Paris, the City of Light… 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!
A Cheat Sheet for Paris First-Timers
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.
UPDATE: A tragic fire in April 2019 burned much of Notre Dame. 🙁 It’s closed until further notice as the city works to rebuild and restore the magnificent Cathedral. It is possible, though, see the site as you walk in the area. Any tours that “include” Notre Dame, only pass by.
As an alternative, visit Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Eustache Church, or Saint-Etienne du Mont, in addition to Sainte Chapelle and Sacre Coeur which are already part of this Paris guide.
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.
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Travel-Tested Paris Neighborhoods and Hotels
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.
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.
Use your Paris Pass to skip the line with Fast Track Entry or get your individual tickets ahead of time.
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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. Then, use the underground passageway to get to the entrance. You can use your Paris Pass for free entry to the viewing platform on top of the Arc.
The climb alone is nothing special, but if you time your visit with the lights on the Eiffel Tower being turned on at dusk or later, 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 areas around the Basilica, and throughout Montmartre, feel worlds away from Notre Dame and the River Seine.
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.
If there’s one neighborhood in Paris to go deeper, Montmartre is it. A tour of Montmartre can help you discover the neighborhood’s bohemian past and the former artists who called it home.
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Transportation in Paris
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.
Sightseeing in Paris
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 in Paris
Check out my Travel-Tested Paris Neighborhoods and Hotels Guide! I reveal all the tips from my own Paris hotel trip-planning notebook.
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.
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 close to the River Seine.
If you’re traveling with family or a group of friends, look at sites like HomeAway and Airbnb. The cost of renting an apartment, especially when split among several people, can drastically reduce your accommodations cost.
What to Eat in Paris
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.
Day Trips from Paris
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, also included with your Paris Pass. 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!
So, what tips would you give Paris First-Timers?
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Need a Paris hotel? Check out my Travel-Tested Paris Neighborhoods and Hotels Guide!