Destination Dispatch: Paris
A destination dispatch will never replace a detailed guidebook, a wanderlust-inspiring travel memoir, or an in-depth travel guide. It is simply a short and sweet summary of my own travel experience in a place, designed to give you the flavor of it.
I’ve visited Paris, France twice now. It was the first European destination I set foot in and I think I’ll always see the city with rose-colored glasses because of that. Paris can do no wrong to me, even when its glittery sheen wears thin.
Many people call Paris overrated. They’ve already seen a thousand photos of the Eiffel Tower. The Mona Lisa looks smaller in person. The French aren’t friendly. And on and on and on. That familiary makes visiting Paris, even the first time, feel like coming home to me. I was incredibly nervous to return to Paris. I wondered it it would live up to the memories I had cemented in the happiest parts of my brain. It did.
If you’ve got an upcoming trip to Paris planned, this destination dispatch is a great place to start your research. If not, let this report transport you to the French capital for a minute or two.
Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, Pages to Passport may earn a small commission if you purchase from these links. Thanks in advance for your support!
Where: Paris, France
When: Paris in the spring. What could be better? The first time I went to Paris, it was mid-May. It was surprisingly chilly and we battled the occasional rainy day, but the tradeoff is worth it. My second visit was in late August. The heat and humidity were stifling, the crowds were larger, and the city felt devoid of Parisians as they often leave the city in August.
Do: The problem in Paris isn’t what to do, it’s what not to do. There are dozens of museums, handfuls of churches, and more tours than I can count. Here is my top recommendation for Paris: the Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s a small and very manageable museum. The first floor has only two oval rooms housing Monet’s water lilies. Sit on a bench in the middle of one of the rooms – it’s an incredibly calming experience. The basement holds a small but diverse collection I’ve actually visited three times in my two visits.
The two other museums I’ve made time for on both trips? Musée Rodin, which is really a beautiful French garden with Rodin’s statues placed throughout, and Musée d’Orsay, a converted train station housing some of the best impressionist paintings in the world.
View: I don’t need to tell you to pack a picnic and eat it under the Eiffel Tower. You were already planning to do that. Instead, I’ll tell you to head to the Tuileries Garden. There, you’ve got a view of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Musée D’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, the Seine, and the impeccable sculpted gardens themselves. It’s just so Paris.
Stay: Where you stay in Paris will impact your experience dramatically. The city is split into sectors, called arrondissements. Each arrondissement has pros and cons, and each arrondissement has its own personality.
For both visits, I’ve stayed in the 4th arrondissement, called Le Marais. The 4th is great because it’s close enough to walk to sights in the first like Notre Dame and the Louvre, but also has great metro connections that allow for easy exploration beyond that. The neighborhood itself is also charming. Historically, it was the Jewish quarter and now it attracts a stylish, artsy crowd.
When I traveled solo, I stayed at this MIJE Fourcy hostel that was perfectly located near a metro stop, but in a quieter courtyard. How can you complain about a hostel with this view? (You can’t.) When I traveled with my family, we stayed in an apartment like this one. There are plenty of apartments to choose from in the 4th, but pay attention to the proximity to metro stations unless you don’t mind the extra walk after a long day of sightseeing.
Shop: Tucked away, Merci oozes with good taste. It sells clothing and home goods. You’ll know you’re there when you see a cherry red vintage car in the courtyard. The ground floor also houses a used book cafe (my kind of a place!)
Eat: I’m not a French food connoisseur, but I think I’d be a shame to miss out on a chocolate croissant (pan au chocolate) or an almond croissant (croissant aux amandes) from your nearest neighborhood bakery in Paris. I haven’t found a bad bakery yet, and I’ve done my fair share of research. A Croque Madame at Cafe St. Regis or an ice cream from Berthillon can’t be beat either, both located on Ile St. Louis a short walk from Notre Dame.
Drink: After two visits, I still haven’t found my coffee shop in Paris yet. For a city that has so much to love, I haven’t loved the coffee scene. Please drop your recommendations in the comments section, because I’m sure to be back eventually!
Day trip: Get out of the city and head to the Palace of Versailles. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, the lines are long. Just imagine walking through the Hall of Mirrors, through the palace, and spilling out into the manicured gardens as you wait. They’re gorgeous (and help to put the whole French revolution business in perspective).
Pack: After two trips in Paris, I’ve learned that I’ll never be able to “fit in” in Paris. I will always look like a tourist, no matter how many scarves or ballet flats or french stripes I’ll wear. My must-have for a Parisian packing list would be a layerable rain jacket with some style like this one.
Read: Paris Was Ours: 32 Writers Reflect on the City of Light by Penelope Rowlands is the book that made Paris feel like mine. It also sparked my dream of living abroad someday.
Want to add more Paris books to your list? Click over to my article of the Best Books to Read Before You Travel to Paris.
Watch: No movie gives me wanderlust for Paris more than Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris does. The movie oozes nostalgia for Paris in the 1920s when Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds ruled the literary scene.
Listen: The New Paris podcast. There are a lot of stereotypes about Paris and Parisians, but this podcast breaks them all. Host Lindsey Tramuta, an expat and honorary Parisian, discusses the people, places and ideas that are changing the fabric of Paris as we know it.