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Paris, France: The Ultimate Travel Guide

The city of love, the home of many famous writers and artists through the ages, and the birthplace of “the revolution,” Paris is a city that instantly perks up the ears of anyone listening and inspires images of elegantly dressed women smoking cigarettes, à la Coco Chanel, passionate lovers, fashion atéliers, romantic walks along the seine with violins in the background (all realistic images, of course), and immaculate 3-course meals – always served with wine. 

While the Paris you see today likely won’t match all of the images and expectations you have from very romanticized portrayals of the famous city over the years, Paris is still filled with people who love her dearly, fantastic art in all of her museums, delicious food (if you can afford it), and a coquettish charm that tells you a lady never reveals all her secrets. 

What to eat

Escargot – Snails! These really aren’t much of a meal since they come in smaller portions and are not filling, but if you want to try them, this is a good place to do it. If you like mussels, they taste kind of similar but have more a “meat” taste and less of a “fishy” taste in comparison with mussels. 

Baguettes – I mean, duh. Baguettes are fresh-baked every day in every Boulangerie (bakery) in Paris and are not only delicious but extremely affordable! Do your self a favor and buy a fresh baguette in the morning from your nearest boulangerie. 

Souflée – This is another traditional French dessert. These are actually really hard to make and are delicious! They look somewhat like a muffin or cupcake but have been rising in the oven to light, airy, and soft perfection. The outside is soft and lightweight while the inside tends to be more gooey and/or liquidy. Soufflées can also be made savory if you’re not a dessert person!

Macarons – This meringue-based treat melts in your mouth and can come in SO many different flavors. Ladurée is one of the most highly-recommended places to get some, although some people prefer Pierre Hermé.

Crêpes – There are several places that sell customizable crêpes, but one of the most popular places is Au P’tit Grec. You can choose toppings and make it sweet or savory. This is a great cheaper meal option and is absolutely delicious!

Crème Brûlée– I am a BIG fan of crème brûlée and dessert in general. This is a creamy, sweet custard French dessert with a crisp, thin sugar crust on top that has been blowtorched. 

French Onion Soup – This is nothing particularly fancy and is a simple French dish, but it is one that they are known for and has been a classic in their cuisine for a long time. It’s very warm and comforting, the kind of soup you’d imagine your mom making to help you feel better as a kid. 

What to do

Eiffel Tower – The Iron Lady is obviously always a huge hit for anyone visiting Paris. We didn’t climb up because you can get a great view of the city from Sacré Coeur for free and it just didn’t fit into our budget. Instead, we had a picnic on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. I definitely recommend going at sunset and watching the tower light up as it gets dark!

Musée de l’Orangerie – This is the museum that houses Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. It is a pretty small museum compared to most of the big-name ones in Paris, but if you are a fan of impressionist works, you should visit. Otherwise, this museum may not make your list.

Musée de Louvre – This is also another that people don’t tend to skip while in Paris! I really thought I wouldn’t like the Louvre because it is the biggest and most touristy museum in Paris, but I actually loved it. They do have the Mona Lisa but be warned that the line is long and you will stand in a pushy and sweaty crowd trying to get a view once you’re in the room. For us, the highlight was seeing the original stele engraved with the Code of Hammurabi. The Louvre is HUGE! We spent five hours there and still didn’t see everything. I definitely recommend their audioguide, which is a Nintendo 4DS and has tons of audio to listen to while you walk around. 

Jardin des Tuileries – This is the central garden/park that is next to the Louvre and contains the Musée de l’Orangerie. I saw recommendations to picnic in this park, but there was very little green lawn-type space and it always seemed to be busy with just about all of the seats on benches taken!  

Sainte-Chapelle – This stunning gothic chapel was part of the medieval Palais-de-la-cité, which was the royal residence until the 14th century. Stunning really is the right word for this place. I have never seen such beautifully intricate and mesmerizing stained glass. It’s a sight you have to see with your own eyes. 

Musée d’Orsay – The Musée de’Orsay is in a building that used to be a train station which you can see from the interior structure. They have a wonderful collection of art, including Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait. 

The Seine – The famous Seine river of Paris is still a prominent spot for Parisians of all ages (and tourists) to picnic on the banks, or take a stroll. Notre Dame is visible from the banks, and is usually a must-visit, but is still under construction after the fire earlier this year. 

Catacombes – The catacombs of Paris are a surprisingly fascinating site to visit. The lines are always long but shortest towards the end of the day. Get there around 5:30 if you want the shortest wait (while still being let in before they close). The average wait at that time is 1 1/2 to 2 hours, while it’s closer to 4 hours during the day. If you have the money in your budget you can buy express tickets online, but they are twice the price of regular ticketes. 

Sacré Coeur and Montmartre – The Basilica that sits on top of the hill known as Montmartre is not only a beautiful structure but also offers an expansive view of the city of Paris. The surrounding area (the neighborhood Montmartre) was once a rough and poor neighborhood which became the “artist’s quarter” where many young, now famous, painters would spend their days working.

Arc de Triomphe – This infamous, grand arch that sits at the top of the shopping boulevard Champs Élysées is a great site to take a look at as you walk around Paris. If you’re so inclined, you can even pay to go up and get a view down the Champs Élysées before heading down it yourself to get some macarons from Ladurée. 

Versailles – The famous palace on the outskirts of Paris is a sight to behold. It is famed for its grandeur and size, its “hall of mirrors” and the scandalous court that resided there during the times of the monarchy. You’ll have to take a train to get there, but if you’ve never seen a palace before, it’s absolutely worth it. Be prepared for crowds and to do a lot of walking!

Tips

Be prepared to use the metro! Paris is a large city. Walking can definitely be doable, especially if you enjoy walking, but it is much harder if you are not accustomed to walking OR if you happen to visit during a heatwave as we did! Even if you do a lot of walking, there will be some sights, that will likely be quite far (like Sacré Coeur) that may require metro. 

Try to avoid going during hot weather. I speak from experience. Intense heat is not fun anywhere, but in a large city that has virtually no air-conditioning anywhere, heat is not your friend! Whether you walk or take the metro, you will be miserable! Luckily, most years, Paris has slightly cooler temperatures than some other European cities (I’m looking at you, Rome).

Utilize fresh-baked 1 euro baguettes and grocery stores to keep your meals cheaper. This is the easiest way to keep your food expenses down! Baguettes are incredibly cheap and SO good in Paris. When else will you have the chance to have a fresh-baked baguette?

Crêpes are also a great way to eat on a budget! You’ll have to walk and eat or sit on the edge of the sidewalk somewhere, but it will definitely save you money compared to a standard 3-course Parisian meal in a restaurant.

Greet Parisians in French. The French have great pride in their culture and language. Contrary to popular opinion, many can and will speak in English with you, but they greatly appreciate it if you make an effort in French. If you really don’t know French, learning “bonjour” for hello, “merci” for thank you and maybe even “Parlez-vous Anglais?”  (do you speak English?), will go a long way to make you well-received by the Parisians.

For free water, ask for a “carafe d’eau.” This is a pitcher of tap water, generally, that is free and safe to drink! Most European countries don’t have the option of free water so appreciate it while you can!

If you are an EU citizen, bring your ID to get into museums for free. Double-check before you go, but in my experience, nearly all of the museums offer free entrance to EU citizens between ages 18-25. Some, like the Catacombes, just offer a discount.

Budgeting

We spent $748 for two people over 6 full days and 2 travel days in Paris. 

If you count us as being in Paris for 7 days (every day that we woke up in Paris), this averages out to about $107 per day, and $53.5 per person, per day.

If you eat picnic lunches and cheaper items like crêpes and only eat out for dinner, you can definitely keep the cost down like we did. The more you eat at sit-down restaraunts, the more you will spend!

*Note: I am an EU citizen and got into most museums free. If I was not, our museum expenses would have been quite a bit larger. 

Breakdown:

Museums/Sites: $123    (Louvre, Orsay, Orangerie, Rodin, Versailles, Sainte-Chapelle, Catacombes,                                               and Atelier des Lumieres temporary exhibit)

Food: $510

Transport to/from airport: $34

Roundtrip train to Versailles: $22

32 Metro tickets: $59

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