Photo Courtesy of Alexandria
A hub for hedonists, a wellspring of inspiration for artists, and a haven for history buffs: Paris is a fantasy destination for millions of travelers each year. The storied bakeries, iconic museums, and corner cafés feel anchored in another time, but the zeitgeist of the city leans forward into a dy…namic, multicultural food scene dominated by young French and foreign talents. It is precisely this juxtaposition of old and new that makes Paris the perpetually perfect place to visit. So go exploring, get lost, eat until your belly hurts—and then do it all over again. The City of Light shines on.
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You're likely to be disappointed if you arrive expecting the image of springtime in Paris that you see in Hollywood films. In the last several years, the months between April and June have reported below-average temperatures and record-high precipitation—a far cry from the endless days of sunshine in the movies. The weather is wholly unreliable, which foils many travelers’ ambitions for a dry early-season trip. Late summer and early fall typically yield the warmest sojourns (though the summers in general appear to be getting warmer), and this is also when Paris is most culturally active: The city unveils new exhibits and welcomes the return of the some of the most anticipated festivals. December and January provide a more festive experience, when Christmas markets line the well-heeled boulevards and twinkling lights illuminate the city’s boutiques.
All weather aside, there is hardly a bad time to visit Paris, rain or shine.
Whether you’re coming from within Europe or from farther afield, when you arrive at either of the city’s two airports—Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle or Orly—you’re a short train, bus, or cab ride away from the beating heart of Paris. The RER B, a regional rail line, is the swiftest way to reach the city center. The Roissy and Orly buses also drop off passengers in prime locations in the city for about $10 to $12. Taxis are convenient, but they can be costly. Plan ahead and try WeCab, a shared-car option that offers flat rates to and from the airport, and guarantees to get you there on time.
There are few international cities as eminently walkable as Paris. When your feet can no longer support your museum- and restaurant-hopping, the public transportation system offers an efficient and user-friendly way to link the city's many neighborhoods. Buses offer the best view, but le métro is the quickest and most reliable means to get to and from your destinations. If you own a smartphone, be sure to download the “Paris By Métro” app, which is accessible offline. If taxis aren’t viable for your budget, consider day or week passes to tour the city on two wheels with Vélib, the city’s successful bike-share program (reserve online).
Whether at the peak of summer or in the moodiness of a winter’s night, nothing elicits a chorus of oohs and ahs from locals like a leisurely after-dinner stroll across the city’s iconic bridges and along the banks of the Seine River. Amble across the Pont des Arts toward the Institut de France and continue along the docks of the river, watching the Bâteaux Mouches illuminate the river with their lights as they glide by. Keep wandering until you reach a spot to pause for an unobstructed view of a twinkling Eiffel Tower (every hour, on the hour, after sundown). It’s free and absolutely stunning at all times of year.
If time allows, you really shouldn't miss visiting The Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Musée d'Orsay, Sacré-Cœur, or taking a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens.
It is entirely possible to spend days roaming the marbled halls of the Louvre or walking from one fabled cobblestone street to another, but Paris is, above all, a city for insatiable lovers of wine and food. Mix the classic dining visionaries with the rising influence of young culinary talents, and you’ve got a rapidly evolving, deliriously delicious food-and-drink scene. The city’s hottest restaurants tend to have booking systems that are arcane at best and nonexistent at worst, so plan in advance to ensure that you snag a coveted table. Or just pull up a chair at a neighborhood café and watch the world go by.
Every international city has its iconic landmarks and cultural institutions. In Paris, most travelers would cite the Louvre as the must-visit art stop, but curious visitors should look beyond the usual suspects and explore the less-familiar names. The Musée de la Vie Romantique, the Jewish Art and History Museum, the Cinémathèque Française, and the Fondation Cartier are all distinct cultural highlights worth adding to your itinerary.
Go a little deeper into a fascinating chapter of 20th-century Parisian history with a historian-led Context walking tour that focuses on the city’s occupation by Nazi Germany, a time marked by unrest, bravery, and heroism.
Given the Parisians’ well-documented penchant for celebrating art, culture, and design in all its forms, you can count on a schedule of festivals and events that is packed year-round. From neighborhood street parades to larger-scale happenings like Paris Plage or Nuit Blanche, it’s worth planning your vacation around the city’s celebratory timetable.
Following these tips can mean the difference between a perfect trip and one marred by disagreements with locals, surly salespeople, and unmet expectations:
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Lindsey Tramuta is a freelance writer and award-winning blogger based in Paris, where she covers food, expat life, and travels in France and beyond. She has contributed to the New York Times, T Styles Magazine, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, and SmartPlanet (CBS), among other publications. When she's not eating her way around the world, she can be found behind a camera, and her musings are available on her blog, Lost in Cheeseland.
Sylvia Sabes is a French-American journalist and award-winning photographer who left her home in San Francisco to follow her heart to Paris. She contributes regularly to The Girls Guide to Paris and HIP Paris and is Resident Editor for LUXE city guides. As curator for Only in Paris, Sylvia spends every free moment uncovering what keeps her city unique. While she loves adventuring her way across the globe, Sylvia's particular passion is for Africa.