Paris, the not-so-secret star of many songs, books, and films, is also featured on many peoples’ travel bucket lists. Summer in Paris is so notoriously hot that the Parisians flee the city and go North or South. But as a student on a budget, it still is the best time to visit the city of love because you can spend the entire day outside and – since you don’t need to worry about keeping warm, on the contrary – you can make that supermarket near you your best friend and basically live off sandwiches and fruit. Just make sure you bring enough sun cream, a sufficiently big water bottle, and a hat to keep your head safe from sunburn (yes, you will look like a massive tourist, but if that’s the highest price you have to pay for getting to see all those monuments, so be it).
A vital part of going to Paris is keeping your own expectations in check so you don’t end up with Paris Syndrome, especially if this is your first visit to the city. Paris isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – and I say that very lovingly, as someone who has been to the French capital a couple of times, and who enjoys going back there every single time. But just as a heads up, real Paris looks (or smells) nothing like the dreamy and ridiculously romantic city shown in films like Ratatouille, Midnight in Paris, Moulin Rouge, Before Sunset or Amélie. The city is noisy, it is dirty, and it gets so hot you will have yet another reason to look forward to each new museum you can enter. The metro is always packed with people, and around particularly famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, poor souls gather in the hopes of making a living by peddling off cheap souvenirs to tourists for astronomic prices.
Parisians are also notoriously rude to tourists who don’t speak French. However, this is arguably more about attitudes than actual language skills. Of course, the locals don’t really appreciate it when millions of people come waltzing into their city without even making so much as an effort to speak French and simply expect everyone around them to speak English. So do yourself a favour and brush up on your school French before the trip. A little “Excusez-moi”, “Merci beaucoup” or (if you’re feeling brave) “Bonne journée” can go a long way, and as somebody who speaks French, I can say that people in Paris have always been nice to me.
You’ll be able to connect the little dots and pieces of information you encounter on your visit so you have a full picture by the time you leave
A trip to Paris is also a voyage into French history, since the past of the country and that of its capital are so closely intertwined. That is why it definitely pays off to read up on French history (even if it’s just half an hour of Wikipedia research on the train). That way you’ll be able to connect the little dots and pieces of information you encounter on your visit so you have a full picture by the time you leave. And of course, going to Paris on a student budget is yet another challenge. The city of love is as notorious for being expensive as it is famed for being beautiful. But thankfully a trip to France’s capital doesn’t have to be overly pricey, as long as you steer clear of fine dining, fancy hotels, and all-too-obvious tourist traps. Access to many museums and monuments is free for EU citizens (and sometimes also EEA nationals) aged 18 to 25. This includes Notre Dame (once it reopens), the Sainte-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and Versailles. No thanks to Brexit, many Warwick students probably won’t be able to profit from this overflowing cultural treasure for free, but you can still get a museum pass that gives you relatively cheap access to many museums and monuments.
If breakfast isn’t included wherever you’re staying, just find a boulangerie near you (which shouldn’t be too hard if you’re staying in a residential area) and taste your way through the delights of French pâtisserie: croissants, pains au chocolat, éclairs – do I really need to say any more? They often have a breakfast offer, so this option is not only delicious but also easy on your travel budget.
Just walking around and looking at the quaint shops is fun and feels very Parisian
On your first day, you should then head to the Île de la Cité. It is the current and historical centre of Paris, and it is also the cradle of the city, the place where it was founded – so what better place to begin a visit. Notre-Dame is a must-see, as is the Conciergerie, one of the oldest buildings of the city that served as a royal palace from the 6th century and as a feared prison during the French Revolution. The true gem of the Île de la Cité, however, is the Sainte-Chapelle, a marvel of classic gothic architecture that features magnificent stained-glass windows. The Palais de Justice is right next to the Sainte-Chapelle, so sneak a peek inside if you can. The Île Saint-Louis, located right next to the Île de la Cité, is also worth a visit. It doesn’t have any particular highlights to offer, but just walking around and looking at the quaint shops is fun and feels very Parisian.
If you only have two days, you should start the second one at the Arc de Triomphe, which can be climbed and offers a nice view of the city, and then stroll along the Champs-Élysées towards the Place de la Concorde. The Champs-Élysées is one of the places where you definitely need to turn your expectations down a notch. When I went to Paris for the first time, I was expecting God knows what (not least because of the song by Joe Dassin) and in the end, I was confronted with just another shopping street that has Gucci, McDonald’s, and everything in between. One thing I will say: the way the trees on the avenue are cut is very French in its formality. At the end of the Champs-Élysées, the Place de la Concorde awaits with its golden obelisk, statues representing different regions of France, and the Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, on the other side of the river. Relax and have lunch at the Jardin des Tuileries, before heading to the Louvre. Be warned, there will be queues and you will be annoyed, there is nothing you can do about it. If you’re dying to see the Mona Lisa, go ahead, if not, you won’t miss out on that much. The Louvre has so much more to offer, from ancient Egyptian and Roman art to 19th-century French paintings including David’s Coronation of Napoleon, and an excellent section featuring Islamic art. The Musée du Louvre has a late night once a week, so make sure to look up when it is beforehand so you can time your visit accordingly and get as much out of this huge museum as possible.
Paris offers museums for every taste, and depending on how long you’re staying you can get to visit quite a few of them. A favourite of mine is the Musée d’Orsay. Located right by the Seine, the former railway station turned museum features paintings and sculptures from the fin de siècle and the early 1900s. At the Musée de Cluny, fans of medieval tapestry and those interested in the history of the city of Paris can satisfy their curiosity, and the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie is a delight for any STEM student. The Centre Pompidou speaks to lovers of modern and contemporary art, and the Cinémathèque française is perfect for francophile cineastes.
With its 2.2 million inhabitants in the city itself, an unimaginable 12 million in the metropolitan area, and 38 million visitors in 2019 alone, Paris is big, bustling – and at times rather stressful. That is why it is important to take time to breathe every now and then. Take advantage of the many green spaces that the city has to offer by taking a picnic at Parc Monceau, popular among Parisians, or strolling around Père Lachaise, Paris’ most famous cemetery where all those famous French personalities who didn’t quite make it into the Pantheon are buried, such as Chopin, Balzac, Proust and Édith Piaf, as well as some eternal Francophiles like Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde.
Few things bring as much joy as spotting one sight after the other and realizing that you’ve seen all of this with your own eyes
On your last evening, head to the Eiffel Tower. By now you will have seen it a couple of times already, peeking at you from behind a house or shining its twinkling lights at you across the river. Provided you’re not afraid of heights, you should opt for climbing the stairs rather than taking the elevator. Not only will this be gentle on your travel budget, but it will also save you from spending valuable time queuing that you could instead spend looking at Paris from up above. If you want to go to the very top, you’ll have to take the elevator for the last bit, but believe me, it’s worth it. The Eiffel Tower is a perfect activity for your last evening because now you can take in the city one last time, and you’ll be surprised how many sights and buildings you recognize. Few things bring as much joy as spotting one sight after the other and realizing that you’ve seen all of this with your own eyes. Craft your very own cinema-worthy moment by bringing snacks and a drink with you so you can have a mini picnic on the Eiffel Tower and enjoy the Parisian sunset.