This past October Kevin and I travelled to Paris, France, for an absolutely fabulous 3 days of French culture, history, and (most importantly) coffee. We were a bit nervous that we wouldn’t have a big enough budget for a “proper” Paris adventure – it is, after all, a terribly expensive city – but we made do with what we had and had an amazing holiday!
Where to stay & how to get around
The geography of Paris was a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around at first. Essentially Paris is split into 20 arrondissements (sections/neighbourhoods) that kind of spiral out from the centre of the city. I assumed that since the 1st arrondissement was in the centre that a number like 17 would be super far away – don’t be fooled by the numbers that much though, the city of Paris is very much accessible and not that large.
We stayed in the Three Ducks Boutique Hostel which is in the 15th arrondissement, but is only a ten minute walk to the Eiffel Tower!! I would highly recommend this hostel. It is clean, has a friendly staff, and is in a very nice and central neighbourhood. We ended up in a room that was a loft-style and our bunk-bed ended up being semi-private which was really nice! The neighbourhood is very nice, and very local. It didn’t feel touristy at all, and there are plenty of restaurants, take-aways, and shops! The hostel also has a free breakfast with cereals, pastries, coffee, and juices!
Paris has a very comprehensive metro (underground) system, which I highly recommend taking advantage of. Most days we used the metro to get to a certain neighbourhood or landmark and then we would walk around. Paris is decently walkable, especially on nice days! You can also make use of commuter/long distance trains, which again are easy to navigate. In my books, and compared to other cities, Paris has A+ public transportation.
What to Do
We were able to do a lot more things in Paris than on our other holidays because of this wonderful, magical little fact: we’re under 26. Most museums, landmarks, and attractions have reduced or free tickets to things for EU residents under 26, and some have free tickets for anyone regardless of nationality under 26. I’ll point out when I go through this list what we were able to do for free/cheap!
Eiffel Tower: The Eiffel Tower is not one of those free things, however, there is a way to do it for much cheaper: take the stairs. Instead of taking the lift to the second floor (the midway point/platform) you can walk up the stairs for much cheaper. It’s 5 euros for ages 12-24 rather than 11 euros, plus there are much shorter lines! It’s not that physically taxing and takes about 20 minutes, and you can stop on the first floor for a break. It’s also cool to see the inside of the structure and the different type of view the stairs give you! You do have to buy a ticket for the elevator from the 2nd floor to the top, but if you would rather only spend 5 euros the tower the 2nd floor gives you amazing views too.
My other tip would be to go up during the late afternoon and stay until it gets dark. That way you get to see the sights in day light, you can watch the sunset, and then you get to see the sights at night! Plus, the stairs close eventually and you get to take the elevator down for free! Remember to also dress warmly, because it gets quite chilly up there!
Château de Versailles: Free for EU residents under 26
I am so happy we were able to visit Versailles for free – because we wouldn’t have been able to afford to go otherwise. You do need to take a commuter train to get there but it’s fairly cheap and straight-forward. We arrived at the Palace 20 minutes after it opened and walked straight through security. I highly recommend coming in the morning because on our way out at around 1pm the place was packed. We were able to see most things unobstructed and not rushed just by arriving early.
There’s so much history it’s almost difficult for my puny North American mind to comprehend. Everything is gorgeous. Everything is extravagant.
Another tip for visiting Versailles, especially if it’s on a good weather day, is to prepare for walking. I was not expecting the Palace grounds to be huge but they are. In fact, the Palace boasts over 2000 acres of grounds, and they are magnificent and totally worth walking through! Definitely budget extra time and bring some comfy shoes for the grounds!
The Louvre: Free for EU Residents under 26, Friday Nights: Free for under 26 regardless of Nationality.
Okay. I will admit something shameful here: I wasn’t exactly planning on going to the Louvre. I knew it would be awesome but I’ve also read that parts (re: the Mona Lisa) were overrated and I just didn’t want to spend 4 hours inside a museum and not exploring the city. Normally the museum closes at 6pm daily, however on Friday nights it’s open in the evening. We decided to go in since it was free for us anyway and we didn’t have anything planned in the evening. I am so, so glad it worked out this way because we did end up spending hours in there AND we didn’t have to waste precious daylight hours inside!
We also lucked out in another way on our visit to The Louvre – it was practically empty. Seriously. I don’t know if every Friday night is like this, or if we were just extremely lucky, but we were able to literally walk in and waltz straight up to the Mona Lisa, no lines necessary. In fact, we got lost at one point and actually couldn’t find another person (kind of eerie, to be honest. Very “Night at the Museum”). Which brings me to my next point: this museum is freaking huge. Like huge. Like my feet hurt so much by the end I wanted to cry but also wanted to keep walking because it was so good. I don’t know why but I just did not expect it to be this big.
Notre-Dame Cathedral: Free to enter. Tower is free to EU Residents under 26.
Notre-Dame is definitely a must-see. It’s so amazing and awe-inspiring and totally gives me an architecture girl-boner. It is important to note that religious ceremony is still conducted inside the Cathedral and you will have to be quiet and respectful when visiting the inside.
Honestly, climbing the Notre-Dame tower was one of the biggest highlights of my trip. We did have to wait in a line for about 40 minutes in the freezing outside, but it was totally worth it. You get to see all of the architecture up close (including the Gargoyles which are kinda creepy and cool!!), climb into the Belfry, and see amazing views of the city.
Where to Eat & Drink
We didn’t exactly eat traditional posh Parisian food (escargot, anyone), so I have absolutely no recommendations for where to get your fancy French fix. However, if you like to eat pastries for every meal, I’m your gal!
First thing’s first: Crepes. Beautiful, wonderful, crepes. Find yourself a good looking street vendor and get yourself a crepe. I think the trick to a good crepe is to stick to simplicity in flavours – Nutella, or Ham&Cheese are my favourite. Don’t get sucked into tourist-trap restaurants where they charge an arm and a leg for a crepe! Just grab one from a cart on the side of the road, it’ll be amazing!
Pastries and Cafe: I think the best thing about eating in Paris is that you don’t need to be picky about where you eat certain foods. For example, every single place we had coffee and pastries was amazing. Like just pick a place in your budget and go ham for coffee and lovely, fluffy pastries. If you go in the morning most places will have a ‘meal deal’ type thing going on.
Evening Drinks: Paris is full of outdoor seating – even in October – and it is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy an evening in Paris. Go to a nice neighbourhood, pick a restaurant with (heated) outdoor seating, order a glass of wine, and enjoy people watching! It’s honestly the best.
What to See
Wandering around all the different neighbourhoods is a great way to see Paris. There is so much magnificent architecture there.
Père Lachaise Cemetery: This is a giant cemetery where lots of noteworthy/famous people are buried, including: Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Rossini, etc. It is absolutely beautiful and breathtaking to walk around it. It is also actually huge, and you can download apps so that you can find certain gravesites.
Champs Elysees: Probably the most well known street in Paris, this is the magnificent street where all the luxury shopping occurs. Definitely worth walking along, even if you don’t intend on buying anything!
Montmartre: A lovely neighbourhood to walk around in. The Sacre-Coeur is worth visiting while you’re here (and it’s free). We unfortunately didn’t get to spend too much time here, but it’s full of cafes, and street art, and I will definitely go back next time I’m in Paris!
Marais: Marais was by far my favourite neighbourhood in Paris. It’s kind of hipster but it’s so lovely and so Parisian. It’s full of outdoor cafes, food vendors, niche shops, and is always bustling. A great place for coffee and a pastry!
Shakespeare & Co Bookstore: This is an historic English bookstore that is famous for being the old stomping ground of notable authors such as James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. It’s adorable and historic and everything you think a bookstore should be!
I feel like I could probably talk about Paris forever, but this post is starting to get a bit rambling and long. TL;DR: see everything in Paris, it’s great. ~