48 Hour Vegan Guide to Paris
 

Ah, Paris- the City of Love, the City of Lights, and the City of All Things to Be Consumed. Every street corner is STUFFED with charming, historical things to experience and see- art galleries, sidewalk cafes, and seemingly endless amounts of effortlessly chic women incessantly smoking cigarettes. Amongst the many butcher shops and stores peddling cheese and pastries dripping with butter, you’ll find plenty of plant-based fare (even with a take on French cuisine!) sprinkled throughout the city’s cobblestone streets.

Paris was stop number two for my husband, Justin, and I on a trip around Europe, between time in Dublin and Amsterdam. Between taking in gorgeous frescos, romantic strolls along the Seine, and fighting off the crazy mobs of Paris-in-July tourists, we discovered a ton of awesome places with outstanding vegan food, as well as some fantastic things to do. Here are my tips and tricks that I learned over the course of a 48-hour marathon around the city.  


HOW TO GET THERE

You will likely land at Charles de Gaulle Airport, some 40 minutes outside of Paris’s city center. I would plan for at least an hour or two from when your plane lands to leaving the airport- in our experience, we had to take a fairly long shuttle from the plane to the terminal and then wait in line for quite a bit to get through immigration. Following that, you’ll get in yet another line- this time, for public transit into Paris (just follow the signs for the train and ground transportation). Although there are a multitude of options, many of them are SUPER expensive (i.e. an Uber would have cost over €100!), so we choose to take the RER B city train (the cheapest and quickest option) into Paris, which cost approximately €10.50 per person.

There are a plethora of ticket options for you to buy in the ground transportation area, so make sure you stand in the right line (boxy machines that will have BILLETS, TICKETS, BILLETES Paris Ile-de-France Train, RER, Tramway, Metro, Bus written at the top)- we stood in the wrong line for approximately 20 minutes before we figured out where we were supposed to be (here’s an awesome guide to using the RER B train). Once that’s taken care of, the train will quickly whisk you into Paris’s city center!


HOW TO GET AROUND

There is no getting around it- in my experience, Paris is one of the most expensive places I’ve visited (definitely more so than Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco). That being said, public transit is so cheap and super easy to use- Justin and I got a super short Uber one time, but otherwise, exclusively relied on Metro and RER trains to get around. Depending on how long you’ll be there, pick up a Paris Visite Pass, which will give you unlimited rides around Paris and the surrounding suburbs for between 1-5 days (read more about it here); otherwise, a one way ticket will cost you around €2 (which, considering how large Paris is, is sort of a steal!).

Speaking of stealing, Justin and I had zero problems with this, but you should definitely be aware of your possessions and surroundings on the Metro, which is somewhat famous for pickpockets and thieves. Wear a crossbody bag or a clutch; don’t have your phone hanging out of your back pocket; and try not to scream “I’M A TOURIST” if at all possible- basically, use basic street smarts and common sense and you’ll be fine!

Also worth noting if you’re visiting in the summertime, the Metro (and pretty much every place we visited in the city) does not have air conditioning. Considering the trains can get crowded (like butt-pressed-against butt crowded), this can lead to some hot and sticky situations- so make sure you wear breathable clothes (and maybe an extra swipe of deodorant).


WHERE TO STAY

As you may know, Paris is broken up into twenty neighborhoods (called “arrondissements”), which are numbered from the oldest part of the city to the newest, spiraling out like a clockwise snail shell from the city’s center. A lot of the popular sites are stuffed within the 1st through 9th Arrondissements, which of course, comes with higher price tags for accommodations.

Justin and I snagged a cheap Airbnb in the 15th district, a largely residential, quiet neighborhood full of parks and sleepy street side cafes. While I was initially nervous it was going to be too far from the sites we were visiting, it was only about a 20 minute metro ride plus a 30 second walk from the most touristy parts of Paris. It honestly was lovely to see a more “authentic” side of Paris, where we didn’t have to maneuver the sidewalks around hoards of Americans clad in sandals and socks (what is this? Guys, we gotta stop the madness) and servers in cafes didn’t instantaneously start speaking to us in English. Try also looking in the 16th and 17th Arrondissements, for areas that might be slightly more fast-paced and closer to the action.


WHAT TO EAT

Paris is famous for its food scene and bless its heart, the vegan scene did not disappoint. From the most buttery croissants you can imagine to, hands-down, the best gelato I’ve had, make sure to pack your stretchiest fat pants for your visit. Just make sure they’re also your most stylish fat pants. This is still Paris.

Breakfast

Cloudcakes

6 Rue Mandar, 75002 Paris, France; Monday through Friday 9:00-19:00; Saturday 9:30-19:00; Sunday 11:30-15:30

Cloudcakes is an all vegan coffee shop and cafe located about a fifteen minute walk northeast of the Louvre. You can select from the gorgeous pastries in the bakery case or from an array of more hearty dishes, like avocado toast sprinkled with cilantro and pomegranate or buttery grilled cheese with mushrooms.

Justin and I split a croissant; pancakes heaped with whipped cream, fruit, almonds, and caramel sauce; and a bagel stuffed with cream cheese and tons of fresh, crispy veggies. Everything we tried was great- the croissant was flaky (I wish I would have tried one stuffed with chocolate or almonds- cause the only thing better than a croissant is a croissant stuffed with more deliciousness); the hefty portion of pancakes were like dessert for breakfast without being cloyingly sweet, and the bagel featured a satisfying combination of texture profiles (a crunchy crust, chewy center, silky cream cheese, and crisp veggies). Top it all off with a creamy soy latte and you have yourself a perfect start to the day.

While this light-filled coffee shop seems like it caters to English-speaking tourists and expats (the menu is clearly and easily displayed in English), this didn't stop several locals from popping in to pick up a pastry or two on their way to work during our leisurely breakfast. So regardless of which country you call home, this is a great option, especially if you’re visiting the Louvre or the neighboring Musee d’Orsay.

Laelo

63 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 75009 Paris, France; 8:00-20:00

In my not-so-healthy omnivorous yesteryears, I used to pound a pain au chocolat and latte every single morning and there are times now that I still yearn for the flaky, chocately goodness of my old, artery-clogging breakfast routine. God bless this all-vegan, all-organic cafe that churns out some of the best pastries I have ever had in the world, including some absolutely outstanding pain au chocolat (incredibly buttery and flaky, with the smoothest chocolate filling you could imagine). When we stopped here, we quickly grabbed the croissants as we were in a pretty big hurry, but that is just the tip of the pastry iceberg- their display case was PACKED with artfully decorated petit fours and gorgeous tarts covered with plump berries.

From grab-and-go tarts to a cold-case packed with ready-to-eat sandwiches and smoothies to savory lunch and dinner options (think falafel sandwiches and cassoulets drenched in cheese), I wish I had an opportunity to come back and try both lunch and dinner here. Grab a sidewalk table, sink your teeth into the pillowy goodness that is Laelo’s pastries, and bask in the golden glow of mornings in Paris.

LUNCH AND DINNER

La Palanche d'Âulạc-

13 Rue Rodier, 75009 Paris, France; Friday through Tuesdays from 12:00-15:00; 6:30-10:30

La Palanche d’Âulạc is a simple restaurant tucked away on a sleepy street in the 10th Arrondissement. Stepping into this all plant-based Vietnamese restaurant is a bit like dropping in an old family friend’s house for dinner- you are greeted by a kind, gentle smile, a relaxed and quiet atmosphere, and a steaming bowl of utterly delicious soup. Instead of having an overwhelming menu with tons and tons of options, this restaurant has created a streamlined menu of well-crafted and thoughtful dishes.

Justin and I split an appetizer called lumpia, a thin crispy crepe roll stuffed with leeks, bamboo, and smoked tofu. Each bite was accompanied by the savory peanut dipping sauce and a satisfying crunch- the perfect start to a meal for two starving travelers.

For the main dishes, Justin ordered the bò bún nems, a dish of rice vermicelli with hunks of soy meat and sautéed with onions, spring rolls, and a mixture of other veggies, like carrots and bean sprouts. I ordered the mi kathi, a rice-based soup in a tumeric-coconut milk broth, with hints of lemongrass and galangal and spiced chunks of tofu. The portions are HUGE- unless you’re starving, two people could likely share an appetizer and an entree. You may not want to split your meal with your dining companion, though- our meals were fantastic! The bò bún nems, while certainly hearty, was still reasonably light and fresh- the perfect fuel for a day of walking around the city. The mi kathi, though, was the star of the show- the broth was incredibly flavorful and deeply rich and the tofu had a wonderful chewy, almost meat-like texture. I feel like a big bowl of this soup would be the perfect accompaniment to a rainy autumn day in Paris.  

Also, a bonus- in an extremely expensive city, our bill here wasn’t shockingly steep. Good food at a reasonable price? Oui oui, s’il vous plait!

Cafe Ginger

9 Rue Jacques Cœur, 75004 Paris, France; Sunday though Thursday 12:30-15:00; Friday and Saturday 12:30-15:00; 19:30-21:30

Located about a 20 minute walk east of Notre Dame is an intimate eatery called Cafe Ginger. This vegan restaurant offers daily rotating specials featuring fresh, organic ingredients and creative takes on standard lunch fare. The space is light-filled yet cozy, and the restaurant's colorful dishes pop against the space’s crisply white walls. On a sunny summer day, Justin and I snagged a table on the sidewalk, happily people watching and sipping wine while waiting for our meals.

On the day we visited, the menu offered a spring roll dish, plump rice paper wraps bursting with bean sprouts and avocado and a ratatouille-inspired lasagna, with thick slabs of roasted eggplant and creamy tomato sauce. The entrees were both light, fresh, and delicious, but my favorite part about the meal were the plentiful sides heaped on our plates. From a tangy hummus, to an earthy lentil dish and sweetly sour pickled cabbage, I absolutely loved the tiny bits of sides that created a delicious rainbow across across our plates.

Dining in France is a leisurely experience to be shared with friends and a bottle of wine, so it comes as no surprise that service can sometimes feel a bit slow to folks used to a more speedy pace of meals. However, the service here was awesome- the owner served us, happily sharing the story of his restaurant and remarking on the veritable explosion of new vegan eateries popping up around the city. Having been around for five plus years, Cafe Ginger has blazed the (delicious) trail for all these new shops in town.

L’As du Falafel

32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France; Sunday through Thursday 11-23:30; Friday 11-18:30

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As an Anthony Bourdain fan girl (R.I.P.), you can’t come to Paris and not stop in at L’As du Falafel, debatably one of the best falafel shops in a city completely brimming with stores peddling these crispy chickpea fritters. With devotees ranging from Lenny Kravitz to David Lebovitz, a famous Paris food blogger, I was beyond excited to give this shop in the bustling Le Marais neighborhood a try.

Due to its fame, I had heard complaints of crazy long lines of hangry tourists, but when we arrived for dinner, we were seated right away in the crammed cafe (although, admittedly, there was probably a line of about fifteen or so people waiting by the to-go counter).

Ordering and getting our food delivered was like a perfectly choreographed, well-oiled machine; the staff whizzed by our table, dropping off a beer here, a heaping basket of fries there, and seamlessly hooting at the World Cup match blaring on every TV. While falafel is a great street food, I’d definitely recommend grabbing a seat in the shop if you can- you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor and by the end of the experience, you’ll leave like old wartime buddies.

I LOVE falafel and am well-accustomed to the sandwiches served in the U.S.- always three huge fritters on a flat pita sprinkled with lettuce, tomato, and a dash of tahini. L’As du Falafel turned my world upside down- eight or more small balls of garlicky falafels were stuffed inside a pillowy pita, literally bursting with creamy tahini sauce. Expect to finish your sandwich with your face half-covered with bits of pickled red cabbage and a smear of spicy harissa- so potentially not ideal for a first date.

I wish I had more time in Paris to determine which falafel shop is really the gold standard, but with a perfectly crafted sandwich (that will only set you back about $10) and an almost zany dining experience, L’As du Falafel is not to be missed.

Le Potager du Marais

24 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris, France; Wednesday through Sunday 12-15:00; 19-22:30; Monday 19-22:30

Also located in the Marais neighborhood, this restaurant focuses on creating plant-based takes on traditional French dishes, like French onion soup and blanquette de veau. The restaurant’s interior strikes a balance between feeling cozily homey and upscale, a place where you can sit down for some time with a good bottle of wine and a couple of your favorite dining companions.

Justin and I sat at one of the sidewalk cafe tables- on a street bustling with fruit stalls and boulangeries, it seemed sinful to dine inside. Sharing a bottle of wine while people-watching in this undeniably energetic portion of the city was undoubtedly one of my favorite experiences of our entire time in Europe.

For our meal, we shared the tartinade (which means “spread”) appetizer, featuring hummus, a mushroom pate, eggplant caviar, and seaweed tartare, with a heaping basket of fresh bread hunks. The stand-outs were definitely the mushroom pate, which somehow nailed the fatty taste and nubbly texture of its meaty brethren, and the seaweed tartare, its salinity, chew, and umami flavor creating an oceany spread I wish I could eat by the spoonful.

Justin ordered the cassoulet, with pink lentils, smoked tofu, fresh seaweed and fennel grated with hazelnuts. This comforting stew is layered and complex, with the seaweed and smoked tofu providing an incredible depth of flavor and satisfying fatty mouthfeel. I ordered the bourguignon de seitan, a deeply rich stew of red wine, mushrooms, and hunks of seitan. The incredibly rich broth serves as an umami bomb, making the tender seitan and juicy mushrooms taste fantastically savory. For dessert, we split creme brulee with apricots (I will forever associate creme brulee with Amelie, anyone else?)- the thick vanilla cream was perfectly complemented with chunks of juicy apricots and a delightfully crisp caramelized sugar top.

 

It was our last meal in Paris and I wouldn’t have traded it for any place else in the world.

DESSERT

Amorino

Multiple locations; time varies

Still not quite stuffed to the gills yet? On a hot and humid Paris afternoon, nothing hits the spot like some creamy gelato. Amorino is a gelato shop that features about six or so sorbet flavors, from classics like chocolate to more unique offerings, like lime basil. I’ve previously had sorbets that can be overly icy, bordering on gritty, but Amorino’s sorbets were SO rich and creamy, with an almost custard like quality. A perfect spot for an afternoon date, prior to a stroll by the Seine.


WHAT TO DO

Paris has SO much to see, do, taste, touch, and drink, and you can’t really go wrong with any of it. With only 48 hours in Paris, here is what we crammed in.

Stroll by the Seine at night

Every single blog article instructs tourists to do this and prior to my visit, I kept thinking to myself “What’s the big deal? I’ve seen a river before.” After visiting though, I can officially attest that strolling by the Seine was one of the best (and certainly the cheapest!) experience I had in Paris.

Watching the sky turn cotton-candy colors over the historic facades of fairy tale buildings, catching the Eiffel Tower lights turn on and sparkle in the distance, and blending in with the thousands of Parisians relaxing on the riverside (which ranged from a group throwing a full-blown brass band party to a one woman ukulele show to a bunch of friends sitting around and drinking seemingly endless amounts of wine). Be sure to stop by one of the bars (which are, at times, LITERAL holes in the wall) along the riverside and pick up a bottle of wine (which can be found supercheap- like under €10 cheap!), plop down on the grass, and just drink it all in. There are very few places I can think of where you can tangibly feel the pulse of whatever city you’re in, but this is definitely one of them.

Musee d’Orsay

1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France; Tuesday, Wednesday through Sunday- 9:30-18:00; Thursdays- 9:30-21:45

This expansive art museum houses some of the world’s finest and most famous Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, from the likes of Monet, Degas, and Cézanne. While the art collection is, of course, stunning, my favorite part about the museum was the building itself, a converted 1900 train station. The grandeur of the architecture perfectly complements the artwork (the massive sculptures in the main terminal pop against the intricate floral details that grace the ceiling).

I also appreciated the size of the space- we could reasonably spend half a day exploring the museum and feel like we hit most of the highlights. Other museums (cough, cough, the Louvre) are so huge and cavernous that it makes it challenging for visitors with a short timeframe to really make it worth their while.

All that being said, this was one of the most touristy places we visited… and that’s saying a lot. I would recommend hitting the galleries with the most famous artists (I’m looking at you, van Gogh) as early as possible so you can enjoy your art without being surrounded by a thousand cell phone screens.

Another protip? Most Paris attractions (including Musee d’Orsay) allow you to buy tickets online. We bought our tickets ahead of time for literally everything and it saved us a ton of time we  would have otherwise spent in line.

While you’re in the ‘hood, be sure to stop by the Les Deux Plateaux, a highly controversial art installation in the interior courtyard of the Palais Royal. I personally love the juxtaposition of the candy-striped pillars against the regal facade of the palace- but see what you think for yourself!

Eiffel Tower… at 8 am

Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France

Can any Paris list not include a visit to the veritable symbol of Paris? While walking along the Seine the previous night, we had seen the Eiffel Tower’s dazzling light show (from sundown to 1:00 am, on the hour) and like moths to the touristy flame, immediately hitched an Uber to the structure. With barriers, construction, pushy vendors, fences, and sketchy people lurking about, visiting at night definitely did not live up to my idealistic expectations.

The following day, we arrived around 8 am to the Trocadero Metro Station, where you will be greeted by a mostly deserted, completely unobstructed view of the tower. With a coffee in our hands, the morning sun on our faces, and the Eiffel Tower to ourselves, it was one of those moments I will remember for the rest of my life.

Palais Garnier

8 Rue Scribe, Place de l'Opera, 75009 Paris, France; daily from 10:00-17:00

The building that inspired the Phantom of the Opera has to be grand, right? Turns out that “grand” almost seems like an understatement for this exquisitely opulent opera house, whose gorgeous facade and even more eye-popping interior is definitely worth exploring for theater enthusiasts, architecture nerds, and Instagram fanatics alike. Roam through room after room of gilded walls and intricate frescos; learn about the history of the opera with the rotating exhibits (I’ll be honest- I’m mostly into opera for the costumes and they had some absolutely stunning pieces on display), or even watch dancers and sopranos practice onstage for the night’s performance. This building is SO gorgeous that it kind of made Versailles pale in comparison, and that is saying a lot!

Walking tour of Montmartre

Various tours are available here

Picasso, Hemingway, and Dali all, at one time or another, called Montmartre home. With attractions as well-known as the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur, the streets of Montmartre are what spring to my mind when I think about Paris- bustling cheese shops, crowded sidewalk cafes, and a dizzying maze of cobblestone streets; and while you can certainly roam them alone, I love a good free walking tour and Montmartre is filthy with ‘em.

If you’re unfamiliar with a “free walking” tour, essentially, you are led around for an hour or two by a local and at the end, you pay the guide whatever you thought the tour was “worth”. In my experience, these tour guides are more prone to hustle (in a good way) than tour guides that are paid regardless.

Our tour in Montmartre was no exception- we took a Discovery Walks tour (which departs from the Blanche Metro station daily at 11am, 2.30pm & 5pm; look for the excited individual in the hot pink vest), who generally try to highlight the secret gems, like street art and urban legends. Our guide was enthusiastic (and from Chicago! Woo- represent!), knowledgeable, and obviously passionate about the neighborhood. Traipsing around the streets of Montmartre is like being lost in “Midnight in Paris”- sign me up!

Palace of Versailles

Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles, France; 9-18:30 Tuesday through Sunday

Versailles stands as quite the icon in American culture (more so than any other castle than I can think of), so I knew that I needed to see it in our short time in Paris. Located about 16 miles (or about a 45 minute drive) outside of Paris, it certainly isn’t conveniently located, but there is absolutely no reason to go with a tour group, as getting here via public transit is super easy (check out this guide for more  information).

Some protips about Versailles:

Admittedly, I was a Sofia Coppola fangirl when I was younger and mainly wanted to see Versailles because of watching the movie “Marie Antoinette” a million times. During our time there, we only visited the main palace (which is included in the general admission ticket), with the Kings’ and Queens’ Apartments. I think I was expecting a blow by blow retelling of my favorite decadent party girl and all her lascivious antics, but alas, there was little mention of the lady on the audio tour. If you’re a Marie Antoniette fanatic, you may have better luck touring the Petit Trianon.

Versailles is gorgeous, imposing, and full of history- it also happened to be the only place I felt incredibly uncomfortable due to the volume and manner of tourists that were surrounding every possible inch of my body. If Versailles is on your bucket list, it is most certainly worth a visit, but I would try to hit this first thing in the morning to avoid being manhandled by mobs of people unfamiliar with personal space.

Like every place in France (make that Europe), Versailles is not air-conditioned. Pack in thousands of tourists on a humid summer day and you got yourself one panic-attack stricken Jessica. Word to the wise- wear light and breathable clothing.


And that, my friends, is my guide to Paris in 48 hours- what did I miss? What should I do next? Any must-eats that I gotta try on my next go-around? Let me know in the comments below!

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