Romantic tree-lined streets, chic people watching cafes, the iconic Eiffel Tower glistening in the spring sunshine… you name it, I envisioned it. And with expectations running so high, Paris has the potential to be—yes, it’s true— a little disappointing for some. When you find yourself elbow to elbow with throngs of camera-holding tourists, tucking into another overpriced meal, you’ll wonder how the Paris that everyone seems to have spoken so highly of, has proved so elusive. But wait. Before you label me a “Negative Nancy” and decide to stop reading, I want you to know that I had a wonderful time in Paris. The stunning art, incredible architecture and lush greenery everywhere you turn, are just a few of the things that make this city so picturesque. That said, I think its only right for me to share my 100% unfiltered opinion and set expectations for other first timers. For me, that includes sharing the things I loved and also the things I think will help you to maximise your experience there… Or at least thats my intention. [Bites fingers nervously].
1. Do the Eiffel Tower. Don’t forget your jacket though!
Would it really be a blog post about Paris without mention of this iconic monument? After seeing it in countless photos and books I was worried it might not live up to my expectations. It did. It was almost surreal to finally see and experience it in person! We went up to level two and the view was spectacular. Surprisingly some people visit Paris and purposefully skip this beautiful landmark. I get it, if your don’t pre book and you’re travelling in peak season then you may find yourself trudging through one mammoth line after another. In April however, the queues weren’t too bad and I’m so glad I had my coat because despite the sunshine below, it was bloody cold up there!
2. Skip the low to mid-range restaurants at dinner. Go big or go home.
Home to 66 Michelin-starred restaurants and more cafes and patisseries than you could visit in a lifetime, Paris is a foodie’s paradise. Now sadly I made the mistake of thinking that I would get a sense of the French cuisine I’d heard all about from visiting mid-range restaurants, but that only led to disappointment. While many of the best places to eat are accompanied by sky-high prices, it’s worth going for somewhere slightly under what most might consider “expensive”. By the end of day two Trip advisor was my new best friend! Le Comptoir du Relais in St Germain des Pres (in the sixth arrondissement) serves a set menu for about 50 euros a head. Or for somewhere with slightly more moderate prices at 32 euros a head, Le Bistrot des Campagnes in Montparnasse serves beautiful home made cooking in a cosy and friendly atmosphere. You’ll find countless blog posts recommending a number of cheap eats ideal for breakfast or a quick lunch. I wish I’d been more organised and pinpointed exactly where these were. Don’t expect to just wander in to a fabulous restaurant – mark up your map with the best spots in advance and fit them around your sight seeing.
3. Embrace the wonderful Metro system!
The Metro in Paris reminded me much of the London Underground. It’s one of the most convenient and economical ways of getting around town at €1.30 a ticket (if I remember correctly) and with English ticketing machines you really have no reason not to. Taxis in Paris are expensive and you’ll have the manic traffic to contend with. The Metro is clean, comfortable and takes you to the heart of so many major sights in no time at all!
4. Book your hotel in advance. Get into the 4th!
Finding a lovely hotel in Paris for a reasonable price can bring out grey hairs in even the most organised of travellers. Scoping out great hotels is usually my forte but this was a struggle even for me. We started by booking a small boutique hotel in the 17th arrondissement thinking we’d be close to some key sights like the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées but after some more digging cancelled our refundable booking a few days before the trip and switched to another boutique hotel in one of the single digit arrondissements (the 6th) to be a little more central. You might think yourself lucky if you do manage to grab a deal but double check that it isn’t on the outskirts of town, or you’ll realise that you’re missing out on the Parisian cafe culture and beautiful architecture in the city center. After all my wanderings around town I’d definitely recommend trying to stay in either Le Marais which spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements (get into the 4th if you can). This picturesque part of town has a great combination of food fashion and culture, but its super popular, so planning in advance is key!
5. Pre book a tour! Don’t make the mistake of thinking tours are too touristy (:
Prior to my trip I saw tons of excellent tours online but decided to hold out. Part of me thought it would be nicer to have the chance to explore on our own and having a few days there, surely we’d just be able to jump on to a group tour taking place the next day if we wanted to. Wrong! Exploring on our own was nice —for a time—but eventually you lose appreciation for the sights you’re visiting if you don’t have the historical context behind what you’re looking at. My advice would be to pre book at least one tour. Whether it’s by foot, boat, bicycle or even segway, a tour will give you insider tips and historical facts that will enrich your entire experience.
6. Please indulge in a few hundred macaroons!
How can you visit Paris and not enjoy the mouthwatering delight of a crispy, and fluffy macaroon shell with a perfectly balanced sweet filling?! You must visit Gerard Mulot and Ladurée to try their wonderful melt-in-your-mouth meringue ‘sandwiches’. I couldn’t get enough! I tried to bring a few back with me but these sugary pieces of heaven don’t travel too well. Yup, I’ve just given you the perfect excuse to eat as many as you can while you’re there!
7. Pass through Le Jardin du Luxembourg if the sun is shining
Situated on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter it’s a great spot to stop off and eat lunch or people watch on a sunny spring or summers day, but be prepared to eat your lunch on a metal chair because the beautifully maintained grass is off limits. With a lovely pond, green trees and old Parisian chess players this place was a photographers dream.
8. Don’t shop for stylish fashion pieces from Champs-Elysées
One of the most famous avenues in the world the Champs-Elysées is known for its array of things to see and buy. Shopaholic that I am, I expected to love this well-known spot, but arriving to see a street heaving with tourists, lined with pricey restaurants, tourist shops and all the international brands I have at home, crushed my shopper spirit just a little. That said its worth walking up this pretty tree lined street and making your two the Arc de Triomphe perched at the top.
9. Visit the Louvre and get an audio tour
Full of thousands of beautiful paintings, sculptures and artefacts the Louvre is probably the second most visited Parisian landmark. To be truly blunt I’m not really an art buff but found this palace perfect for a rainy day in Paris where the afternoon passed in the blink of an eye. The architecture of this building is truly stunning inside and out so if you’re not there for the art, visit for the architechture! Unfortunately I didn’t take advantage of an audio or in-person tour — something I regret. This museum is huge and without a guide of some sort, you really can get a little lost in the 300+ rooms!
10. Don’t buy into the Stereotypes about Parisians
The one thing that had me nervous about my trip to Paris was all the negative things I’d heard about the Parisians. While there is a widely held misconception that Parisians are extremely rude to tourists in particular, I learned that this was not true for the majority. I went to Paris expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised with the service we received in restaurants, cafes and in fact from several kind strangers who helped us get around the city. One of the best ways to earn brownie points is to make a conscious effort to be friendly, polite, respectful and attempt a few simple phrases like ‘Hello’ (Bonjour), ‘Sir/Madam’ (Monsieur/Madame) and ‘Thank you’ (Merci). I found this went a long way to being well-received. I think there is a cultural misunderstanding that most Brits and Americans probably have about the Parisian service industry. Those choosing to work in this area are not regarded as the low-paid irritants of society. It’s very likely you’ll be served by a well-dressed respectable man in his 60s than by an 18-year-old student whose first language isn’t English (#LondonLife).The Parisians seem to see the service industry as one worthy of recognition and therefore demand a certain level of respect. It’s worth remembering that other countries have different cultural norms and why are we even travelling if we aren’t there to experience them?!
Had you guessed by this point that I’m pretty into photography?! All of the photos I’ve featured here, I had the pleasure of shooting (apart from this last one of course – shot by my lovely boyfriend). Check out the photography section of my site and follow me on Instagram @chloemendoncaphotography to join me on the journey of learning how to use my DSLR 😉
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