Updated: Oct 29, 2018
A gem of a city filled with countless attractions and sights, deciding what to do on your first (or even second) trip to Paris can be tough. In this article, "adopted" Parisienne Jillian Madrid of blog Behind the Carry On, a veteran of La Ville-Lumière, outlines all the top locations you should be visiting on your trip.
Paris is one of my favourite European cities. I love France as a whole, but there’s something so special about Paris. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Paris enough times where I no longer feel the need to hit every touristy site; this allows me to really enjoy the magic of the city. No matter how long your trip is to Paris, the truth is that you’ll never be able to see everything in one go. Pick a few of your favourites, but don’t try to cram everything in at once. It’ll take away from the experience.
To start off, here are some tips and tricks to consider before your Parisian adventure:
Watch out for Bank Holidays. Europe has many, and everything tends to shut down on these days.
Use the métro for everything in the city; it’s so much more efficient to use than taxis or ride sharing services.
I’m not a fan of most things touristy, but if it’s your first time, there’s a few places you have to see. In my opinion, it’s best not to go with a tour group, so that you can stick to your own schedule. With that in mind, be sure to research whatever you’re doing before, so that you can fully appreciate it when the time comes to visit it.
Try your best to learn at least the basics of the French language. I do my best to know the key bits of the language for every country I visit. I find people are so much friendlier and willing to help when you put in the effort to respect their culture. There’s definitely a greater appreciation!
Everyone says the French are mean, but they’re not. In fact, they’re some of the friendliest and most helpful people that I’ve ever met. Treat people well and they’ll treat you well in return.
And now, for some of the must-sees…
The Eiffel Tower is an absolute tourist trap, but it’s nonetheless a must-see if you’ve never been to Paris. My advice is to pay for the front of the line pass (if it’s peak season. Research the time of year that you’re going to find this out), take the elevator up, visit the champagne bar at the top, and then walk down. I’d also advise to skip the restaurant, since it’s overpriced, overrated, and I’d much rather eat at a restaurant where I have a view of the Eiffel Tower. I paid for a group tour ticket and used it to get to the front of the line, then broke off to do my own thing once we got into the elevators. Keep in mind that the group tours only get you to the second level. You’ll still need to pay for access to the top of the tower, if that’s something that you want to access. Walking down will give you the ability to visit the ‘secret’ first floor, where you will find a transparent floor and souvenir shops.
If you’re not opposed to walking up the stairs, there’s obviously much less of a wait to get down to the main level when choosing that option. You can purchase standard stair and elevator tickets in advance. Remember that they do sell out quickly! As well, try to find out the weather patterns of the time you’re travelling at, if you are purchasing in advance.
While at the tower, be sure to walk through the Trocadero if time permits. It’s a site full of beautiful gardens and rests across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It’s a perfect way to unwind after what could be a taxing day visiting the tower.
Visit Paris on la Fête nationale (Bastille Day), July fourteenth, if at all possible! I’ve been able to celebrate twice now, and nothing beats the high energy in the air. Bastille Day is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which was a turning point in the French Revolution. You can expect similar vibes to Canada Day (July first) or the United States’ Fourth of July: big crowds, fireworks, drinking, and eating. However, if you don’t like large crowds, this celebration is definitely not for you. Opt for an early dinner and a cozy night in with a bottle of French wine, to split amongst friends.
Now, would any trip be complete without a little shopping? Another must-do is walking the Champs-Elysées. Make a trip to Louis Vuitton, as this strip boasts one of their flagships – and it’s absolutely beautiful! One thing to keep in mind, depending on the exchange rate at the time, is that it can be cheaper to buy designer in Europe versus the United States. American tourists can claim Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds, which help to bring down the price of designer goods).
Once I learned about the VAT refund, I knew I had to snag a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes I’d had my eye on. After all, the store is walking distance from the Champs-Elysées.
Just be warned the store is extremely small and does tend to have a line winding outside the door just to get in. Once you’re inside though, you’ll have your own personal shopper who will bring you as many shoes to try on as your heart desires!
Try different sizes, walk around, and size up! I’ve learned going about a half size larger in heels gives your feet room to swell, which is important to consider when wearing heels all night. Lastly, the store only gets one pair of each shoe in each size per shipment. Pray to the shoe gods that they have what you’re looking for in your size before you go!
If you’re anything like me, there’s nothing I love more than being a kid for a day! After visiting Disneyland (Anaheim) and Disneyworld (Orlando), I knew I needed to visit Disneyland Paris. Disney Paris is about a forty-minute drive from the city centre. Be prepared for a much smaller park than its counterparts, but just the same amount of fun! Bring your walking shoes and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated – you’re in for a thrilling day!
Champagne region is a great day trip from Paris. While there, we visited my favourite champagne house, Maison Veuve Clicquot, in Reims. If you’re able to, do the tour where you go down into the caves; you’ll learn all about the history of their champagne and finish with a glass of my favourite bubbly! There are plenty of other houses you can visit as well: Laurent-Perrier, Moet et Chandon, and so forth. It’s a nice little break from the hustle and bustle of central Paris.
Naturally, there still so much more to do… I could go on forever about things to do, eat, and see in La Ville-Lumière. Below are a few more of my favourite recommendations:
Visit Notre Dame
Visit the Catacombs
Visit the Louvre Museum (but be warned: the Mona Lisa is very, very small)
Dine at La Palette (they’re great for charcuterie and wine, and were also one of Anthony Bourdain’s favourites)
Picnic in Paris: After La Palette, stop by any liquor store within walking distance and buy a bottle of wine and some cups – I’m convinced there’s not a bad wine in Paris. Go sit along the banks of the Seine River, let your feet dangle off the edge, and take in all of the city
Go to the Prescription Cocktail Club, as it’s got a cool speakeasy vibe
Go on a Seine River cruise, but only if you have extra time
Walk anywhere along Canal St. Martin and the historical Marais District
If returning from Champagne, stop at any of the little towns on your way back for a more authentic French experience (Pro Tip: Most people won’t speak English in these areas, so knowing basic French, as I mentioned above, will certainly help)!
Of course, the town (and Château de) Versailles, not far from the heart of Paris. To get here, take the high-speed train and read up on the history before you go.