Paris is one of the most popular cities in the world – from the beautiful architecture, incredible history, and world-class art – the city itself is irresistible. Nothing is quite as unique as the City of Lights.
I’ve been to Paris three different times – the first in 1997 with my parents, the second on our honeymoon in 2013, and the third this past April in 2018. Each trip was a different experience entirely. In 1997 I vividly remember seeing the Mona Lisa as if it were a normal painting on the wall; now she is protected behind feet of glass and mobbed by thousands of tourists a day. In 2013 it was the most romantic destination for a honeymoon with my newly wedded husband – strolls along the Seine, crepes every single day, wine and cheese on the AirBnB balcony. In 2018, only a few weeks ago, it was the perfect girls’ trip with my mom, sister, and nieces – giggling in art museums, selfies with 3 generations of women, and eating whatever we god damn feel like it.
Paris has a lot to offer – too much in fact for one trip – so I thought I would write about my favorite things to do in this city and why they make for the perfect *Paris* experience.
Go up the Eiffel Tower
While there are many buildings worth trekking to the top for fantastic views (i.e. Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, etc) the Eiffel Tower is pretty special. The very top provides gorgeous views of Paris, which helps you appreciate the vastness of this city. Be warned – book tickets ahead online here, and book well in advance as they book up quickly. If you don’t book ahead you will have to wait in an extremely long line for tickets.
Musee d’Orsay on a rainy day
Well….you obviously can’t control the weather on this one, but you certainly must visit the Musee d’Orsay. The museum itself is in an old train station with a beautiful clock tower and an aura of old-Paris. It is my favorite museum in Paris, and it has the largest collection of Impressionist art. So many famous artists’ works are here – Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Manet, etc. Take the time to eat lunch in their restaurant – I usually advise against this because museum food is overpriced, but this restaurant was fantastic.
Stroll around in the Latin Quarter
Situated on the left bank of the Seine, the Latin Quarter is one of the most charming neighborhoods in Paris. When the University of Paris was founded in the 12th century, many students lived and thrived in this area. You’ll stumble upon charming restaurants, quiet study areas, famous shops, and beautiful parks. A place I highly recommend seeing in the Latin Quarter is the Shakespeare & Co. Bo., a large bookstore full of English books. This also is the area where many famous French and American authors, writers, and artists hung out together.
I once read somewhere that the Sainte-Chapelle has a higher ratio of stained glass than stone. I am not sure where I read that, but you would be a fool to visit Paris and not see this chapel with your own eyes. It feels like you are stuck inside a jewelry box – and when the sunlight shines through the glass, it is said to be “showing God’s beauty of heaven on earth.” It was commissioned by King Louis IX to be his own private chapel and to house Jesus Christ’s Crown of Thorns. It was built in a ground breaking record of 6 years (compare that to Notre Dame, which took 200 years).
I must admit – seeing the Louvre anymore these days is too stressful. It’s a shame, really. I remember visiting with my mom in 1997 and it was a lovely, quiet experience – completely opposite to today. Everyone and their dog flocks to this museum only to see La Joconde (“Mona Lisa” in French) and then leaves, not even taking a moment to view the thousands of amazing and undervalued paintings. However, despite me putting down this experience, The Louvre houses the most famous of art, and it’s definitely worth your time to stroll around. Don’t forget to see the Richelieu wing in the Louvre as it also has incredible works from ancient times.
See the Eiffel Tower at night
Admittedly, I had never seen the Eiffel Tower lit up at night until my recent trip to Paris this past April. Holy cow, it was a completely different experience! It was such a beautiful thing to see, especially after a few glasses of wine. The literature and movies don’t lie – it is a must see while you are in Paris. Take a stroll in the neighborhood, or see the viewpoint from the Champs de Mars park. You will not be disappointed.
Enjoy the French cafe experience
There’s nothing more Parisian than sitting outside at a cafe, drinking your wine or cappuccino, catching up with a friend or loved one, or simply sitting alone in your own little world (reading, writing, working) and just watching the world pass by. It’s a custom that’s lost on many Americans, yet one of the most amazing things to do. If you have the time, plan a day of nothing – go to a cafe and sit there all afternoon, and you’ll understand how the Parisians are so relaxed.
Get the Paris Museum Pass
Lines, lines, lines! There are so many LINES in Paris. Now those lines have gotten worse with the recent terrorist attacks, but most people stand in a long line to only buy tickets. Why would you do that when you can buy the Paris Museum Pass and see as many museums as you want (and certainly get your money’s worth)? Check out here for more info – I highly recommend this as you can skip the line at many locations, which makes for a far more enjoyable experience.
Indulge on all of the amazing food
Yup, screw your “diet” or “being good” attitude. Paris doesn’t have time for that. Enjoy all of the pain au chocolat, cheap (but incredible) red wine, fancy cheeses, beef bourguignon, onion soup, pastries, and desserts to your heart’s desire. You only live once – don’t feel bad for ordering whatever you want on the menu. I promise you it’s absolutely worth it.
Don’t see everything the first time
Paris is incredibly overwhelming. There is SO much to see and do, you will certainly never accomplish everything in one trip (and if you do, you probably didn’t get much sleep or thoroughly enjoy things that you should’ve). You can only go to so many museums or cathedrals before they all start to look the same. Make a list of the things you want to see, and be reasonable about it. After all, it’s your vacation! Allow yourself to sleep in, eat meals whenever you want, and take in this beautiful city for all it’s worth. You’ll regret it if you don’t do otherwise.