By: Andrew T
Have you ever wanted to go to the City of Lights but don’t know where to start? There are so many sights to see, how do you fit them all into one trip? Where do you stay? How do you get around if you aren’t fluent? Hopefully a few tidbits of advice will get you going.
Learn un peu de (a little bit of) French.
I know this sounds obvious, but unfortunately it’s not something everyone thinks to do. You can get by on the basics: hello, good morning, good evening/night, thank you, where is _______? How much is this? etc. You certainly don’t have to be fluent, as nearly everyone you encounter in the city will also be fluent in English. But you’d be surprised how much it’ll help as you navigate.
Next, do you have a full schedule down to the minute? Great, now throw that out. I’m not saying you should fly by the seat of your pants, but just pick a few places you want to check out and coordinate when you get there. Don’t pressure yourself into leaving somewhere early if you’re enjoying it just to get to the next thing. Let’s be honest, a rigid schedule will get broken anyways, so don’t set yourself up for failure.
The Eiffel Tower
Clearly, the first site on your bucket list will be the Eiffel Tower. If you have a lot of time, by all means go do it! The sights are stunning (Pro tip: plan on going up right around dusk and hang around for a bit so you get the sights by day and night–it’s a two-for-one special). If you don’t have a lot of time in the city, skip it. Hang with me for a second, I know that was a shock to the system. But there are other places to see that are both cheaper and won’t take up so much of your time.
Arc de Triomphe
If this is an option, go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe instead. It’s equally as breathtaking and will be a quick trip, as you’ll undoubtedly find yourself on Champs-Élysées anyways (Word to the wise: Going up the Arc is a vertigo nightmare. I’m getting dizzy just remembering the experience, so keep that in mind if tiny spiral staircases make you woozy). The street level of this famous French war memorial is truly a special sight even if you don’t circle your way to the top. To get there, take the tunnel at the end of Champs-Èlysèes under the traffic roundabout and you’ll pop up right at the monument.
Speaking of Champs-Èlysèes, prepare your wallets! It’s Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive rolled into one. All the designer stores you can handle for twice the price. Shop at your own risk.
Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame
I’ll pair Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame into one for purposes of time here. If you can see both, great! The architecture is stunning. If you wanted another view of the city, Sacré Coeur will provide that as well. Sacré Coeur is a bit farther away from the others, but just a short metro ride. While there, you can check out Moulin Rouge if that’s your thing!
Are you an art lover? Obviously The Louvre is atop your list. But again, do you have lots of time? Because you’re going to need it. The Louvre can easily take one, two or even three full days to navigate. And the crowd admiring Mona Lisa might take you an hour to work through. Cover your eyes Baby Boomers, but I did the museum in three hours and was happy to Google the art I missed. If that’s not your cup of tea, don’t go solely to say you went–there’s too much else to do in the city. But if it is a must, make sure you leave yourself a day or two for both The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay.
We’ve covered all the famous stops, but keep in mind that there’s much more to the city that you won’t want to experience anywhere else.
When in Paris, you’re going to eat a lot of carbs. And a lot of butter. Prepare for that by planning for some fitness. If you’re hitting even half of the sites you want to see, trust me, you’ll get your 10,000 steps in. But want to be a little more active? There are plenty of options for you. Take a Vélib’ (bike share) around the city. Add a few minutes to your time at the Eiffel Tower and bring a soccer ball to kick around in the park – can’t beat that background! Walk or run along the Seine. Or just walk around a Metro station for a bit…you think it’s a joke until you see how massive they are.
Off the beaten path
Drink like a local in at the Bastille district bars. Root, root, root for the home team at a Paris St. Germain soccer match. Buy a bottle of wine and some cheese to picnic and people watch in one of the city’s many picturesque parks. If you have a full day, take a train an hour outside of the city to historic Reims to tour a champagne house or two (I’d highly recommend Taittinger), or take a train the other direction to Versailles to see opulence at its peak. Dine in on a romantic dinner cruise on the Seine. Feeling macabre? Visit the Catacombs (vertigo warning!). Try your first (or yet another) Michelin Star restaurant, eat crêpes from a street cart or check out one of the city’s great restaurants like La Jacobine (Remember “service compris” means tip included at the restaurants; feel free to tip, but it’s not required). And if you are a foodie, try taking a cooking class or learn to bake the city’s famous croissants or macarons. Maybe you just want to relax? Well throw this all out, grab a few books and people watch at cafes around the city.
There’s no wrong way to do Paris, so carve out some time from work and make it happen!
For several years, I had only heard about a mystical collection of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A place that looked too perfect in pictures and could only be construed in one’s dreams. But I finally had the luxury of going to...
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