Europe, France, Short Breaks
Visiting Paris for the first time: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Paris
On my first visit to Paris during a high school trip, I was immediately captivated by The impressive City of Lights. It wasn’t until I was in college that I had the opportunity to work in Paris for 10 days. That’s when I really fell in love with this vibrant metropolis. After that, many more Paris getaways followed. Living just a 3-hour drive from The City of Lights has its advantages. During my twenties, this beautiful city became the mecca for spontaneous trips with friends. Why shopping or party in our neighborhood while we could go a for weekend getaway in Paris? Since then, visiting Paris has become an annual tradition. This is how the idea arose to create a beginner’s guide to Paris with all the info you need for visting Paris for the first time.
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Visiting Paris for the first time: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Paris
How to get to Paris?
From Belgium you can easily travel to Paris with the TGV or Thalys. It takes about an hour and a half from Brussels. A cheaper and less comfortable option is the flixbus. This takes a little longer, but these buses depart from various places in Belgium. So you don’t have to travel to Brussels first.
For a weekend getaway in Paris we always go by car. You’ll need an Air Quality Certificate to drive in the city centre.You can easily order this online.
If you decide to travel to Paris by car, opt for a hotel with parking or a public parking garage nearby. Both the parking in the hotel as well as the public parking facilities will be paying. Therefore, be sure to compare prices and book a place in advance. We always park our car in a parking garage just outside the city. These are usually cheaper and if you don’t use your car within the city, you do not need to purchase an Air Quality Certificate. We always make sure that there is a metro station nearby, so that we can travel by metro from the parking lot to our hotel.
Of course, Paris can also be reached by plane from further destinations. You’ll probably arrive in Paris airport Charles De Gaulle. From there, you can easily take the RER to Gare du Nord or Châtelet – Les Halles metro station. From these stops you can continue with the metro to the heart of The City of Lights.
If you are planning to travel around Europe, Paris should definitely be on your Europe City itinerary. Because this city is so easily accessible by public transport it’s very easy to combine a trip to Paris with several other European cities. For example, you can take the train to Paris in London and it only takes 3 hours.
How to get around in Paris?
Paris is a beautiful city to explore on foot. But with its 20 districts, this city is immense. If you want to see a lot in a short period of time, it isn’t always possible to do everything on foot.
The metro is the ideal means of transport for getting around the city. If you are going for several days, it’s best to immediately buy a day pass ” mobilis” or one for several days “Paris visite travel pass“. The latter option is slightly more expensive. The advantage is that you also get discounts at certain main sights in Paris. If you aren’t interested in these discounts? Then go for the Mobilis day pass.
If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, I can imagine that it’s more interesting to move around above the ground so that you can get to know the city better. A pleasant way to get around in Paris is by renting a bicycle or vespa. The perfect place to do this is at freescoot. Here you can rent nice, trendy city bikes, but also beautiful red Vespas at reasonable prices. Freescoot is located in the heart of Paris along the Seine and within walking distance of Nortre Dame. The perfect place to start your tour of Paris. The business manager will be happy to help you map out the perfect route, and off you go!
Since a few years you can also use an electric scooter to explore Paris. You can find them almost on every corner of the street. These are easy to use and convenient for covering short distances within the city. They are also very affordable. To unlock the scooter, just download the app of the brand you want to use. Usually you have to pay a small amount as a guarantee through this app. Afterwards you pay per minute that you use the scooter.
When is the best time to visit Paris?
Every season has its charms in Paris. In the spring you can admire the beautiful cherry blossoms at Notre Dame. Are you visiting Paris during summertime? Then you can enjoy a picnic along the Seine and experience sultry evenings on one of the many terraces in the pleasant neighborhoods of Quartier Latin and Saint Germain. When the leaves start to fall in autumn you can observe the beautiful autumn colors in one of the many impressive city parks. And when the weather is bad, there are plenty of varied indoor activities such as seeing beautiful artworks in the Louvre or shopping in one of the world’s famous galleries. In winter you can also fully enjoy the Christmas atmosphere in Paris like in no other city.
How long to stay in Paris?
To visit Paris for the first time, you should really take your time. Paris is so overwhelming and there is so much to experience. The danger is that you will run from one attraction to another without actually experiencing Paris. Therefore, I recommend to book at least 3 nights so that you have at least 4 full days to fully absorb The City of Lights. You could also opt to stay a bit longer to do some amazing day trips from Paris.
Where to stay in Paris
Deciding where to stay in Paris is always a difficult choice. On one hand you want to stay in a nice neighborhood, but on the other hand you also want a qualitative stay. I have already tried many hotels in Paris and I can definitely recommend these:
Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche
Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche is located between the fifth and sixth arrondissement of Paris, more precisely between the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain. These are by far my favorite neighborhoods in Paris. This beautiful four star boutique hotel is housed in an elegant 17th century building. It was completely renovated in 2015, but the French elegant style and authenticity can still be admired in many facets.
Read more about Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche
Hotel Maison Malesherbes
Hotel Maison Malesherbes is located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, more precisely in the Saint Augustin district. This neighborhood is characterized by beautiful, large Parisian boulevards with on both sides impressive buildings, quite the architecturale gems. This enchanting four star boutique hotel is also housed in one of these classic buildings. The unique interior of Hotel Maison Malesherbes ensures that you feel like you’re in an 18th-century French bourgeois mansion.
Read more about Hotel Maison Malesherbes
Hotel Le Friedland
Hotel Le Friedland is located in the heart of the 8th arrondissement as well, on the famous boulevard Faubourg Saint Honoré with its luxurious shops. The hotel is also situated a stone’s throw from the equally famous Champs-Elysées with the Arc de Triomphe as its crown jewel. This contemporary four star boutique hotel with minimalist design is therefore the perfect base for a weekend full of shopping.
Read more about Hotel Le Friedland
More hotels in Paris
Of course there are many more beautiful hotels in Paris. This map widget from booking makes it extremely easy for you to find the perfect hotel in the area where you would like to stay.
The best sights and things to do when visiting Paris for the first time
Now that you have a better idea of how and when to travel to Paris, how to get around in the city and where to stay, I want to take you along the must-see sights and activities in The City of Lights.
The best things to do in Paris
When it comes to the Eiffel Tower, opinions are divided. Some are big fans and others think this gigantic tower is a monstrosity. Regardless of the difference of opinions, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most popular landmarks in France and an icon in Paris. So if you are visiting Paris for the first time, it’s a definitely something you need to see. If you have time to brave a queue, you might wanna consider to climb the Eiffel Tower. The view from this Parisian icon will certainly not disappoint.
If there is one thing that shouldn’t be missing on your first trip to Paris, it is a visit to the Louvre. This is not only the largest museum in France, but in the world. You’ll find some very famous artworks here, such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. But that is not everything. During a visit to the Louvre you can immerse yourself in the splendor of different ancient and classical art movements. The exterior of the Louvre is gorgeous as well. The museum is located in the old city palace of the French kings. In the courtyard you can enjoy the beautiful historical architecture in combination with a touch of contemporary design.
Jardin du Palais Royal
One of the most beautiful gardens in Paris is Jardin Du Palais Royal. The name already gives it away, because this beautiful garden is the back yard of Palais Royal. Jardin du Palais Royal is surrounded by several architectural gems such as historical shopping galleries and mansions. It’s the perfect place to escape the busy city. You’ can also find the famous artwork Les Deux Plateau, with the black and white striped columns, here. This has grown into an real Instagram hotspot.
Notre Dame is one of the largest Cathedrals in France and probably the most famous one. Because this beautiful Gothic building plays the lead role in a well-known Disney classic: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Unfortunately, the Nortre Dame is currently closed due to the fire in 2019. But you can still admire the exterior of this impressive cathedral. In spring you can also spot beautiful pink cherry blossoms in the park next to the Notre Dame.
This museum houses a phenomenal collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and sculptures. Besides that Musée D’Orsay is located in a former train station. The combination of this unique setting with a beautiful art collection makes this museum absolutely worth a visit during your stay in Paris.
One of the most impressive buildings in Paris is by far Opéra Garnier. Both the exterior and interior are breathtaking. The icing on the cake is definitely the stunning theatre. You can visit Opéra Garnier during the day. If you want to be immersed in the opulent luxury of the Neo-Baroque, make sure to put Opéra Garnier on your itinerary.
Jardin du luxembourg
Paris is a vibrant city with a lot to see and discover. Don’t forget to interrupt your visit with a relaxing walk in the Jardin du Luxembourg. This garden is also home to many treasures such as the beautiful De Medici fountain. Make some time to admire the Palais du Luxembourg and relax in one of the many chairs. This garden is located close to the Sorbonne and is therefore the favorite hangout of many students.
Sainte – Chapelle
One of the most beautiful churches in Paris and also one of the most popular sights is Sainte – Chapelle. This chapel was built by order of Louis IX. Impressive are the huge stained glass windows in the upper chapel depicting no less than 100 Bible stories. This is definitely a must see!
Paris has numerous secret passages. Most of them remain from the 18th and 19th centuries and are often unique architectural gems. The most beautiful are the neoclassical gallery Véro-Dodat near the Louvre and Galerie Vivienne with its beautiful mosaic floors.
The best neighborhoods to visit in Paris
Montmartre is probably the most famous area in Paris. But the image of Montmartre is often romanticized because it’s used as the setting for love stories and romantic films very often. Today, however, it’s a real tourist attraction, but that doesn’t take away that it is still a nice neighborhood to experience.
Montmartre is best known for the painters market ‘Place du Tertre’, the beautiful Sacred Heart Basilica better known as the Sacré-Coeur and the Moulin Rouge. But if you take the time to explore Montmarte, you will discover many more nice places. Especially those little streets around the heart of Montmartre are wonderful to get lost in. You’ll also find some famous instagram spots such as La Maison Rose and Le Consulat. But there are many more other pleasant cafes and restaurants to take a break. Montmarte is also the place-to-be if you would like to experience a cabaret show and see a real cancan performed.
Saint Germain en Quartier Latin
Within the 5th and 6th arrondissement on the left bank of the Seine you will find the adjacent neighborhoods Saint Germain and Quartier Latin. These are by far my favorite neighborhoods in Paris because they are both super charming and picturesque. In Saint Germain there is a lot to do, from large busy boulevards to little cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, many cozy and trendy restaurants and bars, beautiful boutiques and art galleries. Quartier Latin is the student district of Paris where the oldest university in Europe, the Sorbonne, is located. Here too you will find many cozy streets and alleys with the best bars to go out in the evening. The must-see sights within these neighborhoods are Jardin de Luxembourg and the Pantheon.
Located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement lies one of the oldest districts in Paris, Le Marais. While many other neighborhoods in Paris were modernized at the beginning of the 19th century, Le Marais retained its authenticity. That is why today this is the ideal neighborhood to get lost in little picturesque streets and alleys. You’ll find many little boutiques, second-hand shops, galleries, nice restaurants and trendy cafes. A must-see in Le Marais is Paris’s oldest square, Place des Vosges. A beautiful square surrounded by 17th century houses and many antique dealers. In good weather, this is the ideal place for Parisians to relax in the sun.
The best views to admire in Paris
Pont Alexandre III
One of my favorite views is from the most beautiful bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III. Here you have a great panorama of the Seine and a part of the city. You can spot the Eiffel Tower as well. Not only the view, but also Pont Alexandre III is phenomenal. The bridge is completely built in Art Nouveau style and decorated with beautiful details such as those typical Parisian lanterns but also cherubs, nymphs and flying golden horses.
A walk along the Seine is definitely something you should do when the weather is sunny. Be sure to bring a nice bottle of French wine, a baguette and some cheese for a delicious apero. During your walk, don’t forget to stop by the impressive Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris.
A River cruise on the Seine is surprisingly pleasant as well. With the beautiful music of Edith Piaf in the background, you immediately get into the Parisian mood. A boat trip also offers some goregeous views of the city.
Trocadéro is a large park located right in front of the Eiffel Tower. This is the famous place where you can admire the pride of Paris in all its glory. It’s therefore pretty busy here because everyone wants to take a snapshot of the Eiffel Tower. That doesn’t alter the fact that the view is still spectacular.
The basilique du Sacré-Coeur is located on the hill of Montmartre. This sight is not only worth a visit because of its beautiful architecture with impressive white domes, but from the stairs to the entrance you have a stunning view of Paris. It’s wonderful to stop here for a moment and enjoy the beautiful skyline of Paris.
Arc De Triomphe
From on top of Arc De Triomphe you have a gorgeous view of Paris as well. The only disadvantage is, just like with the Eiffel Tower, that you have to pay a few euros to see it. If money is not an issue, then it’s certainly worth it to climb this monument.
Rooftop Galeries Lafeyette
During the opening hours of Galeries Lafeyette you can enjoy the view from the rooftop for free. Here you have a beautiful panorama of the Paris skyline and you can even catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
Where to shop in Paris?
If you enjoyed the view from the rooftop of the Galeries Lafeyette, you might as well take a look inside. Galeries Lafayette is one of the luxury department stores located on the famous Houssmann Boulevard. If you don’t like shopping it’s still a good idea to check out this Boulevard because of the impressive architecture.
During the holidays this is the area where you can soak up the Christmas atmosphere like in no other. Did you know that the Christmas decorations of Galeries Lafayette’s are world famous? So if you are in Paris during the Christmas season, you should definitely pop in to admire the impressive Christmas tree. A bit further on the Houssmann Boulevard you will find Au Printemps. This luxury department store has the most beautiful Christmas windows which attract many admirers every year again.
The Champs-Élysées also known as the most prestigious avenue in Paris, is also a true shopping paradise. In addition to the luxury brands, you will also find the popular retail chains. If you like shopping in large and well-known stores, you will certainly find what you are looking for in Rue de Rivoli in Le Marais.
If you want to avoid the popular retail chains and are looking for smaller and more unique boutiques, then you have to be in the southern part of Le Marais. In Rue Vieille du Temple and Rue du Roi de Sicile you will find unique fashion boutiques and second-hand shops as well as trendy bars and restaurants.
If you would like some variation between luxury fashion houses and local boutiques, I recommend shopping in Saint Germain. You can also find a lot of beautiful vintage shops and art galleries there. Moreover, it is very pleasant neighborhood to wander around. Le Bon Marché is also located in this district. This is the oldest department store in Paris and well worth a visit.
Local specialties you need to try when visiting Paris
The French cuisine is known worldwide. The French take their food very seriously and there are definitely some important facts about French food you need to know. But when you visit Paris for the first time, these are local specialties that you should definitely try!
Croissant & pain au chocolat
You can’t start your day in Paris without a delicious freshly baked croissant or pain au chocolat. Just like a real Parisian, you should take a seat on a terrace or bench. While enjoying your typical Parisian breakfast you can fill your time with people watching. Delicious croissants are not difficult to find in Paris. But you will definitely find one of the tastiest at Maison D’Isabelle. By the way, this place won an award for the best croissant in Paris in 2018.
A real French specialty is the macaron. I think everyone knows this small, colorful pastry with delicious, soft fillings by now. Paris is the perfect city to stock up on a small supply of macarons. The difficulty lies in not consuming them before you return home. You can get the tastiest macarons at Pierre Hermé and Ladurée.
Crepes are by far the most common snacks in Paris. These delicious French pancakes are part of the street food culture here. You can find a food truck or stand that serves crepes with your topping of choice on almost every street corner. But you’ll find the best crepes at Breizh Café.
You would almost think I’m kidding. Besides all these yummy snacks, snails? But the escargot is indeed a must try French specialty. You can order this exclusive delicacy in many different restaurants, but my favorite place to eat them for a decent price is Bouillon Chartier.
Where to eat in Paris?
Breakfast or lunch in a typical 19th-century Parisian bistro is possible at Bistrot Vivienne. This cozy bistro is located in the hidden passage of Galerie Vivienne. You can take a seat in the lounge by the fireplace or on the characteristic Parisian terrace. Upstairs you can also take a look in the cabinet of curiosities.
The beautiful Belle Epoque tearoom where Coco Chanel was a regular visitor, is definitely worth a visit. Angelina is located on Rue de Rivoli, so it’s the perfect place to have a break during shopping. If you’re here you should try the house specialty, hot chocolate. And why not order a delicious pastry as well? You only live once, right?
Pink Mamma is currently by far one of the most popular restaurants in Paris. This because of its instagrammable interior. This delicious Italian restaurant may have 4 floors, but this is no guarantee you will get a table. If you want to get a spot here, you must reserve your table well in advance. It should also mention that Pink Mamma is a restaurant chain with several restaurants with the same name. The Pink Mamma I’m talking about is the Pink Mamma in Rue de Douai.
Experience Belle Epoque on a completely different level and have lunch in the restaurant “Le Lobby“, which is part of the Peninsula hotel. Taste international dishes at a culinary level and immerse yourself in luxury. The lobby is known for its impressive high tea time, but the lunch menu is also worth while.
Do you want to have lunch with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower? The best place to do that is in the restaurant L’Oiseau Blanc also located in the Peninsula hotel. Here you can enjoy traditional French cuisine with a phenomenal view of the pride of Paris. A place by the window is therefore in high demand, so book your table well in advance.
The Bouillon Chartier restaurant is a legend in Paris. The authentic restaurant in Montmartre is more than 100 years old and originated from a simple concept, namely a good meal at a democratic price. In addition to the delicious typical French dishes, you can enjoy the beautiful interior completely in Art Nouveau style. There is also a second Bouillon Chartier in Montparnasse.
Another fun fact is that the bouillon restaurants actually formed the first major restaurant chain in Paris. In 1900 there were about 250 in Paris, all in the then predominant Art Nouveau style. Only a few of these have survived. Bouillon Racine and Petit Bouillon Pharamond are also highly recommended.
Another super cozy restaurant, ideal for a dinner with friends or family is Pollidor. Here you can enjoy tasty French dishes from grandmother’s kitchen, in yet another very authentic setting.
With this comprehensive beginner’s guide to Paris, I have tried to give as many tips as possible for visting Paris for the first time. I hope that with my tips you will have an unforgettable first Paris experience.
Do you feel like visiting Paris? What would you definitely not want to miss on your first trip to The City of Lights? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you for reading
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10 thoughts on “Visiting Paris for the first time: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Paris”
Opera Garnier is my absolute favourite place in Paris! It’s so impressive!
I know right? It’s so stunning!
This post has given me so much wanderlust! I need to go back to Paris and see some of the things I missed on this itinerary 🙂
I hope you can visit Paris very soon!
Paris was the last trip I made in January 2020 before the pandemic. It was my 2nd time there, this time staying in Le Marais. *Sigh* I love Paris! Thanks for a great post, Sarah. And for giving me a bit of virtual travel.
Oh I do miss it too! Hope we can revisit the City of Lights soon!
Wow! What a fabulous guide. I hope to go to Paris this Spring if things open up. This guide will certainly come in handy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Oh I hope you get to see Paris soon! 🙂
This is an amazing first timer’s guide to Paris. It looks like you had so much fun in Paris and your photos are beautiful!
Thank you Disha, this means so much to me! <3