This summer I went to Paris for the first time, and I fell in love with the city and its people. I went with my boyfriend who had already been to Paris four times but luckily for me, he was fine with me planning and organizing the entire trip (my control-freak self was very pleased with this). I love traveling, but I never want to seem like a tourist because 1. it’s not cool and 2. it can be dangerous if you stick out to pick pocketers and the like who prey on unsuspecting tourists. So in my attempt to fit in with the locals, I did a fair share of research and created an itinerary that would let us see some of the best historical sites while also feeling like locals. I read (skimmed) this and this and this, among a few other resources before planning our trip, and I’m hoping our experiences below will provide you with helpful information and tips on visiting Paris yourself.
Where we stayed
Hotels are great, but they can get really expensive real quick, especially in Paris. Location is everything when lodging in a new city, and I wanted to stay in a safe and reputable area that was close to public transportation and some of the popular areas of Paris. We ended up staying at an Airbnb flat in Le Marais, a historic district of Paris spread across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It’s a less expensive but very stylish and hip neighborhood. Our flat was near the Saint-Paul Metro stop, which made getting around the city via public transportation extremely convenient. Le Marais is also close to the Seine river, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Centre Pompidou, and lots of shops and markets.
What we experienced
- Seine River cruise. We went on a boat tour our first evening in Paris, and it’s a great way to get a broad view and first glance of the city. It’s also great for photos, especially if your tour is during sunset. We got our tickets at the official tourist concierge desk at the Orly airport after arriving in Paris. Super convenient!
- Picnic by the Eiffel Tower. Aim to go before sunset and bring some cheese, a baguette, olives, champagne, and a blanket to sit on. Set your blanket up on the big lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, enjoy the company and the laughter and conversation of people around you. Stay until the Eiffel Tower begins to sparkle. Need I say more?
- The Louvre. Personally, museums can get exhausting for me after a while. Instead of purchasing a guided tour, we downloaded the Rick Steves audio tour of the Louvre on our phones (bring your own headphones if you plan on doing this). We were able to go at our own pace and pause the audio guide whenever we wanted to take a break, and it really helped us to avoid clashing with the large tour groups visiting the museum. Tip: try to go in the early morning, right before the museum opens, to avoid the long lines to get through security.
- Notre-Dame Cathedral. The line to get in can be long, but it goes by quickly. The architecture and history of the cathedral is phenomenal. Note: entering the cathedral is free, but going up to the tower requires a ticket, and another line to get in.
- Evening walks along the Seine. During one of the nights we walked along the Seine from Le Marais to a bridge named Pont des Invalides, which also offers a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Parisians constantly hang out along the Seine, sharing picnics, listening to music, or dining out at the restaurants along the river. The atmosphere is romantic and playful; it’s exactly how I envisioned Paris would feel.
- Montmartre. We dedicated half a day to exploring Montmartre and all of its charm. We visited Sacré-Cœur first (note: shoulders and knees must be covered to enter… we learned this the hard way), which is also the highest point of Paris. Afterwards we made our way down the winding streets of Montmarte and had the best “French burger” for lunch, then spending the rest of the afternoon wandering around admiring the beautiful shops, cafés, and buildings. We stumbled upon and got coffee at Café des Deux Moulins where Amélie was filmed, took pictures by Van Gogh’s apartment, and walked through a bustling artist’s market. Montmarte is also a great place to pick up any souvenirs.
- Arc de Triomphe. The views at the top of the arch are well worth the 284-stair climb. There’s a little museum inside that you can explore right before you reach the top and take in the breathtaking views of Paris. Tip: the arch is located in the middle of a roundabout, and you’ll need to take the underground tunnel and stairs which lead from the northern side of the Champs-Élysées metro station to pedestrian tunnels that bring you out safely underneath the arch.
- Versailles. There are lots of day trips you can purchase that will plan the entire visit to Versailles for you, but we decided to plan it on our own. We took the RER-C train from Paris in the morning, spent a few hours exploring the palace grounds, and had a late lunch before taking the train back to Paris. We used the Rick Steves audio guide to tour the palace and the gardens at our own pace. We also rented a golf cart to navigate around the gardens. This idea seemed petty at first, but the gardens are HUGE and the golf cart was a tremendous time and energy saver.
- Saint Chapelle. The most beautiful stained glass windows I’ve ever seen. Definitely carve out some time to visit this chapel.
- People watch. On our last day in Paris we took the time to actually sit at a café and leisurely enjoy some coffee while writing post cards and people watching. This was one of our favorite moments we took to relax and enjoy each other as well as a bit of everyday French culture.
- Get lost. We always had a small map with us (we used the one from the Lonely Planet pocket guidebook), but we also took some time to stroll around the city without a particular direction. This is a great way to explore the neighborhoods of Paris and stumble upon hidden gems in the city.
What we ate
Surprisingly, I didn’t eat as many croissants as I thought I would (but maybe that’s a good thing?). When we visited Paris, it was about 97°F, which is abnormally hot for the city. The heat decreased our appetite and we ended up drinking more water than eating food, but the food that we did eat was phenomenal. We had lunch twice at L’As du Fallafel, and it was some of the best Mediterranean food we’ve ever had. It was was close to our flat, convenient, and inexpensive. Tip: this place is pretty popular, so try to go before or after peak lunch and dinner times.
We had the best “burgers” of our lives at a little café in Montmarte called Le Village. I put burgers in quotations because it wasn’t like your typical burger- the bread portion was more like a crêpe/tortilla, and the burger itself looked like a burrito. We savored every single bite. This café is a little removed from the touristy area of Montmartre, and we were able to enjoy our meal in peace as we were the only people at the café besides the barista, the waiter, and a quintessential French guy smoking a cigarette at the bar.
Because Paris isn’t exactly cheap, we only planned to eat at one “fancy” restaurant and take it easy on our budget. One of my coworkers recommended a small restaurant in Le Marais called Le Temps de cerises. The food here was pretty good, but it was so hot outside (there was no AC in the restaurant) that we didn’t have much of an appetite. However the ambiance was lovely- it felt like we were eating at a friend’s home.
There are cafés on almost every corner in Paris, and they are all charming, however the ones near touristy areas tend to be a little more expensive. My boyfriend and I frequented the same café every morning, and we got to know the barista pretty well. After a couple of days she would recognize us and remember our order: a cup of espresso for him and a noisette for me. We visited other cafés too, either for a quick bite or for a glass of wine and a beer. Your meals in Paris don’t have to be big or extravagant. There are plenty of grocery stores and bodegas sprinkled around Paris, so it’s easy to pick up a quick bite, whether it be a baguette or some cheese and fruit.
Our favorite resources
- Paris Museum Pass. So. Worth. It. We purchased ours at the airport after landing, and I think this is the most convenient way of buying the pass. You can buy a 2-, 4-, or 6-day pass (we bought the 4-day pass) and plan your sightseeing on those days. Most museums and tour sites are included in the museum pass (including all of the ones mentioned in this blog post!) and the pass saves you a lot of time and money versus buying individual tickets for museums. Some places do have certain restrictions, so make sure you do your research prior to planning your visits.
- Lonely Planet Pocket Paris. This is great because it gives you enough background on Paris and its sights without overwhelming you with too much detail. It’s also smaller than most travel books and it comes with a super useful map.
- Rick Steves audio guides. Yay for saving money!
- Google translate. Always useful. Get the app on your phone.
- Metro tickets. If you plan on using the Paris metro often, buy your tickets in bulk. You can buy them at the ticket machine at any metro stop.
- There are plenty of travel blogs and websites out there with free information about Paris. Do your research and plan your trip however you want to experience it, and make sure you’re reading up-to-date information. Don’t overplan your itinerary because you’ll be exhausted. Just enjoy the people you’re traveling with, relish in all that you get to see and experience, and take the time to enjoy yourself. After all, that’s what the French are all about.
Born in Ukraine and raised in Chicago, Iryna takes pride in her Ukrainian roots. She loves writing, cooking (and eating) all kinds of food, pursuing new fitness trends, and exploring all things related to personal growth. She hopes this blog brings you value in one way or another and helps you to become a better version of you.