Parents in Paris: Ideas for first time visitors
I can’t begin to describe the pure joy of having my mom and dad visit me in France in October. They have always been two of my biggest supporters when it comes to my love of all things French, and to have the opportunity to show them first hand what this passion is all about for me was an experience I will always cherish.
With nine full days in France, six of which would be spent in Paris, I set to work dreaming up plans for all that I wanted to show them. I’m a fan of organizing Paris visits by arrondissement so that most of the day can be spent experiencing the city on foot as true flâneurs. This is how I tackled planning for my parents, first time visitors of Paris and France. My plans mixed the old and the new and will hopefully be helpful for other first time visitors to the city of light and love!
6th and 7th arrondissements
We stayed at the Cler Hotel on Rue Cler. I highly recommend it! This small hotel has a lovely staff and a small terrace perfect for relaxing evenings with a bottle of wine, some cheese, and a baguette which can be easily picked up at the many specialty shops all along this pedestrian street. We spent several nights on the terrace with our new friends Arcy and John from California. I love connecting with fellow travelers and now we still keep in touch, one of the great things about social media!
Bonus: From our room we could even see the Eiffel Tower! It was the tippy top, but an Eiffel Tower view none the less.
We kept our first evening simple with a walk to Champ de Mars to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle with twinkling lights which it does every hour on the hour after dark. Another option: take the Métro to Trocadero and catch the show from the other side of the Seine. Quel spectacle!
The next morning we started our day at the iconic Café de Flore, once frequented by great artists and writers including Picasso and Hemingway.
From here we worked our way back through the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood to one of my Paris favorites, La Grande Épicerie. This humongous grocery has so many offerings and features items from all over the world. The United States section is pretty funny with Jet Puffed marshmallow fluff and Reeses galore. If you’ve got a nice day, it would be lovely to put together a picnic and take it to the Jardin du Luxembourg, another must see spot in the 6th (The Medici Fountain is so beautiful).
We made our way to the Musée Rodin which had been on my Paris bucket list. It was important to me to show my parents places I already knew I loved, as well as to experience new places for the first time together. We were all surprised to learn that The Thinker in the museum’s garden is not the original, and that many casts exist around the world. This most famous cast wasn’t even done by Rodin himself, thought he did oversee its creation. The original Thinker was about 27 inches tall and a part of Rodin’s Gates of Hell designed for an art museum that was never built.
1st arronidissement, Île de la Cité, and Île Saint Louis
I adored our day in the 1st. We walked to the Louvre where we enjoyed the incredible view of the Arc du Triomphe du Carousel lined up with le Jardin des Tuileries, the obelisk in the center of Place de la Concorde, and the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Élysées. It may be a surprise that we did not go into the Louvre but this was a choice we made to avoid crowds and gain more time out and about. I have grown to become more comfortable with the fact that you simply cannot do it all and choices have to be made. I think its important to prioritize what means the most to you personally, and that will be different for everyone!
I was so excited to show my parents one of my absolute favorites, the Jardin du Palais Royal.
While we were lucky to have beautiful weather, I’ll still never turn down an opportunity to dip into Angelina on Rue de Rivoli for a mug of the decadent chocolat chaud à l’ancienne dit «l’Africain». This is the perfect pause during a busy day of site seeing and was frequent by Coco Chanel!
The 1st borders the Seine which gives you easy access to both Île de la Cité and Île Saint Louis. We enjoyed an awesome dinner at Le Saint Regis on Île Saint Louis (the steak with pepper sauce + fries is my favorite) before crossing the bridge to Île de la Cité for a special event.
The Dame de Coeur light show has taken place at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris each fall since 2017. It is an incredible 25 minutes of sound and light that ends with an opportunity to enter the cathedral for a special evening visit with colorful lighting. Oh, and it’s FREE! Shout out to mon amie Cheryl who told us about this event. It was such a unique way to experience Notre Dame and I hope it continues in 2019!
Montmartre (the 18th)
We lucked out and got yet another beautiful day to climb the stairs to the highest point in Paris. My mom and dad champed out the uphill hike (and I should include myself here - it’s no joke!) and we rewarded ourselves with overpriced Diet Cokes when we reached the top. Worth it!
I was so eager for my parents to stand in front of Sacré Coeur at Square Louise Michel and take in some of my absolute favorite views of the city.
We spent the next couple of days visiting Amiens, my French city. We returned to Paris at the end of their visit, this time staying on the other side of the city at Place de la République. This had us better situated to explore my absolute favorite neighborhood….Le Marais!
Le Marais (3rd and 4th)
Our first activity back in the city sprinkled in something new: dinner at Big Love, part of the Big Mamma Group restaurants in Paris. This was another item on my Paris bucket list and I finally had people to try it with me! Big Love opens at 7:00, but I recommend getting there about a half an hour early. A line begins to form by the door and this is the best way to be sure you’re seated in the first group! All of the pizzas at Big Love are gluten free and the pastas I’ve tried are so so good (I’ve been back since…)! I know it’s not what you picture eating when you think of Paris, but if you’re open to shaking things up it's a great option.
Our final day together started with brunch at Café Hugo across from Place des Vosges. It was warm enough to sit outside under the arcades, and the view of the park was stunning!
And of course Café Hugo gets its name as it is steps away from Victor Hugo’s apartment which overlooks the lovely Place des Vosges. We popped in for a visit. I loved being in the room where classics like Les Misérables were imagined.
I didn't list every lunch & dinner spot here for a reason. Several were just places that caught our eye as we walked by, and I think leaving room for spontaneity is an important part of any travel itinerary. That said, I hope some of the places and spaces described here can be a jumping off point for planning your first (or next) visit to Paris. Whatever your plans or discoveries may be, I hope they bring a smile to your face like our visit to Paris brought us.
Warm wishes and lots of Paris inspiration from me to you!