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.
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.
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 Tuileries, and at Le Jardin du Luxembourg.
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.
You’ll always want to go back to Paris, and each time its charm will embrace you in a different way.