A First Timer's Guide to Paris

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Paris. The city of love and the land of endless patisseries. Where you can tick both the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa off your bucket list. And a city that offers far more to see and do than its just top attractions. I’ve been to Paris twice now, both times during the bitterly cold months of December and January, but the city is truly a sight during the holidays. Here’s how you can fall in love with the city of love itself.

Getting around Paris

European transport systems never cease to amaze me and are a world away from what Australia has to offer. Being the largest international airport in France, you’ll likely arrive at Charles De Gaulle Airport which is well connected to Paris via the RER train. You can catch the RER from Terminal 2 or Roissypole (Terminal 3) and tickets cost €10.30 one way. If you arrive in Terminal 1, you can take the free shuttle CDGVAL which connects Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 (with Terminal 3 lying in between)

During both trips to Paris, I mostly caught the metro and sometimes the above ground RER. The first time I had the Paris Pass which gave me a period of unlimited use of public transport within certain zones and the second time I bought metro tickets as required using the machines that you can find at stations. You can get single trips or a group of 10 which is cheaper. These ticket machines also sell tickets to attractions such as Disneyland Paris and Chateau de Versailles. If you need help, there are station officers who can give you directions or assistance. Don’t be scared of using the metro and other public transport. The stations all have plenty of signs guiding you and you always have google maps!

Where to stay

Hotel Elysees Ceramic

I stayed at Hotel Elysees Ceramic during my first visit. Situated on Avenue de Wagram, the hotel is just a 5-minute walk to the iconic Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe and offers easy access to public transport. I stayed in a quad share room which was spacious and offered a large bathroom too. There was adequate room for 4 large suitcases- something you can’t often say about European hotels. The breakfast spread is excellent with plenty of variety of pastries and bread, cold cut meats and cheese and also yoghurt and fruits. The street is lined with restaurants and cafes so you could never go hungry. Ask for a room with a balcony/window overlooking Avenue de Wagram! When you look out the window you’ll be able to see the Arc De Triomphe. Definitely a view worth waking up for.

Angleterre Etoile

My second time in Paris, I stayed a little further away from Champs Elysees at a slightly cheaper place called Hotel Angleterre Etoile in a twin room. The rooms and bathroom were quite small and there wasn’t sufficient room to open 2 suitcases without rearranging the furniture. The location is a little further away from Champs Elysees but there is easy access to a Metro station from which Champs Elysees is just one stop away. If you stay here definitely go to the Vietnamese restaurant Lac Hong which is just a 2-minute walk away for authentic, delicious food. I still think about that meal today- perfectly spicy (and just what my taste buds craved).

If you’re looking to stay near Champs Elysees, read more here for hotels in the area to suit various budgets.

The Eiffel Tower

Eiffel TowerThe Eiffel Tower at night

  • Since you can’t really skip the Eiffel tower on a first visit, book tickets to the Eiffel tower beforehand for a pre-booked date and time so that you can avoid waiting in line. Note though that the date and time of the ticket cannot be changed. If online tickets are no longer available, you can wait in line at the ticketing office at the Eiffel Tower. Wrap up- it gets chilly on the 3rd floor during the Winter!
  • Alternatively, switch up the Eiffel Tower and head up the Tour Montparnasse instead- not only will you beat the hordes of tourists and the crowded upper deck, but you’ll also be greeted with a more spectacular 360-degree view of Paris which includes the Eiffel tower! I personally preferred this to the Eiffel Tower. There’s a Galeries Lafayette next door so you can hit the shops on the same trip.
  • To take those touristy pictures where you pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower head to Trocadero by climbing up the stairs that lead from Champ de Mars. Remember that the Eiffel Tower sparkles every night, every hour on the hour for 5 minutes so plan a nighttime visit accordingly. More information about the Eiffel Tower can be found here.  

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Disneyland Paris

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that Disneyland is only for adults. I’m living proof of someone who has the most magical of days at the theme park and who even took a pair of Minnie Mouse ears from home just for my Disneyland visit. You can take a train from Paris to Marne le Valle- Chessy which takes you right to Disneyland. There are 2 parks that you can choose to do (or do both!). A perk of visiting during Christmas is that there are special decorations like a massive Christmas Tree although larger crowds mean more waiting in lines. And be prepared for extremely long waiting lines (sometimes up to 2 hours) or invest in a fast pass. Make sure you stay until closing time for the fireworks and Fantasmic which might just be my favourite part of the day!

DisneyThe Cinderella Castle

DisneylandDecorations during the holidays

Other Tips

  • Be prepared for the crowd that hangs around the Mona Lisa all clamouring for a picture of the famous painting. Also, know that the Louvre is not something you can do quickly- you really need half a day to even see a fraction of the museum. Don’t just visit the Louvre for a single shot of the Mona Lisa, the museum has so much more to offer! If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the museum, click here for tips to make your visit more manageable. 
  • Explore the neighbourhoods! We ended up by accident in the 3rd arrondissement and explored the neighbourhood for a whole afternoon. The streets are lined with cafes and Patisseries and my sweet tooth was in heaven.

    PatisseriePastry heaven in the 3rd arrondissement

  • Do a river cruise which takes you down the Seine and some cruises also offer complimentary commentary.
  • Many museums and monuments are free on the first Sunday of the month and some are even free all year round. More free things to do in Paris can be found here.
  • Consider buying a pass such as the Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass. Whether it is worth it or not for you will depend on what you intend to see and do in Paris, the length of time you’re planning to stay and how much money you want to spend. I used the Paris pass on my first trip and I found it helpful in allowing me to cover the main attractions in a few days. However, it can make you feel overwhelmed and rush through attractions.

So Paris isn’t only for lovers. I’ve been there solo for a few days and it’s magical to wander the streets alone and see everything the city has to offer. Hopefully, you leave wanting to come back for more.

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