I’m a planner – especially when it comes to travelling to new destinations. I love researching the best restaurants, neighbourhoods and things to do before I visit as much as I love discovering hidden alleyways and local favourites once I’ve arrived. For my first visit to Paris, I wanted a good balance between well-known hotspots and those little gems you always pick up along the way when you travel. Without further ado, here’s my guide to Paris for first-time visitors.
I personally love to mix up tourist attractions with local secret spots and amazing restaurants, splitting my time between exploring and just sitting, people watching and drinking a bottle of wine. We wanted to hit up the Eiffel Tower of course, but also check out the small streets and sidewalk bistros – and Disney, obviously!
Where to Stay in Paris
When I was booking accommodation, it was based purely on price range and comfort. For our first 4 nights in Paris, we ended up in the 2nd arrondissement, in a sweet little 3rd-floor apartment at My Maison in Paris in Sentier. I booked it based on the Booking.com score (9.4) and the great pictures on the listing. For our last night, we wanted to splurge on accommodation with an amazing view, so I grabbed my credit card and booked a room at Hotel Balzac, based purely on the room view of the Eiffel Tower.
My Maison in Paris – Sentier
The only room available was number 31 – a loft style apartment. Turns out it was the perfect spot for us! Easy to find when we arrived by taxi (I’m too lazy to figure out the train after 20 hours of flying) and conveniently within walking distance of some of the best streets and neighbourhoods in the city. It’s close to some of the city’s hotpots like Rue Montorgueil and has easy access to the Metro, grocery shops and loads of restaurants and bars. The apartment is incredibly well-equipped, especially for millennial travellers. It’s small, but I think pretty much everything in Paris is. I loved the Nespresso machine, Marshall music Bluetooth speaker and the fact that I could log into my Netflix account from the smart TV. There’s super fast wifi and a Bluetooth printer, which I used a couple of times to print tickets for Disney and other sites. Definitely worth staying at!
Book: My Maison in Sentier on Booking.com
Cost: R6000 per person for 4 nights
Tip: Like many hotels in Paris, there is no lift in the building, so be prepared to carry your stuff up 3 flights of stairs
Most rooms with a view in Paris are either pretty pricey or fully booked. From the moment we checked in, I was convinced that everyone who works at Hotel Balzac is the friendliest person in France. The room was lush and comfortable with the view I’d been dreaming of. The hotel is incredibly central, within easy walking distance of the Arc de Triomphe and the biggest Sephora in the whole wide Paris. At 8pm, the Eiffel Tower’s lights sparkled for 10 minutes and watched with tears in my eyes. Worth the splurge, for sure.
Book: Hotel Balzac on Booking.com
Cost: R2300 per person (with a complimentary upgrade) for 1 night
Tip: Once you’ve booked, it’s worth emailing to see if there’s a room with a view available for upgrade
What to do in Paris
I really loved walking through the Marais and along rue Montorgueil, stopping in at grocery stores, wine shops and cheese counters along the way. We booked a couple of activities on Airbnb Experiences, which I really loved.
Experience a French Wine and Cheese Tasting
Of course, I love wine, so I absolutely loved this experience! I learned so much about French wine, like the fact that they don’t order wine at restaurants by grape (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay etc.) but by region (like Sancerre or Champagne). We also heard a lot about French wine culture and just Parisian culture in general. The host, Olivier, is funny and warm and I loved learning from him. It really was one of the best experiences I had in Paris.
Book: French Wines and Cheeses Tasting Lunch on Airbnb Experiences
Cost: R1300 per person for lots of cheese and wine and a great time
Tip: The bar is in a great area, so plan your day to allow enough time to explore before or after your experience
Book a photo tour with a local
So often I visit new and beautiful places, but because I’m travelling solo I have to carry around a heavy tripod and trust that no one will run away with my camera while I try to get a picture of myself. That’s why I love the idea of booking a photo tour with a local. I booked a walk with Tania, who made sure to ask what I was interested in seeing so she could plan the tour around what I was hoping to see.
Book: Vibrant Photos in Paris on Airbnb Experiences
Cost: R800 per person for a 3-hour walk and a bunch of images
Tip: Take an umbrella. Seriously. The Eiffel Tower lights up at sunset and then twinkles every hour on the hour until midnight. Try plan your first visit to see the magic.
Act like a kid at Disneyland Paris
Nothing could have prepared me for how much I would LOVE Disneyland Paris. Honestly, I felt like I was on the verge of tears at all times. It’s just so magical. Booking tickets online is the cheapest option. Just make sure you have access to somewhere you can print them cause they have to be in paper form at the gate. Getting there from Paris is easy – just a 40-minute train journey takes you right to the gate. We spent the day taking twelve million pictures in front of the castle and riding the big kid rides. After reading a bunch of blog posts saying the food inside was unmanageably expensive, we lugged around food and water which we bought from a grocery store before leaving Paris. This was totally unnecessary. I can see how it would be pricey if you’re paying for a family of 6, but as two adults, I felt 13 Euro for lunch was pretty standard. Obviously I bought Minnie Mouse ears, which gave me a crushing headache. Worth it.
Book: Tickets for Disneyland Paris
Cost: R1100 per person for the ticket, R500 each for the train, lunch and snacks
Tip: I’d definitely recommend making use of the Fast Pass, which basically prints out a ticket for a ride, giving you an allocated time to come back, which allows you to skip the queue.
Visit the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night
It’s just so beautiful from up there are gives you such a different view of the city. Somehow we had no idea that there isn’t a lift to the top (just like, a million stairs) so we weren’t quite prepared in terms of footwear. But, the view from the top was pretty amazing and we forgot all about our discomfort as soon as we saw the City of Light from above.
Cost: 12 Euro per person to go up
Tip: There are no drinks for sale at the top, so take water with you because we were super thirsty and couldn’t wait to get down for a bottle of water
Have a very Parisian dinner at Bouillon Chartier
For a traditional Parisian dinner, head to Bouillon Chartier. It’s been around since the 1800’s and it’s still as busy as ever. It’s a big dining room, with a small menu at reasonable prices. We left after 11pm and people were still arriving. The food was great, service was friendly and the staff are dressed in traditional Parisian style. Such a great experience.
Cost: Around R450 per person for water, starters, mains, dessert, and bottle of house wine a coffee
Tip: Call ahead to book or be prepared to stand in a queue
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Paris for first-time visitors. Bear in mind that I didn’t list any of the obvious sights like the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Musée d’Orsay or Sacré Cour – these are probably on every list you’ll find!