Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is one of Europe's largest cities, with 2.2 million people living in the dense, central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area. Located in the north of France on the river Seine, Paris has the well deserved reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design.
For some reason, I never had much interest in visiting Paris, I always thought it was such a tourist destination that it might be overrated. I was wrong - there's a reason it's one of the most popular destinations in the world and featured on so many movies, songs, stories, etc. It's a place that feels so alive and full of history, culture, vibrance, romantic charm, architectural splendour and mouth-watering cuisine. There is no denying it, Paris is one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Also, Paris is one of the most affordable cities to fly into in Europe from the US, so it could also be a great option for a starting / ending point to a trip somewhere else. Ryanair has affordable flights all over Europe and other nearby destinations from Paris, so you could visit more places and save money on flights too!
The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot or using the Métro. It's extremely easy to use and one of the largest underground metro systems in mainland Europe. It's not only a public transport system though; it also features fantastic music and entertainment. I loved hearing all the diverse bands playing underground and the way the music flows through the tunnels and mixes with the sounds of the voices and trains. Uber is also a popular and easy option in Paris, but an expensive one.
First and foremost, French is of course the country's official language. Try to learn a few basic phrases in French, such as these two magic phrases : "Excusez-moi de vous déranger" ("Sorry to bother you") and "Pourriez-vous m'aider?" ("Could you help me?") especially in shops; politeness will work wonders. Parisians have, among the French too, a reputation for being rude and arrogant. Some of their reputation for brusqueness may stem from the fact that they are constantly surrounded by tourists, who can sometimes themselves seem rude and demanding. A simple "Bonjour" when entering a shop, for example, or "Excusez-moi" when trying to get someone's attention, are very important; say "Pardon" or better "je suis désolé" if you bump into someone accidentally or make other mistakes; if you speak French or are practicing and learning phrases, remember to always use the vous form when addressing someone you don't know. If you're ordering food, you can say “J’aimerais" or "je voudrais la/le . . .” and try to pronounce what you want and point to it. If you forget that, just say what you want, point to it, and say “s’il vous plaît” (please). Another good one ~ Do you speak English? "Parlez-vous Anglais?" Even if you butcher the French - like I always did, your attempt might be appreciated and just feels more polite.
See & Do:
- Rent bikes and ride along the Seine. It's a great way to explore the city and an easy ride. The Paris Mairie (City Hall) operates a Vélib' bike-rental program with thousands of three-speed bikes at hundreds of stations or "service points" around the city. You'll pay €1,70 for a day ticket or €8 for a seven-day ticket, which lets you take an unlimited number of 30-minute journeys.
- Of course, the Eiffel Tower - it's definitely worth going up for breath taking views! Skip the line by buying a 7-euro ticket to walk up the 1,710 stairs. (If you reserve a table at one of the Eiffel Tower’s restaurants, you also get cut-the-line access.) Also, the Eiffel Tower sparkles for a five-minute show throughout the night, which can be a breath taking site from a bridge over the Seine as someone plays romantic songs on the accordion.
- Notre Dame - 100+ selfie sticks, 0 hunchbacks. But still awe inspiring and interesting and some great gargoyles too! Free entry.
- When I visited the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, I could have stayed for hours ... if it wasn't so crowded and there wasn't so much else to do! I walked upstairs as someone was playing classics on the piano, the cat was napping on the book shelf, the bells of Notre Dame rung outside the window and that vanilla smell of old books filled the air. It was pure magic. *Pro tip: instead of buying a book inside, they sell cheap used books outside which can be stamped with their logo at purchase and make a great affordable gift or souvenir.
Wander the streets of Montmartre then watch the sunset at Sacré-Cœur, along with hoards of tourists and as local musicians pluck guitars on the steps. Bring some beers or a bottle of wine and enjoy the sun sinking into this beautiful city.
- Picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens and people watch or read a book.
- Marché Bastille is a food market and it is lovely.
Get lost in The Louvre - it is truly magnificent and worth every moment and penny! Did you know the Louvre Museum started as a fortress? A few other fun facts - When the curators of the Louvre caught word that the Nazis were invading, they scrambled to empty the Louvre of its most valuable pieces. With great luck, they were successful. Most of the good stuff was saved and hidden elsewhere across France, while many works of art that remained at the Louvre were stolen or destroyed. In 2015, the Louvre Museum welcomed 8.6 million visitors. That’s about the population of London. This massive number allowed the Louvre to maintain its position as the most popular museum in the world! Yet, somehow, it is still less visited than Disneyland Paris - which seems sad to me. Anyways, when I went, I decided to avoid the chaos and crowds by the Mona Lisa and spent most of my time in the ancient art sections - specifically the Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian sections and 'Near Eastern Antiquities' - so incredible and inspiring. *PRO TIP: Avoid the long lines and enter through the underground Caroussel shopping centre which you can access via Rue de Rivoli. Keep in mind - that when you buy a ticket, its an all day ticket - so you can go in the morning, leave and come back when it is nearly empty in the evening! Also, it's closed on Tuesdays.
- The Musée D'Orsay is great for a rainy day but keep in mind that you might be waiting outside in line for an hour in the pouring rain like I did… totally worth it and a great selection of pieces by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Gaugain, and more. Buy tickets in advance.
- Parc des Buttes Chaumont - waterfalls, cliffs and temples are just a few of the beautiful things you can stumble upon while strolling in this park. Situated in the 19th arrondissement. Bring a picnic blanket, a book and relax, or take a stroll through the many paths this park has to offer.
- The Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac is a museum featuring the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. It's one of the less busy museums in Pairs and is housed in a modernist building on the bank of the Seine. It offers an anthropological journey through the customs and cultures of societies both ancient and modern. Overwhelming display of amazing artifacts from around the world.
- The Catacombs - the entrance reads “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop! This is the empire of death!) - I loved wandering around underground surrounded by some 6 million bones and skulls dating as far back as the 18th century. With only a small section open for public tours, the rest of the catacombs are illegal to visit. I really enjoyed listening to the audio tour as I walked through, it drowns out the voices of other people and makes the experience more engaging as you hear about the history and legends and other interesting facts - like the time in the 1800s when nearly 50 amateur musicians descended into the catacombs to play a concert complete with pieces like Saint-Saën’s Dance Macabre (a piece allegedly inspired by the catacombs). *PRO TIP - purchase tickets before hand to avoid the incredibly long 2+ hour line. Also, bring a warm coat, it gets cold down there!
- Swim at La Piscine Josephine Baker, a floating pool on the Siene. fun if you're traveling with kids or in warm weather.
- Even if you're not a fan of cemeteries, the Père-Lachaise Cemetery is worth a visit. We went on a cold and cloudy day and really enjoyed the gorgeous headstone carvings, cobblestone paths and following the map to find specific tombstones, kind of like a graveyard scavenger hunt!
- Les Puces de Saint-Ouen Flea Market takes place on Saturdays and Sundays and is basically the mother of all flea markets. It is HUGE! Like ridiculously huge. And also a little expensive for my taste, but I definitely scored some amazing vintage treasures and souvenirs and took some great photos and wished I was rich and could buy everything. The Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market in Clignancourt just outside the 18th arrondissement. It is a very large area with hundreds of sellers, and it can be very overwhelming. What you really are looking for is the vintage shops. The flea market is very easy to find from the Porte De Clignancourt Métro stop. You can take the métro line 4. Once you get to the streets from the metro, you will start seeing sellers immediately. Unfortunately they are not the kinds you are looking for. Ignore all of the cheap China-knockoff salesmen, and keep walking. Walk past the tents where you see more cheap crap, and then walk a little more on the streets filled with tents full of knockoffs. It’s only a 5 minute walk, but feels longer with streets full of sellers. This is not the flea market you are looking for, you are looking for either Marche Vernaison, alleys of old antiques or the real Les Puces, the Marche Dauphine, which is where you can find a wonderful assortment of artwork, old records, and over priced vintage clothes.
Eat & Drink
- Croissants - all day, everyday! $
- Street Crepes - cheap and delish anytime of day or night, sweet or savory. Check out Au P’tit Grec for some really good ones. They are a perfect grab and go food, especially if you are rushing to see and do as much as you can in this beautiful city! $
- Did you know that the French reigned over Vietnam for quite some time, and that's why the lanuage is so similar? It is also why you'll see so many Vietnamese restaurants here. It's a great option for a cheap and quick meal. $
- Happy Nouilles - Randomly stopped into this place when we were craving warm spicy soup on a rainy day and it was so good! They make the noodles there and you can watch in the window. $
- Try to make it to Le Relais de l'Entrecôte for dinner one night, although it has become popular and opened several locations, the original restaurant is located in Saint-Germain neighborhood and has a charming classic style with no menu - they only serve one thing - Steak with yummy secret green sauce and French Fries. They also have a few options for dessert which all looked really good! With a simple offering, prompt service and informal atmosphere, it is an ideal place to enjoy a quick and inexpensive meal. Be sure to get there early, right before they open, to avoid waiting in line. $$
- Manfred - nice cafe to sit and have lunch or brunch. $$
- If you need to do a little work in Pairs, Nuage Café has the unique concept of paying per hour and getting free internet with unlimited supply of coffee, tea, and snacks. $
- Our first night in Paris we had dinner at Derrière and it was the perfect place - the food was outstanding and the dessert was literally one of the best I've ever had, it was like a strawberry coconut cloud from heaven, I think it's called mille feuilles, but I seriously want to go back to Pairs just for that. Our waitress was no sweet and helpful and let us know about a secret room upstairs that you enter by walking into a vintage wardrobe. Its filled with board games, a foosball table, and random kitsch knickknacks and is a perfect spot for a drink or cigarette after the meal. The restaurant is also located behind a few fun fancy bars. Definitely worth checking out! $$$
- Almost hidden on a cobblestone side street in the Latin Quarter lies Le Coupe-Chou with a facade overgrown with ivy. A gorgeous 17th century building with traditional French fare - I loved the intimacy and old-world ambiance. I would definitely recommend making a stop here when in Paris. Try the escargot and make a reservation. $$$
- Try to find Le Comptoir General, there’s no sign and your only clue you found it will be a long line of people seemingly waiting to walk down an alleyway. This bar has a rad atmosphere and part of a pirate ship inside. $$
- Be sure to stop in at Candeleria, a tiny taco place with a secret; a bar hidden in the back! The menu is packed with flavor and the margaritas are strong: a perfect combination after a long day of exploring. $$
- Stop into Biglove Caffè for an awesome breakfast / brunch / lunch situation. $$
- TranTranZai for Spicy Sichuan style noodles in a fun spot. $
- For afternoon tea check out Carette $$
Choosing where to stay in Paris can be a little overwhelming. Each neighborhood has its own distinct vibe and quirks, so picking the best neighborhood for your travel style will make your trip to Paris even more magical. Paris is divided into 20 separate zones/neighborhoods called arrondissements. Each arrondissement offers something different. I would recommend against staying near the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees. People assume that Paris revolves around the Eiffel Tower. In actuality, it’s fairly far away from the city’s main sights, so you’ll be doing a lot of commuting if you stay there. The neighborhoods around the tower are expensive and seem kind of boring (lot’s of rich old people). The Champs Elysées may be one of the most famous boulevards in the world, but the area around it isn’t a super interesting place to stay — especially if you’re on a budget. It’s expensive and it’s teeming with tourists who are super rich or tourists who are paying way too much to stay there.
(Montmartre) – Long known as a bohemian village within the city, Montmartre has gorgeous views and a lively vibe. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Montmartre was the place to be if you were an artist. Picasso, Dali, Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and dozens of other artists and writers made this hill their home thanks to the cheap rents and inclusive atmosphere. At the bottom of the hill, near the Pigalle Metro, is Paris’ red-light district. It’s nothing dangerous but it can feel a little seedy. Additionally, it’s best to avoid the eastern edge of the area as it’s not a great neighborhood. Montmartre is a bit of a trek from the city’s other main sights, but it’s well connected via the Metro.
(Saint-Germain-des-Prés) – A lively area filled with shopping, cafés, bars and restaurants, it’s well-located for visiting the Louvre and Notre Dame in about 10 minutes by foot. If you want to be in the thick of things, this is a great area to stay in Paris.
(The Latin Quarter) – The Latin Quarter definitely seems like 'classic' Paris. It has grand boulevards, tiny streets that date back to nearly 1000 years, cafes, restaurants, shopping, bars - and it's near the river and lots of Paris’ famous sights and landmarks. Back in the Middle Ages, the Latin Quarter was home to the universities in Paris. They all spoke Latin — hence why it’s called the Latin Quarter. This area has a lot of students thanks to the numerous colleges and universities nearby.
(Le Marais) – The Marais is cool, trendy, chic, full of energy, and the location is great. Traditionally a Jewish neighborhood, Le Marais is also one of Paris’ most LGBTQI friendly neighborhoods, creating a mix of awesome Jewish bakeries and gay nightclubs. Depending on where you stay, you can walk to Notre Dame in 10 minutes, and across to the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain in another 10.
(République) – In and around Place de la République, you’ll find a cool hipsterish scene with loads of young urban creative types. An area filled with cafés and cool spots for a drink, this is off the beaten path of classic Paris spots, but still very convenient if you want to do some sightseeing.
(Montparnasse) - While most wouldn’t refer to Montparnasse as particularly cool or trendy, it is largely off the tourist path so it's more affordable and you get a sense of everyday Parisian life. The area continues to have a bit of its bohemian and artistic vibe thanks to the young artists who move here to practice their craft.