As Audrey Hepburn said – “Paris is always a good idea” & I completely agree.
I’ve been to Paris more than a couple of times, seen its many hues – the bright chirpiness on sunny day, the nippy feel on a cold winter day as well as the sit and relax all day feeling on a wet rainy day. And believe me, I’ve discovered new and different things about the city every time.
However, Paris is also like that stranger who takes some time to open up and if you are visiting Paris for the first time, it can get a little overwhelming with its sheer size and number of things it offers for travellers. To make it a little simpler for first time travellers I’ve put together this quick guide. So don’t feel lost, it’s a city ready to open its arms to you, it just needs a little bit understanding.
Where to Stay? As you can imagine, Paris has everything on offer, from 7 star hotels to homestays to budget hostels. The important thing is not the kind of stay but where do you stay in Paris. Rule number one is stay at a place that is walking distance from a metro station! If you want to stay really in the middle of things stay anywhere between the 1st and the 8th arrondissement, however if you are looking at a slightly affordable stay, yet in the middle of action I suggest staying at Monparnasse in the 14th. I stayed there last time I visited and found it really convenient.
How to move around? Paris is one of the best cities connected by the metro system. There are of course many lines, however to figure it out is quite simple. On your first trip, just buy tickets (I usually buy a booklet of 10 tickets) and grab a pocket map. One you take the first few trips, you’ll be guiding others! Other than the metro, walking is the next most famous mode of transport in Paris. In case you need to take a cab, just call for an Uber, they are quite efficient and not that expensive.
Getting to know the city Its best to get yourself oriented of the city on the first day, there are two ways of doing that – you can always take a hop-on-hop off bus or the one I prefer is to take a river cruise on the Seine which in an hour gives a whole perspective of the city. It has an audio guide & showcases all the famous monuments in their full glory. If you reach Paris in the afternoon, an evening sunset cruise is the perfect way to start your trip. Most trips start close to the Eiffel Tower so you can also use the opportunity to get some great pictures.
Make advance bookings Paris attracts one of the maximum number of travellers, so you need to be planned. Most attractions are ticketed and you can pre-book your tickets online. The ones that are sold out months in advance are Tour Eiffel, Versailles Palace and Louvre. Ensure you decide which ones you want to do and book in advance.
Where to eat? Paris is a city of open air cafés and most of them serve amazing food, however the only thing to keep in mind is that the ones on the main roads and near monuments will always be much more expensive. Just get into the smaller lanes and discover amazing cafés and restaurants. The street food in Paris is quite nice and I love grabbing a quick crepe and walking instead of sit-down meals most of the times. Latin Quarters is an area full of cheap and cheerful bars, cafés and restaurants, and is a favorite with students –it offers options from most cuisines of the world and to explore some unique flavors I highly recommend you eat a meal there along with a glass of red wine!
Choose your activities carefully Paris is big and has a lot to offer, so if you don’t choose what you really want to do, you may land up wasting a lot of time. Here are some quick facts and tips which can help you plan your trip better.
- Eiffel Tower – As I said earlier, book in advance and use the “skip the line” option, else you will spend half a day standing in queues hoping to get a ticket. Take the ticket to the top floor – it’s worth the view!
- Museums – Paris has a total of 313 museums, and it’s a perfect recipe to get lost! The most famous is of course the Louvre – take a skip the line ticket and be prepared for a long day of walking in the museum. This one is really huge, and may not be the best to start with, as it can get overwhelming. I would suggest start with Musee D’Orsay, which is a beautiful museum in a restored railway station and has a great collection, and if you feel like exploring more art, then get into Louvre.
- Walking Trips – There are many walking trips that happen in Paris, choose what interests you and go for one – it’s a great way to get a perspective from a local’s lens as well as meet fellow travellers. I went on one in the Marais neighborhood, it’s a trendy area where you can experience a perfect blend of past and the present – from old mansions to the latest fashion trends.
- Palace of Versailles – Budget more than half day for this, it’s about an hour from Paris. Look for a yellow line RER C in the Metro map and it will take you directly in front of the palace. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens of the palace – I remember spending more time in the garden than the palace itself!
- Parisian Gardens (Jardin) – Take out some time and do a picnic in one of the many gardens in Paris, they are simply beautiful. My favorite ones are the Luxembourg gardens and the Tuileries Garden. There’s no other way to experience Paris better on a sunny day!
- Montmartre & Sacré-Cœur – This is the arty area of Paris which also houses the famous Sacré-Cœur church. Its on a hill and involves a lot of climbing, however there is funicular service that can take you up as well. The trick I use is to go up in the funicular and walk down the quaint streets of Montmartre – that way you get to see the best without getting tired. Try going there in the evening, enjoy some nice music performances on the steps of the church from where you also get to see the most brilliant sites of the city, shop some Parisian mementos and eat in one of the many restaurants in the area.
- Notre Dame– Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most well known churches in the world and is a must visit. Thousands of pigeons have made it their home that adds a lot to the charm of the church. Just across the road is a well-kept secret- Shakespeare & Co. – one of the quaintest bookstores in the world. If you love your books and want to get a feel of a 18th century library, this is the place to go to.
- Arc De Triomphe & Champs-élysées – Champs-élysées is great for shopping and getting a feel of the luxurious side of Paris, the first Louis Vuitton store was here and now it houses all the top fashion brands. Even if you cannot buy them, it’s worth taking a stroll down the road. Go to Arc De Triomphe around sunset and see some great views of the Eiffel Tower with its lights on.
The list can go on and on, however, as this is supposed to be a guide for the first time visitor, I must stop here. Just last two pieces of advice, which are the most important. Firstly, while Paris is the city of fashion, always wear the most comfortable pair of shoes you own & secondly, pick pocketing is very common in Paris, so always protect your phones and wallets as you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of the city! And of course, do not forget to enjoy the famous French wine, desserts, breads and cheese while you are there, and if you are a cheese aficionado you have to eat the Raclette at one of the Parisians joints.
Paris, I will be back, till then, Au revoir, amusez-vous à Paris!