At the dawn of this new year, I resolved that I would finally stop drooling at Travel Noire’s pictures and actually indulge my own wanderlust. And what better city to kick it all off than Paris? My friend Tosin and I took a long weekend trip there in January and it was an amazing time filled with so many “firsts”. Because I had a million questions of my own when we were planning this trip, I decided to make this post a travel guide filled with Paris travel tips for first time visitors and of course pictures from our trip!
? Parlez-vous Français?: I’ve taken French since I was 8 and went on to practically minor in it in college but alas, I sadly don’t have much to show for it by way of my conversational skills. I know, I know but you know what they say, “use it or lose it”. So suffice to say that I was quite nervous about how exactly we were going to survive in Paris for four whole days! My key tip here for my fellow, basic French speakers is to brush up or learn as many essential phrases as you can before your trip. Our reality was that a good chunk of Parisians we encountered, particularly Museum attendants, train station officials etc., spoke some English. Our M.O was always to politely greet them in French and then resort to our lifeline “s-il vous plait, parlez-vous anglais’? On the two rare occasions that they answered no, every bit of French we knew coupled with intense hand signs got us through! If all else fails, have Google Translate fired up and ready to go.
? Airbnb It or Get a Hotel?: Frankly, this depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what you prefer. I didn’t want to spend anymore than $150 total for a three night/ four-day stay and I wasn’t too impressed with the hotels I came across with that budget. So we went the Airbnb route instead and rented an apartment right in the heart of Bastille which was a 7 min walk to the Gare de Lyon Station. From here, a lot of what Paris had to offer was mostly just a few train stops away. I will have to say though that Airbnb can kinda sorta be like the Instagram of houses; lots of flattering angles and lighting so pay close attention to the pictures before making your final decision. In our case, the apartment looked so much bigger online than it was in reality.
? How do you navigate the city?: The city has two train systems; the Metro which runs every two minutes during peak times and the RER express trains which connect the city centre to the suburbs; we used both to go everywhere. I took the RER B and the Metro to get to Bastille from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport all by myself with no mishaps which was a relief. We also travelled an hour away to Versailles using one of the Metro lines and the RER C line. On the latter trip, we actually almost went to the wrong destination so it’s key that you pay close attention to the stops listed for the approaching trains. The same line can have a variety of routes which can easily get confusing.
To this day, I’m still not sure how I ended up on the normal train which stopped at all 10,000 stops on its way to CDG airport instead of the express train I was supposed to take. Let’s just say that it was a miracle I made my flight at all; I’m still bummed at having to throw away the Sephora oil cleansers I had just bought. Coming in from pricy London, I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that the train rides cost just €1.90 each way! I just bought my tickets as I went along which worked perfectly but there are options of purchasing 1-5 day train passes like the Paris visite if that’s your preference.
? Speaking of passes, what passes?: If you plan to do some heavy sightseeing, the Paris Museum pass and Paris Passlib are right up your alley. Notice I said heavy sightseeing because I think both passes are only worth your money if you can actually use them at least four or more times. I purchased the Museum pass as soon as I got to CDG because I had done a lot of research on it online. Apart from the price discount that the pass offered, I loved the fact that I didn’t have to line up to get into Musée de l’Orangerie for instance which was perfect because it was absolutely freezing. However, the big con, which was all my fault, was the fact that I just didn’t get a lot of use out of it which brings me to my next point.
? They don’t want you to be cultured!: We learned the hard way that most if not all of the tourist attractions close much earlier than advertised. Take the Louvre for instance; the official closing time is 6p.m. However the last admission is made at 5:15 p.m. which tripped us up the first time. We went back a second time armed with this knowledge and got there just around 4:50 p.m. but we still weren’t let in because they said “we’re almost closing”. This was a good 25 minutes before the last admission time! That same evening we went to the Arc de Triomphe as it’s included in the Paris Museum pass. Once again, it was advertised that it closed at 11p.m. with the last admission being at 10:30 p.m. We rushed from Ladurée to get there at about 10:00 and we were turned away that it was closed. These weren’t the only times were experienced this which was very frustrating! So in order to avoid this, aim to get to all tourist sites at least two hours before the advertised closing times to ensure that you don’t miss out on anything. Another thing to keep in mind is that most sites close either on Mondays or Tuesdays; the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays while the Château de Versailles and the Musée D’Orsay are closed on Mondays.
? How is the food?: So, so good! To be completely honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for the food probably because I couldn’t recall any prior experiences I had had with French food. But boy has that changed because everything we had in Paris was just really good from the Italian ( I know, I know lol) we had in a small restaurant near Champs-Élysées on our first night to our first steak-frites at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte to the best quiche ever at a small cafe near Gare de Lyon whose name I sadly can’t remember. I think that as long you stick to the non-touristy looking restaurants, it’ll be hard to go wrong. The meal prices were also very reasonable and you could find a wide variety for every budget. At the cafe where we had the quiche for instance, we went during lunch hours and got a starter, a main meal, dessert AND a jug of wine all for 18 euros! Where they do that at?!
. This quiche was otherworldly!
So which tourist attractions are worth seeing in my opinion?
The Louvre– If for nothing at all, it’s an amazing venue for pictures particularly at night
The Eiffel Tower on the hour– Because it sparkles and it looks so beautiful!
The Musée de l’Orangerie– I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did
Château de Versailles– Because we all deserve to feel like royalty for a day
Notre Dame de Paris– If for nothing else, just to say that you’ve been but don’t say that I didn’t warn you about the birds!
Sainte Chapelle– It’s just down the street from the Notre Dame de Paris. We didn’t make it to this one but the pictures look amazing
Arc de Triomphe– You’ll get to explore all the stores on Champs-Élysées on your way there. Plus there’s a giant Sephora there! Hello? Need I say any more for my makeup lovers?
The Latin Quarter– It came highly recommended by everyone but we didn’t have enough time to check it out
My last Paris travel tip is to absolutely make sure you bring an adapter for your electronics, have just a bit of cash with you just in case of an emergency and of course be cautious and vigilant as you navigate the city!
Overall, Paris was such a wonderful city to visit and I can’t wait to go back in May for a university trip. A bientôt Paris!