I will never get enough of France; between the architecture, history, art, food, and landscapes there will always be new and old activities to find that will just bring me to love the country more and more. Starting with my favorite city in France, Paris, here are my suggestions for any successful trip to one of the most visited countries in Europe.
- In the summer it is HOT! Despite this fact, I wouldn't dress as if you were visiting Hawaii; it's not a myth that the French are fashionable, but I also realized quickly that they dress a bit more conservatively than in the States, with most of the women wearing mid-length dresses in the summer.
- Learn enough of the language to be able to say hello, goodbye, and ask for an English menu/ask if they can speak English. Most people you will interact with at restaurants, hotels, and attractions will know English but attempting the language will make your time there less vicious.
- On that topic, it's also not a myth that the French can be rude. It won't be an issue in restaurants or at tourist areas, but the Police in particular are brutal, especially when it comes to public transit.
- Plan your days around neighborhoods! For example, please do not go to Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, and Sacre Coeur in one day. You will suffer.
The place where I spent the most time this past summer (well over a month) and am already itching to go back to. Here are my tips on which tourist attractions are actually worth the visit, what areas are a little less crowded, and casual places to eat.
1 - Musee d'Orsay
This is my favorite museum by far. You could spend an entire day in here and still not see all the gems. If you want to see the most famous pieces, head upstairs to see Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Courbet, Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and plenty of other impressionist artists.
Pro tip: if you want less crowds and cheaper tickets, buy tickets ahead of time for Thursdays at 6pm.
2 - Musee de l'Orangerie
A must if you want to see Monet's Water Lily installations.
3 - Louvre
If you're short on time I personally would skip this one (sue me). It's always crowded and super overwhelming. BUT - there are more than a few gems worth seeing: Winged Victory, Psyche Revived, Venus de Milo, Sleeping Hermaphroditus, and Dying Slave are my personal favorites. It's a great museum for sculpture lovers!
The exterior of the Louvre is especially stunning, especially at sunset. Grab some desserts and head over there if you can make it!
4 - Espace Fondation EDF
This is one most don't know about - I went here in 2016 to see an exhibition titled ElectroSound: du lab au Dance Floor, but all of their exhibitions seem super interesting and educational. Their latest was about art's place in spreading fake news.
5 - 104 centquatre
A rotating contemporary arts space that I wish I could have made it to on my last trip to Paris.
6 - Petit Palais
A free museum that many go to just to see the building itself and eat at the stunning restaurant inside.
1 - Eiffel Tower! (duh)
I don't even have to write this one out, but go see the Eiffel Tower. Climbing the tower is genuinely so much fun (bring water!) and the Gardens next to the tower are a great place to relax and get great views without all the crowds too. And, lastly, go see it sparkle! I would suggest finding a spot next to the Seine to sit and watch before it get's dark.
2 - Notre Dame
Currently it looks a little rough from the fire, but it's expected to be fully restored by the summer of 2024 and the interior is stunning with all the stained glass.
3 - Sacre Coeur and Montmartre
If you can make it up the steps to get here, this basilica is worth a visit. The surrounding neighborhood is also charming with it's hilly shops and other famous structures like the Moulin Rouge.
4 - Take a bike tour!
I've tried it all: boat rides on the Seine, walking tours, and even considered those double decker tour busses, but bike tours are always just so fun! I used Le Peloton Cafe, and they took us through areas you wouldn't usually see and taught us about the history of each area. Plus, it was quite an easy ride and never felt unsafe.
1 - Square de Yorktown
Probably not what you expected as my first choice, but I was so happy here. I spent hours reading in the shade and watching couples lounge around here. The park nearby also has great views of the Eiffel Tower.
2 - Place des Vosges
A spot I will always be happy to go back to. It is the oldest planned square in the city and was one of the most expensive and fashionable places to live in the 17th century (and probably still is). My personal favorite part about it are the squared-off trees surrounding the fountains and the statue in. the center.
3 - Tuileries Gardens
This huge plot of land right next to the Louvre still feels like a royal garden. It's a great place to take a walk or rest at one of the fountains or under the shade in one of the many seating areas.
4 - Square de la Turlure
Another park that isn't often mentioned, this area sits right behind the Sacre Coeur and has great shade and beautiful terraced areas.
5 - Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Technically not in the Paris circle, but sits right outside of it with waterfalls, a grotto, a temple, beautiful bridges and plenty of places to sit and relax.
OUTSIDE OF THE CITY:
1 - Versailles
Everyone knows this is a spot that's famous for it's luxury, royal gardens, architecture, and deep French history. The town is incredibly easy to get to by train from central Paris (just make sure you have the right ticket and that it is validated!) and often has a farmers market a five minute walk away from the Palace.
2 - Joigny
This town is small enough that you can take a quick train from Paris and just walk around for a day to get a feel for the commune. It sits right on the Yonne River and is host to a sweet little shopping area, a few churches, and vineyards that overlook the water.
1 - Un Zebre a Montmartre
I went here several times and wish I could have gone back more. The chef has been here for over 25 years and it shows. So yummy (and surrounded by gelato shops!)
2 - Cococo
I didn't think I would want a bento box while I was in Paris, but this was easily my second favorite meal from all of my time in France. They are super good about catering to dietary restrictions as well.
3 - Creperie Elo Bastille
Such good sweet and savory crepes, and is open super late too in case you want dessert. They also have traditional buckwheat crepes if you are gluten free.
4 - NoGlu
As a gluten free person, this place was such a huge win, and there are several throughout the city.
5 - Pink Mama
The line for this place is always around the block to experience both the French cuisine and the beautiful interior decor, so make reservations! You'll have a better chance getting in around lunch time.
6 - Derrière
Such a fun concept! French food served in different rooms of an apartment building, and it's decorated as such too.
7 - Le 1905
A super cozy bar in the Bastille neighborhood with creative and classic drink options.
NICE AND EZE
A few days in Nice and at least one full day in Eze is absolutely worth your time, and exploring the French Riviera is as lovely as it sounds.
ATTRACTIONS IN NICE:
1 - Explore the Vielle Ville (old part of town)
Stroll through the shops (my favorite was Nach for one of a kind porcelain jewelry or Mademoiselle for high end consigned clothing), grab a bite to eat at La Tapenade, Utopia, Chez Pipo, Sawasdee, or Pitadine, and eat some Gelato at Fenocchio.
2 - Walk down the Promenade des Anglais
During Bastille Day there are fireworks shows right over the water here!
3 - Explore Castle Hill Park and the Israelite Cemetery
This area provides amazing views of the city and water in addition to being a lovely place to stroll.
4 - Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas
A Russian-Orthodox church with a beautiful exterior and incredible painted details on the interior. Unlike any other church you will see in France.
5 - Cours Saleya Market and Saturday antique markets
The Cours Saleya Market is a great place to grab baked goods as well as fruits and vegetables, and has a few artists mixed in as well. Each Saturday in Nice also has an antique market with a different theme; I was there during postcard week.There are great restaurants for crepes and other French meals around there as well, such as Pop-o-Thyme
MUSEUMS IN NICE:
1 - Museum of Photography Charles Negre
This was easily my favorite museum in the French Riviera. Not crowded, not too big, and had exceptional work with a great video about how the work was made. I was very impressed.
2 - The Modern and Contemporary Art Museum
If you have loads of time, consider stopping in here. Their rotating exhibits are very interesting and timely.
3 - Musee Matisse
One of the world's largest collections of his work!
THINGS TO DO IN EZE:
1 - Fragonard Perfume Factory tour
The tours here are free and very interesting! Walks you through their history, how they create their perfumes and soaps, and then they take the time to help you choose a perfume for yourself.
2 - Le Jardin Exotique
A beautiful botanic garden at the top of Eze, overlooking the water, the town, and amazing plants and sculptures.
3 - Walk around the medieval streets
Through the thin walkways and along the cobblestone streets you'll find typical French food and amazing local shops. My favorite was an antique jewelry shop across from the Jardin Exotique's ticket machine.
4 - Hike down to Eze Beach
This is only a mile long hike, but most make the mistake of doing it on the way up to Eze Village instead of back. This will also get you to the train that will take you back to Nice if that is where you are staying instead of taking the busy bus back.