Being so close to the UK, I really thought Paris was one of those places that the majority knew about, and that everyone had been to at least once (even with school), but alas I was wrong! I was talking to my housemate about how much I love Paris, from the chic cafes, elegant shopping districts and of course the infamous architecture and she looked at me with a blank face. So here you have what may be a useful post to at least one, on how to backpack Paris as a beginner.
How do I get there?
May seem obvious to some, but not all. Paris is such a busy city that it isn’t difficult to get to and around. The main airport is the Charles De Gaulle airport, and is easily accessed from most countries. The airport is also not too far from the city and really easy to commute from. A second option, which has become most popular amongst us Brits, is the Eurostar. Leaving from the central London station of St Pancreas, and arriving in the heart of Paris, can’t make getting into Paris any easier. The Eurostar isn’t as cheap as I’d like, but the prices are still pretty reasonable considering the distance this ‘train’ does in a matter of two hours.
There are a million and one places to stay in Paris from the cheapest hostels to the most expensive of hotels. I’d recommend looking around Montmartre for the cheaper hostels which are also within good spots to access most of the city. There isn’t any one hostel I recommend, but as you’re in Paris I'd argue that you won’t be spending much time in the hostel so it doesn’t really matter how good it is.
Ok, but what do I see?
I could spend a few weeks in Paris and still believe that I’ve not covered what this city has to offer. However, you could spend a good five days here and cover the main aspects of the capital.
It goes without saying what the top sites of Paris are; the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre Dame. I once read that the Eiffel Tower was the most disappointing tourist attraction in the world but I have to disagree. There is something mystical and romantic surrounding the Eiffel Tower, maybe because it features in so many films, but I argue it’s a must see if in Paris. I’ve walked up the Eiffel Tower during the day and night as both offered different views and a different experience. If you have better ways to spend your time then I recommend going during the day. It’s not ridiculously pricy at about €10 a ticket, but that takes you all the way to the top where you can see the whole of Paris. The ticket price is worth it for the view alone, but the tower also has shops, cafes and a few museums inside, yes they’re small but they’re still worth a look.
The second sight which is a ‘must-see’ in my opinion is the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is situated at the top of the Champs-Elysees and is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Some may wonder what is so great about the Arc, and honestly I can’t answer, but it’s an architectural viewpoint and provides some great views of the city. Also, the Arc is central to an eight lane roundabout, where apparently car insurance is void.
Moving from the famous Arc is the Louvre (Musée du Louvre), most easily recognised by its glass pyramid. The inside of the Louvre covers the walking length of about five Eiffel Towers, so if you’re an art lover don’t expect to cover what you want to achieve in a few hours. I honestly just visited the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, which is covered with glass and observed 24 hours a day. Other than the Mona Lisa, I actually can’t remember any of the other paintings; which admittedly may sound a little ignorant to some, but oh well. However, if you’re more of a modern, or post-modern, art lover then take a trip to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where you will find Cezanne, Warhol and many other modern greats.
My fourth ‘must-see’ and one of Paris’ most famous sites is the Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris). Maybe not a must-see for all, but as a Disney fan and a love for all things architectural, I enjoyed the Notre Dame. A beautiful Cathedral with an eerie feel and a great sight to see.
The sights I have listed may seem a bit overrated and generally too touristy but I simply argue that these are some of Paris’ biggest and greatest locations to tick off your list if visiting the city for the first time. All the ones listed here are within central Paris and very easy to get to, and be covered in a day or two. However, Paris does have a lot more to offer in terms of sightseeing.
Montmartre is a sector of Paris worth a visit within itself and also hosts the famous, but disappointing, Moulin Rouge and the highly rated Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. I’ve never been into the famous red windmill, due to the ridiculously priced tables, but a good friend of mine has, and showed me a show brochure of a lot of cabaret dances with their tops off, which is basically the full extent of the Moulin Rouge. The windmill is fairly small and tacky, and tucked away with the rest of the shops in Montmartre, however if in the area then you may as well go and visit. Montmartre is the bohemian quarter of Paris, and to be honest, a bit grungy, but that's the charm of it. You’ll find exciting bars and the strangest of sex shops which are always worth exploring, however, don’t expect chic undiscovered French artists donning the streets in berets - this is perhaps just saved for the movies.
Other sights that are worth your time are perhaps the Pantheon, the Basilica just mentioned and the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, which is one of three famous cemeteries in Paris. A cemetery might seem an odd site to see but have a search for the famous graves of Oscar Wilde, Edif Piaf and Jim Morrison. Worth a walk around and pretty interesting.
The capital of Fashion
You may be a backpacker; you may have only a square centimetre of room left in your rucksack, but the shops and fashion stores in Paris are still worth your time! As a terrible backpacker, I fill most of my space with clothes, clothes and more clothes, it does make me the worst kind of traveller, but if you’re in Paris it seems a sin to not visit the stores. Head to the Triangle d'Or, just off the Champs-Elysees, where you will find the flagship stores of Chanel, Dior, Hermes and many more fashion houses. However, on a backpacker budget head to Le Bon Marché which is one of the biggest department stores in Paris. For more of a chic Parisian market feel then venture to Marché aux Puces d’Aligre for the flea market experience or go central to Kiliwatch, a highly sought out vintage shop with good prices. Furthermore, strut to Ragtime where you will find designer items at vintage prices.
Paris really is a city of dreams, corny as this sounds you can’t find many other cities in the world that combine art, fashion and architecture like Paris. Maybe this is just my opinion, but Paris has a certain charm that many other cities don’t. Maybe I’ve watched too many French films and I’m lost in the world of chic coffee shops, Chanel and the lit up Eiffel Tower but I love Paris and I argue it is a must see for all, from the beginner traveller to the most experienced.