It is, of course, about our time in the incredibly, insanely beautiful city of Paris, where we spent ten days in June. Enjoy!
Visit the Eiffel Tower at night, as well as during the day. After sunset, the tower is lit up until 1am (2am in summer), but the really special part is the lightshow, which happens within the first five minutes of the hour, every hour and lasts for ten minutes. My bestie and I were completely speechless as we sat and ate macarons (from Laduree, of course), surrounded by so many couples enjoying a romantic night and groups of friends having picnics.
Take the stairs option when visiting the Eiffel Tower. We were first in line for this entrance and got in bang on opening time. I can't be certain, but I think it's because not many people would enjoy walking up 674 steps to the second level. I know we certainly didn't, but there are landings along the way to stop and catch your breath. Once you reach the second level, you can simply stay there and admire the view, or you can buy a separate ticket to take the lift to the top.
Aside from having a shorter line, the stairs option will also save you a bit of money. I think we each saved about 5 euro each, which doesn't sound like much but it definitely adds up.
Take advantage of the free entry days/times at the Louvre. Admission is free for all on the first Sunday of every month, however be aware that this means it literally becomes a free-for-all. What we did though, was visit between 6pm and 9.45pm on Friday night when entry is free for anyone of any nationality as long as you're under the age of 26. Even if you don't fit this description, I would still recommend visiting on either Wednesday or Friday nights when they are open late, as we ended up having some rooms to ourselves while most tourists are eating dinner or sitting in their hotel rooms.
Also, be sneaky and find the carousel entrance off Rue de Rivoli to shorten your wait time.
Book your ticket to Versailles either on their website or purchase it at Versailles train station. This ensures that you will get straight through without having to line up behind the hundreds of people who also chose that perfect spring day to visit. While I'm on this topic, also try to get there before or at opening time. The Hall of Mirrors tends to lose it's magnificence when it is filled wall-to-wall with people, all multiplied by two due to their reflections.
Find a perfect day, buy some perfect French pastries and choose the perfect spot to sit and relax in one of Paris' many parks and gardens. While I ate many a perfect pastry in our apartment, we also chose our last day in Paris to enjoy some in the Jardin des Tuileries. We bathed in the afternoon summer sun, got a little bit sunburnt and people watched until it was pretty much dinner time.
Take a short train and tram trip out into the 'burbs and visit the Basilica of Saint Denis. Here you will not only find some incredible tomb effigies of many royals and important lords and ladies, but underground in the crypt lies the remains of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, which was something I was extremely excited about. In the adjoining room, you will also find a recess in the wall which houses a glass jar. Inside this glass jar lies the heart of Louis XVII (Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's young son). Fascinating stuff, if that's your thing!
Walk, walk, walk! Everywhere! Your feet may hate you, but Paris is best enjoyed on foot. It is also the perfect place to get lost and wander, spending hours or even days enjoying the fine art of doing nothing. Just make sure you take a map with you on the off chance that you do get completely lost and frantic.
Approach people and start talking in English. I know it gets said constantly, but it will not be well-received. The French always get labelled as rude and obnoxious, but it's usually by people who don't respect their culture. It would be the same as a tourist from a non-English speaking country approaching you on the street and speaking in their language, which you'd most likely find rude yourself.
You certainly don't need to be fluent (I'm definitely not), but learning the basics such as "bonjour" (good day), "au revoir" (farewell), "s'il vous plait" (please), and "merci" (thank you) will do wonders. If all else fails, remember the all-important "parlez-vous anglais?" (do you speak English?).
Fall victim to the many scams that appear around the place. These include the 'Gold Ring Scam' and also people carrying clipboards around tourist areas (especially the Eiffel Tower) who will approach you one after the other asking if you speak English (in English). I found the best option was to reply "non" with my best accent. This is not to say that you should be paranoid about these things, as so much information on the internet can make you feel a bit anxious about it. Just have a bit of a Google or look on Trip Advisor and research what you may come across so that you're alert, but not alarmed.
Be too paranoid about pickpockets, which kind of links in with my last point above. Before we went to Paris, I had read so much on the internet about how bad the pickpocketing is and basically that you're guaranteed to have it happen to you. I was scared to the point of paranoia and was actually dreading it a little bit. Yes, people do get pickpocketed, but again it is best to be alert but not alarmed. Unfortunately, looking overly paranoid can actually make you a target.
Just be safe and smart in crowded areas and you really won't have an issue.
Stress too much about looking like a tourist, as this tends to be something that people get all anxious about when visiting the fashion capital of the world. Regardless of what you wear, they're still going to know that you are one when they hear you speak or see you pull out a map, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. In saying this, please do not walk around wearing white running shoes, cargo shorts and a polar-fleece jumper. There are more attractive ways to stay comfortable.
Forget that nearly all shops close on Sundays. Even the big ones.
Our second full day in Paris just happened to be a Sunday, so I'd planned for us to visit the huge Galeries Lafayette department store, which I thought for sure would be open. No dice.
It doesn't mean your time needs to be wasted though. Spend your Sundays relaxing and taking in the ambiance and the beauty that is Paris.
First and most important tip: Skip Champs-Elysees. Sure, walk down it once or twice just to say you've walked down there, but unless you're looking to shop (aka. queue up) at the flagship Louis Vuitton store, give it a miss.
Any other store (Zara, H&M, Mango etc) can be found elsewhere in Paris (Rue de Rivoli) and you can enjoy your shopping experience without being surrounded by swarms of tourists.
If the designer threads are your thang, then not only do I want you to adopt me, but you should head down Rue Saint Honore and surrounding streets in the 1st arrondissement around Palais Royale and Place Vendome. Here you'll find Hermes, Saint Laurent, Versace, Gucci, John Galliano and Miu Miu, to name a very select few.
Just a little bit further north of this area, you'll find Paris' best department store, Galeries Lafayette (located on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement). Standing at a massive 10 floors, this place will cost you a pretty penny if you choose to buy anything, but it is well worth the browsing session.
If you're more interested in unique, quirky boutiques, your best option is to take a few hours of your afternoon and stroll around the beautiful Marais area. These beautiful narrow streets are packed full of great fashion, homewares and also food.
In the surrounding areas you will also find some of Paris' best vintage shops. I took the liberty of pre-planning these for myself, so I luckily have a record of them to pass onto all you lovely people. Addresses are below:
12-16 Rue Tiquetonne
21 Rue de Temple
3 Rue de Turbigo
20 Rue de Rivoli
2 Rue de la Verrerie
32 Rue des Rosiers
There are loads more in the general area which I unfortunately didn't note down, but if you take my advice and stroll through the area then you're sure to run into them. Also take a wander around the area where Centre Georges Pompidou is, as there are a couple of other shops lurking around.
In terms of flea markets, there are really two main ones in Paris. One is the weekend market at Porte de Vanves, which I had heard great things about. We personally found it disappointing, but we were looking for vintage clothing more than anything. The market didn't really deliver on that, but it would be an absolute dream for antique and homewares hunting, as we saw so many knick-knacks for our house that we simply couldn't purchase due to luggage restrictions.
The other main flea market is the St-Ouen de Clignancourt, which is best visited on the weekends as all the stores will be open.
This particular place used the term 'flea market' very, very loosely. It is in fact an enormous area consisting of tiny little alleyways made up entirely of antique and vintage stores.
Each section of the area has its own name and tends to specialise in certain things. It is highly recommended that you download a map from the website before heading out there so that you can plan which areas you want to see. This should indicate just how big we're talking here.
It is definitely more geared towards serious antique-buyers and most of the vintage clothing is designer, so you may struggle to find any bargains. In saying this, my bestie walked away with some very reasonably-priced vintage garments from a shop on the fringes of the market.
Important note regarding the St-Ouen de Clignancourt: When you get off at the metro station, you will turn to walk down a main road and under an overpass. You will start to notice market stalls. Do not stop. This is not the market you're looking for.
Hundreds of stalls have set up shop in the area just next to the actual market, selling their cheap, tacky, mass-produced crap, and my research on the internet tells me that many people fall victim to going there and thinking that they've seen the real market. Do not make this mistake! Keep walking, and about 100m up the road you will find what you're looking for.
Also: ignore, ignore, ignore the men on the street trying to sell you jewellery/sunglasses/phones. Just shake your head "no" and keep walking. This would also be a good place to keep a hold of your belongings.