Out of the 13 countries I’ve traveled to so far, France is definitely one of my favorites. I’m fairly certain I could wander the streets of Paris without ever tiring of it. My first trip to this beautiful city in 2013 was short, cold and not completely what I had planned for the City of Light. You can read all about that trip on my first blog.
Fast forward about one year and Paris was still resonating in my daydreams. I decided to go back, this time for 10 full days! I had looked into some hostels and AirBnB options, but I actually knew someone that was living in Paris. I reached out to this friend I had met previously on my travels and politely asked if I could stay at his flat. Apart from saving money on accommodation, staying with a true Parisian really enhanced my entire experience. My friend worked almost all day, every day so I essentially had his flat, which overlooked the city AND the Eiffel Tower, completely to myself. Heck, after a few days I even felt like a true Parisian!
My days in Paris were spent wandering in and out of cafes and pastry shops, taking in the sights and learning as much about the French culture as I could. Here are some of the places that made me fall in love with this beautiful city:
Palace of Versailles. I spent an entire day wandering around the 2,000 acres at the Palace of Versailles, which was home to French royalty for centuries beginning in the 1600’s. The palace itself is also home to the famous Hall of Mirrors, which has been Instagrammed time and time again.
The Palace of Versailles is easily reachable by train from Paris. There are multiple ticketing options, but I would suggest getting the Passport ticket for about €25. This will gain you access to all of the different buildings on the entire estate.
Shakespeare and Company. Of course I have to squeeze a bookstore into this post somewhere! This bookstore is not your average Barnes and Noble. Shakespeare and Company has been home to over 30,000 writers, artists and dreamers over the ages. Originally opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, this small shop on the banks of the Siene offered refuge for creatives who needed a place to stay. Today, portions of the original shop are still in tact. The store offers new and used books and also hosts various events.
Louvre & Holocaust Museum. Being one of the most frequented museums in the world, I don’t think much convincing needs to be done on my part when it comes to visiting the Louvre. I spent hours wandering the halls of this museum and I barely got through half of it. I’d highly recommend splurging on the €5 audio guide that will guide you through the history of each piece of work you’re observing. Oh, and as a side note, don’t be that crazy tourist pushing through crowds of other crazy tourists trying to get a photo of the Mona Lisa. It’s beautiful and all, but turn around and you’ll find thousands of other magnificent works of art all around you and you won’t have to clock anyone in the face to see them.
As I spoke briefly about in my first post about Paris, the Holocaust Museum in Paris is widely unknown of, which is quite a shame. This comprehensive museum is extremely informative and also pays tribute to those who lost their lives throughout this atrocious time in history. The museum offers free admission and is not difficult to find.
Eiffel Tower. I can’t imagine anyone would visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, but I will reiterate how beautiful it is to make sure you don’t miss out! There are two options if you’d like to reach the second and third floors of the tower: Climb the 704 stairs for €4 or take the elevator for €13. I opted for the first option, you know, to save money and squeeze in a workout while I was at it. Take note that if you do decide to climb, the farthest you can go is the second floor.
If you’re not in the mood for either, I’d recommend grabbing a blanket, a baguette and some wine and treating yourself to a picnic in the Champ De Mars.
Jardin du Lxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens). These perfectly manicured gardens will have you snapping photos every few steps. Although it is located just outside of the St. Germaine area, you will feel as though you’ve teleported to the French countryside as you meander around the park. This is another great spot to grab a blanket and relax in the grass with some wine. Apart from guided tours, entry into the gardens is completely free.
Montmartre. Quite possibly the most charming neighborhood in Paris, Montmartre boasts a little something for everyone. The most obvious attraction will be the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, which sits at the very top of the hill. Avoid the tourist traps and get lost in the winding, cobble-stone streets and before long you won’t be surprised to learn that this neighborhood was home to many famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The famous, “I Love You Wall” is also located in this neighborhood.
Arc de Triomphe. Apart from the Eiffel Tower, this is probably one of the most iconic places associated with Paris. You can climb to the top for a spectacular view of the city for €8.
Getting Around in Paris
I found the metro system in Paris to be extremely easy to navigate. Most accommodations offer a metro map which will help you learn the ropes. You can purchase an unlimited weekly pass for roughly €27. If possible, avoid taxis. A fellow traveler once told me that she paid over €110 to get from the airport to the city center! You can purchase your weekly pass at the airport and use it to get you to wherever you’re going in Paris.
Some people are hesitant to try Couchsurfing, but my experience with it has always been great. If you’re not ready to dive completely in and crash on a stranger’s couch, you can search for Couchsurfing meet-ups in many different cities across the world. The one I attended was a trivia night at a pub in Paris. It was a great way to meet other travelers and locals.
Free Walking Tours
If it’s free, it’s for me! I jokingly say this kind of frequently, but on a real note, I absolutely mean it. I took a free walking tour and learned so much about Parisian history and current happenings. There are multiple tours to choose from, but whatever one you decide to go on, remember to tip your tour guide. These people are typically volunteers who are very passionate about their city and want to share it with others. Soak up all the information they have for you and make sure to express your appreciation!
This is another one of those things that won’t take much convincing. Around every corner in Paris you will find a patisserie, or pastry shop. The cheese aisle in most grocery stores is longer than our cereal aisle in America. And that tasty, French wine that we spend top dollar for here, is very affordable when you’re actually in France. With all of that being said, ENJOY it!
I’m one of those people that consistently romanticizes what my next travel destination will look like. I often find myself feeling gravely disappointed when I arrive to a new city and it’s covered with skyscrapers, trash on the ground and commercial businesses all over the place. I have to say, Paris is not one of these places. All of those stunningly beautiful photos you see on Instagram, those are real. That is what Paris really, truly looks like. Just one more reason to love this city even more. Au revoir!