What to do your first time in Paris

what to do in paris american fille

Booking a trip to Paris is exciting but a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?

As the most visited city in the world, Paris is overflowing with things to do, monuments to see, and foods to eat… and they all seem important.

You could spend a lifetime here and still not experience everything, so believe me when I tell you that I understand how overwhelming it can be making your Paris itinerary.

That’s why I’ve put together my very long-over-due-comprehensive list of things you should do in Paris. I will include the things you should definitely do, things you should do if you have time, where to stay, and a handful of tips.

I hope you enjoy! 😘

Things you should see in Paris

what to do in paris american fille eiffel tower

Visit the Eiffel Tower

…but skip going up it. Why? The best part of the Paris skyline is the Eiffel Tower and from inside you can’t see it, obviously. As someone who’s climbed it four times I can tell you it’s not worth your money (unless of course you really, really want to).

Instead, have a picnic on the Champs de Mars! In the warmer months you can sit directly on the grass, but if they’ve fenced it off due to rain – no worries! Go up towards the front and there are grassy areas on the left and right of the tower. 😉

Pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese from your local Franprix or Carrefour – there’s several within walking distance. I suggest getting your baguette from a proper boulangerie but in extreme emergencies the market ones will do.

Pro Tip: Return to the Eiffel Tower on your last night in Paris and watch it sparkle!

Starting at 9PM, the Eiffel Tower sparkles for 5 minutes every hour on the hour (until 1AM). It’s truly an extraordinary experience and you won’t want to miss it.

american fille eiffel tower sparkle seine

Go to Trocadero

…for the best pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Trocadero is located right behind the tower and is where all those staircase pictures come from.

american fille eiffel tower paris

Visit Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur is one of the most beautiful monuments in Paris. Perched on the highest hill in Paris in the center of Montmartre, the basilica Sacré-Cœur will give you the most stunning view of the city.

Hiking the steps takes a bit of effort but its definitely worth it! If for some reason you aren’t able to climb the stairs, there is a cable car to the left that will take you to the top for the price of one metro ticket. Please be extra cautious in this area, there are many pickpockets and scam artists. Keep your phone secured and bags facing front.

Read more: 5 Tourist Scams to Avoid in Paris

Sacre-coeur american fille paris

On the stairs climbing up the hill is where you will find friendship bracelet guys that I’ve written about previously. They are extremely aggressive and will try to grab your wrists with string and start braiding a bracelet as a supposed “gift.” Spoiler alert: it is not a gift, and they will demand payment after so your best bet is to say “Non, merci!” firmly and keep walking.

Once at the top, if you head to the left of the basilica you can walk down the cobbled streets of Montmartre and visit Place du Tertre. Also known as “the artist’s square,” this is a great spot to see some of most talented painters in Paris. This area is super touristy but definitely worth checking out. 😊

Pro Tip: Visit Sacré-Cœur at sunset and drink wine on the steps!

I recommend coming here right before sunset with a bottle of wine. You can take in the view and watch the street performers while sitting side-by-side with tourists and locals. The steps are bustling with people year-round so you’ll be in good company. Just to clarify: you’re allowed to drink in Public in Paris, so this is legal. 😉

Visit the Louvre

Visiting the Louvre is something you absolutely cannot miss. Whether or not you decide to go inside is entirely up to you, but the outside of the Louvre is a monument in-and-of-itself. The architecture of the building combined with the pyramid and the greenery make the Louvre one of (if not the) most beautiful sights in Paris.

louvre paris american fille

I had an annual pass to the Louvre my first year in Paris and I have been inside over 20 times, so I can give you the scoop. If you are a museum person or someone who appreciates art, touring the inside is a must-do.

If you’re more middle of the road when it comes to art like me, I would still suggest going inside if you have the time. There are several pieces inside that are truly breathtaking. My favorites are: La Victoire de Samothrace and the Napoleon Apartments.

victoire somathrace paris american fille louvre

Just in front of the Louvre, you can stroll through the tuileries gardens and explore one of Paris’s most beautiful public parks. If you’re here during the summer months, check out the La Fête des Tuileries which is a carnival complete with rides, games, and fair food!

Pro Tip: Picnic at the Louvre!

The Louvre is my favorite spot in Paris, and picnicking at the Louvre is my favorite activity. You can find me on a blanket with friends in front of the hedges every weekend between March and September. If you’re looking for a local experience, definitely check this out! 😋

See Notre Dame + The Latin Quarter

Make sure to visit Notre Dame while you’re in Paris. The cathedral is still standing after the fire earlier this year, and while there is a bit of construction, it’s still a beautiful sight to see.

notre dame things to do in paris american fille

Right across the street from Notre Dame is the famous Shakespeare and Co. book store. Shakespeare and Co. is an English book store (which is rare for Paris) and was known to host some of the most famous American writers in history, such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Joyce.

If you purchase a book while here, they will stamp it with their official Shakespeare and Co. stamp making it authentic! Also make sure to go upstairs to the back room – there is a cat there! 😻

Finally, make sure to check out the Latin Quarter. Situated in the 4th arrondissement, the Latin Quarter is a small network of pedestrian-only streets filled with restaurants and bars. A bit-touristy but extremely affordable, you can find all kinds of different cuisine options here. As a local I still come here to eat now and then. One of my favorite bars is called the Piano Bar, they have glasses of champagne for 7 euros! 🤩

Picnic on the seine

Few things are more Parisian than sitting on the seine with a bottle of wine and a baguette. Depending on where you sit you can enjoy some incredible views, too!

Some of my favorite spots to sit are Quais de la Tournelle which gives you an awesome view of Notre Dame, or a bit further down on the other side by the bar Les Nautes. Both will always be full of local Parisians. 😊

American fille seine picnic amanda rollins

Ride a scooter around the city

This is my favorite way to show people around the city. You will get to see all of Paris and ride an electric scooter (which is super fun) for under 30 euros.

My favorite brand to use is Lime, though there are dozens in Paris these days. All you have to do is download the Lime app, register a payment method, and then locate a scooter.

lime scooter trocadero american fille

See the Arc de Triomphe

Situated at the top of the Champs Elysées, L’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It’s a bit underwhelming but still pretty and worth seeing in my opinion! 😋

arc de triomphe american fille

Visit the Palace of Versailles

If you have time, the Palace of Versailles is worth seeing. Located about 30 mins outside the city by train, Versailles was the main Royal Residence from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

Palace Versailles Paris American Fille

Marie Antoinette, famous for saying “let them eat cake,” once lived here as well. You can see her old chambers and if you’re lucky, perhaps her ghost! It is rumored that she haunts the gardens behind the Palace and her ghost has been spotted on multiple occasions. 👻

Where to stay in Paris

I visited Paris twice before I moved here and I was very happy with both places I stayed. One is an affordable hostel located in the heart of the 10th (with an awesome rooftop bar), and the other is a higher-end boutique hotel with views of the Eiffel Tower. Here is a bit more info on both:

The Generator Hostel

Generator hostel where to stay Paris

This hostel is located in the 10th arrondissement which isn’t too far from the center. With dorms starting at just 17€ a night, The Generator is a great option for the budget traveler. There’s a metro stop directly across the street and you can access most parts of the city in less than twenty minutes. 👍🏻

Hotel Gavarni

Hotel Gavarni American FIlle Paris

I absolutely loved staying at Hotel Gavarni. A bit pricier than going the hostel route, this boutique hotel is located in the 16th just steps from Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. Each room is different, which made our stay feel unique and special 😊 (I stayed in the Versailles Room, pictured in the top right).

If you can swing it with your budget, staying at this hotel will give you a true Parisian feel.

However, if I had to do it again, I would stay more central. When deciding on a hotel/airbnb in Paris I would strongly suggest staying in one of the areas circled below. Paris can be deceptively big and you will want to avoid taking expensive Uber rides at all costs!

Where to stay in paris american fille

Foods to eat when in Paris

While in Paris, there are some foods you should definitely try so that you get a taste of French cuisine! For specific restaurant recommendations, I have a separate blog post where I list my favorites. 😇

Read more: Non-Cliché Foods You Must Eat in Paris

Crêpes from street vendors. I wouldn’t suggest ordering a crêpe from a restaurant because you’ll pay double the price for essentially the same thing. I’m a salty gal so I always order “jambon fromage” or ham and cheese. But if you like sweet things, I highly suggest the speculos cookie butter! 😍

Steak au poivre. This is classic French dish consists of a cut of beef covered with a creamy peppercorn sauce, often served with fries. Refer to the above blog post to see the best steak au poivre in Paris!

Foie Gras. You might not think you would like foie gras, but there’s a chance you will be pleasantly surprised. Foie gras is fattened goose liver, which doesn’t sound the most appealing, but I promise the taste is incredible.

Croissants and pain au chocolat from a boulangerie. And while we’re talking baked goods, when ordering a baguette: ask for a tradition. Do not order a regular baguette. Don’t do it.

Ice cream from Berthillion.

what to do in paris american fille

General Tips for visiting Paris

Don’t feel the need to tip unless the service was truly remarkable, and even then, €2 is perfect.

People smoke outside at cafés. It’s just how it is. If you would like to avoid the smoke I suggest you take a table inside.

Service in general is slower in Paris and the customer is never right. It takes some getting used to, so be prepared.

A glass of wine should cost between 4-6 euro. There are many restaurants who cater to tourists, and a great way to spot them is by checking the price for a glass of the least expensive wine.

Make sure you have the right metro ticket. If you happen to buy the wrong one, you will still be able to go through the turnstile but will be fined if they catch you – and they do sting operations often. When buying your metro tickets, select Adult > Single Journey > Full Fare > Zone 5. Paris Metro Ticket t+ is currently priced at 1.90€ for a single ticket ( as of June 1, 2019). A package of 10 tickets (a carnet) costs 14.90€.

If you want to tour the Catacombs I suggest you book your tickets well in advanced as they always sell out. If you’re wondering whether or not you should tour the Catacombs, here’s my take: the tour is fascinating and very one-of-a-kind (I mean where else will you go 2 meters underground and walk alongside walls of human skulls?). But personally I think there are better things you can spend your time doing in Paris if you only have a few days. I’ve done the tour and it’s very cool, so this is your call!

If you’re looking for a romantic dinner, I highly suggest booking a Boat Dinner Cruise. I’ve never done it personally but have several friends who have and they rave about it. You will dine while cruising the Seine and have some of the most incredible views of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night!

I’ve mentioned it at least 4 times already but I will say it again: keep an eye on your purse, wallet, and cell phone. Pickpockets are everywhere in Paris and no one is invincible. I have had 4 phones stolen in the last 2 years, plus one purse, plus two attempted wallets. Please be vigilant!

amanda rollins eiffel tower paris

What are you planning to do your first time in Paris? Have you tried any of the things I suggested? Please share it in the comments! 😊

If I can answer any questions for you feel free to comment below or message me on Instagram (@americanfille).

I am happy to help! 😸

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