Drive two hours from Nashville or Memphis, and you’ll find a hidden gem, a town where French sensibilities mingle with deep-fried Southern tradition on the banks of the Tennessee River. In America’s version of the city of lights, pairing a glass of local wine with catfish is not only accepted – it’s expected. And that’s just the beginning. Welcome to Paris, Tennessee.
Throughout the year, those who know flock to this west Tennessee charmer for its family-friendly festivals, captivating wildlife and down-home hospitality. (And to be honest, the locally brewed beer and fall-off-the-bone barbecue might have a little something to do with it, too.) As it turns out, there’s plenty to see, taste and explore in Paris. In fact, you might even decide it’s the kind of place you’d consider calling home. Ready to experience Paris? Here’s a beginner’s guide to exploring this well-kept secret.
Snap a Selfie at the Eiffel Tower
It wouldn’t be Paris without the iconic Eiffel Tower, right? The 70-foot tall lighted replica of France’s architectural wonder stands tall in Eiffel Tower Park and features a specially designated selfie platform for the ultimate ’gram shot. When you’re done snapping and posting, venture off on one of the park’s nature trails, jump in on a competitive game of disc golf or cool off with a dip in the outdoor pool.
Wander Through Historic Downtown
Fun fact: Paris is the oldest incorporated town in West Tennessee. And with that honor comes a rich history that’s been carefully preserved in downtown Paris, an area that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Start with the Henry County Courthouse, a visually arresting example of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. Built in 1896, it’s the oldest functioning courthouse in West Tennessee.
From there, you can pull up the downtown Paris app and set off on a self-guided walking tour of the town’s storied, turn-of-the-century buildings, antebellum and Victorian-style homes, historic city cemetery and churches.
The road to historic downtown Paris also puts visitors in the midst of quaint retail shops, cozy coffeehouses, restaurants, boutiques, history and a series of striking murals that share some of the local lore – it’s perfect for a quiet afternoon of exploration.
Pick up a bottle (or three) of one of the 26 varietals of wine at the Paris Winery, a Venetian-style structure nestled within the rolling hillsides of West Tennessee. You can also sign up for one the daily tours and follow it up with a tasting, where you’ll get to sip some of the winery’s bubbly spumante, robust Malbec and award-winning blackberry table wine.
For the hopheads in the crowd, Perrylodgic Brewing is producing some out-of-the-box brews from its small, independent facility in Paris. Sidle up to the bar and order a pint of Mahogany Rush, a hazelnut ale, to wash down the brewery’s infamous double-decker burger.
Take It Outside
If the call of the great outdoors is too strong to ignore, Paris is the perfect place to heed it. The western shore of Kentucky Lake is a picturesque spot to soak up the Tennessee summer sun while skiing across wide-open waters, trolling the lake for tournament-size fish or taking a peaceful paddle in one of the lush coves that dot the shoreline. Paris Landing State Park is located on Kentucky Lake's shoreline. In addition to boating, skiing, swimming and fishing, the state park also offers hiking and wildlife watching. Golfers will love Par 72 at Paris Landing State Park, an 18-hole course lined with trees and several holes lakeside offering a challenging game.
You can also learn about Paris’ native creatures and their habitats at the state-of-the-art Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Kids (and kids at heart) get a kick out of finding critters in the big oak tree, taking a simulated plane flight and learning to identify sounds in nature. In January, the refuge is alive with wintering waterfowl during the annual Wings of Winter Birding Festival, Tennessee’s largest multi-birding festival.
Planning an April visit? Might be a good idea to pack an appetite. That’s when more than 10,000 pounds of catfish makes their way to the Robert E. “Bobby” Cox Memorial Fish Tent for a weeklong celebration of fried fish. More than 9,000 visitors from around the country flock to Paris for an all-you-can-eat catfish marathon complete with all the trimmings, including a highly addictive hush puppy recipe. In addition to all the finger-licking fried eats, the annual event features a bed race, a carnival, a rodeo, catfish races and a two-hour grand finale parade.
Paris is no stranger to festivals, and you’ll find several of them taking place throughout the year. In June, an impressive roster of chart-topping artists make their way to the banks of the river for the Tennessee River Jam, a three-day music festival on the water’s edge.
The holidays usher in an equally magical experience with Paris’ annual Christmas festival, an all-day affair where a host of holiday personalities – Ms. Claus, Rudolph, a Christmas mouse, elves and the jolly bearded man himself – join visitors for storytelling, whimsical train rides, the Holly Jolly Electric Christmas Parade and booths filled with local crafts.
Ol’ St. Nick and company also make an appearance in downtown Paris every weekend, starting the day after Thanksgiving right up until the Sunday before Christmas Day. In Paris, not even Santa can resist extending his stay.