Yeah, sorry ‘bout the lame pun in the title – couldn’t resist. If you’re following my Instagram or Facebook it was most definitely hard to miss that I spent a couple of days in Paris earlier this month. And of course I will talk about my experiences in this post as well as show you guys some pictures and give you some tips for your next trip to the French capital city.
Let’s dive right into it and get something out of the way first…
Don’t go to Paris in March. Don’t go anywhere in March.
…or at least go later in March. Like now, as it’s gotten super warm and sunny pretty much overnight. Okay, so my first recommendation is this: if you have a choice, book your trip to Paris during a time when it’s less cold and rainy. That being said I really tried to make the most of my trip although the weather was super nasty. On a lighter note I’ll be able to give you some very useful tips in case your weather in Paris isn’t great either. I traveled hand luggage only and went for a couple of warm sweaters and an oversized leather jacket (which kept the rain off!). Also, don’t forget to pack comfy shoes – you’ll be walking a lot. We’ll get to that later.
Where to stay in Paris
As I have only mentioned a billion times before I am the biggest fan of Airbnb. I am not sponsored by Airbnb – haha, I wish! However, you can save 30 € on your first booking with Airbnb if you sign up through this link. Especially in larger European cities staying at a central location can get pretty costly. With Airbnb you’ll get your own room or apartment pretty much at the price of a hostel dorm bed. So I booked a small apartment close to the famous Galeries Lafayette. The apartment was small but super cozy and it provided everything I could wish for including WiFi and free tea/coffee.
Generally the city of Paris is divided into so called <<Arrondissements>> which are pretty much areas or neighborhoods within the city. They all have numbers and the lower the number the closer they are to the city center. A neighborhood I wasn’t staying in but which I discovered along the way was the Marais area. I instantly loved it and it had this modern laid-back appeal to it with vegan burger bars and small shops. I might try and find an Airbnb there the next time I go to Paris. I would always recommend staying close to one of the larger stations – especially in Paris. Which leads us directly to…
Public transport in Paris
Of all the major European cities I’ve been to I found the public transport system in Paris the hardest to navigate. Of course you can easily get pretty much everywhere using the Metro or one of the RER trains. As it’s the most inexpensive way to get around I would recommend it. However, the distances you’ll have to walk INSIDE the station just to change trains are insane. Even if you’re not planning to walk long distances pack comfy shoes – you will be walking up to 10 minutes inside the station just to get from one train to another. Not trying to scare you here – just sparing you a blister or two. If you’re staying for a couple of days and are planning to use the public transport system a lot consider getting a Paris Visite travel card as it can save you a lot of money. The train is also a great way to get from the Charles de Gaulle Airport into the city center (it’ll be about 10 €). Of course there are always other options to get around such as Uber. As I haven’t tested those in Paris though I can’t really give a recommendation or opinion.
Just a little tip in case you’re arriving very early and can’t check into your accommodation yet: I hate having to drag my suitcase around town even if it’s just a hand luggage trolley. So I got a locker at the Gare du Nord station, left my suitcase there and went to pick it up in the evening when I had already checked into my apartment. Most larger stations have lockers (look for <<consignes>> on Google and on site) so locate the station that’s closest to your accommodation and check if there’s a possibility to store your luggage. The lockers can be very hard to find (like at the Gare du Nord – seriously, how well can you hide 200 suitcase-sized lockers?) so don’t hesitate to ask the staff for directions. Oh, and that leads us directly to…
Is speaking French necessary in Paris?
There’s this cliché that of all nationalities the French are least likely to be willing to speak English with tourists. Rest assured that this is first and foremost exactly that – a cliché. I did actually learn French at school and was once pretty good at it. As this was 10 years ago though my French is now more than just a little rusty (it feels like the entirety of my brain capacity is going into not sounding like a first-grader in my second language English…). So although I managed to read signs and utter a couple of sentences I found myself resorting to English pretty frequently. Everyone I talked to, be it the waitress at the restaurant or the security staff at the station, was super helpful and happily switched to English as soon as they realized I was a tourist. I always tried to at least initiate the conversation in French. I personally believe that learning basic terms such as “Hello”, “Excuse me” or “Thank you” is a great idea in any country as it shows people you’re making an effort. So when in Paris be sure to dig up your <<Bonjour>> and <<Merci>> but don’t panic if French isn’t exactly your forte.
Okay… so what to do in Paris?
This obviously largely depends on what you’re into but if this is your first time in Paris I’d like to provide you with a couple of tips and suggestions. Let’s start with the highlights you’ll most definitely want to visit. A couple of sights are actually forming a straight line in the city center and are best explored by foot (which is a lot nicer when it’s not raining…). Start at the Arc de Triomphe located on Charles de Gaulle Étoile (étoile means star – have a look at Google maps and you’ll understand why the place is named like this). Especially if you’re short on time it might actually be well worth it to climb the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower. A ticket is only half the price of a full-access Eiffel Tower ticket and it’s gonna be a lot less crowded. You’ll have a fantastic view over the rooftops of Paris (including the Eiffel Tower!) and the Avenue Des Champs-Élysées.
The Champs-Élysées are our next “stop” on the tour. The most famous shopping street of Paris is definitely worth a visit. Just stroll around and have a look at all the luxurious boutiques and flagship stores of well-known brands. By the way – for security reasons you’ll most likely be asked to open your bag or backpack when entering a store. This may seem surprising at first but it’s very common in Paris. I just always opened my backpack right at the entrance to speed up the process.
The Champs-Élysées will lead you through a vast area of beautiful gardens – yet another reason why visiting in late spring to early autumn might be a really good idea. Having a little picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries must be fantastic! When leaving the gardens you’ll spot another very famous place in Paris – the glass pyramid of…
Now the Louvre was something I was very much looking forward to. As a total art geek I love to spend hours in museums marveling at 17th century paintings pondering whether the people in the picture are talking about yesterday’s lunch or the Thirty Years’ War.
I did get my tickets in advance which meant I already had to choose a date and time slot. If you want to be very flexible with your plans this might be a problem. However, especially during peak seasons you may have to wait quite a while to buy tickets so if the Louvre is a sure-fire to do for you I would recommend purchasing no-queue tickets on the official Louvre website. If you’re on a very tight budget you can visit the permanent collections for free on the first Sunday of each month from October to March. I’m sure it will be crowded though. Unfortunately there’s no way to see the entire Louvre in one day. So I recommend choosing the parts that are most interesting to you and taking your time there. In my case this was definitely paintings from medieval to 19th century Europe. Oh and… get an audio guide. A Nintendo 3DS XL audio guide. Because… it’s awesome! It will not only tell you about the artworks, it can also guide you to the restaurant or the entrance.
Just be sure to close it while listening – the battery of mine was empty at some point mid-way through the day so I had to walk all the way back to the entrance to get a new one.
The biggest surprise for me was actually the Mona Lisa. No, not the fact that this painting was showcased there 😀 But there weren’t nearly as many people as I had expected and it was fairly easy to get there to take a look and a couple of pictures. I’m not gonna show a picture of the Mona Lisa here. I mean, come on guys – she even has her own emoji on WhatsApp 😀
You will most definitely get hungry at some point so I’d recommend bringing some sandwiches (or whatever you prefer…). If you do choose to get lunch at one of the restaurants be prepared to get very little food for very much money (so far so foreseeable at a museum) and (!) a humongous swimming pool of beverage for a comparatively small price. I was very confused and had a lot of time to ponder it while downing a week worth of sugar in the form of that giant coke.
The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame
Now you can’t just go to Paris and not do these. Take the RER C train to Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel and don’t be confused when leaving the station. Because… although it is the closest station and although you can see the Eiffel Tower from pretty much everywhere in the center of Paris you can’t immediately see it from there 😀 Once you’re there it depends on your preference whether you’re just going to take a couple of cool pictures, take the lift to the second floor or go all the way up to the top. Once again, I recommend getting your tickets in advance to save you some time (or quite a lot of time). There are even restaurants inside the tower – so maybe someday when I’m rich and famous I’ll treat myself to a 190 € lunch menu on the Eiffel Tower 😛 In case you’re looking for a place to propose to your significant other – that might actually be it.
Also on the RER C line is the station St. Michel – Notre Dame. Given that Notre Dame is arguably the most famous cathedral in the world it was surprisingly hassle-free to get in. Despite being a renowned tourist attraction it is still a church after all which means the entry is free. Don’t worry – there might be quite a long queue at the entrance when you arrive. That’s because, just like everywhere else in Paris, your bag has to be checked. As nobody has to pay or dig up their tickets though you’ll make your way to the front of the queue fairly quickly (I observed a couple who thought they could use the bathroom one at a time while the other was waiting in line but the queue was actually moving too fast.). I don’t know if you are into churches – I sure am. If you caught my Insta story that day you know the one thought that always pops up in my head whenever I visit a church: Churches were built to look like what people back then imagined Heaven would look like. To us all those ornaments and paintings of kitschy chubby little angels might seem a bit odd and too much, let alone the images of saints having their head split with an axe or something. Now just imagine being born and raised on a medieval farm, knowing pretty much nothing but hard labor, stale bread and the fear of not surviving the next winter. The mere size and opulence of such a place must have been downright awe-inspiring and as if it didn’t actually belong on this earth.
Speaking of opulence…
The Castle of Versailles
Another must-do on my list was the Castle of Versailles just outside Paris. You can easily get there on the RER C train and the station is Versailles-Château-Rive-Gauche. Of course there were construction works going on at some stations while I was there so I had to go to one of the other Versailles stations. That’s not that much of a problem – just a couple more minutes to walk to the castle. Yep, I also got my tickets in advance here to save some precious time. And what can I say – wandering the castle I just kept asking myself what it must have been like to actually LIVE in a place like that. Like, you know, actually sleep in one of those ridiculous beds.
Seeing all the endless hallways, all the gold, all the splendor made me wonder whether being surrounded by all of this the entire time wouldn’t inevitably cause you to lose touch with the reality of 18th century life at some point. Still, who else would love to be accidentally locked in at Versailles for a night? 😀
Of course the Castle of Versailles does not only consist of the main castle building itself but also the vast gardens, two smaller castles and Marie Antoinette’s little hamlet. I just can’t find a way to sugarcoat this: the weather was so incredibly bad that day. Not a light drizzle or something – serious apocalypse-level rain. The gardens pretty much consisted of a myriad of little and large pools – not counting the actual lakes and fountains… I did the only smart thing that day and invested about 8 bucks into a ticket for the little hop-on hop-off golf caddy bus that took me from the main castle building to the other three important spots on the premises (The Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon and the Hamlet). Much later that day it actually stopped raining for about 10 minutes (!) so I got to take a couple of pictures in the gardens. And the moody atmosphere did have something mystical to it I have to admit. The hamlet reminded me a bit of Hobbiton – it was built to look old and rustic and fairytale-esque. I didn’t make it back to the castle though before the rain started again – worse than before.
(Vintage) Shopping in Paris
Okay so it would be really weird to go to Paris and not go clothes shopping, right? Apart from the Champs-Élysées and the breathtaking Galeries Lafayette I mentioned earlier, there are heaps of other places to get your fix as a fashion addict. I accidentally stumbled into the Citadium – a large Urban Outfitteresque shop right behind the Lafayette. If you’re there already you should go check it out. The huge shopping centers Châtelet Les Halles and Les quatre temps are definitely worth a visit as well as the Rue de Rivoli. As I couldn’t possibly cover all of them I decided to focus on Vintage shops as there really aren’t that many where I live. I found a couple on the Rue de Rivoli as well as on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. I probably spent like two hours at the Kilo Shop weirding everyone out by walking up and down the shop again and again and again trying to make sure I really saw everything. You know, with all these one-of-a-kind items you can never be sure that there isn’t something awesome still hiding somewhere underneath that pile of sky-blue 70s blousons 😀 In case you would like to go shopping on Sunday there are plenty of shops that are open on Sundays – not all though. So I’d always recommend checking in advance.
A couple more tips for your time in Paris…
Be aware of pickpockets and all kinds of fraud. This is huge in Paris as I haven’t only heard of this but actually saw these people work the main tourist spots around the city. Keep your valuables close at all times especially on the train. You will most definitely at some point be approached by girls with lists asking you to sign something – ignore them. Guys trying to wrap threads around your finger or wrist? Walk away. People trying to give you a ring they just found? How about… no? Suspicious looking people approaching you near the Eiffel Tower asking whether you speak English? Sorry guys, High Valyrian and Klingon only. It may seem rude to just walk away from someone who said “Hello Ma’am” but I guess you’ll agree that trying to steal other people’s hard-earned cash is way ruder…
You can save money if you’re under the age of 26. Many tourist attractions are actually cheaper or completely free if you are a student and/or younger than 24 or 26. So if that applies to you don’t forget to bring your student ID and always check if there are reduced fees available when purchasing tickets on site or in advance.
As I mostly grabbed food on the go there are only two actual restaurants I can recommend. Weirdly enough they are both burger places which might not actually be the most Parisian food (but hey, burgers are accompanied by French fries, does that count? :D). Hank Burger is a super cozy vegan burger place in Marais with really unique burger recipes. Really enjoyed this place! Combining Asian cuisine and burgers Shiso Burger near Notre Dame is totally worth a visit as well. Plus, the staff is just so lovely and attentive. It simply feels amazing to have someone recognize you the second time you walk in although you’re just a tourist.
The bottom line…
This was my first time in Paris and surely not my last. There are still heaps of places I would love to visit such as Montmartre. I was actually planning to go there, however, after a day of running around in the cold and rain I usually just felt like curling up instead of going out again. Although things could have run more smoothly, especially in terms of the weather, I did enjoy my stay and even met some lovely people along the way. So the latest addition to my travel bucket list is gonna be Paris in summer…
Hope you guys enjoyed this travel post!
Have you been to Paris? What are your tips and recommendations? Please share them in the comments!