Everyone in this world can recognize Paris and relate to its charm, more than any other city in Europe. But my first time there was just this year. I don’t have a reason why I let this happen so late. I guess I associated it with a romantic city and that was not necessarily my type of travel destination.
When I visited the United States, everybody asked me if I traveled to Paris. Only rarely was someone interested in other cities or countries. That moment I realized how many people associate the French capital with Europe’s image.
So, why everybody fancies Paris so much? It’s the capital of romance, with an elegant boulevard Champs-Elysees and mind-blowing culture & art collections. I had to go there and see it, despite some feedback of too crowded, over expensive, dirty and partly unsafe city. I won’t get into that discussion here.
As every tourist in Paris, especially as a first-timer, I’ve marked on my agenda a few of the “must-go” places.
- Eiffel tower – loved to see it more from the distance, seeing it in the sunset from Centre Pompidou was my favorite part. As you’d expect the place is packed with tourists and people selling cheap Chinese souvenirs. If you are not a fan, I’d say the best is to just see it from Trocadéro Gardens
- The largest & most popular museum in the entire world: the Louvre museum. All the articles say that you need a full day or at least 4 hrs. I went there in the last 3 hour and, there was no queue. Yes, we did not see everything and I did not get to the top floor, but we saw a lot. Yes, I saw Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, I have a selfie with her. My advice? Do your research and just check what you want to see or the highlights.
- Notre-Dame cathedral
- Champs Elysées boulevard with the world-known designer shops
- Sacré-Cœur church & surrounding area, Place du Tertre, beautiful houses and bistros
- The historic neighbourhoods (Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Ile de la Cité), the little cafe terraces at the corner of the streets, and the imposing museums.
- Versailles: this is a full-day visit, easy to reach from Paris. Probably the most opulent palace I saw, though interesting to see. Loved more the gardens (not fully opened in late March) and Marie-Antoinette’s palace, le Grand Trianon.
You have tons of information about Paris’s tourist attractions. And you can run from one museum to another for days and still you will not see “everything”. What I’ll recommend you though is to keep some time to enjoy your time off, so you can just wander the Parisian streets and feel the french culture of having a coffee or a wine at the terraces.
Stroll along the Seine and wander Paris streets
I visited Paris in spring and the moment the sun was up, people started to sit down along the Seine and enjoyed their gatherings or even had a quick picnic. Parks, even the little one from the City Council or in the back of Notre Dame felt quiet, though in the heart of this bustling city center.
Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets from Marais with no final destination in mind was relaxing. Oh, I liked Marais so much! I explored it on the first day, without a plan, and it remained in my heart as much as the heart-shaped stencil models on the walls.
Enjoy Paris goodies
Wine, kir (white wine with cassis), cheese, croissants, macarons – you get the idea.
Indulge in local goodies and you will not regret it. My boyfriend is a wine lover and a connoisseur, so our first stop was at Joule shop. We had wine, tasty cheese, and a fresh baguette and that was a nice dinner at “home”.
Just a few places I’d mention here:
- Joules for wine & cheese
- Macarons from Pierre Herme – as famous as Laduree. Expensive, but you can find cheaper in other sweet shops.
- Ice Cream from Berthillon
- Bastille market (open only on Thursdays and Sundays). This is a good opportunity to try a local market. We found it in our way to the Louvre, but it was tempting to stop by. Don’t get trapped by the few souvenir tables exposed, this is mainly a food market, so plenty of good things to eat & buy at a convenient price: from sweets, foie gras, fish, cheese and fresh fruits.
A few notes on food in Paris
Food is generally expensive, dining out will cost an average 20 Euro (including one drink).
Something I’d suggest is to try to catch the lunch hours and take the menu offer, so it will be more convenient. We always ate late in the morning and grabbed something on the road, so we skipped official lunchtime (noon – 2 pm) and then we desperately were praying for the dinner to be served, starting at 7 pm or later. Therefore, make time to eat. It’s not common to find something to eat (cooked food) between these hours, this rather applies to the touristic places.
Tip: read a bit about the etiquette, Parisians care about it.
Visit something off the beaten path
As I always try to add an art museum to the places I visit, I also feel the need to see something off the beaten path, or less touristy.
Atelier des Lumiere was a recommendation I received and I can’t duplicate that with anything else I saw. It was Van Gogh and a selection of Japanese artists on display. Atelier Lumiere is like a showroom of an artist’s work that provides an immersive experience. Practically, you will get surrounded by paintings displayed everywhere, even on the floor, animated and with proper music. The show was so good, we stayed in for a second round.
Short info: it takes about 30-40 min, but it’s a full house, so buy a ticket in advance and try to make it in the morning, as early as possible.
Not far from this place, we had a local street art tour and found Oberkampf boulevard, which is quite popular around young people. Belleville street art walking tour was a nice walk in the neighborhood, with us checking tags and small pieces of urban art at the corner of the buildings. You’ll spot these almost everywhere in Paris, especially if you have an eye for them. Usually, these are just small pieces of art or tags, don’t expect large murals. We started the tour with a flop or throw up graffiti by Cost and then Neno, a pioneer in Paris. More, I saved these notes in my phone: Kraken (drawing style), Amour Anarchie (father of famous space invader, the artist of the red heart crossed by 2 lines), GZ-Up (octopus art).
Pick the right museums for you
The highlight for me was Centre Pompidou, Europe’s largest collection of modern art. All the modernists were on display there. So, I loved it for the collection displayed, but also due to the industrial style of the building and the annex of Brancusi studio. Oh, plus the awesome sunset with Eiffel Tower in the background.
Paris has plenty of museums and it will be a pity not to see something for your taste. Note: don’t get addicted!