I do a lot of business travel. So while I most certainly have the best of intentions to spend a few days carefully and thoroughly exploring the cities I visit... my work schedule often ruins all my beautiful plans. Because of this, I like to create short "check-lists" for my travels. These are things that I not only must do, but these are things that won't take up a whole day for me to check off.
Here's my checklist for first-timers in Paris:
Have a crepe under the Eiffel Tower
Visit the gargoyles at Notre Dame
Shop on Champs-Élysées
Spend an afternoon at The Louvre
Dine at a French Bistro
(1) Have a crepe under the Eiffel Tower
You simply can't skip seeing the Eiffel Tower if you're visiting Paris for the first time. If you've been to Paris multiple times... you know that you can see the Eiffel Tower from all over the city (including if you're taking the right metro lines). But for your first time... you gotta see it up close... twice. Once during the day, and once lit up at night. In the evening, the Eiffel Tower is illuminated with Golden Lighting that glows from lamps placed inside the tower's framework. Every night, on the hour from sundown until 1am in the morning, a Beacon light at the very top rotates 360-degree. There's Sparkling Lights, made up of 20,000 bulbs, that glitters for five minutes. It is incredible!
For those of you that are interested in seeing the Paris skyline from the top - you can purchase tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower (highly suggest you buying tickets online in advance). What you may not know... is that there's actually a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, and you can have dinner there as well!
My suggestion is to visit the Eiffel Tower in the morning. There's a few carts that sell crepes. Grab one, and walk around. There are two great places for photos with the tower: across the river at the Place du Trocadero or the Champ de Mars. There's plenty of green space around the tower as well for you to lounge around and enjoy your Parisian crepe breakfast!
[credit: Conde Nast Traveler, Twenty20, Qantas, Travel and Leisure]
(2) Visit the gargoyles at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Cathedral is a magnificent gothic masterpiece - both inside and out. It is located in the Île de la cité in the heart of the 4th arrondissement. Notre Dame de Paris is the proud owner of many stained glass windows, including rose windows, two of which are 13m wide across the diameter, which puts them amongst the largest in the whole of Europe. The towers, which stand at 69m high and house many gargoyles and bells, inspired one of Victor Hugo’s most famous tales, "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame", the story of the famous bell ringer, Quasimodo.
Open 7 days a week, visiting is completely free. However, there is a fee for a tour of the cathedral's great towers, one which consists of an almighty 422 steps. The view from the top is beautiful and is the only one of its kind, including the famous gargoyles. By definition, a gargoyle is a carved or sculpted mythical figure, usually designed with a spout of some sort that carries water away from the building, just like drainpipes do on modern houses. How far the water spurts from the building depends entirely on how far the gargoyle projects out. Of all of the figures on the cathedral, the Styrga is perhaps the most photographed. It sits with its head in its hands, sticking out its tongue.
As you all probably know, the beautiful Notre-Dame caught fire in April 2019. Burning for around 15 hours, the cathedral sustained serious damage, including the destruction of the flèche (the timber spirelet over the crossing). The Notre Dame has been closed to visitors since that tragedy and massive rebuilding efforts are underway. The French Parliament passed a law requiring that it be rebuilt exactly as it appeared before the fire, with reconstruction beginning in 2021 - in hopes that it can be completed by the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
[credit: Architectural Digest]
(3) Shop on Champs-Élysées
Paris offers the best in haute couture and ready-to-wear luxury fashion. And the Champs Elysees in Paris is one of the most celebrated shopping districts in the world. It is a 1.2-mile long and the 230-foot wide major road runs from Place de la Concorde to Arc de Triomphe. Trees, monuments, expensive shops, restaurants and cafes line the entire street.
Aside from the main road, there are plenty of side streets with shops as well. The ultra-chic Avenue Montaigne boasts boutiques for couture houses Chanel, Christian Dior, Emmanuel Ungaro, Versace, and others. The equally prestigious Rue Saint-Honoré isn't far, either, offering a collection of boutiques.
Even if you don't enjoy shopping... the architecture and shop layouts are incredible. There are a multitude of boutiques and buildings featuring the neo-Art Deco-style. The Abercrombie & Fitch store is at the end of a meticulously maintained box-hedged garden and beautiful black and gold iron gates.
The stores on on Champs-Elysées and its surrounding streets are endless... but if helpful, here are some of the more popular stores just to give you a sense of the vast selection: Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, la marque de maquillage MAC, Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Hermès, Swarovski, IKKS, Emilio Pucci, Christian Dior (make sure you visit its flagship store on Champs-Elysees as well its beautiful jewelry store on Montaigne), Celine, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Chanel, Jil Sander, Longchamp, Sephora, Valentino, Marni, Nina Ricci, Chloé, Paul & Joe, Blumarine, Roberto Cavalli, The Disney Store, Nespresso, Adidas, Art Curial, Drouot Montaigne, H&M, Le Royal Éclaireur, Nike, Giorgio Armani, Manoush, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianni Versace, le Drugstore Publicis...
Speaking about le Drugstore Publicis - make sure you stop by a glass of champagne or cocktail after a full day of shopping. If helpful... that glass of champagne really is just on the way to see the Arc de Triomphe.
[credit: Le Parisien, French This Way, Paris Attitude]
(4) Spend an afternoon at The Louvre
If this is your first time visiting Paris... you have to dedicate an entire afternoon to the Louvre. A whole day might be too overwhelming (mainly due to the crowds)... but a targeted short visit, with lunch either around the Louvre or in the Louvre, is a must. If nothing else, you must at least stop by the outside and take a picture with the beautiful building and the pyramid.
The Louvre is huge, and as already mentioned above, can be quick overwhelming. The line can also be ridiculously long. So some advanced planning - and ticket purchasing - is a must!
Read the "Inside the Louvre" post for more information!
(5) Dine at a French Bistro
It's impossible to think about Paris and not think about French food (I'm getting hungry just thinking about what to write). Dinner at a Parisian Bistro is a must - these fun, cozy, affordable restaurants have been at the heart of French dining culture for centuries.
Here are some of my absolute favorites!
Le Bistrot Paul Bert: This is perhaps the most famous bistro in Paris. You must have the steak tartare and the soufflé for dessert - oh and definitely add in the steak-frites if you don't mind the steak & steak combination! "In my opinion, the most quintessential restaurant in Paris is Bistro Paul Bert. When dining, there is only one item you should consider when ordering and it's the Steak Au Poivre. This is one of the most transcendent dishes I have ever had, and it should be on everyone's bucket list. The steak (filet) arrives sitting in a pool of creamy peppercorn sauce with a side of french fries and it's tempting to order a second round upon completion." — Ronnie Evans, co-owner of Blue Oak BBQ
Pharamond: This gorgeous gorgeous place has changed little in appearance since it opened in 1832 (and is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris). They still serve some of the most authentic Normandy specialties.
Ma Bourgogne: Located right across from the Place de Vosges, Ma Bourgogne is one of the most famous bistros of Paris. It offers real brasserie cuisine mixed with local specialties. If you love escargots, andouillette, foie gras, and tartare... this is the place for you. Ma Bourgogne's renowned tartare of beef is chopped before you– right away. The owner or his wife fixes it for you right there and then!
Le Comptoir du Relais: Chef Yves Camdeborde is widely recognized as the pioneer of the neo-bistro. Le Comptoir is a perfect example of bistro and neo-bistro: at lunchtime, Le Comptoir is a simple brasserie; in the evenings, however, the restaurant serves elevated classic bistro dishes with a five-course prix fixe.
Le Bon Georges: Behind the beautiful dark blue façade is one of the best traditional Paris bistro - in all its well-worn wooden tables and a chalkboard menu glory. There's a simple menu focus on high-quality ingredients.
Chez Janou: This lively, unpretentious Provençal-centric restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike. If helpful, their super economical set lunch option comes with a chocolate mousse option that just so happens to be all-you-can-eat! "One of my all-time favorite haunts in Paris is Chez Janou, on the edge of the Marais and just around the corner from the Place des Vosges. It is a fabulous bistro with an amazing scallop risotto and a smattering of delectable small plates. It is always humming, and if you are lucky, you can grab a coveted spot outside. It's a convivial environment with seriously amazing food — stripped of all pretense and loaded with fun and charm." — Executive Chef Brian Riggenbach, The Mockingbird
Café de Flore: Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, this café is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. "It effortlessly embodies what I call 'bistro life': alive with sounds, smells, charm, simplicity & style and is famous for their curated soundtracks (series of published collections), historical legacy of literary and visual artist (regulars included: Picasso, Hemingway, etc.). Café de Flore is also famous for their culinary arts. The fresh crab salad with a special mustard sauce, perfect cooked eggs, and ripe tomatoes was mind-blowing." – Larry Hanes, chef, owner & designer of Eggshell Bistro
[credit: Fodors, FluentU, Jetsetter, Udemy]