I’ve been to Paris 3 times. It was one of the last European cities we visited before we decided to come home (in fact, it was supposed to be the last European break we went on but instead we dashed off again to Sardinia which became the very last European destination we went to. I think).
A friend of mine and her husband are doing Europe this summer and especially asked that I give them some recommendations that weren’t touristy but rather let them soak up the vibe. After I wrote the tips to them I figured there may be other people out there that might want to know a few basic things before they jet off too.
So here they are, my top tips of Paris if I were to visit again!
First tip – don’t be afraid of the Metro system. It is the most efficient system in the world. It may seem daunting to navigate, but it’s not and once you get the hang of it you’ll be sorted. Careful at night though (as with London) – there are some dodgy folk in the tubes and tunnels that run underground. Phones away, bags close and keep walking. No matter what. (First hand encounter with police and some dodgies on our last trip to Paris).
1. Obviously the Eiffel Tower, even though it’s touristy, you have to pay it a visit.
Take the underground to Trocadéro (line 9 & 6). This is the best view of the Eiffel tower and you want to see it for the first time from here. Go once during the day and once at night. When you go at night, make sure you watch it for long enough for the sparkling to start! When you go during the day, maybe take some picnic-y food with you as there are gardens next to the fountains where you can go and chill if the sun is out. There’s a big square at Trocadero and sometimes there are groups doing breakdancing or shows of some sort. Watch your bag.. as wherever there are crowds, there are also pick pockets.
If it’s a pretty day and you haven’t done it before – go up. For the most cost-effective way walk up and take the lift down. We only went up once on our first trip and it’s worth it to tick the box. You can take the lift all the way to the top which is worth it – there is a restaurant up there as I recall (pretty expensive) but its nice to see Paris from the top like that.
2. While you’re doing the night time thing, take the tube to Charles de Gaulle Etoile and just watch the madness of the traffic around the Arc de Triomphe. (You can actually do this during the day too, but the lights are awesome at night). Put your camera on a slow shutter speed and take a brilliant photo!
3. Laduree. This is the most beautiful french pattisserie on the Champs Elysee. In case you don’t know, the Champs Elysee is where all the shops are. Every face of every shop is supposed to be white, and its the only place in the world where the M of MacDonalds isn’t yellow but white. Not sure if it’s still the case, but it was when we were there! Go to Laduree for macaroons, some cake, some tea or just to browse. It is AMAZING and you’ll feel SO french! It’s the most girly moment you may have in Paris.
4. The Sacre Coeur is the most beautiful church in all of Europe in my opinion. I fell in love.
Go when the sun is still up, but in the late afternoon. (stations: Abbesses or Anvers). The view from the church perched high up on the hill (you can walk up, or take the funicular) is spectacular. See the church from the bottom first, then head up and enjoy the crowds on the steps. There’ll be music, I think there may also be people with their own wine. It’s just a spot to go and watch the city from high above as the sun sets. If you’re into it, go and take a look inside the church – its spectacular (maybe do that first before the sunset). Head around to the back of the church for “The Artists’ Corner” of Paris (this whole area is also called Montmartre). There you can browse art, and have your portrait drawn etc. I think there also some cafes around the square that you could have a coffee at. (oh, think its only open during the day – so you may need to go to the Artist’s first.
5. Now that its dark again, its time to take a walk to the Moulin Rouge (that is, if you’re not going to a show!). The closest tube is Blanche – ofcourse, you can really really walk from the Sacre Couer and you should. It’s pretty cool to see the Windmill in real life! This is the red light district, but grab dinner around this area and just watch the people-traffic. If its warm (I hope it is) it’s just awesome to experience the street life in this part. There are also a few clubs and stuff in the area.
6. The Latin Quarter is the best place to be in the day. Take the underground to the Notre Dame station and browse around the two islands that sit in the middle of the Seine. Buy some cheese, biscuits and a bottle of wine and find a bench and watch the world go by on the river. There’s an amazing Ice Cream spot (I can’t recall the name, but you’ll see the Q for it) and its all cobble stones, students and bicycles. The Notre Dame is pretty cool too – only went in on our first visit to Paris.
7. There are some sights, that need to be seen – for their beauty and sometimes only from the outside. One of them is the Opera House (tube stop Opera: Lines 3,7,8). The other is the Lourve (which once inside, you’ll be gone for 3 hours!). Walk through the gardens next to the Lourve and bask in the sun with a crepe around one of the fountains. Don’t be scared of the Parisians, but they may be half-naked as they catch a tan while they read the paper.
8. I can’t say why but I love the Concorde. I think because of its Egyptian obelisk (and I loved Egypt). It’s just this really big square in the middle of the traffic. It’s just Paris for me. I think it was used in a movie as well (Dan Brown perhaps?). It’s below the Champs Elysee. But please don’t be tempted to walk from here to the shops – its further than it looks. Yes, we have walked it!
All over Europe they have “menu’s” especially during the week where you can get two course meals for very cheap – I recall it being about EUR13 or so. Just have to keep your eye out on sign boards outside restaurants. Try and avoid eating anywhere near the Seine, or near the Eiffel Tower… You will pay a lot and it won’t be nice. Don’t have steak in Paris… unless you’re prepared to pay for it. Unfortunately we weren’t as in to good food as we are now, so I can’t recommend anywhere except for Pastapappa. If you’re on a budget it’s affordable (very!) but better than MacDonalds. I remember it being cheap and easy (but it has been 3 years!)