My love for traveling didn’t truly start until I studied abroad. Summer 2017, the summer after my first year at Carolina, was when I embarked on an incredible journey called UNC Summer in Paris. For someone that studied French all of her life, I was eager to immerse myself into the culture immediately and take advantage of everything that Paris had to offer. Additionally, I had never been to Europe before this experience. But by the end of the program, I was able to navigate Paris like a local.
On the Notes app on my phone, I have a running list of my favorite memories, places, and experiences from Paris that I share with others who may be visiting the area. I am excited to share this list with you in this blog post, as it will have some classic tourist sites but also underrated hidden gems that you should visit.
The Parisian Lifestyle
Anytime you travel somewhere new, it’s really important to read up about the local culture, as there will be etiquettes that are different than your way of life. Being aware of these differences will also ensure that you are safe and respectful as a tourist.
In Paris, I would say the number one difference that I noticed is that not everyone may be nice to you. As Americans, we are taught to smile and greet everyone that we see, even if they are strangers. Parisians typically are more private than we are, but don’t mistake their behaviors as being rude or discourteous. In fact, if you are polite enough, most Parisians will be willing to help you out.
While most Parisians can speak English, don’t assume that everyone has a perfect knowledge of it. You won’t have to master French perfectly in order to feel like you fit in, but you should know the basic words to be courteous. Saying “bonjour” in every shop you enter is important and is a sign of respect, and simply saying “merci” can go a long way.
City life in Paris, while busy, also can seem a bit slow. Parisians prioritize their leisure time, hence why many work 35-hour workweeks and why the majority of shops are closed on Sundays. To truly live like a local, slowing down the pace of your vacation will help you relax and immerse yourself into the Parisian culture. That’s why the best (and also free!) things to do in Paris include just walking around, sitting at a café, or sitting outside to enjoy the nice weather. These are some of the elements I miss the most about Paris, and it’s hard to enjoy your free time when everyone around me seems to always be on the go.
What’s an arrondissement?
Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements, or neighborhoods. An important geography note: the city of Paris is roughly a circular shape, and the arrondissements may seem randomly placed at first glance. However, they are actually organized in a snail-shape, starting from the 1st arrondissement in the center, then spiraling clockwise until you reach the 20th arrondissement.
Paris is also divided into the left bank and right bank, according to the Seine River that cuts through the city. The left bank is south of the Seine, while the right bank is north of the Seine. This division has a lot of historical context; for example, the left bank is where a lot of artists and students used to live as it was considered as the inexpensive part of town. The right bank was considered to be more wealthy. This is definitely not the case anymore, but this is a fun fact to note about the context of the city.
Where to stay in Paris
The length of your stay in Paris is a large determining factor in where you stay in the city. If you’re only there for a few days, you should definitely stay in areas that are near the sites you want to see. The arrondissements I recommend for a short visit include anywhere in the 1st through the 7th because they are centrally located. Accommodations will generally be more expensive here, but it’s definitely worth staying here to maximize your time.
If you have a few weeks or longer in Paris, staying in a more quiet and residential part of the city isn’t a bad idea, and you’ll be able to save more money that way in the long run. However, the metro is extremely easy to use and gives you quick access to any part of the city. I recommend the 11th, 12th, 14th and 15th.
My own apartment was located in the 14th arrondissement, which is a safe area where a lot of families and university students reside. It was a quick 15-minute metro ride to my classes at the Sorbonne, located in the 5th arrondissement.
And as an overall note, I always recommend staying in Airbnbs over hotels, especially in Paris, where Airbnbs are abundant.
While I have recommendations for places to visit, I do not have any specific recommendations for must-visit food spots. This is because Paris is a foodie’s paradise and is not short of amazing restaurants. In fact, I ate mostly within my neighborhood, which is where I found the best sandwiches, cheeses, pastries, baguettes, chocolates, and more.
Feel free to Yelp restaurants beforehand, but everything I ate was so good that I can’t pick my favorites.
Places and spaces
Montmartre: located in the 18th arrondissement. Put on your walking shoes because the neighborhood is quite hilly. However, there are many beautiful views and rich history to be enjoyed here. In Montmartre, the arts are widely celebrated. Here, you’ll find the Moulin Rouge, a famous cabaret theatre founded in the late 14th century. You’ll also find Sacré-Cœur, a beautiful Catholic church atop a hill dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Rue de Crémieux: a beautiful street located in the 12th arrondissement. It looks vastly different from the rest of the architecture in Paris, but it is a row of pastel colored homes. This is a great place to take pictures.
Jardin du Luxembourg: a lovely garden located in the 6th arrondissement. This was one of my favorite places to picnic, as it was in between my apartment and where my classes were located. Enjoy a nutella crêpe here, walk around and take in all the scenery.
Le Tour Eiffel: located in the 7th arrondissement. How could I not mention the Eiffel Tower? While it’s a large tourist trap, seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time is a moment in my life I will never forget. My favorite time to visit was just around sunset, when you can enjoy wine and cheese in the grass. Once the sky gets dark, you can see the tower sparkle. You can also pay about 17 euros to go up the Eiffel Tower and enjoy views of the entire city.
Trocadéro: located in the 16th arrondissement. This is another great view of the Eiffel Tower, but from a distance. It’s a perfect place to take a picture of the entire monument.
La Seine: located across multiple arrondissements. Another one of my favorite activities was walking along the river, having a picnic, and reading a good book here. Time seems to slow down when you’re hanging around by the Seine.
Le Quartier Latin: located in the 5th arrondissement. This was my favorite arrondissement in Paris, as there is so much to see here here. The Latin Quarter is where the Sorbonne is, the school I attended while in Paris. You can also find Shakespeare & Company, the must-see bookshop. I also thought that the Latin Quarter was the prettiest neighborhood in Paris.
Rooftop Café Oz: located in the 13th arrondissement. This was my favorite bar because it sits along the Seine and is beautiful to visit at night. There is also great music, a young crowd, and overall a good time here.
Le Louvre: located in the 2nd arrondissement. The Louvre can take you an entire day to go through, as it is truly a maze. This is a must-visit museum, as it is stunning and has many famous artworks that you must see in your lifetime.
Le Musée de L’Orangerie: located in the 2nd arrondissement. This was the most memorable museum I had visited in Paris, as it had these beautiful Monet paintings located in an oval room.
Le Musée d’Orsay: located in the 7th arrondissement. This museum is full of Impressionist paintings.
Rue de Rivoli: located in the center of Paris along multiple arrondissements. This street is bustling with the best stores and trendy fashion.
Rue de Rennes: located in the 6th arrondissement, near the Montparnasse Tower. Similar to Rue de Rivoli, but has some more affordable stores. I visited Rue de Rennes much more frequently because it was right next to my classes.
Galeries Lafayette Haussmann: located in the 9th arrondissement. This is a huge luxury department store with multiple levels. I couldn’t afford anything here, but it is so fun to walk around and has beautiful architecture.
Paris has become a huge part of my identity and my Carolina experience. It is an unforgettable memory that I often feel nostalgic about. My hope is that this blog post showed off how amazing the city of Paris is, and makes you want to visit sometime soon.