Paris is a city that just speaks to your soul. I love the people of Paris, the energy, the love, and the mix of old and new. It truly is the city of light, the city of love, the city of romance. There is really no describing your first time in this city and the way it draws you back and makes you long for your next visit. I still don’t feel like I have experience all of Paris, I may need a lifetime to discover it all!
Arriving: Most flights from the U.S. will arrive at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and often there is a long customs line, so be prepared to wait a bit. As you will likely be tired from the flight I recommend a taxi, be sure to follow the taxi signs and don’t let the well meaning people (heavy sarcasm) all around baggage claim try to guide you to the taxi stand. They are actually guiding you to the private car service which will typically overcharge you. A taxi will run between 40-70 Euros depending on time of day, private car service will charge $100 Euros and likely make you wait while they get another fare as well. I don’t suggest using Uber as an option in Paris unless you speak French since the GPS is not very accurate and it’s hard to determine streets and locations!
Where to Stay: There are so many options for hotels from boutique to chains and this is probably the hardest part of planning a trip to Paris. Most people have in mind what they want to “see” in Paris, but where is the best place to stay? There are 20 arrondissements (districts) but the most popular areas are 4th, 5th, and 6th and they are also closest to all the sights. Once you decide on a location then I recommend doing research on hotels based on your budget, I use a mix of Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and TripAdvisor when researching a hotel.
4th Arrondissement: This area is where I have stayed before and is walking distance to the Louvre and Notre-Dame. We stayed at Le Relais Des Halles which was a lovely boutique hotel, rooms like most in Paris were small but we had a very nice bathroom with tub and shower.
5th Arrondissement: Known as the Latin Quarter and the oldest part of Paris, plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants along with shops. Many hotel options in this area, I recommend the Relais Saint Jacques Hotel.
6th Arrondissement: This is called the St Germain area and is know as the literary heart of Paris, today it is full of lovely cafes and antique dealers. Located in the heart of Paris within walking distance to Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens, and Notre-Dame. One of the nicer hotels in this area L’Hotel Paris is very close to Louvre and has an excellent restaurant uniquely called Le Restaurant.
Getting Around: Most of Paris is easily accessible by walking, Paris metro or quick taxi ride, but another option that combines both convenience and sight seeing is the Batobus. You can purchase a hop on/hop off ticket and this river boat with views along the Siene. The Batobus is not a “faster” option, this is leisurely and slow (takes about 2 hours to cover the 9 stops along the Siene) but it’s a good option to just enjoy the views of Paris.
What to See: Most people are aware of the most famous sites of Paris – Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and walking along the Champs-Elysées and Siene. There is so much beyond this including just enjoying the different arrondissements (Montemarte in 18th) and gardens such as Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes as well as other great art museums like Musee D’Orsay. Below are some tips for visiting some of the busiest attractions.
Eiffel Tower: Lines can be very long if you plan to take the lift up, I recommend booking tickets for the Eiffel Tower in advance through this website: http://www.eiffel-tower.com
You can make reservations by creating an account on the site, then choose your date and the time slot along with the number of visitors in your party and their ages. Tickets are designated for visits either to the second floor or to the top. Doing this in advance will greatly reduce your waiting time, as you simply turn up at the designated area at the time slot. There is also an option to reserve lunch or dinner in the Eiffel tower, the views are lovely, but the food and service are just okay. If it’s something you have dreamed of your whole life (like me) then it worth the time, if not my advice it so skip it!
If you are looking for a more in depth tour I recommend City Wonders (citywonders.com) we have used them for both Louvre and Eiffel tours and had great experiences.
The Louvre: This is a massive museum that dates back to 1190 when it was a fortress, it was also the palace to many Kings of France, and still contains the apartments of Napoleon III (I really enjoyed seeing the apartments!). I highly recommend taking a small tour on your first visit, there is just so much to see and it really is a fascinating collection of art and history just as much as the history of the actual building. We have used City Wonders as well as Paris Muse (www.parismuse.com) that combines history, art, and fun for families. If you are travelling with children or even teens Paris Muse does an excellent tour the incorporates all the significant and famous pieces into a very entertaining and informative tour.
Notre-Dame: I love art and art history so this cathedral was something I had dreamed about seeing in person and it was just as lovely as I had imagined it would be! It is really a beautiful piece of architecture and history, lovely to view from both outside and inside. It is free to visit and you can line up to climb to the bell tower, expect long wait and it’s a rigorous climb (about an hour) with some tight places as you ascend, but worth the amazing view if you are not claustrophobic.
Where to Eat: I don’t have any you must eat here places in Paris, most of the food is amazing and I found that the simple local eatery or deli was the most enjoyable. As an example we had a delicious meal at the Cafe du Nord (best French Onion soup ever!) right across from the Gare du Nord train station (if you are taking the Eurostar to or from Paris). The crepes are a must try, the macaroons are the best, and just grabbing a some cheese, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine outside in a park is pretty amazing, I mean your in Paris!