Paris; the ‘City of Love’ is first on so many people’s European bucket list- and rightly so. It is arguably one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, and is just a short journey by train from London. But let me prepare you; being a tourist in Paris is not a task to be treated lightly, and is certainly not for the faint hearted or lazy. Amidst the splendour of lights, art exhibitions and architectural magnificence, you must be prepared to sweat on the subway, roll your eyes at food prices, and get very very lost.
So my message to you all about Paris is:
Be prepared, be smart, and for all the first time travellers out there;
do NOT start in Paris.
So here’s how our stay was in Paris as well as what you need to learn from it:
Paris was our first stop after London. There we had the blessing of family to give us a tour and hold our hands to ensure we walked the right way and saw the best sites. Paris however, was a massive step up. We knew no one, spoke not a word of French, and overall had no idea where to start. All of these things were a perfect recipe for getting lost amidst fabulous food and mesmerising architecture.
My main message to beginning travellers begins as this- Paris is massive. It’s a fast paced city with more things to do than you could possibly comprehend. It would be easy to spend months there and still not walk through every gallery or museum start to finish. You need to be prepared and have a plan. Know where you want to go, what you want to see, where things are on a map, and conquer each strategically. We were not prepared to say the least, and I would describe our time in Paris as a challenging fumble. There is no doubt we learnt as we went along, but if you really want to conquer Paris – don’t start your European adventure there. Wait until you’re in the swing of handling currency, navigating public transport systems, dealing with crowds of pushy Europeans, and prioritising how you spend your days. Hold off until you have visited a few smaller, and less confusing and dramatic destinations. Paris is not a warm up, it’s a main event.
Paris is a much larger city than we imagined. I had kind of pictured the Eiffel tower, surrounded by cafes and gardens, the Louvre not far from there, and an array of galleries along the road. WRONG. Paris is divided into twenty arrondisaments that act like neighbourhoods, the first is in the centre, and they spiral out and around like a snail until the twentieth. That’s TWENTY suburbs, from the overtly lavish and high-priced city centre to the cheaper but artistically quaint outskirts of Montmartre. All rolled in to the great almighty Paris. So my first piece of advice is:
#1 Get a metro map (and pass) and learn how to use it.
Like many European cities, half of it lies underground. Now no, its not beautiful, and you’ll want to hold onto your bags tight (pickpockets aren’t a myth), as well as have hand sanitiser very close by. But I assure you it is genius. An incredible number of train lines take you from one side of the city to another in a matter of minutes. I can guarantee you the metro will get you wherever you want to go in half the time and a tenth of the price of any taxi or Uber. Its much faster and much more efficient, which will allow you so much more time to explore the wonders that lie above ground. Buy a multi-day pass (Our three-day pass was 25 euro each), and keep a map in your pocket- it’s hard to go wrong.
Now for the good stuff – Food!
Its expensive. There’s no sugar coating it. This brings me to my second piece of advice:
#2 Eat smart and drink at happy hours.
Cocktails are almost half the price of Australian equivalents- at the right time. It’s acceptable to enjoy a beverage at every meal from breakfast. Generally from 3pm-10pm you’re guaranteed to find somewhere for a cheap refreshment with complimentary side of popcorn, pretzels, breads and dips or nuts. A standard happy hour price for cocktails is 5 euro, and 3-4 euro for beer– not bad right? The best (and most dangerous) part about drinking in Paris is that free pouring is standard procedure. Odds are you payed for one cocktail, but you’ve probably got enough alcohol to make up 2-3 standard Aussie drinks; so be careful and enjoy.
For meals, bakery breakfasts, lunches, and snacks are a must. You won’t be disappointed. If there’s one thing I can promise you, it’s that the array of quiches and pastries are phenomenal both by taste and variety. One of my favourite things to do for breakfast was to pop into a fruit market and pick some perfectly ripe delights. It’s cheap, healthy, and easy to eat on the go. One morning I got a bag of cherries for around 3 euro. In Aus, cherries might as well be like buying prawns. I was pretty chuffed. Baguettes are also a staple- and for 80c each! How could they not be? For an easy lunch grab a fresh baguette or croissant, and duck into a minimart for some ham and cheese or even a dip. There’s a sandwich ten times fresher than any café plate, for less than a quarter of the price.
Dinners are a little harder to do on a budget, but definitely are not impossible. For one, don’t eat in cafes and restaurants near major tourist attractions – they’re a rip off, and they’re average to say the least. Cheap meals mean stick to pizzas/ pastas/ risottos/ salads, because if you pick the ‘grilled chicken breast’ that’s all you’re getting – a piece of chicken. If you want anything with your chicken – some veggies or sauce – that’s going to cost you as much as the chicken. Cliché dishes are safer for people with budgets. Depending on how hungry you are and what atmosphere you’re after, it’s easy to get slices of pizza and wraps for about 3-4 euro each, which are delightful to eat in the park and even tastier when chased down with some gelato.
Also, a very simple tip I have that will make your wining and dining habits much more pleasant is:
#3 Speak their language.
One thing you’ll notice about Paris as opposed to other major tourist destinations is the overwhelming amount of locals. One of the things that made the city so beautiful to me was the authenticity of everyday life that buzzed the streets. Amongst the grand hotel buildings and thousands posing in front of their selfie sticks, are people working, living, and dining just as we would at home. The language is everywhere and they make it very clear that you’re visiting their home. So the least you can do is respect their culture by speaking a little of their language.
Now you needn’t be fluent or even so much as order meals in French, but a the following simple words and phrases go a long way and will grant you much kinder service:
“s'il vous plaît”
“désolé je ne parle pas français”
(sorry I don't speak French)
One thing we noticed about French people, and Parisians in particular is that they are very proud; and why wouldn’t they be? They live in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. French is a particularly elegant language and I could listen to it all day and not understand a word, but still enjoy it. The locals know this too and they love their language, so I suppose it’s natural to be offended if you sit down in their café and don’t even make an attempt. I promise you, learn a few bits and pieces and you’ll feel a lot more welcome when ordering your cappuccino and croissant.
Now my final tip for Paris is:
#4 Bike ride.
Little fact about me is that I hate bike riding. With a passion. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I just don’t like it – at all. However, we were advised that we HAD TO do a bike tour around Paris, so I swallowed my distaste and started pedalling. It’s one of the only tours we did over our entire trip; and I have no regrets. We went with a company called BikeAbout, which was suggested by a friend. Our tour guide was an American College Student who was born and raised in Paris and studied in the US. His knowledge of the history and navigation around the city couldn't be faulted, it was incredibly insightful and helped you to properly appreciate each little corner he took us to. I would highly recommend the company for anyone headed there, its a great first day in the city and was definitely worth the money.
Not only was the tour a great introduction to Paris, and helped us grasp our bearings a little more, but it showed me that it’s definitely the best way to get around the city centre once you’re in there. Like I said- it’s massive. There are countless tour companies that will be happy to guide you around the historical buildings, and show you all the cute knick-knack spots to sit and eat. There is also bike hire available everywhere. ‘City bikes’ are so easy too. You put some Euros into the machine, and off you go for a few hours cruising between the Eiffel tower, Louvre, and wherever else tickles your fancy. It’ll save you hours of walking, as there are literally kilometres between all the major sites- and its actually fun!
Riding around Paris on our bikeabout tour. I would strongly recommend: http://bikeabouttours.rezdy.com/
There you have it- my biggest pointers about Paris. If you can get these down-packed and prepare yourself for a very busy few days, you’ll never want to leave.
Lastly, my final opinion on Paris:
Despite it being the most challenging week of our entire trip to date, I definitely fell in love and cannot wait to return. It’s breathtaking to say the least. The city never seemed to sleep, and constantly screamed of elegance and inspiration. Ernhest Hemingway once wrote that “…there are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home, and in Paris.” I’ll give it to him - he might just be on the money. Despite the largest tourist population of all the cities in Europe I visited this summer, Paris had the ‘homiest happiness’. I don’t mean that I could smell home cooked meals, or see happy families at every corner having a picnic; but it did have such an immense sense of life and vivacity bursting from the seams. It felt less like the tourist capital of the world, and more like the capital of existence. A muse of a lifestyle – impossible to not smile thinking about it. Even more impossible to stop smiling once there.
The Louvre, Paris 2017
Courtyard surrounding the Louvre, Paris 2017
View from the Eiffel tower at sunset, Paris 2017
The Eiffel tower, Paris 2017
Montemarte, Paris 2017