Who doesn’t dream of visiting Paris? Next to New York, it may be the most-loved city in the world for filmmakers and photographers; and for good reason, it really is that beautiful, that picturesque. Paris is exactly how you imagine it’s going to be, from the warmly-lit sidewalk cafes, to the incredible views, to the wine, to the cheese, to the pastries.
I’m lucky enough to have visited Paris more than once in my life and even luckier to have a brother who lives there and is a government-certified tour guide. Having received his certification last year, Sam took me and my boyfriend, Kyle, on our first “real” tour of Paris. We saw things I’d never seen on previous visits and things I thought I knew in an entirely new light.
Paris is a city you can visit again and again and still be surprised, so whether it’s your first time or your tenth, here are a few suggestions to get you excited for your trip.
For me, it’s when visiting museums that having a certified guide is most helpful; being able to understand the context and importance of different pieces that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate on my own makes the experience so much more interesting and memorable.
This is particularly true somewhere like the Louvre, where the sheer volume of artifacts can become overwhelming; its collection spans almost the entirety of human history, with the oldest piece dating back 9,000 years. While most people make a beeline for the Mona Lisa, don’t miss the Persian antiquities room, where the incredible blue-green tiles transport you back to the throne rooms of ancient Mesopotamian kings, or the Cour Marly, a beautiful sculpture gallery dotted with live trees and a glass ceiling.
The Louvre isn’t the only museum in Paris, though. Right next door is the Decorative Arts Museum, which traces the history of French furniture from the middle ages through the present day. And if you don’t think that watching the development of a chair throughout the many different kings and eras of French history is interesting, just you wait. The signs here are only in French, so I’d recommend going with someone who speaks the language or someone who knows a lot about furniture or, again, just getting a guide.
Another great off-the-beaten-path destination is the Gustave Moreau Museum. The museum is located in the artist’s old home and studio. The bottom floors are preserved to look like they did when he lived there, while the top floors house his prolific collection of sketches and paintings.
It’s particularly interesting being able to see Moreau’s initial sketches of works that later become enormous, colorful, surreal paintings. Moreau’s interest in Orientalism and boundary-pushing techniques make the museum a truly unique experience.
Parisians have embraced the idea of happy hour, which we all appreciated after a full day of being tourists. And with Belgium so close by, it’s easy to get an amazing French wine, a real Belgian beer, or a cocktail for around €5. You can also go for a picon bière, which is similar to a shandy: light beer with a shot of bitter liqueur. Perfect for sitting in the sunshine at an outdoor cafe. One of our best finds was a bar that Sam took us to, L’Attirail, which periodically brings out rounds of crispy, garlicky fried potatoes to everyone in the bar. Trust me; you don’t want to miss these.
Another fun aspect of Parisian bar culture is that you can sample things that might be prohibitively expensive at home. I love the bitter, herbal taste of Chartreuse, a French liqueur made by a silent order of French monks, but it’s expensive to buy at home, and even more expensive to drink in a bar, where a shot can easily go for $10 or more. Not in Paris, though! Kyle had never tried it before, so when we found a bar selling €3 shots of Chartreuse, we had to take advantage. The same goes for many wines – you should splurge a little on wine in Paris, knowing the same bottle is likely to cost you double or triple at home.
Where To Stay
Lucky us, we got to stay with my brother on the outskirts of the city. For first-time visitors (or visitors that don’t have a free bed to sleep in), I would recommend being as central as possible–you don’t want to spend all of your time traveling back and forth, and being in the city makes it so much easier to take advantage of the late-night cafe culture.
If you’re able to throw down a bit of money (or credit card points), we stayed at the Hyatt Hotel du Louvre on a previous visit and can’t say enough great things about it. Located immediately across the street from the museum (our room overlooked one of the wings), the rooms and the staff are wonderful.
If you’re doing Airbnb or something similar, good neighborhoods to stay in include the 13th arrondissement, or district, which houses quirky neighborhoods like the Place d’Italie and La Butte aux Cailles; Belleville, where many artists and galleries now reside; or the 11th arrondissement, which is full of small neighborhood bars and plenty of international cuisine.
To book a custom tour of Paris focusing on anything from architecture to cocktail culture, visit A Walk About Paris.