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Best Books to Read Before Going to Paris
Paris is a famously literary city. Not only has it been the home of many historical authors like Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, or Ernest Hemingway, but it also acts as the backdrop for many classic and contemporary works of fiction and nonfiction.
There are many books to read before visiting Paris, from classics to new releases, so what to choose for your Paris Reading List? Here, travel experts and friends share some of their favorite books set in Paris or alternative Paris travel guides that will get you excited for your next trip to Paris.
Best Books Set in Paris
Looking for novels set in Paris to inspire your coming Paris trip? Here’s a good list of classics and contemporary books that take place in Paris.
1. A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
A memoir of one of the great literary golden ages, Hemingway’s chronicle of Paris in the roaring twenties, unites the stories of two of the 20th century’s greatest writers: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Follow Hemingway in Paris during his early years as a young journalist and writer. Pieced together from letters, notes, and manuscripts after his death, Hemingway’s book brings to life that Paris ‘always a moveable feast.’ This is the Paris that visitors to Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and Brasserie Lipp try to touch.
2. Almost French – Sarah Turnbull
Funny and inspiring, Almost French is a must for tragic Francophiles! Sarah was an Australian TV journalist working for SBS when she met a Frenchman and moved to Paris. Her quest to fit in and to live up to the standards/stereotypes of French women is hilarious.
It’s also just about fitting into Parisian culture: how do you have perfect skin, ballet flats, bedhead hair, a wardrobe full of classics that you put together each morning with a certain unique flair – and therefore be quintessentially, nonchalantly French?
Through the funny stories, you develop a real desire for Sarah to get it together – to accept the realities of rats, suburban life and commuting, stereotypes of Anglophones as everyday issues that need to be confronted to hold on to the dream of being Parisian.
Suggested by Monique Skidmore | TripAnthropologist.com
3. The Room on Rue Amélie – Kristin Harmel
The Room on Rue Amélie takes place during the Nazi Occupation of Paris, focusing on how the war and day-to-day presence of the Germans affected the lives of American Ruby, her French husband Marcel, their neighbor and Jewish teenager Charlotte, and British Pilot Thomas. Told from alternating points of view, Kristin weaves their stories together as their lives intertwine.
You’ll like this book if you’re interested in the history of Paris during the Nazi Occupation and how it affected the lives of ordinary citizens. If you’ve read books like The Lilac Girls or The Nightingale, you’ll also enjoy this book.
Suggested by Alex | Life Well Wandered
4. Paris Letters – Janice Macleod
Paris Letters reads like the diary of a writer. In fact, Janice is a writer, however, she lives a life that she doesn’t love in a job that she finds unbearably stressful. One day in the midst of her inner turmoil and loneliness, she asks herself how much money she would need in order to quit her job. She soon finds herself at loose ends in Paris and begins to discover not only herself but her creativity and zest for living.
I found this book delightful. The author, the writing, the pictures that she paints of Paris both with her watercolors and her words…are all delightful. It is also funny. I laughed at her descriptions of her struggles with the French language and French bureaucracy. It is also inspiring and helps to remember that change is possible.
This book would appeal to those who enjoy memoirs, those who love Paris, or those who dream of starting a new life in a new place.
Suggested by Karen Keathley | PostcardsFromNana.com
5. Waking up in Paris – Sonia Choquette
“If I am going to be traumatized, then it might as well be in Paris,” was the desperate thought of American Sonia Choquette on the implosion of her 32-year-old marriage.
Joined by adult daughter Sabrina, spiritual teacher and author Sonia arrives in Paris reeling from the shocking Charlie Hebdo massacre. In the following years, she and Paris share a soul-searching journey and inevitably a new reality.
Moving through a succession of apartments and arrondissements, she shares honest, funny, and unfortunate experiences along the way. You are taken on long therapeutic walks, discovering each Quartier’s distinct character, visiting a long line of soul-nourishing Cafés, and discovering the Paris Sonia loves.
If you’ve ever suffered trauma, dreamt of re-inventing yourself, or living in the most beautiful city in the world, you will love this book.
Suggested by Jan Robinson| BudgetTravelTalk.com
6. Paris – Edward Rutherfurd
Rutherfurd spins a tale in Paris that spans centuries, combining historical fact with fictional characters. Among these characters are two brothers, one of whom works on building the Eiffel Tower, the other who becomes embroiled in the Pigalle underworld.
The 800+ pages are well worth the effort, as you learn a huge amount of history, all the while becoming intimately involved with the families whose stories link the past with present-day Paris.
The most interesting chapters detail the development of Paris from the Belle Époque through to World War II, a time which really helped to shape Paris into the city we know today. A city of art, culture, resistance, and a center for creatives, writers, and forward-thinkers.
As a lover of Paris, it was wonderful to learn more about the history of the city, from the 1200s through to WWII; and to have the City of Light come alive through Rutherfurd’s characters.
Suggested by Hannah Henderson | HannahHendersonTravel.com
7. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
If you’re interested in literature and learning more about the decadent Paris of the Twenties, this novel is a must-read. The cafes of Montparnasse, particularly, capture the essence of Paris in the Twenties, a heady time when so many literary figures, artists, and ex-pats made the City of Light their home – Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, and John Dos Passos to name a few.
Written in 1926, The Sun Also Rises captures the post-World War I generation as few novels can, with a cast of characters representing a jaded world-weary attitude that seeped into the bars, cafes, and literature of the time.
Though much of the novel is set in Spain, you will also find other Parisian landmarks in the book, such as the Madeleine Church and the 5-star Hotel de Crillon, which are still on the map of ‘it’ destinations in the city.
Suggested by Carol Perehudoff of WanderingCarol.com
8. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code follows Profesor of Harvard and symbolist Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu to solve a murder in the Louvre. Their search leads them to a member of Opus Dei trying to find the Holy Grail.
The trail leads our protagonists and us around Paris. The Ritz Hotel where Robert Langdon is staying, the Left Bank, Saint-Sulpice Church, and the Louvre.
If you haven’t read this book, here is yet one more morsel of trivia – Dan Brown’s book was banned in the Vatican, Lebanon, and India as offensive to Christianity. I think it’s an excellent book for everyone who loves mystery and Paris.
Suggested by Ania from TheTravellingTwins.com
Alternative Paris Travel Books
Get out of the box! Instead of the classic guidebooks, check out these alternative Paris travel books for a more local feeling. Explore the different Arrondissements of Paris, learn their secrets and look for their hidden gems with these alternative travel books about Paris.
9. The 500 Hidden Secrets of Paris by Marie Farman – Written by a local journalist, this book shows us all the most beautiful hidden corners and other gems in Paris.
10. Only in Paris by Duncan J.D. Smith – This comprehensive and illustrated guide is perfect for independent cultural travelers wishing to escape the crowds and understand cities from a different and unusual point of view.
11. Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide by Jessie Kanelos – This is a practical guide charmingly illustrated throughout to some delightful discoveries of Paris. Expect a beautiful little book that provides insights into the ‘real Paris’ the author knows and loves.
Best Books About Paris History
Any trip to Paris comes to a good dose of history, the streets of Paris have sooo many stories to tell. Here’s the list of our favorite Paris books covering interesting periods or chapters about the history of Paris.
12. Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne – This is a wonderfully written history of Paris by a noted historian and Francophile. This book is the most readable, exciting, and informative history of Paris.
13. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough – This bestseller tells the remarkable story of the generations of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris between 1830 and 1900 and how they changed America through what they learned.
14. How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean – This is the history of Paris development from chaotic medieval alleyways to the commercial and chic Grand Boulevards.
Best Books About Paris Food & Wine
What’s the essence of French cuisine? What to eat and drink in Paris? Check out our favorite books about Paris food & wine, perfect for food lovers.
15. Paris for Foodies: Your Ultimate Guide to Eating in Paris by Frederic Bibard – This is the official go-to guide for food lovers to enjoy an incredible gastronomic adventure in the City of Light.
16. Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A. J. Liebling – New Yorker staff writer A.J. Liebling celebrates the richness and variety of French food, fondly recalling great meals and memorable wines during his stay in Paris.
17. The Sweet Life in Paris: the Sweetest Adventure in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz – David Lebovitz is an American pastry chef living in Paris who writes about the bakeries, chocolates, cakes, restaurants, and sometimes perplexing cultural differences in Paris.
Best Paris Fashion Books
How to dress like a Parisian? Do you need some inspiration for your Paris Packing List? These Paris fashion books here below cover anything from French fashion, Parisian chic, and Paris Street Style.
18. Paris Through A Fashion Eye by Megan Hess – A beautiful book with gorgeous illustrations about fashion in Paris. Megan Hess takes you through the French capital, showing you the best places for a fashionista to eat, sleep, shop and play.
19. Dress Like a Parisian by Aloïs Guinut – This is a wise and witty guide with beautiful illustrations to finding your personal style, taking inspiration from how real Parisian women dress. This is really useful with much practical advice.
20. Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic by Isabelle Thomas – Don’t you know how to dress like a Parisian woman? This book gives clear ideas on building your wardrobe to look chic, with that ‘French touch.’ There are also great ideas on what to add or adapt to your existing clothes and accessories.
Best Paris Books for Kids
If you are traveling to Paris with kids, you may want to inspire them with a couple of kids’ books about Paris. Our little Paris Reading List includes fun and educational books for kids of all ages. These Paris books for kids are perfect to learn about the City of Light and get them as excited as you for your next trip to Paris.
21. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines the smallest one was Madeline.” Our little Parisian heroine is everybody’s favorite. Great for ages 4 and up, the kind of book “Please read it to me again,” in children.
22. Katie and the Impressionists by James Mayhew – This book is a fun and informative way for kids to learn about the French Impressionists like Monet, Manet, or Renoir, and some of their masterworks.
23. Kids Travel Guide to Paris by Shira Halperin – Let your kids become little experts about Paris through curious facts, challenging tasks, quizzes, and games. This book is a fun way to see Paris through the kids’ eyes.