Libby Ryan

Finding Paris in Atlanta

Libby Ryan
Finding Paris in Atlanta

Discovering French flavors in the South


 Éclair at Amelie's French Bakery. Photo by Libby Ryan

Éclair at Amelie's French Bakery. Photo by Libby Ryan

Plane tickets to Europe are expensive. If your heart says Paris but your wallet says continental United States, you've still got options for some French flair in a smaller and more affordable city: Atlanta.

Georgia's capital is nearly half the size of the French metropolis, but it's densely packed with history—distinct neighborhoods hold colorful gems perfect for adding some Euro flavor to your Southern trip. Although you might hear more “y'alls” than bonjours, Atlanta has little nods to Paris hidden right within the city. Both highbrow and lowbrow, classic and kitsch, Atlanta offers food, art, coffee, and drinks that will make you feel like you're in the City of Lights.

Here's your guide to a long weekend in Atlanta, filled with enough culture and patisserie to satisfy your latest bout of European wanderlust.

Thursday: Starting quirky

 Interior of Amelie's French Bakery. Photo courtesy of Amelie's French Bakery

Interior of Amelie's French Bakery. Photo courtesy of Amelie's French Bakery

Fresh off the plane, don't wait to begin your immersion. Tucked behind Georgia Tech's West Midtown campus, Amelie's French Bakery serves pastries, sandwiches, coffee, and tea to a mishmash of college students, freelancers, and knitting parties. Come for the éclairs ($4) or rich chocolate mousse cake ($5), but stay for the beyond quirky décor. Between the painted plates and movie posters covering the walls, the vast amounts of Eiffel Tower memorabilia on display almost feels like the real deal. On Thursday nights, the local favorite also hosts $5 yoga classes from 7–8pm, perfect to burn off the calories from the irresistible and extensive selection of sweets from Amelie’s on display behind the glass counter

Friday: The butterfly neighborhood

 Photo by Libby Ryan

Photo by Libby Ryan

Breakfast is at Julianna's Coffee & Crepes. If not for the red iron chairs outside, you might miss the tiny cave-like location hidden on a residential Inman Park neighborhood street. Arguably the most charming Atlanta neighborhood, you’ll know when you enter by its distinctive butterfly logo is emblazoned everywhere. Delicate crêpes are made-to-order.Watch from the other side of the counter as the crêpe maker spread batter into a paper thin vehicle for Nutella and strawberries or savory gruyere and ham. The crêpes also have interesting names like The Almighty ($7) and The Royale ($8), which is topped with with gruyere, ham, field greens, and peach chutney (The Royale: $8) for a more substantial meal.

Stroll through the neighborhood to the entrance of the Beltline, a post-brunch favorite for many Atlantans. Savor the Friday calm along the walking trail. The park is Atlanta's answer to Paris's Promenade plantée (and New York's The High Line); all three incorporate old train tracks into their design. From the Inman Park side, it's a leisurely hour's walk to Piedmont Park for skyline views reflected in the small lake.

On your return journey, stop just shy of the Ponce City Market (which makes an easy snack stop) to visit Paris on Ponce. The enormous antique store and flea market has a warehouse-full of jewelry, mismatched dishes, and vintage clothing – good for budget shoppers willing to sift through some chaos to find treasures. Cross your fingers to happen on a day free of special events; the shop’s rentable hall is a must-see. Modeled after the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, there’s a stage, bar, and velvet-covered chaise lounges galore for visitors to explore (and take photos with). There’s plenty more window-shopping that awaits in Ponce City Market for those longing for the Champs-Élysées.

 Bread and Butterfly's roasted chicken with créme fraîche and herbs. Photo courtesy of Bread and Butterfly. Photo by Amy Sinclair

Bread and Butterfly's roasted chicken with créme fraîche and herbs. Photo courtesy of Bread and Butterfly. Photo by Amy Sinclair

If you managed to leave without falling victim to the many boutiques’ charms, it’s time for a splurge on dinner. After a short walk back from the market, detour into the heart of Inman Park to Bread and Butterfly to end the night on the neighborhood’s theme. The bistro’s most popular entree is roasted chicken with crème fraîche and herbs, made to share ($18), but any dish would be good paired with a glass of wine or cocktail. Candles, leather booths, and woven wooden chairs create a dreamy aesthetic. It’s true European style, meaning you can linger over one drink ($12) for as long as the conversation lasts. You certainly won’t tire of the ambience.

Saturday: Coffee and art

 Photo courtesy of Proof Bakeshop

Photo courtesy of Proof Bakeshop

 The communal table at Proof Bakeshop. Photo courtesy of Proof Bakeshop

The communal table at Proof Bakeshop. Photo courtesy of Proof Bakeshop

Start Saturday with a latte and a treat at Proof Bakeshop. Croissants, pastries, doughnuts—you can’t go wrong with the baked goods here. Like the best Parisian bakeries, the shop is unassuming from the outside but the smell of rising dough and coffee beans welcomes you inside. The line of neighbors stopping in for their morning orders never ends, but seating isn’t competitive. There’s always a chair or two open at the big communal table, usually with prime sunbeams peeking in to shine on the chalk-art covered walls. Don’t leave without nabbing a baguette to save for later.

Postpone the Louvre, and fighting tourists for a view of the tiny Mona Lisa, on your bucket list and see the collection at the High Museum of Art. Paintings by Pisarro and Monet are permanently on view, as well as European pieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. But if your tastes sway modern, the contemporary collection has 2,400 works of art.

For dinner, your wallet will thank you with a trip to the grocery store for some cheese and fruit to accompany the earlier purchased baguette. Finish the night with drinks and dessert at Café Intermezzo, a long-standing Atlanta coffee house modeled after the European café culture. The menu of drinks is 70-plus pages long, with coffee-based concoctions as well as classic cocktails ($8-15). In warm weather, take advantage of the patio to channel the full street café effect.

Sunday: Casual brunch

 Photo courtesy of Cakes and Ale

Photo courtesy of Cakes and Ale

If you have time for brunch before catching a flight out of the city, try Café Alsace for bohemian plates inspired by Eastern French cuisine. The owner is from this region and has operated this brightly colorful restaurant for nearly ten years. Brunch options include omelettes with prosciutto, caramelized apples, rosemary, and blue cheese and ham and brie panini (each $10). Just around the block, Proof Bakeshop goodies are available at the baker’s flagship restaurant Cakes and Ale in case you need a croissant, or ten, for the journey home.

Libby Ryan  is a freelance journalist and travel writer, currently based in New York. Her work has appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, Delta Sky, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She’s a Minnesota native with a soft spot for exploring the flyover states, even though she now lives much closer to the ocean. Follow her travels and quest for beautiful bookstores onInstagram and take a look at her previous work in her portfolio