My first trip to Paris was not only memorable, but reminded me that all travel advice should be taken with a grain of salt. For years, I had heard that Parisians were snobby, a little rude, and hard to get along with. I admit, Paris didn’t hit the top of my travel list for these reasons. I mistook personal opinions for advice, and that dear traveller is a grave mistake. First and foremost, your attitude where ever you travel is what is going to make or break a trip. So, I’m going to digress here a bit before I get to my best tips for your first trip to Paris.
One of my favourite stories about travel, and part of the reason this site is called Life in Pleasantville, is below:
A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.
“What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.
“They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”
“Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.
Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.
Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.
“They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”
“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”
This story has always been my attitude towards travel, and unfortunately when it came to Paris, I forgot that. Mea culpa. All of this is to say, if you have reservations about your first trip to Paris, set them aside, book your ticket, and just go.
First Trip to Paris Tips
I’m a big fan of saving my travel budget for on the ground experiences, so low-cost air carriers win the day for me. By all means, book yourself bigger seats and more luggage allowance if you need to, but personally, I’d rather save my money for a great meal in Paris. Look for deals out of Canada on Cheapoair.
Unless you’re an incredibly confident driver, or have driven in Europe before, I’d highly recommend skipping the car rental for Paris. From the airport we grabbed an Uber into the city, and once there we found the Metro incredibly easy to navigate. If you’re spending a few days in Paris, be sure to grab a 3 day pass for €39. Finally, be sure to pack a great pair of walking shoes, because Paris is a wonderful city to wander aimlessly in.
Where to Stay in Paris
I didn’t know a lot about what I wanted from our first trip to Paris, but I did have a very specific visual in my head about where we would stay, and it was not a modern high rise. I wanted something that looked very Parisian with a boutique feel, and I found it with Hotel Panache.
Hotel Panache is located in the 9th district of Paris, and is an ideal jumping off point for anyone’s first trip to Paris. Conveniently located near the Metro, and surrounded by restaurants, boulangeries, shops, and even a confectionary, it’s Parisian heaven. Worth noting, the staff at Hotel Panache are exceptional and are happy to share their best tips for getting around and enjoying the best of Paris. Be sure to take the time to talk to them, they are a wealth of knowledge.
Best Tours in Paris
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT waste a minute of your time trying to decipher some of the more historic and iconic sites in Paris. For your first trip to Paris, it is worth your time and money to book a tour. I’m a big fan of organized tours for two reasons. First, tour companies are the true experts and can load you up with a ton of valuable information that you likely wouldn’t be able to glean yourself by just walking around. Second, they save a ton of time with skip the line access, and hitting the highlights.
Case in point, the Eiffel Tower. A major rookie mistake for me was not booking our Eiffel Tower Tour ahead of time. We lost hours waiting in line, and while it was still worth it, I couldn’t help but agonize over all the other great attractions we were missing.
Thankfully, I booked the rest of our tours with takewalks.com. Here are three tours, I highly recommend for your first trip to Paris.
Skip the Line Notre Dame Tour with Tower Climb
You know what’s busier than the Eiffel Tower? You guessed it, Notre Dame Cathedral welcomes an astonishing 13 million guests per year, that works out to roughly 30,000 people a day. Needless to say you definitely want to take advantage of the Skip the Line Tour with Tower Climb with TakeWalks.com
There is no elevator or easy way to get to the top of Notre Dame, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a bottle of water. It’s worth every one of the 400 steps it takes to get to the top, to see the magnificent views of Paris, and of course, get up close to those famous gargoyles.
Louvre Highlights Tour
There are 35,000 pieces in the Louvre museum, and if you only took 60 seconds to view each piece, it would take you 25 days with NO bathroom breaks to see it all. This helps give some perspective on what to expect when visiting the Louvre—simply put, you’re never going to see it all. That’s why relying on the experts is really your only choice here.
Personally, I could have spent an entire day just wandering through the Louvre and taking it all in, but I was travelling with teens so speed and hitting the highlights were a priority. We were looking for quick IG shots and and insta-education here people. Our Louvre quick highlights tour did not disappoint. We were expertly guided through the Louvre to see the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Winged Victory AKA the Goddess of Victory, Nike. Considering Nike’s (the company) current victory lap after signing Kaepernick, it’s especially nice that we saw it so close in time. Also, maturity, is not a prerequisite for taking this tour.
Closing Time At Versailles
I did not expect our visit to Versailles to illicit some deep thinking on my behalf, but there it is, even on vacation you can’t escape thinking. Deep thinking cap officially on, I couldn’t help but continuously draw parallels between Louis XIV and our current round of dictators and despots around the globe. The more things change, the more they stay the same sadly.
Versailles is considered the ultimate vanity project, also known as the Propaganda Palace, where every single detail of this opulent building was all for the glory of Louis XIV. King Louis knew the value of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, so he built the 700 room Versailles palace to keep his courtiers near him. He kept them busy watching his every move—from sun up to sun rise, Louis lived his life on display. This “busy work” meant that there was no time to plot against him.
It’s a fascinating trip in time, and you can’t help but marvel at the gold leaf gates, marble statues, and expansive gardens and fountains. However, it is wise to remember that this palace was built on the backs of commoners who eventually revolted and brought about the age of reason with The French Revolution. The expert guides with TakeWalks.com help give perspective to this fascinating time in history, so that you leave with not only an appreciation for the beauty of Versailles, but a deeper understanding of history and humanity.
Paris deserves more than one visit in your lifetime, but for your first trip, be sure to hit the tours above to make the most of it.