A Guide to Paris
Oh, Paris! Where do I even begin?! It had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit the "City of Love" and the fashion capital of the world. Little did I know that a special someone was planning on taking me there for our honeymoon. (Best. Surprise. Ever!) We spent seven days in Paris, after which we went on to explore Italy, all in the heart of winter. I can safely say, that this must have been our most romantic vacation to date.
Experiencing Paris in winter was like a magical, medieval fairy tale, where I sometimes had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I loved it so much that we decided to go back the following year, this time in summer, which of course had a whole different feel and atmosphere to it (but equally as amazing as our first time there!)
After spending two unforgettable trips in this beautiful French city, I wanted to put together this guide of my recommended must-dos in Paris, to give you some ideas and hopefully help you plan your own trip there.
Have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower
Whether it's winter or summer, I'm always in the mood for a picnic, especially when champagne (and the Eiffel Tower) is involved. It's pretty affordable and easy to have a picnic in Paris, as there are supermarkets (such as Monoprix) located in every neighborhood, where you can literally buy everything you need for an authentic French picnic; A bottle of champagne, baguettes, cheeses and cold meats and you're good to go. Do remember to buy some champagne glasses while you're at the supermarket (they have these cute plastic ones at Monoprix) and to also bring a blanket along.
Of course, a picnic outside in winter will likely be a chilly event. But if you are determined to have it, and see the flickering lights of the Eiffel Tower (which only starts after sunset), you can brave the cold and have a romantic evening with that gorgeous view and, bonus, have the lawn all to your likely-to-be shivering self. In summer, this lawn gets packed with people sitting everywhere, thus harder to find a private spot on the grass. But it will definitely make for a more lively and fun atmosphere. After your picnic, head over to the market right next to the Eiffel Tower, where they sell delicious food, wine and beer.
Take a stroll along the Seine
A visit to Paris won't be complete without a stroll (or 10) along the Seine, which is located in the center of the city, dividing the city into the left and right banks. Strolling alongside this gorgeous river you will spot quite a few magnificent bridges along the way, of which the most breathtaking must be the Pont Alexandre lll, as pictured above. Just as beautiful are the Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf bridges, which are just further down the Seine, where you also used to find the famous love locks. Here you will also pass a few bouquinistes, booksellers of used books, art and postcards. Do try to take a canal cruise on your first day in Paris, as it will give you a better idea of where the different neighborhoods and sights are, and give you time to sit back and relax while planning your itinerary for the week ahead.
Visit Paris' beautiful designer flagship stores
What would a visit to Paris be without shopping?! With beautiful designer flagship stores calling your name on every corner, it's pretty hard to resist (especially for a shopaholic like me!) Walking into Chanel's very first boutique on 31 Rue Cambon, which also used to be Coco Chanel's apartment, is a truly magical experience. Surrounded by an amazing selection of Chanel pieces such as tweed jackets, quilted bags and their classic ballet flats, you will feel like you're in heaven. Another flagship store worth visiting is the Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs Élysées. The multi-level floor building is filled with elusive pieces and even has a bookstore selling a range of Parisian lifestyle and illustrated fashion books.
The Guerlain flagship boutique is also located on the Champs Élysées, and offers exclusive perfumes and a luxurious spa upstairs. This is also the only Guerlain store in the world where you can customize your perfume by choosing your own fragrance (on tap!) along with your bottle of choice. Sounds like a dream, right?!
Also, do remember to collect all your receipts and necessary tax papers whenever you spend more than €175 in the same store, so that you can claim the 12% tax return on your purchases at the airport. Make sure you arrive at the airport at least an hour earlier so you have enough time to claim your tax return at the designated counters. (Believe me, it's worth it!)
Go for dessert at ANGELINA
Angelina is the perfect cafe to unwind and relax with delicious hot chocolate and dessert, while reminiscing over your amazing vacation in Paris. Get there early in order to avoid long lines and to get a table at the famous café where Coco Chanel and other elite Parisians used to hang out. Order their famous hot chocolate, L'Africain, and their signature, mouthwatering pastry, the Mont Blanc. Believe me when I say, it is worth every Euro! The flaghship Angelina café is located right across from the Tuileries gardens and only a 10-minute stroll from the Louvre. After satisfying your sweet tooth, you'll be ready for some serious sightseeing.
Montmartre is located in the 18th arrondissement and not in walking distance from central Paris, where most of the main attractions are, so it's best to make use of the city's metro system. Go to see the majestic Sacré-Coeur, and experience the colorful, artistic and picturesque neighborhood that is Montmartre. Get lost in the cobblestone alleys and explore this square filled with artists' stalls and beautiful paintings, surrounded by colorful cafes, restaurants and crêpe stands. After exploring the different stalls, doing a little shopping and indulging in some crêpes, work your way uphill to the beautiful basilica, which is on the highest point of Paris. The view from up there is breathtaking, and hundreds of people hang out on the steps, admiring the stunning views and listening to live music. After exploring the beautiful church, join the crowds and have a bottle of wine on the steps while looking over Paris and the beautiful sunset.
Go shopping on the Champs-Élysées
When in Paris, plan an extra day, or at least put aside a whole day for exploring Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous (and breathtaking!) avenues in the world. There is so much to see and do, that a day is hardly enough (okay, maybe it is if you don't spend half the day shopping away, like I did...) From Levi's to Longchamp, Gap to Gucci, there's literally something to suit everyone's budget, and also quite a few cafes and restaurants along the way, to satisfy your taste buds.
The Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Tiffany & Co and Longchamp flagship stores (to name a few) are located here, as well as the Ladurée flagship (which offers THE best macarons in the world.) Grab a spot at their champagne bar inside, and enjoy a glass of bubbly with your macarons.
Also, make sure to stop for lunch and wine at the George V Cafe, which is conveniently located right on the sidewalk of the Champs-Élysées, making it the perfect spot to unwind and relax, do some people-watching and build up energy for the rest of the day. Further down, at the end of the avenue, you'll find the famous monument, Arc de Triomphe, where you can go up to have panoramic views of the city.
Fall in "Louvre" with Parisian museums
The museums in Paris are definitely worth visiting, and the one you have to include in your itinerary is, of course, the Louvre. Avoid the long lines by buying your tickets online ahead of time. (You can thank me later!) Once inside, take in the breathtaking architecture and explore the thousands of masterpieces. Consider taking a break at PAUL bakery, where you can refuel with coffee and toasted baguettes. Do remember to set aside a whole day for your trip to the Louvre!
Make a day trip to Versailles
When planning your itinerary for Paris, take into consideration that a trip to Versailles will take an entire day. Get up early and take the train from St Lazare Station to Versailles. The journey is about an hour, and then it's a mere 15-minute stroll from the station to the palace, which will give you the opportunity to also explore the town a little more. In Versailles, look for the local markets, selling delicious cheeses and fresh produce. You can also find butcheries there, offering THE most delicious meats and other delicacies.
Once at the Palace of Versailles, you might have to wait in line for a while to get your tickets. But both the palace and its gardens are truly breathtaking, straight out of a fairy tale, so the wait is worth it. Take a stroll around the palace and the gardens, and enjoy the romantic atmosphere.
Start the day with breakfast at Café de Flore
If you're looking for a true Parisian corner-cafe experience, look no further than the famous, and one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris, Cafe de Flore. It is located in one of the chicest neighborhoods in Paris, Saint Germain, where you can find tons of upscale galleries, historical monuments and luxury fashion boutiques. You can sit out on their terrace, watching Parisians go by, while eating freshly baked croissants and sipping on coffee (or wine!). No doubt, this is the quintessential Parisian experience.
Get lost in the bookshelves of Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company is situated in a prime spot in Paris, overlooking the Seine and across from another must-see spot, Notre-Dame. It's located in the bohemian and lively Latin Quarter, where there are lots of tiny restaurants and cafés selling delicious (and affordable) food. This charming little bookstore is definitely worth a visit and has books stacked all over from floor to ceiling (even offering beds where you could spend the night in exchange for working an hour or two.) When you buy a book there, they'll stamp it with their special Shakespeare and Company stamp, which will remind you of the time you spent in this quaint little store.
Take a break and relax at the Tuileries
Besides the park at the Eiffel Tower, Tuileries garden is my absolute favorite spot to hang out at in Paris, especially in between daily sightseeing and shopping outings. The sight of lush green gardens, the beautiful Ferris wheel and couples-in-love strolling through the gardens is straight out of a romantic foreign film. In winter, it's just as gorgeous and it has that same feel as the gardens of Versailles, with bare trees and misty skies. These gardens are centrally located and close to other attractions such as the Louvre, Angelina and a short stroll away from Champs-Élysées.
Stop to enjoy a crêpe
Any excuse to stop for dessert, am I right!? But with crêpes being literally all over Paris, presenting itself on every corner, with jars of Nutella peeking over the counters, you wouldn't need much convincing (who would?!). No trip to Paris is complete without indulging in these delicious creations and, whether savory or sweet, it makes for the perfect afternoon treat.
So that wraps up my recommended must-see spots in Paris. If you're looking for a recommendation on where to stay, I can highly recommend the Grand Hotel De Normandie. Located in the 9th arrondissement, it is conveniently next to St Lazare Station, and only a short stroll from two of Paris' upmarket (and my personal favorite!) department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. It is also in walking distance of all the major attractions, being the closest to Palais Garnier, the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens. Other than the convenient location, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful and they offer clean, modern and affordable rooms.
After reading my guide, I hope you are as in love with Paris as I am, and planning your itinerary as we speak! Go get lost in the cobblestone alleys, walk everywhere, and remember to treat yo' self! Paris is a once in a lifetime experience and I promise you that you'll never forget it. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions about planning the perfect trip to Paris. Bon voyage!
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