So I have been procrastinating, but my good friend Lindsay is about to spend 2 days in Paris! That short of a stay seems criminal, but you don't actually need 3 months to see the city either. So here it is, Lindsay's guide to Paris!
1. Pick just one museum. I know most people feel like they MUST see the Louvre, or maybe the Musee d'Orsay. Which you choose depends on you. Some key things to keep in mind in choosing:
What day of the week is it? The Musee d'Orsay is closed on Mondays, and the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so that should make life easier.
What kind of art/stuff do you like? If you love the classics or Egypt, if you love seeing really really old stuff and the prospect of seeing Hamurabi's Code makes you drool a little, go to the Louvre. If you are cuckoo for the Impressionists, the d'Orsay is a dream for you.
Some other museums I loved that I would recommend:
Musee Cluny - awesome Medieval museum. I think I spent 4 or 5 hours there.
The Orangerie - this is actually in the Tuileries Gardens, and it's a quickie but WELL worth it, especially if you love impressionism but can't fit in the Musee d'Orsay. The piece de resistance is 2 oval rooms with 4 huge Money water lily paintings surrounding you.
|Monet's landscapes at the Orangerie|
|Inside the Opera|
2. Save museum time for rainy days. The weather can change in an instant in Paris, turning your sunny picnic plans upside down. Save the museum for later in the day or whenever the rain starts!
3. Get a panoramic view of the city at sunset. You have several options for this:
The Eiffel Tower - everyone knows the Eiffel Tower, and most people think it's a must to climb it. I think it's crazy expensive. I've been up the tower, although it was too windy and I didn't have any desire to go all the way to the top that windy March. If it's your thing, though, have fun! Be prepared for super long lines, and maybe even buy your tickets at home before you go.
|Sunset from the Tour Montparnasse|
The Arc de Triomphe - you should definitely see the Arc, and if you like you can climb its steps for a view. I have done it, but I don't remember, so that's my only personal tip on it. Granted it's been over 10 years, but I don't remember it at all. Sorry to my parents.
Sacre Coeur - it's a gorgeous, gorgeous church, and from the front of the church you get an absolutely FREE panoramic view of the city. It's not a 360 but you're way up in the north and it's still great. The only price is metro fare and the sweat of climbing many stairs! Oh and watch out for the African men who will try to put bracelets on your wrists. Break out your firmest, steeliest "non, merci!" and they will let you alone.
4. Have a picnic. There really is nothing more Parisien than a picnic. Just do it. This time of year you might get a bit chilled, but just do it. Go to Rue Mouffetard, or Rue Cler, and gather up cheese, meat, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine. Bring glasses from your hotel, pack your corkscrew (or get a screwtop bottle of wine), and bring a blanket or a hotel towel. Go to park and eat and drink and enjoy. My favorite spot for this is in the Buttes-Chaumont park, but it's a little out of the way, and you might have more fun on the Champ de Mars, right in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Sacre Coeur is out of the way a bit but beautiful and really unique, and worth the steps in my view.
Notre Dame, of course, is one of the world's most famous churches, and home of the first gargoyles, and it's also really easy to get to (and in the center of Paris, Ile de la Cite, which was at first the ONLY part of Paris): Step 1: Get off the metro at Hotel de Ville. Step 2: See the front of the Hotel and then cross the river - voila, Notre Dame!
Sainte-Chapelle: Costs 5 euro to get into, but beautiful beautiful stained glass windows, probably the oldest you'll ever see, tell stories from the Old Testament. It's close to Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite, so you could kill two birds with one stone.
6. Food! Here are your best bets:
Breakfast. Pastries! Find a boulangerie/patisserie because you HAVE to have a croissant, or pain au chocolat, for breakfast at least one morning. You just have to. Google "Paris boulangeries" for information on where they're located, or do a Google Maps search for the first metro stop you plan on getting off at (this is geared to Lindsay, who's staying out at the airport, but if you're smart and staying in the city you will most likely cross a bakery in your neighborhood.
Lunch. The French tend to eat a heavy lunch and a light dinner, but that's hard to do, especially if you're walking and sightseeing all day. The easiest, cheapest lunch bet is actually to go to another bakery! Most boulangeries put out fresh half-baguette sandwiches at lunchtime, and it's a nice cheap way to go. (Unless you're doing the picnic thing, and then get a whole baguette and then go find your cheese and meat!)
Other lunch option/snacktime: Street crepes! Yum. But something to watch out for: stay away from pre-made stacks of crepes, where they reheat it and add your toppings. That's just lazy and not that fun.
Dinner. Food can be expensive in Paris, but it can also be cheap! Use the websites Qype.fr and LaFourchette.com for restaurant recommendations. One of my favorites in Paris, a little place called Au Petit Bistro on Rue Mouffetard (Metro Censier-Daubenton), had a prix fixe menu, which means you pick all 3 courses from a menu and it's a set price, for 14.50 euro. Appetizer, main course, and dessert for the equivalent of about 20 USD!
And now for some cultural notes:
How to behave as a customer. In Paris, you must say certain things at the start and end of a business exchange. This will be true any time you walk through a shop's doors.
Bonjour! When you walk in the store, saying Bonjour (or in the evening, Bonsoir) is just plain good manners. It's not like the US, where the shop clerk is trained to greet you - sometimes you will say hello first.
Merci, au revoir. (Bonne journee/Bonne soiree) On the other side, you should always say "thank you, goodbye!" when you leave a store or restaurant or museum. Your waiter might not be right there when you get up to leave - make an attempt to catch their eye as you exit, and if you don't, say Merci, au revoir to the host or whomever you might pass from the staff. During the day you mgiht here them add "Bonne journee" which means have a nice day! - you can say it back or say "Vous aussi!"
Eye contact. Unlike New York, Paris does NOT frown on eye contact. In fact they embrace it and take it a little too far. You will see Parisiens look you in the eye on the metro or the street, and if you look away, they will keep on looking. They will look your outfit up and down, visibly judging you, and never feel ashamed. So if you're feeling ballsy, confidently return that gaze and do NOT smile. DO NOT SMILE!
Clothing. Parisiens will probably know you're not one of them, and that's ok, but the previously mentioned judging looks can get old. So look sharp! By this I mean: Keep it dark and chic - Parisiens don't usually wear bright colors, and neither should you if you want to look the part. Wear a scarf! This was true in the summer, and so you KNOW you need one in the fall: scarves, scarves, scarves. Parisiens wear scarves, and if it's hot on the metro, do they peel off layers? NO! Because they already look pulled together! Last but probably most crucial: DO NOT WEAR SNEAKERS. Unless they're something in style like Chucks. I know, I know, sneakers are comfy! But don't be lazy, you're in Paris! In the fall wear some nice flat boots, and a dark, slim line jacket, and your scarf (which can be colorful, because I not-so-secretly like color) and you will be all set!
Language. Speak French! It's not an easy language, but if you know a little, use what you know! You'll get more respect, even though you might not feel it at first. This is what will happen 95% of the time in Paris: You speak French, and they answer you in English. It's not you, it's them. And they will appreciate your gesture most of the time, so just give it a try! Courage!