Whether you’re in love with the ‘City of Love’ or are yet to pound the pavements of Paris, there are plenty of tips and tricks you should keep in mind when planning your visit to the French capital.
Between family trips and school tours, I’m pretty lucky to be able to say that I’ve visited Paris more than any other major city. But I still found that on my most recent trip there was a lot that I hadn’t tried, from thrift shopping in the Marais to eating macaroni and cheese in Ferdi (Kim Kardashian’s favourite restaurant). While I still get lost on the metro or panic if someone asks me for directions (mon Française n’est pas bon), I like to think I’ve picked up a few bits of local knowledge – or at least reached ‘Expert Tourist’ status.
When it comes to transport, the metro can be pricy but a great one-off when your feet can’t take anymore cobblestone streets. While taxis are fairly cheap and easy, I honestly preferred walking. I walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe via the Tuileries Garden and the Champs-Élysées on my first day, with my sister and bestie in tow. We intended to go all the away around the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, past Princess Diana’s memorial at the Flame of Liberty, but the thought of warm French onion soup got the better of us and we opted for an early dinner instead. Other days we managed to walk nearly 20km, which we used to justify copious amounts of bread and espresso martinis.
If you’re planning on seeing the sights, it pays to be strategic. Why pay to climb the Arc de Triomphe when you get the same view for free from the rooftop of Galleries Lafayette? In the world’s third most visited city, crowds are to be expected pretty much all year round but we found that some places were open at night and much, much quieter – like the galleries of the Pompidou Centre. Most attractions are closed for one day a week, so check before you start the 30-minute train ride to Versailles on a Monday. Stores are often closed on Sundays, or randomly on other days, so it’s best not to save all your shopping for one day. If you spot something you love, get it there and then. In the maze of streets and one-off boutiques, it’s very likely that you won’t find it or even the store again.
Whoever said that French people are rude or snobby mustn’t have been talking about Paris. The locals may not walk around grinning from ear to ear – that would be super creepy – they’re always more than willing to help. Whether it’s a waiter with recommendations for the Top 5 best bars near Rue de Rivoli or a candle-store owner sharing his favourite Japanese restaurants, I’ve never asked a question in Paris that hasn’t received a friendly and helpful answer. Talk to your taxi drivers, chat with the person next to you in a line or make a friend at a bar. Most Parisians love their city and speak great English. Just be sure to learn a bit of French to break the ice. It’s more polite to try and fail than to ask them a question in English.
When it comes to accommodation, location is seriously everything. The three of us – plus our six ginormous suitcases – happily squished into a two-room (yes ‘room’, not bedroom) apartment because we had a street full of bars and restaurants literally on our doorstep. It wasn’t far to walk to the Marais or Montmartre and there was a metro stop not even 10 metres from our place. While there are hundreds of great value hotels across the city, going for an AirBnB is the best way to feel like a local. The city is divided into ‘arrondissements’, which are numbered in a swirl-like shape from the centre of the River Seine. Arrondissements 1 to 6 are guaranteed to be pretty central, with everything just a walk or a metro ride away.
No matter how you plan to do it – in a tiny AirBNB or a four-poster bed in the luxurious Four Seasons George V – a visit to Paris should definitely be on your travel bucket list. Take my word for it.
TOP 3 FRENCH FOOD TO TRY
1. French Onion Soup
Step aside foie gras – French onion soup is pretty much France’s national dish, and for very good reason. The soup itself packs a flavour punch in its rich, peppery goodness, but the real MVPs are the cheesy baguette slices that float on top. You can get French onion soup pretty much anywhere, but my personal favourite is part of a dinner ‘formule’ (three courses for roughly 12 euros) in the streets of Saint-Germaine.
When I was first offered escargot, I was pretty freaked out. A plate full of snails being passed to you doesn’t exactly say ‘bon appétit!’ but they’re actually really tasty. Not surprisingly, the best spot for escargot is quite literally called l’Escargot. Just look for the huge gold snail towering over Rue Montergueil and you’re there. They’re soft, small and usually coated in a pesto-like dressing – it’s hard to stop at just one. Those who don’t agree simply haven’t tried them yet.
They’ve taken the baking world by storm and we’re anything but sick of them! The French don’t do anything by halves when it comes to food, so finding a little sweet treat to munch on while you explore can be tough. Pierre Hermé’s got your back if you’re wandering through Galeries Lafayette, but my personal favourite are Paul’s giant macaroons – a fraction of the price of the smallest offering at the famous Ladurée.
Words // Anastasia White