A Beginner’s Guide To Paris 10 Tips and Things To Do While Navigating The City For The First Time
If I had to pick my favorite week of 2016, it would hands down be the week I spent in Paris. I left the trip convinced that I would learn French as soon as I got home, pack up my things, and move there indefinitely. Here are a few things that I learned and things I did that can’t be missed:
The people are not as mean as Americans make them out to be.
Before I went, people constantly told me “Beware of the people. Parisians hate Americans.” I found this to simply not be true. As long as we were nice to them, they were nothing but nice to us. We chatted up everyone we saw from our cab drivers to our waiters and had some great conversations with people who knew the city really well. This got us some great recommendations and quick lessons on French words we should make sure to know. This brings me to #2:
Make an effort to speak French.
Mostly everyone there spoke English, but it’s only polite to make a slight attempt to speak the language of the city you’re visiting. The locals appreciated the effort and were more than willing to switch over to English once they realized that we were obviously confused. Something as easy as “Bonjour” and “Merci” goes a long way. “Parlez-vous anglais” or “Je ne sais pas” if you’re feeling really daring.
Make friends with the bartender at your hotel.
This is more of a travel tip in general and should be utilized everywhere you go. Stopping by the bar before you go to bed gives the opportunity to get the full experience of your hotel, and chat with more locals in the comfort of your temporary home. You can also score a few drinks on the house if you’re really lucky! Our bartender was Sebastian at the adorable Hotel de la Tremoille. He was super nice, good looking, and let us hang around after hours. He wished my sister a happy birthday on Facebook, so you know it’s true friendship.
Don’t underestimate the distance between your hotel and The Louvre.
I recommend walking as the best way to explore the city – but sometimes too far is just too far. Especially when you’re outfit prioritizes fashion over comfort – which in Paris, it should. It’s easy to take cabs everywhere you go, but don’t think you can just stop one in the street or get in any cab you see that’s available like in NYC. We made this mistake when we saw a bunch of open cabs and hopped in one. The driver turned around and looked at us like we were nuts. There are lines of cabs, and you need to get into the one that’s in the front of the line. Oops, our bad.
Learn how to pronounce the name of your hotel.
Or at least have the business card handy. Otherwise your cab driver is going to have no idea what you’re saying or where to take you. Also doesn’t hurt to know the cross streets for extra precautions. Hotel La Tremoille was a toughy for us!
Take a stroll through Monmarte and visit Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
This was the first thing that we did after putting our luggage down in our hotel. Take a cab to the basilica, take a walk through it, and then spend some time navigating the adorably narrow, cobblestone streets to get comfortable with the city. The area is low-key and covered in local art and people playing music that is so classically France. It doesn’t take too long to do so it’s perfect on day one when you’re a little jet-lagged, and it’s a really fun way to familiarize yourself with the vibes of the city.
Climb to the top of something.
You have the option to climb the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or the Arc de Triomphe. If you have time to do all three, then more power to you. We didn’t have that luxury so we chose to to climb the arc. We weren’t disappointed as it was nice to get a view that included the Eiffel Tower.
Shop on Boulevard Saint Germain and splurge on a black outfit.
Experiencing all of the stores on the boulevard is something about my trip I’ll never forget. It’s worth it to splurge on a nice item of quality clothing that you’ll have forever so that you can recall the time you spent there every time you wear it. And if you can find something black that’s all the more Paris chic.
Don’t be afraid to try new food.
Make a reservation at a French restaurant where you might not recognize everything on the menu. Don’t be afraid to order something that sounds a little scary. Chances are it’ll be delish and the worst that could happen is that you don’t like it. At least you can say you embraced yourself in the culture. We ate at L’Ami Jean and it was delicious. If you go, order the rice pudding. They bring it to your table in a giant bowl with a wooden spoon and you just shovel the whole thing in your face.
Also be sure to eat as many crepes as possible while you’re there.
Do a bike tour of Château de Versailles.
I’m saving the best for last. If there’s one thing that you do while you’re in Paris, it needs to be this. We did ours through Fat Tire Tours and had an absolute blast. You meet at a local location within the city and they take your group on the subway out the quieter town Versailles where you get your bike at a location not far from the chateau. They first take you to a local market and tell you exactly where to go and what to say to get everything that you’ll need for a picnic. It was fun getting top bop around the different stores in the market asking the local owners for our wine, cheese, baguettes, and “sauccisson” (pronounced like you have a son and he’s being a little saucy – you can thank our adorable tour guide Johnny for that one).
I recommend getting two bottles of wine if you really want to enjoy yourself. You then travel around the grounds learning about how the palace was made and all about Marie Antoinette. You make your way to the lawn where you have your wine picnic overlooking the grounds with the chateau in the distance. We downed our two bottles of wine in record time, took some funny pictures, and had a hilarious time biking back around the other side to make it to the end of the tour. They then hand you your ticket to enter the chateau, you say your goodbyes, and go inside on your own. It was hands down the best day of our trip.
And then there’s of course the obvious things to do like visiting The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. Also, if there’s one thing I did that I feel I could have skipped it’s Musee d’Orsay. It was obviously great, but if you’re crunched for time, there are other things I feel are more important to do.
Feel there’s something important I missed? Sign off in the comments!