I am back with another travel post today, with one of my favorite places in the world, PARIS! It’s just such a magical place, and even though we recently visited during the heat wave in the peak of travel season it was still amazing. I’m incredibly grateful that our schedules allowed us to visit Paris again while vacationing in London, but having visited this gorgeous city now 4 times I’ve come up with some opinions and tips I think would be helpful for anyone planning a trip and I’m not holding back. So here I go… tips to make your stay more enjoyable and stress free in Paris.
THE TOP OF THE EIFFEL TOWER IS OVERRATED
Let me start with the most shocking. Somebody somewhere will read this and hate me, I apologize, but I also don’t care, I can’t be the only person who feels this way. I love the Eiffel Tower more than anything, it’s magical, I could stay there all day – that is from the ground. Please keep me off that freaking thing, there are 3 levels to the Eiffel tower and I hate them all. Chances are once at the top you’ll be crowded, uncomfortable, & miserable.
If you still have your heart set on going up be prepared for a 3 hour wait to the top. Then once you get up there it will be miserably cold (I was freezing once in June) and not to mention it’s incredibly windy. The odds of getting a glamorous photo at the top are zero.
Plus, once your on the Eiffel Tower you can’t see the Eiffel Tower and it really is one of the top things to see in Paris. Instead, I recommend you enjoy the beautiful glory of the Eiffel Tower from the ground. My opinion is the view from the Arc de Troimph is better, although lower but still a great height for a perfect view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower.
Also let’s not forget the Sacre Coure which has a distant but beautiful view of the tower, if you’re willing to venture out a little farther. The photo above shows the great view from the top.
SHOP AWAY FROM THE CHAMPS ELYSEES
Yeah, there are a lot of flagship stores there, and people might argue it’s one of the best shopping streets in Paris – there is some cool stuff, but I’m not convinced. First timers absolutely have a walk down the Champs, it’s lovely and everyone should do it, but it’s incredibly chaotic, crowded, and you’ll need to watch out for scammers.
My advice is to look elsewhere, there are tons of other shopping options in Paris from luxury to affordable. Some of my favorite places to shop, or just admire the goods, are the Place Vendome, along the Boulevard Saint Germain, Rue De Rivoli, and the Galleries Lafayette, where you can shop under the stunning glass dome and sip champagne, as seen above.
Another fun affordable place to shop is the Monoprix stores all over Paris, I found this little gem with my Mom one year in Paris and I come back every time I’m in town. It’s the equivalent of the Target stores in America, you can find everything, and it’s where we got all our supplies for our recent picnic.
DON’T JUST EAT MACARONS AT LAUDREE
Laudree has amazing macarons, but they have locations literally everywhere from London to New York. I understand the appeal, I really do, I’ve visited many of the locations, especially on vacation in NYC. They have gorgeous window displays and usually big crowds too. Why not visit some of the smaller macaron shops? The macarons will taste just as good if not better and give you more of a local Parisian feel. Chances are you can just walk the streets and find some lovely places, but some of my favorites have been Aux Fontaine de Chocolates near Notre Dame and Christophe Roussel in Martparnise.
Also, FYI when referring to French macarons they are spelled with one “O” not two. Macaroons refers to the American coconut blob cookie, it’s misspelled a lot so no harm if you’ve done it, although it drives me crazy. I think I only get worked up because it’s my favorite dessert – like ever. Spell it wrong if you must, just please enjoy every delicious bite.
DON’T BE A SLAVE TO LONG LINES
Nothing is worse than a long queue taking up all your free time. Do your research on the busiest times, go right at opening when possible and when there are no other options buy skip the line tickets. Skip the line tickets can be misleading, the only line your skipping is the ticket line, which can get very long at peak times.
There are many places you can do this at, the Louve is an example. We bought our tickets online and breezed right by the long ticket line. Viator has many skip the line ticket options that vary, some are guided and some are not. You’ll still have another security line to go through, arriving early in the day will help with that.
About the Eiffel Tower again, there are many horror stories of those waiting hours to go up the Eiffel Tower, and they’re all true. If I didn’t convince you and you still want to go to the top, there are a few tricks. You can shorten the long wait by taking the stairs or going with a skip the line tour group – both of which still could have somewhat of a wait, it’s risky, and my favorite trick is having a reservation at 58 Tour Eiffel, the restaurant is on the first level and when you arrive at your reservation time you will go right up. Although that will only get you up to the first level of the tower. Let me stress you need a reservation here at Book a Table, or go through Viator.
TRY NOT TO CRAM IN TOO MANY ACTIVITIES
Have you ever tried to get the most out of a vacation and crammed in so many activities that you are left exhausted and miserable? I’m raising my hand and totally guilty of this. This can be hard, especially when you’re in an amazing place like Paris, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Although sometimes you can quickly breeze through activities, most of the time they take longer and you really need down time on a vacation.
Resist the urge to over schedule yourself, I have the best time on vacation, especially in Paris, when I just wander without a plan. We just relax and sometimes find the best random things. Set time aside to share a bottle of wine in the park and people watch, sit along the Seine and watch the sunset, watch the pigeons fight over a french fry. This is what vacation is really about and you’ll feel like a local.
DON’T EAT ALL YOUR MEALS IN RESTAURANTS
Like the unplanned down time I mentioned above I think eating every meal in restaurants is also a no-no. I love amazing restaurants as much as every other tourist, but sometimes you need to get out and eat like a local. When the weather is nice there are so many places to picnic outdoors, and it’s something I’ve always craved to experience more.
Paris can be a little protective of their grass, so you can’t just picnic and sit anywhere, but their grass is beautiful, thick and green so I respect that. There are still plenty of designated grassy areas to dine at, as well as park benches and chairs. Some great spots to choose from are the grassy hills of the Sacre Coure, Champs de Mar, and many spots along the bank of the Seine. Our most recent spot was the designated grassy area in the Jardin du Luxembourg, bistro chairs are also available under the shady trees.
RESEARCH ALL THE SCAMS
I hate to add this, it’s so negative, but please do yourself a favor and research every scam known to mankind before visiting Paris. Don’t let this scare you or keep you at all from visiting though! Once away from the heavy tourist areas I can almost guarantee you’ll be left alone, but near the attractions please watch out.
We’ve been approached by countless scammers and con artists. From fake angry monks threatening to put a curse on you if you don’t donate, to the gold ring scam we recently got outside the Louvre. And whatever you do please don’t let anyone weave a bracelet around your arm and don’t sign anything on paper – you’ll regret it!
Keeping your hands in your pockets if you have them is a wise idea near heavy touristy spots, I often get my hands and arms grabbed. I’m all for charity and human kindness but please be aware, these scams and stories are very real and we’ve had many recently. I’m painting the most negative picture here, it’s possible you could be entirely left alone, just keep walking and say a firm no.
RESEARCH TIMES, CLOSURE DATES, & EVENTS
I witnessed a group of heartbroken girls nearly in tears when they realized the Arc de Triomphe was completely closed due to the Tour de France. I felt really sad for them. I’ve never seen the Arc so empty without cars or people, it was a crazy site to see.
Most museums are closed on Tuesdays, some are closed both Mondays and Tuesdays. There’s nothing worse than having to replay your day last minute, so check everything! Plan, plan, plan!
BE PREPARED FOR THE GREAT TOILET HUNT
Uh… I’m just going to say it, Parisians are weird about people using their toilets. Their free clean ones are guarded like the Queen of England. I’ve never witnessed any other country or city being as secretive or weird about going potty.. I’m not sure if they’re germaphobes or if tourists have just abused their potty power but it takes real work to find a toilet in Paris.
Yeah, you can find creepy coin operated public street toilets every now and then, but it’s not always that easy. Many restaurants in popular tourist spots have them not only hidden underground but you must go through several levels of screening from the hostess to several waiters giving you the stink eye.
Your best bet is to give in and order a drink or a meal to go potty, and you’ll still probably need to go again 5 minutes after leaving. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than sneaking in to use the toilet. You have a few options like the one hour line at the McDonalds – places like Starbucks usually have a key coded lock, or plan on keeping change on you at all times to go potty. Prices vary with the priciest toilet I’ve sen being 3 Euro, along the Champs Elyees. Dehydrating yourself maybe the easiest option.
I hope these tips help you on planning a trip to Paris. During this trip we stayed at the Renaissance Paris Vendome and it was incredible! We really took it easy on this trip, those looking to explore more of Paris and are a little unsure check out some of the great Viator tours available, I have great things to say about every one we’ve done in Paris, from Moulin Rougue, to a dinner cruise along the Seine, all wonderful! If you visit Versailles I recommend you spend a full day there, not just a half, be sure to eat at La Petite Venise.
The graphic tee I’m wearing is from H&M but sold out… I know… major bummer. They do have a couple other cute graphic tees right now though.
Have any tips of your own to pass along? Leave them in the comments! Also check out our travel favorites below!