Weekend in . . . Left Bank, Paris

The City of Lights changes, but the Left Bank has retained its classic old-school charm down through the centuries

While the Right Bank of Paris has seen internationalism and the irrepressible rise of "bobos", the Left Bank has been able to preserve the soul of the French capital. Walk through the Latin Quarter's crooked cobblestone corridors or down the grand plane-tree-lined boulevards of St-Germain-des-Prés and, more than once, you'll think you're inside a black-and-white Robert Doisneau photo. Cafe terraces, limestone buildings and nattily dressed locals create a timeless tableau.

That’s not to say that Paris south of the dividing Seine is immune to change. But, at least for now, the classic charms outweigh the contemporary influences.

Friday 3:30pm 1 Appetite awakener The Left Bank is home to culture, fashion and artistic riches, but one of the best ways to immerse yourself is through food. Paris by Mouth, a foodie website, offers three- hour small-group tours, including the popular Taste of St-Germain (€95), which will prime you for the weekend's culinary delights. Among the half-dozen or so stops are Poilâne Bakery, which has been churning out the same large wheels of tangy sourdough from its basement wood-burning oven for 83 years; Le Marché Couvert (the covered market), where moneyed locals scoop up their saucisson, fresh milk and seasonal produce; and Pierre Hermé, France's "Picasso of Pastries," which sells cakes and macarons almost too pretty to eat.

Along with the tour’s treats, you’re fed historical/cultural bits that will help you navigate the local food scene on your own.

7:30pm 2 To the top You can't visit Paris and ignore the grandest dame of them all. The Eiffel Tower, a majestic 324 metres (1,063 feet) of latticed ironwork planted firmly on the flat green Champ de Mars near the Seine, is the tallest structure in the city. Two elevators will whoosh you to the top – or, if you're feeling dauntless, tackle the 1,665 steps (€15.50 and €5, respectively).

By now it will be l'heure bleue, that magical time in the evening when the whole city is suffused in an ethereal light. If you linger to take in the panorama, you'll be treated to the top-of-the-hour light show, when 20,000 bulbs affixed to every side of the tower twinkle and dance for five mesmerizing minutes.

10pm 3 Drama with dinner Enjoy the relative tranquillity as you amble through the 7th Arrondissement to Chez L'Ami Jean, the first Basque restaurant to open in Paris, more than 80 years ago. Inside the dimly lit eatery you will be elbow to elbow with boisterous locals and tourists feasting. As you ponder the €78 prix-fixe menu, watch the theatrics (and occasional temper) of chef Stéphane Jégo through the kitchen window as he perfects dishes such as mackerel in leek vinaigrette and pork belly with oysters and rabbit.

And save room for dessert: the restaurant’s legendary rice pudding, accompanied by salted butter caramel and crunchy meringues, comes in a bowl large enough to feed four and may forever change the way you think of the oft-maligned treat.

Saturday 11am 1 Avant-garde art If the Musée d'Orsay and other national galleries are too large and St Germain's galleries too small for your art fix, you'll love the scale of Paris's fondations and the stellar exhibitions they attract. The Cartier Fondation and Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, within walking distance of each other on opposite sides of Montparnasse Cemetery, are sized to offer just the right dose of the familiar and the cutting edge.

Exhibitions rotate over the year, with the Cartier – housed in a light-filled, contemporary Jean Nouvel building – bringing acclaimed talent such as the Japanese pop artist Takeshi Kitano and the Australian sculptor Ron Mueck. The more modest Cartier-Bresson concentrates on photographers such as Walker Evans and Saul Leiter. 1:30pm 2 Lunch worth waiting for Aside from waiting for bread at the boulangerie, queuing for food is not something Parisians do. But they will make an exception for Le Comptoir du Relais. On a sloping corner in St Germain, this sliver of a restaurant is, in fact, most noticeable for the line of hungry people waiting for the first- come-first-served weekend service from the chef Yves Camdeborde, who is often credited with starting the "bistronomy" trend currently rocking the Right Bank.

This blend of a casual bistro environment and gastronomic cooking reveals its magic with simple yet otherworldly dishes, such as creamy-crunchy smoked salmon croque monsieur (€10) or even a seasonal salad (€13), heaped with at least 10 kinds of vegetables and dusted with fine bits of crunchy onion.

3pm 3 Oh, la mode Since you're in the heart of a bustling shopping district, why not put those credit cards to use for some French treasures? (Be sure to ask the salesclerks for VAT refunds.) Alexandra Sojfer makes incredibly ornate umbrellas and walking sticks, with such details as carved wood animal-head handles and taffeta parasols adorned with Swarovski crystals. Deyrolle appears to be a modest gardening store at street level, but ascend to the second floor to find an exotic emporium filled with rhino heads, panther skeletons, tortoise shells and all manner of taxidermy.

And leave it to the French to peddle even candles with pedigrees. Cire Trudon, established in 1643, once supplied King Louis XIV's court with candles. Today, you can take home your own piece of French history of sorts: a burning bust of Marie Antoinette or Napoleon.

6pm 4 Terrace views Parisians dine later, so you have the excuse to indulge in one of their prime pastimes: people-watching from a cafe terrace. Snatch one of the coveted seats at Café de Flore, where the likes of Simone de Beauvoir and Pablo Picasso once sipped, puffed and pontificated, and watch the coiffed regulars come in and kiss-kiss the maître d'hôtel while harried waiters in long white aprons weave and wend, delivering trays of aperitifs. Try a bitter Campari (€9.80) or a sweet kir – white wine with a splash of cassis (€9.50).

8pm 5 Nouveau cooking Neither trendy nor nostalgic, Semilla manages the perfect balance of nouveau Parisian cooking. Opened in 2012 by the international team of Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré, the sparse but sophisticated restaurant (marble tabletops, concrete floors, wood -beamed ceilings) attracts an urbane clientele from the neighbourhood's galleries and bourgeois homes.

The menu is organized into categories, including "raw," "fried" and "from the oven", with crowd favourites such as shiitake mushrooms, browned in toasted sesame oil (€6) and the côte de boeuf for two, which is presented tableside before being taken to the open kitchen, where it's sliced and then returned with mashed potatoes and horseradish cream (€76).

Sunday 10am 1 Get fresh Every Sunday from 9am until 1:30pm, the air on Boulevard Raspail, between the Rue Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes, fills with the tantalising smell of sautéing onions. It's the onion galettes – shredded onion, potato and cheese (€2.50) – frying at one of the dozens of stands at the Marché Biologique Raspail. This organic market has been a neighbourhood jewel for 26 years.

Stroll by, admire, even ogle, but do not touch the beautiful displays. Once you've decided among the loaves of bread chockablock with dried fruit, the towers of chevre and Comté cheese, the baskets of fresh herbs and lettuces, and the honeys, jams and various other edible delights, the vendors will be happy to help you.

Noon 2 Sunday stroll No longer are the Luxembourg Gardens the only nearby spot of green where you can eat your market loot. Les Berges, a nearly 1.5-mile stretch along the Seine reserved for pedestrians, debuted in 2013. What was once a diesel-fume-choked highway is now thronged with strolling families, joggers, bicyclists and skaters.

Start at the Pont de l’Alma entrance to the west and make your way past the rotating art exhibitions, climbing walls and stations for hopscotch and paddleball. Once you’ve arrived at the eastern end, near Musée d’Orsay, climb the wood-plank bleacher seats for a view of the boats chugging along the river.

2pm 3 Sweet ending There's always room in the belly (or the carry-on) for French chocolate. And, seeing as St Germain is the unofficial centre of the chocolate universe, counting at least a dozen renowned chocolatiers, make a final sweep of the neighbourhood's offerings. Wind up in a cobblestone alley at Pierre Cluizel's Un Dimanche à Paris. This boutique is also a salon de thé/restaurant/ lounge devoted to high-end chocolate. A spot of pastry chef Nicolas Bacheyre's chocolat chaud (served warm, not hot), in traditional Limoges porcelain, is guaranteed to send you off in classic style.

© 2015 The New York Times. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate