Be a Parisian
The capital of France and self proclaimed fashion and cuisine capital of the world, Paris is an engaging city full of things to do and explore.
Having lived and worked in Paris in addition to traveling as a tourist with my family, I have appreciated the city of lights from all aspects. My favorite things do in Paris were to buy fresh things from the bakery, a few cheeses and the like from the grocer, grab a bottle of wine (or a few), and drink along the Seine watching the sun set. Paris is such an incredible city, make sure you appreciate all the beauty the city has to offer and the unique way of life.
WHEN TO GO:
There are different things going around Paris at different times of the year so it's important to know what you are getting yourself into.
January-March- Going in the winter you can prepare yourself for very cold days and not the
best weather, however France has it's semi annual sale in January through February so it's a good time to shop.
April-May- Weather gets better, but there are many holidays in May and around Easter so keep in mind a lot of things will be closed at this time.
June-July- The city opens many things for residents including a beach by the river, volleyball courts, and more. This was the BEST time to be in Paris due to the fantastic weather, riverside drinking, and activities to do. Although there are more tourists around, the lifestyle of Paris is in full swing at this time. The other semi annual sales are from July to August, so a great time to shop and also Bastille day is in July! Fireworks, Parades, and festivals are based around their independence day (also my birthday).
August- DO NOT GO IN AUGUST. I did not realize this until I lived there and nothing was open. Most of the city goes on vacation in August, so that means a lot of restaurants are closed and things have limited hours.
September-October-Nice crisp, fall weather, things are open and many new exhibits cycle in.
November-December- Paris has FANTASTIC winter markets with mulled wine, treats, and small trinkets. If you are going to go in the winter, this is the time to go.
Paris is such a perfect size to walk and bike around in! Although I didn't bike, because I am incredibly uncoordinated, my friends did and did the street bike rental . Also Paris has a great subway/metro. For the most part, each metro stop has a great theme and is decorated (ie. NYC and the natural history museum stop). The metro is a really quick and easy way to get from point a to point b, but I wouldn't recommend taking it late at night (it gets rather sketchy, and there are a few night assaults).
Bateaux Parisiens- For a city based around the river, a great way to get a comprehensive view of Paris is through the boat tour. You can really see how stunning the bridges are, and if you are like me you can pick out where you want to stop to eat and explore next.
Bus Tours- I hated this. Truly hated this. I did two different ones with different people and I can't say anything nice so I won't say anything at all.
Attractions: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumphe, Palais Garnier
Dining & Shopping: Saint Honore, Les Halles, Le Marais, Grands Boulevards, St.-Germain-des-Prés, Place d'Italie, Latin Quarter
Museums: Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Musee Marmottan
Paris is the epitome of a tourist destination, so it comes as no suprise that there are many places to see and things to do. If you book your tickets in advance and time your visits well, you will be one of the select few who spend more of their time exploring instead of waiting.
Check out the Views:
Eiffel Tower- The first thing that everyone thinks of when they think of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is an incredible landmark. Paris knows this and hosts many events around the tower including the French Open. A great place to view the eiffel tower is from the Trocadero.
If you're going to go up the tower, keep in mind that the lines are INSANE. There are two ways to avoid this:
a. Book a tour ahead of time/ purchase tickets ahead of time to get to the top. Sometimes the tickets on the Eiffel website can be booked a while in advance, so you might be better off going through a tour group (we used Red Bike Tours).
b. Say you have reservations at the restaurant. This will only get you to the first floor so if you have aspirations to get to the top you won't get anywhere, but if you want to just get on it, there you have it.
Tour Montparnasse- If you want to look at the Eiffel Tower and its surroundings from high up look no further than the Tour Montparnasse. This tour is that big black tower right across from the Eiffel tower. In fact, the french hated it so much that after this building was built, there was a height restriction made for buildings in central Paris. However this 'eyesore' is rarely crowded, quick to get up to, and gives you a fantastic view of everything, so if you want to avoid the crowds you can get a view of the Eiffel Tower from the outside, instead of getting shoved on the inside.
Arc de Triumphe- This landmark is situated in the middle of a traffic circle which radiates out to the major avenues of Paris. This was by design, because Napoleon wanted it to be a focal point for the city.Although not completed during Napoleon's lifetime, this monument carries the names of his generals and other important military figures. Getting to the Arc is easy, but you do have to go below ground to get in, so please don't go running across traffic. The views are pretty surreal as it feels that everything is radiating from you, but remember that there are huge spikes (I think to keep the pidgeons away), so it's difficult to get a great picture of yourself on it.
On the Island:
Notre Dame Cathedral- Absolutely amazing church, but as with popular attractions in Paris, always a line. However, unlike Church of England churches (Westminster, St Pauls), all Catholic churches in France are FREE (with the exception of the Sainte-Chapelle). The things you can purchase are: the crypt, the tour to the treasury and the climb up to the top. I did the climb up when I was a kid and although it was neat, it isn't a must do. I really enjoyed looking at the treasury, as it had all the jewels, staffs, robes, gilded bibles, etc from the history of the Cathedral. Don't forget to walk behind the Cathedral as there are beautiful gardens, and the back end of the building is really beautiful. Also, if you cross over the bridge over the Seine you can really get an comprehensive, amazing view of the building.
Sainte Chapelle- Down the road from Notre Dame tucked away is Sainte Chapelle. The windows to this church easily make you feel like you are in heaven. When you walk in the ground floor just go up the stairs to the left and take it all in. This was the only church I paid admission to get into in France, but I think it is just to control the crowds.
Conciergie- The building that looks like a castle on the opposite side of Notre Dame is Conciergie. Formerly a palace, then a prison, this building was home to many historical events, including holding Marie Antoinette before her execution. Although inside the building is a little drab, and the Marie Antoinette prison cell is recreated, it still is interesting to do while you are on the island.
Hotel de Ville- Not the home of Cruella DeVille, but rather a Government building right across from the Ile de la Cite. Hotel de Ville is right in the middle of everything. In the summer they put up beach volleyball courts and other recreational places for their residents and visitors. While I was there, they had an awesome exhibit on Paris during WWII, but their typical exhibits are Paris based regardless. The entrance is free unless you want a guided tour.
Palais Garnier- So I lived down the road from the Palais Garnier and didn't realize that it was the one that Phantom of the Opera was based on. When you go inside, prepare yourself for the most inspiring oppulence you have ever seen. This building is stunning, walking around and enjoying the architecture and design was an awesome way to spend an hour. For some reason, there weren't too many people there, but when you have the option to pay with a credit card, take it as those lines are usually much shorter than the ones occupied with the teller.
Pantheon - Home to Marie Curie, Voltaire, Victor Hugo and other notable French citizens, the Pantheon is a living memorial to all the great French people. It is a place of reverence and should be respected while you are downstairs observing the history of the building and the tributes (and bodies) of the departed and beloved French politicians, scientists, authors, poets, and philosophers.
Montmarte and Basilica of the Sacré Cœur- Located at the top of the hill overlooking Paris, Montmarte is the area that was the home to the artists such as Van Gough, Monet, Picasso and more. In order to get to Montmarte you can take a metro up there. However if you get off at Pigatelle or Anvers, you will be doing a huge steep hike up, so I suggest taking the Funiculare. The huge white domed building is Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. This beautiful church is at the top of the hill and you can get a spectacular view of all of Paris if you choose to take the climb to the top of the church. Be aware that this climb is ridiculous and narrow, but I will put up pictures from the top so you can see it even if you don't do the climb.
+Montmarte used to be a bohemian area but now is a huge tourist area, so prepare to battle crowds and people tying bracelets around your wrist (they are either trying to steal your watch, distract you from pickpocketing by their friends, or demand you pay for the bracelet, be super aware of them).
Outside the City:
Versailles- Located a bit outside central Paris, Versailles is the famed home of Louis the XIV. An amazing palace that will certainly take you hours to go through, Versailles is a must do on any tourist list. I would start my day off with this and then make my way back to central Paris.
Chateau de Vincennes- on the outskirts of central Paris, the Chateau de Vincennes is a great place to visit. A 14th century palace that has been outfitted for tourists, it is hardly as packed as Versailles. Although the rooms aren't oppulant, the church and rooms are inspiring. Can easily spend an hour or two wandering around and learning about the history of the castle and its occupants.
Disneyland Paris- The Disney of Europe, Disneyland Paris is just like the one in Florida, except MUCH smaller. With many of the same rides, Euro Disney has two parks: Disneyland Park (the one with the castle) and Walt Disney Studios. They also have a Disney village with Disney Hotels, Disney Stores and a Disney Starbucks (just kidding, it's a regular Starbucks). If you want to go, go, but the Florida one is better.
Paris has so many beautiful museums there is something for those of all tastes. However as I adore impressionism, you will be seeing those as my favorites, so sorry but not sorry. Also, note that many of these are closed Monday or Tuesday. I found the best times for me to go were on Sunday since nothing is really open on Sunday.
Musée d'Orsay**- This awesome museum is situated right along the left bank and occupies a former train station. This museum occupies a few floors but if I were you I'd go straight to the top and take in the beautiful Renoirs, Degas, and Monets then have a coffee or drink at the restaurant that sees out of the clockface. Also keep an eye out the special collections, while I was there I got to see the Van Gough exhibit which was creepy and amazing. You will easily spend 4-5 hours here if you want to see everything. *note this museum is usually packed so I'd get the tickets before as to save on the line.
Louvre- Because it is an internationally recognized museum, it is on here but I will say that it is not my favorite. This museum is like a mall of art. It is always packed and going to see the tiny mona lisa is like going to a rock concert with everyone out taking selfies. My favorite part of the Louvre is actually the wing that features rooms from the Napoleon III appartments. Also the Egyptian and Greek collections are impressive.
Musée Marmottan Monet**- This museum was suprisingly amazing. The first floor of this renovated home was pretty basic, but when you go downstairs to the climate controlled basement, BAMM Monets everywhere. Loved that this museum wasn't packet and was easy to walk around and take in the paintings at your own spee
Musée Rodin**- This museum was such a great suprise. The gardens, paintings, and sculptures in the rooms really pull together to make the two hours spent here truly relaxing.
Espace Dali- Located in the Montmarte area, the Dali Museum is a giant basement filled with Dalis works. Definitely an interesting stop for an hour and a half if you want something else to do in Montmarte (since you already climbed up the giant hill), besides the church, watching street perfomers, and getting harassed to get your photo drawn for ridiculous amounts of money.
Musée de l'Orangerie**- This museum is located just down the ways from the Louvre in the Tuilerie Gardens. If I'm honest, I'd say go to this one instead of the Louvre. They have giant Monets in dedicated rooms, and a fantastic basement filled with pieces from famous art collectors. Can easily spend 2-3 hours here.
Centre Georges Pompidou- I went to this muesum on a whim because I was killing time. This giant museum features contemporary art. I won't say that it wasn't interesting because I did see a few pieces that I enjoyed, but it wasn't my cup of tea, another mall of art.
Carnavalet Museum- Great museum dedicated to the history of Paris, they have old business signs, paintings, etc which are based on the city. I dragged my friend to this and even though he was hesitant to go, he was mad when they closed because there was so much more yet to see.
Les Invalides**- There is so much in this complex I don't know where to begin. First, it holds Napolean's body under a beautiful guilded dome (although the coffin is huge, it is a little short lol). Next it holds the Musée de l'Armée which contains countless army artifacts including weapons and suits of armor which (if someone is there) they actually let you touch wearing gloves. Also, while I was there I saw an old car show right outside on the walkway (imagine model Ts).
DRINKING & DINING: Let all your pain be Champagne:
France in general is amazing for wine and Champagne (a great day trip from Paris, check it out here), although the brand names tend to dominate the scene with the Champagne, I have found incredible wines just though brousing wine stores and local markets in Paris. With the local markets, they are more than happy to have you taste the wine as they are incredibly proud of their product. I have had many a dinner that was just wine and different cheeses (dairy and fruit servings met, check!).
Harry's New York Bar- This is my favorite bar in the ENTIRE WORLD (actually I lied, it's tied with Delirium in Belgium). Upstairs it doesn't look like much dominated by college pennants, however go downstairs when the piano player is going and you will feel like you are in a speakeasy. I have never been so obsessed with a place in my life; I have brought anyone who has visited me here because I love it so much. ALSO, this is the place that invented the Bloody Mary, the Side Car, French 75, and more.
L'Escargot Montorgueil- Definitely touristy and expensive but the only place I have had golden escargot, and there are so many types of escargot you can take your pick. Easy to find as it has a giant gold snail on top of the door.
JanTchi- Most perfect Korean food I have ever had. I lived in this area and I would go to this place for fantastic Bimibap again and again.
Le Soufflé- This place serves amazing souffles, and it is open from 12-4 and 7-10. It is small and can be a bit expensive so if you go, try to go around 2-3 this way it will be less crowded and you can get lunch prices.
Things to Try:
France is notorious for food so in addition to trying varying wine and cheeses you have to try the following:
Souffle- These are fluffy cake/pastries that can house meats, cheeses, and sugar desserts. My favorite souffle was the cheese one so if you go try it.
Crepes- There are literally a hundred ways you can have a crepe, they have savory and sweet crepes that are sure to hit every craving. The most popular crepe is a nutella crepe and they have these crepe stands outside many cafes and along the streets. In my experience the street crepes were the most enjost enjoyable.
Escargot- you will get these in either two ways, in the shell or in little pools of butter already deshelled. Either way is delicious but the pools of butter one is the easiest to eat and dip the bread in. If you get them in the shell, don't panic, just use the little clamp they give you to hold it and pull it out with the little fork on using the outer part of the shell lip (not in the center). I love escargot and its not gross like everyone thinks it is.
Magret de Canard- Not to be confused with Confit de Canard (which is fried duck) this is Duck breast, if they cook it, it should be soft and pink on the inside. I absolutely love this dish and it was my go to at most restaurants.
Grenouilles- Frog's legs, after finally trying this I have to say they taste like lighter yet greasier chicken wings. Only setback is how many tiny bones are in here.
Macaroons- heavenly little cookie sandwiches the macaroons are a lovely little bite, if you want the best go to La Duree and get a box. They are amazing.
ANYTHING at the bakery and ALL OF THE DESSERTS. France does dessert right. Get a dessert with every meal and while you go to any bakery keep your eyes open for new breads and pastries!
Side note: The french eat everything with utensils, this includes pizza and burgers (with the exception of McDonalds and the like). Don't expect your pizza to be cut into slices, when I asked for that they looked at me in horror. Also don't be suprised to see an egg on a pizza, they also do that on salads with little bits of ham.
PRACTICALLY A PARISIAN:
Paris is full of amazing and unique stores, restaurants, markets and parks. Enjoying these things is an intrinsic part of Parisian life so if you just do the tourist sights you are missing out on what Paris really is.
Keep in mind that things are much more expensive around high tourist areas. However if you go to the stores in January or July, France is having their mandated sales so you are likely to encounter more of a bargain. Additionally, there are many indoor shopping areas known as Passages when you look on a map. These glass covered walkways are usually inbetween buildings and full of unique places to eat and shop.
Also by no means is this list exhaustive, these are just areas I liked to shop in.
Saint Honore and Rue de Rivoli- Think high end, even if you don't want to spend the money they are still nice streets to walk down and window shop.
Les Halles- Great market full of unique vendors and a giant mall. Also only place we could get bread on a Sunday.
Le Marais- Affectionately known as the gay Marais, it is full of boutiques, unique bars, and high end style. The Marais certainly has a character all on its own.
Boulevard Haussmann- tons of stores and restaurants, most importantly houses Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, the most major and recognizable department stores in Paris.
St.-Germain-des-Prés- home to Le Bon Marche, another great department store, this area is peaceful and full of neat stores, cafes, and boutiques.
Place d'Italie- decent sized mall full of most stores you can think of
Latin Quarter- A great area full of amazing bookshops, cafes, and restaurants.
Canal Saint Martin- This canal is great to walk around, find fun cafes and to enjoy the indie shopping available.
French style parks are different to those of in the states as they are predominately sand (the kind that dusts up when you walk on it). This is so that you can look at the grass, not walk on it. Despite this strangeness, the parks are beautiful with many wrought iron chairs, fountains with little boats and well constructed trees and shrubs.
Tuileries: Huge park and gardens right outside the Louvre, also home to the Musée de l'Orangerie, the Tuilerie gardens are a must.
Jardin du Luxembourg: Like the central park of NYC, the Luxembourg gardens house many things including a palace, stunning sculptures, a museum, a boating lake, puppet show, bee hives, pony rides, tennis courts and more. There are many restaurants and bars surrounding the park so it is a great place to spend the day.
Palais Royal: Beautiful hidden garden about a block and half before you get to the Louvre, I loved walking through the Palais Royal gardens as they were smaller and not as crowded as the Tuileries.
OVERALL, Paris is the perfect city to get lost in and explore (unless you are by the train stations or by the Moulin Rouge, super sketchy). I loved turning down little side streets and discovering amazing bookshops and little bars that were older than my country. Although you could just go to Paris for a few days, I would recommend going for two weeks, this way you can take your time and discover the city to the fullest, it really is absolutely amazing.