Story and photos by Susan Melnyk
As the weather warms up and summer vacation looms on the horizon, you may find yourself imagining a week in Paris, France. Sure, you’ve seen it in movies, you’ve tried the food and maybe even coveted the fashion, but nothing compares to walking the streets of Paris and experiencing Parisian life firsthand. Here are five key tips for your trip to the City of Lights.
1) Dress up a little.
Paris is one of the world’s greatest fashion capitals, so you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone walking around in sweats or yoga pants. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie or a fancy dress but if you make sure your clothes are “business casual,” or at least clean and not too baggy, you’ll definitely blend in. Blending in is always a good plan when you are travelling, as pickpockets and pushy salespeople are much more likely to pick you out of a crowd when your clothes make you stand out.
2) Wear comfortable shoes.
Yes, those high heels look fantastic! But Paris is a pedestrian city and you are going to want to explore. Leave the “pretty, but not at all practical” shoes at home and bring ones you’ve already broken in and can walk miles in. Your feet will thank you.
3) Yes… go see the Eiffel Tower, then take a hike.
I know… you’re in Paris. How can you NOT see the Eiffel Tower?! So go see it. Stand under it. Buy those expensive tickets to go up the elevator to the top if you really want (just to get a sense of how far the sprawl of Paris extends), but then leave the area and go explore the real Paris.
Parisians have a love/hate relationship with the tower. Although it draws millions of tourists and is the city’s most visual icon, it also stands in stark contrast to the historic provincial French architecture that makes up the rest of Paris.
The restaurants and stores around the tower are there for tourists, so prices are steep and the experience is less than authentic. Head a few streets away from the tower and main tourist attractions and you’ll start to enjoy the Paris that its citizens adore.
4) Don’t be afraid, but do be polite.
Scenario #1: You’re standing at a busy intersection in Paris. People and cars are whizzing by. You want to know which way to go to find the Louvre or Eiffel Tower, so you stop someone as they are walking by and ask them where it is. They brush you off and walk away. You think “How rude!” and let it affect the rest of your trip.
Let’s take this scenario as seen from the Parisian’s point of view:
You live in Paris and are on your way to or from work when a tourist steps right in your path and asks you, in a foreign language, for directions. Your English isn’t great and you are in a hurry, so you politely say “no, sorry” and walk away. This happens to you almost every week, because there are TONS of tourists wandering around, lost, in Paris and you are just trying to get to work or to meet friends for dinner.
So remember, you can do it – you can navigate by yourself! Instead of driving people nuts, you can easily make your way around Paris with a Metro (subway) map, a street map, and a humble attitude. If you are really lost, take half an hour to sit down in a cafe and study your map, or ask your waiter for directions or a street name. The Metro is a great way to get your bearings, since the stops are on almost every major street and can help you figure out which direction you are headed, no matter where you find yourself in the city.
Seriously: eat everything you find. Eat your way through Paris. Have breakfast at a bakery or cafe, grab lunch at another and then sit down for dinner anywhere you find more Parisians than tourists milling about. You don’t have to go to the most expensive restaurants to get a taste of Paris. If you are on a budget, make lunch your biggest meal of the day, or grab a sandwich at a bakery and picnic in a park. Parisians love their food and you will too!