If you want to go out and see the world, there is a good chance that getting to Paris is on your list. It’s on the list of backpackers, lux travelers, honeymooners and everyone in between and all for good reason. Paris has a certain allure of romance and grandeur that other cities just don’t possess and I have good news for you…it’s all true.
Paris will draw you in and once you leave, you will never forget its views, its macarons, its streets, its people, nor how you felt while ogling those views, eating the macarons, walking those streets and attempting to speak to its people in your broken French (or if you’re lucky like moi, have a French-speaking husband to help). I am always waiting for the day we get to return.
Here, I will highlight the best parts and the best ways to spend a few days in the City of Light.
Get yourself an AirBnB
AirBnB seems to be the accommodation of choice for us Millennials, but even if you’re A. Not a Millennial or B. Never tried AirBnB you unquestionably should. Destinations like Paris are notoriously expensive (even though the Dollar is nearly par with the Euro right now! Yes!) but an AirBnB is a wonderful alternative to a traditional hotel. Now that the husband and I are 30 and 32 respectively, we aren’t exactly hostel people. We like to have something slightly nicer and more private, but because we still can’t afford the Ritz (or even most nice hotels in Paris), AirBnB is our favorite option. For example:
That apartment is within a ten minute walk to the Eiffel Tower, a five minute walk to two metro stations, and the owner has excellent reviews. With all taxes and cleaning fees, your nightly is a whopping $107 (in June!). For an entire apartment ten minutes from the Eiffel Tower. (Click here for listing)
Because the dollar/euro rate wasn’t excellent when we were there, on top of being on a very tight budget, having an entire apartment was a life saver. Yes, we went out and enjoyed the food, but we also went to markets and cooked for ourselves to save money.
There are dozens and dozens of apartments for rent in every corner of the city and for any budget. Some will be smaller and more basic but $60 a night in Paris? Okay. Is your budget $500 a night? That’s also fine. You can just get an exceedingly luxurious apartment complete with polished parquet floors, marble bathroom and a balcony overlooking the Tower. That sounds better than a hotel (unless it’s the Ritz).
Have a Picnic
You can scoff all you want at the old adage of the Eiffel Tower picnic, but it’s still one of my favorite travel memories. Yeah, yeah it’s cliche, but you must. The husband and I went to a nearby market and got salad, sandwiches, wine, cheese…the basic necessities. We sat right at the foot of that big ol’, kind of unattractive, behemoth of an iron tower and had the cutest time.
Luckily for cheesy picnic lovers, Paris has no shortage of parks and greenspace. We also found another one on our daily roamings called Parc Monceau which is almost exactly between the Arc du Triomphe and the Moulin Rouge. And with cute little shops and markets abound, there is also never a missed chance to stop in one for some wine and cheese.
Have you heard of the Louvre? Of course you have. Mona Lisa’s digs is the most famous museum in Paris, if not the world, so it’s no wonder that people flock there by the bazillions. The lines are long and it’s crowded, but don’t let that deter you. It’s well worth shoving on through.
As you can see, visiting the Mona Lisa isn’t a peaceful experience. You literally have to push your way to the front. Being an art lover, I wanted to fully soak this in and truly observe this da Vinci masterpiece so maybe I overstayed my welcome at the front of the giant mob, whatever. Once you’re finished with her, turn around. That’s where the impressive art hangs.
Now, don’t let the crowds scare you. The Louvre is a beast of a building filled with much cooler things than old Mona. My favorite was the wing with the ancient Egyptian artifacts. Attempting to wrap my head around the fact that actual humans were carving things 6,000 years ago was a little too much for me, so I just ooh’d and ahh’d along with everyone else. Ms. Venus de Milo is also in there which is something else to behold (as is the crowd below it) so there is plenty to see.
My favorite museum in Paris, however, is not the Louvre, but the Musee d’Orsay. The Orsay contains Monet and Gauguin and Renoir and Van Gogh and Cezanne…all the hard hitters and pieces that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It’s a much smaller museum but packs more of a punch if you’re looking for more recognizable names and works. It also has a nice little area outside the ticket booth with sculptures and things along the river Seine. And speaking of the river…
Take a walk down the River Seine
Our main mode of transportation around Paris was our feet. Why would you want to spend your time in the smelly underground when you can walk everywhere? Paris is an incredibly simple, walkable city. With the Seine running right through the middle of it, what’s more romantic than taking a stroll? Even if you’re solo or with friends, the views are breathtaking.
Eat all the macarons
I cannot stress this enough, macarons in the US do not taste like they do in France. There are cute little pastry shops everywhere and every time you pass by one, just pop in and get yourself one (or several). Trois macaron aux fraises, s’il vous plait.
Drink coffee like a local
I found the coffee in Paris nothing remarkable, but it’s more the atmosphere in drinking it. People watching on a terrace in St. Germain while sipping your café crème is one of the most pleasurable things on the planet and I feel few would disagree.
Parisians mostly drink their coffee for breakfast with a croissant (which they dunk in the coffee). Your options are limited down to a few variations of coffee with some level of milk (no skinny, caramel, non-fat, heavy foam, no whip, two pumps vanilla concoctions here) and if you want to drink it outside on the terrace it may cost you a little more, but still only a few euros. Sipping coffee outside with the locals also means a slight haze of cigarette smoke, but that’s Paris.
Take in the details
As with all the rest of Europe, Paris is old. Sometimes it’s hard for us Americans to fully understand how far history stretches in Europe when most of our history takes place in the 1600s or later. The buildings and structures have these amazing details that are easily missed unless looked for. Take your time and look, actually look, at the architecture around.
When you stop to actually admire the details of your surroundings, you’ll find loads of interesting things…like headless statues. It makes you appreciate that most of these things were done without the help of any kind of modern technology. Just someone’s hands.
Spending time in Paris, especially for the first time, will always include your typical landmarks like the Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame (go inside!) which is why I didn’t include them. They are, of course, a must see, however I feel the things I’ve included are things you may not do or necessarily think about.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid of the trains and subway system. Paris is very easy to get around using them and the maps and system is very straightforward. However, don’t be put off by the graffiti and weird smell sometimes. Paris is a sprawling metropolis just like New York and does have its fair share of unattractive sights. There is an actual disorder dubbed “Paris Syndrome” that is primarily dominant in the Japanese in which the affected are truly upset that Paris isn’t what they always imagined (i.e. the graffiti threw them into a frenzy). So although Paris is magical and romantic and beautiful around every corner, sorry, the subway can be gross.
Pro tip #2: Don’t skip Montmartre. Yes the Sacre Coeur is there, but walking around makes you feel a bit like Hemingway. And Hemingway was a cool dude.
Paris is always a good idea and should be a “when” you go, not an “if”. Do you have any tips or advice that you swear by when you go?