Ultimate Paris Travel guide for the first time, visitor 2020
Travel Tips for Paris for the first time visitor
A Paris travel guide for a first time visitor wondering what to see, where to stay, where to eat, what to pack, and how to get around the city. Paris is the city at the top of almost everyone’s travel wish lists, and it’s no surprise why that is the case. “La Ville Lumière,” or the City of Lights, is a spectacular hub for lovers of food, fashion, art, history, and culture. If you’re intending to visit France’s capital city, let this first-timer Paris guide be a starting point for your plans.
What to See and Do in Paris
Paris is a feast for the senses, and there is so much to do and see that you could visit time and time again and never get enough. While this list isn’t extensive, it is a magnificent place to start your search for what to do during your stay. If you don’t get to it all this time around, don’t fret! I am sure that once you experience Paris the first time, you will crave a second visit to this fabulous city!
The Eiffel Tower.
A trip to Paris is incomplete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel tour architectural landmark is by far the city’s most recognizable symbol. There are a few areas to see the Eiffel tour and lucky for me, I knew a local who showed me the ropes.
Three places to see the Eiffel tower
- Eiffel Tour park
You can take the stairs (over 700 of them!) to the second floor if you’re up for a workout, or opt for a much quicker elevator ride which can take you all the way to the top. The first, second, and third floors of the tower offer different attractions; a transparent floor and interactive touch screen information walk on the first floor, a Michelin-starred restaurant on the second, and incredible views from the very top! Ticket prices vary depending on age, group size, and which elevator you take. Be sure to visit early in the morning if you want to avoid the long lines!
2. Eiffel tour view from Trocadéro plaza One of the best views of the Eiffel Tower can be seen from the Trocadéro plaza across the Seine river. The fountains and gardens make for a beautiful foreground in photos of the tower. Definitely stop at the Trocadéro to snap a photo or two to capture a memory of your time in Paris.
View of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero square
One of the best views of the Eiffel Tower can be seen from the Trocadéro plaza across the Seine river. The fountains and gardens make for a beautiful foreground in photos of the tower. Definitely stop at the Trocadéro to snap a photo or two to capture a memory of your time in Paris.
3. Cross over the Pont de Bir-Hakeim
The steel, double-decker Bir-Hakeim bridge is both for motorists and pedestrians. If you walk across it, you’ll also be able to access the tree-lined Île aux Cygnes. This long, skinny island in the middle of the Seine is a popular park where Parisians exercise. It even has a climbing wall for bouldering and outdoor gym equipment if walking or jogging isn’t your style.
First-timer tourist Itinerary and unique places to see
- Stroll through Montmartre
Spend an afternoon wandering off the beaten path through this iconic neighborhood. Start with the funicular (or the stairs) at Square Louise Michel to get up to the top of the hill. Visit the white Sacre-Coeur basilica which is home to France’s largest mosaic before making your way back down through the winding streets of Montmartre. Visit the Vignes du Clos, a vineyard right in the heart of the city, or stop by the cute, pink cafe that was once frequented by famous artists like Picasso, La Maison Rose, for a meal or a sweet chocolate mousse treat. As you wander out of the Montmartre neighborhood, you may come across the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret with its red windmill on the roof.
- Experience the Louvre Museum
The most famous of Paris’ many museums is definitely the Louvre. Formerly the home of French royalty, it is now home to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and many other incredible works of art. The Louvre is a world-class art museum and a must-see attraction for art lovers.
When planning your trip, remember that the museum is closed on Tuesdays and some holidays, as well as other times due to environmental or social concerns, such as strikes. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum is open late! The iconic glass pyramids at the museum’s entrance are works of art themselves, so even if you can’t find the time to go inside, I would highly recommend you should still stop by the courtyard.
- Relax in the Jardin de Tuileries
Take a stroll, or rest your feet, in the Tuileries Garden near the Louvre. Once a project of France’s queen Catherine de Medici, today it is a large public park containing several fountains, ponds, and statues. If you’re still up for viewing art after your visit to the Louvre, visit the Musée de l’Orangerie, located at the east end of the garden, to see Monet’s Water Lilies and several other pieces in their collection. You can also take a ride on the park’s ferries wheel! If you are visiting during the holiday season, be sure to check out the festive Christmas market held in the garden.
- Visit the Place de la Concorde
Famous for being the location where King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antionette, lost their heads during the French Revolution, the Place de la Concorde is no longer a dreary place, but instead a lively one. An ancient Egyptian obelisk, which sat outside the Luxor Temple 3,000 years ago, is now the centerpiece of the plaza, as is the Fountain de Mers. Much nicer than a guillotine, no?
- Walk down the Champs-Élysées
After visiting the Louvre, take a stroll down one of the world’s most famous streets; the Champs-Élysées. If you came to Paris to spend some money, you can find plenty of luxury shops here to peruse and make a purchase or two. Pop into the French fashion houses Louis Vuitton or Chanel for a taste of grandeur, or grab a new outfit or two at one of the flagship stores for various clothing brands, including Banana Republic and Levi’s.
- Ascend the Arc de Triomphe
As you continue your walk down the Champs-Élysées from the Louvre, you will soon see the Arc de Triomphe up ahead. Built to honor French patriots who passed during the revolution and Napoleonic wars, the Arc de Triomphe is another well-recognized Paris monument. It is now home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier dedicated to the French soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War.
Snap a photo from the Champs-Élysées, or take the underground tunnel from the Wagram Metro exit to get up close to the monument. You can take the 40 stairs to the top for a view over the Place Charles de Gaulle and down the Champs-Élysées and other converging avenues.
- Marvel at the Pantheon
Another architectural marvel is Paris’ Pantheon building, located in the Latin Quarter. Serving in a dual role of religious and political center throughout the years, today it is the final resting place of many great contributors to French culture, including authors Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, scientists Pierre and Marie Curie, World War II hero Jean Moulin, and inventor Louis Braille.
- Take a peek inside the Musée de l’Armée
One famous Frenchman who was not laid to rest in the Pantheon is Napoleon Bonaparte. Beneath the gold leaf dome of the Musée de l’Armée you will find Napoleon’s tomb. The museum is also home to an impressive military history collection.
The gardens near the museum are also a great place to rest or enjoy a bite to eat in the area as it is located near the Eiffel Tower but far enough away to avoid the crowds near the Champ de Mars.
- Visit Sainte-Chapelle
One Paris monument missing from this list is Notre Dame, which was damaged in a heartbreaking fire in 2019. While tourists are no longer able to visit the famous cathedral until further notice, there is another Gothic cathedral you shouldn’t miss. Sainte-Chapelle was completed in 1248, and it has been beautifully preserved. Over 1,000 original stained-glass windows are sure to dazzle visitors and make this church a must-see during your trip to Paris.
- Check out the Lavirotte Building
If you’re interested in art and architecture, don’t miss the Lavirotte Building, located in the 7th arrondissement at 29 Avenue Rapp, just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower. This exquisite building is one of the best examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Completed by French architect Jules Lavirotte in 1901, the front door of the building alone is absolutely amazing, and you can spend a significant amount of time just soaking in all the details. It’s truly a visual feast!
- Cruise the Seine River
For a unique view of Paris, check it out from the water by taking a cruise down the Seine. There are several companies offering tours on traditional bâteau-mouche, or riverboats, that pass by several of Paris’ notable monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower, Conciergerie, and Louvre. A great time to cruise the Seine is at sunset. A cruise after dark is also a fun way to see the City of Lights all lit up!
- Enjoy some Parisian Nightlife with the Riviera Bar Crawl
If you’re interested in drinking, dancing, and meeting other people during your stay in Paris, don’t miss the Riviera Bar Crawl which will take you to several different clubs and pubs with a group of like-minded, fun-loving folks. You get a great walking tour as you explore the hip areas of the city. This is perfect for the solo traveler to socialize.
- See the love famed lock bridge
In recent years, the trend of creating love lock bridges has taken the world by storm, and the Pont de l’Archevêché the runs behind Notre Dame is one of the most popular. Hundreds of couples throughout the years have chosen to inscribe their initials on padlocks and clamp them onto the bridge as a sign of their unending love. While it’s not recommended to add your padlock to the fray, a walk along the Pont de l’Archevêché is worth it to get to the opposite side of the Seine from Notre Dame. There, along the Quai de Montebello, several vendors, including booksellers, florists, and artists, have set up shop. Take a leisurely stroll by the riverside, browse the sellers’ displays, and grab a café au lait at one of the nearby coffee shops.
- Go back in time at the Palace of Versailles
While not technically in Paris, a day trip to the Palace of Versailles is something you won’t want to miss. The easiest and cheapest way to get from Paris to Versailles is to take the train. The Réseau Express Régional (RER train ) C line will take you to Versailles, and you can hop on at several Paris metro stations, including the Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel station.
Once you arrive at the Palace of Versailles, there are several ticket choices for purchase. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can choose to tour the main rooms of the palace, Marie-Antoinette’s estate, and the expansive gardens with a tour guide or at your own pace. The guided tour is worth inquiring about. The palace with its famous Hall of Mirrors is sure to take your breath away with all the grandeur of France’s historic absolute monarchy. The gardens are spectacular, and most tourists spend just as much time wandering the grounds as they do indoors, so try to visit on a nice, sunny day!
Lines to buy tickets once you arrive at Versailles can be quite long. If you book tickets online ahead of time, you can skip the line for a few extra bucks! It might be worth it if you are in a hurry and know your trip schedule in advance.
Where to eat in Paris
While in Paris you will definitely want to eat at a traditional French bistro. They’re all over the city and offer yummy, traditional french menus.
- La Rôtisserie d’Argent. Located near the Pont de la Tournelle behind Notre Dame, La Rôtisserie is the less expensive, more casual version of the famous Parisian restaurant, Tour d’Argent. This is a great spot to try coq au vin and other French delicacies.
- Septime. This Parisian restaurant that has been making recent headlines for its delicious and creative cooking is Septime. Located in the 11th arrondissement, Septime is not for those seeking a culinary experience, not just a cheap meal. It is expensive, but oh so worth it! If you’re a “foodie” with your heart set on a meal at Septime, be sure to make a reservation as it is a popular spot.
- African kitchen. Paris is actually home to some fantastic African restaurants! One you won’t want to miss is African Kitchen on Rue Saint-Maur. Specializing in Nigerian cuisine, African Kitchen is a bit pricey but offers a cozy atmosphere and delicious food. This was one of my favorite spots!
- Pierre Hermé One French treat you will definitely want to try while in Paris is a macaron. While there are several bakeries that claim to make the best, Pierre Hermé seems to make every “best of” list when it comes to French pastries. With several locations throughout the city, you are sure to find one while wandering about. Other top macaron spots include Carette and Ladurée. Try them all and decide for yourself who makes the best!
Honestly, your favorite Parisian meal may be made just by stopping at a local bakery, cheese shop, or farmer’s market and creating your own picnic of crunchy baguettes, creamy Brie, fresh fruits, and a pain au chocolat for a sweet finish. There are plenty of shops and markets to peruse, and plenty of beautiful parks where you can take a seat and people watch while you enjoy your finds.
Where to Stay your first time in Paris.
- Airbnb. Home-sharing services are a great option for your stay in Paris, especially if you want to have a more authentic Parisian experience, get tips from a local, and stick to a budget. Home-share hosts often serve more as amateur tour guides and more than happy to give their guests suggestions for little known, but awesome, restaurants and attractions. To get a local feel, you really should choose an Airbnb over a hotel. Some hosts even provide AirBnB Experiences for additional fees, such as cooking classes, wine and cheese tastings, and photo walks to some of Paris’ most photogenic areas. There’s also a wide variety of prices available if you choose to go the home-share route for accommodations. There are certainly luxury AirBnBs available, but you can also find very comfortable accommodations for a bargain in convenient locations where the hotel options might break the bank.
- Safe neighborhood for Paris first-timer tourists. When searching for an apartment, try to choose one near the 7th arrondissement. This is very centrally located to most of the sights you’ll want to see as a first-time visitor to Paris, so it will make your stay and getting around the city much more convenient.
Paris Hotel Recommendation.
The Generator Paris is another budget-friendly option where I stayed. This “designer hostel” in the 10th arrondissement is clean, stylish, close to a metro station, and offers free breakfast and private bathrooms. A stay here can also be a great way to meet other young travelers! There is a cafe and bar on-site as well. This is a fantastic option if you want cheaper hostel prices without sacrificing comfort, cleanliness, or safety.
- One of the most well-known streets in the 7th arrondissement is the Rue de l’Université. If you wish to stay on this street, the Hotel de l’Université is a great option. It is priced moderately, especially for such a high-demand area, and styled with contemporary coziness. If you wish to stay here, book quickly! This boutique hotel has less than 30 rooms available, and it will fill up fast.
- Another fashionable, popular area of the city is the Marais district. The cobblestone streets, art studios, and boutique shops make Le Marais an excellent neighborhood for your stay as it feels so quintessentially Parisian. MIJE operates not one, but three youth hostels in the Marais neighborhood, offering free continental breakfasts, private bathrooms, safety, and comfort for a bargain. You can also book a bed in a shared dorm room if you want to penny pinch even more and meet fellow travelers. For a young person visiting Paris for the first time, the MIJE Marais hostels would be a perfect spot to stay!
- If you’re up for a splurge and want all the luxury Paris has to offer, the Four Seasons Hotel, George V tops them all. With suites overlooking the city’s most iconic landmarks and three incredible Michelin-starred restaurants, this hotel exudes extravagance. Save your pennies and make your first trip to Paris one that you’ll never forget!
How to Get Around Paris without a car.
- Walking. One of the best ways to experience Paris is to walk! Much of the must-see attractions of the city are within easy walking distance of one another. What’s more, walking is how you will get to see and experience the parts of Paris that you’ll never read about on a travel list but what makes the city unique. Pack a pair of comfortable shoes and hit the road!
- Metro/public transportation. Besides your own two feet, the easiest and cheapest way to navigate Paris is to use the metro system. With sixteen subway lines crisscrossing the city, there is sure to be a metro stop nearby any destination you wish to visit. If you are only visiting for a very short time, you may want to buy single-ride tickets for less than two euros each which is good for a one-way ride anywhere in the metro system. There are cheaper options if you plan to use the metro a lot during your visit and wish to buy in bulk. You can purchase a book of ten one-way tickets where, if you do the math, each ticket has a significant price reduction. Another option is to purchase a metro ticket that is good for one full day, and simply buy one each day of your visit. You can also purchase a rechargeable metro card if you prefer to have all your tickets in one place for your visit rather than little slips of paper everywhere. The metro maps are quite visitor-friendly and easy to read and understand.
- Airport tips. If you are flying in or out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, there are metro lines that access it as well. Just remember that it may be a bit uncomfortable to travel via subway with loads of luggage! Another important point to remember is that the metro is closed in the wee hours of the morning (from 12:40 am to 5:30 am, or 1:40 am to 5:30 am on weekends). If you’re planning on a late-night, you will have to find alternative travel arrangements! For more information, check out the Paris by Train website. Gare du Nord train station also serves as a good form of transportation.
- Taxis, Uber, rideshare like Uber, are also available for use in Paris. If you are in a hurry, carrying lots of luggage, or traveling late at night, these may be better options for you, although they are more expensive then using the subway system.
Best time to visit Paris
Paris is a lovely city to visit year-round! During the winter months (December-February), the temperatures are colder, but rarely does the temperature drop below freezing, and in the summer (June-August), the temperatures are rarely blindingly hot. The relatively mild weather that Paris enjoys throughout the year makes the famous saying “Paris is always a good idea” ring true! If you wish to avoid the most intense tourist crowds, avoid the summer months and the Christmas holiday season. Spring and fall are absolutely lovely times of year to visit, and you may find yourself seeing more that the city has to offer since you won’t have to stand in long lines to see the major attractions.
What to Pack to Paris.
Packing for Paris can put stress on even the most well-traveled tourist due to the stereotype that all Parisians dress to impress in impossibly fashionable clothes all of the time. Do not fret! Parisians are just people after all. You do not have to purchase a whole new designer wardrobe just to fit in. Pack a variety of neutral layers so that you can mix and match to create different outfits during your stay without over packing.
Be sure to pack clothes that you feel comfortable moving and walking in, as you will be doing a lot of that. Add cardigan, blazer, or coat to your bag as you will probably experience some cooler days, especially if you visit in the spring or fall.
Since you will most likely spend a lot of your time in Paris walking around the city, you will definitely want to pack a pair of comfortable shoes. I’m not suggesting that you wear cloddy, dad-style sneakers by any means! But a pair of trendy, comfortable walking shoes is a must if you’re going to survive multiple days of touring.
Although it rarely drops to freezing temperatures, be sure to pack a rain jacket or umbrella as Paris sees many rainy days throughout the year.
For a first-time visitor, Paris can seem overwhelming, but as Thomas Jefferson once said, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” If Paris is at the top of your travel wish list, then I hope this guide serves as a stepping stone to your own walk about the City of Lights, and that you find all the beauty and purpose that you seek along the way.