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Where to stay: It is simply extremely expensive to stay in cities like Paris. Forget about the amount you’ll spend on transportation, food, attractions and everything else, your accommodation will probably hurt your bank account. I’ve stayed in a hostel, hotel, and an Airbnb flat in Paris, and I far preferred the Airbnb flat. There are a ton of options available in Paris all over the city, some entire flats and some shared rooms, but the chances of you being able to find something clean and safe for your budget is far better with Airbnb. My Airbnb flat was in the 3rd arrondissement, which was about a 20-30 minute walk from the l’Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame. It was also in a very safe and local area, so I had a ton of non-touristy restaurants at my disposal, too. A note about the arrondissement thing- Paris is divided into 20 sections or neighborhoods, which are called arrondissements. Each of these is known for different things and really has their own personality, so definitely do a bit of research about where your accommodation is before you book!
Where to eat: One thing you will never want for in Paris is delicious food. If you get away from the Louvre and Eiffel Tower areas, you’re pretty much bound to have a good choice around you, and it might not even be too pricey! On my last trip to Paris, I went to a great little brasserie café that was on Rue des Archives (not too far from the beautiful National Archives building), but otherwise in a relatively unvisited area. The restaurant was called La Terrasse des Archives (www.laterrassedesarchives.com), and it was absolutely incredible- a true culinary experience. If you’re looking for something good that’s a bit closer to some attractions, I would suggest going to the Quartier Latin. This neighborhood is not far at all from Notre Dame, just a bit south of the Seine River, and the restaurants there are truly amazing. Just take a wander around, and you’re bound to run into something wonderful! Most of all, I would recommend NOT eating within a 20 minute walk of the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. All of those restaurants will be tourist traps in the worst way, and the food just won’t be as good, especially for the price you will pay. I will, however, recommend that you spend an hour on the Champs Elysée with a glass of wine at one of the cafés, because that’s just one of those experiences that everyone should have!
What to do: There are so many sites to see in Paris, that it can be truly overwhelming. I’ll just mention a few of my favorites, but what you’ll want to do will definitely depend on what your interests are! The Musée d’Orsay is an absolutely beautiful modern art museum which features works by Monet, Cézanne, and others. They often have special exhibitions with works by other artists, so check out their website to see what will be there when you plan to visit. The museum is housed in a former train station, and the building itself is just absolutely gorgeous, definitely the perfect setting to view these beautiful works! The Louvre is just across the river, and offers many famous works such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory. The gardens outside of the Louvre, the Jardin de Tuileries, is an absolutely stunning green space in the middle of the city, and is free to get into. I’ve been to the Louvre twice, and would certainly recommend going if you’ve never been before, but I definitely prefer the d’Orsay over the Louvre. With both of these museums, if you’re studying abroad in Europe, be sure to bring your student card and some ID with your birthday on it, because people who live in Europe who are between the ages of 18 and 25 get in for free! I believe that both also have a specific day during the month where anyone can get in for free, so if you’re not living in Europe or are not between 18 and 25, be sure to check those out. The Arc de Triomphe, at the end of the Champs Elysée is an absolutely fantastic place to get a good view of the area, and is definitely worth seeing. You can climb to the top of it, and it’s a great little spot that isn’t as crowded as some others- I think a lot of people don’t realize that you can go to the top! The other site that people inevitably think of when they think of Paris is the Eiffel Tower, and why wouldn’t they? It’s beautiful, elegant, and romantic! It’s also one of the busiest places in Paris, crawling with tourists and pickpockets, so be cautious while you’re there! I had a friend whose camera was stolen in the elevator up to the viewing levels, and another who had 100 euros ripped right out of his hand. This is one of those times that being extremely aware of your surroundings and possessions will be key, but the dangers shouldn’t deter you from visiting! There is an elevator that will take you up to the top, which usually has a long line, but for a discounted price and short wait time, you can take the stairs! (I always have taken the elevator, and I don’t regret it- the stairs are not super enclosed!) There is a restaurant in the tower as well that will allow you to bypass some lines, but I have not actually eaten there. In the winter, there is an ice skating rink on one of the two lower levers, with a skate up bar- and it’s free to do! I’ve been at the top for sunset, and it’s one of the most beautiful ways to see Paris- I would definitely recommend timing it so that you can be at the top with a glass of champagne in your hand while the sun goes down. The Sacre Coeur is a cathedral at the top of the hill overlooking Paris, and will offer you some other amazing vistas. I haven’t been inside of the cathedral because I went at night, but the nighttime view is really stunning. There are also some cute cafés and bars up there, so you can make a night of it! Like I said previously, there is SO MUCH to do in Paris, and it’s really hard to see everything, especially if you’re only visiting for a short time. My best advice for this city is to RELAX. So many people go with the intention of seeing everything, and only leave disappointed and stressed out. Grab a glass of wine at a café, and watch the hustle and bustle of the city!
Overall Opinion: Every time I visit Paris, I’m reminded how much I love it. It’s very different when compared to the south of France, but it has its own charms. The architecture of the city is absolutely stunning, and the sites available are certainly some of the best and most famous in the world. Try to give yourself a healthy amount of days to visit, if you can, to avoid being disappointed by not seeing everything! I’ve been for a combined total of just over a week, and I’ve still not seen everything that I would like to. The city is truly a don’t-miss destination for those visiting Europe, and I certainly recommend visiting!