Whether you have never been to Paris, or have been a hundred times – travel tips for Paris are always helpful for both photographers and travel enthusiasts alike. In this article I recommend things to do in Paris based on a 3 night stay.
Where to Stay:
St. Germain Des Preis District. I have stayed in different locations in Paris, and hands down my favorite is to always stay in the St. Germain district. There are several reasons I prefer to stay here – mainly because it gives you the feel of true local Parisian life. There aren’t massive crowds of tourists, there aren’t any major historical tourist spots – instead you are surrounded by local life. Hotels are scattered throughout, find a hotel that fits your budget 1-2 blocks away from the St. Germain Des Preis metro station and you will always be within reach of anywhere you need to go while in Paris. Daily we would walk from our hotel down to a local cafe behind the St. Sulpice Church and enjoy our morning espresso while watching the local people stop by the morning farmers market, or pop in for their own morning cafe. While staying in St. Germain Des Preis district you have quick access to the metro station, or you can walk to the Louvre – especially helpful if you want to photograph the Louvre late into the night.
On your first day in Paris, spend your time walking along the River Seine. While walking and wandering on your first day, one of the popular things to do in Paris is the “Walk around the Islands”. This gives you the opportunity to explore the Notre Dame, the beautiful architecture and the local street vendors scattered along the streets. If you want to fully explore the true feel of Paris (which I recommend) fully explore the Island walk and take in as much as you can. Take your time, and take in the different sites – explore the side streets of Paris, and once it is time to grab some lunch I recommend finding a local bakery and market.
While in Paris you notice everyone always seems to be carrying bread, why? Because it is amazing. Do what Parisians do. One of the best things to do in Paris is taste the food – find a local market for some delicious salami and cheese, and explore different bakeries. We experienced the best bread on our trip while popping into random bakeries. One good thing about eating this way is it will cost less than 6-7 euro per person.
On your first day you should also become familiar with the metro lines. No matter what district you stay in, you will need to become familiar to get across town without spending a fortune on taxis (which are not worth it anyways). You can take the metro to within walking distance of almost any location in Paris. I recommend spending some time on Day 1 to get familiar with the metro line directions, ticketing and stations before attempting to learn this at night. The metro lines do offer one way/one time tickets, all the way up to longer unlimited passes. Plan out your sites to determine what type of ticket you will need – there is almost always an employee nearby to assist (during the day time). Before you call it a day – get over to the Louvre and purchase a ticket for the following day from the gift shop inside. You will want to get to Louvre early the following day – pre-purchasing your ticket will save you from the lines inside.
After your walk around the islands and you have explored Notre Dame, and have hopped on the metro – you can either stop in for an afternoon espresso or get freshened up at your hotel before finding time for dinner. Remember that in Paris locals don’t eat dinner before 7 pm – the tourist trap to be aware of are the restaurants that open at 5 pm and seem to offer incredible deals for dinner (15 euro for a 4 course meal). These restaurants are almost always cheap food focused on luring in tourists before the better options open. Locals always avoid these places and so should you. We tried one just to see – and the results were as expected. The waiter will spend more time trying to get more tourists in as opposed to waiting on you. Of course this is France and service is different, but don’t be fooled – wait until after 7 pm for dinner and avoid any place that seems too good of a deal, or offers a free drink for eating there.
Get up and your get your coffee early today – you want to get into the Louvre as early as you can. Double check the operating hours, but the Louvre typically opens at 9 am. I recommend you wait in line in the courtyard at the pyramid entrance – get there at 8-8:15 am and wait. There will undoubtedly already be a line – but that’s ok, this line moves fairly quickly. Make sure you stand in the line for prepaid ticket holders – not in the line where you need to buy tickets (since you already have your ticket!). One tip for Paris and other European cities – always ask before committing your time to a line you are unsure of, even if you are sure, several times we asked and found out the line we were in was incorrect. The Louvre will open right at 9:00 am and you should be inside ready to explore within 5 minutes. Another tip for the Louvre: do as much pre-research as possible, this place is massive and going in without a plan will leave you lost and feeling a bit disappointed. (And if you want to see the Mona Lisa – go there FIRST!) After leaving the Louvre walk out through the way you entered and walk in the direction opposite of the museum through the gardens. These gardens are beautiful to wander – late in the evening they fill with local Parisian youth and tourists all looking for their own spot to picnic and drink well into the night.
Night Option: If the weather is cooperative, plan to take the Metro over to the Louvre – arrive at 9:30-10:00 pm. Head straight over to the Louvre courtyard to photograph (or just sit romantically) the Louvre pyramid. This is the optimum time to photograph the pyramid.
After the Louvre, depending on what days you will be in Paris, check out the Marché d’Aligre market. There are basically two open markets here – one side is a flea market, but the more popular side is an open-air food market. This market on the east side of Paris is a favorite of ours because tourists almost never make it out there. The food market offers a variety of excellent foods for very low prices, or you can walk behind the market and stop into one of the many chocolate, cheese stores, or cafes. We love this market as one of the things to do in Paris because it gives you a break from the massive crowds and tourists! If you plan this market correctly – buy enough food for you to picnic later and take it back with you.
Location: Place d’Aligre, Paris 12th
To reach the Marché d’Aligre, get to Métro: Ledru-Rollin and walkto Place d’Aligre (see map below).
Open: Tuesday-Saturday 8am-5pm; Sunday 8am-1pm
Marché Beauvau Covered market at Marché d’Aligre Open: Tuesday-Friday 9am-1pm & 4-7:30pm; Saturday 9am-1pm & 3:30-7:30pm; Sunday 8:30am-1:30pm
Head back to your hotel and set a plan to arrange your picnic (if you have not already purchased your food from the market above), and take a look at your metro map – set out your plan to get to the Eiffel Tower. Get to the Eiffel Tower in the late evening (7:00-8:00 pm) – find your best spot to throw out a blanket and enjoy a romantic picnic. This is the best place to sit and watch the sun go down and snap some photos well into the night. There is no rush, one of the best things to do in Paris is relax and enjoy the moment.
Night Option: Take the metro to the Fontaines de la Concorde and the Bridge of Statues. GPS: 48° 51′ 55.8″ N, 2° 19′ 15.96″ E
After another great start at the local cafe, one of the best things to do in Paris we have not yet talked about: shopping! There are a number of shopping options in Paris, from ultra popular tourist strips to the discount fashion mall that most tourists avoid. Here are the top shopping options, from more expensive/tourists to the most inexpensive:
Les Halles, Louvre and Palais Royal $$$
Champs-Élysées and Western Paris $$
St-Germain-des-Près and Luxembourg $$
Les Quatre Temps Shopping Mall $
For the last half of Day 3 in Paris the plan should be to revisit your favorite experiences so far. If you want to continue shopping – hop on the metro and try a different mall or shopping district. If you felt you weren’t able to get everything in at the Louvre – go back after the majority of the day’s tourists have left. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to browse – wander the streets, try different local eateries, go into unique shops and simply take in the Parisian lifestyle. If you need a rest, find a cafe and sit down to enjoy an espresso or glass of wine and watch the crowds go by. Its your vacation – do as you please.
Night Option: Head back towards Notre Dame and watch the sun go down on the river – get out your camera and compose a photo of the river with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
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