After visiting Paris as part of our honeymoon in September of 2017 I ended up even more enamored than I had once been while longingly looking at photos of the Tour Eiffel, baguettes and Notre Dame Cathedral. I also realized that in 3 days what I saw was really the very tip of the iceberg and that it would take many more days and trips to explore the iconic city in more depth. So when my mom asked if I “minded” spending a few days exploring Paris this summer as part of our girls trip to France to pick up my little sister from an exchange program, I replied “I ABSOLUTELY don’t mind!”. So I will attempt to share with you in this article the summation of my experiences, tips and reviews (as well as differences between the two visits/times of year) on Paris.
First off – getting around. The Paris metro is not only the most reliable way to go but also the cheapest way and provides the most flexibility. Additionally, the complex RER train system as well as the long distance train system out of Paris, make perfect compliments to a train-based transportation plan. On our honeymoon, my husband and I had planned a specific route that would allow us to see the most sites in our short time there. It worked out perfectly and in no time we felt like expert Parisians. On the other hand, when we went on our girls trip, my mom decided to book a sightseeing bus tour, which I had thought might be a fun idea since we only had about two days to see as much of Paris as possible. Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a mess and I do NOT recommend it honestly. Unknowingly, my mom had booked the bus tour through a third-party website, and when we got to the first stop of “Big Bus tours” near the Eiffel Tower, we were met by unfriendly, unhelpful staff who told us our reservations were no good. After ending up having to pay twice and contest one of the charges with the credit card company , we somewhat enjoyed the tour and the sites although in the summer the bus was repeatedly over crowded – no spots to sit up top (which to me is the whole point of a double decker bus tour). The traffic was terrible and I ended up feeling like we maybe could’ve accomplished more using the metro. The one plus is having the bus’s audio guide to give you some background info and history, but with smartphones and google it can easily be replicated independently!
Paris in the summer is gorgeous, it is a city that has so much to offer in terms of outdoor dining, activities, boat tours on the Seine river and more! However, the crowds and lines certainly were a bit overwhelming at times in July. My advice is plan ahead as much as possible, book river boat tours, attraction tours and tickets, etc. online in advance - directly from the vendors. It will save you time and headaches. By contrast, Paris in late September was MUCH less crowded. If you can somehow manage to visit in the fall or late spring instead of summer, that would be my biggest recommendation. The weather is still nice for outdoor dining and activities and the small price to pay is a light scarf and jacket in exchange for a TON less tourists - a bargain in my book.
My primary tips for your first visit to Paris are:
Visit the Eiffel tower and go up, it is 100% worth it and a must. The best view (and maybe best photo opp) of the tower is definitely from Trocadero – across the Seine river, especially at night when the tower lights up!
Spend some time exploring Montmarte and Sacre Coeur Basilica. Take the metro to Pigalle station and walk from there, get lost in the winding hilly little streets amidst shops and cafes and enjoy the view from the top! If you want to walk the steps to the top of the dome of the basilica (which I did on my honeymoon and was AMAZING so worth it) you must arrive 8.30a.m. to 8p.m. (May through September) and 9a.m. to 5p.m. (October through April)
Obviously some big ones are Notre-Dame Cathedral, a walk along the Seine River banks, the Louvre, a walk along Champs-Elysees up to Arc de Triomphe, Les invalides and exploring the various bridges are all musts!
If you intend to go visit Versailles Palace – you MUST (I mean it) a lot an entire day from your visit to do so. Between travel times, the lines, and the sheer size of the palace (and gardens) it is just not worth it to try to make it a half a day affair. Book tickets to enter the palace AND the gardens (they’re function separately) in advance on the website (the lines are outrageous), and if you have anyone in your party that may have trouble walking long distances/times I recommend booking a golf cart to use around the gardens in your visit. The gardens are spectacular! If you go in the summer time don’t forget to ask for a map which also contains info about the fountain shows which are cool!
I loved walking around Le Marais – the historically gay quarter in Paris, where the fashionable and eclectic boutiques and restaurants are so worth visiting. Also, right in this area is the National Archives (with its large beautiful plaza out front) which I think is frequently overlooked as an interesting and worthy site to visit.
A shopaholic’s dream – you cannot miss Galeries Lafayette – the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann, right across from the Opera which is also jaw dropping to look at!
A walk along Canal St Martin (lined with restaurants and where lots of people also picnic on the water’s edge) and right over to nearby Place de la Republique to see street performers, dancing, artists, skateboarding and more!
Lastly, Rue Montorgueil - this pedestrian walking area was a hidden gem and we found it sort of accidentally. Someone recommended Stohrer – a Patisserie (bakery) that was supposed to have the best pastries in Paris (It DID – GO THERE, you’ll thank me later). The market style street has all kinds of shops, markets, restaurants, vendors and more – so charming and quaint.
That’s all I’ve got for now, and I feel like I would need to spend weeks and many trips more just to begin to really get to know this amazing city and all its magical little corners.