How To Make Your Next Paris Trip Memorable

Despite its status as a huge tourist destination, a visit to Paris – no matter how short – can be a unique and personal experience.

I’m sitting at a table at the trendy L’Atelier Renault restaurant overlooking the Champs Elysees when a waiter making small talk asks if I’m liking the city. I can’t help but laugh. “Of course,” I answer, a bit puzzled. “It’s impossible not to like Paris.”

My answer seems to please the waiter, but millions of tourists would also agree. France is the world’s most visited destination, pulling in some 84 million tourists in 2015 according to the World Tourism Organization. And Paris, the City of Lights, is the nation’s crowning glory with its chic cafes and the iconic Eiffel Tower — recognized anywhere, synonymous with romance and glamour.

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But Paris, because it is so well known, can also be a bit puzzling. If you’re a first-time visitor, the urge to hit up all the touristy landmarks is overwhelming. The Eiffel Tower or the Louvre are simply not to be missed. But you may ask yourself: am I really getting to know the city, or am I just collecting photo opps?

If you’re a return visitor, you may wonder how you can dive further into the Paris that the locals know. If you fear getting lost in the tourist crowd, then a small, cozy hotel with an original look and personable service can do wonders to make your Paris experience feel unique.

At the Hotel Plaza Elysees, a decadent reception area is complete with golden puma statues, framed paintings of opulent aristocrats and vases overflowing with flowers. All of this, with its playful take on rococo, lets you loudly know that this isn’t your standard beige chain hotel. The receptionist will give you directions, advise you on the nearby Champs Elysees shopping and make you feel you’re not a stranger in this big city.

I only had two days in Paris and knew it would be impossible to see it all. After checking in at Hotel Plaza Elysees, I walked to the Arc de Triomphe – the closest landmark, a few minutes from the hotel.

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Then wandered through side streets until I reached the Eiffel Tower. Photographing it from every angle, I felt that indescribable delight when you arrive at a spot you’ve dreamed of for years. Although this was my second trip to Paris, it felt no less magical than my first.

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I walked alongside the Seine until I reached the Place de la Concorde, hopeful to spot some monuments of the French Revolution. It was here that the statue of Louis XV was torn down, and where the guillotine was erected that executed Louis XVI in 1793. But there were few reminders of the period that eventually helped take Europe into democracy. I changed plans quickly – as you often must when travelling – and decided to have a Nutella crepe instead and take a walk down the Champs Elysees.

Nothing helps you get to know a city as quickly and closely as a long and loosely planned wander. But walking for hours will also leave you exhausted. I take a break back at my hotel for a few hours, then head out to the Champs Elysees for dinner.

L’Atelier Renault is part restaurant, part bar and part exhibition space where the carmaker showcases its latest technology and its classic models. It is a bright, airy and colorful space with dazzling views of the Champs Elysees that are great for people-watching. I order fish and fries, which come with a creamy and tangy white dipping sauce, and finish off the filling meal with some perfect creme brulee topped with a crispy layer of hard caramel.

I get up early the next morning to catch the BigBus Paris sightseeing tour. For about EUR 30, you get an all-day ticket for a double-decker bus that goes to all the major landmarks and gives you recorded commentary in 11 languages. You hop on and off anytime, exploring at your own pace. Touristy? Yes, but also extremely convenient. What I love is how the bus doesn’t really make you feel like a tourist. French rap plays on my earphones as I wait on the top deck for the bus to start. During our ride down the Champs Elysees, the recorded guide gives funny anecdotes about French personalities and politics, snippets from daily life as well as some history.

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After a ride past the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Concorde, I get off at the Palais Garnier, home of the legendary Paris Opera and the origin of classical ballet. Sadly, it’s closed on Sunday and there’s a poster advertising an exhibit of painter Leon Bakst that also pains me to know I’m missing.

I decide on a whim to walk to Montmartre, a large hill in the 18th arrondissement topped by the beautiful Basilica of the Sacre Coeur and home to artists and bohemians since the early twentieth century. The winding and narrow streets, uphill climbs, cozy cafes and paintings are so old-world and charming that I’d consider this my favorite part of Paris, even if artists today cannot afford to live here anymore. If I had a third day in Paris, I would return to Montmartre and explore it further.

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But with evening approaching, I catch the BigBus at the Palais Garnier once again and head for a brief stop at Notre Dame before returning to the Champs Elysees for dinner. On my last night in Paris, I make my way to L’Alsace, a traditional brasserie (a French restaurant with a relaxed setting) specializing in Alsatian dishes from eastern France. I order a soft-boiled egg for a starter with mushroom fricassee and Munster cream, which is topped with a pile of herbs and richly decadent to eat. My entree of salmon steak with potatoes floats in creamy butter. The incredible food, plus the atmosphere of relaxed elegance, make this my favorite meal in Paris.

Although my time there was short, the two days in Paris convince me that despite the city’s mythical status as a huge tourist attraction, it’s also fairly easy to connect with its culture and have a more personalized experience. And the city is hardly a collection of its most iconic landmarks. The more you explore the smaller Parisian streets, the more you will long to return.

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Hotel Plaza Elysees • 177 Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris • Tel: +33 1 45 63 93 83 • plazaelysees.com
L’Atelier Renault • 53 Avenue des Champs Elysees • Tel: 01 76 84 14 14 • atelier.renault.com
BigBus Paris • bigbustours.com
Brasserie l’Alsace • 39 Av. des Champs Elysees • Tel: +33 1 53 93 97 00 • restaurantalsace.com
Paris Tourist Office (official website) • en.parisinfo.com

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33 thoughts on “How To Make Your Next Paris Trip Memorable

    1. I’ve heard of the catacombs, but never the sewers – that definitely sounds memorable! I’ll have to look into it… Thank you for the recommendation.

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  1. Lori

    Wow! Your description makes me feel like I was along for the adventure. I have been to Paris twice. The first time was in 1993, and it was only for 4 hours! We were on a cruise ( Le Havre was the port), and Paris was an “on-your-own” option. It was several hours by bus each way and 4 hours in the city. Needless to say, it was rushed but the best 4 hours of my life! The second time was in 2012 for 5 days, seeing the highlights and wandering the streets. After reading your blog, the next time I visit Paris, I will definitely slow things down. Thanks for the great suggestions!

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    1. It’s incredible how even such a short trip can be so memorable, but that’s Paris! My first time there was also very rushed, so I was happy this time to slow things down a bit because I’d already seen most of the major attractions. I hope you’ll get to go back soon, Lori! It’s definitely one of those cities that can never get old. For me, it gets better each time.

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  2. Such a captivating perspective on the City of Lights, Dee! You’re right, it’s such a wondrous city, and I feeel as though even if I lived there for years, I wouldn’t be able to discover all there is to the city’s streets. There’s so much to do in terms of culture, history, and food in this ever-growing city!

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    1. Thank you so much, Brittany! I read somewhere that expats often know that city best because they’re more likely to explore than many Parisians who’ve lived there all their lives… I definitely agree that exhausting Paris would be nearly impossible.

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  3. Rhyme & Ribbons

    I know that some people find Paris overrated, but I truly fell in love when I first visited. I’ve been four times now and each time is better than the time before! x

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    1. It’s great that you got to visit that often. And I know that feeling! The more I explore, the more I get to know the city and the more I love it.

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  4. This is terrific and loved your photos. I’ve spent many weeks in Paris and loved every bit of it. I speak French well and found the residents to be MUCH more friendly when one converses in their language versus their own. The terror attacks are so very sad.

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    1. Thank you, Tina! I wasn’t confident enough to even try speaking French in Paris, so it’s good to know that locals appreciate when visitors attempt to speak it – I’ll have to give it a try next time. I think your understanding of the culture must be much deeper, too, when you understand the language.

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  5. If you want to step out of Paris circa 2017 and find a Paris of some period in history… make a trip to Versailles. Just please don’t make it too popular haha… its only got a few years left as a gem.

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  6. We spent 3 wonderful days, but instead of the HOHO bus walked and bought 3-day metro passes. The metro although crowded at times it’s a great way to see Paris. Btw, our best meal was near Sacré Cœur.

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  7. Love your photos of Paris they bring back good memories. Our own recommendation on how to make your next Paris trip memorable: wake up in the middle of the night and take a walk in the streets, along the river without the cars and no doubt you should run into an all night brasserie. Also musical events in any of the churches promise to be incredible as the acoustics always deliver and it is a unique musical experience.
    And of course, eat as many croissants as possible.

    Peta

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    1. Thank you, Peta! Those are all great tips. I once decided to go on a walking tour of downtown Cairo with a friend, right around sunrise (my flight had arrived in the middle of the night), and it was a great way to get shots of streets that are normally clogged with traffic and very crowded. I agree on the musical events at churches! I did that once in London and it was unforgettable.

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  8. Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world. I am sure I have lived there in another life! We love to take the bus instead of the metro. There’s a great planner you can buy from new kiosks, showing all the routes. It’s slow, but you can see stuff – unlike the metro and it’s a great way to sample local life.

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    1. It’s a gorgeous city! For me, it’s second only to Venice… I love going around by bus, too. There’s more to see and most of the time it’s not as stuffy and crowded as the metro.

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