I’ve been talking about going to Paris for the last couple of years, but for one reason or another it never worked out. I had been with my family as a kid, but I was too young to fully appreciate it. Earlier this fall, I finally said YOLO! I asked my best friend from home, Melissa, if she’d be interested…and she was! Whenever we get together, we have a blast…but it’s also never smooth sailing! It’s become a running joke that something bizarre will happen when we pair up.
That being said, we always turn it into an adventure. And our missteps make for some solid advice for you, readers! So check out my guide below…then grab a glass of champagne and book that flight!
Bon voyage, mes amis.
Hop On, Hop Off Bus:
100% do, do, do! Will people make fun of you for being super touristy? Absolutely. Do you need those people in your life? Probably not.
In all seriousness, this was worth every penny (and it’s not that expensive to begin with). My parents are the ones that recommended it to us, so thanks, Mom and Dad! The only snag we hit was that there are a million tour bus companies, and we had a little trouble hunting down the meeting spot for ours since they kind of all look the same.
On our first full day, we rode the bus for the full tour, which is just over two hours. We didn’t get off at this point—we just listened to the information in the cheesy little headphones and took in all of the sights to determine what we wanted to go back to. We loved this approach and I totally recommend doing it this way if you have the time to spare! Honestly, you’ll be thankful for a two hour respite from walking. Trust.
After we finished the full tour, we hopped back on and rode it to the places we had made mental notes to dedicate more time to. It doubles as an awesome transportation service in this way!
So, where’d we go? Follow me…
This is obviously a “do.”
We started by visiting the grounds around it instead of braving the actual tower. We had a vision of eating a sandwich on a baguette and drinking red wine while we sat in the park. Here’s where our mistakes will help you: buy said wine and sandwich BEFORE you get to the Eiffel Tower area. We assumed we’d find a million boulangeries and wine stores, but it would appear that this is literally the only neighborhood without one on every corner. We did find wine after some searching, but we were about to give up on the baguette when…
We saw a little stand on the grounds of the Tower. Oh, perfect! Well, until they handed us our sandwich: $7 for HALF of a stale piece of bread with an ORANGE KRAFT SINGLE on it. Needless to say, not the most authentic, but desperate times…
Then we set up shop in the park, had a little photoshoot (obviously), and drank our wine. Don’t forget a bottle opener! Once we had finished our bottle, we decided we should wait for the sun to set so we could watch the tower light up. But, of course, we wanted more wine for that. There are tons of shady, annoying guys haunting you and trying to sell you wine the entire time you’re trying to sit peacefully. We kept ignoring them…until we realized we were desperate. We only had four euros left, so we bartered with them and they gave us two lukewarm beers. Hey, it’s an adventure, remember?
When the Eiffel Tower starts lighting up, everyone gasps. I was SO giddy. It was just so beautiful!!! As the sky gets darker, the lights get brighter and they do a little dance. If my future husband is reading this, please propose to me during this light situation. I don’t care how cliché it is. I’ll say yes.
Eiffel Tower, Part Two:
Do you need to go to the tippy top, you ask? We went back and forth on this a hundred times…but finally decided, ‘when in Rome!’ Uh, Paris.
Because we took so long to decide whether to go all the way up or not, we weren’t able to buy tickets in advance. NOTE: they sell out FAST. In our experience, you could buy tickets for any other attraction up until the day before, (or even day of, in some cases) but the Eiffel Tower did not come to play. The summit tickets were sold out by the time we even arrived in France.
We ended up heading there early in the morning to buy tickets in person. The line seemed to be moving quite quickly at first, and we had made it what looked like more-than-halfway within an hour. Success!
Welp, that was a total tease. Guys, we ended up waiting OVER FOUR HOURS. Yes, we sure did stand in the cold for 4.5 hours to ascend to the top of a tower that we would spend less than 15 minutes in. Are we deranged, you ask? Not quite. In our defense, it was one of those situations where you think to yourself, “well, any minute now!” and then enough time has passed that you refuse to get out of the line and throw that time away.
Somehow, I don’t regret it. I will certainly use our blunder as a tip to you, my fellow travelers, but I’m glad we stayed in that godforsaken line. It was a lesson, right?
When you finally get through the line, you’re sent to another line for the elevator—there was only one working while we were there. You cram in like sardines, but the view on the way to the top is pretttty epic, even when you’re sandwiched between tourists with no manners.
The views at the very top are amazing, I won’t lie. You can walk all the way around so you have a 360 degree view of Paris. It was a slightly hazy day when we went, and I swear it made the view even more magical. I was smiling like a little nerd the whole time.
You can also buy champagne by the glass at the summit. We didn’t because #poor, but if money isn’t as much of an issue for you (aka, if you’re a “real adult”) you should totally go for it!
Believe it or not, you’re not done with the lines at this point. You have to wait a good twenty minutes just to get on an elevator back down. It’s truly a test of your patience as an American that’s used to instant gratification. 😉
Even if you hate shopping (who hates shopping, though?) you’ve gotta poke around in the windows. This street is the most expensive retail space in the entire world, according to our bus tour. I never thought chain stores could be so charming, but man was I charmed. People wait in line outside of the Louis Vuitton flagship, your bags are checked as you enter Sephora, and the Zara is like a shopper’s amusement park in itself.
If you walk (or ride) all the way to the end, you’ll run into the Arc d’Triomphe. While we didn’t deem it necessary to pay to walk up it, it is certainly beautiful to look at. The end of the street where all the tour buses line up is the perfect spot for a photo op…if you’re willing to brave the crazy drivers! We were willing, of course. Do it for the ‘gram.
It’s not an “attraction,” but it is quite possibly the most charming neighborhood in the entire universe. With teeny, quirky cafes, tons of street artists, unique little shops, and live entertainment on the street, you will be in heaven. I recommend waiting until you get to Montmarte to buy gifts for your peeps back home—you’ll find the best ones here! You can also get an amazing view of the city from the top of the hill and see Sacre Coeur, a gorgeous church (if you’re into that sorta thing).
We royally messed this one up. See what I did there? We paid extra for online tickets that let you skip the line…and then overslept and missed our train out of the city. Turns out those tours are non-effing-refundable. After some hungover lamenting about how dumb we are, we came to terms with it and realized that it was much more important to embrace Paris like locals…which is what we did the night before that led to us oversleeping.
Anyway, I ended up going after Melissa left. While it’s a bit of a haul to get there (an hour train and then a bit of a walk) it was absolutely worth it. I loved doing it alone (no offense, Mel) because it’s something you should take at your own pace, if you can. You get a guided headset, and you can breeze through the rooms you don’t care about while holding court (ha, killing it!) in the opulent ones.
As for the gardens and grounds: GET. A. MAP. I got sooo lost multiple times, and by the end I thought my feet were going to fall off. The grounds are beautiful, but they are HUGE.
Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore:
I nerded out hard. It’s open pretty late, so we strolled in after a long day of sightseeing and just let ourselves explore the selection for a bit. There’s a wall of handwritten notes from visitors all over the world. You can add one or just read some and smile. I know it sounds lame, but it made me feel a part of something bigger.
Honestly…I wasn’t floored. I know, I know, I must be an uncultured swine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place and houses some of the most famous art in the world. But after seeing so many “real life” scenes in the city of light, walking around a museum just felt…meh. I’m glad we went, but we didn’t dedicate much time to it. Tip: get tickets in advance. We went in the late afternoon and waited for no time at all. Oh, and I’m sure you’ve heard, but the Mona Lisa is underwhelming AF.
While my main suggestion is to find random cafés and restaurants, here are some highlights to get you going!
Yes, our first meal in Paris was Italian food. But Melissa’s friend recommended it, and it didn’t disappoint. Get the truffle pasta…they don’t skimp on the truffle. Then, even though your stomach will be bursting at the seams, order the Nutella pizza. The Nutella comes in a BUCKET with a glorified SHOVEL. This is what dreams are made of.
They’re famous for their hot chocolate, and who am I not to try that? Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan. It’s SO thick and bitter and intense that it’s hard to have more than a few sips, but I regret nothing. I had to try it! Plus, the place is super cute.
Ice cream/gelato in the shape of a delicate flower. I obviously did this entirely for the photo, and I have no shame in my game. It tastes good, too, don’t worry.
On the corner of a hill in the picture-perfect neighborhood of Montmarte, this is the perfect people-watching spot. Grab a café viennois to warm you up and listen to live music from happy old men on the street. It’s also very amusing to watch cars attempt to get through the narrow road in front of it.
Les Deux Magots
This café is famous because it’s where Hemingway, Fitzgerald and a bunch of other expat writers would hang out and “work.” Aka drink coffee and absinthe while smoking cigarettes and gossiping. I went here by myself, so it wasn’t hard to snag a little table for one. In my opinion, you don’t come here for the food. You come to people watch (are you sensing a theme here?) and to feel like one of the greats.
Aux Vieux Paris d’Arcole
While the food was so-so and the service left even more to be desired, go for the cuteness. Trust me. Every decorative detail of this place made my heart explode. I’m including a photo of the outside for you, but it doesn’t do it justice. Plus, it’s right around the corner from Notre Dame and some amazing street vendors! We had champagne, and you really can’t mess that up.
Le Maison Rose
This café wasn’t open the day we walked by it, so I can’t rightfully speak to it. But what I do know is that the little pink house is something out of a storybook. It’s just down the hill from Le Consulat, so pop by to soak up all its girly glory.
I asked my French friend if it was pathetic to go here for macarons and if there was somewhere more “authentic” we should go. She said it’s completely acceptable! There are a bunch of locations, so chances are you’re close to one at all times. Even if you only get one, it’s worth the trip for the adorable, pastel décor.
Have you been to Paris? I’d love to hear your favorite spots in the comments!