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Samantha’s best tips for exploring Paris, France

Raise your hand if you’ve daydreamed about strolling the streets of Paris!

You’d window shop, then relax at a cafe sipping coffee and savoring pastry. You’d dress stylishly, having finally found the perfect pair of shoes that can withstand a full day of walking, but still garner oohs and aahs. Locals ask you questions in French, mistaking you for a local.

Hahaha, if only.

The thing about Paris, or any destination, really, is that there’s the romanticized version in your head… and then the real version. People actually live in Paris, and with that comes pedestrians trying to get to work on time, traffic and lots of regular ol’ businesses, like supermarkets with — gasp– frozen food.

The trick is to not get too attached of your picture-perfect vacation. Instead, see a place for what it is. Once you get over the initial shock of the fact that Champs-Élysées has many of the same stores as your local mall, you’ll start seeing magical architecture, landscaping and boulevards.

Check out the video for more tips for visiting the City of Lights, including my criteria for always selecting the perfect bottle of French wine.

What’s your best tip for visiting Paris? Share in the comments!

Samantha's best tips for exploring Paris, France.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Samantha, dear heart: Whatever were you doing way up north? There is a MacDonald’s across the street from the Arc d’Triomphe, don’t go there. You should have gone to Montmartre instead, it’s Paris as advertised. As for the wine, I would tell the wine shopkeeper what I was having or dinner and then HE would pick out the wine. Every day. Incidentally, the best advice that I can give to Paris travelers is to get a Metro (subway) guide and don’t leave home without it. And don’t rent a car, you’ll never find a place to park it.

    BTW, the best stores in Paris are in the vicinity of the obelisk where the guillotine used to stand in Central Paris, not far from the Louvre. Bring a house payment. Or two.

  2. Stay in an apartment just off the beaten path, and shop for meals at the local shops for most meals.

    1. Many years back, my friend Nancy and I rented my friend’s apartment on a very short street in the 7th Arrondissement (only a 10 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower). The apartment was in a beautiful building with an inner garden and a very tiny elevator that took us up one floor higher than we needed to be because it was the only way for us and our luggage to get to the apartment. We then had to walk down a hall to a beautiful wooden spiral staircase and go down 1/2 floor to get to the apartment’s front door. Entering the apartment off the spiral staircase I thought was very unique. On Thursday and Saturday from 7 am until about 2 pm there was a street market very near us which was awesome. You could buy fruits, veggies, cheese, flowers, dishes, meats, seafood, and, of course, wine.) We spent a lot of time on a beautiful Rue called Cler. I remember buying french bread there and if you didn’t eat it on that day it was purchased, you could probably actually kill a bull with it the next as it turned into a baseball bat lol. There’s just something so classy and unique about Paris that we’re missing here in the US. Not that I don’t love the US. I just wish we could have more of the French charm here.

      1. If you want to have some European flair without going to far, try Quebec City Canada it has the beautiful charming town like you are in Montmatre but is a city at the same time, it has the old world charm very beautiful during the fall and the pubs, coffee shops are just walking distance from the old quater, not to mention a castle up the hill hotel Chateu de Frontenac crowning the city.

  3. Use AirBnB for your hotel needs. Half the cost and you can stay in a charming Paris Studio apartment. Sit in a true Parisian Cafe and people watch. Take it all in.

  4. We loved Paris. We stayed in a B&B outside of the city and took the Metro to Notre Dame where we walked along the Seine River and stopped at the local cafes. It was the highlight of our vacation.

  5. Wear your worn jeans, comfortable shoes. Stop at shops where you can get the bread, ham and cheese for a big sandwich. Get a bottle of vin ordinaire. Find a sunny place along the left bank of the Seine, sit, let your feet dangle over the quay and enjoy the feast. Helps to be wearing an old wool beret.

  6. Notice and enjoy the lights of Paris, but also notice and enjoy the light of Paris – especially early morning and late afternoon.

  7. I highly recommend getting the museum pass – helps avoid those long lines, and is economical if you intend to do several museums/sites. (We avoided long lines at the Arc d’ Triomphe , Louvre and Musee D’Orsey). Metro is fine, but WALK, WALK, WALK. Paris is a very walkable city, and the best way to take in all it has to offer. Montmartre is a must. Be sure to take a walk along the Seine at night when the lights on the Eiffel Tower flicker, I think at 10 minute intervals for a while.

    1. So glad you said museum pass, best and fastest way to enter those wonderful museums . Get the pass and go right to entrance, skip those long lines. Several places to get the pass, check a guide book or go online. I have been able to purchase one at my hotel but no longer can do that.

  8. I am in Paris – as we speak. I’ve come every year for the last 7 years. It’s Bastille Day. I had brunch cooked by a local host for visitors and other locals through EatWith. Tonight it’s a boat ride on the Seine to watch fireworks. But the best days are when I set out from my apartment (I stay in a different neighborhood each time) and just walk until I get lost and then found again. Sometimes I leave in the morning and don’t return until evening. Paris is full of little surprises to see and hear.

  9. Take your Ibypropren and fiber pills. Constant all day walking and long plane rides are hard on a person. Avoid the bread if you have sensitive teeth. Panera Bread does it better at home. Study your college French everyday for months in advance. Bring a truck load of patience for the French Paris people. The hourly workers are not always kind and helpful. I liked the countryside more.

    1. I rarely eat bread in the States but always eat it in France. It’s how bread is supposed to taste like. Next time I suggest you pack a loaf of Wonder Bread.

  10. Phyllis and I have spent a couple of weeks in Paris every June for several years. Renting apartments in the summer can be iffy. It can be hot and there is rarely AC. We have done both but now prefer small hotels. Find a neighborhood and return year after year. We stay in the Beaubourg area in the 4th. We eat crepes, hot dogs, fresh fruit, and other street food. (A couple of street vendors recognize us now) If saving money is a priority, eat your restaurant meals at “dejuneur” or lunch. Learn what l’addition s’il vous plait means. If they are not too busy, ask people to help you with your French. Parisians can be generous if you care about them and their culture. Visit the Eiffel Tower at 2300 hours. Not crowded and the lights are spectacular. Attend mass at one of the gothic cathedrals. Don’t miss the unicorn tapestries at Musee de Moyan Age. I totally agree with other comments about the museum pass and walking. Have a great trip!!!!

  11. We have been to Paris twice. Here are a few thoughts:
    1. Rent an apartment in the area you feel you will spend the most time. They cost less than a B&B or small hotel. We rented just one block from the Louvre. VRBO.
    2. Best dining in Paris is a picnic with a loaf of bread, cheese and bottle of wine at any of the parks. I recommend the Trocodero green area next to Eiffel Tower or the Luxembourg Gardens. (many locals as well)
    3. Museum Pass – a cost/time saving must!
    4. “Hidden” gem – Sainte Chapel. One block from Norte Dame. This very small chapel has more stained glass than you can imagine!
    5. Bring more meds and cold pills than you think you will possibly need. Yes of course there are pharmacies, but you’ll never get what you have in the States, and often the language can be a barrier if you venture out of Paris.
    6. Relax and enjoy. You’re in Paris!

  12. I’ve been to Paris 5 times. Going again at end of Aug. Then on to a barge trip in the Loire valley.
    One of my favorite things to do is to go to any neighborhood ,(arrondisement) and just wander around.
    Its a wonderful exploring time. Au revoir

  13. We’ve been to Paris 9-10 times. Best suggestion is to get an apt (we love the Marias), become part of a neighborhood. Ride the Metro! Easy to use, even for non French speakers. Walk, wander, sit outside at cafes. Explore a different culture. Be polite and you will find Parisians are always willing to help. Walk and wander some more Great hint….Sunday morning market at Rue Mouftard…. a must do Luxembourg Gardens is all Parisians front yard. Beautiful flowers almost all seasons. Best unsung museum is Marmottan (Monet) in the 16th.

  14. DO go with your dream of Paris in mind, but also, as visiting anywhere, BE PATIENT.
    My husband and I were turned away from a small restaurant one evening as they were closing; we had not realized the time.
    We understood completely, and found another cafe.

    The next day we were strolling the area again and the two gentlemen from THAT restaurant rushed out toward us and apologized for having turned us away. Of course we went in and enjoyed a lovely meal, great conversation and photos. The French are lovely people. Of course.

    We were warned “the Europeans, especially the French, only want your money”. NOT TRUE.
    We were treated like royalty wherever we went in England, France, and Ireland.
    Maybe it’s because we don’t go to Europe that often.
    It was so special, planned a long time, dressed up for, (my husband always wears a jacket) …….maybe we were just SO GLAD to be there!

    Start with DOUBLE DECKER BUS tour. Summarize the city. See what you want to go back and visit further.
    As our bus drove up to Notre Dame, the CHIMES BEGAN RINGING! I happened to be noon!

    Take your husbands photo in front of the clock at D’Orsay. See highlights of the Louvre.
    Take those steps by the Seine ……. like Audrey Hepburn did!

    Mosly we ate at sidewalk cafes (luckily in Minnesota we are finding more and more of those nowadays!)
    We also pre-planned dinner cruises in London and Paris. DO THIS!. Get the best table! It’s a Dream! Worth every penny!

    We found chocolate croissants and exclusive restaurant atmosphere (including restrooms) at the McDonalds on the Champs Elysee.

    Of course there is nothing like the Eiffel Tower. It’s unbelievable! Especially when it’s 10 minutes from your hotel.

    The best of all was my husband getting me flowers on Rue Cler!
    The open shop…… all those flowers…… a memory in itself!
    Walking distance from our darling little hotel……
    (quaint affordable American chain hotel with BALCONY OVERLOOKING THE EIFFEL TOWER!!!)
    They wrapped my bouquet stems in plastic wrap and I carried it for 2 days—-sticking up out of my magazine-size tote!

    And DO CARRY a 14-inch tall, quilted, fabric, magazine-size tote……..for your passport, credit card, hair items, and lipstick. Yes, your lipstick.
    Put the remainder of your ordinary things in your suitcase.
    The tall tote with 12-inch shoulder handles fits close to your body……to avoid theft!
    No hands needed! Room for temporary daily brochures, wine bottle, cheese, chocolates. Light weight bag!

    All this……AFTER crepes Suzette at a sidewalk cafe!
    And guess what. As in the United States, they told me my husband’s crepes with Nutella would be ready in minutes;
    but MY crepes Suzette takes much longer to prepare. It is a real world after all. Business is business everywhere.
    AGAIN, BEING PATIENT, I just had more wine!!!! Crepes Suzette is WORTH THE WAIT! I can taste them yet……

    ALL THIS—WHILE a gentleman played that romantic French music on his organ grinder!
    And with my flowers……!

  15. your comments are true. I had such a great time in Paris. Maybe because I love art and the museums were incredible. Maybe because I love food…. and it was better than expected. Maybe because the metro made it so easy to travel. and I wish I could buy a bottle of wine for a few $$$$

    that was better than anything stateside. I think its just magical.

  16. I am an American currently living in SE Asia but have visited Paris perhaps a dozen times over the past 15 years. Am moving there in 8 months! Can’t wait. Then I suppose I’ll be an American in Paris!

  17. Been to Paris five times now. It is incredible. The thing I learned the first year was to not run around to the famous sites. For me, the best was hanging out at a sidewalk cafe, just watching and soaking in the people!
    The French are NOT rude as long as you respect them and their habits and conventions. Speak a fews words of French. Remember to say “Bonjour” when you enter any establishment. Do not be loud Americans. Respect them and they will return the favor!!!

  18. On our last trip we took the St. Martin canal barge from from the Paris Arsenal Marina to the Parc de la Villette. Going through several locks & underground. I’ve been visiting family in Paris (Versailles) for 40 years & I’m always looking for new things to do.

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Samantha's best tips for exploring Paris, France
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