Hello from a high speed train! I’m writing as I sit backwards going 150 mph on the train home from Paris to Rotterdam (so here’s to hoping train sickness isn’t a thing). After 4 days of walking 9 miles per day, my feet are outstretched and throbbing, but I can finally relax and let this Parisian weekend sink in.
I joined my parents, who came in from southern Germany, on Friday morning. We made our way to an east Paris Airbnb, a closet of an apartment to which the word “comfortable” could never be used to describe, then proceeded to spend the next 4 days fervently exploring Paris. So here are some things we loved, some things we didn’t love, some things to note, and some things to eat!
Things to do in Paris
- Make a Sandemans New Europe free walking tour one of your first destinations. These tours, which start across the river from the Notre Dame, take about 3 hours and are SO great! They’re completely tip-based, which means the guides have a huge incentive to make it really fun. And getting this in first gives you the chance to ask your guide what they recommend you see/skip/eat with the time you have.
- Walk around in the early morning (okay sort of early, 8ish. You’re on vacation don’t go waking up before dawn or anything) to see a different side of Paris. Some streets are quietly serene while others bustle as street vendors and markets set up for the day. There are a lot of great photo ops at this time!
- No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the artsy district of Montemartre. Browse the artists stands and shops on the hill, then lovers of the movie should probably definitely swing by the Moulin Rouge.
- We made a quick run through the Louvre, and it’s obviously a must for the art enthusiasts. They say if you spend 2 seconds on each exhibit it’ll take you 9 months to get through the museum. In all fairness, 7 months of this is probably spent lost and trying to figure out where in the hell you are on the map.
- Go running! There a many places, namely Italy, where I’ve got some weird looks for running through the city. Paris is not one of them. While I didn’t have the chance to go running here, there were joggers out everywhere. It’s a great way to explore!
- The Army Museum was actually pretty interesting, and was made more interesting by my military history buff of a father who muttered the words “holy shit” in response to at least a quarter of the exhibits there.
- Relax in the park behind the Notre Dame (just watch out for pooping pigeons!)
- On that note, relax outside at a cafe and people watch. Boy are there some interesting people to watch in Paris!
- Do some luxury shopping (at not all luxury prices) on the Champs Elysees leading up to my favorite monument, the Arc de Triomphe.
- Do some research on upcoming events in the city before you go. My first time in the city we happened upon the finish of the Tour de France, and this weekend was the Paris marathon. With a bit more planning we could have fit these out-of-the-ordinary, totally awesome events into our schedule better.
Things to maybe just skip in Paris
- Chartier is a restaurant famed for its unique experience and atmosphere. With less than mediocre food, a long line, and a claustrophobic atmosphere, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this one.
- We also did a paid Sandemans tour of Versailles, which was worth an afternoon but not a full day. Don’t plan your visit to Versailles around which days the fountains run. You’ll end up paying extra and, with a finicky fountain schedule, may well miss them all! While the gardens and palace were gorgeous and have a lot of history behind them, I was more impressed by Peterhof, the Russian palace that was inspired by Versailles. Sorry, King Louie.
Things to note about Paris
- You’ll likely be approached by a group of women holding clipboards asking you to sign something. Just keep walking. While you’re signing, you’ll also be having your pockets picked.
- In lieu of recent attacks, security and armed guards are in full force in Paris. Get to the train station early, as there is now full airport-like security before getting to the platforms. There’s similar security for many of the main tourist destination.
- Accommodations are all trade offs here. If you want to stay in the heart of the city, expect a very small room with an even smaller shower.
- Never pass up a free toilet! Paris, like many European cities, tends to charge for the use of their porcelain goddesses.
- The famous lock bridge, where lovers would go to place a lock and throw the key in the river, was taken down in 2014 (the locks held the equivalent weight of 70 cars!). Fortunately for the romantics, you’ll still find small bunches of locks on parts of the bridge and you can probably squeeze yours in.
Things to eat in Paris
- Have lunch and an éclair at Maison Pradier, home to the best éclairs in Paris.
- Okay ONLY if you’re really missing America should you go here, but Frog & Rosbif has some really great American pub food. With an English/American staff and ample burgers and fries, you’ll feel like you’re back home, if only for an hour.
- For a cheap breakfast or lunch, a baguette + cheese is always a winning combo. A big baguette doesn’t usually cost more than a euro, and you’ll have your pick of to-die-for cheeses at any fromager (cheese shop)!
- And the money you save in buying baguettes you must spend on macarons, delicate and colorful confections that you’ll find displayed in many bakery windows.
- And as with any new place, just experiment and taste and discover!
Getting around Paris
- If it’s your first time in Paris, the hop-on-hop-off busses are a fun way of getting to all the major attractions. The metro is obviously much cheaper, and is pretty easy to navigate. Though the city is walkable, I’d recommend against only walking, as you’re going to be ka-poot by the end of the trip. And based on experience, I wouldn’t ever recommend driving!