With the right itinerary and attitude, “Paris is always a good idea”
I saw a discussions thread pop up on my Facebook from a women’s travel group. A member had asked if she should spend a week exploring Ireland or a week exploring Paris, France. I vouched for Paris—surprise—but what I noticed in the discussion thread was that the majority of women were willing to dismiss Paris because it’s “too touristy.”
First of all, there is no wrong answer to this question of Ireland vs. Paris. The best way to decide on where to travel depends on what sort of traveler you are and the type of experience you want. If you hate cities, then maybe it’s not the best idea to spend an entire week staying in the middle of Le Marais in Paris.
Moreover, it seemed unfair to pit a metropolitan city against an entire country, especially when the places are so different. It’s kind of like asking “Should I spend a week exploring the Californian coast or a week exploring New York City?” Both of these trips are awesome options—it only depends on a matter of personal preference of what you would like to do and see.
(Note: California may not technically be its own country… but it basically is.)
I’ll never forget when I was looking into studying abroad in Paris, France during the winter break of my senior undergraduate year. I was at a study abroad fair talking with an underclassman and when I mentioned Paris, she said, “Oh, Paris is okay.”
If I saw this girl today, I would be more than happy to shoot her an unbelievable eyebrow raise and shamelessly give some WASPy-Parisian-culture-vulture-retort.
It can be intimidating to visit Paris, France for the first time, but with some guidance and research, it doesn’t mean that it has to be stressful planning. When it comes to visiting Paris, France—especially for the first time—it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
You still need to see the major touristy things.
If you’re not big into sightseeing, this isn’t what you want to hear. However, the tourist attractions in Paris draw crowds for a reason—they’re significant monuments renowned for their contribution to architecture and world history. Most admission tickets can be bought in advance online and it’s possible to see most monuments in Paris without having to enter inside. In short, to not visit the major attractions would be a waste of your trip.
At the bare minimum, do not leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacré Cœur, the Louvre, and Place de la Concorde.
Be ready to break out some French phrases.
Bonjour. Merci. Merci. Au revoir. Pardon
Those four words—especially merci—will get you a long way while spending time in Paris. If you know how to speak and read in French, even better, because this will open more doors for you to have a more pleasurable stay.
The truth is that there is a common belief among locals that if you’re visiting France, then you should speak French… I know this is broken logic from a tourist’s perspective, but this is a reality to keep in mind.
At the end of the day, if you make an earnest effort to be polite and respectful, then you’ll be fine.
Note: Generally speaking—unless provoked—the French are not mean and they understand English more than they’re willing to let on.
Looking to brush up on your French and get a crash course in French culture before your Paris trip? There are a few Francophile and Parisian Instagram accounts that I would recommend checking out.
Find beauty in doing small things
Enjoy an espresso and a fresh croissant in the morning. Go for a walk. Go to the local market to find something for lunch. Buy a bottle of wine from the grocery store. If it’s a nice day, head to the park, eat and relax. People watch. Breathe. Listen to the undulations of French being spoken between friends and lovers—if you listen enough, without understanding the language, you’ll know the difference.
One thing that I still grapple with while in France is the French pace. Sometimes the French pace crawls like a snail, which happens to be the very shape and order that the Parisian arrondissements are arranged.
The best way to appreciate Paris is to let life happen. Don’t rush. Don’t force anything to happen. Everything will be fine—you will live if you miss the metro that you wanted to catch, another one will follow shortly.
Paris is not the only representation of France
If you visit Paris and you do experience a series of unfortunate encounters, please remember that there is so much more to France than Paris. The country is rich with a variety of different traditions and cultures. You can easily take day trips or weekend trips from Paris by train—there’s the Loire Valley, Bretagne (Brittany), Bordeaux, Provence, the Alps, and other French regions that are far removed from the Parisian experience…
Have you been to Paris before? What was your favorite thing that you did?
One thought on “How to Explore Paris, France for First-Timers”