Having lived and worked in various countries by the age of 23 (think Sweden, Latvia, Scotland and Ireland), we quickly discovered the pleasure of travel and were shouting from the rooftops about every new stamp added to our passports. Soon enough, we realised that we always needed to have a trip on the horizon to keep us content and happy.
But before we connected all the dots, learned to find more joy in exploring off the beaten track places and before we fell in love with an adventure type of travel, we visited most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
At the moment I can’t even recall the reason why I was so restless about going to Paris. Was it been there done that kind of trip? Possibly! Do I wish we travelled through uncharted regions instead? No! But I believe that places like Paris and London or any other big city can provide a wealth of useful material for personal growth and development.
What We Learned After Visiting Beautiful Paris For The First Time
Best known as the City of Lights and the City of Love, Paris is one of the most visited places in France. If you love the art, the architecture and the romance, then this is a city for you.
Our weekend in Paris took us along the well-worn path to the favourite tourist spots, and we visited all the must-see places. If you plan on travelling to Paris any time soon for the first time, scroll through the list below. Our stay in the city was short, yet we learned a lot and wanted to share a few useful tips.
#1. Manage your expectations before you travel o Paris
Before you book your flight to Paris, you have to have realistic expectations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all about heavily scented wisteria flowers, fresh croissants, postcard-perfect Mortmare and tender love on every corner.
Paris is a buzzing metropolis, home to well over 2 million people, and this fact comes with a price.
Don’t be amazed to see homeless people sleeping on the streets just a few feet away from your hotel. Don’t be surprised by long queues to the most popular tourist attractions as well as overcrowded metro trains if you happen to use one during the rush hour.
What we experienced on the first day was everything I mentioned above and more! A large group of screaming and shouting french people formed a very chaotic looking demonstration along the river Seine. The roads were closed, police were everywhere, and we got lost looking for our hotel( finding a particular place in the pre-smartphone era was always fun).
Despite the bad bits and with the help of fresh macarons, we quickly bounced back, and it must be said-Paris is a beautiful city. As we discovered in our short stay, the French capital is so much more than a place for an utterly romantic couples weekend. It’s also a perfect place for book lovers (you have to see the Shakespeare and Company and The Abbey Bookshop) and for foodies too!
#2. You have to give the French language a go!
Sounds scary, right? What we noticed while visiting Paris is that French people, in general, are very well mannered and polite people. And soon enough we followed their lead and learned to say ‘Bonjour’ (hello) once we entered a store or cafe.
We couldn’t participate in small talk, and a few rusty phrases were all we knew in French. And I wasn’t even sure we were pronouncing it right. So when we got lost while looking for our hotel, we learned straight away that not everyone speaks English in Europe.
How to ask for directions in French? How to pronounce street names? Not able to speak your mind is a very humbling experience, but at the same time, it’s a moment of growth.
If you are travelling to Paris, make sure you learn a few basic phrases so you can interact with local people. You may not say all the words correctly but use them anyway!
You can also download the Duolingo app on your phone. Create a profile and start with basics phrases, we use it all the time and find it to be a big help.
- Hello / Good day / Good morning – Bonjour
- Goodbye – Au revoir
- Thank you (very much)- Merci (beaucoup)
- Yes – Oui
- No – Non
#3. Paris is huge
Unless you come from a similar type of metropolis, be prepared for the sheer size of the city. It’s huge. Don’t ruin your stay by tempting to see all the attractions, adjust your mindset, plan your days and enjoy.
Just so you know – Paris is split into 20 neighbourhoods called arrondissement and in total, there are 6,100 rues – or streets. As you can see, that’s a lot of ground to cover.
Despite its size, getting around the capital is relatively easy. Paris is divided into large districts that curl round in a clockwise direction, starting at the centre of the city.
If you can’t find a tourist information bureau anywhere near to get a good map, you can always use street plans displayed on main roads, at the entrances of the metro stations and at the bus stops.
If you are looking for the best and cost-effective way to get around the city, then don’t be afraid to use the metro. I was reading about the public transport system in Paris and was surprised to learn that it is considered to be not only the worlds safest but also the most efficient one.
On the second day, entirely and utterly defeated by all the walking from a previous day, we booked hop-on-hop-off bus. With ten well-placed stops that included the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame, we saved a lot of time and managed to visit most of the major sights.
If you are travelling to Paris and are looking for a tourist information bureau near your hotel, check out the ones listed below.
- Main Welcome Center at Pyramides – 25, rue des Pyramides, 1st arrondissement
- Gare de Lyon Tourist Welcome Center – 20, Boulevard Diderot, 12th arrondissement
- Gare du Nord Tourist Welcome Center – 18, rue de Dunkerque, 10th arrondissement
- Montmartre Tourist Office – 21, place du Tertre, 18th arrondissement
#4. The tourist crowds and lines at the Eiffel Tower are immense
After a hearty breakfast, on our first day in Paris, we went to visit the Eiffel Tower. Before leaving the hotel, we decided to make our way to the river Seine and from there walk all the way to the Champ de Mars, where the tower is located.
We knew that millions of people flock to visit the Eiffel Tower every year, yet we weren’t prepared for a 3-hour long wait to purchase admission tickets. Although standing in the queue allowed us to examine beautifully impressive ironwork and chat with fellow travellers, we were nearly ready to turn around.
How to have a stress free visit?
- Book your tickets in advance. Yes, you can purchase admission tickets online. Keep in mind they have to be printed on a paper or represented on your phone.
- Check the weather forest. You wouldn’t want to arrive at the top and find thick fog blocking out the view of the city.
- See the Eiffel Towers calendar for peak times. Visit the official website, where loads of information is provided to make your visit more enjoyable. There are useful tips about opening times, the tower itself, onsite restaurants and more.
- Save time by taking the stairs on your way down. We avoided the long wait for an elevator by taking down the stairs.
#5. The best views are from La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
While we enjoyed visiting Eifel Tower, the views of the city from the Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre are much better because you get to see the Eiffel Tower itself!
Our original plan for a second day was to walk to La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) during the day and to take a boat ride in the evening.
The impressive Basilica is opened every day, and there’s no entrance fee. Over 270 steps lead to the famous landmark Sacre Couer offering spectacular views of surroundings. It wasn’t too crowded, so we were able to walk around and explore the area slowly from top to bottom.
Access to the Dome is outside the Basilica on the left. Be warned – there are 300 steps to the very top and no lift, but it’s worth the effort to see the city of Paris stretching all the way to the skyline.
#6. An evening cruise is a must!
You can’t go to Paris and not witness The Eiffel Tower sparkling with lights! By going on an evening cruise, you’ll see a completely different side to this already charming city, gain loads of interesting facts about the landmarks, and you’ll pass by the shiny Eiffel Tower.
Duration of our cruise was 1 hour and even thou the night was freezing, we enjoyed the unique experience to glide along the river. If you are planning a boat trip, don’t forget to bring a warm jacket and your camera as the photo opportunities from the boat are fantastic.
For example, the western facade of Notre Dame Cathedral was beautifully illuminated, and we had a chance to admire little statues, rose windows and pillars. This baroque cathedral is 130 meters long, 48 meters wide and it’s possible to visit the south tower to see Emanuel bell that weighs 13 tonnes.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Paris? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Paris and have travel-related questions!