Paris is a good jump-off city for other European adventures. We decided on three nights in the City of Light at the start of our trip and two nights on the tail end of our travels, since we quickly realized that flying in and out of the same city was considerably less expensive.
I returned to Paris after sixteen years but it was not the city I remembered. Perhaps it was because I was there in the winter and returned in the summer. I don’t remember so many people. But then again, I don’t remember so many people in London or LA either. While many areas in Paris still appear the same, there are a lot of tips I wish someone had told me before traveling there again.
Some say Paris is doable in two days but after a five-day whirlwind covering most of the major attractions, I was grateful for an unexpected extra two days (courtesy of an Air France flight cancellation!) Those days (6 and 7) were when we could slow down a bit and finally relax.
Although temperatures can reach over a hundred degrees now in Paris during summer, the 10pm or later sunsets allow you to get a lot out of those full sunny days. However, shoulder season (May or September/October) may be a better option when there are fewer crowds and more temperate weather. Parisians leave the city during July and August.
We happened to be in Paris for Summer Solstice, which coincided with Fete de la Musique (Make Music Day) on June 21, where amateur or professional musicians play music outside in parks, public spaces, and neighborhoods. Originating in Paris, this Make Music Day spread to all of France and then to over 120 countries around the world. Literally every street and every corner of Paris was grooving and moving to outdoor live music. The streets were packed with revelers and along the Seine, thousands of people mingled and danced. It was inspiring and invigorating but may not be for everyone. The party continued late into the evening with DJs, bands jamming on side streets, and classical instruments.
There’s no better time to flock to the City of Light from LA or NYC as nonstop roundtrip service can be found on French bee airlines for less than $500. Here are some tips to help you plan your next trip to Paris.
What to know before planning a trip to Paris
The best thing to do in Paris is to sit at a café and observe Parisian life
Café culture is something I wish we had more of in America, especially in Los Angeles. It is part of Paris’ identity. Tables spill out on the street, often facing out like a theater set where life is your stage. Practice l‘art de ne rien faire (the art of doing nothing) and order an espresso, a bottle of wine, or my favorite new menu item found in many cafes – Viennese coffee with 2 shots of espresso and a heaping amount of whipped cream.
Every day, for either lunch or dinner, we rested our weary feet from 8-10 miles of walking and met interesting people with different perspectives from all over the world. It is hard to not talk to your neighbor when tables are jammed a few inches from each other, so close it is often impossible not to hear their conversation. Café culture makes it easy to chat with strangers.
If short on time in Paris, this is the best thing to do – absorb the scenery, people watch, observe the world go by, and dine on some foie gras, cheeses, onion soup, escargot, Croque sandwiches, or a tart tatin. Some of our favorite café stops for food and setting were Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a favorite spot for artists, writers, and thinkers since 1914; and Café Hugo in Place des Voges in the Marais under 17th-century vaulted arches facing the beautiful fountain-laden park. You can tour Victor Hugo’s apartment just a few feet away for free.
Consider staying in two locations to get different perspectives of the city.
Since we only booked the first 3 nights on the front end of our trip, I was shocked to be able to find hotels on the tail end of our journey that were available even the day before. In the off-season, I can imagine these hotels go for far less, too. There are a plethora of choices when it comes to accommodations in Paris, even in the high summer season.
Designed by Philippe Starck, 9Confidentiel is like stepping into a glamorous Parisian boudoir. This 29-room hotel in the heart of the bumping Marais is a 1925 Art Deco gem with pink and yellow beaux-arts designed rooms that come with nostalgic cinema star names. Compact spaces, secret design features bedside, rose-tinted bathroom floor-to-ceiling mirrors, romantic rooftop views, and a sexy intimate cocktail bar are some of the highlights, but the best part of this hidden oasis is the location.
Just on the outskirts of the Marais, find a less touristy quieter option at Maison Breguet near Place de la Bastille with a vaulted ceiling restaurant and opulent circular bar plus a complimentary spa and pool. Rooms in various sizes have a mid-century feel with sloped roofs and windows to peruse those Parisian rooftops. On Sundays, walk a few feet to indulge in a grand culinary shopping market.
Other charming boutique hotels in the heart of the Marais we recommend are Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais featuring décor inspired by 18th-century writer Beaumarchais who lived in a nearby mansion and affordable Hotel de la Bretonnerie in a 17th-century building. We stayed the whole time in or near the Marais but friends love the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood while others swear by staying in action-packed Montmartre or close to the high-end Avenue des Champs-Élysées. There’s something for everyone in this sprawling city of enlightenment.
Book museums way in advance.
While you can book The Louvre on their own site, the GetYourGuide App allows 24-hour cancellation with your money back, in case for some reason you need to change your time or date. The app makes booking easy while the Louvre Museum website was not as user-friendly. Due to massive crowds, you really need to book museum times ahead so you don’t spend hours waiting in line.
I easily booked tickets on the app for the Picasso Museum and Musee d’Orsay, making our wait time only a few minutes. Make sure to enter the Louvre through one of the back entrances (Richelieu or Galerie du Carrousel). We had no wait mid-day but when we left hundreds of people were waiting in line most likely for over an hour queue to get in at the front by the pyramid. If you plan on staying more than a few days, buy a Museum Pass.
The Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is wonderful but get there early.
Once in the terminal past check-in and endless (multiple) security lines, we were pleasantly surprised by how modern and clean the 48-year-old CDG Airport was with hip mid-century modern furniture, an area with curved chairs to recline on, a baby/nursing room for mothers, and even a play area for young kids to get their wiggles out.
Since we were not allowed to purchase Air France lounge access due to overcrowding, we spent a couple of hours at the I Love Paris restaurant by Guy Martin (Michelin star chef) in terminal 2E, which was surprisingly excellent, and one of the best meals we had in Paris – at the airport! Since we were about to embark on a 12-hour flight, it was such a surprising treat to leisurely dine in this sophisticated restaurant with runway views. My husband devoured the juiciest burger while I savored sardines in a fancy tomato sauce.
But since we almost missed our international flight after arriving 3 hours in advance, we recommend at least allowing 4-5 hours before your flight due to extended lines for everything. Hopefully, this will improve over time.
Uber was easy to and from the airport.
We weren’t sure whether to prearrange a car to pick us up (quoted around $120 to central Paris), but we easily logged onto Uber upon exiting customs and booked a $50 one-way ride. We also didn’t know that landing on Sunday was actually a smart move because they close off many of the streets and therefore we could get into the city area easier early in the morning, much easier than when we tried to get back into the city around 8pm on a weekday, which took almost twice as long with traffic. Also, we heard that if we had prearranged a taxi, they charge for waiting time, and with flight delays being the norm, we opted to not go this route.
Traveling within Paris, taxis are often more convenient and priced more competitively than Uber while benefiting from access to Bus/Taxi only lanes that bypass much of the city-wide gridlock. However, taxis and private cars aren’t necessarily the best way to travel when in Paris.
The metro is an efficient way to get around the city.
We spent the first few days walking everywhere and eventually realized how easy it was to hop on the metro. For 1.60 euros each, we were whisked across the city. Two stops away we popped out close to Pere Lachaise Cemetery and another two stops away from our hotel was Musee d’Orsay. Sometimes we had major issues with the tickets we bought not working/scanning and the person sitting at the counter would let us through. Download one of the many apps if traveling frequently by Metro.
Consider a bike tour.
In the last few years, bike lanes were installed city-wide, and now with more cycle lanes, car-free districts, and bike-only routes, Paris is a fun place to cycle around town. Learn more about Paris’ bike program.
While we saw many single-use public electric bikes and scooters in Paris, we also saw several bike tours with 8-10 people. We didn’t sign up for one but our friends did and loved it. Check out the Charming Nooks and Crannies Bike Tour (around $40) for 3 hours or the Paris Highlights 3-hour bike tour ($33) on the GetYourGuide app.
Tipping is optional. Round up if you like.
Unlike the 20% tipping custom in America, gratuity is completely optional in France because waitstaff are paid a full, fair wage. Cafes and restaurants included a service charge (like a tip) of a few euros per person when dining in, to cover the expense. However, if you are happy with your experience, you can show your appreciation by leaving something extra by rounding up or even leaving 5-10%. If your bill was around 27 euros, you could round up to 30. Tipping at fine-dining restaurants and 5-star hotels is more customary, along the lines of what one would expect in America at similar establishments.
Your money can go far in Paris.
There is no better time to travel in Europe now that the euro is near parity with the dollar. But what was most surprising to me coming from LA is the realistic cost of food and drinks. Dishes were usually much less than in California for better quality chicken, cheese, bread, steak, and more. Amazing bottles of wines could be found for less than $40 tableside and often less than 20 euros at a market.
Many café restaurants offer prix-fixe lunch and dinner options for around 25-30 euros. This includes a choice of Entree + Plat (appetizer and main), Plat + Dessert (main and dessert), or all three courses. Tap water is free, delicious, and fine to drink at every restaurant.
Hotel prices were shockingly more affordable than in LA. For example, it’s almost impossible to find a decent full-service hotel in the Los Angeles area for $500 whereas adorably designed historic hotels could be found in the Marais for a few hundred dollars. While the fancier hotels are still well above $1,000 at the poshest addresses, these are often marquis properties and/or are much larger spaces. Very small (yet extremely stylish) accommodations can usually be found for much less if the size isn’t a priority.
Paris is home to some of the most iconic brands in the world, including Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, YSL, and many more. The cost of regular wardrobe items, high-end designer handbags, and Italian Golden Goose sneakers were priced less than in the states. It’s even possible to get a refund on the tax (VAT) paid on in-store purchases over 100.01 Euro (up to 20%) but check the requirements online before shopping.
One of our favorite places in Paris is free.
If I could return to one place in Paris, it would be the newly opened free Carnavalet Museum in the Marais – dedicated to the history of Paris – that occupies 2 neighboring mansions built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The magnificent setting alone is worth a visit. The old street signs and collections showcase the evolution of the city from prehistory to now in over 100 rooms. Don’t miss Paris’s sexiest inner courtyard gardens here with seating to dine or to sip away an afternoon with rosé. We highly suggest cocktails here at a minimum or making a reservation for dinner if time permits.
In Paris, the historical Beaux-Arts buildings with their highly decorative details, columns, symmetry, statues, and figures embedded within the facades are just as dreamy as the art itself. Admire these enchanting buildings and start on the ground floor, venture down to the basement where treasures ranging from the Mesolithic Era (9000-6000 B.C.) to the mid-16th century are preserved, then work your way up to the top floors focusing on Montmartre, “Belle Epoque” Paris, the period from 1910 – 1977 and on to the present.
Some of the most impressive views are from rooftops.
When the weather is good, there are few better ways to savor Paris than a cocktail in hand admiring the Parisian skyline in a stylish space – gazing at the sparkling lights and iconic landmarks that define the city. Take a break from sightseeing to rest your legs and spend some time at the end of a long day atop these dreamy memorable rooftops.
Galeries Lafayette Haussman in the 9th arrondissement offers luxurious shopping along with a gourmet food hall offering fine delicacies and a spectacular Belle Epoque stained-glass dome leading up to an expansive 360-degree rooftop deck with dazzling views of Parisian rooftops, Opera Garnier, and the Eiffel Tower. Feast on vegetarian/Mediterranean bites from Créatures, the rooftop terrace restaurant from Chef Julien Sebbag, while your eyes feast on the stellar views of Sacré Coeur Basilica and Montmartre over your shoulder. While we aren’t sure if this is a temporary pop-up for summer, share the “Summertime Sadness,” focaccia with zucchini, black olives, and red onions, served with stracciatella and pistachios, or the “Snow,” labneh with roasted tomatoes and onion confit with peanuts. Mid-week mid-day we waltzed right in without a reservation.
In the fashionable Marais district, find Le Perchoir (“the bird’s perch”) hidden atop the famous BHV department store. Get in line before 6pm to take the elevator all the way up and score a seat at one of the limited tables. The panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower, Seine, Notre Dame, and Hôtel de Ville on this stylish terrace are worth the wait. Ogle the dreamy building scape as the DJ enhances the ambiance and clink to your good fortune with one of their creative signature cocktails.
The most lavish stores and hotels can be found on or near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, so of course, beautiful people abound at bucolic Le Rooftop Marta set on the flower and plant-drenched roof of Hôtel Fouquet where the DJ pumps tunes to get everyone in the mood. Don’t miss dinner first in the hotel’s flower-filled courtyard restaurant Le Joy where a fancy high-end 7-course shared menu is just 140 euros in a stunning setting. Also, try Hotel Cheval Blanc for cocktails and food paired with your sunset closer to the Seine in view of Mr. Eiffel.
Pack a carry-on or use AirTags to track your luggage.
During these pandemic or post-pandemic times, we are entering unchartered territories with not only flight cancellations and flight delays, but missing and long-delayed luggage. It has become the norm and it seems like something we just have to get used to until companies can figure out how to meet hiring demands. We all need to be patient and say a little prayer before boarding.
As I am writing this, it has been 10 days since we landed from a direct flight from Paris to LAX on Air France and we still do not have our luggage; although around day seven, we were alerted on the website that our bags had been located. Hallelujah! We even drove to LAX and scoured numerous rooms of luggage when we learned that bags were just starting to arrive nearly two weeks late. Sadly, this was not the first time our bags were lost as one arrived broken without a wheel from Paris to Sicily and with no name tags. Be prepared for delays and inconvenience.
While I was in Paris I read JohnnyJet’s advice about buying AirTags or other tracking devices, which we regret not doing beforehand. While the trackers may allow you to locate the bags on a map, it may not always be possible to gain access to them immediately. We traveled for a month with medium-sized bags and had we not been traveling for so long and attending a wedding in England, we would have just brought carry-ons. It’s just the best option right now.
Bottom line: If you are traveling to Europe, stick to a carry-on and if checking bags is necessary, pack a tracking device in each bag. We had heard London and Amsterdam’s airports were far worse, which was later confirmed by entire planes needing to be sent to the US with just missing or delayed luggage on board.
In the end, the learning experiences abroad were worth it. We arrived home safely with a lifetime of European travel memories and that, to me, is priceless. Now I am counting the days until I can return to Europe.
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