One of the most popular travel destinations, especially amongst Americans, is to the one-and-only city of lights, Paris! And, rightfully so, it’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. In so many ways, it lived up to every expectations and squashed the new negative stereotypes you hear [like, the french are rude and smell]. If you’re on the fence, I hope this travel diary can encourage you to pull the trigger because it truly is as dreamy as everyone makes it out to be. You’ll surely have a great time! However, traveling anywhere abroad can be a bit disconcerting, especially for novice travelers, So, I’m excited to finally share my Paris travel diary with you in hopes of making you feel more prepared and confident in your travels. This diary will outline where to eat, stay and play as well as offering some fun facts and helpful tidbits about Paris! Enjoy!
Fun Facts About Paris
• The name “Paris” is derived from its early inhabitants, the Celtic Parisii tribe. There are more than 30 cities/communities around the world named Paris, with most of them in the United States.
• Paris’ most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was supposed to be a temporary installation. It was built for the 1889 World’s Fair and originally intended to stand for only 20 years after.
• There are nearly 1,700 steps to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower, unless you take the elevator, of course! 🙂 Did you know the tower also has an apartment?
• The French Army was the first to use camouflage, which in French means, “to make up for the stage.” It was used for the first time in 1915 during WWI.
• The River Seine is actually labelled as toxic, so it’s best enjoyed by boat.
• There are 450 parks and gardens in the city of Paris alone.
• There is only one STOP sign in Paris, in the 16th arrondissement.
• From north to south, it only takes two hours to walk the city! That’s quite compact compared to other large cities!
• Though the Eiffel Tower may be the most recognized landmark in Paris, the most visited landmark is actually the Notre Dame Cathedral.
• The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. It is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th to 13th century.
Where To Eat
It’s impossible to even scratch the surface on all of the amazing places you can dine in a city like Paris. Honestly, I’ve only spent a total of nine days in the city and I can’t say I took the best notes, especially on my first trip. So, here are the ones I do remember and would recommend enthusiastically:
CAFE CENTRAL [7th arr.] – the first place I dined in Paris that is sure to delight you; my best friend Whitney comes back at least once a year and has never been disappointed; located on a lively street [full of restaurants, bars, wine shops and cafe’s] in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. Stop for a drink a L’Eclair beforehand if you have time!
LE SAINT-REGIS [3rd arr. on one of the little islands] – a stunning spot to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner offering delicious food and attentive staff; honestly, one of my favorite spots to dine for lunch; walk it off by heading to Notre Dame or Shakespeare & Co. afterwards or this little spot that you’ve surely seen on Pinterest
LE CONSULAT [Montmartre]- an insta-worthy spot situated at the end of a fork in the road in the charming neighborhood of Montmartre, a great spot for sitting outside and watching the world go by
L’AVENUE [8th arr.] – a pricey celebrity haunt that is a great option for a special occasion; thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp risotto and the view of the Eiffel Tower from our table; could have done without the less than enthusiastic and scantily clad waitresses; hope the service is better in 2019 than it was in 2016 but the food is incredible!
HOLYBELLY [10th arr.] – a simply superb spot to grab breakfast that has become quite popular since opening a few years ago; two locations on the same street; see what they have at each one here as well as their hours of operation
SOUL KITCHEN [Montmartre] – a healthy food option in Montmartre and one of the only places that had good coffee, in my opinion
CAFE DE FLORE [1st arr.] – an iconic cafe offering its guests traditional French fare and once served the likes of Pablo Picasso
BISTROT ALEXANDRE III [7th arr.] – situated right along the Seine, this is a great spot to enjoy a sunset cocktail or a light bite
LA FONTAINE DE MARS [7th arr.] – if you’re looking for the best spot for crème brûlée in Paris, this spot is a good place to start
PIERRE HERME – hands down, the best place to grab macarons; multiple locations throughout the city; I can assure you, they are better than Laduree
PRO TIP: If you don’t ask for the bill when you’re done with your meal, you will sit there for a long time. Server’s do not come and check on you as they do in the States. They are not trying to be rude or inattentive. It’s just how most European countries do things. They never want their customers to feel rushed. They are all about the experience and want you to enjoy the time you’re spending with those you’re sharing a meal with. The French, and a lot of Europeans, love long meals. So, be sure to ask for it [in French, out of respect] when you’re ready!
Where To Stay
• WHAT AREA? Honestly, I bet you would enjoy your stay in so many of the main arrondissements around central Paris. I have stayed in the 7th arr. and the 15th arr., which actually neighbor each other. This area is close to the Eiffel Tower and I’d highly recommend staying in this area. It’s in a quiet neighborhood that is a short, enjoyable walk to neighboring arrondissements with lots of beautiful sites to see.
• AIRBNB or HOTEL? Personally, I’ve only ever stayed in an Airbnb [this flat, although it doesn’t seem to be available anymore, and another one that I didn’t book so sadly don’t have the link to] and enjoyed my stay both times. I’d recommend looking at least four to six months ahead of time to get the best options. Staying in Airbnb’s is, typically, more affordable although not always depending on the style of accommodations you’re looking for. If you’re considering Airbnb’s, just remember that older buildings in Europe often do not have elevators [or lifts, as they’re more commonly called in Europe] and, I’ve found a lot of staircases in Paris are circular … so, just use your imagination as to how fun that is with luggage, especially for my fellow over-packers, ha! I’m not trying to sway you either way and I realize this isn’t a big deal to everyone, but it’s important to point these things out so you aren’t surprised and / or reminds you to filter your searches for the ones that have elevators, ha! [Although, I will say, your options will be much more limited from personal experience!]
Hotels, obviously, have their benefits, as well as their cons. They might be a little more expensive but you may enjoy some modern luxuries like elevators, free breakfast, strong Wifi, etc. If you prefer a hotel, I have heard wonderful things about the following mid-range boutique hotels: GRAND HOTEL DU PALAIS ROYAL, HOTEL LE NARCISSE BLANC & SPA, HOTEL SPLENDID ETOILE, and LE METROPOLITAN. If budget isn’t an issue, I’d definitely consider: HOTEL PLAZA ATHENEE, THE PENINSULA PARIS, THE RITZ PARIS, or PARK HYATT VENDOME-PARIS.
Where To Play
Gosh, y’all … it would be impossible to share everything you could do to enjoy a trip to Paris. I have been twice and still have a long list of things I’d like to do, even some of the things on this list, but I will give you a mix of things I consider must-do’s and things I really want to do in the future:
• CATCH THE SUNSET ON THE PONT ALEXANDRE III BRIDGE: This was the first thing my friend, Victoria, and I did a couple of years ago once we got into town [Exhibit A]. Keep in mind, I needed to shoot a campaign so, normally, I wouldn’t have been wearing heels so – ignore that – but making the decision to shoot here for it afforded us a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower at sunset, which I highly recommend!
• SEE THE EIFFEL TOWER SPARKLE AT NIGHT: Y’all … Paris is pretty magical already but, then you see one of the most iconic structures light up and sparkle is one of the most beautiful and romantic things you’ll ever experience. Even if you’re going with your family or girl friends … it’s hard not to enjoy it. It was a bucket list moment for me!
• WALK THE STREETS OF MONTMARTRE + CATCH A DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE CITY: This is one of the most charming, quaint and picturesque areas of Paris. I highly recommend heading up one morning and meandering for the day. You’ll stumble upon markets with local vendors, small cafe’s and, the absolutely stunning Sacre-Couer, a 19th-century basilica built by the French government following the Franco-Prussian war. It boasts one of the most stunning views of the entire city of Paris. It sits at the top of a hill and you can find lots of staircases to get up to it but I’d recommend the famous stairs of Rue Foyatier, that way you can tick that off your list, as well!
Also, don’t miss the insta-worthy La Maison Rose and Le Consulat, both of which are in this area. If you want a coffee or a healthy bite to eat, I’d recommend Soul Kitchen. I personally think it’s hard to find good coffee in France, but you can find some there!
• PACK A PICNIC AND SIT IN FRONT OF THE EIFFEL TOWER: If you are spending quite a bit of time in the city or have been a few times before, head to the market and grab a baguette, some cured meats and cheese, along with a bottle of wine and sit along the lawn outside of the Eiffel Tower. I found have this to be such an enjoyable end to a long day of walking around the city and can imagine it’s a relaxing way to start it [minus the wine, ha!]. Maybe grab a croissant or a quiche along with your coffee and head over there to enjoy. Not a bad start to the day, in my opinion!
• CATCH A VIEW FROM THE TROCADERO WITHOUT THE CROWDS: This is an absolute must but, it’s ALWAYS overloaded with tourists, selfie sticks, professional photographers photographing couples, etc. so, heed this warning, friends. GET. UP. EARLY. I promise it’ll be worth it. I’m not a morning person, either, but I was so happy I did this. After I got to enjoy a few moments of that unspoiled view of the Eiffel Tower, my friend and I went and grabbed breakfast at Carette. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a drink with a view, I’d recommend Cafe de l’Homme, which is situated just next to the Trocadero. However, I have heard that they now charge a hefty price of €50 to be seated outside so, be aware of that ahead of time! The staff isn’t the friendliest, which I hate, but it does have a great view.
There are always a few couples taking photos together at this time of day, and then there’s me … ha! I was VERY single when these were taken … gotta embrace the season you’re in, ladies! Ha! Can’t wait to take some with John Martin one day! 🙂
• SKIP THE LOURVE, OPT FOR MUSEE D’ORSAY: There. I said it. Honestly, I understand why the Lourve is so popular and, hey, if art is the biggest reason you came to Paris then … you absolutely 100% need to check it out. However, if you are not a huge art or museum person and you only want to do ONE … I’d say opt for Musee d’Orsay. It has equally as iconic artwork to the Mona Lisa. Think Monet, okay? So, yeah, that would be my pick, personally if I had to choose just one.
• DON’T MISS NOTRE DAME: I’m not sure if it is currently open so, obviously look into that but, If you can, definitely walk through Notre Dame. It is absolutely stunning. Cathedrals always make me emotional … thinking about what it took to make them, thinking about the number of prayers that have been prayer within their walls, thinking about how many people who dream of stepping into this one space, etc. I don’t know … it’s an overwhelming thought and really humbles me. But, Notre Dame … wow. Y’all can’t go to Paris and not walk through it.
• READ A BOOK IN A CHAIR IN JARDIN DES TUILERIES or WALK FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER: One of the things I love about Paris is that there are so many spots around the city that encourage rest and allowing yourself to take life a little slower than we typically do here in the States. Jardin des Tuileries is a lush 17th-century formal garden begging to be explored. At one end, you have the Lourve and, at the other, you have the Place de la Concorde and the beginning of the Av. des Champs-Elysées, which leads to the Arc de Triomphe. On the other end, you have the Lourve. This walk will truly make you feel fully engulfed in the magic of Paris. End this walk by …
• CATCH THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE ARC DI TRIOMPHE: I’ve never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower but, I’m still quite confident this is one of the best viewpoints of Paris because you get the most iconic structure in your view. I mean, truly … I challenge you to find something more stunning than this view:
• TAKE A PIC IN THE PALAIS ROYAL: This is one of my favorite spots in the city. It’s also a great spot to take kids and where a lot of local families bring theirs to play! Grab yourself an latte from Café Kitsune to start your day or as an afternoon pick-me-up. I’ve also had lunch at Cafe Nemours, a quick two-minute walk around the corner, as well, if you’re needing somewhere close to eat.
• SHOP ALONG AVENUE MONTAIGNE: If you’ve got some money to spend or you’re a huge fan of window shopping, this is where you need to go. This avenue is dotted with all of the luxury designer houses and it’s hard not to want to pop into each and every one of them. This is also an area of Paris that is full of those very ‘quintessential’ Paris streets, so if you’re a photographer … you’ll have plenty to snap in this area! It’s a stones throw from the Eiffel Tower. Pop into the restaurant in the Hotel Plaza Athenee. I’ve heard it’s wonderful!
HEADS UP: If you do make a designer purchase, make sure you check out this travel Q&A on how to ensure you get your refund and know what to do when you come back into the States.
• GET OUT OF THE CITY: If you have the time, I highly recommend you take a train to neighboring site or area like the Palace of Versailles, the Champagne region, like the city of Reims, or the Loire Valley, a French wine region. If you’ve ever wanted to see the beaches of Normandy, it’s certainly a full day trip but completely doable from Paris! Another option would be Mont Saint-Michel, as it looks absolutely stunning! If you have kids, maybe check out Disneyland Paris!
• END YOUR TRIP BY SEEING THE CITY FROM THE SEINE: So, this is actually an experience I want to do again because I did it on my first trip to Paris, at night, the first night we were in town, and it was freezing, ha! It was beautiful, don’t get me wrong – but I didn’t have any context on the things I was seeing because I was unfamiliar with the city and it was dark. I personally think this experience is the best way to END your trip because you do have more familiarity with the sites your seeing and it’s tied to memories, which reminds you how wonderful your trip has been. You’ll also be tired and likely want to rest your feet after burning off all your energy seeing all the things, ha! I wish I had a company to recommend but it’s been a few years since I’ve done one and I was far from a travel blogger at that point so, if you have a suggestion, leave it in the comments for future travelers!
What To Know Before You Go
• DESTINATION HIGH SEASON: The high season is most definitely May through August! Accommodations and flights will be much more expensive this time of year. Low season is December, January and February. I personally recommend doing New Years’ Eve in Paris. It’s SO SO fun. You hear so much crap about the French but they were so incredibly happy and friendly on New Years Eve when I was there a few years ago!
• BEST TIME TO VISIT: In my opinion, there is NEVER a bad time to visit Paris, ha! However, the weather between April and June as well as September through November is the best, which makes exploring a large city so much easier. One question I received was whether I’d recommend going in the Spring or Fall? I haven’t been in the Spring so it’s hard to weigh in fairly. I’ve been in the Fall and I didn’t find that the leaves are as vibrant as they are in the States. So, maybe Spring because the blossoms from what I’ve seen in photos and heard from friends are absolutely stunning. But, it’s completely up to you!
• HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED? I’d say you could see the highlights over the course of three days. However, I think you could fill five to seven days easily! It would allow for a day trip to the Palace of Versailles, the Champagne region, like Reims, or another wine region, like the Loire Valley. It’s completely up to you but I always recommend giving yourself more time than you think you’ll need.
• IS PARIS SAFE: Honestly, Paris is no less safe than the large cities we tend to venture to in the States to explore. There is always a risk, no matter where you go. I have had a couple of experiences in Paris where I did not feel safe HOWEVER … I would not say you should write Paris off. I have honestly seen more armed officers throughout the city of Paris than any other European city. This particular instance happened underneath the Eiffel Tower one evening with two girlfriends of mine. We were approached by a man who asked if we wanted help taking photos and we kindly declined. He persisted in asking to the point where we started to respond in a more assertive and firm tone. He eventually told him to go and leave us alone, which wasn’t received well as this man was from a culture that sees women as subordinate. Thankfully, nothing happened. He left us alone eventually but it was a little disconcerting in the moment. I share all of this to also share that this was an area where things like this happened a lot. There were a population of people who would hang around this area and bother tourists in an effort to pick-pocket or steal from them. So, they have closed off this area now. I haven’t been back since 2017 so, I’m assuming the project is done now. I’m sure pick-pocketing still takes place in popular areas throughout the city so keep an eye on your belongings but, honestly, things like that can happen in ANY big city and … think about it … worse things have happened in smaller cities. So, don’t let this hold you back. Generally, Paris is very safe. Just be cautious and aware of your surroundings.
• RE: PICKPOCKETING: This is a huge issue in Paris and, a lot of times, people approaching you are either trying to sell you something or distract you to potential pickpocket you. Keep your belongings secured and IN FRONT OF YOU, especially around the more popular areas like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Be kind but firm when telling people you’re not interested in what you’re selling. Read more about the handbags I recommend for travel in THIS post.
• NAVIGATING THE CITY / TRANSPORTATION: While Paris is quite large, it is pretty walkable. If you need to get across town, I’d recommend using CityMapper to figure out the best route and to also figure out the Metro, as I found it a bit confusing before I discovered CityMapper. Taxi’s are plentiful, however, be sure to have cash on hand to pay as most still do not accept credit cards. Uber is legal and available in Paris so you could opt for Uber if you don’t have cash.
• TIPPING: A service charge is typically added to each restaurant or bar bill. An extra 5% is typically expected. Taxi drivers shoulder receive a 10% tip. Porters should receive 1 Euro per bag that they help you with. Tour guides are typically expected to be given 2-3 Euros.
• WHAT THE HECK IS AN ARRONDISSEMENT? You’ll likely hear the word arrondissement before the end of your trip. It simply means ‘area’. More technically, it means an administrative zone.
• LANGUAGE: The French typically know more English in larger cities, like Paris and Nice, but it isn’t as common in smaller cities. Be sure to learn a couple of words and phrases that would make communicating a little easier and less daunting! Google Translate [the app] is helpful but I’ve also shared a few key phrases for you to learn on my France Travel Guide page at the bottom.
• THE FRENCH PEOPLE + CULTURE: Here are a few takeaways that I gathered from my time and experience in France!
– The French appreciate ANY attempt from visitors to speak French. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make an attempt that they will likely be a little warmer to you.
– The French are typically a little more reserved than Americans, Italians and Greeks. Don’t take it as them being rude.
– The French shake hands with acquaintances but will kiss their friends and family on both cheeks.
– It’s considered extremely rude to act out in public. It’s important to maintain your manners. Avoid yawning. Do not shout or chew gum.
• GOOD TO KNOW: When you’re eating at a restaurant, keep your knife in your right hand and your fork in your left. Do not switch! This is common throughout Europe. They typically think the way we eat is so wrong! Stupid Americans! 😉
• WHO SHOULD VISIT THIS DESTINATION: Anyone who has ever dreamed of traveling to Paris and getting lost down it’s iconic cobblestone streets absolutely must go! It will, almost always, live up to every expectation! There are always pain points of any international trip but, overall, I think most people will enjoy Paris and all that it has to offer its guests.
So, do you feel prepped and ready to go now? I hope I’ve gotten you excited about your trip or have inspired you to want to plan a trip to Paris! It truly is a magical, stunningly beautiful place. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can. For more on Paris, be sure to check out this [albeit dated] Packing List [this one for London might also be helpful; links have been updated in that one] post as well as my Paris Travel Guide. For help on what to pack for international travel, be sure to peruse my Travel Tips section.
Last, but not least, be sure to pin this travel diary to Pinterest so you always have an easy way to refer back to it in the future!
Thanks for stopping by! xo.