15 recommended reads for those who dream of traveling to Paris

Stand-out titles to send you off on an armchair adventure to this literary (and foodie) paradise.

Paris has always captured the hearts and imaginations of writers, artists, and readers. So many now-classic authors including Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and James Baldwin wrote novels while visiting the City of Lights; contemporary authors of my acquaintance have traveled to Paris for inspiration, research, or for extended writing retreats. Artists in all mediums dream of creating, eating, and walking their way through the streets of Paris.

Many readers are eager to visit this literary (and foodie) paradise as well. (I certainly am—I haven’t been since I was seventeen years old, and I am itching to get back for a grown-up visit!) My hope is that this list will make you even more excited about your next trip or provide a safe and affordable means of escape via armchair travel.

To send you off on your literary adventure, I’m sharing fifteen stand-out titles that I’ve read and loved or that are sitting on my To Be Read pile. There are countless books about Paris (hurray!) and there’s no way to include them all here. We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

15 books that will take you to Paris

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The Sweet Life In Paris: Delicious Adventures In The World’s Most Perplexing City

The Sweet Life In Paris: Delicious Adventures In The World’s Most Perplexing City

Author:
If you're the type that tends to over-romanticize the City of Lights, let David Lebovitz snap you back to reality. As an American expat who chose to move to France, he loves Paris—but he also has no qualms about exposing the ridiculous, baffling, and frustrating side of le France. (I still laugh when I think of his claim that he didn't REALLY feel like he belonged until the day he put on dress pants and a freshly ironed shirt to take out the trash). Lebovitz's niche is food writing, and while you'll hear plenty of stories of navigating the city, you'll also find food on nearly every page. Plan to be inspired to make (or at least eat) French favorites like warm goat cheese salad, chocolate mousse, and macarons. A perfect read for those who have lived in Paris, been to Paris, or just want a good laugh. More info →
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My Life in France

My Life in France

Author:
Child was 36 when her husband's job necessitated a move to Paris just a few years after WWII. This is the story of how she fell in love with the city and its cuisine—and it all began with the restlessness she experienced upon arrival. Child found herself at loose ends in the city, with no job or other obligations, and so began she began shopping the French markets, falling in love with the French approach to food, and finally enrolling in cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. This joyful memoir is full of life: Julia’s tales will entertain, inspire, and make you laugh out loud. More info →
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The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge

Author:
This book first landed on my radar when a What Should I Read Next guest chose it as a favorite. (That's Episode 157 with Georgia Hunter: The stories behind the stories we love to read.) When a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student arrives in Paris with a letter he promised to deliver, he unwittingly begins a complicated relationship with its recipient. Spanning 1937 to 1945 in both Paris and Budapest, this historical fiction debut explores Hungary’s role as allies to Germany during WWII. At 786 pages, this is a TOME so I’ve been putting it off ... but feel free to talk me into reading it now in comments! More info →
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Suite Française

Suite Française

The story behind this story is heartbreaking: Irène Némirovsky, a Ukrainian Jew, was a bestselling author in Paris when she began working on this novel in the early 1940s. In 1942, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died one month later. She had written the first two parts of this planned five-part novel before her arrest, which were hidden in a suitcase. Her daughters had the manuscript for years, not knowing what they possessed, until they finally took a look and did not find the journals they expected. They published this sixty-four years later, as translated by Sandra Smith. The connected vignettes explore the exodus from Paris before the Nazi invasion, as well as the German occupation of a small village. This is possibly the earliest work of fiction about World War II. More info →
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Author:
This novel has been languishing on my TBR list for years; in fact, the a gorgeous Europa edition has been sitting on my "priority reads" cart for ages! My readerly friends are split: some love it, some hate it, some say it's over their heads. I've been intending to read it and see for myself. I've been warned that the characters are pretentious and often unlikable, but that I'll come to see them as endearing, and may appreciate the underlying message that art and beauty give life meaning. (I've also been told not to give up until Mr. Ozu shows up.) There's nothing like a translated work (this by Alison Anderson) to fully immerse yourself in some armchair travel. More info →
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A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast

The best part of Hemingway's classic memoir may be the setting: 1920s Paris. In this series of sketches, Hemingway remembers what it was like to be a young, struggling artist in Paris during that time, surrounded by a host of literary greats including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, Ezra Pound ... the list goes on. The prose is quintessential Hemingway: spare and precise, with every word pulling its weight. (No wonder so many writers cite this slim volume as a favorite.) Pick this up if you want to feel city life leaping from the page. More info →
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Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris

Author:
Ann Mah’s delectable memoir is a rich account of culinary—and expat—life in Paris, City of Light and city of her dreams, where she sinks in for three glorious years when her diplomat husband is stationed there … that is, before he gets reassigned to Iraq, alone, stranding her in an unknown city. You’ll cheer her on as she tentatively explores Paris, dabbles in its cuisine, and begins to build her own community far from home. We had such fun reading this together in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club and chatting with the author last year. This recent memoir echoes My Life in France and would make an excellent companion read. More info →
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Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution

Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution

Allison Pataki has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent historical fiction. Here she tackles the French Revolution with the help of her brother Owen Pataki. Tracing the effects of the Revolution and Terror on the lives of two linked Frenchman, Pataki explores courage, democracy, and love, while emphasizing why the Revolution's lessons remain important today. Featuring cameos from pillars of history such as Louis XVI, Robespierre, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and making historical events feel immediate, as the best fiction does. More info →
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Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I

Though the title is Christmas-y, this epistolary novel, which tells the story of a great romance, is wonderful for any time of year. When the Great War begins, Evie believes (as do many others), that it will all be over by Christmas. As her brother Will and his friend Thomas leave for the front, they make plans to meet for a holiday in Paris when the war is resolved. As time passes, Evie feels helpless and struggles to find a way to help the cause, while Will and Thomas experience the trials and terrors of war. The letters between Evie and Thomas are candid and heartfelt. Highly recommended for fans of For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Audiophile alert: I hear this one is excellent in that format. More info →
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The Gilded Wolves

The Gilded Wolves

Author:
My friend Leigh describes this as "Six Of Crows meets Ocean’s Eleven meets The Librarians, with a dash of Indiana Jones." Full of mystery and adventure, this YA historical fantasy set in the glittering world of 1899 Paris is part heist, part treasure hunt. In this world, the Order of Babel rules. Some people are divinely gifted with Forging affinities, allowing them to change or enhance creation. Séverin, the denied heir of House Vanth, delights in reclaiming the items sold off from his House and tracking down Order items for those who will pay him and his crew of friends. I'm told the series gets better and better. More info →
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The Paris Diversion

The Paris Diversion

Author:
This is Pavone's exciting second installment of the Kate Moore series, which began with The Expats. (It stands alone well enough, but I wouldn't complain if you read them in order.) Kate's family is now happily settled in Paris; the story begins on a day like any other in the city—until a massive terrorist attack begins. But Kate soon realizes things are not what they seem and that somehow the truth involves her family. If your reading experience is anything like mine, you'll race through the pages of this espionage thriller! More info →
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Giovanni’s Room

Giovanni’s Room

Author:
Baldwin's iconic novel explores desire, love, and identity in 1950s Paris. James Baldwin draws on his own Parisian experiences and travels and constructs the most beautiful sentences. The story follows David, a young American in Paris whose girlfriend just left him. Following her absence, he explores his own sexuality and grapples with modern masculinity, social expectations, and guilt. There's so much to unpack in such a short classic. More info →
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The Queen of the Night

The Queen of the Night

Author:
This glittering novel of the Paris Opera is full of drama, intrigue, and secrets, and features a memorable main character. Lilliet Berne (inspired by the real-life opera singer Jenny Lind) is the leading soprano, the best of the best and a shining star. She craves an original role, but when one is finally offered to her, she's shocked to find it's based on a secret from her past—a secret that only four people know. Who could have betrayed her? Seeking the truth in her memories, she recalls her life as an orphan and the countless transformations she underwent along the way to beginning her opera career. The book is thoroughly grounded in its 19th century Parisian setting, and almost reads like a novel from that era. (Though be warned: Chee doesn't use quotation marks!) More info →
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Half-Blood Blues

Half-Blood Blues

Author:
This Man Booker Prize finalist has been on my TBR list since I read Washington Black. Edugyan's historical fiction story spans WWII Paris and 1952 Berlin, but the vivid depiction of salons, cafés, and jazz clubs lands this novel on the Paris list. The Hot Time Swingers are about to make it big when the Nazis forbid them to play. Hieronymus Falk, their star trumpet player, is arrested and never heard from again. Falk was Black, a German citizen, and considered a musical genius at the age of 20. Years later, Falk's band members take a journey from Berlin to Paris, revealing the intricacies of the events leading up to Falk's arrest. More info →
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The Paris Library

The Paris Library

A dual timeline story based on the librarians at the American Library during WWII. In 1939 Paris, Odile has a dream job at the library when Nazis march into Paris. She joins the Resistance with her fellow librarians but she’s staggered by betrayal before the war ends. In 1983 Montana, Odile is befriended by her teen neighbor and reluctantly begins to share about her past, leading to an unexpected connection. Readers keep telling me to read this and with two different copies in the house and the audiobook downloaded to my phone, I don’t have an excuse not to follow through. More info →
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Which books set in Paris have you read and loved? Tell us in comments!

P.S. Here are 130 recommended reads for those traveling to New York City, 65 recommended reads for those traveling to England (or who want to!), and 20 recommended reads for those who dream of traveling to Iceland.

15 books for those who dream of traveling to Paris

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    • Jo says:

      I ordered all 4 of his earlier paperbacks at the beginning of the pandemic and have finished 3 and still have 1 more. The ones you mentioned are great, and The Portrait and Death by Cigarettes are kind of like black comedies.

  1. Libby says:

    I love Alice Steinbach’s traveling memoir Without Reservations–she doesn’t just go to Paris, but Paris has a very special place in the story.

  2. Holly says:

    The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley was excellent. I just read this as my Book of the Month selection for March and could barely put it down. A creepy, mysterious trip through Paris.

  3. Dee says:

    Had many of these on my TBR, but added a few more. I love books set in Paris! One I loved was Paris in Love. It’s memoir by a romance writer who spent a year living in Paris with her family.

    • Pam says:

      I read The Invisible Bridge when it first came out and although I don’t remember that much about it, I do know that I absolutely loved both the story and the characters. I was surprised to read in your post that it was almost 800 pages – I have no recollection of it being a long book, I just remember it being a totally immersive read and that I was so disappointed when it was over.

  4. Cameron says:

    I recently read David Leibowitz’s L’apart which I can also recommend for a look at Paris behind the curtains. Also love Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, a memoir about raising kids in Paris.

    The Invisible Bridge was a wonderful reading experience but I finished and decided I was done reading about WWII for a good long while. It was devastating. I can’t in good conscience recommend it with out the warning that if you’re like me you will learn more about the horrors of WWII and you will cry some big fat tears.

  5. Patricia Constantine says:

    The Woman of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray follows the lives of three women in three different eras linked by the French hero and lover of freedom, Lafayette.

  6. Sherry Forster says:

    Paris is Love,a Memoir by Eloisa James was lovely. Mary Bly, a Shakespearean professor, writes Regency romance under the pen name of Eloisa James. Her writing is great!

    In a completely different mood, All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a novel about a blind French girl and a German boy during the Nazi occupation of France. Another excellent read.

  7. Breanne Mosher says:

    We are going to Paris in May(!!!) and I’ve been reading a few books in prep for the trip. The Sharper the Knife, the Less you Cry by Kathleen Flinn is one that isn’t mentioned in your list and would be a great book flight with Julia Child’s story.

  8. Amanda says:

    I felt like I was in Paris as I read Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau. The author is French and her native familiarity with Paris came through strongly in this book. While some famous tourists sites are mentioned in the book, most locations the protagonist visits were lesser known gems of the city. I found myself googling throughout the book so I could see pictures of the places she was describing. One of the best armchair travel books I’ve ever read.

  9. Nanette says:

    I returned from Paris a couple weeks ago. It had been 15 years and I swear I’ll be back much sooner! One of my favorites is The Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod. This one is more of a memoir about a woman who chucks it all in the US, moves to Paris, falls in love. It’s a lovely story.

  10. Barbara Wilkes says:

    I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Had to buy my own copy so I could highlight special passages. Also loved Paris by Rutherford.

    • Ruth says:

      I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog as well. The characters are all very human in their moments of unlikeableness. I much prefer that to books using the ‘unreliable narrator’ in a plot populated solely by unredeemable characters (looking at you Gillian Flynn). 🙂

  11. Susan says:

    One that has stayed with me is the memoir “Buying a Piece of Paris” by Ellie Nielsen. An Australian woman relates the story of buying an apartment in Paris as a holiday home. A challenging process makes a very interesting story!

  12. Gkik says:

    I’m leaving this week for a month alone In Paris. I downloaded so many of these books. Thank you!!
    Im also spending one week in the Loire Valley and have been looking for historical fiction, particularly, set in the chateaus of this area. Can anyone help?

    • Laura says:

      We spent a few weeks in the Loire Valley in October/Nov and it was glorious. One of my favorite spots in France. I read Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days while there because he was from Nantes, where we spent several days. I’d love more suggestions!

    • Lorrie says:

      A Movable Feast is one of my all time favorites- thanks for including it! Just wanted to note that Suite Francais is also in movie form on Netflix! I have watched it more than once and it is lovely!

  13. Paula Markus says:

    Two memoirs by writers who lived in Paris that I really enjoyed were “Paris: A Love Story” by Kati Marton, and “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue Des Martyrs” by Elaine Sciolino.

  14. Hildred Sullivan says:

    Oh Anne, you simply must read The Elegance of the Hedgehog! It is one of my all-time favorites! I would add The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by former NYT bureau chief Elaine Sciolino, Paris on Air by the Earful Tower podcaster Oliver Gee, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter, and The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Also A Family in Paris: Stories of food, life and adventure by Jane Paech and in the same vein as David Lebovitz’s L’Appart, C’est la Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris And —Voila!—Be omens Almost Frenchby Suzy Gershman.

  15. LL Terry says:

    On a lighter note:
    Juliet Blackwell
    “The Paris Key”
    “Letters from Paris”
    “The Lost Carousel of Provence”
    “The Paris Showroom” released Apr 19, 2022
    I tend to take my books in a “flight” 😉

  16. WordTrix says:

    Some good suggestions here already. For those who like YA, I recommend ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins.

  17. Joanna Breault says:

    The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is incredible, and I quite enjoyed The Little Paris Bookshop. I haven’t been to France since I was a teenager, but I remember thinking southern France more beautiful than Paris. Would love to read something set on the Mediterranean coast!

  18. Lisa Moore says:

    So shocked that you don’t have The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab or Paris by Edward Rutherford. The first may not be entirely set in Paris but it has some scenes there and it has a decidedly French feel.

  19. Maureen says:

    I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog on audio – the narrators were perfection!
    But I kept thinking as I listened — I would never have gotten through this book in print!

  20. Suzy says:

    Anne, I thought you DID finally read “Hedgehog”—if so, I wish you would update your blurb on it!
    I second many of your choices—Hedgehog, The Sweet Life, Julia Child’s book, & Suite Francaise—and I’d like very much to read “The Paris Diversion”, having inhaled “The Expats” and enjoyed it.
    I have read MANY books set in Paris, but I’m culling down to the 4 best (that you didn’t already mention):
    Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull–she marries a Frenchman.
    Paris In Love, by Eloisa James, already mentioned by others
    Perestroika in Paris, by Jane Smiley (animals on the loose in Paris)
    & best of all, Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard!

  21. Jeanne Ubaldini says:

    I enjoyed The Paris Hours by Alex George. It was set in the 1920s and followed the lives and history of three very different individuals and how they intersected on one fateful day. It’s a short and well written book.

  22. Adrienne says:

    The Invisible Bridge is a wonderful book, but parts of it are devastatingly sad, as you’d probably expect from a novel set in WWII Europe. Highly recommend it, but have your tissues handy.

    I’ve had ‘Where the Light Falls’ on my TBR list, but I need to bump it up near the top!

  23. Rebecca J says:

    “From Paris to the Moon” by Adam Lebovitz is delightful, though possibly dated for anyone trying to plan travel based on its mentions.

  24. KLD says:

    I love books set in Paris and I just have to recommend Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda which is a gorgeous novel translated from the French (it was also made into a movie which is worth watching) and Paris Letters and A Paris Year by Janice MacLeod. A Paris Year also doubles as an art book as MacLeod is an artist as well as a writer and the book includes many of the watercolour paintings she did during her time in Paris. She is has a new book out on Paris that also includes her artwork which I am just about to start reading.

  25. Christine :) says:

    A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle. It’s not Paris but it’s close. It’s one of my favorite books. Can’t recommend enough.

  26. Lee Ann says:

    I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and hated every minute of it, only finishing because a few people told me to stick with it. I couldn’t care about any of the characters even after Mr. Ozu showed up; the relentless snobbery was awful. But a lot of people enjoyed it, so YMMV.

  27. Debra Hale-Shelton says:

    I loved Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and Julia Child’s My Life in France. I found Mastering the Art of French Eating tedious. My TBR list includes Suite Francaise and Giovanni’s Room.

  28. Jo says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned John Baxter’s books about different areas of Paris. Non-fiction and delightful.

  29. Tabitha says:

    I have reread Amy Plum’s YA “Die For Me” series many times. Such a fun series and the Paris backdrop is a character of it’s own!

  30. Mary Taylor says:

    The Paris Bookseller b yKerri Maher. AboutSylvia Beach her book store Shakspeare and Company and the authors that lived in Paris.

  31. Valerie says:

    Fred Vargas : Commissaire Adamsberg series ‘The Chalk Circle Man.’
    Katherine Pancol: ‘The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodile.’ ‘The Slow Waltz of Turtles. To forgetting Louise Penny, ‘The Madness of Crowds.’

  32. Suzanne Harley says:

    Anne-do read The Invisible Bridge! It is such a good book and while definitely evocative of Paris it provides an eye-opening (at least for me) view of Hungary and the Jewish experience there in WWII. It did not seem that long to me when I read it.

  33. Christy says:

    One of my favorite books that takes place in Paris is The Bridge by Jill Cox. It is a great story of college students on a study abroad program in Paris but it is so much deeper than that brief summary sounds! I read it when it came out and then again the next year when the sequel “The Long Walk” came out and then again I read both of those when the third book “Dear Sully” was published. They are some of my favorites!

  34. Zewlan Moor says:

    BEYOND BELIEF by Dee White is a middle grade adventure set in WW2-Paris, where young Ruben is dropped off by his Jewish mother at the grand mosque. Here, he and other Jewish children are protected by the Imam and shepherded out through a network of mosques and safe houses to safety. The author’s family were evacuated from Germany during WW2 & she did a lot of research for this historical novel that looks at a side of the war I wasn’t aware of. It’s a great read!

  35. Alice DeHaan says:

    Paris: The Collected Traveler – An Inspired Companion Guide
    Edited by Barrie Kerper

    Indispensable detail on all aspects of Paris for those of us who like to more than scratch the surface while visiting. Don’t recall how I found it, but it’s wonderful reading. Everytime I pick it up I learn something new!

  36. Ruth says:

    No one has mentioned Mark Helprin’s “Paris in the Present Tense”. I love Helprin’s writing, and his sense of place is nearly unmatchable. The plot is complex, and so are the characters.

  37. Un grand merci for recommending The Paris Library! I also recommend books by Cara Black. I loved her stand-alone novel Three Hours in Paris. It had me on the edge of my seat while reading and then visiting one of the restaurants she mentioned in the book after I finished. I learned about you through Meg, bookseller extraordinaire at The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop.

  38. Milka says:

    The Invisible Bridge is my favorite book of all time. It’s not just a WWII story, it’s a campus novel and a “backstage at a theatre” novel and a love story facing bigger and bigger obstacles. The book is so atmospheric, gripping and alive, I finished it and wandered around in a daze.

  39. Jennifer says:

    Wow, what a list!! And the comments are pure gold. I’m beyond grateful to fellow readers who provided recommendations. I cannot wait to delve into these books. Just what I needed in my reading life at the moment.

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