We spent our very first Valentine's Day in Paris, France. Anne and I met as students at London Business School in the UK and nothing else seemed more romantic than taking a train to Paris for the weekend. It was a Valentine's Day/Weekend that honestly will be hard to top in our lifetime.
Here are some quick tips for spending a quick day or weekend in Paris for non-locals.
1. Do a quick research on Paris' 20 Arrondissements
Arrondissements translates into english as "districts." Paris is divided into 20 districts and depending on your personality/budget, you'll enjoy being in certain arrondissements more than others. For example, some people's ideal visit of Paris is being in the "heart" of it all, which is conveniently in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. Others, want a more local experience and so will want to consider the 17th Arrondissement. The 17th basically has no real tourist attractions other than real Parisians living their normal lives.
2. Stay Near a Metro Station
No matter what district you choose to stay, then you'll most likely want to stay within 10 minutes walk of a metro station. The exception is if you're splurging and taking a taxi everywhere or if you're really just planning to spend all your time in the same arrondissement. Otherwise, if you plan on really exploring the city, then you'll be spending most of your time walking and on your feet. Walking even 30 minutes back and forth from your place to the metro can take a lot out of you, especially in cold weather. It's better to spend a little more to be near a metro station and save that bit of energy so that you can see more around the city.
3. Pack for Freezing Temperature
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's always a pretty big shock to me how cold or hot other parts of the state, country, or world can be. Paris in February is pretty much near freezing. The idea of being on the Eiffel tower wearing a gorgeous flowing red dress or formal suit is basically for actors in movies. You and your partner will need to pack in heavy coats, gloves, scarves, etc if you plan on not getting sick during your trip. But honestly, winter romance is always better than a summer romance.
4. Plan for strikes
I've been to Paris on 3 different occasions and I've experienced a strike on one of those occasions. Fifteen years later, Paris is still striking...Well, not exactly, but strikes are deep in the Parisian culture and there is currently a big transportation strike, which was what I experienced 15 years ago. So, always have a back up plan for getting to and from places, especially if it's to the airport or train station. I quite literally almost missed a flight out of Paris due to a transportation strike. I never had to worry about any violence, but it's something you must pay attention to.
5. Plan on someone be rude to you, especially if you don't speak French
Yep, the french can be rude, especially if you do not speak french. Just know that it's going to happen and the chances of you getting "your way" is slim-to-none and just move on. Chalk it up to a real Parisian experience and let it go. Whoever is being rude to you is probably rude to most people because that's just their personality, but it's just worse because you're not communicating in the same language.
6. Sit at a cafe, visit a bakery, and order a savory crepe
There's really only three things you need to do in Paris to get the minimum experience. The first is ordering a baguette or croissant in the morning at a local bakery. "Bonjour, une baguette/croissant, s'il vous plait." The truth is that if you're walking around all day, then you're not going to want to carry a baguette, so most likely you should opt for the croissant.
Sometime during the day, you'll want to faire une pause-cafe, take a coffee break. Beyond Turkey and Italy, Paris is one of the "O.G." coffee cultures in the world. So, even for someone like me who doesn't drink coffee, you'll want to do so to get your full Parisian experience. But, seriously, research online about Parisian cafe etiquette. Otherwise, go to a cafe that you know is fairly popular with foreigners.
Finally, you'll want to grab a crepe from a vendor. I personally suggest a savory crepe. Some countries, especially in Asia, are really only familiar with dessert crepes, but back before I was a vegetarian, I would have choose a ham and cheese crepe over a sweet crepe a 100 times over.
Notice how the three quintessential Paris activities are food related. That being said..
7. Don't get hung up that you only have to eat French food
What makes Paris different than the rest of the France, the same with most major international cities, is that there is influence from all over the world, including the food scene. Most people feel the pressure to experience french dinning. For me, it's always been a hit or miss experience. I've only had one spectacular experience, I believe in the Latin Quarter, and a couple of pretty disappointing french dining experiences. I've found that I enjoy other international cuisines, such as italian or middle eastern, more consistently. Of course, that's just me and my palette, but my suggestion is that you don't feel pressured to always have french food.
8. Skip the Louvre on Valentine's Day
I'm not saying to skip the Louvre entirely, but maybe skip it on Valentine's Day specifically. The Louvre is like the Disneyland of Museums in the sense that it's just so crowded, including the line to get in. I'll be honest, one of the reasons I enjoy museums is because in a lot of cities they're not particularly very popular. The San Francisco Museum of Modern are is one of my favorite places in San Francisco because it's a real legitimate art museum, but it hardly ever feels that crowded. The Louvre feels crowded.
If you must visit a museum on Valentine's Day, then try your luck at the D'Orsay. It's still a popular museum, but it's just a more tamped down version
9. Walk through a public Jardin...Garden that is
If you don't walk through one of the many Jardins in Paris, then you "done messed up." In San Francisco, we have Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but apparently we just don't have the same green thumbs that the french do. As mentioned previously, it'll be cold, but walking through a Jardin in Paris is just as important as experiencing pastries and coffee.
10. For peace of mind, buy international travel insurance
I never realized that travel insurance for medical was a thing. Most US insurance will have some type of coverage, but it's always possible for the expenses to get out of control. Combine that with the whole strike issue, then travel insurance in general becomes a reasonable purchase. But be sure to research a reputable insurance company with good reviews.