I was originally going to tack this on to the end of my other trip report thread, but I ended up covering so many things in this summary that it might be more helpful to post it as a new and separate thread. Those wishing to read my extensive and detailed report first can do so here: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g18714…
Despite being very sad to be back, we feel lucky and privileged to have had the chance to visit Paris, especially knowing there are so many who dream to go but never have the means or the chance to do so. We consider ourselves fortunate to have made this travel dream a reality.
I wanted to reflect on our trip and to offer some practical advice now that I can look back at our planning and at what we did and didn’t choose to do. Obviously everyone will have different priorities as Paris can mean many things to different people, but hopefully there will be some parts of what I write that will be helpful or just fun to read.
Our biggest regret of the trip is not having made it back to Luxembourg Gardens a second time. We visited the gardens on our arrival day, and being so inspired by the beauty we planned to go back later in our trip, but we ran out of time. The gardens and the Medici Fountain area within it were our favorite of the public park/garden areas we saw…relaxing, peaceful and beautiful. My wife and I are both sorry we didn’t get back to experience more of it as we had hoped to.
We both agree the Champs Elysees was probably the most disappointing “area” of Paris…mostly because it was so insanely crowded, making it hard to enjoy. I hoped to stroll along the rows of trees and be able to see the avenue as it stretched out between the Arc and Concorde, but it was just busy, noisy and chaotic. It wasn't a waste as we were already in the area to see the Arc de Triomphe, but the Champs was more wonderful in our minds than in reality.
Even though some sites would be considered “touristy”, it’s hard to imagine a first trip to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, etc. Seeing these iconic sites was really a must-do and I have absolutely no regrets taking the time to see them. That said, now that I have seen them I'd probably opt to do other things we didn’t experience on a return visit, but they really should be a must-do for any first-time visitor.
The Eiffel Tower (like many other Paris monuments) is far more impressive in person than photos can do it justice. Honestly, just seeing it from Trocadero or the Champ de Mars is incredible enough, but for those who feel the need to go up it, I can attest that the 2nd level is fantastic as you get both a great view and still get the experience of going up into the Tower, without the extra cost or longer wait to go to the top.
I think visitors should have a good balance of being “on the go” as well as have plenty of leisure time to absorb the lovely aspects of the city. Rushing from attraction to attraction just to check off a box would seem so unfair to Paris, especially if one has a long enough time in Paris to soak it in. I’m glad we took lots of time to sit in parks—both big and small—and enjoyed lots of time Paris-watching.
To be honest, I feel like it would take a month (or more) to be able to enjoy Paris to the fullest, but I know most people don’t have that kind of time. For our week in Paris, we simply made a priority list of things to see, stretched those out to where there was only one or two a day, then looked at what other things we wanted to do or see in that area if time permitted. This allowed us to enjoy walking around areas and neighborhoods rather than spending time crisscrossing the city in the Metro and ignoring Paris in-between. Walking is by far the best way to enjoy and experience the city.
I cannot emphasize enough how much time we saved by purchasing tickets for some of the museums and the Catacombs in advance. Doing this for any attraction that sells advanced tickets is HIGHLY recommended! (A Museum Pass might also be worth it for those planning to see more than a just couple of museums). Just remember, having advance tickets allows you to skip the ticket purchase line, but never the security line (at least not to my knowledge).
My wife and I love museums, and if we lived in Paris I have no doubt we’d eventually visit every one of them. But for a limited time in the city I suggest going to museums that have art you want to see. While I know the Louvre is iconic and has many popular works, our interests are more toward impressionism, modern and contemporary, so we went to those museums accordingly. Did we go see the Louvre in person? Of course! But we didn’t spent hours waiting to get into a museum that didn’t have what we most wanted to experience when there is so much to Paris beyond museums.
(A personal request—if you go into these museums of great art, please don’t run up to the piece, turn and take a selfie with it and run to the next thing on your list. I beg you to please stop and appreciate the work…we could not believe how many times we saw this happen. For this reason I was glad some areas of Pompidou restricted photography).
This was the first vacation where we were in our hotel room so little because there was so much to see—anytime we were awake we were out enjoying the city . Because of this, I definitely feel like the style and décor of a hotel should take far less priority than practical things like proximity to the Metro and transportation.
In my opinion, staying closer to the Seine made more sites and museums walkable and be a little more of an equal distance from each other. The farther away from the Seine you get, you might get closer to some sites but also become lopsidedly farther from others, so it’s really about which trade-off works best for you.
For example, our longest Metro ride was when we went to Montmartre. At one point I had considered staying in Montmartre, and while this would have made seeing sights in that area easy, it would also have meant a lot more walking or more (and longer) Metro rides to get to other places around Paris…places that ended up being closer and within walking distance of where we actually stayed.
Another piece of advice is to not rule a hotel or apartment in or out just based on the arrondissement. Even though people think of the 7th as the Eiffel Tower arrondissement (which it is), we were right at the edge of the 6th and we were essentially in the Saint Germain area. In fact, we were a 40-minute walk to the Tower, whereas we were just a 5-minute walk from the main Saint German area, even though our hotel’s address was technically in the 7th.
As far as dining goes, I felt like some of the best values were at the nicer (but not fancy) restaurants. I think our favorite meals were at Bouillon Racine, La Cuisine de Philippe and Josephine Chez Dumonet. Cheaper eats from the boulangeries and patisseries and other specialty places were also spectacular. Sure, maybe have one Michelin restaurant experience if it’s in your budget, but we found ourselves equally enjoying meals for far less cost. It really seemed hard to find a bad meal in Paris (in fact, the only one that was subpar was the little breakfast we had at Café des Deux Moulins (the Amelie restaurant).
We had extremely memorable upscale meals at Le Train Bleu and Le Jules Verne and a dinner cruise, but one should keep in mind that you are paying a premium for the location and experience, and the food at these places was perhaps only marginally better while the cost was significantly higher.
Our favorite dining activity was eating outside or along open windows at cafes and just enjoying Paris-watching as we ate. We would definitely do more of this on a return visit. Aside from the boulangeries, our favorite breakfast was at Café Daguerre.
Our only food regrets are not having had the chance to pick up goodies from specialty places to have a picnic in one of the parks or gardens, and that we didn’t get to visit nearly as many boulangeries and patisseries as we had hoped to.
Even with all hype and high expectations we had for the food in Paris, most of the time we were still wowed and surprised by how good everything was…and oh how we miss the fresh pressed orange juice! It has been very, very difficult coming back to so many chains, fried foods and lack of small specialty shops here in the states.
Last are my thoughts about language and safety...
Never for a single moment did my wife or I feel nervous, scared or have any other negative concerns while in Paris. Granted we never left the major central area, but I assume most visitors won’t either. The most negative feeling we had was being annoyed by the trinket sellers and petition girls, but we were prepared for those things and knew how to act and respond to keep those interactions and our frustrations with them as minimal as possible.
I think because people so romanticize and have such lofty visions of Paris that it unfairly gets massive news coverage for some stories that wouldn’t even make local headlines of some cities elsewhere. Yes, there have been absolutely horrific things that have happened in Paris and France in general over the years, but I live just over an hour from where the tragic Pulse nightclub attack happened in Orlando, but it doesn’t have any effect on my going to Orlando…I just take the usual precautions and try to enjoy myself, which is all we can do.
We both felt far more secure and safe in Paris than many other cities we’ve visited because there isn’t the day-to-day violence and use of guns as in other places. We really got tired of telling people we were going to Paris and the first question was always asking us if we felt it was safe to go…we’re more nervous going out now that we’re back home in Florida than we were anytime while we were in Paris.
As for the language, we found everyone we came in contact with in Paris to be professional, polite, friendly and helpful…often all the above. By just focusing on learning enough French to deal with the specific uses we’d have in restaurants and such, we were often able to get through entire transactions with no problem.
I would say to focus most on being able to read and know what the words are in the situations you’ll be in the most (like food items for and phrases needed when ordering), then worry about pronunciation of those words in those situations, and a distant last is worrying about miscellaneous things and/or trying to learn enough for a conversation.
The only problem I had on occasion was when Iwould begin in French and get a response in French that I didn’t recognize or wasn’t prepared for. In these cases a lost expression on my face or a polite “I’m sorry I do not speak French” (spoken in French of course), would easily be relieved by the other person being able to speak English…and many spoke English very well and clearly!
You’ll see many comments in the forum about how one can never say “bonjour”, “merci” or “au revoir” too many times, and that is so very true from what we observed. There was a certain beautiful civil atmosphere that was often created by using these simple terms.
The most basic rule I’d suggest would be to always “bonjour” when entering or greeting, “merci” when you would normally say a polite thank you for something or for assistance, and always “au revoir” when leaving. And use a little common sense…no need to say “bonjour” every time your server comes to the table…you certainly wouldn’t say “hello” to a server in the U.S. every time they came to the table! Haha!
From personal experience I saw several instances where either I or someone else would walk up to ask someone to ask a question, and as soon as “bonjour” was uttered to them they were instantly smiling and welcoming and warm as if a switch had gone off inside of them. So do not underestimate the power of the polite greeting (which I found refreshing).
Paris is certainly a lovely and amazing city…one with more of a wow factor and both natural and architectural charm that far surpassed even my high expectations. That said, it is still a real city with some grittiness, graffiti, and trash, but these things are so overpowered by the awe-inspiring positives that it wasn’t diminished for us in any way. In a way, it’s all of these things that come together that make the dreamy side of Paris anchored in reality rather than feeling like some unrealistic façade of something that it’s not.
I love Paris…all of it. I hope to be able to visit it again someday.