Ah, the city of love. Paris is the second most popular tourist destination in Europe (behind London, England). The whimsy, the lights, the history, the culture…Paris is easy to romanticize and for good reason. If you do this city right, it will live up to all expectations. Read on for my travel guide to Paris – the best sights, experiences and eats.
Paris for Noobs
If I’m being 100% honest, it took several visits to Paris before I fell in love with it. Part of this was because of the many tourist attractions we have been brainwashed into thinking are the ultimate examples of French culture. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage everyone to visit the famous locations such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre (to catch a glimpse of famous art like the Mona Lisa), and the Luxembourg Gardens, but I challenge you to avoid confining yourself to the tourist zones. You typically get a fairly accurate idea what to expect from these sites, but here’s a quick run down on two of the most popular things for first-timers to do in Paris; Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
The historic cathedral is well-worth a visit, whether you consider yourself a frequenter of holy places or not. Towering arches, stained glass, and a gorgeous view from the top make this cathedral famous.The air is heavy with history, but Notre Dame is still in use today which creates a blend of old and new. The cathedral has also been featured in several pieces of notable literature including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Note: the hike to the top of the cathedral is rather steep and takes some stamina, so make sure your reusable water bottle is full before you go! It can also be really windy up there so hold on to your hat.
The most famous landmark in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is just as impressive as you’d imagine. I highly recommend braving the stairs for your journey to the top (it’ll help you feel better about all the French pastries you’ve eaten). The views are incredible and you can check the Eiffel Tower photos off your list. Skip the expensive cafe treats once you’re up at the viewing area and wait to grab a bite at a cafe on one of the nearby streets. Better view and cheaper prices! One warning: the area under the Tower is often flocked by aggressive souvenir street salesman, especially in the evening. They are tricky, pushy, and can be pretty nasty so aim to move quickly through that area if possible.
Shakespeare and Co.:
After your visit to Notre Dame, hop down the street to this cozy bookstore. Shakespeare and Co. is a Parisian fixture and has been in business since 1919. Ernest Hemingway often frequented this bookshop and would even spend the night in the upstairs loft. Bookshelves are built in to every nook and cranny of the winding wallspace, famous quotes are painted onto walls and staircases, and a typewriter sits ready and waiting for visitors to leave their mark on the shop. Pure magic.
The crown jewel of Opera houses everywhere, Palais Garnier began construction in 1861 and was completed almost 15 years later in 1975. At the time it was more a venue for social power and wealth than opera. This is immediately evident from the opulent architecture and detail. Palais Garnier was also the inspiration for the famous story of the Phantom of the Opera. There is an amazing balance of art, history and architecture here that’s sucks you in to the glamour and romance of the past.
Classical Concert at Sainte-Chapelle:
So I’ll be honest, I’m by no means an expert in classical music. I have limited knowledge, but a vast appreciation for music in general. Even the classically uneducated will enjoy some Vivaldi and Bach at Sainte-Chapelle. A performance in a space that carries the prestige and emotion of Sainte-Chapelle will move you. I might not have understood the technical aspects of the performance, but I felt every note they played. An absolutely beautiful experience.
Eats and Drinks
If you’re looking for a special evening out, try this two star Michelin restaurant hidden in plain sight. Be brave and opt for the “Discovery Menu” which is the chef’s recommended courses. Passage53’s offerings are unexpected yet perfectly balanced and encourage you to explore new delicacies because they’re good, not just for shock factor. Our menu covered everything from cream carrot mousse to sea urchin to duck and truffle ravioli to my very favorite, a blue lobster with pear, spanish cherry vinegar and cacao. One of my favorite Michelin experiences to date.
Prescription Cocktail Club:
After exploring the city all day, Prescription Cocktail Club was the perfect place to relax and taste signature cocktails. They have a vague speakeasy feel, but in a classy French way. The bartenders are willing to get creative, but like to stand by the classics. I had an amazing herb-inspired drink and argued with them over the merits of one of my favorite cocktails- the Sage and Sour. A fun place to visit if you’re in the area!
One trip to Paris only scratches the surface of all the city offers, but that’s the beauty of it! Don’t be afraid to get a bit lost, follow the locals to find the best spots, and eat a pastry or two for me!
What’s your favorite thing to do in Paris? Favorite restaurant? Let me know- I’m always looking for a new adventure!