Fall in love with Paris…Such a cliché , right? City of lights, city of fashion, most beautiful, most romantic, most visited – are only some of the attributes used to describe Paris. As expected, after getting so much praise, it is easy for any visitor to become disillusioned (and even disappointed) when they quickly realize how difficult it can be to navigate confusing metro passageways with a heavy suitcase (no escalators!) on a way from the airport, fight for oxygen in hot, crowded trains, and feel paranoid about their wallet/camera/passport being stolen after being warned repeatedly about pickpocketers. To top it off, the first impression of the city is anything but glamorous, as you watch crowds of tourists swarm around landmarks competing for the most creative shot on their iphone/ipad while dodgy-looking individuals try to sell you overpriced, Chinese-made models of Eiffel Tower.
But guess what? You will still FALL IN LOVE with Paris! Just remember to pack light, keep moving, and get ‘lost’ in city’s numerous streets to experience the real Paris, (instead of hanging out under the Eiffel Tower or outside Louvre’s Pyramid all day long). Also, skip the hotel and rent a charming little flat from a Parisian on Airbnb. It’s so much more personal and makes you feel like you are really part of the city and not just some tourist staying in a huge chain hotel. Besides, who needs ‘free breakfast included’ deal when you have amazing boulangeries and cafes on every street, selling heavenly croissants and baguettes for just couple of euros?
Speaking of food, although Paris is known for being one of the gastronomical capitals of the world, French cuisine is centered mostly around meat and seafood dishes (foie gras and escargot anyone?). Vegetarians are usually left with couple of options, one of which is almost guaranteed to be chèvre on a piece of toast with some greens on a side. It may sound too simple and not overly satisfying but trust me, it’s so much more than the description on the menu conveys! The beauty of Parisian cafes is that you will get highest quality food at pretty much any location (although your chances are lower if you notice that more than half of the crowd eating there are tourists) and even simplest salad with goat cheese will satisfy all your senses. As an added bonus, tap water and bread basket are complimentary at every restaurant in France (required by law). Coming from US, this may not seem to be a big deal but if you are coming from south of Germany where a sip of still water is more expensive than a mouthful of beer, and, pretzels must always be paid for, French restaurants seem a lot more hospitable. Just be ready to fork out anywhere between 13-18 euros for a salad and 20+ euros for main dish. You didn’t think high quality food comes at low prices, did you?
Then you always have the option of shopping at local food markets where you can pick whatever ingredients you want (and there will be many that will catch your eye!) and have a little picnic in Paris’ numerous parks or in front of the Trocadéro with the best view of Eiffel Tower. That’s where having a little apartment of your own (instead of a hotel room) comes in handy because you can store leftover cheese, olives and veggies in a fridge and take advantage of your host’s eating utensils.
Once you are done eating and ready to start moving, one of the sightseeing activities not to be missed is the view from the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Skip the elevator and climb its 284 steps to discover the breathtaking view of Paris with everything from Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées to Louvre and Sacré-Cœur Basilica — all laid out neatly in front of you. By the way, don’t bother going up Eiffel Tower (I haven’t done it) — its known for long queues and view of Paris without the Tower (what’s the point?).
When you are making your way to the Louvre, pause for a moment at one of the many picturesque spots in peaceful Jardin des Tuileries, watching people relax by the fountains on a warm summer day. You may even spot a pet goat while you are there!
By the way, don’t linger too long by the Pyramid during the day and instead come back there to watch sunset. All the tourists are gone so its blissfully empty and relaxing, with only few couples and photographers keeping you company. The last rays of sun seen through the glass pyramid is the view you will never forget.
While you are in the area, make your way across Pont des Arts bridge, famous for massive number of ‘love padlocks’. You’ll probably also spot a bride and a groom on any given day (usually Asian couples) posing for a photographer. I had never seen that many wedding parties in one day taking photos on city streets anywhere else in the world as I had in Paris.
The grand finale of any day in Paris is watching Eiffel Tower light up after dark and sparkle for five minutes every hour beginning 10pm (best view from Trocadero). No matter how skeptical you might have been up to this point, Paris at night will win over your heart and make you want to come back again and again. No matter where you go, you will always have Paris.