Despite having traveled to five continents and 30 or so countries, until recently our Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom had never visited Paris. With plane tickets in hand, she began to explore all the “not to be missed sights” in one of the world’s greatest cities. The possibilities were endless—and overwhelming. With so much art, history, luxury, food and iconic sights to explore, where would she begin? She shares with us her tips for first time visitors—tips that made her visit to Paris magical.

Beginner guide to Paris on TravelingMom

Bonjour Paris! A sight to behold. Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

Finally, a trip to Paris!

Paris is a city of unsurpassed luxury, treasured art, fascinating history, scrumptious cuisine and, of course, light. There’s so much to see and for first time visitors, choosing an itinerary can be daunting. Despite having traveled extensively, Paris had eluded me until recently. I’m one of those rare people who visited Antarctica before making it to Paris.

When I finally had the opportunity to explore the City of Lights, my time was limited. Even so, I was able to see the most iconic sights, experience a touch of luxury, delve into history and sample the fabulous cuisine. My beginner guide to Paris will make your visit less overwhelming and more magical!

Place Vendome in Paris - a beginner guide to Paris on TravelingMom

Place Vendome, history and the gateway to luxury shopping Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

Choose a Location That Works for You

Numerous luxury hotels are in the heart of the city. But if you’re working with budget constraints, consider renting a furnished apartment which can be found to suit every budget and taste. You’ll feel like a local in no time—and you won’t have to eat out for every meal. But remember, location is key. If you want to be close to the top attractions, opt for an apartment in a single-digit arrondissement or an apartment close to a Metro station. Whatever you do, don’t choose a chain hotel away from the city center. You may score a better rate, but you’ll spend much of your time commuting in and out of the city center.

I went with a luxury theme for my first visit to Paris, which included staying at Place Vendome in the city’s 1st arrondissement. Located in one of Paris’ most chic districts at the heart of the city, it was an ideal spot for strolls down the Champs-Élysées, picnics at the Tuileries Garden, afternoons exploring the Louvre and an abundance of luxury shopping.

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Palais Garnier in Paris - a beginner guide to Paris

Inside the grand Palais Garnier Opera House Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

A private tour guide is your ticket to the local’s viewpoint

Taking a walking tour with a private guide is an excellent way to get to know any city. Most guides will meet you at your hotel and walk you through the surrounding area. With an abundance of history, culture and cuisine throughout Paris, each neighborhood will provide unique insight into this beloved city.

Walking through the city with your guide is the ideal time to ask where the locals go to eat, play and shop. Locals always know how to find the best places at the best prices. By avoiding tourist laden restaurants and shops, you’ll have a more authentic Parisian experience and save money too.

The Louvre at night - beginner guide to Paris.

The Louvre, even lovelier at night! Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Traveling Grandmom

Have a strategy for conquering the most iconic sights

No first-time visit to Paris is complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre Museum. And you’re definitely going to want to stroll alongside the Seine River. But, of course, every other first-time tourist in Paris will be doing the same thing.

Consider purchasing the Paris Pass. Available for a single day or for multiple days, the passes provide entrance to the top tourist attractions and often include the option to bypass the long lines. The passes also offer an option for a river cruise on the Seine which provides a unique perspective on the City of Lights.

Even with the pass, top attractions are going to be crowded—it’s unavoidable. Sure you want to see the Louvre, but it’s important to realize you can’t see it all unless you’re staying for days and doing nothing else. Do your research beforehand and plan a strategy to see the works that are most important to you. If those works include the Mona Lisa, get there when the museum opens before the crowds have a chance to grow or consider going later in the day just before the museum closes.

Getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower for a view overlooking the city comes at a price—an hours-long wait in line. Skip it and head to the top of the Arc de Triomphe instead. From there you’ll have that view overlooking the city you crave. And, you’ll also have a view of the one thing you can’t see from the Eiffel Tower—the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower at midnight - beginner guide to Paris on TravelingMom

Treat yourself to an unforgettable memory

Paris delivers special memories in abundance—and sometimes those memories are worth the expense. If shopping is your thing, go find that fashion label you’ve been eyeing. If you’re a committed foodie, book a table at one of the many Michelin-Starred restaurants. Satisfy your sweet tooth with macarons from Pierre Hermé, éclairs from L’Éclair de Génie, or hot chocolate at Angelina. Or, embrace the ambiance: Hire a car to drive through the city at midnight after the majority of tourists are tucked into bed.

My driver chauffeured me to the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, down Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Ultimately we arrived at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I knew I had found that one special memory I would treasure forever. I had seen Paris at its most lovely—illuminated in tens of thousands of sparking lights. It was pure magic.