Paris for Beginners: Where and What to Eat, See or Do

What is it about the charm Paris has upon even those who have never visited the “City of Light”?

The glamour, the history, the exquisite gastronomy and the mixture of different movements of art this city embraces, creates an inner longing to be part of that mystique and bohemian atmosphere, we have only seen in the movies or read in novels.

So yes, Paris for beginners is all about materializing that imaginary world!

Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, small cafes, palaces, opera, ‘croissant au chocolat’, will all be on the menu.

So first of all, Paris is a city for walking, and walking and walking.

So pack your comfy shoes (no bulky tennis shoes that scream “I’m a tourist” please), and casual/formal/chic clothes!

Let the journey begin from the moment you start arranging your trip. Buy a travel-guide book about Paris and download it on your phone or small tablet for less weight (you’ll want to carry it around during your trip). Knowing the history behind the beauty you’re watching will make a big difference and lend to a memorable experience.

A guide to Paris for beginners

Booking for your trip:  I really recommend at least 5 days in Paris… no less but much more if you can!

Choosing the Hotel – Where to Stay?

Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements or districts. Remember Paris is for walking, but still, you’ll have to take the Metro more than once, so as long as you stay near a metro station on any of the these districts, you’ll be close to most destinations: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9th ARR.

Read our guide to the arrondissements of Paris.

Arriving in Paris

Before leaving the airport, find yourself a city map. If you don’t find one, ask for it at your hotel.

You’ll have the option to take the RER Paris city train and connect with the METROPOLITAIN (subway, tube, etc) or take a cab. If you just landed from a transatlantic flight and can afford a 40 € fair, I would definitely recommend the cab over the train, otherwise, the train will be fine. Just think about it when packing your bags because you’ll have to haul it up a couple of flights of stairs and walk with it for a while.

Many applications for your phone help you establish train and metro routes and estimate duration of the journey specifically for Paris, a well-spent $1, or use the free one that RATP (transport authority) provides.

Check out our guide to using the Paris metro.

Montmartre, Paris - Paris for beginners
Montmartre, Paris

How to plan your beginners Paris sightseeing route

How much time you spend at each site, is all up to you, your style of traveling and the time you count on. Museums take a lot of time to really savor them, but no matter what, visiting the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Louvre is a must!

My recommendation for Paris for beginners

Trace a route around an arrondissement for each day, make a list of What to See and buy tickets in advance to avoid lines. Try not to be rigid about your times, because you won’t enjoy the real Paris if you have to keep up with it. Enjoy an extra glass of wine if you’re having a good time, sit on the green chairs of the Tuileries Garden and live the Parisian experience.

Places not to miss in Paris

There are so many things to do in Paris for beginners, here’s a few spots that you shouldn’t miss!

The Musée du Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendôme, Palais Royal, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Notre-Dame de Paris, La Sainte-Chapelle, the Hôtel de Ville (Paris city hall), Centre Georges Pompidou, Saint-Jacques Tower, Jardin du Luxembourg, Église Saint-Sulpice, Abbey Saint-Germain des Prés, Tour Eiffel and its Parc du Champ de Mars, Les Invalides, Musée d’Orsay, Ecole Militaire, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Église de la Madeleine, Grand Palais and Petit Palais, Opéra Garnier, Montmartre, Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, Église Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, Musée Rodin.

If you have the time, the Château de Versailles is only an hour away from Paris by train, but you’ll want to spend at least 4 hours there. So reserve at least half a day to go, you won’t regret it! If you don’t have the time, check out Napoleon the 3rds apartment at Musée du Louvre, which used to be the Royal Palace long ago, and get a small glimpse of what Versailles would be like.

This all might seem like too much to see and do, but actually you’ll find most of them to be close to each other.

Opera, in the 9th arrondissement in Paris, France
Opera, in the 9th arrondissement in Paris, France

Time and Budget for Shopping?

As to be expected, Paris has one of the most fashionable streets of the world, Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré where every major fashion house can be found. But Paris has options for all budgets and styles, Galeries Lafayette and Champs-Elysées offer a great variety.

Related Read: Wine, Dine and Shopping Tips for Opera in Paris

Must eat in Paris

Even though there are numerous plates to eat in Paris, you’ll probably eat some of these more than once… just because they’re too good not to.

I’ll make a list of the ones I consider are a must, and since I tried some of them in different places, I’ll suggest where I liked them the best:

– Croque-Monsieur (Sandwich) – Le Café de la Paix, famous restaurant across the Opéra Garnier, the most astounding Napoleonic Era building.
– Foie Gras – This we ordered in every single place we went for lunch, dinner or snack… they were all good but I can’t remember were I liked it the most.
– Foie Gras Poêlé (Fois Gras Seared) – L’Ilot Vache
– Côtelettes d’agneau – L’Ilot Vache
– Entrecôte – Le Relais de l’Entrecote
– Cheese – France has 56 cheeses classified and regulated by a protected designation of origin (AOC). So your options are broad. I would recommend you try: Brie and Neufchâtel. We ordered cheese at every café we went to, and we did great every time. French will have cheese as an entrance or as a dessert with fruits and sweet wine.
– Berthillon ice cream – Any where at Île Saint-Louis
– Galettes de blé noir ou sucrée au beurre (crêpe made from buckwheat flour with sugar and butter topping) – La Crêperie des Canettes a cozy little place in Saint-Germain
– Crêpe Nutella and Crêpe Sucre et Citron (with sugar and lime) – Anywhere on the streets
– Hot Chocolate – Le Café Angelina at Louvre Museum

Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, Ladurée is an emblematic French luxury bakery famous for the double-decker macaron, you’ll have to visit and try.

You’ll do fine with any French wine, but I really recommend those from the Bordeaux region, and Sauternes for dessert.

For a nice meal and great atmosphere, I also suggest trying: Le Mini Palais, Le 7ème Vin. any café at Le Tuileriesand at Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

Food in Paris - cheese shops
Food in Paris – cheese shops

Communication in Paris

Learn some useful phrases and words for exploring Paris for beginners: bonjour, merci, parlez-vous anglais?, oui, s’il vous plaît?, au revoir. Here’s a few more useful European phrases to learn.

But don’t worry; nowadays many Parisians speak English, or at least those who tourists usually interact with.

Learn a few basic French phrases in Babbel.

Go Back

You’ll always want to go back to Paris, and each time its charm will embrace you in a different way.

A few more tips for your first time in Paris


The Taff Trail – Cycle Brecon to Cardiff

If you’re looking to explore South Wales by bike, the Taff Trail is a 55-mile trail (88km) that takes you south from Brecon to the waterfront of Cardiff Bay.

Featuring a mix of urban and rural pathways, the trail passes through towns and villages that still display relics of their industrial heritage.

The Taff Trail - Cycle Brecon to Cardiff
Brecan in Wales

Who is the Taff Trail suitable for?

The trail is suitable for most levels of fitness, although it’s long so if you’re thinking of completing it in a single day, pack adequate snacks and water, a basic repair kit should your bike get damaged, wet weather gear if the Welsh weather takes a turn for the worse, and in case of emergency a mobile phone, some cash, and a credit or debit card.

The route of old tramways, railway lines, canals and towpaths mostly consists of off-road sections, but does feature short on-road sections, fire roads, and gravel and forest paths meaning you’ll need tyres with at least a little grip. Slicks won’t really do here especially if the trail areas are wet. As the Taff Trail is shared by walkers, cyclists and the occasional horse rider, a bell will also come in handy for making your presence known.

The Taff Trail route

The trail is well signposted for most of distance, but occasionally mischievous locals get their kicks by tampering with them, with hopes to send trail users in the wrong direction. If you’re in any doubt, this route guide has been produced by the charity Sustrans who also help to maintain sections of the trail and make it safer for cyclists. You can also buy the Taff Trail Guide: Fully illustrated and detailed route planner which includes a map – buy on Amazon.

The trail leaves Brecon, passing through Llanfrynach and Pencelli, then through The Brecon Beacons, Talybont reservoir, Torpantau, and Garwnant. This stretch is amongst some of the nicest scenery allowing you to take in the green and natural beauty of The Brecon Beacons. From Garwnant, it goes past Ponstsicill reservoir, Pontsarn, and the Cefn Coed viaduct before reaching Merthyr Tydfil. 

With the occasional pub, café and shop along the route, there are opportunities to stop, rest and grab a bite to eat. 

Leaving Merthyr Tydfil, the route passes Abercanaid and Pentrebach followed by Aberfan and Pontygwaith before reaching Quakers Yard, Abercynon, and Pontypridd. At this point the end is not too far away, but if you don’t feel like cycling the last stretch, train services run fairly frequently from Pontypridd, Trefforest and other stations along the line. Most trains will allow you to board along with your bike, but check for restrictions on certain days especially where there are events happening in Cardiff. At Pontypridd, make way to Penrhos and then to Taffs Well and Tongynlais where, if you’re feeling energetic, you may want to challenge yourself and cycle up the hill to the fairytale castle of Castell Coch nestled on the hillside. 

If you don’t fancy the hill ride, carry on toward Radyr and Cardiff making sure to look back along the way to catch a glimpse of Castell Coch. As you near Cardiff Bay, you’ll pass through Bute Park and view Cardiff castle and the Millennium Stadium before following the last stretches of the Taff River to the end of the trail where you’ll have a well-deserved rest. 

How long does it take to cycle the Taff Trail?

How long it takes you to cycle the Taff trail depends on how often you stop and your fitness level. The full 55-mile (88km) trail is easily accomplished in a day for someone of average fitness. Keep cyclists could probably do it in under four hours.

Spending time in Cardiff? Check out these posts:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: What You Need to Know

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, straddling the border between South Africa and Botswana, is a semi-desert of red dunes and star-crammed skies where African animals run wild and visitors get a wilderness ‘fix’ that’s Prozac for the soul.

Once Kalahari sand gets into your shoes, legend says, you’ll be drawn back again and again.

I’ve visited the park 30 times and even written a book about it. But I lost my heart on my very first visit.

For those who have yet to go there for the first time, here’s some useful information to help with planning a Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park safari.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Getting to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Take the R360 for 250km from Upington in the Northern Cape, South Africa, via Askham to Twee Rivieren on the South Africa/Botswana border (total distance from Johannesburg 960km; from Cape Town 1100km). If time is short and your pockets deep, fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Upington and hire a vehicle there.

Getting around the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

I recommend driving a vehicle with high clearance (at least 190mm) or 4×4, especially when the roads are badly corrugated, or muddy in the rainy season (December/January to April). I’ve seen Sedans make it here in the dry season (May to November), but who knows at what cost to their suspension!

A 4×4 is essential for the guided and self-drive 4×4 trails on the South African side, and everywhere on the Botswana/eastern side of the park. Deflate your tyres for a softer ride (and see tip 8 below).

Best time to visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Any time is good, depending on what you enjoy. September–November, the end of the dry season, brings animals to the waterholes and many migrant birds. January/February gives lots of action, good raptor sightings and some electric storms, if you don’t mind temperatures of 45–50ºC. If rains have been good, March may show a greener side to the park and it’s good for birding. Steer clear of June/July, if you hate being cold; night-time temperatures can plummet to 0 or -10ºC, although days are sunny.

What to look for during a Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park safari

You’ll almost certainly spot black-maned Kalahari lions and maybe even a leopard, but leave your ‘Big Five’ notions at home as there are no elephant, rhino or buffalo here. Rather, take pleasure in birds of prey, cheetah, hyena, honey badger, bat-eared fox, meerkat and small creatures like whistling rats and barking geckos.

Where to stay the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

South Africa:

SAN Parks’ tourist camps (Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata Mata) offer self-catering chalets and camping, while their six higher-priced and more exclusive wilderness camps (Gharagab and Bitterpan for 4x4s only) are unfenced for a close-to-nature feel.

The private Xaus Lodge on land returned to the Mier and Khomani San is a fully-catered luxury option.

Kgalagadi Lodge outside the park, 5km south of Twee Rivieren, has self-catering chalets, camping with private facilities,, and a good little restaurant.

Botswana:

Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) provides unfenced bush camping with long-drop loos at Rooiputs and Polentswa, and on a range of multi-night trails across the dunes. You must have a 4×4, bring all your own water and be entirely self-sufficient.

At the other end of the scale are the new full-board private lodges at Rooiputs and Polentswa.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park safari
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park safari

Insider tips for visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

1. Buy the official info guide to the park at Twee Rivieren for background on the park’s animals, plants and neighbouring San communities.

2. Take warm gear if you visit in winter; use sunscreen and keep hydrated in summer.

3. Rain falls mainly between January and April, though we were once caught in a hail storm in September. The dry season is May to November/December.

4. The safety of the water is suspect. Bring drinking water from home or buy 5-litre jugs of mineral water outside the park where it’s cheaper.

5. You can buy fuel only at Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata.

6. Only Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata have shops selling bottled water, basic food/toiletries and firewood.

7. Budget for at least one guided early morning walk (R313 a person, no kids under 16) or sunset/night drive (R181 a person, kids half price) during your visit.

8. If you venture out on a 4×4 trail, take a grass net to protect your radiator and deflate your tyres to 1.6 bars or less so you don’t get stuck in thick sand. For safety, travel with at least two vehicles.

9. This is a transfrontier park, but if you want to leave the park somewhere other than where you enter, you mustcomplete immigration formalities at Twee Rivieren/Two Rivers, and stay a minimum of two nights in the park.

10. Kgalagadi isn’t a high-risk malaria area, but use repellents and cover up at dawn/dusk in summer.

More posts about visiting Botswana