I never planned on visiting Paris while I was studying abroad. I thought that I’d only go there to see the Eiffel Tower and binge eat croissants. HOW NAIVE! I’ll never forget how taken back I was by the beauty of the the city, and how much I came to love it. My 3 day trip involved a self guided tour of the art museums and monuments, getting lost on the tube, and a visit to Disneyland Paris. Even though I was able to see and do so many things while I was in France, I know I havn’t seen it all. Below I’ve detailed everything you need to know about Paris from getting there to MUST see destinations that will make you fall in love all over again.
Language: French, duh! But everyone knows English, even if they act like they don’t.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hourTravelling times: London to Paris by Eurostar takes 2hr 15min. Flying time is about one hour. Paris is about 6 hours ahead of New York,NY.
Local laws and etiquette: When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
Electricity: Electrical outlets take Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs. So you may need to use both an adapter (which enables you to plug your appliance into the different style of socket) and a converter (which allows it to run on the different voltage)
BEST TIME TO VISIT
I went to Paris in December as a last minute trip. Beautiful anytime of year, but especially cold in December! The best months to visit are June to August and September to October. Both summer and fall have its ups and downs. From June to August the weather in Paris is just about parfait (perfect).
WHAT TO PACK
France has a casual but classy vibe most places while the cities feel a bit more upscale. Unless you’re planning for a very special occasion, there’s no need to pack your fanciest clothing. Most locals dress well and you’ll rarely see someone who looks as if they’ve just come from their workout when they’re headed out for the day. Remember layers are your friends!! Comfortable sandals or solid walking shoes are always a good choice, and sunglasses, a light blazer and scarf pull any outfit together.
You can land at Charles de Gaulle airport and easily take public transportation. Or, if you are closer, you can take the train. There are many high-speed trains that route into Paris. Typically they come into Gare de l’Est, Gare du Nord, or Gare de Lyon. I took a train from Amsterdam into Paris, it was one of the most scenic rides I’ve been on and I highly recommend the train when traveling to multiple countries!
As I mentioned before, there are many modes of transportation in Paris. My suggestion is to walk as much as you can (unless it’s raining). The best way to explore this city, and any city, is by foot! Of course Paris is huge and you can’t walk everywhere, so my next suggestion would be taking the metro. It’s less expensive and not as crowded as the streets can be.
Pro tip: Buy a metro ticket for the amount of days you’ll be there and plan to explore!
Of course budgets will vary on where and how long yous stay. If you’re a free spirit like myself you probably don’t mind spending the night in a hostel with other international travelers. It’s the best way to meet new people from all over the world and create new friendships. However, if you are throwing your life savings into this trip then you better spend that money right! Below I’ve listed out some budget-friendly options for the free spirit and the luxury traveler.
WHERE TO STAY
St Christopher’s Inn Paris Gare du Nord -$- This is my FAVORITE hostel I’ve ever stayed in! Not only is it polished, clean, and bumping with travelers, its super easy to navigate to from the metro. Prices vary depending on the seasons, but the average stay is about $48 a night. Some nights go as cheap as $22 – and the money spent is great for the location, safety, and cleanliness!
Generator Hostel – $$- We almost stayed at this hostel on our visit. The Generator Hostel located on Canal St. Martin boasts hip galleries, boutique shops, and pastoral cafés. It is everything you’d expect from the French capital, but with more than its fair share of contemporary cool.It stands opposite Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic French Communist Headquarters, and only a 15-minute stroll from Gare du Nord train station. Average stay is ranges from $80-$100 a night.
Hotel Icone – $$$- is exquisite and has a wonderful attention to detail. If only I had the money at the time to stay here, it’s one of the best locations I’ve seen. It’s so close the the Opera, walking distance to the Louvre, Notre Dame, and so much more. Highly recommend for you luxy style travelers.
Le Village Montmartre – $ – Cute and very affordable for the traveler on a budget. It features colorful dorms & private rooms, plus a guest kitchen, a common area, a bar, a terrace & free Wi-Fi. A 2-minute walk from Anvers metro station and a 5-minute walk from the Sacré-Cœur basilica. Average rates around $35.
WHAT TO DO
What is there NOT to do in Paris? The city is full of life and culture on every street corner. However you may want to do some research before you trip and map out the top picks on your list. You wouldn’t go from the Eiffel tower straight to the Notre Dame, they are farther apart than you think.
If you are headed to Paris for a quick visit, I recommend getting the Paris Pass that will allow you access to museums, attractions, and more and will help you skip lines! It is a bit pricey, but worth it if your time is very limited.
Now before I dive into the best destinations, I have just O N E rule in Paris: embrace it. Be a tourist. Take the pictures. Lots of them. Learn about what you’re seeing, smelling, and tasting! I promise, you’ll want to cherish these memories forever.
THE Eiffel Tower. Probably the first landmark you think of when you think Paris. If you visitthe morning is the best time to go for great views without as much of a crowd. We went 2x on our visit and found the morning to be less busy. You can also pay to go up to the tower for a spectacular view, but you will wait in long lines near pushy vendors that may take away some of the magic for you. The pricing is as follows: 1st and 2nd levels €11; top €17. By stairs: 1st and 2nd levels only, €7. Make sure to reserve ahead of time to avoid lines.
I recommend you to see the city from up high from the top of the Tour Montparnasse, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame towers, or even a carousel in Tuileries, and actually have the Eiffel Tower in your view.
Pro tip: Visit the Eiffel Tower at midnight to watch the tower sparkle! We ended up here on our first night in Paris, just make sure to grab a ride home as the tube closed at 12!
The Pont Alexandre III – Head over to the river Seine for a view of my favorite bridge in the world- it’s still one of the best spots to people watch in Paris. You might remember it from the Movie “Midnight in Paris.” I’ve literally have never seen something so grand in my life. It connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower. This bridge is B-E-A-UTIFUL and regarded as the most ornate, extravagant bridge in the city! It is also known as the “love lock” bridge – containing thousands of signed locks. I heard that they have recently taken this down however, it’s still a magnificent view. *cough* (Perfect Proposal Destination) *cough*
La Louvre: The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. Or better known as the home to the famous “Mona Lisa.” This place is huge and will easily take 3-5 hours for a QUICK TOUR, I very much expect some people to spend a full day there. The meuseum contains over 380,000 pieces of art – if that put’s it into perspective for you. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings. Pro tip: You MUST visit this one room in the La Louvre, it’s the Napaolean lll Apartments on the first level roomsm 82-92. The room is literally dripping in gold and crystals. The former chambers of Napoleon III span several rooms of the Richelieu Wing, built by architects Louis Visconti and Hector LeFeul in the 1850s. It’s still extraordinary to observe the high style of living to which this emperor was accustomed. Just look at the picture below!
Notre Dame: Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Notre-Dame Cathedral is also well-known for its famous architectural gargoyles. These statues actually do serve a purpose other than to befriend Quasimodo. They were added to the cathedral’s exterior to direct rain water downward! This is a beautiful cathedral woth the visit to get a nice history lesson or two.
Disneyland: Disneyland may not be the first option on your bucket list for Paris, but it is completely worth the extra day if you have one! I really can’t think of a more magical combination that enjoying the wonders of Disneyland in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! The park is also a lot smaller than the states, so you can cover more ground quickly and do the park in just 1/2 a day!
The Moulin Rouge Paris Theatre Show: Take in the night with some champagne and an atmosphere filled with can- can dancers! See elaborately dressed show girls dominate the stage; marvel at dancers as they perform compelling choreography; and opt to upgrade to include a French feast and fine Champagne before the show starts.
Bistro-Style Seine River Dinner Cruise: Board an elegant boat on Ile de la Cité, the historic heart of Paris, and head out along the River Seine to enjoy dazzling views of the city at night. As the Paris panorama drifts by, enjoy a lovely 3-course set dinner: start with foie gras, followed by a fish specialty, and end with a duo of sweet treats. Upgrade to include wine or Champagne with your meal. The boat’s armchair-style seats all face outward, ensuring amazing views as you dine.
Palais Garnier: As much a hallmark of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, the Palais Garnier may well be the world’s most famous opera house.The venue was commissioned by Napoleon III and features busts of famous composers between its Corinthian columns above figurative sculptures embodying the arts. You could experience the interior as it was intended at an opera performance , or – which I much rather prefer- take a tour to be overwhelmed by the splendour of the Grand Foyer and Grand Staircase (amazing and ever so instaworthy).
Catacombs: In the final decades of the 18th century Paris was in dire need of extra cemetery space. As grim as it sounds the mass graves at Les Innocents cemetery were quite literally overflowing at that time. Just imagine, some six million bones were moved here up to 1810. At first these were stacked randomly, but the engineer Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury decided to make the catacombs a visitable mausoleum, and had the femur and skulls in decorative patterns. It’s quite the eerie maze of tunnels!
Jardin des Plantes: France’s chief botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes has more than 10,000 species growing in themed gardens and greenhouses on the left bank. There’s also an experimental garden, an Art Deco-style winter garden, an exceptionally diverse rose garden and Australian and Mexican greenhouses. This is on my bucket list for my next trip!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Le Mary Celeste: A funky, open-air bar with a strong sense of self and energy you feel the moment you step foot inside. Featuring seafood, locally sourced meat and produce, and a bit of spice to complement a natural wine list and cocktails designed to accompany rather than overpower the food.
Stohrer: One of the oldest bakeries in Paris (established in 1730), Stohrer is worth a visit even if it’s just to poke your head in the door to oggle at the beautiful interior and impeccable pastries. I live for the croissant.’
Holybelly is quirky, it’s fun, it’s a little bit American feeling, and it’s perfectly great. The music is heavy on the Michael Jackson and Prince spectrum and the wifi password is macauleyculkin, if that helps to give any insight. Make your own breakfast plate with eggs and sides like champignones, bacon or grilled halloumi, or go lighter with chia seed pudding or yogurt, fruit and granola.
Pierre Herme : A classic not to be missed, Pierre Herme is unequivocally thought to be home to the best and most creative macarons in the city.
Miznon is a falafel joint, sans falafel. Located in the Jewish district within Le Marais, there are a couple of really solid spots here for all things fried chickpea and hummus related (L’As being the most famous, and with the longest line).
Cafe Mimosa– The name says it all. Chef Camille Lafon has created a marvellous restaurant in an authentic Parisian setting. Dishes are simple yet elegant and the interior space is a feast for the eyes. Instagram worthy!
Can Alegria: Restaurant & bar, the address sings Mediterranean and exotic cuisine, serves fine wines and offers original cocktails. The chef, Marc-Antoine Colonna offers dishes that resemble the place: a creative cuisine, with a Spanish influence, which changes with the seasons.
Bistroy Les Papilles: A well-regarded classic bistro in Paris, which offers a very reasonable (31 euros) pre-fixe 4-course menu (which changes daily) featuring generously portioned family-style French cuisine in an intimate, cozy setting.
Bisou: There’s no menu at this small bar off the boulevard in the Haute Marais. It’s all about what you like—and what the bartender feels like making. You discuss your liquor and flavors of choice with whomever’s shaking things up, and voilà! A mysterious cocktail will appear. Considering its small size and romantic vibe, it’s best for a date or a small group of friends, largely of the Instagram generation.
Moonshiner: Your first thought will be, “Am I in the right place?” and “Can I order a slice or do I have to get a whole pie?” The bar’s located behind an operating small pizza parlor. The dark and moody Moonshiner is all speakeasy, complete with Art Deco furnishings like etched mirrors and old record players.
Lulu White: Once you find the entrance (thanks to a tiny gold plaque outside), you’ll be transported to a dark denizen straight out of New Orleans circa the roaring twenties. The velvet booths and Art Deco details around the multi-bulb lit bar will have you asking whether fringe and feathers are part of the required dress code. You don’t come here for beer or wine. You come for the cocktails or an absinthe flight.
WHERE TO SHOP
Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann: Paris’s world famous department store and a shopping icon, the Galeries brings together the best products across 70,000 square meters: fashion and accessories for men, women, and children; leather goods; perfume and cosmetics; shoes; cuisine and cooking; a wine cellar; interior design and household linen; and so much more.
Louvre and Tuileries District: Best forCrème de la crème designer fashion, chic home furnishings, quality cosmetics. Ladies make sure you bring your credit cards. Every single one.
The Marais: Eclectic and high-fashion, high-quality chains, vintage stores, artisan and handcrafted jewelry, antiques and fine art galleries, cosmetics and perfumeries. A prime stomping ground for shoppers with an eye for the unique and finely-crafted, not to mention antique and fine art lovers.