Paris and the Seine at sunset (courtesy James Whitesmith at Flickr CC)

Paris and the Seine at sunset (courtesy James Whitesmith at Flickr CC)

A good friend of mine is about to make her first trip to Paris, and she asked for ideas about what to see and do. Here is what I recommended – what would you add or subtract?

1)   Take one of the bateaux-mouches boat rides on the Seine, but go at night. The landmarks are lighted, including the Eiffel Tower, and the effect is stunning. Yes, this is a touristy thing to do, but for crying out loud, you are a tourist. Revel in it!

2)   Buy a book at Bohemian hangout Shakespeare and Company bookstore in the Latin Quarter, and get one of their famous stamps inside the book cover.

3)  Eat!  Buy bread, meats, cheese and fruit at a market for a Parisian picnic. Sip a rich chocolat at Angelina and dither over which gorgeous, colorful, tasty macaron pastries to try at Ladurée.

4)   Try one of the restaurants inside the Eiffel Tower, one of which – fancy Le Jules Vernes – you can access via private elevator. Lunch prices are lower, bien sûr.

5)  For a quiet moment surrounded by extraordinary stained glass windows, visit the Sainte-Chapelle medieval Gothic chapel, located near the Palais de la Cité, on the Île de la Cité. I think it’s better than Notre Dame (for a really incredible cathedral, I prefer the Dom in Köln, Germany.)

6)   Try to catch a music concert at one of the art museums – it can really add to your experience. For example, the short daytime concerts (l’heure musicale) at the Cluny Museum/Musée National du Moyen Âge (Middle Ages and Renaissance art and artifacts) are very atmospheric. Their museum website is surprisingly poor quality – not updated well and not much information in English – but here is the activities and events section where you can drill down in French through Evénements to L’heure musicale. Looks like concerts are on Sunday at 4pm (le dimanche à 16h) and Monday at 1230pm (le lundi à 12h30.)

Other thoughts – I’d go to Paris anytime but summer, when many residents go on vacation and prices go up. Why not go Thanksgiving week instead? Less crowded, cheaper and you can be thankful in front of an incredible French meal.

Buy a Paris Museum Pass. You’ll save a ton of money getting into 60 different museums and monuments, including biggies like the Louvre, Versailles outside Paris and both the Cluny and Sainte-Chapelle listed above.

Don’t forget that if you want to cram it in, you can jump on the Eurostar train from Paris and be London in a little over two hours.

What did I miss for a first trip to Paris? Let us know in the comments below!

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