Don't let anyone tell you Paris is overrated. Seriously. You can see a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower, of that glamourous walk down the Champs Elysses, or the alluring Moulin Rouge. And yet, you won't be prepared. When you walk, preferably hand in hand with a loved one, down the dreamily lit bridges over the Seine, you will feel a song rise in your heart. All those romantic movies that gave you unreal ideals of what Love should be won't seem so unreal after all. When it will get a little too cold in the evening, you will rush into a tiny bistro, share a steaming mug of coffee, and some amazing profiteroles, and you will feel like you are in your own movie, living the life of a main lead who is going to go on and find a happily-ever-after. Paris isn't for the cynical and the jaded. It's for those who believe in hearts brimming with joy, and old world Hollywood. It's about your best dresses, and warm boots, and crepes dripping with chocolate sauce. It's about sharing a kiss on the top of the Eiffel Tower, or gazing into the distance from the Sacre Coeur. Oh, come on! It's Paris.
You will read the hard to pronounce term for Paris - la Ville Lumière - City of Light across the many travelogues and blogs about the city. But as you walk through its streets, the true meaning of those words will come alive. I was there for a handful of days (I won an all expense trip to Paris. These things happen!), and obviously needed to soak in the city's joy within a limited time. The best way to live your moments in Paris is with a lot of chill, an open heart, smiles, and a little exercising of your tongues, learning some basic French phrases. Keep your humor handy, and read on.
First off, there is NEVER a bad time to go to Paris. It has cool winters and warm summers (maritime climate, folks!). Snow isn't so common in Paris, and even the coldest month of January will not freeze you to the bones. There is light rain that might come down any time of the year, so pack accordingly. I will do a separate post on packing for Paris (hell, yeah!). But broadly, what to pack? Nice clothes. Don't let the minimalists get to you at this point. Take that silk scarf that's too pretty to wear to office, and too dressy for bar-hopping. Pack some dressing clothes. You don't want to look like a dead badger walking into those chic cafes.
Pack your walking shoes for sure. One of the best things about the city is that it can be explored walking. In fact, you'd do yourself a disservice by hopping onto a metro ride every second stop. Besides, getting to a metro station, getting in, getting out to your destination, just a couple of stops away, is kind of silly, because it often takes the same time walking. Don't be afraid of being lost in the city. Despite common perception, Paris folks are pretty helpful. You just need to know how to ask. If you want to play safe (bah!), you can sign up for a walking tour around the city. There are plenty.
We usually took a metro from our hotel to a known station, and just walked, exploring lanes and by-lanes, and bridges. We discovered a free walk-in piano concert because we decided to just walk through a lane that seemed to have a couple of small art galleries. On our first visit to Champs Elysses, it happened to be a very cold day, and we decided to ditch the main boulevard, and walked a few lanes down to find a café that served a pre-fixed meal, and some splendid coffee.
The Seine boat ride is clichéd, yes. But not for you, my dear traveler! Don't miss the experience, not to forget the million opportunities for great selfies across some of the key landmarks, and the sheer exhilaration of seeing the Eiffel tower from the river. You can also book a boat with romantic dinner, and it really is a lifetime experience. The nighttime boat-ride reveals Paris and all its monuments in their lit up glory, and it would be a bummer to miss it.
Our first evening there, we booked a boat ride across Seine. The boat took us on a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, some stunning bridges, and then dropped us off at another bank, from where we walked, famished but excited, to yet another tiny bistro. Try and get a night tour - you will never forget the beautiful lights that make the entire city sparkle like a crazy diamond. Book online, it's cheaper.
There is, of course, Moulin Rouge and Lido and Crazy Horse, with their burlesque dancers, the singers, and all the glitz and glitter that comes with the traditional paris cabarets. Book their tickets much in advance, as they sell out fast, as we unfortunately learned.
For the bargain seekers, Paris has not one but three main flea-markets, located on the outskirts of the central city. We visited the most famous and popular one, Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) (Clignancourt Flea Market). Head there for antiques, second-hand goods and retro fashion. Weekends are the best time to be there. Marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen also has a covered antiques market, the "Marche Dauphine" on 138 rue des Rosiers,Saint-Ouen, with nearly 200 dealers under the same roof. This is a great place to browse your way into nostalgia, and maybe, if you can afford it (because I sure could not), even bring back a vintage piece of fashion and art history.
Good To Know
Summers are warm and pleasant, and winters are cold, but not freezing cold. Keep the weather in mind when you pack.
Pick up a few basic French words and phrases. Locals would respond better with a greeting in their own language, and do appreciate the fact that you are making an effort.
Shopkeepers almost always speak a bit of English, but don't always count on it in the non-tourist areas.
Smiles and etiquette work well in Paris. Never ever walk in without a polite greeting. Say your Thank Yous before leaving. This shouldn't be rocket science, but unfortunately, needs constant reminders.
Leave a tip. Paris has no love for scrooges. Plus, remember you are your country's ambassador wherever you go. Loosen those purse strings.
Guard your wallets. Paris metro is notorious for pick-pockets, and some areas are more prone than the others. They often start with a couple of them blocking your way, confusing you, while their partners flick your belongings. I had my camera stolen, returned, and the perpetrators slapped, all within five minutes of getting aboard a crowded metro, thanks to the vigilant and helpful Paris folks.
Before you visit a monument or a museum, check online to see if it's open on that day. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
Most public toilets charge 50 cents for use. So keep some change handy, or remember to use the free toilets and museums and popular tourist attractions.