So I told a bit of a lie in this post title. Technically this wasn’t my first time in the City of Light.

Let me tell you about my prior experience of Paris before we begin. Back in 2010, I took between 40-50 teenage girls to Paris on a school day trip. Yes, just picture that for a second. I wasn’t a teacher, but I used to manage volunteering and community for a large law firm and one of our community projects was to take local teenagers on a day trip to improve their French. It was a long, difficult and tiring day and it gave me so much horror that I never revisited the idea of travelling to Paris again.

Over the years I’d heard divisive opinions about the French capital which only added to my reluctance to travel, but given its proximity to the UK and my plan to fit in as many European city breaks as possible this year, I cast my fears aside, bit the bullet and booked a trip.

The question is, would my reluctance be well-founded?

A First Timers Guide To Paris

Getting Around

Much like my trip to Brussels, the easiest way to get to Paris from the south of England is my beloved Eurostar, and with no hassle at all we sped off to our destination. The Eurostar is not necessarily the cheapest way to get there, but it’s a good way because you don’t have to faff with baggage, you don’t have to arrive ridiculously early as you do with flights and the Eurostar takes you into the heart of the city straight away.

There are of course flights with a range of both budget and higher end airlines if that is more convenient and more your bag. I just love a train ride!

On that note, Paris is extremely easy to get around, both by foot and by the metro. Metro tickets were surprisingly cheap (especially if you are used to London prices), and when our feet became weary, it was a godsend just to hop on a train to our next destination. You can buy a single ticket, or you can buy a batch of 10 tickets which saves you some cash if you know you are going to travel by metro a lot.

Where To Stay

I booked a fabulous deal to Paris with Holiday Pirates which included Eurostar travel, a boat cruise and a 4* hotel for two nights. We were based in the more bohemian Monmartre area, close to the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur and whilst Monmartre as a place wasn’t quite for us (more on that later!), we weren’t right near some of the famous Paris attractions which definitely made it less touristy.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

Paris is split into “arrondisements”, and if you are looking for hotel or Airbnb options you may find their locations described as such. Grab a Paris map and decide which arrondisement you’d like to be based in, and start your accommodation search there.

We stayed in the utterly charming Hotel Josephine. Inspired by cabaret star Josephine Baker, and part of the Happy Culture chain of hotels it had a shabby chic sort of feel, with lots of cabaret and burlesque influences dotted about. Although it felt a little “worn” to be considered a real 4-star hotel, it was a fantastic base for our weekend adventure.

The other amazing thing about Happy Culture hotels is their concept of “happy time”, which is essentially a happy hour during the evening at each hotel. In Hotel Josephine it was absinthe cocktails (a bit much for us), but you can pop in to any Happy Culture hotel to join in their happy hour (ranging from wine, beer, champagne and cocktails) by showing your room key. They even have an app you can download to find those closet to you and find out when their happy hour runs. Given Paris can be quite expensive food + drink wise, this was a lovely way to get the evening started!

Top Attractions

You’re never going to fit in all that Paris has to offer in just two nights. It’s just that simple. Much like any very large City, the options are expansive and places like The Louvre can take days to fully explore. So we put on our walking shoes and headed for the big ticket Paris attractions, with a couple of left-field sights thrown in for good measure.

Once again, if you want a great free walking tour, Sandemann’s offers one which takes you from the Notre Dame to the Tuileries Garden and gives you some interesting insights into the culture and history of Paris. If you don’t take a walking tour I would very much recommend a walk along The Seine because it is very pretty AND you get to see some of the best bridges, architecturally speaking, in Europe.

Bateaux Mouches Boat Cruise

I would consider the Bateaux Mouches to be an absolute must do on a first trip to Paris. Starting right by the Eiffel Tower and taking you all the way to just past the Notre Dame and back again, this is a great way to see Paris from a different angle, rest your feet and hopefully enjoy a little sunshine. It takes just about an hour, and gives you a real sense of where all the attractions are located. Plus, you can take your own food and drink on board!

A First Timers Guide To Paris

We did this during the day, but it runs through the evening – and I can imagine a boat cruise with Paris all lit up would be something very romantic!

Cost: 13.50 euros per adult.

Notre Dame De Paris

Widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and one of the largest and most famous church buildings in the world, if you like churches and gothic architecture you’ll probably like this. It’s beautiful both inside and out, but I’d advise visiting early if you want to avoid all the crowds.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

It has an interesting history too (particularly with regards to the French Revolution and the Pope’s visit during the Napoleon years, and the Sandeman’s tour will give you some interesting insight. We didn’t climb the tower, but you can climb the 422 steps for a great view of Paris if you feel fit enough!

Cost: Free, or 10 euros per adult to climb the tower.

Arc de Triomphe

Built by Napoleon (though sadly not finished in his lifetime), this “triumphal arch” is an absolutely incredible sight and pictures just don’t do it justice. Located right at the top of the Champs Elysee, it looks out across all of Paris, and if you climb it (as we did), you’ll get insane views over Paris (including the Eiffel Tower) and be able to see the craziness of the 12 road Champs Elysee roundabout.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

You can also see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was added in 1921. The ‘eternal flame’ is re-lit every evening at 6:30 pm.

Climbing the Arc de Triomphe is not for the feint hearted, it is hard work. But the pay off at the top is worth the effort.

Cost: 12 euros per person.

Eiffel Tower

Some people consider this beautiful. I was not one of them and it was possibly my most disappointing visit to a famous European attraction yet (more disappointing than the Mannekin Pis in Brussels!). But when in Paris it was worth seeing it, and although we opted not to climb the tower (we saved our climb for the Arc de Triomphe so the Eiffel Tower was in our view) we did catch sight of it at many different locations.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

I definitely think the Eiffel Tower is more beautiful at night, so if you have an opportunity to visit then I would time it that way!

Cost: 17 euros to get right to the top, cheaper if you only want to go 2nd floor or don’t want lift access.

The Louvre

I really really wanted to head inside The Louvre, not least to see the Mona Lisa but Mr S is just not in to art, so we settled for a wander round the outside (to see the glass pyramid, obviously). The building itself it absolutely huge, probably the largest museum/gallery I’ve come across and it is worth going just to take a look at that.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

Just note – it isn’t open on Tuesday’s so plan your visit accordingly!

Cost: 15 euros (including entrance to the Musée Eugène-Delacroix)

The Pantheon

Based in the Latin Quarter, we stumbled across The Pantheon by accident. It really is a beautiful building, slightly off the beaten track and with no crowds we were able to appreciate it fully. We also got an amazing view of the sunset with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so if you are hunting for good Eiffel views, I’d recommend.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

It’s inspired by both The Pantheon in Rome and St Paul’s Cathedral in London so it will seem oddly familiar. It now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens.

Cost: 9 euros per adult.

Fontaine Saint-Michel

Located just a skip away from the Notre Dame, it is worth popping across the road to look at this spectacular piece of French architecture. It was actually built to hide an “end wall” in a road (a common thing in Paris) and was the last of these to be built. It’ll take just 5 minutes to visit, but it’s worth it.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

Cost: Free

Place de la Concorde

One of the major public squares in Paris, it sits between the main Arc du Triomphe l’Etoile and the Tuileries Garden/Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. It is the largest square in the French capital and has an interesting history. During the French Revolution, it was renamed Place de la Révolution and a guillotine was placed here where King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793 and Marie Antoinette a little later.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

The square was renamed Place de la Concorde as a gesture of reconciliation post revolution, but there is still a plaque to mark it’s bloody history. Bizarrely, the center of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk given by the Egyptian government in the 19th Century. Huh.

Cost: Free

Tuileries Garden

This is a garden of many gardens, created by Catherine Medici. It is beautiful (and really big), encompassing any styles and designs. It was a bit chilly when we visited to sit and chill out, but in the summer I can imagine this to be a lovely strolling/picnic destination.

Cost: Free

Paris Catacombs

And now for something COMPLETELY different. An underground ossury, visiting and walking round was a truly freaky and strange experience. A former disused quarry, remains from The Cemetery of the Innocents were placed here from 1786 after the cemetery was causing infections in local people nearby. But they weren’t just dumped – they were artistically arranged, following a ceremony of priests at nightfall right through to 1814.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

As only 200 people are allowed in at one time, the queues can be quite large, and we queued for around an hour to visit. It’s worth it though. It’s hard to describe the scene down below, but it will be like nothing else you see in Paris.

Cost: 12 euros per adult

Sacre Couer

Located on top of the hill of Monmartre, this beautiful church is worth the climb up (although you can also take the furnacular up to save your legs!). It wonderful white stone provides a beautiful contrast to the blue sky (if you are lucky enough to get some, and inside it is just as impressive.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

I was lucky enough to pop inside whilst a service was going on, and hearing the choir sing in that beautiful surrounding, the acoustics raising the voices up, honestly made me teary.

Cost: Free (and you can download a free audio guide too)

Where To Eat + Drink

I’ve written a  full guide to eating and drinking in Paris, but for now here is a list of the fantastic places we found. The food and drink in Paris is incredible, and I’m keen to return just to hop from bar to bistro to bar again.

A First Timers Guide To Paris
Gorgeous steak at Le Relais

 

  • Bistro Melrose – based in Place du Clichy, we had an incredible traditional French meal for a bargain 39 euros including wine and an aperitif.
  • Kraft Hot Dog – This wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch. A trendy hole in the wall style eatery serving inventive hot dogs right in The Marais.
  • Mamie Burger – great burgers close to the Gare du Nord on the slightly edgy but definitely up and coming Rue de Fourberg.
  • Angelina – located on the Rue de Rivoli next to Tuileries Garden, this is a tea house but is famous for it’s hot chocolate. Believe me when I say you absolutely will not taste better!
  • Laduree – we visited the one on the Camps Elysee for mid morning macarons and cafe creme. For me, a trip to Paris is not complete without a taste of Laduree macarons!
  • Shakespeare + Co – a cafe and an English bookshop with amazing views of the Notre Dame. They also do fantastic vegan food and juices if you are that way inclined!
A First Timers Guide To Paris
Apple tart at Bistro Melrose

 

In Conlusion

You’d think that by everything I packed in, I would have really loved Paris. But I didn’t. In fact, for the first day I really really hated Paris. Areas of Monmartre and Pigalle are horribly dirty and do have the smell of wee about them, and the big ticket items really left me cold. Many close friends told me how much I’d love Paris and I felt under so much pressure to feel the same way, but overall Paris did not capture my heart.

A First Timers Guide To Paris

In many ways, I’d compare it to London. London is crowded, some of its famous landmarks disappointing and it can be dirty, smelly and grotty. But I live in London, so over time I’ve come to love its edges and I also know where to go to find the bits I love.

But that’s the point. Any very big city will have its drawbacks, and I believe Paris needs time and care to truly find its heart. The food was amazing, and I think I’d go back and just hang out soaking up Parisian life instead of seeing all the things people expect you to see as a tourist.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the smaller cities such as Lisbon and Prague. Perhaps I needed to approach Paris differently. I’d love to hear your favourite parts of this huge and varied city so I can try again in the future!

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Paris Guide | City Break | Travel Tips | European Travel

Paris Guide | City Break | Travel Tips | European Travel
Paris Guide | City Break | Travel Tips | European Travel

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  • A Road to Travel

    I loved everything about Paris but the prices and like you only had a short time to visit. Monmarte is a great choice for a place to stay and most of the places you visited we did too. Only missing the Arc on our last visit. Seemed like you crammed about everything into that length of time that was possible. Should you get a chance on one of your trips we are in Skopje, Macedonia and it was one most beautiful places we have visited in Europe.

    • I’ve heard such wonderful things about Macedonia! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • christopher mitchell

    Considering how utterly overwhelming Paris can be, this is a great post to put together! It reads very well, and very clearly! Thanks!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • OMG how the heck did you manage that many teenage girls? I haven’t been to Paris since 2009 so reading up on tips traveling through Paris will be a must when we go. You’ve hit the best spots, this time I have to make sure I make it to the Catacombs!

    • Haha, I have no idea tbh, I think I’m still recovering haha! I hope next time you make it to the Catacombs, they truly were a highlight! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Lauren Craving Sunshine

    This is an incredible guide! I’ve been to France a few times but never to Paris. It’s on the list & i will get there some day soon!

    • I hope you get there soon and have a fabulous time! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • I’m sorry you didn’t love Paris! It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, so I’m always surprised that so many travel bloggers don’t like it that much. I’ve been 5 times. But I would advise to slow down and explore it arrondissement by arrondissement rather than trying to jam everything into one trip.

    • I agree that slowing down is something I would do next time. I think for me, I just prefer smaller cities – it reminded me a lot of London, where I live. I don’t mind London because I’ve worked but the bits I like! I’d definitely want to hang out more slowly near Canal Saint Martin and The Marais though. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • The hotel indeed looks charming. I went there on a day trip from London and took the Euroline coach instead. And yeah, I went on a Tuesday and totally missed Louvre. But then I wasn’t really planning to get into Louvre coz I believe you need atleast 2 days to just see it! Managed just the top attraction in the single day!

    • The Louvre is a minefield! I’d definitely go back to spend a day in there, I’ve heard the Napoleon rooms are something special. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Vishal

    Your first timers guide is really detailed. I think anyone can use it and find it really valuable. I have a trip planned for summer and might be visiting Paris for couple of days. I will make sure to use the information shared here.

    • I hope you have a wonderful trip – let me know how you find it! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Suruchi Mittal

    It is a well written and detailed post for the first time visitors. I haven’t been to Paris till now, but it is one of my favorite places and looking forward to visit it soon. After going through your post, I just felt that you spent less time there and there was much to do and see. So, for such places you need to go slow; to take the actual feel of the place.

    • I agree it is sometimes good to go slow, but often you don’t know that this was what a city required until after you left! I think for me, I just really didn’t love it, and much prefer other European cities! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  • Sherianne Higgins (SherianneKa

    I’m not in love with either. Had a horrible experience and keep telling myself I need to go back and try again. You didn’t convince me 🙂

    • Haha sorry I couldn’t convince you! I’d definitely go back again. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey

    I really love your honesty! I’ve been to Paris twice now and I enjoyed myself, but I can see why you didn’t like it as much. I guess I’m used to big cities though and the craziness and dirtiness that comes with them. I would go back, especially to go see the catacombs as I still haven’t gotten a chance to see them.

    • I’d really recommend the catacombs! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • DeafWanderlust

    Glad you had a better experience exploring with your husband which gives you more time to explore on a ease mind rather than managing 15 teenage girls (a lot of respects for you haha). Its good that you went back and gave it a chance to see it in different eyes. I’ve heard many great and not so great experiences in Paris. I would still love to visit Paris but I hope to do slow travel and take my time to explore. This guide is great for first timers though just to get an ideas of what to see.

    • I really think taking longer and slowly travelling Paris would be a much better way of really getting a feel for the place. Thanks for commenting!

  • Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy Paris (or London) for that matter. I absolutely adore Paris and try to fit in time anytime I’m in Europe. But, I do understand because I really did not like Vienna. I found the city to be cold (not temperature), unfriendly, and really lifeless. It always shocks people to hear me say this. I hope you’ll have a chance to return, as I would like to give Vienna one more try. I’d recommend staying in the 5th or 6th. Those are my favorite arrondissements to stay.

    • I don’t mind London – I have lived here all my life so I am very accepting, I just don’t enjoy the tourist parts of big cities! Thanks for your recommendations!

  • megan_claire

    My opinion of Paris is very similar to your experience – there were parts of it which I enjoyed, seeing the attractions etc, though over-all Paris didn’t live up to the expectations or the hype that everyone had previously built up – it didn’t “capture my heart” as you put it. It’s still a beautiful city in it’s own right, and I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to hear the choirs sing at Sacre Couer, but I think the idea of Paris ruins the reality that all in all it’s just another city.

    • You put it all perfectly! That’s exactly how I feel. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • I always felt that my visit to Paris was quite incomplete and after reading this, I know that it surely was. Besides what I anyway missed, I completely did not realize that bit on the Paris Catacombs. I would love to do that – even though it is gloomy. I agree with you on the boat cruise. I do think it is th best way way experience the city at a glance.

    • The Paris Catacombs were so good – you’ll have to go back so you can see them! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • 4 days of Paris tour has left me craving for more!
    Such a lot to see and experience. The canal tour is topping the list right now. I had to miss it last time unfortunately.

    • Yes, definitely – I really want to visit Canal Saint Martin too to see a totally different side of Paris. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Tamshuk Saha

    This is a perfectly compiled guide for any first timers visiting Paris. Besides the usual Eiffel tower and the Louvre, the other attractions are quite beautiful. The list of places to eat is so useful, especially with the accompanying food pictures.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! have you ever visited Paris? Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Lois Alter Mark

    So many great tips here for the first-timer. Paris is one of my favorite cities, and all of these are reasons why!

    • As I mentioned in my post, I really didn’t love Paris, but it is true that they do have lots of great attractions. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Paris is such a classic European city and one that I always have trouble distilling down into just the big must-sees. Thanks for doing it for me – your coverage is comprehensive. I also love visiting Paris by Eurostar, but I must say, I only do so when I can find amazing deals (usually in the winter). Sometimes it’s so freaking expensive!!!

    • Eurostar can be super expensive – you have to book quite far in advance to get the deals. Thanks for commenting!

  • Ana Ojha

    Paris is a dream destination. It’s on my bucket list for a long time. Hope to visit there soon. I’m pinning your post for my future reference. Thanks for sharing a great guide!

    • Thank you so much – I hope you get to visit!

  • Delaine Mária

    I visited Paris for the second time last year and I still haven’t covered everything. I missed seeing Moulin Rouge. But I discovered some new things too … like the free viewpoint of Eiffel Tower from Galeries Lafayette, Palais Garnier, etc. To be honest, I’m not such a big fan of Paris. I like smaller cities and villages in France.

    • I so agree, I am absolutely a small city/village type of person! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • I was based in London for a whole year and I never made it to Paris. I don’t know why. I agree with you that big cities do have their drawbacks but if you have the time and patience, you can always discover hidden gems and new ways to appreciate them.

    • I agree, having more time allows you to seek out all the cute hidden spots! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Sonja Thomson

    Wow I cannot imagine guiding 40-50 teenage girls in Paris!!! And I wonder how much their French improved in one day for your efforts haha. There’s so much to see in Paris, and I think this is a great guide for a first timer. I’ve been once but I’d still follow something like this if I went again!

    • Haha yes, it was very stressful! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • I have a hate-love with Paris. I love the Montmartre part, but it’s so crowded always. And the city has become really expensive for travellers, dont you think?

    • It really was very expensive, especially drinks and the main attractions! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Haha! I completely agree with you. After living in Paris for a few months, I did not, at all, feel the romance as portrayed by everything I’ve read/seen prior. I thought the city it was quite gloomy and mean. Then again, I think Paris is meant for those who can afford the city without having to experience the social contrasts on the streets, the metros etc. Like you said, although bigger cities have known tourist attractions, they kinda lose the small city charm with it

    • Yep – I think you are either a small city or big city ind of person, and I’m definitely a small city gal! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Mel

    Thanks for the honest assessment! We will be in Paris in May. I’m not super excited about it, but since we are in France, I feel like we should at least spend a few days there. I love the Sandeman’s tours and will probably do that. I really liked our five days in London, so maybe I will like Paris, too! Thanks for all the great tips, it will help in the planning.

    • I hope you have a wonderful time! I’d totally recommend the sandemans tour, it was a great one.

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and I do hope you get to go back and finish your list!

  • Gareth Thompson

    There is a lot of truth in this post and certainly, its a lot more insightful than many of the other Paris articles which are floating around only highlighting the positive aspects of the city. Certainly, while there are lots to love about the French capital, as the article states, it can be busy and a little dirty and a long way removed from the idyllic Hollywood portrayal. The Louvre was particularly frustrating for me. I had imagined wondering around a hushed gallery but no, it was loud, crowed and very busy. And don’t expect to get up close with the Mona Lisa!

    • That was the same as The Vatican for me! So packed and loud! Thanks for commenting.

  • My little sister went on a day trip to Paris with her school last year and absolutely hated every second of it! Way too much travelling and running around to squeeze everything in. I feel like a day trip is way too short of a trip for a place like Paris! I totally don’t envy you taking a huge group of teenagers.
    Your room at Hotel Josephine looks SO old school Parisian! Exactly how I’d imagine hotels to look there. Now you’ve compared it to London I have to admit my desire to visit myself is diminishing somewhat! I hate London, it stresses me out and I much prefer smaller, more intimate cities.
    I do still want to visit Paris though, so appreciate all the info on the main sites especially the prices you’ve listed!

    • You should definitely give it a go yourself! Looking forward to hearing about your experiences 🙂

  • Alice Cardillo

    I totally understand how you could not like Paris (and I got the same feeling with NYC), especially when starting your experience near Pigalle. I’m a Parisian, and as you with London I came to love it with it’s bad sides. However, I am deeply, forever and madly in love with the 5th arr. To me it’s where every trips in Paris should start and revolve around to have a great experience 🙂 As yourself I do not like the Eiffel Tower but I’m crazy about the Louvre, and I have yet to go to the Catacombes!! Your pictures are beautiful and that’s a great introductory guide to my city!

    • Thanks so much for your comment – I’ll definitely be back and I will do things differently.

  • Gokul Raj

    Never been to Paris but will be part of itinerary whenever I take my Euro Trip. This is a great guide you have made for first timers mentioning all the places you can visit along with the fares.

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