No, this isn’t a post about where the best graffiti in Paris is or where you should get a tattoo of a macaron (but if you do have a tattoo of a macaron on your body, please send me a picture). This a post about how to enjoy Paris without necessarily following in the footsteps of everyone else, and there will be many others.
I always knew that Paris was going to be a place I’d continue to visit. It did take me almost 32 years to get there for the first time, but I imagine it as a city I’ll visit every few years. I want to eat all of the almond croissants in the city with my foodie friend Caitlin. I want to visit with my parents and sister on their first times, climbing to the top of the Arc de Triumph and taking a day trip to Versailles. I want to take my future children there to experience Monet’s Gardens in Giverny after reading Linnea in Monet’s Garden and getting them their own red French berets to wear for their entire fourth-grade years, just like I did.
On this trip in early March, I experienced Paris just the way I wanted to for my first time. Here are some ideas to make your trip to Paris your own:
Instead of going to Paris with a romantic partner, go solo!
This was easy for me because I am currently (happily) sans romantic partner and I’m so thankful I didn’t wait any longer. For years, I thought that Paris was a place I’d need to visit with a BF because of how inherently romantic the city truly is. Going by myself, as a reward for successfully making it through 9 other cities (which became 10 in the end), was absolutely perfect. Along with all of the other benefits of traveling solo – including: talking to locals and other travelers more; eating four macarons in one sitting without anyone judging me; and not having to shower if I didn’t want to – Paris will never be clouded for me in case whoever I went with would someday no longer be in my life aside from an accidental run-in at Penn Station or a random Instagram like here and there. Paris will always be mine.
Instead of seeing the Mona Lisa with crowds of people in front of her, see her at her quietest!
Though I wanted to mostly remain unscheduled while in Paris, I did take advantage of the new Walks of Paris “Closing Time at the Louvre” tour. I am always in favor of efficiency. Not having to wait in line for tickets and seeing the highlights without spending an entire day trapped inside made total sense to me. The best part about taking the tour was that instead of seeing Mona Lisa through the screens of everyone’s iPhones as they took photos of it, blocking my own view, I got as up-close-and-personal as possible as you can to a tiny masterpiece surrounded by bullet-proof glass and museum guards. Many tours and visitors head straight to Mona Lisa, but this tour visits at the very end of the day when the crowds are dissipating. You can of course take this tip and roll with it yourself, but I think the commentary and the highlights we saw were worth the tour price.
Instead of taking a sunset cruise down the Seine, stroll the book, record, and art stalls along the river!
The Seine is beautiful. I’m never against getting on the water and seeing wherever you’re visiting from another viewpoint, but what I loved most about the Seine were the green metal bookstalls that lined the shores. The stalls were locked up at night and opened up one-by-one in the morning by adorable locals who you’d be able to categorize as “French” if you’d seen them anywhere. I didn’t buy anything from the stalls, but I did spend quite a bit of time picking up dusty hardbacks and flipping through comic books to see if I could find a Spiderman issue in French for my dad. Despite my lingering, not a single stall-owner rolled their eyes at me, hurried me along, or tried to convince me to buy what I was picking up, all of which I appreciated.
Instead of waiting in line for hours to climb up the Eiffel Tower, read a book in front of the tower in the sunshine!
I purchased a book at the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookshop and read it in the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower. The book I chose was, of course, Paris, by Gertrude Stein, who lived in the city from 1903 until her death in 1946 and hung out with the likes of Hemingway and Picasso and wrote in run on sentences without punctuation just like this one. (Have you seen Midnight in Paris with Stein, Hemingway, Picasso, and others as characters? It’s on Netflix last I checked and I loved it.) It was a sunny day in March, but still not quite warm enough to read in the grass for hours. But, I was in Paris, this is how I imagined myself in Paris, so this is what I did in Paris. Bonus points if you stay outside long enough to see the Eiffel Tower light up in the evening. No points taken off if you do get too cold and hop into the nearest cafe for some vin rouge and frites before coming back outside to see the lights come on.
Instead of climbing to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, attend Sunday mass!
I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to mass while traveling, aside from when visiting family on a Sunday, but I often find myself in churches. When growing up, my mother told me I could make a wish in every new church I visited – I’m not one to throw away wishes. Of course, the churches in Europe have much more to offer than just wishes, as you can see in this post about the churches in Rome. I arrived in Paris late on a Saturday evening and for some reason had the urge to wake up early for Sunday mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, the city’s most famous. The more I thought about it, the more alarms I set on my phone to ensure I’d get up. It was truly a special experience to be at Notre Dame before the crowds, to hear the mass in French (a language I studied just last year), to offer the sign of peace to locals, and to hear the woman singing psalms ringing through the entire cathedral. The acoustics there are no joke.
Instead of wondering if you’re too old for certain things, do what you want!
Get yourself a chocolate ice cream cone from the stand in front of the Eiffel Tower. Splurge on the 2-Euro ticket to ride the gorgeous carousel in the square near Notre-Dame. Buy yourself a real (made in France, not made-in-China) red beret to replace the felt one you wore for all of 1994 that had originally been part of a Halloween costume for your sister when she was an artist. Don’t worry about if anyone is judging you – life’s better this way.
The truth is, whichever way you choose to experience Paris is the right way. As they say in Midnight in Paris: “There’s no city like this in the world. There never was.”
Have you been to Paris?
What is your favorite way to experience the city?