Often, the hardest part of starting something is deciding where to begin. I can’t count the number of times I thought about which entry should be my first – how do you even begin to choose with so many diverse trips under your belt?

I was kicking the can down the road when an impromptu family trip to Paris and Barcelona popped up. It was my mom’s 60th birthday, and my parents’ first time to both cities. Our trip inspired me to write this entry on Paris 101. I had never been to my favorite city as a normal “first timer” or tourist, so to essentially squeeze Paris into a long weekend and prioritize what to do over everything I would do was Paris with a new set of eyes.

Paris is one of those cities you keep coming back to, and gets even better over time. I’ve been four times now, each trip so different. I studied there in 2007, went on a couples’ trip in 2015, made it a final stop on our RTW honeymoon in 2016, and just returned from our family trip last week.

In 2007, my days were filled with arts and culture, my weekends filled with trips around Europe. Everything left me in awe. I was studying abroad, a student with a diet of baguettes and pastries. My sister and brother came to visit me then. Fast forward 11 years, the three of us went back with our parents.

Our 3 days in Paris flew by. My parents loved it and were appreciative of how much they saw in a short amount of time. Being a tourist in Paris was exhausting (!), but I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with my family. It’s such a rarity for us to travel altogether. It was also really nice to revisit the parts of Paris that made me fall in love with it in the first place — the arts, the museums, the architecture, the history– and be reminded what it’s like to see Paris for the first time.


Paris 101: The Staples, The To Do

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Paris 101: The Eiffel Tower

When to Go: Paris is beautiful all year round, but warmer is always better. It’s easier to walk around, the gardens are in full bloom, the sunsets are better, not to mention the days are longer. We went the first week of February for my mom’s 60th birthday, and it was almost too cold to bear.

Where to Stay: AirBnB apartments all the way – it adds to the vibe of “feeling local.” As far as neighborhoods, it’s totally up to you, but I prefer the vicinities of Le Marais or Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We stayed in hotels by the Eiffel Tower this time around, which led me to actually visit the Eiffel Tower for a change, but I found it far from the neighborhoods I like to eat and walk around in. (Get $40 off your first booking)

How to Get Around: Uber! I usually opt to walk, but Uber is such a lifesaver, especially in the winter. It was way colder than we expected this time around, so hopping in an Uber to get from place to place was amazing. Since we were a group of 5, we had to call Uber Vans which were significantly more expensive than a regular car, but for those traveling in smaller groups, Uber Pool and UberX are available. On the plus side, Uber Vans were massive Mercedes with plush leather seats, and always stocked with water. (Get $5 off your first 4 rides)

The metro/RER is also very easy to navigate. If I weren’t with my parents, I probably would have opted to take public transportation for some of the longer hauls across the city.

What to See: There is so much to see. I had the luxury of taking an entire semester to go everywhere the first time around – to choose what to fit into 3 days was a challenge. I have to say, we did a pretty great job, but it was pretty exhausting!

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Musée de l’Orangerie

Museums: There’s a long list of museums in Paris. Decide which you want to visit, and make sure you check which days they are open.

  • The Louvre – Home to the Mona Lisa and art history heavyweights, a must for most visitors. Funny, when I lived in Paris, I didn’t go until my last week when my siblings came to visit. I preferred other museums at a more leisurely pace. Still, seeing the pieces you learned about in Art History, however crowded your surroundings, is pretty special.
  • Musée de l’Orangerie – one of my favorite museums. Located outside the Louvre in the Jardin des Tuileries, the museum houses an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The most famed, oval rooms of panoramic water lilies by Monet. It’s so special to sit in the presence of such masterpiece and feel the calm… Don’t forget to go downstairs to the beautifully curated collection of Cézanne, Matisse, Renoir, Rousseau, among others. So special, I highly recommend it.
  • Musée d’Orsay – this was my favorite museum as a student. The museum is filled with impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. I spent days in this museum – there is so much to see! Located across the seine from l’Orangerie.
  • Musée Rodin, Centre Pompidou, Hôtel des Invalides, and then some
  • Suhweet Scoop: We stood in an ungodly long line outside the Louvre, so long I contemplated coming back the next day. When we got inside, there was no line to buy tickets. Strange… when we asked for 5, we learned entrance was free! It turns out national museums are free the first Sunday of the month, talk about luck! No wonder the line was so long!
    • Tip: Look into discounted tickets and passes, each museum has its own set of rules (students, <26 yo, unemployed, seniors, hours, etc). I had an art history student pass in 2007, which was awesome. The Museum Pass is a good option if you plan to hit up a lot of museums.

Sites

  • Notre Dame – free to enter the cathedral, pay to go up the tower (entrance to the side). I’ve never gone up, but my sister recommended it for great views of Paris. Tip: don’t forget to go behind the cathedral to fully appreciate the gothic architecture and those flying buttresses!
  • Eiffel Tower – okay, can you believe this was my first time actually visiting the Eiffel? I mean, I walked by it once when I was a student, but this time I actually took a picture with the tower in the background. Pretty anti-climactic, but a must (for most). I think next time, I’ll challenge myself and go for a morning walk up the Eiffel. Tip: If you want that famous shot with the tower in the background, you need to cross the seine to Jardins du Trocadéro.
  • Arc de Triomphe – I don’t know why I love the Arc de Triomphe so much. I have fond memories of views from the top with my classmates, both during the day and at night. I prefer visiting at night when the lights are lit, which in my opinion bring out the details of the architecture. I recommend going to the top at night (or maybe sunset?) for stunning views. FYI: there is an underpass to get to the arc – don’t cross the street!
  • Sacré-Cœur – It’s tucked away in the northern part of the city, atop a hill. I hadn’t been back since 2007 and was reminded of how beautiful the church is, and how great the views are (though it was pretty overcast this time around). It’s a nice walk up the front stairs, and down through the side staircases – get lost in Montmarte, maybe even wander over to Pigalle.
    • With older parents and freezing weather, we opted to Uber to the top, and stop short of Pigalle. To be honest, it’s not a place I would go back to every time – it’s far, it’s pretty touristy, and there are other stairs I’d rather climb. But maybe I’ll wander through next time and see if I discover anything new…
  • Have more time? Go for a walk.
    • Jardin des Tuileries – outside the Louvre. Get dropped off at the Place de la Concorde and walk through the garden to get to the Louvre. It’s definitely nicer when it’s not winter. Seriously, this winter was so much colder than 2007.
      • Take a moment to admire the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, a gift to France from the Egyptians.
    • Palais Royal – across the street from the Louvre, and where everyone takes a picture on the black and white columns.
    • Jardin du Luxembourg – again, way nicer when it’s not winter 🙂
    • Get lost in neighborhoods: Le Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Montmarte
  • In the interest of time, I would cluster:
    • Eiffel Tower > Jardins du Trocadéro > Arc de Triomphe
      • Optional, cab down Champs Elysees to Jardin des Tuileries
    • Jardin des Tuileries, The Louvre > Palais Royal > NotreDame
    • Sacré-Cœur (Montmarte)

What to Eat: To each his or her own – for me, eating in Paris means rolling up my sleeves and eating pastries, baguettes, sandwiches, crepes, falafels, foie gras, and cheese; drinking espresso and wine; and having just one or two traditional French meals (duck, foie gras, bœuf bourguignon, cassoulet, french onion soup). I am not the biggest fan of traditional French food, so most of my food knowledge is in the former departments. My best piece of advice: don’t overthink it. There is nothing I’d rather avoid more than finding someone in the group hangry, or the group paralyzed by indecision. You really can’t go wrong. Dip into a bistro, get a glass of house wine, order the meat and cheese plate, or stand at the bar and have an espresso. Take it easy! It’s not life or death. You can eat more than once. You’re on vacation. Calories don’t count. 😉

Patisserie / Boulangerie: Literally, my bread and butter. I basically fly to Paris just to gorge on pastries. My go to’s: croissant, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, and almond croissants. Fruit tarts and eclairs if I’m feeling extra. Let your eyes and stomach guide you. Two absolutes:

  • Du Pain et des Idées I dream of you… I came across this boulangerie on my way home from a spin class, which happens to be one of Paris’ bests. It’s a little out of the way from the main tourist attractions, but if you find yourself near the train station it’s a quick 10-15 minute walk.
  • L’Éclair de Génie – The most beautiful éclairs in Paris, and widest array of flavors. I want to say about 5€+ each, but… well worth it. There are multiple locations, find the one nearest you!

The Best Crêpes: In 2007, I would have adamantly argued it was the “crêpe man,” as I so fondly called him, at the Porte d’Orléans tram stop. A quick tram ride down from my dorm. No frills, just a man making crêpes out of a window. Beurre-sucre, s’il vous plaît. (Note to self, go visit him next time. I wonder if he’s still there…) 

As of 2015, the man to see… oh man, do I want to share this one? Is Chez Alain Miam Miam. I mean… if you have a hankering for a good crêpe, or a bomb ass sandwich, he’s the guy. Oh my goodness, So good. I hear he’s blown up since then and lines can be very long, so I guess cat’s out of the bag on this one… Great place for lunch, super casual, option to take it on the go.

L’as Du FallafelAlso a must, an absolute staple. I go there every time I’m in Paris without fail. You might be thinking, what, falafel in Paris? No. Just go. This is hands down the best falafel in the world – better than NY, better than Israel (seriously). So…. yea. Go. Plus you get to walk through the “Jewish Quarter” which sits in Le Marais, one of my favorite neighborhoods to walk through! Great shopping, great food!

Other popular spots for first timers: Angelina, Ladurée

“Advanced” Eaters: Paris Part II

Shopping: No time to shop when you’re site seeing! Shopping is one of my favorite activities in Paris, so I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to go this time around, but stay tuned for some of my favorite places to shop. See Paris Part II.

Day Trips: Versailles. If you have the time, you should go. It’s a quick trip outside of Paris. It’s rich in history and beauty, and quite the city escape. It was closed the day we planned to go (Monday), but given it was winter and freezing, we were okay with that. While I’ve been to Versailles twice in milder winters, it’s definitely prettier when the weather is nicer and you can enjoy the outdoor grounds. As a student I also went to Reims and Châteaux de la Loire, but … I highly recommend Versailles.

Local Tips Learn the basics (Bonjour, bonsoir, merci, parlez-vous anglais?, où sont les toilettes?, pardon, s’il vous plaît, l’addition). Tap water is safe to drink. Tip is already included in your bill.

Travel Tips If you’re limited on time in a city like Paris where this is much to see and eat, I suggest mapping places of interest on Google Maps and organizing your days by arrondissement. For example, I planned our recent 3 days by sunset — though with uncooperative weather, these plans went out the window!


I’ll share more about what I would do in Paris Part II; dive into places we’ve eaten at, my favorite shopping, things to do at a more leisurely pace, etc. Stay tuned!

Next stop on our family adventure: Barcelona. Let’s just say, thank goodness it’s a city of siesta. Tranquillo! 


  • 2007: 1st Quarter / Winter / Study Abroad
  • 2015: 3 days / 9-Fall / Couples’ Trip / London, Morocco, Paris, Iceland
  • 2016: 3 days / 12-Fall / Honeymoon / Shanghai, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, India, Paris
  • 2018: 3 days / 2-Winter / Family Trip / Paris + Barcelona

2 comments on “Paris 101

  1. You make me want to go back to Paris! Great inside tips and loved your consideration of older folks. Looking forward to the recap of Barcelona!

  2. Pingback: Paris Part II – Real Travel Tips For Real Travelers

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