No city is filled with hope and expectations quite like the French capital. These are my tips for your first time in Paris.
You can hardly click on a Pinterest board without seeing something that says “Paris Is Always A Good Choice”. I have to say, I’m inclined to agree! I've been to Paris 6 times and I just love it. There’s a reason Paris makes it onto every bucket list, why even non-travelers are enamored with the City of Lights. Just imagine - the food, the fashion, the history, and the beauty. But Paris also has many detractors - is it too busy, too expensive, or too snobby? Which side of Paris can you expect during your first visit? If it's going to be your first time in Paris, here are some tips to make the best of it.
City of Lights? Or Just a City?
First and foremost, Paris is a city, a national capital, and the centre of the Francophone world. And like any other major city, there can be downsides. It can be bureaucratic, busy, congested, sooty, overpriced, with pockets of crime and poverty. Chances are very good that Paris is actually statistically cleaner and safer than your hometown, but there’s no escaping that it’s a huge city. Movies have worked hard to sanitize Paris into perfect loveliness, but millions of real people live and work there – and millions more like you and I visit each year. Be gentle with your expectations.
Paris is Snobby? Not Quite!
I’ve also heard complaints that Parisians are snobby. In my experience, Parisians have always been polite and helpful. When any big city is overrun by tourists, its residents can be a bit fatigued by it all. Paris is a world leader for the finer things in life, which a rich history and legacy all its own. As a Parisian, you would have justifiable pride in your city, your heritage – and you’d likely be put out when a loud, brash tourist starts complaining about the lack of English signage. I think Parisians just want to see that the travelers who overwhelm their city also show it some love and respect.
The World is Your Oyster
So, taking these factors into account, what can you expect from a visit to Paris? More than anything else, you can expect choice. Whether your interests lie with history, any form of art, dance, theatre, or literature, architecture or design, gardens or nature, food, drink, or people – there is a Paris filled with your passions, waiting for you to discover it.
Make your visit guilt-free! Paris has the most spectacular art museums in the world but you shouldn’t feel pressured to spend all your time in the galleries. You can enjoy Paris just as much if your passion is cycling, or music, or baking. By all means, challenge yourself to try new things, consider seeing some of the famous sites, but ultimately follow your true interests and Paris will support you!
Wistful or List-ful?
While many of us dream of lazy Parisian afternoons, floating on a breeze, happy to stroll and explore and follow our whims, the reality is that a bit of organization goes a long way in this large and popular city. I suggest breaking up your visit to be half free time and half pre-planned time. You can save hours by planning when you will visit the most popular sites, infamous for their epic lines. You can also save a lot of money when you group your activities by geographic zone, cutting out the need for extra transportation. With a little planning, you can see most of Paris’s famous attractions in a short amount of time, leaving you with the leisure and relaxation you crave.
Prince or Pauper?
One of the best things about Paris is that it represents tremendous value for travellers of all budgets. Paris is the kind of city that you can experience unforgettable luxury or you can live the savvy backpacker’s dream. To experience the best of Paris, you don’t have to be holed up in a 5 star hotel, drinking overpriced wine. Nor do you have to bunk in a hostel dorm, eating stale baguette to do Paris on a shoestring. There is something for every budget and there are plenty of creative ways to save money in some areas in order to splurge more on others.
How I Save and Splurge in Paris:
When I visit Paris next in November 2013, I’ll be staying at a modest, 2 star hotel that is very reasonably priced. What I’m giving up in fancy accommodation, I’m gaining back in luxurious location, as my dusty little pension is located right next to Notre Dame Cathedral. My strategic plan to visit museums during their reduced evening rates saves me money, which I’ll then use to take a guided walking tour of a new neighbourhood. I’ll be breakfasting on the go, grabbing baked goods and local market fare, but I’ll enjoy dinner with wine and dessert. And at every step, I’ll be soaking up the Parisian experience, enjoying every minute of the day surrounded by beautiful public parks, charming cobblestone lanes, rich historical sites, and delightful cityscapes.
My Top Paris Tips:
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. What are your favourite tips for having a wonderful time in Paris?
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19/11/2013 05:11:57 am
Ah! The drizzle. I became far too familiar with it this week! But you are right - it's a great city for nighttime activities.
18/11/2013 10:25:07 am
I've never been to Paris (yet), but being from a big city in Canada that is inundated with tourists year round (Vancouver, BC) I can feel Parisians pain... like I think it's nice and all that you and you friends want to take 30 photos while you're all blocking the sidewalk, but I'm trying to get to work! Common sense works universally :)
19/11/2013 05:15:56 am
Agreed - there needs to be a code of conduct for travellers! I always try to remember I am a guest and try to be on my best behaviour.
21/12/2015 03:11:20 pm
I spent a month in Paris in January 2015, which was my third visit. One of my favorite parts was being able to buy a large, bakery fresh baguette for 2 Euros from the nice ladies at the corner bakery. It took me a week to figure out the short 2 minute interaction to buy one. By the second week, they knew me and I knew what they were saying :) As a lover of cheese, bread and wine, I know you can eat well in the City of Lights by buying from local grocery stores and shops.
24/12/2015 03:11:26 pm
These are such wonderful travel memories! I love how you get to know the locals with just a few quick visits. Paris really can have a small town feel to it.
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