This past May of 2015 I went on an epic, 2-week journey around Europe and my first stop was Paris. Why Paris you ask me? Why, of course for all the obvious reasons other people go there. For the food, the art, the historic scenery. One thing I will not include on my list of reasons to go is French culture, or Parisian culture to be more precise. It’s unfair to criticize a nation based on a one-city experience. I’m not uncovering a hidden secret here when I attest to Parisian rudeness, I just felt like I got extra doses of it everywhere I went; from a lady pushing me through the metro turntable, to a guy telling me to stand up on the train, to the Parisian MTA police harassing me and ticketing me for a rule no one told me about that I apparently broke. All this aside, I had an amazing sight-seeing, historical, culinary experience in my 4 days in Paris and I would like to provide some highlights and of course do’s and don’t for my fellow travelers embarking on their first Euro-trip.
We stayed in the 14th Arrondisement and were very pleasantly surprised by the locale. We had everything we needed within a few blocks of our hotel – supermarket, pharmacy, liquor store, metro, etc., but got to enjoy the quiet and not pay ridiculous fees for our room. City center was a 10-minute metro ride away.
Without further ado, if you have a few days in Paris, here’s what you should do definitely do and what you can safely skip:
Paris as a city is not very large (as compared to New York per say) so anywhere you go, you’ll be there within 15 minutes (on the metro). We basically decided to walk everywhere so I got a great glimpse of everything and everything in between everything. Here is my list of absolute must-do’s.
- The Eiffel Tower – you will get the best view of Paris, period. We opted out for the stairs, so you’ll also get a great workout…or you can always take the elevator
- The Notre Dame – go in, sit down, breathe in the centuries of history and admire the enormity of the architecture. A truly unique spiritual experience.
- Luxembourg Gardens – start your day off with a stroll in this “park”. Beautiful sights everywhere and Parisians lounging around in chairs, reading books, and eating baguettes.
- Walk along the Seine – even if you don’t make any stops. The bridges in Paris are absolutely breathtaking and you will be able to see all the main architectural points.
- The Champs Elysees (if you love to shop) – the 5th avenue of Paris. If you are a fan of haute couture, make sure to make a few stops here. Beware, it is packed with tourists, just like 5th avenue in New York.
What you can skip, if you don’t have time:
- The Louvre – We walked by it, but the crazy lines and tiny Mona Lisa (and I am absolutely an art fanatic) were not enough motivation for me to waste half the day there. Besides, I’m not a fan of hopping and skipping all over a museum of such grandeur. Check out the exterior instead – the pyramids and the facades of the building are absolutely incredible. When you’re done, keep walking.
- L’Arc de Triumphe and Place de la Bastille – great pieces of architecture, but I feel like I’ve seen them in every major city. If you don’t have the time, don’t bother.
- Moulin Rouge – yes, the show is great and entertaining, where the costumes alone are amazingly impressive and not a single breast is covered, but for the price you’re going to pay (about 250 euros per person) go out and have an amazing dinner on the Seine instead.
My best advice for food is try and avoid all the tourist traps. Yes, they do offer French classics like crepes and steak frites, but the quality is subpar at best. Do seek out all the hole-in-the-wall places for the best authentic French culinary experience and try and have at least one very nice dinner.
Here are my lunch favorites: savory crepes, salade nicoise, and an amazing charcuterie board. If you’re wondering why the crepe looks so brown, it’s because the French use buckwheat flour for savory crepes.
Our indulgence dinner was at Chez Dumonet in the 7th Arrondisement, and it was worth every euro. I read about it as one of David Lebovitz’s recommendations and since we were in the area, decided I should try it and steer the group (my brother and sister), being the culinary snob that I am. Our meal highlights included the terrine, stuffed mushrooms, steak tartare, and of course,the best beouf bourignon of my entire life. Paired with a 2010 Bordeaux, I was in absolute culinary heaven. They were, unfortunately all out of their Grand Marnier souffle so we opted out for some cream puffs. Delicious. I enjoyed this dinner so much, I didn’t even want to photograph most of it.
Another must when you’re in Paris – for breakfast, make sure you visit at least one boulangerie. There is nothing more heavenly in the universe than fresh-baked French croissants. Most boulangeries cater to savory breakfast lovers like me as well with quiches, sandwiches, and salads, and even have some lunch items. Whatever you do, do not leave Paris without frequenting these. There are a ton of them on every block in the city, especially when you get away from the super touristy areas.
My pain au chocolat – amazing, buttery, fluffy, chocolatey heaven in your mouth
The food across the board is better tasting and simpler everywhere in Europe; I made a pleasant note that almost every single meal I ordered came with a side salad.
A Taste of the French Countryside and Going to Monet’s House in Giverny
Claude Monet is my favorite artist and when I found out Giverny (where his home is and all the gardens are) was only a 40-minute train ride away from Paris, I knew I had to go. And it was 200% worthwhile so if you have a day to spare, definitely go and see where Monet lived, painted, and died. The flower collection alone is far more impressive than in any botanical garden I’ve ever been in. And of course if you are a loyal Monet fan or admirer you have to see the water garden with the water lilies and le pont Japonais (which is now reconstructed because the original one rotted away). It is simply a botanical paradise unlike any other.
While you’re there, make sure to solidify your lunch/dinner plans early. Every cafe in town closes at 6 so unless you’re ready, you’ll go home on an empty stomach, like we did. Also make sure to walk around the small town and catch some beautiful views of the quaint French countryside (late spring is best for this)
Paris is a city made for wandering so please do put on a good pair of walking shoes and wander around. It is THE BEST way to stumble upon amazing experiences and make new friends. You don’t even need a map, it’s a large circle.
Want me to talk about anything from this post in more detail? Let me know.
Have you ever been to Paris? Leave me a comment about your favorites.