There are a bazillion websites that can tell you what to see and do in Paris. Honestly, it depends on what your interests are. There’s literally something for everyone. French food, wine, and desserts...ooh la la, the desserts! Architecture, art, history, fashion, and the list goes on!
Rather than trying to reinvent the Parisian wheel, I thought I would share some tips for how to enjoy this beautiful city and walk away with a smile on your face.
1. DON'T drive.
Driving in Paris is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. Traffic is crazy, parking is expensive, and for the love of God, can anyone explain why there is a ginormous round-a-bout at the Arc de Triomphe with NO LANES?!?!
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of renting cars in Europe and traveling free style. If you plan to take any side trips outside of Paris, I would highly recommend that you rent a car and explore on your own, as opposed to taking a group tour. However, for sightseeing within the city, leave the car at the hotel, or wait to rent it until you’re ready to leave Paris.
DO use the public transit system.
Buy a metro card, get a map, and take a deep breath. This city is HUGE! Research ahead of time to find out what metro stop is closest to each place you plan to visit. This can usually be found on their official website. When is doubt, ask for help. Your hotel desk clerk or concierge is a good resource to start with. There are also information desks at many of the metro stations. If not, the person at the ticket counter can usually answer your questions. Just be friendly and ask for help. A smile and a thank you go a long way!
2. DON’T eat in touristy areas.
Restaurants that are close to major tourist sights have to cater to large crowds, and have menus that will appeal to the masses. Typically, the prices are high, food quality is average, and the service is...eh. You may be tempted to have lunch at the cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and this is fine if it’s the experience you’re looking for. But consider alternatives that are a bit away from crowded tourist sites.
DO take side streets.
If you’re looking for authentic food, friendly service, and decent prices, wander a few blocks off the main streets. Use Yelp or other restaurant review apps. Google maps has actually been a surprisingly good resource lately.
On a trip last month, I was walking from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and decided I hadn’t quite had my fill of Macarons for the day. I searched “macarons” on google maps, and found this bakery just a few blocks off the route that blew us away! We ended up grabbing a sandwich, a meat pie, and a quiche to go. Oh, and yes, the macarons were off the chain!
3. DON’T be naive.
There are reasons millions of people every year flock to cities like Paris. Royal history, breathtaking views, beautiful architecture, and famous works of art, just to name a few. Unfortunately, we have to face the sad but true reality that places like this can be an opportunity for pick pockets, scam artists, and others who will try to take advantage of tourists. You may be jet lagged and overwhelmed with all the sights and sounds around you, but take a few precautionary steps so you don’t walk away with a few hundred less Euro in your pocket.
DO be aware of people around you.
Here are a few tricks to watch for:
1. People who bump in to you and then stop you to apologize. They may be distracting you from them or an accomplice swiping something from a pocket or exposed bag.
2. People who are dressed in costumes and put their arm around you to have your picture taken with them. Be prepared for them to ask you for money afterwards.
3. People who ask you to sign a "petition" they say is to help children or something similarly vague. They often work in groups, and one of them will tap you on the arm or shoulder to distract you while one of the others swipes whatever they can get.
4. DON’T travel in the middle of summer.
This is one of the top travel tips I always tell people who ask me for advice on traveling to Europe. It’s a simple idea but can really make ALL the difference. Most Europeans go on holiday in July and August, so popular destinations and tourist sites can be extremely crowded! You’ll waste precious time waiting in lines and fighting crowds for pictures.
Also, parts of Europe can get quite hot in the peak summer months. This is fine if you’re at the beach, but walking around Paris in the middle of summer can be exhausting and miserable if you end up there during a heat wave. Speaking of being miserable, many hotels and apartments in Paris do not have air conditioning, or charge extra for rooms that do have it. So if you do decide to go to Paris in the summer, be aware of this when you book your accommodations. Using a site like booking.com can be helpful in this area, as they have a full list of each property's features and amenities.
DO travel in the off-peak season.
Traveling in the off-peak season doesn’t mean you have to plan your trip in the dead of winter! Paris in the Fall is actually quite beautiful with the changing leaves. And let's be honest girls, cooler temperatures also allow for accessorizing with scarves and hats, which equal super cute pictures!
If you are restricted to traveling during summer break or do want to travel in the warmer months, late May, early June, or the month of September are good options. Airfare is cheaper, crowds are smaller, and you’ll have more options for accommodations with better prices.
5. DON’T go without a plan.
Paris, as any big city, can be overwhelming. Going in without a plan will make it frustrating and chaotic. Even those of us who like to fly by the seat of our pants should at least have some idea of what you want to do, so you don’t waste valuable time trying to make decisions when you could be taking the world’s cutest selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower.
This doesn’t mean you need a minute by minute itinerary. Although my OCD friends out there may be tempted to do this, there are dangers in over-planning as well! Don’t pack so much into your schedule that you don’t allow yourself time to BREATHE. Things are going to go wrong. You may get lost, take the wrong metro, or decide you want to take a leisurely stroll along the Seine. Sometimes the things you discover along the way turn out to be the highlight of a trip!
DO research before your trip.
To get the most out of your visit, research ahead of time and choose the things you’d like to see and do. Look up how long it might take to visit each place, their hours of operation, as well as travel time between places and the best way to get from point A to point B, point C, and beyond. Many top tourist sights have online tickets and reservations available, so this makes planning your day MUCH easier and eliminates long ticket lines!
Once you have your “wish-list”, make a schedule for each day. Don’t forget to give yourself time to eat! If you plan to walk between any of your places, you can find a cafe or restaurant on the way. This gives time for your feet to rest as well! Your schedule should give you an overall plan of what you’d like to do if every thing goes perfectly, but keep in mind that things never go perfectly! Be prepared to make changes as you go. In short…have a plan, but be willing to change it.
Ready to fall in love with Paris?
Book your flight and start planning your trip to the city of lights! If you need help planning your visit, submit a request here for a personalized itinerary. Happy travels!