I've had the pleasure of visiting Paris, France twice in my life. The first time was during my four-month backpacking adventure through Europe right after college. I had very little money to spend and was a little tired of traveling at that point. Because of these factors, I wasn't blown away by the famous Paris. It was nice, but not worth the the crazy amounts of hype it gets. The second time I visited Paris was with my husband and brother on a quick getaway from my brother's house in Germany. On this second trip, I had money and a passion for cheese and pastries. It had been five years since visiting, and I saw the city through a new lens. This time, I got the hype. I'm now a big fan of Paris and highly recommend stopping by, at least for a few days. What I learned on both trips was that you can experience a lot of Paris with or without money, or during a hot summer or cold, rainy winter.
Here's a video I put together of our most recent trip to Paris.
Below are a few recommendations for having a pleasant experience in Paris. They're pretty basic, but essential.
1. Stay in an AirBnB or Couchsurf.
I know, I know. This is my recommendation for pretty much every city you visit. But Paris is especially important to experience those tiny apartments. Plus, you'll be more likely to wander a new part of the city and discover hole-in-the-wall cafes. On my first visit to Paris, I stayed with a couchsurfing host whose living room had a wall stacked with snake cages filled with...(you guessed it!) SNAKES. To quote Indiana Jones, "I hate snakes, Jock! I hate 'em!" I'm not suggesting you do this, but my point is that I got to meet and dine with new, interesting Parisians. I skipped the snakes on my second trip and stayed at an AirBnB near a canal and it was picturesque.
2. Don't waste your time going up the Eiffel Tower.
Yes, it's probably essential that you at least view the Eiffel Tower in person, but the wait to go to the top can be 3+ hours. If this is something you've been dreaming about for years, don't let me stop you. But I've thoroughly enjoyed my experiences of sitting in the field or on a bench right in front of the tower. Both times I bought a cheap bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese and had a picnic. The first time was a bit more magical because when I was there in December 2017, there were quite a few police officers with large guns patrolling the area. They were actually in every touristy area of the city, including the train station and Sacré-Cœur. I understand why Paris has increased security in the past few years, but it does make the experience a little less romantic.
3. OMG the pastries yassss!
During my first trip to Paris, I decided to use my spending money in the city on a tour of the Catacombs (it was very cool, you should do it) and gave myself permission to buy one, single pastry. It was good but I think I chose it for the colors versus the taste. When I went back to Paris, I set aside a large chunk of cash to use on food. That was the wisest decision I made the whole trip. We spent entire days going from patisserie to patisserie, trying every kind of pastry we could. My favorites were a chocolate eclair and a basic croissant.
4. Do walking tours.
Again, I know I recommend this for everywhere, but Sandeman's offers a solid free walking tour of Paris. I always schedule these tours at the beginning of my stay in a city because you get a great overview of the history and can ask your guide for suggestions on what to do or where to eat. You'll also likely be tired of walking toward the end of your stay, so do the tour when you're still fresh. When I go back again, I'd like to do some of their other tours, including the Latin Quarter and Versailles. At the end of our walking tour, we were even able to buy discounted tickets to the Catacombs from our guide. Score!
5. Get lost.
Please leave the tourist and attraction areas. Like, stop in the areas, look, take a photo, and then leave. Paris is big and winding and full of very interesting people. I think my second favorite part of visiting Paris, other than the food (obviously), was just walking down random streets without any idea of where I was going. I see so many little moments amongst real Parisians this way. It's quiet and beautiful and it feels like you could imagine yourself in some whimsical indie film. I honestly don't do many, if any, paid attractions when I travel. Museums and cathedrals bore me. Walking and getting lost is my ideal way to spend time in new cities.