For a first time visitor, Paris can be overwhelming! Perhaps you have a short layover, or would like to escape your pre-arranged bus tour, and discover Paris on your own. Let’s go!
ÎLE SAINT-LOUIS: There is no better place to start your morning than on the Île Saint-Louis (4ème). A tiny, natural island located in the middle of the Seine, just behind Notre Dame, you will find quaint, narrow streets bursting with small shops, restaurants, hotels and locals beginning their day.
To me, this is the quintessential experience where you are transported into the Paris you have always imagined – and a great spot for a quick omelet at the La Brasserie de l’Île, where you can sort out the rest of your day.
Before leaving the center of old Paris, take a quick walk around the exterior of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, to admire the gargoyles and lofty flying buttresses. Then make your way to the Rive Gauche (Quartier Latin; 6ème) via the Pont Neuf. Built from 1578-1607 this World Heritage Site is the oldest existing bridge in Paris, and reveals ornate sculptures worthy of a moment to pause.
Then, stroll up the Boulevard Saint-Michel (6ème) – the student/bohemian district of Paris, where you will find book stores, amazing crèperies and sandwiches to-go. The “Boule Miche” is an area where you can easily deviate from your plan, make your own personal Parisian experience, and wander around the adjacent small streets – many of which lead to the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the ever-famous Café Les Deux Magots.
Take another quick side-step to the rue Saint-Jacques, one of the most picturesque streets in Paris, for a quick “Selfie”. And on sunny days, it is totally worthwhile to end your morning at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Crèpe in-hand, sit and enjoy the massive gardens and the architectural beauty of the Luxembourg Palace.
SACRÉ COEUR: Another stop best pursued in the morning is a visit to the Sacré Coeur basilica, with its glistening white dome, located in Montmartre (18ème). Be prepared for a challenging hike up steep streets that twist and turn, and many steps. Or have an Uber deliver you to the Place du Tertre! Once there, you can actually climb the additional 300 steps inside the basilica, for an amazing photo op.
Be sure to go early to experience this site of famous artists like Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, and avoid the bulging crowds of tourists who will arrive later in the day.
PARIS MARKETS: To be immersed in the daily lives of the regular Paris citizen, walking through the numerous open markets in the morning is an experience to remember. One of the more famous markets is found on rue Cler, (7ème). Here, the cobblestone street is original, the people are local, and the photo opportunities are numerous. You can stop at the Café du Marché, offering a great view of all the action.
Or, visit one of Paris’ oldest open markets on the rue Mouffetard (5ème).
Whichever market you visit, (and there are many all over Paris), the vendors will offer everything from fresh cuts of beef, to desserts, flowers, candles and tablecloths. For me, the Cheese vendors are where I head first. Rows and rows of creamy French fromages are presented at the optimal ripeness, which combine beautifully with a fresh baguette and bottle of wine.
MIDDAY AND AFTERNOONS IN PARIS
RUE DU FAUBOURG SAINT-HONORÉ: Shopping should be saved for afternoon activities. If you are coming to Paris for designer fashions, exquisite jewelry, perfume, and the inimitable French macaron, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is the area to explore. From Hermès to Christian Louboutin, the boutiques are unparalleled; Ladurée is world-renown for their macaron, and the well-known Guerlain offers the highest-quality perfumes. And you might even spot a famous super-model or celebrity.
CHAMPS ELYSÉES: It is not a trip to Paris without walking the famous Champs Elysées, and exploring the Arc de Triomphe. Although this iconic, tree-lined boulevard overflows with thousands of tourists, it exudes electricity and offers a great spot to watch the world go by. Also, nearby is a well-known chain restaurant, L’Entrecôte de Paris, rue de Martignan. Famous for its specialty steaks, fries and secret sauce, people stand in line to wait for a table.
MUSÉE D’ORSAY: Another great afternoon option, especially for the art-lover, is the Musée d’Orsay (7ème). To avoid the tourist rush and school children, the best time to visit this amazing Impressionist Museum, located on the Left Bank, is after 3:00 PM.
CHAMPS DE MARS; EIFFEL TOWER: Stop at a local boulangerie; buy a baguette, a bottle of vin ordinaire, and of course, a chunk of famous French fromage, for a mid-afternoon picnic. Find a spot on the Champs de Mars, under the looming Eiffel Tower (1887-1889). This is an excellent way to experience the Eiffel Tower and spend a leisurely afternoon where you can take in all that Paris has to offer on your own, or with a friend.
EVENINGS IN PARIS:
Evenings in Paris are magical, especially for a first time visitor. As the sun goes down over the Seine, the city begins to sparkle – centering around the Eiffel Tower, which bursts into hourly light-shows. There are many bars and small restaurants nearby to enjoy in the evening.
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE: For any trip to Paris, the Musée du Louvre is a must-see experience. Why is it listed as an evening suggestion?? The Louvre is open at night until 9:45 PM, on Wednesdays and Fridays. At these times, there are no school visits and fewer people. The nighttime atmosphere makes the venue more intimate and the IM Pei Pyramid twinkles as you approach this daunting structure. This is a great evening option for the first-time visitor.
If you venture out on your own in Paris, for part or all of your visit, you will discover your own version of Paris. But don’t even try to do it all…. Because once you have fallen in love with Paris, as I have, you will be sure to return again and again.
This was our guide of Paris for first time visitors. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comment section below.
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