first impressions on my paris trip

My Impressions On My First Paris Trip

Paris is an odd one for me. Similar to Amsterdam, it took me a while to warm up to it. This didn’t stop me though from exploring Paris’ streets and sights. Roaming the streets filled with cafés and delicious patisserie shops, I warmed up to it and learned to appreciate the city’s culture and lifestyle. Overall, my first Paris trip was good, but I had some reservations. It included some serious expectations vs reality moments. Here are my top 9 impressions from my first Paris trip:

The Prestigious Louvre Museum In Paris

The art museum is impressive inside and out. Arriving at the famous pyramid and stepping into a whole new art world was an exciting experience in itself. The collection is perfectly curated and I wandered around for 4.5h. There are all sorts of treasures from Europe and afar and sometimes you have to fight for a good spot to see them.

I saw the Mona Lisa, The French Revolution and the Venus de Milo and it didn’t stop there. The museum’s wide spaces are filled from bottom to ceiling with incredible pieces. Most of the rooms are artwork themselves. I would say the detail and rich presentation resembled those of the Vatican interior. The main attractions are very busy but the rest of the museum is wide-stretched.

I would recommend buying a fast track ticket in advance to skip long queues. It’ll cost around 17€ (£15). 

Did You Know: There’s free admission to the museum for any EEA resident under the age of 26.

tourists around the mona lisa louvre paris
Tourists queuing in front of the Mona Lisa painting at The Louvre
treasure chest islamic exhibition louvre paris
A treasure chest with intricate carvings displayed at The Louvre
painting and art at the louvre paris

The main area and information centre is located right under the glass pyramid. This section can also be reached from a second entrance, which is less busy than the common route via the pyramid.

TIP: Try to access the museum through the shopping centre entrance on the Rue de Rivoli. The side entrance allows you to skip the long queues at the pyramid.

Run Down Streets & Poverty

Unpopular opinion coming your way, but I found Paris scruffy. Unlike Rome, it is not picturesque and in some parts, it reminded me heavily of London. Before my Paris trip, people would rave about the city’s’ unrivalled elegance and luxury. I found it hard to see the glamour as the streets were dirty and many houses lacked interesting features.

Street after street looked the same. You may find some of the enchanting glamour around the Champs-Élysées, but apart from that the French chic and elegance that so many people told me about, seemed completely gone. Paris has some heavily neglected areas. Police patrols and constant controls dominate the everyday picture and still, I never felt 100% secure. In Rome, there are street sellers which were a bit annoying but in Paris, there are entire families living on the street. It’s very heart-breaking and intense to see but unfortunately a very, very common picture in Paris.

French Patisserie & Cakes

Paris won me over with its diverse and extensive variety of cakes – it is a paradise! There’s a patisserie waiting for you at every corner with delicious cakes, colourful macaroons, fancy profiteroles and fluffy pastries. Top addresses for exquisite Parisian treats are Café Angelina and Café Pouchkine.

angelina cafe cake in paris
Delicate cake served at Angelia Cafe
cafe pouchkine paris cake
Extravagant cake from Café Pouchkine

Both serve top-notch quality delights and Café Angelina has the most indulgent hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted – thick and creamy, with a rich but not overpowering chocolatey taste and a smooth milky finish. The average price for the cakes are 10€ but there’s enough to share and the quality is out of this world.

I had a chocolatey treat with a heavenly filling which was handcrafted and presented stunningly. Café Pouchkine can be found with a few branches all over the city and they serve gorgeous cakes. Did I share? Erm…I don’t think so.

Dining Out In Paris Is Pricey

Whilst the food prices in European capitals seem to be similar, the quality of food varies tremendously. 25€ on average per person seems to be common. Whilst I treated myself to a 23€ dinner at a Michelin-guided restaurant in Amsterdam, for the same price I got an average and small pasta meal in Rome.

Wherever you go in Paris however, you get really nice and tasty food from an international food scene. There are Italian restaurants, street food, French cuisine, the usual fast food establishments but more importantly small cafés and hidden-away restaurants serving quality food. I was surprised how diverse and manifold the food scene was and you don’t have to worry to be starving in Paris. There’s literally food for everyone, which leads me to my next point:

Parisian Casual Dining Is Phenomenal

I found two little gems in Paris for my favourite food: Burger Joint near the Centre Pompidou is a very small place that serves goats cheeseburgers. The combination of the dominant goat’s cheese and the sweet savoury taste of a medium-rare cooked beef medallion was heavenly. The prices are very moderate as you can get a massive burger with fries and a drink for 12€ (£9).

Next on the list is Pizzeria Popolare on the Rue Réaumur, Paris’ hottest place to go out according to its long queue which regularly grows down the entire street. It’s no surprise, as its colourful display made up of booze bottles and warm lighting will attract visitors from miles away.

pizza restaurant popolare paris
Pizza served at Restaurant Popolare in Paris

A place that radiates so much warmth and cosiness needs to be checked out, right? I did so on my last day as every time I walked past it before, the long queue told me to come back later. The place gets really busy around lunchtime (come before 12pm) and shortly after 6pm.

I managed to get a seat without waiting too long and I saw why this place is so popular. It is a super cosy restaurant with a vibrant atmosphere. They serve traditional Italian food with prices as little as 5€ (for pizza and 18€ for pasta) and the plates are loaded with goodness. The service was super friendly and quick which allows a high turn around and people actually don’t have to wait too long to be seated. On your way out you should check out the bathrooms which have a quirky touch and a photo booth!

Walking Around Paris Feels Like A Marathon

Paris is spacious and there seems to be no clear structure. The sights are widespread in all directions, some are in random places like the Eiffel Tower, so you should be prepared for very long walking distances. I made it to an impressive 75 miles over a 5 day period on top of my Amsterdam mileage. After a while, you’re just knackered so you decide to use the tube system which is pretty chaotic.

paris view from the louvre
The Eiffel Tower looks close, but is quite a walk away

Pure Chaos: The Parisian Tube System

The map is all over the place and I felt lost a few times. To me, the lines made no sense and it took me a good while to figure out where everything was and where to go.

I heard a lot of people raving about the incredible art nouveau style of the Parisian underground but I felt most of its charm and glamour had gone. The stations felt monotonous and uniform. There are long distances to walk when interchanging (similar to the Bank/Monument walk) and there are barely escalators to speed things up.

A quick trip to the Eiffel Tower becomes then a ten stop journey, which is half of my daily commute in London and keep in mind you’re still in zone 1 of Paris! The tickets are cheaper though. A single one-way fare came 1.45€ which is not too bad given the fact it is valid for one hour after validation.

The Eiffel Tower At Night

The highlight of my Paris trip was seeing the Eiffel Tower at Night. The building is alright in the daytime, but it becomes impressive as soon as it gets dark and all the lights come on. When I went to see it, it was a warm (summer) night with no breeze but a clear sky and the moon to its fullest. Some stars shone brightly and the view from the Seine was spectacular. It was a great atmosphere standing there and just taking it all in. A beautiful moment and I can only imagine how stunning the Tower must look from afar.

eiffel tower at night in paris
The Eiffel Tower at night

Explore Cemeteries & Neighbourhoods

My journey through the city brought me to different areas which showed me a diverse face of Paris. The north is worth exploring. I stayed at the hotel Best Western Opera Faubourg which wasn’t too far from Moulin Rouge. One day I decided to walk to Moulin Rouge and saw it from the outside. I decided to continue walking and ended up at the Montmartre Cemetery. This is one of the big four cemeteries of Paris where famous physicians, composers and scientists rest in peace.

It was a beautiful sunny day and exploring the grounds gave me a little chill down my spine. The cemetery is free to visit and wandering through the old mausoleums and crypts was a unique experience. The place itself is impressive and atmospheric. Whilst you wander around you’ll find inscriptions or plates and learn more about the people who are buried here. If you have the chance please don’t miss out on this unique and haunting experience.

cimetriere de montmarte north cemetry paris
Cemetery in Montmartre
cimetiere de montmarte grave paris
Graves and crypts at the cemetery Montmartre

Just a short 15 minute walk uphill to the northwest, you’ll find the impressive Sacre Coeur church. The area with its narrow streets is filled with life: there are cute little cafés to sit down on the street and watch life go by.

It is a bit touristy but it has flair as if you found one of the long-lost Parisian boroughs that still maintained their French vibe and character. There are street sellers, artists and handcrafts to purchase. You walk past little vineyards and chic French houses before you can walk up the many stairs of the church and appreciate the magnificent views of the city.

Another area that I liked, but is located in the touristy part of Paris is the area Les Halles. This is an area popular for shopping but very nice and full of life. The Rue Montorgueil is a food mile with lots of restaurants and unique little places which I can recommend strolling along.

notre dame paris with cherry tree in blossom
Notre Dame in bloom

Near the station, Les Halles is the church La Pointe Saint Eustache which is equally as stunning as Notre Dame. There’s also a big underground shopping centre hosting a Sephora and two of my recent discoveries, NafNaf and Oysho. Only a little walk to the west you’ll find the Centre Pompidou (stop at Burger Joint) and walk afterwards towards the South to pass Notre Dame. It is a very nice area, especially on a sunny day with an ice cream in your handmade for a treasuring memory.

My first Paris trip was ok and it has certainly left an impression on me. I don’t think Paris is “my city”. I can’t point my finger on it why, but I would be open to learning more about Paris and come back one day. I think Paris advertises itself really well as this glamourous city when it is not. I guess the really cool corners are off the beaten path and in the nearby arrondisments. as I often felt its vibe was a bit off and my energies weren’t being off. So I doubt I’ll rush to come back here any time soon. However, I’ve given the city a chance and its cake culture resonated deeply with me. I’m open to hearing your suggestions and impressions from your Paris trip.

Thanks for reading, if you’d like to support the blog & my research you can do so via Buy Me a Coffee.

Till next time,

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  • Reply
    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    2 March 2021 at 9:43 pm

    This brought back a lot of memories as I felt exactly the same about Paris! I liked parts of it, and aspects of it, but on the whole I wasn’t that taken with it? I totally agree that it’s “scruffy”, that’s a great word for it! And that really surprised me because it wasn’t what I expected at all. And wow, 75 miles of walking!! That’s impressive. I agree that the metro system is confusing though, so I kinda wish we’d walked a lot more. I’d love to go back because although I’m not a massive fan, it was also one of the first cities I ever went to and I’d like to see how my opinion has changed now that I’m older and more versed in life and travel?

  • Reply
    JoJo Hall
    2 March 2021 at 10:15 pm

    Great post! Thank you for your honest experience and opinions of Paris! When I visited there back in 2015 I thought it was a bit dirty and overrun with refugees. But I was just thankful to have the opportunity to visit here and still managed to enjoy my time there! Overall, it’s not my favorite city

  • Reply
    3 March 2021 at 12:06 am

    I totally agree. Travelling around to a number of different cities often I think Paris and Rome are properly over rated. Quite grubby. Packed tourist attractions you can’t properly see and have to pay a fortune for and get to and full of people trying to scam you of money selling tourist tat or trying to charge you for a picture.

    If you can find the nice parts it’s great… but they are getting harder and harder

  • Reply
    Paul (Paul Passing Through)
    31 January 2022 at 11:01 pm

    It’s so funny how expectations frame trips. I went in to Paris not expecting much (just want my cup of tea for whatever reason) so I loved it. I thought everything was so beautiful. I also imagine coming from America where there is lots of homelessness and there tends to be a lot of litter and poor infrastructure helped me to not realize those things you pointed out. I’m glad you were able to enjoy it in the end, though!

  • Reply
    1 February 2022 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting post. I can definitely relate. I’ve only been twice.dor day trips so my experience is limited but each time I was massively underwhelmed..The poverty and number of beggars is astounding and saddening.

    Really I think the French are great at self promotion. The best city, best food, best language and so on. I feel Paris reputation isn’t deserved at all. I think London is much better and I don’t say it simply because I am from here. Its so more romantic!

    Great read 🙂

  • Reply
    3 November 2022 at 7:12 am

    A pretty good summary of Paris. I don’t think your opinion about the poverty and dirty streets is unpopular at all, it’s pretty much what every first time visitor says about Paris. I was equally shocked to see that in Brussels as well. I also found and still find the metro system very confusing and I’ve been to Paris at least 10 times lol. But the food and pretty cafes are quite unparallel and like every city in my opinion, it does grow on you after one visit once you’ve done all the touristy stuff and start to discover the hidden gems.

  • Reply
    3 November 2022 at 11:17 am

    thank you thank you thank you! I did not really enjoy Paris overall. I feel like people have starry eyes when it comes to Paris – and like you said there are great things about it, but overall I wasn’t in love with it. Maybe our personalities just don’t match Paris’ which is fine – there are plenty of cities to see in the world. However, I would happily pay any day for Parisian pastries and cakes.

  • Reply
    Ângela Santos
    3 November 2022 at 7:28 pm

    I must confess that I have a love/hate relationship with Paris. It will never be my first choice as a city to visit, in fact I find it very overrated. It’s probably me who created too high an expectation, but the fact is that I can’t love Paris. I like some parts of it, but not the generality.
    I always appreciate your honest opinion in what you write, the “unpopular” opinion.

  • Reply
    3 November 2022 at 8:29 pm

    Oooh great post. I appreciate your honest about your first impression! I *hated* Paris when I first visited, but I’ve been back several times and I’m starting to warm up to it; I think it’s hard when so many people love it, it sets the bar very high and it just can’t meet expectations. But as you say, there are some wonderful parts to the city, like the casual dining and of course the Eiffel Tower, and it’s worth going back!

  • Reply
    4 November 2022 at 12:15 am

    I havent been to Paris but my parents would tend to agree with you. They weren’t impressed at all which is maybe the reason I’ve had no desire to go. I definitely would love the food and seeing the eiffel tower at night sounds beautiful too

  • Reply
    4 November 2022 at 9:38 pm

    I’m with you all the way on Paris. I’ve been there probably around 10 times and whilst it was fun and chic 20 years ago, today it is as you described in many areas. The poverty, graffiti, dirt and lack of civic pride are things that deter me from going back. My last visit 3 years ago put the seal on it. I do get the charm of certain areas and the wonderful architecture in others, but as a whole it doesn’t float my boat. I understand that some love it as I love places that so may seem to hate (Chisinau in Moldova comes to mind). I guess it’s just about expectations and reality versus dream.

  • Reply
    8 November 2022 at 9:35 am

    I’m in the minority here, as you know how much I adore Paris. It’s my home away from home. I’ve been 8 times. It was love at first sight for me. I can’t explain why, but it’s the culture that I love- the streets, the gardens, the food, the way of life. When I go to Paris, I don’t do anything touristy. I’ve seen it all, so I really get to spend my time doing nothing and that’s when I really fell in love with it. But yes, it is gritty. There are some areas of Paris that aren’t pretty. But I look past that and accept that as part of its charm. We need to do Paris one day together. My Paris. Oh, and yes agree with you about Pizzeria Popolare on rue Réaumur – it is that good!

  • Reply
    9 November 2022 at 9:37 pm

    How you feel about Paris is kind of how I felt about Amsterdam. I found it busy, haotic, a little set seedy in places and I’m not really rushing to go back. Paris on the other hand I love. And I have been so many times and will continue to go every opportunity I get. I think the magic is there for me. The first time I went I walked everywhere so I get what you mean about the distance. I think the key for me enjoying it so much is to have no expectations or big plans but to just enjoy the city, walking, sitting in cafes, reading a book by the river. It wouldn’t be good if we all liked the same thing though

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