Gisel, la Parisienne?
I am by no means a Paris, city expert. The idea of a good time for my husband and me is staying in for some Netflix and chill to watch La Casa de Papel or How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) for the 1,000th time. And ordering in from Deliveroo or UberEats, (whichever is cheaper). (Yes, even in the most romantic city on Earth.) Now don’t get me wrong, it’s true what they say about the French, they are real romantics, and my husband always knows how to keep me on my toes and with a smile on my face. But, as it happens to so many people living in fabulous cities around the world; the novelty of it grows old.
For example, I lived in New York City (aka “The Greatest City in the World,” as Ted Mosby himself would say) for 16 years of my life. It’s the city I’ve lived in the longest. Although I have a love-hate relationship with the metropolis, I do consider myself a New Yorker. And so, having lived in NYC is no big deal for me.
Now I’ve been living in France since August of 2016. My husband and I signed the lease to our apartment in September of that same year. Between traveling back to the states and other European cities, I’ve only been in Paris for a total of about 13 months. In just a little over a year here, I have not only visited the “touristy” places more than once with family and friends who have come to visit, but I have also gotten to explore the Paris that few get to see while traveling here because of limited time and funds.
That’s where this blog post comes in. Although I am no expert, people who know me, and know that I live here, seem to think that I’ve got this city all figured out. But other than not getting lost on the metro (FYI: I usually have no sense of direction) and having been to all the tourist spots more than once, I can tell you more or less how to plan your sight-seeing to get the most out of Paris no matter how long you’ll be staying. As amazing as the city is, believe it or not, it’s relatively small. You can easily see the most important sights in just TWO days if you budget your time wisely.
First Trip to Paris
So you’re planning your first trip to Paris? Congratulations! Back in the day, I’m talking about before social media and even the Internet, traveling outside of your home country and more so to anywhere in Europe was considered a luxury. Now it seems that anyone can hop on a plane and take a pic for the “gram” next to the Tower of Pisa or with the Mona Lisa (rhyme not intentional, I swear) on any given afternoon. Nonetheless, you’re going to want to manage your time wisely to get the most out of your combined PTOs + weekends + holidays during your trip abroad.
The first stop I recommend is the most obvious one; the Eiffel Tower. I recommend getting up at least by 7 A.M. and heading out by 8 A.M. for breakfast, preferably between Sunday and Wednesday. By doing this, you will avoid the crowds near the tower and get the pictures you’ve always dreamt of, along with the perfect lighting! Just so you know, Paris tends to be a very grey city for most of the year. Except for the summer months (between June – September, and sometimes as early as May and as late as the first week of October). Anyway, my favorite view of the tower is from Place du Trocadéro. (FYI: My best friend recently got engaged there!)
Be sure to return to the Eiffel Tower at sunset to watch it light up. It lights up until 1 A.M. for five minutes every hour, and during the summer months, it’s as late as 2 A.M.
Le Petit Déjeuner
Le petit déjeuner directly translated is the “little lunch.” If you’re staying in a hotel and breakfast is offered, for money-saving purposes, I suggest you take advantage of that. But, if you want to experience a Parisian petit déjeuner during your time here, I have a few places I can recommend. Note: but I don’t guarantee best-pricing nor that the meals will be authentic.
Unlike the majority of people I know, I am not the biggest fan of French cuisine (unpopular opinion, I know). As a Latina and an American, I like hearty, greasy meals with little to no vegetables and a lot of flavors. French cuisine tends to be straightforward with their seasoning: salt and pepper, and they LOVE their greens here. But where I do give them all their due credit is their pastries! They know what they’re doing in that area.
So without further delay, here are my favorite places (in no particular order of preference) to grab breakfast in Paris:
- Angelina; which boasts having the best hot chocolate in France. It’s more on the bitter side, which if you’re anything like me, you may not fully appreciate it.
- Breakfast in America; perfect for picky eaters who want a filling meal with no surprises!
- Workshop Paris; their pancakes are ridiculously thin, so I recommend having more than just that if you’re considering them! Also, please note that they only provide breakfast during special events, mainly their Brunch Porn on Sundays.
- And if you’re not a big breakfast eater or want something simple, any small treat like a Croque-monsieur or croissant and a coffee in almost any bakery near where you’re staying will do.
Next Stop: Arc de Triomphe & Champs-Élysées
If you don’t mind walking, not only will you be saving money on metro tickets, but you’ll also be experiencing Paris first-hand. And not just going underground from one place to another. From Trocadéro to the Arc de Triomphe, there’s about a 25-minute walk. But if you’re short on time, then by metro it’s only 14 minutes. Then there’s a 9-minute walk from the Arc to the Champs-Élysées, the most prominent avenue in Paris filled with both high-end and a few affordable stores on each side. Ladies, this is also where you can find the biggest Sephora in Paris!
Time for Déjeuner
If you get hungry as often as I do, and after a lot of walking you most certainly will, then you’ll have to find something to eat again! Enter “le déjeuner,” which is French for lunch. There are a few neighborhoods/places I can recommend where you can avoid tourist prices and get a great meal! Please note that they may take you off the sight-seeing route I am creating for you here.
- Bakeries: you can always get a tasty sandwich or two to sustain you until your next real meal.
- Monoprix: one of the largest supermarket chains in France is comparable to Publix in Florida or Fairway Market in NYC where you can find the perfect ingredients for a picnic lunch.
- Almost any French bistro for a burger. Paris has a lot of delicious burger places, and some have been the best I’ve ever had. They are typically priced between 12 and 16 euros often including a side like fries and a drink.
- Some more specific recommendations for burgers:
- Most affordable arrondissements (neighborhoods) in general: 12eme, 13eme, 18eme, 19eme, 20eme
Back to Sight-Seeing
At the end of the Champs-Élysées, you will find the Place de la Concorde, which is one of the most important public squares in Paris. It is also where you can find the Ancient Egyptian Luxor Obelisk at the center of the square and the Grand Roue (The Big Wheel). Perfect place to snap some pictures!
From here you are only a 19-minute walk from the Louvre. I recommend walking if you love museums and gardens because on your way there you will come across the Orangerie Museum, the Jardin des Tuileries, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts).
Assuming you visit all these places in order (and initially head out by 8 A.M. more or less), you should be at the Louvre around 3 P.M., which is perfect since the museum is open every day from 9 A.M. – 6 P.M. (except for Tuesdays). While in the museum, take your time. It is huge! Also, I’m sure you’ve heard, but the Mona Lisa is a bit disappointing because it’s much smaller than you probably imagine. The first time I saw it, I was 15 years old and could barely see it over the crowd hovering around it, and there’s a big glass box that protects it. Now, a painting I recommend seeing is the Madonna of the Rocks, my favorite. I also enjoyed seeing the Winged Victory of Samothrace in person.
Best Shopping Street in Paris
Once finished with the Louvre, you’re right by one of my favorite shopping districts in Paris, Rue de Rivoli. This street spans the 1st and 4th arrondissements of the city. I can’t think of a better end for a day of sight-seeing than an evening of shopping. Right by the museum, you’ll find a bunch of stores for souvenirs and further down the street you’ll find more fashion-oriented shops. Here is a list of some of my favorite stores (in order, more or less, while going down the street):
- Forever 21 (not as big as that of 42nd street in NYC, but close enough considering the tiny spaces in Paris)
- Histoire d’Or
- The Body Shop
Dining in Paris
A huge difference I found between living in the states and living in Europe is how late they eat dinner here. Back home, I used to eat dinner sometime between 6 and 7 PM. Here, it rarely ever starts before 8 PM. And meals can last as long as two hours. People here actually take the time to enjoy their food and company. Besides the burger places I mentioned before, I have several other places I can recommend for dinner in Paris.
- I’ll start with my absolute favorite restaurant: Cuba Compagnie Café. This place is perfect for dinner or drinks or both! They have that Latin flavor I miss so much from home and a lot of their staff speak Spanish. The food is exceptional, and the music is always great. Everyone my husband and I have brought here so far has loved it.
- Now a little closer to where I live, I recommend the Persillé, which is both a “boucherie” (a butcher shop) and a restaurant. The quality here is incredible and the prices, affordable.
- And since I can’t get enough of Latino food; El Picaflor. A quaint Peruvian restaurant with actual Peruvian people preparing the food, so it’s 100% authentic and savory.
- Finally, for after dinner, I recommend drinks at Andy Wahloo, a bar unlike any other I’ve been in Paris, with craft cocktails and gastropub, and an almost exclusive ambiance considering it’s a bit hidden and small.
The Latin Quarter & Montmartre
Depending on where you’re staying you may choose to work your way from the place furthest to you to the ones closest to you. There are several things to see in both Montmartre and the Latin Quarter. In the Latin Quarter, I recommend taking the time to see the top three things:
- Jardin du Luxembourg
- Shakespeare & Co.
- Notre Dame (which is near the Shakespeare store)
And in Montmartre:
- Basilique du Sacré-Cœur – to go into the dome or crypt there is a fee, including the fantastic panoramic view of Paris you must see! But visiting the basilica itself is free of charge.
- Canal Saint-Martin – If you’re familiar with the movie Amélie, you will immediately recognize the bridge over the canal.
- Rue de Steinkerque for souvenir shopping
- Moulin Rouge – If you have the time and the budget, watch a Moulin Rouge show with some champagne! You won’t regret it – I promise. I’ve seen it twice, and I cannot wait to go back. It isn’t only naked ladies dancing and singing around; it’s so much more than that; a true masterpiece.
Finally, I also recommend grabbing drinks with friends in either the Latin Quarter or Montmartre! Both neighborhoods are so beautiful to spend time in, no matter the time of day.
Other Parisian Must-Sees
- Tour de Montparnasse – for the best view of the whole city including the Eiffel Tower. I suggest purchasing the tickets beforehand.
- Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann – especially if you come during November or December since they decorate it beautifully for the holiday season. It’s one of the most spectacular malls I’ve ever seen!
- Palace of Versailles – This is one last thing you should see while in Paris, which is right outside of Paris, in Versailles. It takes about an hour on public transportation to get there and by car anywhere between 35 and 45 minutes.
In closing, I leave you with the following tips for a smoother stay and travel within Paris:
- If you have a student I.D., carry it wherever you go. You never know when you can receive a discount on things.
- Are you planning on using the metro a lot? Don’t buy tickets one by one. Buy them in bulk. Either buy one carnet, which is a total of 10 for 14,90 € or two carnet – 20 tickets for 29,80 €, you’ll save money this way.
- Don’t exchange money at the airport; it tends to be more expensive. Either do your research and find an affordable place back home or change your money in less touristic places. Based on Google Reviews, I recommend the following exchange place in Paris: Cen-Change, check out their website for more details.
- Also, sometimes it may even be cheaper or the same cost to withdraw money from an ATM. Some banks have international partners that won’t charge you any fees other than the exchange rate. For example, if you have a Bank of America debit card, you can withdraw money from BNP Paribas in Paris and avoid the usage fee for each balance check, transfer or withdrawal.
- And if you didn’t already know this, pack comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking! As well as the proper adapters for your electronics, and an umbrella, since it’s almost always raining here.
- Lastly, attempt to speak French! There’s nothing ruder than walking into an establishment anywhere in France and greeting people or automatically asking for things in English. Even though a lot of the people I have encountered here do have some level of conversational English, never assume they speak it. Be sure to use at least the following before asking for anything in English:
- Bonjour = Hello
- S’il vous plaît = Please
- Merci/Merci beaucoup = Thank you/Thank you very much
- Au Revoir = Goodbye