Paris, the City of Lights… A must-see global city for all travelers. If you’re a Paris first-timer, let me spotlight some of the iconic sights you likely don’t want to miss, with a sprinkle of my own basic travel tips to help make your trip fantastique!
The iconic Eiffel Tower is, of course, the monument the world imagines when Paris is mentioned. It opened in 1889 and has since had hundreds of millions of visitors. By taking a combination of stairs and elevators, you can reach the top viewing platform for sweeping city views.
You do not want to waste time waiting in the snaking ticket lines. Buy your tickets in advance and choose the date and time you want to visit.
Notre Dame Cathedral is free and open to the public when mass is not in session. Dying to see some Flying Buttresses? I mean, who isn’t? Walk around to the sides and back of the Cathedral for the best views of these Gothic beauties.
You can buy tickets to climb the 400 or so odd, narrow steps up to the bell tower. About 100 steps in, you might think the staircase was built solely to torture anyone foolish enough to make the climb, but KEEP GOING! In my opinion, the views from the top of Notre Dame are the best vantage point to see Paris.
There is no point in buying tickets in advance because you still must wait in the line. Aargh.. Arrive when the bell tower climb first opens to avoid the line.
The wow factor the stained glass at Sainte-Chappelle cannot be understated. Situated in between Notre Dame and the Louvre, this small royal chapel is an absolute must! As it’s within the Palais de la Cité, the former residence of French Kings and now home to government offices, expect a security check to get to the chapel. Use your Paris Pass to save 10€ on the admission ticket. If you have time, return to Sainte-Chappelle for an evening concert. The experience is pure magic.
The Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa and 35,000 other distinguished works of art, is located in the Palais Royal, near the Jardin des Tuileries. This is the largest museum in the world. You could plan a week-long visit to Paris, go to the Louvre every day, and still not see everything. It’s that big.
Avoid Louvre fatigue! Choose a gallery or specific pieces you would like to see before visiting. Map out where you are going online or when you get there. Spend only the amount of time that you can truly enjoy the collections. It’s better to come back another day, rather than become a Louvre zombie.
As with the Eiffel Tower, buy tickets in advance or use your Paris Pass to skip the line with Fast Track Entry.
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After window shopping at the high-end shops along the Champs-Elysees, dodge traffic (carefully!) to get a picture of the Arc de Triomphe. You can use your Paris Pass to gain access to the viewing platform on top of the Arc.
The climb alone is nothing special, but if you time your visit with the lights being turned on at the Eiffel Tower, you can take some sparkly photos from a fantastic vantage point.
Sacre Coeur Basilica, high up in the Montmartre neighborhood, sits on a perch overlooking Paris. The white facade rounded domes, and the interior accent the Basilica’s Byzantine style. The area around the Basilica and Montmartre is vibrant and entertaining. Leave time to explore the area, where you’ll find cobblestone streets, musicians, and artist markets. This is, after all, the neighborhood where legends like Hemmingway, Dali, Picasso, and my favorite, Renoir, lived and worked.
Take the Paris Metro for the easiest way to travel around the city. You can purchase single or multi-day tickets. Your ticket is valid for as many trips as you need within a given day.
Taxi stands are plentiful throughout the city, but there may not always be a taxi waiting, especially away from central parts of the city. If you need a taxi to go to a train station or the airport, it’s best to book it. Your hotel can surely help you with this. Leave extra time for traffic delays. The RER B (blue) commuter train also connects Paris with its two international airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly.
Purchasing a Paris Pass is cheaper than paying a la carte for each museum, monument, and sight you want to see. You can choose to add a travel card with your Paris Pass purchase, but always make sure it makes sense to add this cost. You don’t want to buy “more travel” on the Paris Metro than you actually need.
Where to Stay
Paris is broken up into 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods. Personally, I like the 5th & 6th arrondissements as a home base for a Paris sightseeing trip. There are many sights, like Notre Dame and the Louvre, within walking distance and the hotels tend to be less expensive. The hotels in the 1st and 7th arrondissements are also popular because they’re near sights the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysees and tend to be more upscale brands. The Paris metro is efficient and will get you wherever you want to go. My best tip is to stay within comfortable walking distance to a metro station.
Paris has plenty of hotels in a range of budgets and loyalty programs for everyone. Research and book great Paris hotels on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. Hotel de Buci and Hotel le Petit Paris are chic boutique hotels located in the 6th and 5th arrondissements, respectively. Hotel de Buci is on a perfectly Parisian street with cafes filled with locals and visitors, alike. The Familia Hotel is a perfect budget-friendly option in a convenient location. Check Hotel Hustle to see the numerous hotels you can pay for with points.
If you’re traveling with family or a group of friends, look at sites like HomeAway and Airbnb. The cost of a renting an apartment, especially when split among several people, can drastically reduce your accommodations cost.
What to Eat
Paris is an absolute foodie’s delight! Cafes and bistros line every street. While I’m not here to recommend specific restaurants, here are a few food musts for a Paris first-timer.
- Enjoy Paris’ café culture. Sit, relax, and people-watch. You’ll never feel rushed by a Parisian waiter.
- Eat French bread. Each year, the city awards a prize to the bakery making the best baguette. Find that bakery and get yourself a baguette.
- Angelina Café along the Rue de Rivoli not far from the Louvre is a popular spot for lunch and sweets. I’d skip the main course and go right for the North African hot chocolate.
- Indulge in classic French foods like croissants, cheese, macarons, and wine guilt-free.
- Order a Croque Monsieur for the French version of the grilled ham & cheese.
If you have the time to get out of Paris, there are plenty of short excursions within reach. The most popular is likely a day trip to Versailles. The extravagant summer retreat for past French kings is dripping in gold and mirrors. It’s the epitome of wealth, royalty, and power. It gets very crowded so go early!
If you can spare an overnight, take an early morning train to Normandy. A guide from Normandy Sightseeing Tours can pick you up and take you on a WW2 historical tour. When the day is over, spend the night in Bayeux. The next day, plan a visit to Mont Saint-Michel. It’s one of the most popular sights in all of France. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a former fortress and monastery dating back to the 8th century.
So, what tips would you give Paris First-Timers?
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