Great Books About Paris: Read Before You Go

Doing a little reading (or even movie viewing) can be so inspiring before a trip. You might come up with ideas for sites to add to your itinerary, and it will generally build your excitement (Like you need to build your excitement. You are going to Paris after all!)

Here are my recommendations for books about Paris to read before you travel there. 

Key takeaways

  • Reading about Paris before visiting can provide valuable cultural and historical context.
  • Guidebooks like Rick Steves’ Paris help with planning and discovering great Paris places to explore.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz mixes humor with practical info.
  • The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino offers a deep dive into a single iconic street.
Paris skyline and Eiffel Tower with a pink sky

I have read each of these books and can recommend them without reservation. There are, of course, many more books available about Paris which I look forward to reading so that I can expand this list in the future. 

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Books to read before your trip to Paris 

Rick Steves’ Paris

The first thing you need to read before you create your Paris itinerary is a good-quality guidebook. And by that, I mean, of course, a Rick Steves Paris guidebook. If you’re planning to spend more than three days in Paris, I recommend getting the full guidebook. For a short trip or stopover in Paris, the Pocket Paris Guidebook is a good option. 

If you prefer a lower-key guidebook to provide ideas for sites, accommodations, and dining options then Rough Guides guidebooks might be more to your liking. If you want nitty-gritty details on everything for your itinerary, you definitely want to go with Rick Steves. 

Rick Steves Paris (Travel Guide)
  • Steves, Rick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 720 Pages – 09/20/2022 (Publication Date) – Rick Steves (Publisher)
Rick Steves Pocket Paris
  • Steves, Rick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 248 Pages – 07/11/2023 (Publication Date) – Rick Steves (Publisher)

1 Day in Paris: Complete Itinerary 

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

If you only read one book (outside of a guidebook) before traveling to Paris I recommend The Sweet Life in Paris. It’s a delightful read.

I found myself nodding and hmmm-ing as I read stories of Lebovitz’s experiences in Paris. At one point I even gasped aloud, laughed, and shouted out “That happened to me!” No one else was in the room at the time, but that’s not the point. 

Lebovitz doesn’t pull any punches about the things he dislikes about Paris…but don’t let that discourage you from going.

I think traveling to Paris with your eyes wide open will make you enjoy it more rather than find yourself unpleasantly surprised by any rudeness you might encounter. (Psst. He doesn’t pull any punches about Americans either.) 

The book includes some mouthwatering recipes, and he also offers his personal recommendations for Paris bakeries, chocolate shops, cheese shops, and more. *sigh* Now I really need to go back to Paris. 

Great Ideas for Free Things to Do on Your Trip to Paris

The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino

Elaine Sciolino’s The Only Street in Paris is a great study of a single historic street in Paris, the Rue des Martyrs. Sciolino was the New York Times Paris bureau chief, so she can definitely write.

Though not as fun and light-hearted a read as The Sweet Life in Paris, this is a book I strongly wish that I had read before going to Paris…and it made me hunger to return to Paris far more than any of the other books on this list.  

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
  • Sciolino, Elaine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages – 11/01/2016 (Publication Date) – W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Plan the perfect trip to Paris with this free printable travel planner.

My Life in France by Julia Child

When Julia Child arrived in Paris in 1948 with her husband Paul she didn’t know anything about the culture or language But she soon was engaging in the culture…and as a result, discovered her hidden talent for cooking. Child’s willingness to try new things and stretch herself led directly to her changing the face of cooking in America.

Child’s autobiography was used as part of the basis for the screenplay for the film Julie & Julia.   

My Life in France
  • Great product!
  • Child, Julia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Top Books About Travel and Self-Discovery

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Published posthumously, A Moveable Feast is the memoir of young Ernest Hemingway’s time in Paris as a writer following World War I.

It includes his personal stories and memories and features other notable Lost Generation figures like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Ford Maddox Ford. 

I picked up my copy at Shakespeare and Company on my trip to Paris. I love how the cover has a photo of Hemingway standing out in front of the original Shakespeare and Company shop with the store’s founder Sylvia Beach.

While you’re in Paris, do stop by this iconic bookstore. Though it’s not the original shop that Hemingway and James Joyce spent time in, it’s a great place to kick back and relax in Paris…and pick up a lovely literary souvenir.

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages – 07/20/2010 (Publication Date) – Scribner (Publisher)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters with very different personalities—Vianne and Isabelle—as they struggle through World War II in France. Vianne has to care for her daughter alone after her husband goes off to fight while Isabelle joins the Resistance.  

I think I could confidently put The Nightingale on my list of the best novels I’ve ever read. Kristin Hannah is a great writer. Once I got into this book, I literally couldn’t put it down.

So definitely read this one even if you’re not heading off to Paris. 

The Nightingale: A Novel
  • Hannah, Kristin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 608 Pages – 04/25/2017 (Publication Date) – St. Martin’s Griffin (Publisher)

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Gaston Leroux’s classic tale of The Phantom of the Opera should be on your Paris trip prep list. You especially should read this if your Paris itinerary includes a tour of the Palais Garnier opera house, the setting for the book. 

Our guided tour of the Palais Garnier was hubby’s favorite thing we did on our trip to Paris. He loved it so much in fact that he went back later for a self-guided tour while I did some window shopping at Galeries Lafayette a block away. 

The Phantom of the Opera: The Original Novel
  • Leroux, Gaston (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 222 Pages – 12/07/2010 (Publication Date) – Tribeca Books (Publisher)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Beautifully written and translated, The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of 12-year-old Paloma who has decided she’s going to kill herself on her 13th birthday.

There is also Renee, the apartment building’s concierge who hides her intellectual side from the tenants. Then they meet the building’s newest resident Ozu. 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • Great product!
  • Barbery, Muriel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook is a charming book that tells the story of bookseller Laurent who comes across a woman’s handbag in the street. When the police are unable to take his report right away, Laurent decides to investigate and track down the owner of the bag himself.

It’s an enjoyable read that reminded me a bit of the movie While You Were Sleeping

The Red Notebook
  • Laurain, Antoine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages – 04/07/2015 (Publication Date) – Gallic Books (Publisher)

The Best Books to Read on a Plane

What books (or movies) would you recommend that people read before traveling to Paris?

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Books to read before going to Paris
Books to read before your trip to Paris

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