This is one of the first posts I ever wrote on my website, back when I started in 2015. I’ve edited it over the years but tried to keep its original spirit! Back when people wrote travel blogs for the joy of writing, and the joy of people reading them, and not just for Google…
But anyway! Here are my thoughts on my first-ever visit to Paris as a 26-year-old back in 2014. If you want a Paris itinerary for first-timers, check out this post with the perfect four day itinerary, or this one about visiting Paris in winter.
I don’t think I’m always qualified to write ultimate destination guides about every place I’ve been. Sometimes you need a little more time to really delve into a place!
But what I can write about is my experience, and hope it helps and inspires you on what to do on your own adventure.
I’d love to write a list of all the things to do in Paris, but my first 3 days were the perfect amount of time to see the main sites of the city and to leave me wanting to go back for more. If you’re short on time, you can even the highlights of Paris in 24 hours!
I went with my parents on a family trip, and Paris can be a great place for kids with plenty of things to do.
So instead of an ultimate Paris to-do list, here are 15 things I learned on my trip to Paris that may help you with your future travel planning. Except number 15. That one was a mistake.
1. How to check the hotel address
Sometimes hotels like to have multiple locations. Checking your actual booking instead of Google means avoiding a late-night tour on three metro lines and a bus instead of the one line it would have taken if you hadn’t gone to the wrong hotel location to begin with. Not just applicable to Paris!
2. There can be lines even for churches
The Notre Dame is one of the top things to see in Paris. That means the line curves and bends around a whole square and is full of people distracted by the sights around them.
We couldn’t actually make out the end of the line in the first place, so we were waved in when standing by the entrance instead – pure luck!
Many of the top things to do in Paris have long queues, but it is possible to skip the line for some. The French Gothic architecture inside Notre Dame is worth it whether you wait or not!
3. Paris is pretty big
It’s a long walk from the Gare de Lyon to the Eiffel Tower. Quite long. Veeery long. Pretty much your entire day long.
But a day spent on your own walking tour in Paris is not a bad one, especially with everything to see on the way:
- Notre Dame Cathedral and what was once the love locks bridge
- The Louvre
- The entire Champs Elysees (singing this song the whole way)
- Passing through Jarin des Tuileries – stunningly laid out gardens
- The Princess Diana memorial
- And finally, arriving at the Eiffel Tower
This isn’t even a conclusive list!
4. The line for the Louvre is really big
Enter through the Metro Station. The line outside the Louvre is just slightly insane, and for some reason, people still line up there even though the line through the Metro station is almost non-existent. I’d also recommend buying your tickets online to be on the safe side.
I treat museums a bit like speed dating – Get in, find out what I need to know and get out.
If you want to spend longer in one of the top museums in the world and a Paris landmark, you don’t want to waste your time in line!
5. The line for the Catacombs is bigger
Line up for the Catacombs early, unless you have skip the line tickets which weren’t available when we visisted. Only a certain number of people can be within the Catacombs at one time. We arrived just before 9:00am to make it in the first group.
What are the Catacombs? They are underground historical mines, now lined with the remains of over six million people.
A chief mine inspector had the bones arranged in the way they are displayed today – walls of similar bone types stacked together and in artistic patterns. Eerie but fascinating.
6. Maps are useful, even at a cemetery
The first half of this is not a new lesson. I’ve always had some kind of aversion to maps. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s that I never seem to have one when I need it, or I have some kind of inadequate photo of one that doesn’t help in the slightest.
Lesson learnt once again at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It’s so much bigger than I thought, and there are so many graves to go and see if you’re into that kind of thing. Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde – Paris seems to be the burial place of choice for artists.
Be sure to look up some of the great guides online to see if you want to go to Pere Lachaise, and PRINT THE MAP.
7. Paris is full of tasty things
Eat the pastries. Every. Single. Day.
And every other kind of French food you can get your hands on.
Croissants, chocolate mousse, eclairs, brie and camembert cheese – some of the best food comes from France, and you can EAT IT ALL.
8. Things taste better in Paris
Even cheese on toast tastes better in Paris, and it has a much fancier name – Croque Monsieur.
Stopping for a French hot chocolate in the Latin Quarter of Paris is an excellent decision. The best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Like smooth melted chocolate, but somehow not too rich. A-mazing.
9. Tasty things in Paris are expensive
When you’re at a cafe, and they come around with a tray of the most delicious-looking cakes and pastries you’ve ever seen, the macaron is probably not the best choice for those on a tight budget. €15 Euros later… That’s $30AU… for one macaron (it was awesome). Don’t tell my Dad.
Years later I was browsing an inflight travel magazine and came across Pierre Herme, a famous French pastry chef, and it rang some sort of bell in my head.
I went back through my Paris photos and found this one with the PH logo on the macaron my Mum and I still laugh about. Mystery solved on why it was so expensive…
10. Weird things are tasty in Paris
That you can get frogs and snails on the menu in France is probably one of the first things I learned about the country as a child.
Turns out snails taste somewhat like mushrooms and mussels with a whole lot of butter and garlic. I thought they were great!
So great I bought some at the supermarket and google translated the directions on how to cook them in our apartment. If I were you I’d probably just stick to eating them out…
11. Tasty things in Paris can be smelly
That awesome cheese I mentioned before? It’s a little smelly. In an “Ok, who farted?” every time you open the fridge kind of way.
It may stink, but it’s also some of the best cheese I’ve tried, and melted on the aforementioned fresh croissants from the bakery around the corner is even better.
12. Paris is still the home of artists
Get lost in Montmartre.
Start at the Sarce-Coeur, another top spot in Paris so generally crowded (and avoid the bracelet men who want to put bracelets on you and then ask for money).
Watch artists paint in the square and duck into small cafes with piano players and fresh crepes.
The street heading down from the top of the hill had the most amazing food shops. Cheese, pastries, cakes, I could have eaten my way down the whole thing (I might have).
13. Some things are better in the movies
After winding your way down the narrow streets from the Sacre-Coeur you will find yourself back on main roads and in the modern day, with neon signs and sex shops galore. What else could be in this area but the Moulin Rouge?
A little sadly, the Moulin Rouge isn’t as fantastic as I thought it would be. After learning the entire melody from the Moulin Rouge movie at 13 and falling in love with Ewan McGregor (maybe a subconscious reason I moved to Scotland?) it was still exciting to see if a bit less spectacular than I would have imagined.
I didn’t go to a show here, but I would like to in future, and I have since heard about an epic secret bar that overlooks the windmill… Might be time to return to Paris!
14. There are free things in Paris
Many of the museums and monuments in Paris can be visited for free at certain times. One of these is the first Sunday of every month, which fortuitously for us was when we were there!
It was the perfect time to go up the Arc de Triomphe, having decided earlier not to go because it turns out the ticket counter causes the queues! We were in, looked at the amazing view, and out again. So worth it.
15. Some things never change
Not specific to Paris, but before you use the toothpaste in your Dad’s toilet bag, check its toothpaste. Sometimes it’s deep heat trying to look like toothpaste. Deep heat on your tongue does not feel nice and does not wash off so well. My knack for doing ridiculous things isn’t confined by borders.
I adored my first trip to Paris, and I love re-reading this post as it takes me on a wonderful trip down memory lane. Now I just need to go back again!