Paris was everything I imagined it would be: The simple, impeccable way everyone dresses (no rumpled tees or PJs in sight!). Clusters of people sitting and chatting outside cafés for hours. Well-tailored commuters heading home from work with a baguette tucked under their arm. Ah, Paree!
There were a few things I didn't quite expect (or wasn't prepared for), like the idea that "takeout" food or "delivery" isn't nearly as ubiquitous as it is in the States—or in New York. Getting a quick iced latte or snack to go? Not easy. But that meant we were forced to do something wonderful: slow down, take our time in restaurants (you won't feel rushed by the French!), people-watch and listen to the beautiful sounds of one of my favorite languages.
Also a surprise: Where everyone walks around with their coffee to-go in New York, in Paris practically everyone walks around with a cigarette. (A friend we stayed with told us: See clouds of smoke outside a café or restaurant? That's how you know they're Parisians.) Oh and the Metro? So easy to use and so. Darn. Clean.
Finding a hearty breakfast was also a struggle. And brunch, of course, is a very American thing. So if you're like me and need to eat every few hours or so, I'd suggest bringing snacks, snacks, snacks. (I literally brought about 15 of these bars in my carry-on, which was a bit awkward when I had to pull out any food items as we went through security at JFK—queue me frantically piling snack bar after snack bar into a plastic bin with the security officers looking on with what I hope was amusement?!)
Here, five tips for making the most of your first visit to Paris:
1. Don't feel guilty about skipping some of the "must-see" spots
Tom and I never actually climbed the Eiffel Tower (the view of it from the Trocadéro is so awe-inspiring—that's where we did our photo shoot with Céline Chhuon, below) and we spent less time at the Louvre and more time at the Musée d'Orsay. I'd say go to the Louvre and see the amazing glass pyramid (and the Mona Lisa!), but plan to spend more time at the Musée d'Orsay, especially if you love Impressionist paintings. The Renoir painting above is one of my all-time favorites and seeing it in person (just like when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time) made me all teary-eyed.
We also visited the Musée de l'Orangerie, which has Monet's stunning Water Lilies (above), and the Musée Marmottan Monet (below), which has one of the largest collections of Monet paintings. (Er, Tom is a bit of a Monet fan.) So follow your curiosity, try new things (obvi), but ultimately do what makes you happy!
2. Get out of the city for a day
It may seem counterintuitive when there's so much to see in Paris, but leaving gave us a different perspective of the countryside and everyday life. After an hour-long train ride to Vernon, it was another 20 minutes on the somewhat rickety, but adorable le Petit Train to Monet's Gardens in Giverny.
After I'd walked around the pond and over the bridge (Tom was geeking out and taking these pictures), I sat on a green bench and read, surrounded by flower heaven. Whenever my mom goes on a trip, she always buys a new book at the airport, a fun habit I've picked up, too. This time I bought The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (she wrote Big Little Lies, too). It was entertaining with relatable characters and a stellar ending, just the kind of book I was looking for!
3. Splurge on a special experience
Maybe for you it's a wine and food tour (um, Paris seems like a good place to do that) or maybe it's gorgeous photos in front of the Eiffel Tower (like us!). The morning of the shoot, we got up before sunrise for the best light. I had basically melted my steamer within a few days of arriving (a lesson to always use the correct converters when abroad!) so we were a bit wrinkly, but the whole experience was surprisingly romantic and calming. (I don't always feel that way in front of the camera!) The weather was mild for an April morning, we had this beautiful scene around us and we were able to just be in the moment together, which can be hard to do when you're rushing around a new city trying to do all the things. I'm going to share a separate post about this photo shoot soon.
4. Stay in an AirBnb for a night
Tom and I always find this is the BEST way to get a different (i.e. local) perspective on a new city (besides staying with friends/family who live there), since sometimes you meet your host or they'll leave you a list of their favorite spots nearby. We stayed in the Porte Dauphine neighborhood for three days, not far from the Champs-Élysées and the Trocadéro, and we were a block away from a grocery store, bars and restaurants. One night we ended up going to a nearby pub, The Honest Lawyer (thanks to a rec from our host), and Tom and I had the BEST burgers. In Paris. Who knew?! Coming back to the flat each night after exploring the city almost felt like we were living in Paris for a pocket of time. Heaven!
5. Plan a "free" day for wandering
This might be the most important thing you do—even if it's just a free afternoon. Try to have a day that's not so planned. A few hours of wandering can be food for the soul—that's when we found the prettiest cafés and magical city streets. Those were some of the coolest moments of our trip.
A few other thoughts and places to try:
-We skipped Ladurée (we have one in the city anyway) and headed to Pierre Hermé instead, widely considered to be one of the best pastry spots in Paris.
-Duck inside as many local, quaint boulangeries (bakeries) as you can—everything is unbelievably delicious. (Comparable to how even hole-in-the-wall spots in New York have amazing pizza.)
-Looking for a cool dinner spot? Try sitting outside at Les Philosophes in the trendy le Marais district (it's walking distance from Notre Dame).