Ah, Paris. Or, Parigi, as the Italians say. Even the 40 degrees and rainy weather couldn’t destroy this city’s magical charm. I visited Paris for the first time during my semester abroad, in the Spring of 2017. It was rainy and magical then too.
This year, I returned to Paris as somewhat of a “goodbye to Europe” trip with my parents. It was their first time, so I revisited many of the same sites I had seen the first time around. Seeing them for the second time was no less extraordinary than the first.
A short French lesson
Whenever I travel to a new country, I always like to learn a few words of that country’s language. It makes getting around a little easier and, honestly, just seems like the polite thing to do. Here are a few basic French phrases to learn that will make your time in Paris a little smoother and the locals a little nicer.
Good morning/good day: Bonjour (bon-zhoor)
Good evening: Bon soir (bon-swar)
Goodbye: Au revoir (oh ruh-vwar)
Excuse me/sorry: Excusez-moi (ex-koo-zay mwah)
How are you?: Comment allez-vous? (kom-mohn tah-lay voo)
How much?: Combien? (comb-beeyen)
I don’t understand: Je ne comprends pas (jhuhn kom-prohn pah)
My name is…: Je m’appelle (juh mah-pell)
Please: S’il vous plait (seel voo play)
Thank you: Merci (mare-see)
No: Non (nohn)
Yes: Oui (wee)
Check/bill: L’addition (la dee see oon)
Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais? (par-lay voo zon-glay)
Where to stay
Paris is not a small city, so it’s important to choose your neighborhood wisely. We stayed in a small but stylist Airbnb just a short walk from Notre Dame in the Marais neighborhood. It ended up being the perfect location, surrounded by lively shops and restaurants and only minutes away from the Sully-Morland metro station. Find the listing here.
The Louvre is both the most visited and the largest museum in the world. They say if you spend 30 seconds studying each piece of art in the museum without breaks, it would take you 100 days. I wouldn’t say you need 100 days…but make sure you give yourself enough time to at least see the highlights! Fair warning, the Louvre can be one of the most touristy sites in the entire city (or to be honest, continent). I would suggest visiting right when they open and you’ll have better luck with crowds.
Travel Tip: If you’re studying abroad and between the ages of 18-25, bring your European student ID and you’ll be admitted for free!
The Eiffel Tower is Paris’ most famous monument by a landslide and is always near or at the top of most tourist’s to-do lists. While traveling, I have noticed that many of the most famous sites get hyped up and ultimately end up being underwhelming when you finally do lay eyes on them (The Statue of Liberty is WAY smaller than I imagined). The Eiffel Tower is not one of these sites. I first glimpsed the tower on the cab ride from the airport, when I was still a good 15-20 minutes away from the city. It’s every bit as enormous and beautiful as you imagine it will be. And if you think it’s stunning in the daytime, just wait until you see it at night. The tower is lit up all night every night, but each hour (until 1:00 or 2:00 am) the lights sparkle for five minutes. There’s always men walking around the tower at this time selling wine and champagne so grab a blanket and enjoy one of the most spectacular sights in Europe!
If you’re looking to do some shopping in one of the most fashionable cities in the world, look no further than the Champs Élysées. Home to some of the greatest restaurants, cafés, theaters and luxury shops in Paris, it is also the location of the annual Bastille Day parade and the finish line of the Tour de France. Stroll all the way down the Champs Élysées and you’ll come to the famous Arc de Triomphe, another of Paris’ most popular attractions.
Arc de Triomphe
Located at the end of the Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe honors France’s fallen soldiers during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Tourists can pay a small fee to climb the 40 stairs to the top of the Arc (€8 for adults, €5 for students). The views are stunning with the Eiffel Tower on one side and the entire Champs Élysées below you on the other.
Housed in an old train station, the Musée d’Orsay is the second most popular museum in Paris. Although not even a fraction of the size of the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay has more of it’s fair share of tourists. In fact, it took us five times as long to get in than it did at the Louvre. The museum houses plenty of masterpieces and, especially if you purchased the Paris Pass, is well worth a visit.
Notre Dame & Paris Point Zero
Clearly this photo is an old one. In April of 2019, Notre Dame burned for hours as the whole world watched horrified. Fortunately, they were able to stop the flames before the front towers fell. Unfortunately, much of the church was made of wood and is going to need to be almost completely reconstructed. Currently, you can only see the front of Notre Dame from the street and through a fence. I’m very lucky I got the chance to see the church up-close and even go inside back in 2017.
When I visited Notre Dame the first time around, a local approached us and told us we were standing only feet from Paris Point Zero, or the Bronze Star. It is the point from where everything in Paris is measured, essentially the center of the city. This particular local told us that standing on it meant that someday we would return to Paris, although doing some research online suggested countless other superstitions related to the star.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica & Montmartre
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica located at the highest point in Paris, the Butte Montmartre. The church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, from it’s lawn, you can see some of the best views of Paris. The Basilica itself is free to enter, but you need to pay a fee to climb the dome.
Sacré-Cœur is located in the historic Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. Montmartre is the nightclub district and it’s also where you can find historic stops such as La Maison Rose and Moulin Rouge with it’s giant, red mill.
Shakespeare and Co.
Although not one of the better known sites in Paris, visiting Shakespeare and Co. was one of the highlights of my trip. A blackboard outside gives visitors the history of the store. The owner has kept the shop running for 50 years and the inside is stuffed floor to ceiling with books of every genre. Although officially an English bookstore, they sell books in every language. When you purchase a book, they stamp the inside of it with their logo so you’ll always remember where it came from.
It’s no secret that Paris has some of the best cuisine in the entire world…but to get the best, you still have to know where to look. Save those pennies kids, because a Parisian meal comes expensive or it doesn’t come at all.
Les Papilles was the most extravagant of our dinner choices, but also the best. The little Parisian restaurant has no menus, and simply serves you what the chef has decided on that particular night. The meal is served in four extraordinary courses featuring rich mushroom soup poured over walnuts, spices and cheese, caramelized pork belly served with roasted garlic, white beans, carrots and onion, bleu cheese with prune and panna cotta for dessert. Meals have a set price of 40 EUR per person.
The restaurant doubles as a wine cellar and, before your meal, you can “shop” around the store for the perfect wine pairing.
A great option for anyone on a budget, Chez Gladines serves traditional French cuisine at a very reasonable price. The menu is very potato heavy, so don’t fight it and order potato everything! Maybe wear your loose jeans…
Le Bouquet de Grenelle
A great lunch spot, Le Bouquet de Grenelle is not far from the Eiffel Tower, but far enough where the prices are not completely unbelievable. The croque madame was delicious and my Dad swears he ordered the best mashed potatoes of his life!
Pain, Vin, Fromages
Literally translates to Bread, Wine, Cheese, so what’s not to love? Pain, Vin, Fromages serves raclette right to the table, complete with your own little cheese oven. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you put slices of thick, French cheese on a little metal tray and melt it over a flame. Then you pour your delicious melty fromages over potatoes, meat, bread or all three.
Looking for an Instagram worthy brunch spot? Look no further than Hardware Société in Montmartre. The restaurant is located only a short walk from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and boasts a hip and trendy atmosphere. I would suggest making a reservation ahead of time, we ended up waiting a while.
Le P’tit Bréguet
Le P’tit Bréguet is home to the best, and first, duck confit I ever tasted. It was a happy accident we discovered during study abroad, we just wandered in off the street and ordered the Frenchest-sounding thing on the menu. Prices were extremely reasonable and the wine was to-die-for.
For me, macaroons are the very definition of the phrase “do it for the Insta.” Although I did enjoy the delicious macaroons at Ladurée, I would much rather have a chocolate sundae smothered in cookie dough and brownie bits. But let’s be honest, food doesn’t get more photogenic than macaroons. And Ladurée is a must-see in Paris!
Paris is a beautiful city, but it’s also very large and complex. It’s nearly impossible to visit without planning, especially since all of the big sites are closed at least one day a week (and it’s always different days). Hopefully this guide helps you make the most of your time in Paris.
If you liked this guide, please make sure to follow the blog so you’ll get notifications when I write new posts! Make sure to follow me on Instagram as well, @madisonsfootsteps 🙂 Thanks for reading.