Ah, Paris. You are a delight. Charming me with your intimate cafes set on every corner, your narrow and winding streets, your boulangeries and the scent of baking bread wafting through the air. If only we had had more time together, we might have become better acquainted. But there will be another time, I promise.
What can I tell you about Paris? I had been there once before, as a child of nine, and at that time I did all the touristy things on the heels of my grandmother and aunt. We visited the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre where I stood before the Mona Lisa (she’s smiling, I swear) in the days when you could get close enough to touch. Almost.
As a 40-year-old adult, things had changed a bit, and my interests during the 4 days I spent in Paris were somewhat touristy, but perhaps more refined to my own tastes and travel desires. In short order, I have generated 10 tips for visiting Paris – a list of dos and don’ts – based on my experience, and of course some beautiful pictures to show off along the way!
1) DO: plan for some down time. Some of my favorite moments in Paris involved simply strolling the streets and taking in the sites, stopping on a whim for a coffee and a pastry, browsing the booksellers and watching the world go by. But we didn’t do enough of that. My BF and I spent most of the 4 days going from activity to activity, with only small hours to sleep in the in-between. At the end of the 4 days, we realized we’d spent more time standing in lines than we would have liked and less time just absorbing it all in quietly. When we go back, we’ll be more mindful of taking the touristy-track in smaller doses.
2) DO: book things ahead, but be cautious and read the fine print. There’s a difference between “purchased ticket” and “skip the line” tickets. And one is more expensive than the other and, in retrospect, is worth it.
We only had 4 days and as such wanted to do everything that was important to us, so I booked a few things ahead. I booked tickets at Versailles and also an Eiffel Tower entrance / Seine boat cruise. What I didn’t realize was that none of the tickets I bought were “skip the line”. As such, the only line we got ahead of was the security line at the Eiffel Tower, but still had to wait more than an hour to go up for the view. Versailles was the same. I booked a ticket, but it was simply a ticket that would “eventually” get me in. The only line I skipped here was the line to buy a ticket. But every ticket holder had to also stand in line to get into Versailles, which also ended up being more than an hour. So long story short, buy the skip the line tickets instead of just plain old tickets if you want to save time.
3) DO walk the city at night. Big cities, especially in Europe, keep the lights on almost all night long. And when the crowds disperse and the sun goes down, the streets go quiet and glow like a Roman Candle. I love love love night in the city. And Some of my favorite photos come from those moments when most everyone else has gone to bed.
4) DO be aware of the country’s national holidays when traveling. I love traveling in the off season. The crowds tend to be thinner, and the cities just as beautiful. Yes, you have to contend with more inclement weather sometimes, but the tradeoff is more than worth it. I chose to travel to Paris in the spring, but chose Easter weekend as I thought it would be quieter. I didn’t realize that the Monday following is a national holiday for most of Western Europe and thus the weekend turned out to be very, very busy. But one of the highpoints for me was being able to attend Easter Sunday mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, possibly a once in a lifetime experience. As I said, tradeoffs.
5) DON’T spend too much money on Michelin rated restaurants. I am a foodie. If you’ve read my blog or follow me on Instagram you know this to be true. On this trip to Paris I researched several restaurants and settled on one in particular for a Michelin Meal: Pur. Don’t get me wrong – it was ahhhmazing. But it was super expensive and comparative to the other fine dining meals I had experienced during the almost two weeks I had been traveling, it was kind of the same, and I was kind of fine-dininged out. So my take home advice on this one is book one really kick ass meal on a trip, but go with your gut on the rest. Literally.
6) DO put thought into accommodations. In Paris, I opted to AirBNB and scored a lovely walk-up apartment with a slightly disappointing rooftop view and no elevator for the last flight of stairs and a leaky shower. A hotel might work better if you don’t want to worry about the sometimes-unpredictability of AirBNB (if something is amiss, or if your host isn’t available, or if the living arrangement isn’t “as advertised”). But, if you like living local, AirBNB is the way to go, but be sure to read all the reviews, choose a super-host if you can, and, in Paris especially, narrow down your search to be closest to the places you think you’ll spend the most time (maybe start with those top 3 tourist attractions you already prioritized) or at least be close to a metro station for easy transport.
I pretty much only use AirBNB and if you love it like I do, click on my referral link and when you book you’ll get $40 and I’ll get $20!
7) DO remember that Paris still supports smoking tobacco products at outdoor cafes. There are some I am sure that do not, but more than once on the trip we found ourselves at an outdoor meal surrounded by cigarette smoke. C’est la Vie.
8) DO consider booking a food tour. One of my favorite things to do lately when I travel to a new city is to book a Food Tour. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land, and also to taste a number of local foods the city is known for. Bonus, you walk off the calories while you go. Sometimes. The one I booked in Paris was awesome – we visited a Boulangerie, a Boucherie for meat and pate, a Fromagerie for some of the most amazing cheeses, Les Marches de Enfants Rouges for fresh produce, and summarily tasted all those things along with Croissants and baguettes (and learned how to tell the real, and the fresh, from the fake and the chewy), melt in your mouth luxury hand crafted chocolates and jellied candies, and of course, wine. The company I booked through was called Paris by Mouth and we did the taste of Marais tour. https://parisbymouth.com/food-wine-tours/ I highly recommend.
9) DO pay attention to public transportation strikes. On the day we were booked for Versailles there was a planned public transportation strike on the rails and metro lines. We didn’t know that until we had walked to two metro stations and found both to be closed. Luckily we met up with several other tourists, American and International, who were having the same problem and we were able to share an Uber. But Versailles was not close, and the roads were incredibly trafficked because of the lack of metro availability, so almost 2 hours were gone before we even arrived at the Palace. Add to that the challenge of not having a skip the line ticket (see above) and it was a very lengthy and harrowing build up to a very crowded tourist attraction.
10) DON’T spend less than 4 days in Paris and expect to do even half the things there are to do. We opted to do a few of the more known things: Eiffel Tower, Seine Cruise, walked under the Arc de Triomphe, and Versailles. We didn’t even touch the museums. Of those things we did do, I don’t think I would repeat any of them on future trips. I wanted to tick the boxes this time around, but now having done so, I feel like I could happily just eat bread and cheese on a bench and people watch.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 tips for visiting Paris. And I hope I can help you on your own adventure. All told, Paris was wonderful, but perhaps not my favorite city on the trip. It won’t deter me from visiting again. And again. And I am still celebrating some of the more wonderful moments, to include my ability to fulfill one of my dreams in photographing a couple at the Eiffel Tower. This involved a very cold and early morning to beat the crowds, but was SO worth it.
See some of those posts here: