Ah Paris, so beautiful, historical, and so filled with buttery pastry, savory cheeses, wine and rich foods. Recently my husband and I were able to go to Paris for four days following a conference I had in London. It was my husband’s first time in Paris so we wanted to see all the main sights, but also wanted to try and get off the beaten path a bit. There are a million guides to Paris and I can’t even slightly pretend to be an expert. However, if you’re anything like me, I love reading travel blogs before I visit cities for ideas. Especially to learn things about customs or cultural quirks.
So, here are 10 musings from an American perspective — with ideas and a few bits of advice for enjoying one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
1. Take the Metro –
I put this one first because Paris’ Metro is the lifeblood of the city. The network of connecting tunnels can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. From the airport to the Eiffel Tower, to Versailles, Paris’ Metro and connecting network of trains is very easy to navigate. Unlike London with its Oyster Card, Paris (for the most part) uses a paper ticket system. Each ticket is one way on a train – though you can use your ticket to connect if its within a certain period of time. We found that its actually a lot cheaper than London as well. To save even more you can purchase booklets of 10 tickets for a discounted rate.
Another thing I wanted to point out is that if you use an iPhone, Apple Maps does an amazing job of showing you all the train routes and connections if you put your destination in, and press the “Transit” option.
2. Book Lodging Outside of the Most Touristy Arrondissements
Getting outside of the most touristy areas of Paris can be a nice respite from the crowds. We booked a little Airbnb flat (on the 6th floor of a walk up!) in the 18th Arronsissement which is the highest elevation point of Paris. The area called Montmartre is filled with little cobble stone streets, cafes and lots and lots of stairs. The Sacré-Cœur is also there, so it wasn’t without tourists, but less so than some other areas. It was just what we hoped for. Often we were the only English speaking people at cafes and we enjoyed all the amazing views including the Eiffel Tower from our flat windows. Also, because of the Metro it was a breeze to get down to see the sights so we didn’t feel inconvenienced, or like we were missing out.
3. Go EARLY to Versailles
Versailles is really incredible. The palace and the grounds can easily fill an entire day and the history is absolutely fascinating. Getting there is really easy too via the Metro and Train. You can buy your ticket at the Metro station and its about 30 minutes outside of the city center. I recommend that you pre-book your tickets for Versailles online and use your phone, and please for the love of Pete get there early or face a Disneyland-in-the-middle-of-July sized line to get in.
4. See Paris from the River
One of the best views of Paris is from the Seine. There are several river boat cruise companies to choose from. You can do a casual guided tour, or book a fancy dinner cruise. We did the casual hour long tour and it was perfect for resting some tired feed while listening to some history. It was about 12 Euros for each of us — definitely worth it!
5. Climb to the top of Sacré-Cœur for the Best View in Paris
The area of Montmartre in the 18th in Paris is wonderful. Cobblestone streets that wind up hills, cafes and bistros, clothing boutiques and more fill this area. At its heart is the Sacré-Cœur, the Catholic church that opened its doors in the early 1900’s. Getting to the church is a good workout, but there is also a funicular if you want to ride. There are lots of tourists of course, but the view is spectacular. We saw quite a few people picnicking and enjoying the sunset which looked amazing.
6. Find a Local Street Market
I would venture to bet you will not find a more incredible street/farmer’s market than in Paris. We were awestruck walking down the long line of vendors, from fresh fish to breads and cheeses, flowers, clothing, creperies, and wine vendors. I could have spent all day here (but alas my husband only has a tolerance for so much browsing). I really do feel like this is an essential part of Parisian life — and experiencing it is such a pleasure for the senses — the colors, smells, tastes!
7. Buy Cheese, Wine & Baguettes at the Grocery (or Street Market) and have a Picnic
Every grocery store in Paris has an incredible cheese section. If you live outside of Europe, you’re probably used to paying a lot for French cheese. When you walk into their grocery stores however, its so cheap comparably! I highly recommend picking out several cheese, along with fruit, some amazing cured meats, and then grab a fresh baguette and a bottle of wine. Sit yourself down in one of the thousands of beautiful spots in Paris — and have one of the best days of your life!
8. Eat Late, Wake up Late…and Book Dinner Reservations
Parisians don’t wake up early, they also eat late. My husband and I are more early to rise, early to bed people but in Paris its best to do what the locals do. Let yourself have a leisurely morning (unless you’re going to Versailles! then get up early), enjoy a pastry and coffee, and book a reservation for a late dinner. I wish I would have known how important it is to book a reservation for dinner. There are obviously places along every street you can eat at, but if you want to eat at a more well regarded spot you need a reservation. Take it from me, a lot of the restaurants are really mediocre and we were disappointed until we made reservations for a place that came highly recommended. It was one of the best meals of my life — the 10 pm reservation time was totally worth it!!
9. See a Museum, or Two, or 173…
Most people are familiar with the Louvre, and many have have heard of the Musee d’Orsay, but Paris is home to so many incredible museums (almost 200!). This post https://bonjourparis.com/museums/10-lesser-known-museums-in-paris/ has some good ideas for some of the lesser known museums. If you are an impressionist fan, check out the Musee d’Orangerie which boasts Monet’s large Water Lilies paintings among others.
10. Don’t Expect to Be Spoonfed Information
Expect to be confused about where to go, what line is for what, and a surprising lack of personnel to assist tourists in places like Versailles. I found myself constantly wondering if we were in the right place. The lack of signage and people guiding became somewhat normal by the end, and I can read a fair amount of French. Still, in some ways its kind of charming and very French to empower people to be more independent.
Merci Paris, we will be back!