It has been almost ten years since our first visit to Paris. For all I had built it up to be in my head, the city delivered even more magic and beauty. Though we have since been back and tried new things, seen new spots, these are my tips for a first-time, starry-eyed visitor.
First Meal — I highly recommend your first meal in Paris as such: a croissant and a café crème. You have been traveling for hours, you are jet lagged, and you aren’t thinking straight. Head straight to a café (outdoor seat preferred), roller bag and all, and start taking it all in.
Picnic — Be it the Jardin du Luxembourg, Tuileries, Champ du Mars, or a lone bench somewhere near grass, have a picnic in a park. Go to a market and pick up some cheese, baguette, and a bottle of Champagne and enjoy the view.
Musée du Louvre — You must visit the Louvre on your first visit to Paris. Of course the Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory) is stunning, as is the Mona Lisa, but spend some time here really getting lost and finding what delights you. For me, it was the jewelry and adornments from Egypt and the hall of Renaissance masters. Book your tickets in advance. It is enormous, and there is no way you’ll be able to see it all on this first trip, so you might as well get started (and have something to look forward to when you return)!
Manners — It is of the utmost importance to greet shopkeepers, waiters, and anyone whose space you are entering. Polite eye contact and a greeting of “Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle” will go a long way, even if you speak no French. “Bonsoir” is the expression for the evening. The simple concept of a polite greeting, which is engrained in French culture, is often wildly radical to tourists who are more focused on a language barrier and figuring out how to communicate what they need. Remember the Turkish proverb, kind words will unlock an iron door. And don’t forget “merci”!
Musée de l’Orangerie — A jewel-box of a museum, it is only a brief stroll from the Louvre located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens. Full of impressionist and post-impressionist works, its crowning glory may be the light-filled oval-shaped rooms wtih Monet’s Water Lilies on permanent collection.
Eiffel Tower — Though every other tourist will be joining you on your ascent, the view will be worth the wait. I was stunned when I saw this landmark for the first time, for I had vastly underestimated its size. If heights aren’t your thing, enjoy watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle every hour on the hour (for five whole minutes!) after dark from the Trocadero or Champ de Mars instead, drink in hand.
Euros — Keep small change on hand for a quick croissant or un café. Any flea markets you visit will almost certainly be cash-only. If you stroll along the Seine, visit the green stalls of the Bouquinistes, vendors of used and antique books, postcards and ephemera. You’ll certainly find a souvenir here for some pocket change.
Métro — Efficient and pleasant, use the Métro system over a cab as much as you can. Purchase a carnet, which is an economical pack of ten tickets, at the kiosks at many of the station stops so that you always have some on hand. We use the Citymapper app to navigate (it even tells you which train car is best to board!). Also, be mindful of pickpockets and keep your valuables guarded.
Berthillon — In one of my happiest moments of all time, I enjoyed a chocolate ice cream cone on the Île Saint-Louis at Berthillon. Besides its original location, there are other vendors sprinkled throughout the city which have a wider range of open days and hours. Simply put, this ice cream is exquisite.
Flower and Bird Market —Open every day of the week, the Marché aux Fleurs is located on the Île de la Cité. On Sundays, the cut flower vendors take the day off (potted plants remain) and it becomes a bird market! Come to see the variety of canaries and finches, to parrots and even chickens for sale.
Walk Everywhere — And pack comfortable walking shoes. Paris is best seen on foot, exploring neighborhoods. It is fun to get lost here, knowing you can always zip back to your starting point via the Métro.
Plan your Sundays — Most shops, restaurants, markets and many museums are closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly. The Marais, historically the Jewish quarter, is bustling on Sundays and you will find plenty of cafés for breakfast or lunch and many shops to browse. Pick up some picnic supplies here and make your way to one of Paris’ many parks. The Musée du Luxembourg (in the park of the same name) is open on Sundays, though for limited hours, so reserve your tickets ahead. Or stroll along the Seine. One memorable Sunday we had was walking along the right bank and popping in and out of the many pet shops that were open. Did you know you may keep a chipmunk as a pet in Paris?