Paris draws over 80 million visitors every year. In order to be able to enjoy and experience Paris to the fullest, without becoming overwhelmed by the throngs of crowds and places to see, it’s important to go with a plan in mind. To help you in this process, I’ve gathered 12 things I wish someone had told me before I visited Paris.
1. Travel during the off-season.
It’s half the cost and half the crowds. This means less time spent waiting in line and more time enjoying the city. Take advantage of the lower costs and the stress-free environment by traveling during the fall or late winter/early spring months.
2. Make sure to stay at least a week.
With everything there is to see and do in both the city and surrounding area, you’ll want to stay at least one week, especially if it is your first time visiting.
3. Book your stay in one of the 20 arrondissements of Paris.
By staying in one of these neighborhoods, you will be close to most major attractions and able to travel around via bus, metro, or on foot.
4. Make a plan for the day… and a backup plan.
Know what you want to see before arriving in Paris. Make a list of places you want to visit each day, as well as a backup list. When I first visited Paris, it was towards the end of fall. I had a well-researched list of things to do each day, but because I thought the crowds and wait times were going to be much worse than they were, I ended up finishing my daily list of things to see long before the day was over. Consequently, I spent way too much time in my hotel room looking through a guidebook figuring out more places I wanted to check out. If I had had a backup list of things to do, I wouldn’t have had to open the guidebook at all while in Paris. And on the opposite end of that, if it’s taking you much longer to visit the sights you wanted to see, then start out by visiting the places that are on the top of your list so you won’t have to miss out on what you want to see most.
5. Skip the dinner cruise on the Seine.
A dinner cruise on the Seine sounded rather magical to this novice tourist, so I spent a few hundred Euros to experience this once in a lifetime occasion. And it was not worth it. The food on the cruise was nothing compared to the food found in the restaurants throughout Paris, and frankly, was long and somewhat boring. Instead, head to the Eiffel Tower at night, order a waffle from one of the stalls found below the tower, find a park bench, and watch as the Eiffel Tower twinkles at the top of the hour. It’s surreal.
6. On that note, skip the over-priced “fine dining” restaurants altogether.
When I was researching my trip to France, I became entirely overwhelmed by the cost of the restaurants I saw online. However, after spending time in the city itself, I realized that almost every block is full of restaurants that are affordable and delicious. Try checking out Sacree Flour, an affordable hole-in-the-wall steak restaurant that serves the most delicious steak you’ll ever have in your life (and this is coming from someone who has had a lot of steak!).
7. Keep in mind that a traditional French dinner is served with three courses.
The average restaurant serves your meal with an appetizer, an entrée and side, and dessert of your choice. Keep this in mind so you don’t snack on too many crepes throughout the day!
8. Make sure to visit Montmartre — but don’t spend all day there.
Montmartre has taken the internet by storm with all of the dreamy photos of coffee shops and boutiques located in the area. But in reality, it’s not much different from the rest of Paris and doesn’t have much to offer other than the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral. Set aside an hour or two to visit the cathedral and surrounding area, and then move on to what’s next on your list.
9. Don’t visit Versailles without taking a tour.
Just 45 minutes away by train, the city of Versailles is a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Take a morning or afternoon to explore the palace and surrounding gardens. Make sure to book a tour guide or an audio tour to gain a deeper knowledge of the palace. Both of these can be booked on sight for a fraction of the cost of booking through a travel company. After your tour, make sure to stroll around the picturesque village of Versailles, dine at one of the local restaurants, and visit the street markets which are just a few blocks down from the train station.
10. Spend a day at Disneyland Paris.
Many people don’t realize that there is a Disney park just a short train ride away from Paris. What sets this Disney park apart from others is the low wait times for rides, the castle that you can walk through, and the hot chocolate that is simply to die for. The park is small so it can easily be enjoyed in the morning and afternoon before heading back to the city for dinner. And make sure to note that the park often closes early, so don’t arrive too late.
11. Take your afternoon (or morning, or late night) tea at Laduree.
Located on the Champs Elysee, this tea room serves up freshly made macaroons and a variety of teas. Order a plate of mini macaroons (they aren’t all that mini and this gives you a chance to taste multiple flavors) and order a pot of their specialty Marie Antoinette tea.
12. Prepare yourself for the Louvre. Mentally and physically.
The Louvre is giant. Much bigger than I imagined. Wear comfortable shoes, make a list of everything you want to see and make sure to take a lunch break. You are going to want to set aside a full day to wander through the masterpieces found inside. However, a full day still isn’t enough time to admire all of the artwork. Consider choosing just one or two wings of the museum to cover, so you can fully experience all of the artwork found in that wing without overwhelming yourself. Take an audio tour so you can go at your own pace and choose which pieces of artwork you want to learn more about.
Along with each of these tips, make sure to add a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Nutella crepes with extra Nutella, and a morning trip to Notre Dame to your list. And if you run out of things to do, simply take a walk along the Seine until you spot something that piques your interest. Remember that creating the ideal Paris vacation starts with planning ahead, knowing what you want to see, and giving yourself time and space to enjoy.