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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

A first timer's guide to Paris

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Dreaming of Paris, is something I’d done much before, and for years after I visited this beautiful city. Though my trip to Paris was a series of misadventures, which I think it is best to leave to the vagaries of time to erase from my memory, so I won’t put it down on record here, as a constant reminder of the things that unfolded.

Anyway, the little time I did have in Paris, I was the ideal tourist, gushing over everything that I saw, and falling in love with Pairs from first sight, to every moment that I was there.

When will I go back to Paris, I don’t know. I am hoping the summer of 2021 will see me reunite with this city that I fell in love with but left so much unsaid and undone- and this time around, there will be no room for misadventures, only love, light, and a belly full of patisserie!

1. The Eiffel Tower and its many faces

The wrought iron lattice tower built by Gustav Eiffel in 1889, has become the most recognisable icon of Paris, and completely contrary to all the criticism it received around the time of its completion, it truly is a sight to behold.

Once you get to the Eiffel Tower you will be amazed at how big the structure actually is, and you will struggle to get a good picture of its entirety from near it. So, after doing what might seem like a cliche in Paris- but to me it was quite tempting-I bought a crepe from a cart near the Eiffel Tower, devoured it whilst falling in love with the Eiffel Tower and the hordes of tourists that were around it, and vowed to be back again. Though it has been many a years since I first visited, I still remember my promise, and I intend to keep it!

As you roam the streets around the Eiffel tower, you might feel like the tower is following you, rather, calling you back to it, as you can see it from everywhere (you might think).

But the best views of the Eiffel Tower are sometimes from much further away. A view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower towering above it, is one that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Check out my guide-How to spend a day in Cologne!

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How beautiful is the Eiffel Tower!

2. See all of Paris from the Montparnasse Tower

This 210m skyscraper in the Montparnasse area, would be like any skyscraper in any part of the world. Except that it isn’t. Its viewing deck grants an expansive view of Paris, with the Eiffel Tower seemingly taking centre stage! But seeing this view is not for those on a budget. A single entry will cost you €18. Another reason to pay to see this view is to see how beautifully Paris is planned. Every borough is neatly separated by tree lined streets, and it’s such a satisfying sight!

You have to check out my Offbeat Guide to Florence!

3. The Eiffel Tower at night

Though many Parisians might think that the Eiffel Tower at night is overrated, and only to lure in tourists, it really is the most stunning sight!

It just adds to the romance of the city, and since the Eiffel Tower can be seen from miles away, you have a piece of the sparkly icon of Paris wherever you go!

4. Shakespeare & Company

Stop at one of the most famous bookshops in Paris- the Shakespeare and company, and buy a book (it is quite expensive- all books are upwards of €18, which was quite unaffordable for me-but do splurge for the Shakespeare & company stamp that they will give the book on purchase!)

But roaming through the bookshop is free, and you can also take a break at the cafe, which is much more affordable.

5. Try to get in to the Notre Dame Cathedral

The beautiful Notre dame Cathedral is on everyone’s list of places to visit in Paris, and because of that, it is always crowded, so much so that there is always a line outside. It is up to you to decide whether it is worth your time to wait over an hour in line to get into the cathedral to admire it from the inside. I spent a while outside hoping the crowd will clear, but realised it is pointless waiting around, and headed toward the Eiffel tower.

Maybe next time I’m in Paris, I can try getting to the Notre Dame really early in the morning, attend to attend a service or just see it without the crowds.

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The crowded Notre Dame

6. The Louvre

Another place in Paris where the lines are super long! Especially for the more popular exhibits (the most popular being of course the Mona Lisa), the lines are so long that once you get to the exhibit, you feel kind of underwhelmed!

I guess here too, it is best to reach as soon as it opens, so that the crowd is a little lesser, but I doubt you will ever get to cruise through the Louvre.

7. The Louvre at night

If the Louvre during the day is overly crowded, at night, when it is lit up, it is one of the most romantic spots to visit. There are musicians around the area playing their favourite music-don’t forget to tip them for adding to the ambience of your romantic evening. It will be like the picture perfect praising evening that you had dreamed of.

8. Do a Da Vinci Code trail

If you’ve read the best selling thriller by Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code, you will know that most of it is set in Paris. Find the sites mentioned in his book, to understand a history of Paris, that usually doesn’t make it to guide books. The Da Vinci code trail is ganging popularity amongst those in the know, and there are tours that take you to all the main points mentioned in the book. So if you don’t want to go on the search on your own, try the tour by ‘Paris Walks’.

9. Follow Nicolas Flamel

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you know this name sounds familiar. The first Harry Potter book, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone’ mentions Nicolas Flamel as the creator of the philosopher’s stone. He was a French scribe & manuscript seller who lived in Paris with his wife in the late 1300’s and early 1400s. Posthumously, he Gaines the reputation of being an alchemist who discovered the philosopher’s stone, and thereby immortality.

Visit his home which is the oldest in Paris, built in 1407, at 51 Rue de Montgomery, and his self designed tombstone, which is on display at the Muse´e de Cluny. There are two streets named after him & his wife- Rue Niclas Flamel & Rue Pernelle.

10. Palace of Versailles

Versailles is almost an hour away from central Paris by metro, so plan your trip here only if you have the time for it. Going to Versailles, and exploring even just the Palace of Versailles, and coming back will set you back by 3-4 hours. But Versailles is beautiful, and much less crowded, so it is definitely one of my top places to visit when in Paris. There is a lot more to see in Versailles than just the Palace of Versailles, so when you make the trip there, spend an entire day indulging yourself in the history of the town.

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Palace of Versailles

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Palace of Versailles

11. Go to the Moulin Rouge

Baz Luhrman’s production of Moulin Rouge starring Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor is one of my all time favourite movies! Just to try to relive that experience, I recommend going for a show at the Moulin Rouge when in Paris! And of course, get a picture with the iconic red windmill on the roof!

12. Head to the rooftop of the Galleries Lafayette

If you don’t want to pay for a view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background (Montparnasse Tower), go to one of the oldest shopping centres in Paris, the Galleries Lafayette. Shop/Window shop at the boutiques, and then head on up to the terrace for beautiful view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the distance-and it is FREE!

13. Picnic along the Seine

Sometimes, the least expensive things can be the most fun! I buy food from the grocery stores, and eat at park benches quite often when I want to save on some money. When in Paris, save some money, shop at the local grocery store, or at a boulangerie for some delicious breads, and head to the banks of the Seine. Have yourself an enviable picnic! There are spots from where you can see Notre Dame, so keep an eye out for it.

14. Ride on a carousel (or at least photograph it)

There are so many carousels in Paris-there is even one near the Eiffel Tower (just making it easy for you to find it), and they look so beautifully whimsical. I did take a picture near the carousel as I munched my crepe, but unfortunately I’ve lost most of my pictures from Europe.

15. Sacre Coeur

The majestic Basilica is a sight to behold both during the day, and at night. Attend a service at the basilica if possible. At night, the steps of the basilica are always crowded, so make a stop here on your nightly stroll through the streets of Paris.


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