When I ask women where they want to go to for their first overseas trip, I usually get the same dreamy-eyed look, deep sigh and breathy response: Paris.
The romantic allure of the French capital has captivated women’s fantasies for centuries. Between the seductive language, the fascinating art, the sumptuous cuisine, the exquisite fashion, and the beguiling culture, Paris appeals to the senses in a way that only Paris can.
It has a certain familiarity to it, having seen it depicted in countless movies, TV shows, books, and friends’ vacation photos. But for those who have never been, there’s a tantalizing mystique of the exotic and the unfamiliar. Even those who have already visited will always find something new and intriguing with each visit.
Whether you’re a true Francophile or an eager neophyte to Parisian charms, your first (or second, or tenth) trip to the City of Light should reflect your desires and fantasies. This doesn’t mean that you should build up an impossibly perfect picture of Paris in your head. After all, its rough edges, challenging encounters and other imperfections have its own appeal. Instead, be intentional about your planning your visit. Make your trip unique to you. Allow for discovery, exploration and adventure in a way that suits you.
Here’s some tips on how to do Paris your way:
1. Know your travel personality and let that be your starting point.
Understanding your travel personality is not meant to be a restriction on the things that you should see or do. Instead, use it as a compass to help guide you in making choices, particularly considering your available time and funds.
For the art lover, spending two or three days soaking up the marvelous collections at the city’s world famous museums is worth the trip in itself. For the foodie, make reservations and plenty of room in your budget to dine at your dream French restaurants.
You probably have mix of different travel personalities. Just know which ones you want to indulge the most in this trip.
2. Ask yourself what is it about Paris that speaks to you and what you want out of your trip, then do it.
Paris means different things to different people. If you’ve dreamed of coming to Paris for a long time, what is it that you’ve dreamed of doing when you got there?
You can spend an entire afternoon gazing at the Eiffel Tower while siting on the lawn with an authentic French picnic and know that this is what you went there for. If you’re a big fan of Les Miserables, walk around to find remnants of Victor Hugo’s old Paris. If you’re obsessed with French cooking, channel your inner Julia Child and take a class or a demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu.
Be clear about it to avoid being overwhelmed of trying to do too much or missing out on something that you felt was a critical point. Make sure you invest in experiences as they’ll be the ones you’ll be reliving over and over again in your head when your return to the real world.
There is a whimsical appeal to stepping out of your hotel or apartment and see where the day takes you, and if that suits you go for it. But for those who come with a list of things to check off their bucket list, research and planning are key.
Things that may be useful for you to know: the lay of the land and the different neighborhoods, when the Louvre is closed (Tuesdays) and when it’s open late (Wednesdays and Fridays), how to skip the long ticket-buying lines by getting the Paris Museum Pass and when the expect the cheese course (before or instead of dessert).
Make the time to go through a proper guide book (I am partial to Rick Steves Paris 2016). Orient yourself so that you could make the most out of your trip, allowing for more time to do slow down and just be in the moment.
4. Immerse yourself completely.
Don’t hesitate to embrace the Paris of your dreams. Dress like a Parisian. Practice your French with friendly locals. Shop for a freshly baked baguette, artisanal cheese and fruits at the market on Rue Cler. Assemble a breakfast at your Airbnb flat. Watch some French TV before heading out for the day. Park yourself at a café and people-watch. Make the pilgrimage to Notre Dame or the houses of Vuitton, Chanel. Take as many selfies with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe as your heart desires.
In whatever way you like, dive into the Parisian experience that you’ve been fantasizing about. Make it your own.
5. Assume that you will return.
There are so many things to do, places to visit and delights to consume. Make peace with the fact that you won’t probably see everything you may want to see in one visit. Do and see what feels right to you, and save other things for your next visit.
In case you wanted to know, this is how I would do Paris:
Walk the arrondissements in an outfit like this.
Order a croissant and a coffee and park myself at this café while doing some people watching.
Discover Gil’s Paris with a Midnight in Paris tour.
Have a picnic lunch at Jardin Luxembourg.
Join a guided tour of the Palais Garnier.
Enjoy dinner at Seb’on.
Soak in French cabaret music at Au Lapin Agile.