The city of lights can be an intimidating place your first time. It’s a large city with diverse neighborhoods and so much to see. Sometimes it can be hard to gauge where you should stay or what to do, and those things can really depend on how much time you have. Obviously, the more time the better, but I’ve compiled a classic list of must sees — and I’ve never stayed in Paris for longer than a week.
I’ve known many people who have wandered the streets of Paris and each person has had different thing to say about it. Some people love Paris, some people think the people are rude, some people think the city is dirty and others think the city is a great place to visit for short periods of time. I’m in the mindset that it can be all of these things, and how you perceive the city depends on your expectations, how you deal with the realities you encounter, and how you plan your trip.
Your first impressions of Paris will depend on how you arrived in the city. The airport (especially when under construction) was a bit strange and the long taxi drive into the main city center can be a bit stressful as you watch your fare climb while being bumper to bumper in a parking lot, Paris calls highway. You will then drive through chaotic streets of the inner city and be dropped off at your hotel. Although tired and overwhelmed, you’ll love the city and you’ll be incredibly excited — trust me!
The other option is arriving on train. Again the stations in Paris look like any other European train station, but keep in my mind, the neighborhoods that currently surround these train stations aren’t exactly the image Paris is trying to go for (I don’t think). They’ve become somewhat run down in recent years and I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable hanging around the train station at night. I’ve arrived in Paris via Train many times and never had an issue, it’s just not Paris’s cutest look.
When you arrive:
Whether you arrive via plane or train, you’ll probably want to Uber from wherever you’re at. The metro system in Paris is fairly easy to understand if you are used to using metro systems. It’s like the Tube in London or the Metro in DC. Once you’ve figured out the map, you’re good! It’s also the cheapest way to get around Paris, other than walking. I’ve found Uber gives me a better rate than Taxis in Paris and you also know right up front what you’re going to be paying. I like to travel light, so I don’t have that much luggage, but remember to get a larger Uber if you have more bags. Parisian cars can be small.
Side note: Some of the nicest Uber drivers I’ve come across have been in Paris!
What to see:
This is a no brainer… I mean you’re going to come all this way and not see arguably the most famous city monument in all of Europe! Now seeing the Eiffel Tower doesn’t necessarily mean going right up to it. In fact, that can somewhat be a waste of time. If you want to see a good view of the Eiffel tower, find a rooftop bar or even just a roof you can climb on and get your pics that way. Another option is the Trocadero. It will get you closer to the tower, but you won’t be right on it. I’ll tell you what is right under the tower… disorganized line ups, a ton of people, a bunch of guys trying to sell you nicknacks and probably some pickpockets…. it’s also really not that impressive from underneath. But hey, if you’ve gotta go right up to it, all power to you! I’ve never actually climbed up the tower itself (i’m not standing in those lines), so I have no advice there, but check out “Visit the Eiffel Tower – everything you need to know!” to get more details.
Arc de Triumph
Essentially what you have here is a monument in the middle of an insane roundabout. Iconic… yes, architecturally beautiful… yes, worth the seeing…. I suppose. I personally didn’t go out of my way to see this, it just happened to be on the same street as my hotel when I first holidayed in Paris, but it does have really nice views of the city if you want to climb up to the top. My only thing is that it tends to be really crowded. Crowds shouldn’t be a deterrent in Paris otherwise you’ll see nothing, but if you’re just there to take an instagram pic, you’re getting maybe a 5 minute “cool we saw it” and then you’ll keep walking down the Champs D’Élysée. Maybe I’m being too critical, it is a beautiful monument and the views are stunning, but it’s not worth a hike across the city — in my opinion.
The Louvre on the other hand must be at least gazed upon from the outside. If you love art, the Louvre is a classic museum that you’ve got to say you’ve done once, after all, it hosts a myriad of masterpieces! Here is where the caveat comes in, if you’re coming to Paris for the art, there are a lot of other museums which are less popular that have stunning pieces from famous artists. So if you’re not inclined to wait in line, go see the pyramid in the courtyard and then explore other galleries. I will admit, I’ve never seen the Mona Lisa… in person that is… It just wasn’t a priority for me. But I get it, it’s famous, you’ve come all the way to the city, why not check it out? The Louvre as a structure is stunning. Walk around outside for a few minutes and just experience the pretty surroundings and the modern touches that caress the old historical foundations.
Pro Tip: The Louvre has the Maille Store… go try some famous Parisian mustard from the Mustard OG.
Cool, you saw a church. Yikes, I’m really being quite harsh on Paris… You will love this city, I promise, I’ve just been hardened after seeing my 1000th church in Europe. The Notre Dame Cathedral is again, a classic Paris picture. As of writing, the church has actually been partially burned due to a fire that broke out, but it’s a great historical addition to your trip with lots of history.
Jardin Du Luxembourg
After walking around all day, you may want to sit and relax. These Gardens are the perfect place to just catch your breath and enjoy the beauty of the flowers. Everyone around you has the same idea, so it’s not the most secluded place in Paris for a relaxing garden nap on the grass, but the park benches and the pretty landscaping are sure to impress you. If you’re looking for a more secluded option, walk around the city in any direction and you’re sure to find a quiet place to read a book and pop open up a bottle of wine.
I’ve always wanted to do this, but have never had time! Basically, a couple hundred years ago Paris had concerns over the crowded cemeteries and felt as though the safest option for public health was to place the bodies in a catacomb under the city. Today there are millions of bones ornately placed in the underground tunnels beneath the city. It’s totally creepy, but I’m also the type of person who wants to explore Chernobyl… so if you’re like me, you might enjoy this! If you’re interested in more details check out their tourism page!
The neighborhoods to wander around:
Neighborhoods in Paris are referred to as “Arrondissements.” Each arrondissements can have a different vibe and a different demographic. Getting lost and exploring these areas is part of the fun and the experience of being in Paris, so here are some arrondissements that I would recommend.
The 7th Arrondissements.
This is the heart of the city! It boasts the Eiffel Tower and elegant streets. You’ll find pricey restaurants, stores and cafes below luxury apartments. This area can also have some very quaint back streets with second hand stores selling discounted luxury Parisian brands.
The 6th and 5th Arrondissements
These two arrondissements are also very aesthetic and wealthy areas. A lot of stores, a lot of restaurants and quintessential Parisian buildings. Here you will also find the Jardin du Luxembourg.
The 15th Arrondissements
This district is much more local. You won’t find as many tourists and it’s much quieter. There are neighborhood gardens where people sit and drink wine while reading a book, the restaurants are less pricey and the local markets are bustling. I really like this part of Paris because it feels more…. naturally Paris.
The 4th & 3rd Arrondissements
This area is really cool! It hosts the Gay District and a funky arts scene. Small boutique shops hide away in hidden side streets and private galleries. These areas can be quite busy the closer you are to the river, but the more you wander inwards, the crowds will die out.
The 1st Arrondissement
The Louvre and a bunch of expensive stores line the streets. It has gardens, architecture, and museums. It’s very touristy and it’s always busy but this area is worth the visit. Don’t fall for the touristy souvenir shops, I think you can go out to some of the outer arrondissements for better prices and more unique items, but again… you’re in Paris… do touristy sh*#!
The 8th Arrondissements
Come to the 8th for luxury hotels, luxury brands and fancy cars! This is also home to the Arc Du Triumph. This area, like the 7th, knows tourists are coming, so nothing comes cheap. But one of our favorite hotels was in the 8th and any rooftop here should have a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower.
Please don’t think this is a comprehensive list of the only arrondissements you should see, but these are the areas I tend to hit up when I’m in Paris. If you’re looking for a full overview of each arrondissements in Paris, check out A Breakdown of the Paris Arrondissements by a Sassy New Yorker.
Where to stay:
For first time visitors, I would recommend staying at a hotel, but if you’re adventurous you can also do an AirBnB! If you stick to the Arrondissements I’ve mentioned above, you shouldn’t find yourself in an unsafe area. Plus you’ll be walking distance from all the fun!
If you’re looking to spend a little extra cash and want an old world Parisian accommodation, stay at The Raphael in the 8th Arrondissement. The hotel is classic Pairs, and we actually got married there! The bar is quiet and serves up fantastic little bites (my favorite are their sliders). We ordered up some dessert to the room and the presentation makes you feel like royalty. I highly recommend this hotel!
There are endless amounts of Hotels and AirBnB’s in Paris! But if you’re looking for more budget options, Paris also has some highly rated hostels (but I can’t speak to those, as I’ve never stayed in one).
Paris is one of those cities you just have to knock off your bucket list! If you’ve ever been before or plan on going… comment below and let me know what your favorite Parisian activity is!
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