Congratulations! Or more appropriately, Felicitations, (French for congrats) seems only fitting now that you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and visit Paris. I know, you’ve probably toyed with the idea for a very long time, even procrastinated over it, but now you have decided, and the research begins. In theory at least. Because whilst you have the best of intentions to book, plan and research, you find yourself once more procrastinating over dreamy photos, Instagram feeds and blogs about Paris. Do you feel overwhelmed yet? The talk of arrondissments, the word ‘rue’ that keeps appearing, which hotel to book, how to get tickets, where to eat and how to avoid all those scams you’ve heard about, leaves you feeling more confused than before you started researching. It’s ok, in the beginning I did too, but with four trips under my belt (3 I did as a solo female traveller), I can help you. In fact, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and try to cover everything. I’ll make this really simple for you, here are my top seven Must Not Miss things to do when visiting Paris. So much so, that I still repeat them each and every time that I visit. Before I share these suggestions, an important Disclaimer: I am not sponsored or paid to suggest any of the mentioned experiences or companies.
- Book a 2CV Tour In A 1982 Citroen Convertible with Cedric’s Paris
This experience is undoubtedly the best euro that I’ve spent every single time.
What to expect: Your guide Cedric is not only a born and bred Parisian who speaks fluent English, but he was also a Firefighter until recently. Consequently, this has meant that he has insiders knowledge of so many streets and hidden areas of Paris, something that most people wouldn’t be familiar with. You will be collected from any location in central Paris, either in the very early hours of the morning to avoid Parisian traffic (which is a nightmare), or a night tour. Imagine driving through the streets of Paris, drinking champagne, the convertibles roof is down, and being introduced to the city in a unique way that brings the guide books to life. This experience truly is a Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris like experience. Make sure you cross reference my glowing recommendation on TripAdvisor, which testifies to how good a tour with Cedric really is.
2. Chateau de Versailles (Palace of Versailles)
I booked the half day semi-private tour all four times in the last two years, (this is no longer listed on the company’s website, but is still available if you email the tour operator and ask specifically for a half day tour which can be either morning or afternoon.
What to Expect: A driver picks you up from your hotel in a mini van, the group has never been more than 10 people (at least not the 4 times that I booked this tour). The best part is you skip the very long line. I promise you, if you want to maximise the enjoyment of a trip to Paris, pay the extra and save yourself the hassle of lining up for 2-3 hours in a queue. You didn’t fly half way across the world to waste 3 hours waiting for tickets. Do it all from home before you leave, it will allow for a more enjoyable experience all round. Touring the Palace is an experience not to be missed. Truthfully, I’m no history buff, but the novelty of standing in the very room where the peace treaty of Versailles which ended World War 1 by the Germans and Allies, is rather special. If the sentiment of standing on hallowed ground doesn’t impress you, I promise you the opulence and grandeur of the Hall of Mirror will. Gold, chandeliers, crystal, gold, crystal, did I mention gold? I think you get my drift. The moment you walk through this room, be prepared to meet your inner paparazzi persona, just remember, no flash photography is permitted.
To help you plan this one, I’ve always used a Parisian Tour company called Mans Touch. You’ll end up corresponding with the operator named Larry, don’t mind his short abrupt email manner, I’ve always found him reliable. http://manstouch.com/versailles.html
3. High Tea at Four Seasons George V
Granted, you are in the mecca of pastries and cream, so there is a plethora of wonderful options available for a decadent afternoon tea. That being said, George V (located close to the Champs Elysees) is synonymous with old world Parisian sophistication and charm, and offers a high tea in a setting that begs belief.
What to expect: A pianist that transports you to Great Gatsby glamour, whilst sipping tea and widening your waist on delectable treats. Yet, it is the setting within La Galerie where this is served that will impress upon your senses. Tip, dress with a sense of occasion, not only are you in Paris, but you may just rub shoulders with royalty or celebrities here. That being said, I did no find the experience to be pretentious, if anything it was professional. You can pre-book this by phoning the operator ahead of time, or arrange for your hotel concierge to organise it for you. If the cost of 59euro per person is too steep, substitute the experience for the renowned Angelina or Laduree. Both absolutely stunning patisseries, that are iconically Parisian. Here’s a tip, you simply must at least once share a hot chocolate with someone. French hot chocolate is pure melted chocolate poured into milk, and incredibly rich. To order, it will be on the menu as chocolat chaud (chaud meaning hot. Pronounced show, the ‘d’ is silent).
Links for ease of planning: http://www.fourseasons.com/paris/dining/lounges/la_galerie/
http://www.angelina-paris.fr/fr/ Angelina Patisserie
https://www.laduree.com Laduree Patisserie
4. Stroll Through Jardin Palais Royal (Palais Royal Gardens)
In a bustling city, teeming with tourists and incessant wail of police sirens, the Palais Royal gardens is an oasis of tranquillity and French charm. Located in the first arrondissment (arrondissment, simply put means district, or suburb, depending on what part of the world you’re from).
What to Expect: Peace. Beauty. Open Space. Minimal Crowds. Oh, and of course the very Instagrammable, and famous monochrome Colonnes de Burens. Also, a personal favourite, and serving coffee very similar to Australian style, is café Kitsune located in this precinct, along with many high end designer boutiques. The shops are lined on the perimeter, with the garden on the inside of this square. Grab a baguette from one of the many boulangeries (bakery that is) along the way, and indulge in top class people watching, as you simply sit, eat, read a book etc in this beautiful garden.
5. Eiffel Tower with Crepes
Controversial perhaps, but after endless visits to the Eiffel Tower, and having seen her from all different vantage points, including from having caught the elevator up to the second floor, I prefer to view her from a distance. Here’s why, when I think of Paris I imagine her with the Tower in sight. If it’s your first time, absolutely make the ascent via stairs or elevator up, but I now prefer to buy an authentic, freshly cooked on the spot crepe from across the street vendor located near the Tower. I then sit on the bench along the River Seine, right near the carousel and look at the Tower. Better still, is the views from the Trocadero. That being said, scams around this area specifically targeting tourists are harmless, but extremely annoying, and be careful of pick pockets. I suggest you read my other bog post dedicated specifically to what scams to watch out for and how they work. Like I’ve said, I have visited Paris four times, and never once been successfully pick pocketed, because I knew what to look out for and what to do. You can too.
6. Bon Marche Shopping Centre
Controversial once again, because in a city so rich in art, architecture and history, one would think surely shopping is shopping, and can be done back home. So bearing in mind that I’m from Australia (our shopping is substandard compared to the US and Europe), I’m going to say that shopping in Paris is unlike shopping anywhere else. It really is an experience, even if you don’t consider yourself a shopper, (my husband can testify to that. He wanted to buy so much and he’s not even a shopper). The selection of bespoke candles, perfumes, clothing bags, home décor, perhaps even a unique souvenir like an artisan hand made parasole (umbrella, depending on what part of the world you’re from) are unlike anything else I’ve seen when travelling the world. The design and craftsmanship of the merchandise, combined with the lavish interiors of the shopping centres make for a unique experience.
What to expect: Many tourists flock to either Printemps or Galleries Lafayette, but after having visited all three, I much prefer Le Bon Marche, located in the 7th arrondissment. It is less busy, and it’s where you’ll find the locals. This is always a good sign. It is also the oldest Parisian department store, and located just across the street is Le Bon Marche Epicierie, solely dedicated to gourmet food and cuisine. Pre-packaged items to buy and take home are both unique and that extra bit special from this store.
http://www.lebonmarche.com/en.html Fashion, Home Décor etc
http://www.lagrandeepicerie.com/ Gourmet Food Groceries
7. Le Louvre
Choosing point 7 was difficult. Paris (thus far) is my favourite city in the world. There’s not much I haven’t seen, eaten and experienced in Paris, this made point 7 all the more challenging. Muse D’orsay is incredible, the likes of smaller and quaint art galleries like Rodin are also a must, but I mention Le Louvre, because how could a person possibly visit Paris for the first time and not poke your head into this iconic monument. Home to a wealth of history, and one of the world’s most talked about paintings, The Mona Lisa, it seems almost blasphemous to not stop here. But I’ll be honest, art can only hold my attention for about 90 minutes. So here’s how I made Le Louvre mean more than lifeless paintings that are precious to look at.
What to expect: Begin by walking around the exterior iconic glassed pyramids. Enjoy the surrounds, its open, spacious, and stately, but go late in the afternoon/early evening, or first thing in the morning). Be mindful of pick-pockets at this location again, (don’t forget to read my post on scams). Now you’ll want to pay attention to this part, this is good. Reduce your wait time, don’t queue at this main entrance for tickets. Instead, google map how to walk to Le Louvre CAROUSEL entrance. It’s located on a side street, and will allow you to short cut the bulk of the tourist queues. Once inside, head to the section that says Billet (French for Ticket), here you can buy the admission tickets.
When finished, I always buy typical French souvenirs from stores within Le Louvre. Of all the places in Paris, the souvenirs found here are the least garish, and the prettiest I’ve found (and I’ve been all over). Lastly, a visit to Maison Mariage Feres, located within the shopping section of Le Louvre is a perfect place to refuel for lunch or afternoon tea. It’s a traditional tea salon, and if you’re a tea lover this place is incredible. Good news if you’re Australian, our border protection does allow us to buy tea from here and bring it back to Australia. Just make sure you declare it for precaution.
Please note, I am not suggesting that this is a complete list of what is fabulous to see and do in Paris. Rather it is my personal favourite (among many favourites). These have made my top 7 based on how the experience left me feeling. And if you know me, it’s all about how something makes me feel that determines value.
Enjoy. I hoped this helped.
Be sure to read all my other posts on Paris, especially how to get the Tourist refund tax back. Who doesn’t want more money, right?!
Safe travels, and please don’t forget to email subscribe (it’s free and easy), or leave me a like or comment, so I know you value the content.