Updated: May 26, 2020
In the fall of 2017 my wife and I took a trip to France to have one the best birthday celebrations ever!
We started our trip in the Loire Valley experiencing the wines, castles, and food in the center of France. See our blog about Loire Valley about how to book and where to stay for more info.
After experiencing the Loire Valley, we made our way back north to Paris. We’ve been to Paris numerous times and this one was by far the best experience.
We took the train from the Loire Valley back to Paris (when in Europe train travel is an essential for getting to locations) and made it to our apartment. The first time we stayed in Paris we looked at the difference between hotels and apartments and after much review apartment staying is more ideal.
The hotels in Paris (and other parts of Europe for that matter) are quite small, especially by U.S. standards. A typical hotel room is around 250 square feet and really only encompasses a bed and a small bathroom. To make your stay feel larger and more luxurious try apartment living.
While staying in Paris we’ve stayed in a few different apartments. The very first time we stayed in an apartment we got a room on the fourth floor in arrondissement 1. When choosing where to stay in Paris check out the arrondissement (different districts) that you want to explore. We’ve stayed in a few different arrondissements and recommend- 1st (Lourve, Pont des Art, Place de Vendôme, Rue de Rivol . 3rd and 4th the Marais.) These are your best locations for apartment looking around Paris.
This is more or less a comprehensive list of where you might want to look when going to Paris. This is a map of the metro for Paris. This will be absolutely necessary when you go. Metro is the easiest way to get around in the city. The one thing I tell everyone who goes to Paris for the first time- DO NOT SKIMP ON WHERE YOU ARE STAYING. You want to stay in the heart of Paris, don't be tempted by staying near the airport or outside the city. You will just spend your vacation waiting for trains, ubers, etc. to get back to your place when you can really experience Paris to the fullest by staying where the action is.
When looking for apartments around Paris check, double check, TRIPPLE CHECK, whether or not the apartment has an elevator or not. If you choose an apartment on the fourth floor and you are carrying large bags, a wedding dress, and carry-on bags BE PREPARED TO WORKOUT. The first apartment we were at was at the very top of the building and the stairs were so narrow that I get chills just thinking about my mistake.
After learning hard from our first mistake we made sure that the rest of the apartments had elevators. The elevators are small but in batches you should be able to get even the largest checked bag into the apartment.
To find apartments in Paris we used two:
These websites offered the most in luxury and affordability while in Paris.
We stayed at this amazing apartment in the the Marais. We couldn't have been happier. It was the LARGEST place we've stayed at in Paris.
Staying in central locations let you explore more, rest quicker, and not having to "travel" to get back to your space. Around the Marais (third arrondissement) there are a ton of clothing stores, restaurants, local shops and everything else you might want to explore while in Paris. While it isn't inexpensive, it offers great accommodations with great beauty.
There are many amazing restaurants in Paris and on this trip we went on the high end. The most memorable were Jules Verne inside the Eiffel Tower for a birthday dinner, Ze Kitchen Galerie, and Fromagerie Dandard. See our Eat section for a breakdown.
Free walking tours
Sometimes you don't need to spend $70-$90 per person to experience the sites. Something that we discovered a few trips ago in Europe was free walking tours, and we've looked into them(and went on tours) each time we went to a new city (Paris, Rome(actually did a bike tour), Florence, Strasbourg, Venice, Vienna, Zurich, Barcelona, Madrid, Savannah). The best thing about free walking tours...they're free(kind of). You pay what you "feel" the guide was worth (so you give them a tip). This is typically $20 per person in your group. So it's better than $70-$90 but it's not technically free.
We've had everyone from college students, to older guides show us around a particular area. Each guide that we've had were really excellent and super informative. The wife also kind of vets the guide on the websites to see which ones are better than others. They'll answer everything from where you should go get food, local entertainment, and best places in the city and what times to see them.
You need to book your tour (probably a day or so in advance) and then decide which area you want to see.
The one NEGATIVE note for free walking tours is if there is something that you want to go into (museum, church, historic site etc. ) they will NOT take you in. Since it's free(in every aspect) you see the sites from the outside of the area. Free walking tours are great for the beginning of your vacation to see the basics, and what to explore after the tour.
We took a free walking tour of Sacré-Cœur.
We started our walking tour in the 17th arrondissement in front of Moulin Rouge (they do shows daily but haven't gone.)
From there we went on the Metro to the 18th arrondissement to walk around to see Sacré-Cœur. The guide talked about typical guide stuff that was interesting when it was told, but has since left my memory due to Parisian wine.
At the top of hill you get to the church as well as the small artisan village. It's nice, Parisian, quaint (reminds you a lot of Paris in Las Vegas, probably what it was modeled after). It wasn't our first time to Sacré-Cœur, as this is where we did our wedding photography and videography two years prior. When we were with the film maker he explicitly told us to watch our stuff near Sacré-Cœur since there were a lot of tourists and that also brings pick pockets and scammers.
For those that haven't had the experience of the portrait scam, it kind of goes like this:
-"I'm a local artist, and I like to show people that come to my country what Sacré-Cœur is about...ART, LOVE, PASSION".
"No thanks we're good."
-"It is freeee my friend, if you like it you can purchase but right now YOU are my MUSE!"
"No thanks we're good."
-"I will draw you anyway, and you can let me know if you like it or not."
15 minutes goes by while you shop at the stores. (The stores at Sacré-Cœur are actually really good and have decent pricing for Paris). You can pick up your typical beret, or some aprons.
-"The creation is done my friends it's my MASTERPIECE".
"Ugh, no thank you we're good."
-"Please my friends I have a four babies, and a wife, and a cat and all are really really really sick *le cough".
It is quite annoying, and they do this all day. Where they really gets you is when you look at the pictures and you ask them: "OK how much are they?"
-"For the most beautiful people in the world, 40€ each."
"You got to be kidding me..."
-"Paris is expensive!! My babies, they eat food...ohhhhh so much of the food! AND MY WIFE *le sob* she can't work because...because...I can't even explain. But the worst is le cat OOOOOOHHHHHH le cat. Poor, poor, poor le cat. He cough all the time and HAIR comes out! I don't know what's wrong with him!"
"Here's a 5 go away".
-"Can I have 10?"
-"Ugly, mean, waste of time Americans."
He walks twenty feet away to another couple.
-"Hello! You are the most beautiful couple I have ever seen, may I draw you?"
Don't let the annoyance of these people dissuade you from going, but just remember to know where your wallet and purse are when you're there.
Get a SIM card
We live in a digital age, we need cell phones to survive!
Maybe you don't need a cell phone, but it sure does make life easier. You're most likely going to take a cell phone on your trip (checking emails, taking photos, internet etc.) so might as well USE it for it's intended use. We used Orange sim card (traveler addition) from Amazon and it worked great. We use SIM cards every time we travel and we will NOT go back.
The thing about SIM cards (or atleast us iPhone users) are that you need a phone that is jailbreaked.
"Jailbreaking” your phone removes any restrictions that the manufacturer or carrier has placed on it. This move essentially frees your iPhone from limitations and gives you the ability to manipulate it in ways you couldn’t before."
You typically have to pay off the rest of the phone before being able to jailbreak you phone. If you just bought your phone, or don't want to pay it off, this is the right time to think about saving one of your old phones for this purpose alone.
Think about Uber, maps, questions in a different language. This is the reason why you need a phone that works with internet.
Paris is a must visit. There is so much things to see, food to eat that you can tailor make your vacation around this one city alone. Being a hub for a lot of international travel this can also make a great layover spot, but I personally would like more time than just a layover.