To celebrate 10 years of marriage Brooks and I mapped out a European adventure to check off some of our bucket list spots. I decided to write our story city by city so that as we revisit cities or our kids start to travel we can all look back and use this guide. Also I’m not saying I’m a pro, but I’m hoping that some of our travels can help you as well! We loved all the areas we visited and feel we planned it very well so that there was a perfect mix of busy and down time. Plus we did the trip way cheaper than if we had used a travel agent. Actually for like 1/3 of the cost!! Making us more likely to return in the near future.
First up is Paris! I j’adore this city. It was our first stop, and my first time in Europe, so my head was on a swivel. Every building was old and art itself. Every smell so compelling. Every step felt like a dream come true. I couldn’t get over all the beautifully dressed people riding bikes and vespas. My first sight upon arrival was the Arc de Triomphe, absolutely jaw dropping. Everything is much larger in person, and you just can’t get over the exquisite details! Good thing Paris was an easy direct flight from Chicago, cause I’m already planning a trip back for my 35th birthday, if not sooner.
- Buy a couple European outlet adaptors before you travel, or in the airport. Our phones would die so quickly when we were out and about. We were able to charge them at many of the cafes while we shared a snack or a drink.
- Rent a portable wifi hotspot for the duration of your trip. For less than $10 a day we had constant internet at our finger tips. This allowed us to facetime whenever, check our emails, bank accounts, social media all on a secure network, and use google maps for walking directions. We also used it for gps and pandora in the car!
- Be prepared for the culture. In Paris there will more than likely be smoking all around you. It was one of the biggest culture shocks from America to France. Everyone there smokes, and they do it EVERYWHERE.
- Bring your own headphones. I suggest the type that you can share, like each person takes a bud. This is for sharing audio tours.
- No real need to tip here. They get a bit spoiled by our American culture, but it is not part of theirs. Overtipping is very uneccisary and seen as culturally ignorant. If anything simply round up your bill for exceptional service.
- Don’t be surprised if the french people seem rude. Again, part of their culture. By happy hour things will all seem a bit different.
Where to Stay:
We chose to stay in an Airbnb in this city because there were so many options. My criteria was: walking distance to the eiffel tower and a high rise view. I also didn’t want to overpay for lush amenities here since I knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room. There are so many options, so you have to search. And remember some places have a minimum night stay. Here are some of my favs! Here, here, and here.
I loved that our flat was a little out of the touristy area. We had dinner the first night on our side of town, and it just may have been my favorite. We sat cozied up between all the french folks on a typical friday night on the town. In Paris all the tables are outdoors and turned towards the road. It’s so chic. Walking up and down the streets full of cafes with everyone laughing and interacting. It just sucks you right in.
Though I loved our choice, next time I think I would stay somewhere on the north side of the Seine in the 2nd arrondissement. Particularly near Notre Dame or the Lourve. This seems to be very central to everything that we wanted to do. We also stumbled upon a really happening area there that we returned to multiple times for socializing, drinks, and dinner.
Where to play
- Shop the Germain de Pres area. By far my favorite over the famed Champs Elysees.
- Don’t miss happy hour or Apéro. The french eat differently than us, and pretty much plan their meals around their cigarette breaks. Around 5 pm it’s social hour and the french flock to the bars and cafes for drink and a nibble, which may or may not end up being their dinner. We found a street in the 2nd arrondissement that we loved and returned two nights in a row. We typically didn’t end up eating a real meal till around 9 pm.
- Skip the Louvre and head to Musee d’Orsay. I mean if you’ve come all that way and have never seen the Mona Lisa it really would be a shame. Although, she really isn’t anything to write home about. Musee d’Orsay has a lot more of the modern paintings and sculptures.
- Buy the audio tours. The walking group tours are just time consuming. The audio tours of each museum will only set you back about an extra 7 euro and can be shared between two people with the right kind of headphones.
- Rent the city bikes! I highly highly recommend this! For less than one euro, yes ONE euro, a day you can rent bikes to hop on and ride from spot to spot. Just make sure you understand the bike and bus lanes or you may find yourself getting cussed out in french! (Brooks just sat back laughing).
- Take a late night stroll to the Eiffel tower. Grab a couple local beers from a Tobac shop to avoid paying high prices from street vendors near le tower.
- At the top of every hour at night the tower sparkles for 5 minutes. Don’t miss a chance to see this up close and personal. So so romantic.
- Stay in a spot with a rooftop balcony. Or sleep with the windows wide open. Take in all the sounds of a Paris night.
- Macarons from Laduree. Very cliche but very yummy. Just stick to macarons and tea, the rest of the menu is overpriced and mediocre at best.
- View/take pictures of the Eiffel tower from Trocadero.
- Picnic in the Luxembourg gardens.
Favorite little details
- French mustard
- Street seating at every Cafe
- Happy hour
- Living like a local
- Cheaper prices on European designers
- Colored doors and unique buildings
A moment I never want to forget is on our last evening we were zooming through the city on our bikes like we lived there for months. I watched Brooks navigate us around the now familiar streets or Rues as they call them. We felt so alive and so young at heart. We were just beginning our 2 week journey and had so much ahead to look forward to. Having just met up with a familiar face, our wedding photographer from Fort Wayne, IN our hearts were so full and spirits blessed. I can’t even explain the thrill of this moment in time. But it was so so good.
Paris truly is the city of love. I could literally feel my heart beating faster with each step I took. I’m so glad we decided to dive head first into the french culture, because ooh la la amour!! Now on to Switzerland….