 52 rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris, M° Filles du Calvaire. Open daily.
Septime, 80 rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 67 38 29, M° . Closed on Saturdays and Sundays; no lunch service on Mondays.

  • Last time we had a few spare hours (last year), we were staying in Boulogne-Billancourt; we got lunch at a wonderful boulangerie there who had fruit tarts to die for (and we are coming over again next month, I am so longing for one of those fruit tarts!), and ate it in a children’s playground, then went to the Musée des Années 30, then walked down to Porte de Seine and bought a Mobilis ticket, and then basically did a circular tour of Paris by bus until it was time to collect our luggage and head to the Gare du Nord.

    I am not sure what we shall do this year; it does depend on how much free time we have.

  • Any day in a city for us starts with a decent coffee. Last time we were in Paris we were pretty impressed by what we found at Kooka Boora. So I think our day would probably start there….

  • Love the idea! I don’t know a lot of the places you mentioned, but I’ll be sure to check them out.

  • J’adore ! especially because you chose my former neighborhood, the haut marais :) so quaint and so many streets to explore. for me, 12 hours in paris would not be complete without also strolling the canal st martin and popping over to the bon marche for a tasty snack.

  • Thank you for a mini-vacation today. This is very close to my perfect 12 hours, though I would have a hard time not eating a taco at Candeleria. Great minds think alike!

  • Vicki

    I will be in Paris in the fall and want to do all the things you mentioned especially visit Centre Pompidou to view Gerhard Richter paintings…

  • Karen

    This is perfect timing, as we are headed to Paris in two weeks. Thank you!

  • This is perfect timing for me as well, as I head to Paris on Wednesday! Thank you! I can’t wait to try some of your suggestions!

  • My roommate is in Paris right now!! I wish I had gone with her!

  • This list sounds really appealing. As I have never been to Paris but have always wanted to and one day will, I would have to see some of the tourist things. But after that I would just like the time to wander any path that takes my fancy…think I am in for more than 12 hours though!

  • Pascale

    I can see you didn t do what you are dreaming about…as you cannot rent a velib with an american credit card as it diesn t have a chip. Only european credit cards have one. So no american on velib.

    • That’s a good point, but I’m French with a French credit card so I don’t have that problem, and a great majority of Western countries have chips on their credit cards, too. I trust American banks will eventually follow in our footsteps!

      • You can now rent a Vélib with an American credit card, which you need to do online at their website (not at one of the sidewalk kiosks.) Biking is a great, and fast, way to get around Paris.

        • Good to know, David, thank you!

    • slicknik25

      actually this is not true, last time i was in paris a few years back i was able to use my Amex to rent the bikes.

  • Adelaida

    Mon dieu! Now I’m craving for Paris!
    I’m imagining it’s a beautiful clear and warm spring weekday here in Santiago de Chile. I would go for breakfast at Coquinaria and probably buy something for my pantry in their well stocked shop. Then I would slowly walk my way down to Providencia, where I would pop in many tiny bookstores and design shops. Eating some icecream at Sebastian or a warm and chewy brownie at Emporio La Rosa could be attempted. Lunch at the vegetarian El Huerto with some carrot and orange juice and probably walk up the riverside park for some dessert and coffee in Clementina, sitting in the grass on one of their tablecloths. Then I would take a cab and go to Rozas to buy lots of wool, buttons, stuffing and beads for my amigurumis, stopping by adjacent 21 de mayo for some kitchenware bargain, like a huge piping bag or some fancy cupcake decoration. Then I would meet my lovely husband, who would envy me for having spent such a fun day, and have some iced green tea while strolling up Alonso de Córdova and its shops. I would have then hurry ourselves to Tiramisu and for sure enjoy some really cold pisco sour, a piadina capresse and extremely rich dulce de leche ice cream with cookies. Now I’m craving for many things!

    • Zoey

      Chile! Far, far away and very beautiful!

  • I’m going to Paris next week. I will follow your footsteps. thanks…

  • Haven’t been yet, but hoping to do so this year. I’m taking notes though! :)

  • saki

    Que c’est magnifique! I will tell this posting to my mother who is going to visit Paris next month. Now I myself imagine 12 hours in Kyoto, my favorite city in Japan… Starting from breakfast in INODA Coffee, I would walk down the Aneya-koji st., dropping at some small lovely stores. After the lunch of Burdigala’s sandwich at the riverside of Kamogawa, I would go to a fabulous bookstore Keibunsha, jumping on metro. There, surrounded by arts books, picture books, various books of literature and philosophy, I would be filled with delight. In closing, I can’t forget to get seasonal candies at Gion-Koishi for the next day!

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Saki! I’m adding those recommendations to my list for a future visit.

  • I just forwarded your post to my husband – it sounds like too much fun not to do soon! In the meantime, here in sunny Prague, I’d get up extra early in order to reach the Charles Bridge by 7:30, to watch the sun rise and get to enjoy the bridge before it becomes covered with people. Walking across it that early is a treat and I’d surely linger to take pictures. From there, I’d head to Old Town Square – winding my way through the old streets to the square which is also wonderful very early in the morning. For breakfast, I’d stop ny Bakeshop Praha for some coffee, croissants and people watching. Fortified, I’d jump on my bike (or rent one) and wind my way to the river, where I’d bike north from the Rudolfinum to the far reaches of Prague’s city limits, taking in some of Prague’s most beautiful parks along the way (and passing the zoo as well). I’d either lunch at a hot dog stand along the way or bike back through the parks and down the steep embankment and eat lunch at Sansho, Prague’s current and best example of simple, divine food. After lunch, I’d duck into the city’s medieval art museum which is nearby and explore Prague’s very well curated collection, before heading off to meet friends up in Vyshehrad, Prague’s second castle grounds, for coffee and cake in the park high above the river. I’d bike home from there, and wander around Vinohrady, exploring its antique stores until evening when, my 12 hours nearly up, I’d head to La Degustation for their shortened tasting menu.

    • Wonderful and very tempting! I haven’t been to Prague in years, and you’re making me want to book a ticket right now. :)

  • Love Paris especially with Eurostar ease of travel, we found some great restaurants, there with franchisee for Wrapid (getting a pop up at Bluewater by the way ,opening April 5th) Paris is getting affordable again at 1.2 exchange rate. We love the districts the viaduct walk from Bastille.
    Love the blog

  • Clotilde, I’ll just come with you. Soon, I hope.

  • Great suggestions. I did some of those things when I was in Paris back in October. But I’d add Le Temps en Temps restaurant (11eme) to the list. Delicious fish and stunning desserts!

  • I’m moving to Paris for 9 months next year and will put this in my way too long list of things to do!! So excited!

  • We leave for Paris this Sunday and I’ve added many of these places to my map! I love the Marais and looking forward to more exploring in Montmartre including looking through the gates at the vineyard you mention.

  • Rachel

    Had just a few hours in Paris, but enough to hit Bob’s Kitchen for lunch, then Jacques Genin, and Poilâne on the way back to Montparnasse — all destinations were to die for. The deceptively rustic-looking apple tart at Poilâne particularly blew me away. Thank you so much for the suggestions!

    • I’m delighted this post helped you make the most of your time in Paris, Rachel! ^_^

  • m

    love your blog and books…..we will be in paris in october 2013….is there any other places you would add to your fab 2012 list

  • MB

    Great ideas! Excited for three days in Paris next week. Wondering if if your lunch/dinner suggestions have changed? Would your meal choices be the same in 2017?

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.