A Beginner’s Guide to Paris

Bonjour!

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve already been back from Paris for almost 2 weeks. I intended to hit publish on this post much sooner, and have put a lot of time and effort into recapping our trip (especially given that so many of you told me you’re hoping/planning to visit soon!). But once I got started and realized the sheer amount of ground we covered and things we did – I went down the rabbit hole. So prep yourself for thoroughness… I’m including recommendations for things to do during any season, links to purchase tickets, price points for dining, and more.

So let’s get started!

Paris is aptly called the city of lights – it is an absolutely gorgeous place (especially during the holiday season), full of history, culture, and amazing food. This was my second trip to Paris (the first was two summers ago) and this time we covered a lot more ground because we were there for close to two weeks.

For this guide, I wanted to put together some recommendations that will help you get the most out of your visit, whether you’re there for a few weeks or just a couple of days. I’m going to break it up into a few categories: Sights to See, Food to Eat, and other miscellaneous fun things to do both in and outside the city. Reminder: my in-laws have lived there for almost two years now, so we’ve been extremely fortunate to have our own personal tour guides who know lots of tips and tricks to getting the most out of your Parisian experience – which I’m excited to pass along to you!

 

Sights to See

This list seemed a bit daunting to me at first… mostly because there is SO much to see in Paris. Here are the sights we’ve taken in during our last two visit(s):

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Eiffel Tower

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – but the Eiffel Tower is the first thing most people envision when they think of Paris. The area where we stayed is just a few blocks over, so I feel like we caught glimpses of it constantly and it is truly breathtaking. It wasn’t until our most recent trip that I got to visit the tower’s summit, which I highly recommend. We had passes that let us skip the lines, which I think is definitely worth it – there are a LOT of people trying to get up there! The city views are pretty spectacular and there’s even a cute little stand at the top where you can get champagne and caviar – so fun. Make sure to go on a clear day (otherwise you won’t see much). If you’re wanting the true French experience, bring a blanket, some wine, and ingredients for an epic cheese plate and visit the Champ de Mars at dusk (we did this for a “happy hour” when we visited in the summertime and it was lovely). No matter what time of year you’re there, make sure you catch the tower when it lights up at night, every hour on the hour for 5 minutes at a time. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

The Louvre

The Louvre is one of the most famous museums in the world and should definitely be a priority on your Paris list. I actually visited during my first trip two summers ago, and we did the Louvre Tour and Wine Tasting, where we had a guide who showed us all of the most popular works and we could listen to her through earbuds (it’s usually packed in there and can be difficult to hear). We also got to skip the lines since we were with an official guide, which was awesome. Following our tour of the museum, we walked a few blocks away to a small wine cafe that has a direct connection to the Louvre when it was a functioning palace. If you descend the stairs into their wine cellar, you are in the exact spot where the palace wine was once stored. There’s a tunnel that connects the cellar directly to The Louvre – how cool is that? We did a tasting in the cellar, pairing a few different wines from across the world with different meats and cheeses on a scrumptious charcuterie board. If you’re feeling extra (spoiler alert: we were), you can even get a photo taken and put on a wine bottle as a memento. Can’t recommend this option enough – it was an all-around amazing experience!

Arc de Triomphe

Another landmark that is synonymous with Paris, the Arc de Triomphe is a beautiful monument located at the far west end of the Champs-Élysées. You can also summit this monument and you’ll have some pretty great views of the city. During the holiday season, the trees that line the street leading up to the Arc de Triomphe are adorned in so. many. lights. If that doesn’t get you in the spirit, I don’t know what will! And speaking of the Champs-Élysées…

Champs-Élysées

If you’re trying to shop ’til you drop when you visit Paris, this will serve as a nice home base for ya. The Champs-Élysées is a little more than a 1-mile stretch that is a direct shot from The Louvre, and it’s completely packed with a full spectrum of retailers, souvenir shops, theaters, restaurants and much more. I tend to think of it as Paris’ “main drag,” and no doubt one of the most notable avenues in the world. I highly encourage you to explore the Louis Vuitton flagship store, which is massive and feels like a hybrid of a high-end designer boutique and a museum. While I recommend getting your macaron fix at a smaller pâtisserie, there is also a Ladurée that is beautiful and worth a visit. No matter what your preference, there’s truly something for everyone on this famous stretch of Paris!

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Palais-Royale

Palais-Royale is smack-dab in the middle of Paris, across from The Louvre. It is often referred to as a “village in the city” because of its center-facing layout and the multitude of shops, theatres, and other attractions that are found within its walls. From a social media standpoint, this is an excellent place to take photos (the black and white painted cylinders are fun – sadly, that area was closed the day we went due to the fear of protesters coming in). I definitely recommend doing a lap through – the courtyard in the center is beautiful, especially in the spring/summer months. Dan’s favorite sidewalk cafe is also a stone’s throw away – more on that in the food section!

Musée d’Orsay

My favorite museum in Paris! Musée d’Orsay was once a train station and has soaring ceilings, an enormous clock, and the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist artwork in the world. If you visit, I highly recommend carving out several hours to get through – there is so much to see! My personal favorite collections are Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas, but of course, there are always amazing exhibits on rotation (like the Picasso exhibit, which was there during our most recent visit).

 

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Notre-Dame de Paris

Or, just Notre-Dame for short. And it’s just as beautiful and majestic as you’d imagine! Notre-Dame is a medieval Catholic cathedral that you truly must see if you’re ever in Paris. It is an active house of worship, and we were fortunate enough to visit during a Gregorian Mass, which was a really cool experience. You’re welcome to attend a religious service while you’re there – here is the schedule. Tickets aren’t needed for admission into the cathedral, but you will need to pay a few euros to enter the tower or the crypt. After your visit, I recommend taking a quick walk over to Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, two famous spots where folks like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Julia Child were regular patrons.

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Palace of Versailles (and Gardens)

Just a quick train or bus ride away in Yvelines is the Palace of Versailles. It is an insanely massive and ornate estate that was once the official royal home and I’m sad to report… I only saw the outside. We had tickets but by the time we arrived (which was early in the day, mind you), the line was so long that we were told there was no chance we’d be able to get in and see anything, really. Yes, the line was THAT long. So a few pro tips: I would advise that you get there early, like before they open the gates. You may also consider going on a weekday when there might be less foot traffic (we went on a Sunday). That said, even just seeing the outside of the Palace is pretty amazing, and we also got to venture into the gardens which are vast and beautiful and available for anyone to enter. Also, according to my sister-in-law who has been several times, it’s best to go in the spring when everything is in bloom. Makes sense! We did find an Irish pub called Pub O’Paris that’s in the town directly across from the Palace, which had Budweiser on draft… just sayin’.

Les Catacombs de Paris

Hands down, I thought touring the Catacombs was one of the coolest things we did on our most recent trip. Again, I recommend getting the tickets that allow you to skip the line because it gets long, fast! Plan for about 1.5-2 hours to go through, especially if you’re listening to the audio tour. The history behind the Catacombs and how they came to be is a lovely mixture of disgusting and fascinating – basically, there were too many traditional (i.e. burial) gravesites in the city of Paris that things like air quality, expiration dates of food, and public health were on the decline (gross). It snowballed into a BIG problem, so the catacombs were finally constructed underground as a means of reducing the risk of infection and sickness above ground. If real human bones being within a few feet of your grasp isn’t your thing, I get it, but I still encourage you to read up on the Catacombs and how they came to be – it really is an interesting story!

Musée de l’Armée + Napoleon’s Tomb

The Musée de l’Armée (Military Museum) houses one of the world’s largest collections of military artifacts – everything from weapons and armor to battle artifacts. It is a huge museum, so I’d say plan to spend a couple of hours. In my experience, this is a really great activity for the guys… Dan has been several times and always enjoys it! Like any museum, they also have special exhibits that rotate in and out. Following the museum, make your way over to Napoleon’s final resting place. The grandeur is truly incredible – total burial goals.

L’Atelier des Lumières

This was easily the most unique art exhibit I’ve ever seen. L’Atelier des Luminères is a warehouse-esque space that has been converted into one huge gallery, where different artists’ works are rotated in and out in the form of a projected, animated show of their most famous works. We saw the Gustav Klimt show and it was incredible! The experience is hard to explain… but I cannot recommend it enough!

Food to Eat

Ahhh yes, my favorite category of ANY travel guide. Like I mentioned before, Paris is renowned for its amazing cuisine. My favorite thing about the food is that everything tastes so fresh – the cheese, meats, and bread are top notch quality everywhere you go. And then there are the signature dishes like duck confit, steak & frites, escargot, and onion soup… have mercy. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of French food, you’re sure to find something you love in this diverse culinary hub.

First onion soup of the trip at Cafe de Flore.

Here are some of the restaurants we where we have dined (price points included!), as well as a few little hole-in-the-wall establishments that you should definitely add to your Paris bucket list:

  • Maison Blanche – $$$$ Definitely a splurge meal/experience. We had the tasting menu and it was amazing!
  • Café RUC – $$$ Dan’s all-time favorite onion soup is here! It’s a great corner sidewalk cafe. Also nice for a pit stop to grab a beer or glass of wine during your sightseeing, as it’s conveniently located near The Louvre and Palais-Royale. We will never not go here when we’re in town!
  • Café de Flore – $$$ Mentioned this above in my Notre-Dame recap… this and Le Deux Magots are both famous for having regular patrons like Julia Child, Picasso, Hemingway, etc. Tasty food too!
  • New Jawad – $$ Delicious, authentic Indian food. My in-laws go once a week and we had it TWICE while we were there a few weeks ago – it’s that good! If you’re looking for a night in, you can also order it to-go. We love the lentil soup and butter chicken.
  • La Fontaine de Mars – $$$ This is a quaint little spot near my in-laws’ apartment, so we popped in the first night for dinner. The duck confit was incredible, as was the floating island dessert. Would make for a great date night spot!
  • Fitzgerald – $$$ Great spot for a nightcap! Highly recommend sitting in the back “speakeasy” area. Wallpaper goals, fun music, and amazing craft cocktails – you can’t go wrong!
  • Le Dalí at Hotel Le Meurice – $$$$ One afternoon, my mother-in-law treated the girls to afternoon tea at Le Dali, a gorgeous gem located within Hotel Le Meurice. The architecture and decor are beautiful, and the tea and goodies that came with it were also delish!
  • Le Soufleé – $$ If you want a true Parisian soufleé, look no further than this quaint little restaurant. We went for lunch and I opted for both savory and sweet (though you could certainly just choose one or the other). Highly recommend the spinach and goat cheese and double chocolate soufleés!
  • Le Dôme Café – $$$$ We went here for Christmas Eve dinner. Again, this one is on the pricey/splurge side of the spectrum. We all did the tasting menu which was incredible – we had the option to choose between a main dish of curried lobster or venison. We also split the seafood tower – they are known for their seafood and for good reason! So fresh and delicious. Plus, the art deco vibes and Christmas decor were on. point.
  • Miznon – $$ I absolutely loved this little Israeli hole-in-the-wall in Marais. You MUST order the whole broccoli and/or cauliflower heads, which are par-boiled and then char-roasted and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. To die for. I wanted to try the falafel but they didn’t have it ready yet when we came in, so I opted for the lamb pita per my father-in-law’s recommendation. It was AMAZING, y’all. If you do visit, keep in mind that it’s a tiny place, so be prepared to either wait for a seat or grab your order to go! Lots of cute shops to explore nearby.
  • Grenouilles Paris – $$ The ham and cheese sandwich (or jambon-fromage) is a French staple for lunch or a snack. Dan is obsessed with them and ate one every morning during his college internship in Paris. This little spot is located right up a narrow side street behind Sacré-Cœur. The reason this sandwich is so incredible is hard to explain, but I’ll do my best. Picture a half a wheel of cheese, strapped into this contraption where the top layer is constantly being melted into ooey gooey deliciousness. When you order, they put thinly sliced ham on a fresh baguette and then SCRAPE THE MOLTEN CHEESE ON TOP and voila! It was truly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life. Order at the window, get a cup of wine and walk around Montmartre to check out the local art scene.
  • Moulin Rouge – $$$ Food might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the world famous Moulin Rouge, but I’m here to attest that the dinner-and-a-show option is pretty great. We started with champagne and then had a limited tasting menu (because it was New Year’s Eve). All of the food was delicious, and then all you have to do is sit back and settle in for one of the greatest performances you’ll ever watch!

Tips and Tricks:

  • You must try a jambon fromage (ham & cheese on a baguette) at some point during your visit. You can find them at most sidewalk cafes or patisseries. If you’re feeling extra, order a croque monsieur, which is like a grilled ham & cheese on steroids.
  • The tipping system in France is different than the US – the tip is included in the final bill. That said, when we had a great service experience, we would typically leave a few euros. This blog post by David Lebovitz is a great reference for how to tip in France!
  • If you’re in Paris during the holiday season, I recommend finding a Christmas market and getting some mulled wine. DELISH and perfect for a cold day of exploring!
  • The French (and most Europeans for that matter) eat dinner fairly late. It’s not atypical to have a dinner beginning at 9pm. You should also be prepared to stay for a while… the idea is to relax and enjoy the food, company, and conversation!
  • ‘Santé’ is French for ‘Cheers!’ – make eye contact and never clink your glass against someone else’s.
  • This might seem like common sense/decency… but greetings to waiters or other members of the service industry in France are crucial! Always begin with a salutation – Bonjour at breakfast/brunch/lunch, and Bonsoir at dinner.
  • If you happen to see a street vendor selling candied nuts… get a bag. You will not be disappointed.

Miscellaneous

Like I mentioned, we did quite a few other activities both in and outside Paris city limits… here is a quick overview of some favorites:

The entrance to the Veuve Clicquot caverns.
Display goals!
Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims

Reims: Champagne Country

If you have a free day, I highly recommend hopping on the train and making your way to Reims, France – the unofficial champagne capital of the world. There are a number of different houses you can visit and tour, but we chose to spend part of our day at Veuve Clicquot. We did the Steps of Madame Clicquot tour, which included a full history of the company (spoiler: Madame Clicquot was a total badass) and a tour of the caverns where the champagne is aged. Then we finished with a tasting of the classic Yellow Label and a Veuve vintage. If you go, make sure you stop by the boutique and get some goodies! Overall, I think this was my favorite activity of the whole trip, and now I’m making it my mission to go back and visit all of the other champagne houses one day!

THE ham and cheese sandwich.

Montemartre & Sacré-Cœur

Montemartre is an eclectic neighborhood about 20 minutes from the city center of Paris, located on top of a large hill. The focal point is a beautiful old basilica, Sacré-Cœur, which is still an active place of worship and also open to the public for tours. Back in the day, Montemartre was an artists’ village and home to masters like Picasso and Dali, among others. The art scene is still really vibrant – there is even a large square where artists set up their easels to do live paintings and have other works on display for sale. PS: This is the area where we had that AMAZING ham & cheese baguette I mentioned in the food section – look for a tiny cafe called Grenouilles Paris! The town itself is loaded with charm, with cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, parks, and colorful doors leading up to what I can only imagine are adorable little apartments. And again, the views can’t be beat. I highly recommend making the trip to check out this funky little area – but definitely wear flats or sneakers!

Talk about kitchen tile goals.. I was in blue & white HEAVEN.
So dreamy.

Monet’s Garden at Giverny

When I visited two summers ago, we made the trip out to Giverny. It’s a small village in the region of Normandy – about an hour north of Paris. It is mostly known for being home to Claude Monet. I highly recommend doing this in the spring or summer so you can see the gardens at their best and brightest. The ponds that inspired his water lilies series are there – it feels like you’re walking through a dream! You can also tour his home, which is so bright and colorful. I was ready to move in!

See a Show!

We took in a few performances while in Paris. We saw a comedy show called “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour,” starring Oliver Giraud. Having lived in the US for a few years, he is now back in his hometown of Paris where he wrote and stars in this one-man show. He took us through everything from how to order at a restaurant like a Parisian, how to ride the metro like a Parisian, how to act at a dance club like a Parisian, and so on and so forth. It was really hilarious and entertaining! We also saw the Nutcracker (a personal favorite of mine!) at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. But the pièce de résistance for me was the New Year’s Eve show at Moulin Rouge. It was truly incredible – the performers were insanely talented. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it!

Rue Cler

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is take a stroll down Rue Cler, one of the most famous market streets in the world. My in-laws live just a few blocks away, so it’s easy for us to pop over and explore all of the shops and booths that line the street. You can find everything from fresh produce, to delicious baked goods, artisan chocolates, artwork, clothing, and much much more.

Alright, friends… that’s going to HAVE to do it for me. If you’ve made it this far, I know this is a ton of information but I wanted to make sure and share with you everything we’ve been fortunate enough to experience. I sincerely hope this guide comes in handy, should you ever plan a trip! Paris has so much to offer and exploring such a beautiful and historic city is an experience like no other.

So tell me – have you ever been to Paris? Is it a bucket list city for you? Are there any fun things I should keep in mind for our next visit? Let me know in the comments below and as always, thank you for following along!

Cheers,

E

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