So if you follow me on Instagram you’ll notice I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Paris this past year.
In moving to England I had a sneaking suspicion I’d do some traveling to the continent, especially with both the Eurostar and European budget airlines making it so affordable. I mean how could I not? But I had no idea that the majority of that travel would take me to the City of Lights.
Paris, six times in seven months! Quelle surprise!
It’s hard to resist when the Paris Opera Ballet programs one of the best balletic seasons of all time, and it just so happens your dear old dressing-room neighbor/fellow former PNB corps sister Chelsea Adomaitis dances there.
Needless to say I’ve been blessed to discover Paris slowly, exploring all her nooks and crannies, weeding through the tourist traps, and uncovering the real and unexpected Paris. And with summer travel rapidly approaching there are a few things I’ve found that I’d love to share with you: a quick overview of Paris with some tips and alternatives to the standard attractions, followed by a series of blog posts, highlighting a few of my favorite Parisian neighborhoods and their hidden treasures.
The city is structured in a circle with the River Seine dividing the city in two. The Rive Gauche, a.k.a. the Left Bank, is everything south of the Seine & the Rive Droit is everything north of it.
Paris is divided into 20 districts called Arrondissements that spiral outward in a clockwise fashion from the city center (basically the Louvre) like a snail shell. There are also named boroughs–Montmartre, St. Germain, the Latin Quarter, Le Marais etc–the borders of which slightly correspond to a particular Arrondissement, but can overlap. In general most of the main attractions are found within the first 11 Arrondissements, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with each borough, be it a number or a name, finding the attractions hidden within each.
The Parisians have a reputation for being a bit snooty, a stereotype that’s occasionally true. But for the most part I found the French to be the kind, helpful, and always appreciative of those who try to speak their native tongue. Practically everyone speaks perfect English, but it’s nice to at least familiarize yourself with a few key phrases (and their pronunciation!!!) before you arrive.
The best way to see the city is on foot. In my mind there’s truly no other way to soak in its magnificence, while also making those french indulgences (cheese, croissants, eclairs) 100% guilt-free–you’ll clock some serious milage while here! They also have city bikes you can rent if cycling through the city is more your thing.
But if either of those options sound terrible, the metro system in Paris is one of the best. How much you plan to use it and how long you’re staying will determine what type of pass you purchase. Don’t forget to survey your options. Buying a 3-day pass might not be worth it if you plan to walk a lot – get a booklet of tickets instead!
The currency is the euro. Don’t bring USD and try to convert – the exchange rate is HORRIBLE! Instead use a debit card to get cash or a credit card sans foreign transaction fees, assuming you can pay it off. We love this card.
The weather is in ˚Celsius (Good luck converting that…), and they use Military time here (0:00-24:00). Bring EU power adaptors. Do NOT bring blow-dryers, straighteners or curling-irons. It won’t work out for you. I promise.
Tips & Tools
Useful tips and tools for enjoying and navigating Paris:
Thank the Lord for Google Maps! This is how to not only navigate Paris, but any city, especially if you don’t have data. Not only does Google enable you to personalize your map, saving and labeling favorite spots, but you can also download those maps for offline use, using it and your phone’s GPS to reveal your location when you’re without wifi or data. No need for breadcrumbs to help you find your hotel again… You can find instructions on how to do this here.
Note: you can only add places to your map when you’re online, so if there’s a place you stumble upon that you want to add, be sure to collect business cards or at least take a note of the name and add it later when you have wifi.
Eat Like the Locals
As with many European cultures, the Parisians eat late and have different mealtime traditions:
- Breakfast tends to be light: cigarette, pastry & café – a shot of espresso. However if you prefer a healthier/heartier breakfast there are plenty of options…
- Brunch on the weekend is an event! Make reservations.
- Lunch = a Formula–a 2 or 3 “course” pre-fix menu that consists of an entree (appetizer), plat (entree) and dessert (dessert), that you either eat sur place (for here) or a emporter (to go).
- Happy Hour tends to be from 18/18:30 to at the latest 21hrs (6:30pm to 9pm) with cocktails starting at around 5-6 euros. A steal when they’re normally double that!
- Dinner is generally never earlier than 8pm with most places getting busy around 9pm. They eat late here!
- Parisians do walk around eating baguettes in hand. The stereotype is true! Feel free to partake in this tradition – the best gluten free one can be found here.
Low Power Mode & Portable Battery
- Low Power Mode. If you’re using your offline Google Maps and you keep it open all day your battery will be dead by lunch – or at least mine is. A handy thing if you have an iPhone is the Low Power Mode. You can find it in “Settings” under “Battery.” Make a habit of turning this on when you wake up and you should be good all day. Just make sure to close out apps when you’re not using them.
- Portable Battery. Despite the miracle of Low Power Mode, there still have been times when I’m sitting at dinner and my phone buzzes “Less than 10% Battery.” Carrying a small portable battery charger and cord can be life-savers, and they’re not too expensive. Definitely worth having, if only for peace of mind…
I can’t express to you how great a tool this website is. If food is even remotely important to you–which if you’re traveling to Paris it should be–then Le Fooding is pure gold! They give you the run-down on the Parisian food-scene with loads of restaurant recommendations (complete with detailed descriptions) in every arrondissement and at every price-point.
If for some reason you fancy Mexican, Le Fooding will point you to the best tacos in Paris. Or if you want to know where to go out near your hotel (or better yet which hotel to choose) they’ve got you covered. They even have an app! Just be sure with both app and website to click the English version… they do have it!
Where to Stay & Not
After exploring nearly every borough in this great city I’ve concluded that there really isn’t a bad place to stay in Paris. With the metro making all of it accessible, staying in the center is not essential like it is in other cities. This enables you to enjoy finer accommodations on the outskirts of town at a fraction of the cost. Happiness for you; happiness for your wallet.
That said I do have a few favorite neighborhoods (which I’ll be sharing about individually in future posts – be sure to check them out!) that in my view are ideal bases because of their ambiance and access to restaurants & shopping:
- Montmartre & South Pigalle (9th & 18th Arrondissements)
- The 10th Arrondissement
- Temple & Oberkampf (3rd & 11th Arrondissements)
- Bastille (11th Arrondissement)
Places I would NOT recommend staying (there are only a few…)
- The 8th Arrondissement is beautiful and boring. Expensive + Residential ≠ Good restaurants & nightlife.
- I’d steer clear of anything east of or directly below Sacre-Cœur as well as anything on Blvd de Clichy. Just a bit sketch…
- Rue Saint-Martin between Blvd Poissonière and Rue Réaumur is a little red-light street. Also feels a bit sketch… There are nicer places.
Paris Vista: Sacre-Cour
Sure the Eiffel Tower is beautiful, especially when it sparkles at midnight for like 5 minutes (that’s definitely worth staying up for!) but it’s not very centrally located in Paris, can be quite a trek to get to depending on where you stay, and the lines… Yikes.
Instead I recommend Sacre-Cœur. Perched high above Paris, her white facade gleaming in the sunlight, not only is she absolutely stunning, but she has one of the most beautiful and comprehensive views of the city – Eiffel Tower included. The steps leading up to her front door are a great place to sit, enjoying a sandwich from mouth-watering shop on Rue du Chevalier de la Barre just behind the Basilica – wish I remembered the name… And not only is there an elevator/gondola that for the cost of a metro ticket will transport you to the top, but you’ll then find yourself in the heart of Montmartre–one of Paris’ best neighborhoods.
I’ve heard that Notre Dame is stunning. She certainly is from the outside. A Gothic masterpiece that’s set right in the heart of Paris, and in truth in the heart of every Parisian as well. But I’ve never been inside. Why? Because I can’t bring myself to stand in a line that wraps almost to the other side of the Seine just to get through security. Sure the view while waiting isn’t so bad, but my time in Paris is precious! So many things to do, see, and eat.
An alternative, a hidden treasure of Paris is a Gothic chapel called Sainte-Chapelle. Just a few blocks from Notre Dame, it’s also located on Ile de la Cite, but is tucked away within the Palais de Justice de Paris. There will be a line, certainly not as long as Notre Dame’s, but oh is it worth the short wait!
Just two-words: Stained-glass windows.
Nothing comes close to these beauties. And the best part is they’re accessed only by a small staircase to the left of the main entrance. When Ryan and I went we almost missed them! I literally and audibly gasped upon entering the room. There are truly no words to describe their luminous beauty. You just have to see it to understand.
Shopping: Le Marais or Montmartre
The Champs-Elysées is one of the most famous streets in Paris and for good reason. It begins at the beautiful albeit busy Place de la Concorde, where Marie Antoinette got the ax, and ends at the Arc du Triumph–two monumental sites in Paris.
But what it’s really known for is the shopping. Expensive shopping. Like if you don’t own an oil field in Saudi Arabia or a dot-com in Silicon Valley you’re probably not going to be touching items in the store let alone walking away with shopping bags. So why not go to an area where fashion is accessible and shopping viable? After all, you are in Paris…
Le Marais, once the old Jewish quarter situated on the Rive Droit, just north of Ile Saint Louis, is now the new shopping district of Paris. It has plenty of boutiques as well as international brands lining its quaint yet elegant streets.
Another option if you’re a bit more hipster and artistically inclined is Montmartre. The shops are even more affordable here (for Paris) and you can find many local designers housed within Montmartre’s cute boutiques.
Museum: Museé d’Orsay
Art runs through Paris like the Seine. It’s in its blood. And if there were a temple dedicated to the worlds greatest masterpieces, a Mecca to which all art-enthusiast pilgrimage, the Museé du Louvre would be it. The world’s most illustrious art collection is housed in what used to be the King’s palace – before they out-grew it and moved to Versailles. The building itself is a work of art. It’s hard to know where to look–at the walls covered in Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo or up at the gilded painted ceilings.
If you happen to be one of these art pilgrims then my advice is book in advance at a specific time. You’ll still have to wait, just not 3 hours… I kid you not this was one of the waiting times when thought about going.
With a city so full of art everywhere, museums a-plenty, in my mind it’s hard to justify wasting 3 hours when you could be enjoying art elsewhere.
That “elsewhere” could be the Musée d’Orsay. Situated in the Rive Gauche on the banks of the Seine, the Musee d’Orsay houses some of France’s impressionistic masters: Degas, Renoir, Monet, not to mention countless other artists and sculptors from all over the world. The building itself, a converted train station, is glorious, and they also offer a combined ticket to either the Musée de l’Orangerie, or the Musée Rodin – both well worth the price if you have time to take in two museums whilst in Paris.
I hope this overview of Paris has been helpful and informative, giving you some good ideas of what to see and maybe what to skip. Bottom line is it’s all beautiful.
With amazing food to experience, excellent wines to sip and beauty that utterly encompasses it’s hard to have a bad time in this wondrous city. My advice: take your time and let it all soak in. It’s not about ticking off a check-list of must-see sights, it’s about enjoying, experiencing, living. At least that’s my Paris. Now it’s time for you to find yours!
Check back soon for more detailed guides to my favorite neighborhoods in Paris (listed above): what to see, where to eat, walk and shop.