Oh my gosh… I don’t even know where to start with Paris. If you’ve already been, you’re probably not going to learn anything new here. (But feel free to stick around for the photos or to hear about my experience.) If you’ve never been but want to go, this is definitely for you.
Paris has been on my bucket list for years. I kept putting it off for a number of reasons, but the thought of planning the trip was a huge hurdle in my head. Paris is definitely one of those trips where you can spend months planning the *perfect* trip. There is just so much to see and do and eat. Not to mention there are countless day trips you can take from the city.
Coming from someone who is a terrible traveler (so much anxiety, y’all), I will say that Paris is an extremely friendly city for tourists. You do not have to be a travel pro to have an incredible time in Paris, and I appreciated that. If you can navigate New York City (even just basically), you’ll have zero problems navigating Paris.
In this post, I’m going to share some general tips and then break down where we stayed, ate, and went every day. I’m not sure that we made the days as efficient as possible, but I liked popping around on the Metro and not worrying about being somewhere specific at any given time.
Before I get into it though, I do want to touch on safety as that was my number one concern. First of all, everyone warns you about pickpockets. And with the highest terrorism alert, I was even more on edge. A terrorist attack can happen anywhere, and there’s not a lot you can do to control that. I had to keep repeating that to myself. You can, however, be smart about your traveling. Be with a friend, share your itinerary/contact information with family back home, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, don’t walk around with headphones in, etc. I will say that there was visible security pretty much everywhere. At first, it was kind of scary to see machine guns, but then it felt reassuring. I almost threw up when I saw two police officers in the bathroom in the airport with machine guns… and then realized that I’d much rather see them there than not!!! At one point, Carter and I were walking home from dinner at about 10:30… the sun had just barely set, so it was kind of dark. A drunk man started dancing/stumbling around us, and five police officers who were stationed on the corner PERKED UP and stood at attention. I swear they were ready to tackle the guy– or worse– if he took another step closer to us. I also think because there was so much security, we didn’t see as many pickpockets too. All things considered, I felt super safe.
Photos + video by Carter Fish
My overall tips:
– Know you’ll have to make a second trip! With so much to do, you’d basically have to move to Paris for a month or more to fit everything in. I kept having to remind myself that this was my first of many trips and I didn’t have to “do it all” right away. I wanted to cross of the basics on my first trip so I could say I did them and not feel like I missed out on a classic. I have a list in a note on my iPhone with everything we didn’t get the chance to do the first time around.
– Beware of the Instagram!!! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this, but don’t expect Paris to look like it does on Instagram. Well, it does, if you go in with the right attitude and stars in your eyes. This is a super touristy city, so expect to see tourists. And tour buses. And selfie sticks. Lots and lots of selfie sticks. There is a lot of beauty in Paris and I, at least, had no problem tuning it all out and only seeing the good. (I think the sheer number of tour buses was what got me the most!)
– Cross check opening times and days of museums, stores, and restaurants. As I built out the schedule for the trip, I referenced Google, the place’s website, and websites like Yelp/Trip Advisor to find out what was open when, what days it was closed, and when people found it to be the busiest. Especially if you’re only there for a few days, you won’t want to miss something because you didn’t realize it was closed on the one day it works for you.
– Buy a Paris Pass. This was recommended to me by so many readers and friends. I can’t recommend it enough. We had five days in Paris, and I knew what we’d be doing the first day, so the four-day pass made the most sense for us. It feels like a hefty price tag, but it was so worth it for us. Maybe not right down to the dollar (although if you take FULL advantage of everything it has to offer it would), but it saved us a ton of time which was valuable. It comes with access to pretty much all the museums, and you get to skip the lines. For example, I heard horror stories about the line for the Louvre, and we walked right in with absolutely zero minutes of waiting. It also has an unlimited pass for the Metro which we used multiple times a day.
– Use Uber and the Metro. The metro was amazing and easy to ride. I was a little apprehensive about it since it’s in a foreign country in a foreign language, but it’s easy to spot the entrances, and the stops are very clearly labeled. It runs just like the subway in NYC, but I found it to be a lot more pleasant. I also liked taking Ubers now and then. As opposed to being underground with the metro, I was able to take in even more sights in an Uber. And every driver we had was super nice and friendly. Not everyone spoke perfect English, but they all tried. (My favorite one who drove me to the airport wanted to practice his English with me which was fun.)
– Learn a few French phrases. In addition to the pickpockets, a lot of people had warned me that the French would be rude. I experienced only one rude person, and I was actually with my French friend at the time, and she snapped right back. (I kept my mouth shut and let them go at it, ha.) Everyone else was above and beyond nice, frankly. I feel like as long as you acknowledge the fact that you’re a tourist and give a good smile with an effort to say a few French phrases, you’re golden. One “bonjour” goes a long way!
– Pick two big things + one medium thing per day and keep a running list of “bonus” things. I think you can fit a LOT into one day in Paris. If you do too much though, you’ll run yourself so tired that you won’t be able to enjoy the rest of your time. I found that a good “pace” for touring was to plan two big things for the day (like visiting a museum) and then one medium thing (like swinging by an attraction). I’d fill in the rest of the time with a few smaller, bonus-y items (like visiting a cute shop or trying a coffee shop).
– Take a tour. The best thing we did was to take a bike tour of Paris. It was as touristy as it gets, but it was a great way to get the lay of the land. We did a night tour with Fat Tire Tours, and it also served as a great way to keep us up late so we could get on the right sleep schedule. (It does include a boat tour which was my least favorite part of the trip hands down, but the actual biking part was great.)
– Download Google Translate. I didn’t find this 100% necessary, but it was nice to have, especially when menus seemed very confusing. You can take a photo of words (even the entire menu) and use your finger to select words and Google will translate it. Such a game changer. Carter and I also found Googling the words, again with the menu items I must be hungry, and looking at the photos before deciding if it was something we’d want to eat or not.
– Don’t listen to everyone. This is going to be the hardest tip to follow. Everyone is going to give you amazing advice. (Including me!!!) Don’t listen to everyone. I found it almost too overwhelming to get (specific) recommendations from so many people. I think every corner of the city was noted as someone’s favorite at some point. The BEST part about going to Paris is that you are going to carve out your favorites and stumble on your special corners… so don’t worry too much about trying to follow everyone’s recommendations.
[Omg this is so long already, are you still with me?!]
Hotel: Hotel Providence (I did a longer review on why I loved it so much in this post.)
DAY ONE | THURSDAY
I took an overnight flight, leaving JFK at about 6:30 pm and landing at around 7:30 am local time the next day in Paris. I took an Uber to the hotel to drop off my bags. I walked around a little bit, got a cookie (from Lily of the Valley, so good), and ultimately sat down at a cafe and just had a coffee.
Carter arrived a few hours after me, and we dropped her bags off… and then just decided to wander around. It was a bank holiday and very hot, so we grabbed lunch at the first open place we found. I don’t know what it was about the plane ride, but all I wanted was a hamburger. (I know, I know, so American.) We grabbed burgers at H.A.N.D. Then we wandered over to the Palais Royal for coffees from Café Kitsuné. It was a tiny bit overrated, and an even tinier spot… but the cups were cute 😉
We were booked for a bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours at 6:15. I thought it was a four-hour thing, but it ended up being over five. Thank goodness we grabbed sandwiches at a tiny little cafe right by the meeting spot beforehand. (Parisian sandwiches on fresh baguette bread cannot be beaten.) The bike tour did stop for ice cream at Berthillon, which lived up to its hype. Maxie made me promise her that I would get a salted caramel scoop just for her and it was delicious!!!
The bike tour was as touristy as it gets but so worth it. We had a little technical difficulty getting started because someone’s bike broke. Once we got going though, I loved it. It was a great way to get around the city much quicker than walking and the tour guide gave us a great rundown of the history behind all of our stops. We saw all the big things, including the Eiffel Tower’s light show!
After the bike tour, we were a) feeling the time difference and b) famished. One restaurant on our hotel’s block was open, and we popped in for giant plates of homemade pasta.
DAY TWO | FRIDAY
We got up at a relatively good time (surprisingly) but opted to order croissants and espresso to the room. This turned into a delicious habit every morning. They were so good and always the first thing we thought of when we woke up.
We did some more walking and wandering, which I think is the absolute way to get to know Paris. We ended up at Ladurée where we just had to stop for macarons and a little bit of window shopping.
My friend Daphné lives in Paris and got together for lunch. I love her so much and think she’s like my French twin. We had a very French lunch at Le Pantruche followed by a short walk to Montmartre. Daphné was a great guide and was showing us the cutest streets along the way. We hiked up to Sacré-Cœur, grabbed gelato to cool off, saw the insta-famous La Maison Rose, and swung by the “I Love You Wall.”
After we sadly sad goodbye to Daphné, Carter and I made our way down to Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s so pretty– and expansive– in person. You could spend a full day there just relaxing, to be honest. I loved that the locals were playing tennis, kids were walking home from school, and babies were playing in the grass. We had a delicious steak frites at Moustache.
DAY THREE | SATURDAY
First on our list for Saturday was to go to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This is a pretty small museum, but it’s 100% worth visiting. They have two rooms set up with a series of Monet’s Water Lillies. I have no words for how stunning these rooms are. The paintings brought tears to my eyes honestly.
Our hotel had a book called The New Paris, and we took notes on the recommendations. We went to one of the restaurants in it called Le 52. This was one of my absolute favorite meals of the trip! Sooooo delicious.
After lunch we went shopping at Sézane. This store was at the very top of my list of places where I wanted to go. It’s kind of like a French Madewell. I think because it was a Saturday, it was insanely crowded and I only got a couple of little things for my mom and sister. I didn’t want to bother trying anything on.
It was SO hot that we went back to the hotel to freshen up. Swung by a restaurant near the hotel for a quick meal… and then went to my favorite part of the whole trip. We climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was the most fantastic view of the city. I could have stayed up there for the full five days of the trip! The reviews online made it seem like it’d be a treacherous climb, but it was ridiculously easy. I thought it was going to take an hour based on the reviews, but we were up in under 10 minutes. Try to time it for sunset if you can!! Everything starts to glow!
DAY FOUR | SUNDAY
We woke up “early” on Sunday and went straight back to the Palais Royal to take photos before it got too crowded and then grabbed breakfast right around the corner at Le Nemours. (Carter got the Croque Madame, and I was so jealous that I didn’t order it!)
Then we did the Louvre. A lot of people said to skip it, but I honestly loved it. Seeing the Mona Lisa is an experience. The people watching is insane. If you do go to the Louvre, I highly recommend going to the Apollo Gallery. It’s STUNNING and blew me away. We did a little bit of exploring but opted not to spend too much time there.
After quick ham and cheese sandwiches (I want one right now), we made our way to Musée d’Orsay. I loved this museum and there’s so much to see. Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, etc.
Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower for a picnic from Paris Picnic. Now, I loved seeing the Eiffel tower popping up from a distance, but seeing it up close during the day was incredible as well. It was much smaller than I imagined it would be but much more intricate looking. We were worried about the picnic because it was over 90 degrees, but we found a shady spot in a quiet park and enjoyed the view. (And the cheese.)
Because this was such a “big” day, we opted for dinner at our hotel. It was in the top three of my favorite meals! Highly recommend going to the restaurant in Hotel Providence even if you don’t end up staying there.
DAY FIVE | MONDAY
At the recommendation of friends, readers, books, and the hotel, we went to breakfast at Holybelly. It’s an Australian-run restaurant and ridiculously delicious. I got the savory pancakes. You have to go if you go to Paris. The line moved quickly for us, and I think they opened up a bigger location down the street since we went.
After breakfast, we decided to go to two spots that we had seen on Instagram. Both were overrated and not worth it in the end. However, it was kind of fun to get on the metro and explore new neighborhoods that we otherwise wouldn’t have explored. The first spot was the Coulée verte René-Dumont which is like the High Line in NYC and the second was Rue Crémieux, a block of colorful houses. I’m glad we went to both, but I wouldn’t go again or put it on your short list of visiting. We did go to East Mama for delicious pizzas and popped into Monoprix down the block.
We went down to the Hermes near Champs Elysees because it was the only location that had the color bangle I wanted. It was the perfect souvenir.
Then we went back to Jardin du Luxembourg because we loved it so much! We spent some time just sitting and relaxing… and enjoying Nutella crepes!
At the recommendation of Daphné, we went to Bouillon Chartier for dinner. It was my number one favorite meal of the trip. First, it’s such an experience. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Paris and has huge vaulted ceilings. The whole place has a great vibe. I had escargot (so good) and steak frites again followed by a cream puff ice cream dessert! It was the perfect way to end the whole trip!