This was my 4th time in Paris and I never get sick of going. As someone who is a little older now, I’m beginning to appreciate more of Paris and beginning to see parts I’ve never seen. Below I wrote about some of the experiences I had during my 4th time and gave some helpful advice for future travelers. I decided to break up my time in Paris into 2 posts.
When we first arrived in Paris, we meaning my boyfriend Roman and I, from Amsterdam we decided to drop our luggage and get acquainted with Paris. Like I said, I’ve been to Paris before but even for me I always love walking up random streets and sitting down to have a nice cup of coffee or glass of wine. This was Roman’s first time in Paris and I had a feeling that he would love this city compared to other European cities we had visited.
Simply put, how can you not fall in love with Paris? It really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has sights and activities that could easily last you for a year. So how do you know what to do and where to start? For us, we started in the most touristy areas first and then worked our way to places that were even unknown to me. Not every sight can be seen and not every activity can be done. That is the mentality when traveling to Paris and it’s certainly true that you need to come back several times before you really get a grasp on it.
In this first part I’m going to discuss the tourist attractions and essential advice and then in the next post I will focus on the more unknown parts. To visit Paris, one must mix the touristy with the lesser known parts to have a great time. So lets dive into the Paris essentials, top tourist attractions, art and museums, café life and shopping.
Inevitably we had to do some touristy attractions and I didn’t realize how busy it would be in Paris during the summer. It’s annoying to be around tons of people waiting to get into one attraction and after a while it gets old. Personally I’m used to short lines because I usually go during the winter, when crowds are minimal to non-existent. If you can stand cold weather than Paris will feel more like Paris and it’s why I recommend going in October, November, early December or in January, February, March, April and May.
First the Eiffel Tower is an absolute must but apparently you can book tickets for a time slot to skip the lines. We stood in a line for about an hour just to buy tickets and then had to wait for another 15 to go up. However during the winter months the top isn’t always open and summer really is a great time to stand on top of the Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre is pretty much essential for your first visit to Paris and being that my boyfriend, Roman, has never been we had to go. This will probably be the last time I visit the Louvre for a long time because it’s exhausting to walk this museum. It’s impossible to see the museum and you’ll only get to truly see less than 1%. But for a first timer you’ll definitely have to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and some other timeless pieces.
The Tuileries Garden is situated right next to the Louvre and was once where the Tuileries Palace stood. Pretty much in the center of Paris, this is an essential place to get acquainted with how the French master the art of scale and size. Today the gardens are open to the public and is a great place to hang out, especially during the summer.
The Musée d’Orsay was surprisingly busy when we decided to check out the lines. Again I never recalled a time when the lines were so long and I was beginning to see why it may be better to come to Paris during the off-season. This museum is famous for its impressionist works and works from the 19th century. Honestly this museum is probably one of my favorites because I love impressionism (studied in college), and some of the most famous impressionist works of art are housed there.
The Notre-Dame is another major must and is found at the very center of the city on Île de la Cité. This is where Paris started and ideally where you should start your tour of Paris. The Notre-Dame is free to go in but be respectful of the service!
And finally the Arc de Triomphe is quintessential Paris and an easy attraction to get out-of-the-way, especially if you have the Paris Museum Pass and you’re walking down the Champs-Élysées already.
Museums and Art
Paris is all about museums and art and even if you only have a little knowledge of artwork, you can still appreciate the many famous paintings that live in Paris museums.
We did visit Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre, but honestly if you buy the Paris Museum Pass, you have access to over 60 musuems in Paris plus sites like Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Conciergerie, the Catacombs, Panthéon, and much more.
Why museums should be essential to a Parisian visit? Because they host some of the worlds greatest works and because some of the greatest works belong to French artist. For me it’s pretty intriguing to learn about some of the great works of the past in Art History class in college and then to go to Paris to actually see them live. The sad part is that much of the work will not be fully understood by most people who see them. It’s why I recommend that you do some research before you visit or at least buy an audio-guide. For me it’s always more pleasurable to know the history or the artwork and to understand the painter who painted it. It will make your time at museums way more enjoyable.
Honestly I feel that museums are important while visiting Paris but it shouldn’t be everything. We actually got tired of waiting in lines and of viewing more artwork and sculptures. So while some museums are essential, it’s better to only see a portion of museum and then leave.
Cafés and Eating
Eating in Paris is a big deal and nobody does food like the French. You would be doing a great disservice to yourself and to France if you didn’t get to sit down and have a genuine French meal. To have a true French meal you need to let go of some Euros and focus on the art of French cuisine. And the good news is that Paris if full of great French restaurants!
We ate at one of the top French restaurants in Paris, next to the Eiffel Tower. Ranked number 300 out of the 12,000 restaurants in Paris on TripAdvisor, Restaurant de la Tour was fantastic from start to finish and pretty affordable given the amount of food and great service.
Obviously you don’t need to spend a lot of money to eat well in Paris and we couldn’t afford to spend 50 euros on every meal. One of our strategies was to eat French street sandwiches for our lunch as well as crêpes. We found this great boulangerie near our hotel, Hôtel Eden, in the 15th arrondissement, and purchased sandwiches to eat on the go for much of our time in Paris. For breakfast we relied on pastries like pain au chocolat and some coffee. While in Paris we figure we might as well do what the Parisians do.
The first time I had Mariages Frères tea was when my mom came back from Paris with a canister filled with green tea. After that I was hooked on their tea and vowed to go back to find the shop to get more. Located in the 3rd arrondissement, fairly close to the Île de la Cité and right in the gay area of Le Marais, is where the tea gods came down and decided to bless Paris with greatness. I love tea and to see the selections they had was quite impressive. The whole place was adorable and it brought me back to an earlier time when people dressed up to go buy and drink tea because it was still sophisticated and expensive. Today it is still a little expensive but well worth the purchase and every time I go to Paris, I will visit Mariages Frères.
Did I tell you I like tea. Another famous place in Paris is called Angelina and this restaurant is where people take breaks and sit down to enjoy a coffee or a cup of tea. We had Angelina twice, once at the main location in downtown Paris in front of the Tuileries Garden, and the other while taking a break from walking at Versailles. Angelina is kind of expensive but if you love to be surrounded by beautiful interiors while sipping on some high-end tea with a delicious dessert, this is your place.
Honestly food is not hard to come by in Paris and there is variety of choice. It’s not like you must have French food but while in France I feel it’s important to eat as much of it as you can. Of course Paris has choices like American, Italian, British, Japanese, etc. to choose from if you ever feel you need to take a break from French. I recommend looking on TripAdvisor to research excellent French restaurants around wherever you’re staying!
Shopping and Style
Galeries Lafayette is probably the most famous department store in Paris. It is located at the Métro stop Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette, and is a great place to find souvenirs and shop for yourself. I wouldn’t normally advocate for people to go to a department store to buy souvenirs but Galeries Lafayette has one of the best selection of books in French, and French souvenirs on the top floor. Perfume and cologne are also great souvenirs and can be found in many department stores across Paris including Galeries Lafayette. I recommend Fragonard and other French based perfumes that can’t be found in the US.
And honestly it was hard to find great souvenirs in Paris that weren’t too cheesy. My goal now, is to never bring back a souvenir that doesn’t have importance to me because then I would just be piling up crap back at home. Besides the souvenir shopping near the Notre-Dame on Île de la Cité, where I did buy some souvenirs, a lot of souvenirs are very commercial and can be bought in any major international cities. My suggestion is to find gifts that can’t be found back in the states and mean something to you.
We did go to one of the Paris Flea Markets at Porte de Clignancourt called Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt. It’s very easy to get to, just take the Métro line 4 all the way to Porte de Clignancourt, and then head north pass the Boulevard Périphérique and it will be on the left hand side. At first we were confused and thought the markets only were clothing but you have to go into one of the entrances to the inner part of the Flea Market. I wasn’t that impressed with the selection because most of the Flea Market I couldn’t even buy souvenir or gifts. I guess it was an experience and interesting to see.
Of course Champs-Élysées is famous for its shopping but unless you plan to drop a couple hundred or thousand dollars, it won’t be really possible. I didn’t go into any shops on the Champs-Élysées except the H&M store where I did buy some last-minute shirts.
On the River Seine near Île de la Cité you can find cheap souvenirs, paintings and French books. These stalls are famous and you’ve probably seen them a time or two in movies or famous French paintings. Here nothing is probably authentic but it’s still fun to browse and find bargain for cheap gifts.
Paris is full of great shopping and all you have to do is keep your eyes opens. Don’t be afraid to go into normal shops or department stores because even though Paris is an international city there is still many shops with authentic French items. France is famous for its sales or “soldes” in French, which usually happen during months like January, February and June and July. My favorites gifts from Paris usually are scarves and cologne and sometimes bottles of wine.
The Parisians love their window displays to entice foreigners and Parisians alike to come into their stores and I love to look at what is on sale. My suggestion is buy and bring back things that are uniquely French, don’t waste money on anything else.
The Paris Métro is old but runs often and is one of my favorite parts of Paris. The stations and train cars remind me of a different era but they still run with speed and the kind of dependability the is oddly reassuring. It’s possible to get across the city within 45 minutes and connecting is usually easy as long as you know how to read the Métro Map.
We went with the 5 day pass because we were only in Paris for 6 days. The 5 day pass cost around 50 euros for one person and works from the day you use it until midnight on the 5th day. It doesn’t extend to exactly 5 days from when you used the ticket, fyi! It’s easy to buy tickets for a métro pass. We were able to buy two with an American credit card at one of the train stations.
We found the Métro easy to manage and it worked mostly every where we went, except at Versailles. Versailles happens to be out of the zone of the tickets we purchased and so we had to a buy a one way ticket to get back to Paris. Overall, one of the first things you do in Paris is to buy a Métro pass so you can start getting around the city with ease.
We stayed at two hotels while in Paris. The first was Hyatt Paris Madeleine, in the 8th arrondissement, and Hôtel Eden, located in the 15th arrondissement. I used my points to book at the Hyatt Paris Madeleine for one night and it was certainly a nice hotel but a little underwhelming. The service was alright and if I had paid full price I would have been unhappy with how much the asking price was. $450 dollars and they charged like 10 dollars for a cup of coffee!
The second hotel was also just as nice and way cheaper. The only downside of this hotel was it was located far from most attractions, all the way in the southern part of Paris in what is known as a residential area. It was in a beautiful neighborhood and walk-able to the Eiffel Tower.
Choose a hotel that is within your price range obviously, but that also has great reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. Gone are the days where you have to hope that your hotel will be good enough. I followed the reviews I found and was very happy with the price and our hotel choices.
Paris is massive city and there is no way you’re going to see it all. My idea, every time I go to Paris, is to focus on a few activities and enjoy being in Paris. There should be no stress or anxiety into trying to fit it all in. If you really don’t like to go to museums then just skip the museums and don’t feel guilty for doing it. I can honestly say that I don’t need to go back to the Louvre or d’Orsay for a long time, if ever.
The more times you go to Paris, the less you focus on the touristy parts of Paris and the more you focus on the parts that are less traveled. I recommend that you do the touristy parts on your first visit and then venture into the more unknown!
Paris is one of my favorite cities and really shouldn’t be missed on your European itinerary. The city is extremely accessible and can be reached by train or plane from any major European city. Read on for my second part in Paris here and feel free to look through more France posts here.
images by: shawnvoyage