paris slow travel
Europe,  Travel

A Slow Travel Guide To Paris

Slow travel in Paris means forgetting about the must-see sights and discovering the city on your own terms for an authentic experience.

I’m sitting at a table at the trendy L’Atelier Renault restaurant overlooking the Champs Elysees when a waiter makes small talk and asks if I like the city. I can’t help but laugh. “Of course,” I answer, a bit puzzled. “It’s impossible not to like Paris.”

My answer seems to please the waiter, but millions of tourists would also agree. France is the world’s most visited destination, pulling in some 84 million tourists in 2015. And Paris, the City of Lights, is the nation’s crowning glory. With its chic cafes and the iconic Eiffel Tower synonymous with romance.

Is slow travel in Paris even possible?

paris bridge eiffel tower

Because Paris is so well known, it can also get puzzling. If you’re a first-time visitor the urge to hit up all the touristy landmarks is overwhelming. The Eiffel Tower or the Louvre are simply not to be missed. But you may ask yourself: am I really getting to know the city, or am I just collecting photo opps?

Here’s how to slow down on your next Paris trip to experience a more local and authentic side of the city.

5 tips for slow travel in Paris:

1. Find a unique hotel with personality

Nobody wants to get lost in the tourist crowd. A small, cozy hotel with an original aesthetic and personable service can make your Paris experience feel unique.

At the Hotel Plaza Elysees, a decadent reception area is complete with golden puma statues, framed paintings of opulent aristocrats and vases overflowing with flowers. All of this, with its playful take on rococo, lets you loudly know that this isn’t your standard beige chain hotel. The receptionist will give you directions, advise you on the nearby Champs Elysees shopping and make you feel you’re not a stranger in this big city.

2. Take time to wander

I only had two days in Paris and knew it would be impossible to see it all. After checking in, I walk to the Arc de Triomphe – the closest landmark.

slow travel in paris

Then I wander down side streets until I reached the Eiffel Tower. Photographing it from every angle, I feel that indescribable delight when you arrive in a place you’ve dreamed about for years. Although this is my second trip to Paris, it feels no less magical than my first.

authentic paris guide

Nothing helps you get to know a city as quickly and closely as a long and loosely planned wander.

I walk alongside the Seine until I reach the Place de la Concorde, hopeful to spot some monuments of the French Revolution. Louis XV’s statue was torn down at this spot. And Louis XVI was guillotined here in 1793.

But there are few reminders of the period that eventually helped take Europe into democracy. I change plans quickly – as you often must when travelling – and decide to have a Nutella crepe instead and take a walk down the Champs Elysees.

3. Linger over dinner

Walking for hours will leave you exhausted. I take a break back at my hotel for a few hours, then head out to the Champs Elysees for dinner. Since you can’t do much sightseeing when it’s dark, the evenings are perfect for slowing down and people-watching while taking in local cuisine.

L’Atelier Renault is part restaurant, part bar and part exhibition space where the carmaker showcases its latest technology and its classic models. It is a bright, airy and colorful space with dazzling views of the Champs Elysees that are great for people-watching. I order fish and fries, which come with a creamy and tangy white dipping sauce. I finish off with some perfect creme brulee topped with a crispy layer of hard caramel.

4. Save time with a bus tour

I get up early the next morning to catch the BigBus Paris sightseeing tour.

For about EUR 30, you get an all-day ticket for a double-decker bus that goes to all the major landmarks and gives you recorded commentary in 11 languages. You hop on and off anytime, exploring at your own pace. Touristy? Yes, but also extremely convenient.

What I love is how the bus doesn’t really make you feel like a tourist. French rap plays on my earphones as I wait on the top deck for the bus to start. During our ride down the Champs Elysees, the recorded guide gives funny anecdotes about French personalities and politics, and snippets from daily life.

slow travel guide to paris

5. Be flexible

When plans don’t work out, it’s best to think quickly and follow your gut.

After a ride past the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Concorde, I get off at the Palais Garnier, home of the legendary Paris Opera and the origin of classical ballet. But it’s closed on Sundays.

I decide on a whim to walk to Montmartre, a large hill in the 18th arrondissement topped by the beautiful Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. It’s been home to artists and bohemians since the early twentieth century.

The winding streets, uphill climbs and atmospheric cafes are so charming that it’s my favorite part of Paris – even if today’s artists can’t afford to live here. If I had a third day in Paris, I’d return to Montmartre and explore it further.

paris slow travel

With evening approaching, I catch the BigBus at the Palais Garnier. I stop briefly at Notre Dame before returning to the Champs Elysees for dinner.

And although my time in Paris is short, the two days convince me that slow travel in Paris is possible.

The city is much more than a collection of iconic landmarks. The more you explore the narrow sidestreets, the more you’ll long to return for another slow travel Paris experience.

And if you’re flying into Paris and looking for a comfortable flight, read my review of Air France’s Premium Economy:

Flight Review: Air France Premium Economy

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paris slow travel

61 Comments

    • Dee

      I’ve heard of the catacombs, but never the sewers – that definitely sounds memorable! I’ll have to look into it… Thank you for the recommendation.

  • Lori

    Wow! Your description makes me feel like I was along for the adventure. I have been to Paris twice. The first time was in 1993, and it was only for 4 hours! We were on a cruise ( Le Havre was the port), and Paris was an “on-your-own” option. It was several hours by bus each way and 4 hours in the city. Needless to say, it was rushed but the best 4 hours of my life! The second time was in 2012 for 5 days, seeing the highlights and wandering the streets. After reading your blog, the next time I visit Paris, I will definitely slow things down. Thanks for the great suggestions!

    • Dee

      It’s incredible how even such a short trip can be so memorable, but that’s Paris! My first time there was also very rushed, so I was happy this time to slow things down a bit because I’d already seen most of the major attractions. I hope you’ll get to go back soon, Lori! It’s definitely one of those cities that can never get old. For me, it gets better each time.

  • Brittany

    Such a captivating perspective on the City of Lights, Dee! You’re right, it’s such a wondrous city, and I feeel as though even if I lived there for years, I wouldn’t be able to discover all there is to the city’s streets. There’s so much to do in terms of culture, history, and food in this ever-growing city!

    • Dee

      Thank you so much, Brittany! I read somewhere that expats often know that city best because they’re more likely to explore than many Parisians who’ve lived there all their lives… I definitely agree that exhausting Paris would be nearly impossible.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Esther! What a great compliment. I hope you’ll get to visit soon, and the experience will be all the richer because of the books you’ve read 🙂

  • Rhyme & Ribbons

    I know that some people find Paris overrated, but I truly fell in love when I first visited. I’ve been four times now and each time is better than the time before! x

    • Dee

      It’s great that you got to visit that often. And I know that feeling! The more I explore, the more I get to know the city and the more I love it.

  • Tina Schell

    This is terrific and loved your photos. I’ve spent many weeks in Paris and loved every bit of it. I speak French well and found the residents to be MUCH more friendly when one converses in their language versus their own. The terror attacks are so very sad.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Tina! I wasn’t confident enough to even try speaking French in Paris, so it’s good to know that locals appreciate when visitors attempt to speak it – I’ll have to give it a try next time. I think your understanding of the culture must be much deeper, too, when you understand the language.

  • bipolarattention

    If you want to step out of Paris circa 2017 and find a Paris of some period in history… make a trip to Versailles. Just please don’t make it too popular haha… its only got a few years left as a gem.

  • travelisrewarding

    We spent 3 wonderful days, but instead of the HOHO bus walked and bought 3-day metro passes. The metro although crowded at times it’s a great way to see Paris. Btw, our best meal was near Sacré Cœur.

    • Dee

      I think walking is the best way to get around and see as much as possible in a short amount of time. It sounds like you had a great trip!

  • Green Global Trek

    Love your photos of Paris they bring back good memories. Our own recommendation on how to make your next Paris trip memorable: wake up in the middle of the night and take a walk in the streets, along the river without the cars and no doubt you should run into an all night brasserie. Also musical events in any of the churches promise to be incredible as the acoustics always deliver and it is a unique musical experience.
    And of course, eat as many croissants as possible.

    Peta

    • Dee

      Thank you, Peta! Those are all great tips. I once decided to go on a walking tour of downtown Cairo with a friend, right around sunrise (my flight had arrived in the middle of the night), and it was a great way to get shots of streets that are normally clogged with traffic and very crowded. I agree on the musical events at churches! I did that once in London and it was unforgettable.

  • thewonderer86

    Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world. I am sure I have lived there in another life! We love to take the bus instead of the metro. There’s a great planner you can buy from new kiosks, showing all the routes. It’s slow, but you can see stuff – unlike the metro and it’s a great way to sample local life.

    • Dee

      It’s a gorgeous city! For me, it’s second only to Venice… I love going around by bus, too. There’s more to see and most of the time it’s not as stuffy and crowded as the metro.

  • fsutroutbum

    Amazing, I had 48 hours my first time in Paris and hit the same sites. I think I wore out a pair of shoes. I returned every year for two weeks at a time for ten years. I saw a lot of the city and loved it.

    • Dee

      That’s incredible… You must have seen so much of the city, and it’s such a great experience as well to return to your favorite spots again and again. Walking is such a pleasure in Paris.

  • Stephanie Collins

    Wow! My dream trip, thanks for all of the great tips and advice! Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, hopefully we can plan a trip to Paris soon!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Stephanie! I’m happy to hear you found this helpful.. I hope you’ll get to visit Paris soon, and that you have a beautiful and memorable trip.

  • Jo Smith

    Love how you wrote this post! The beginning rocked! I visited Paris for the first time about a month ago – I also had only 2 days in Paris. I visited the Arc and Eiffel Tower. The city is very beautiful, I must say!

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Jo! I’m happy you like this piece.. Two days in Paris isn’t very long, but it’s definitely enough for the city to make an impression. I’m off now to read your guide..

  • jackfielduk

    Loved your article and the photos. I have been fortunate enough to go to Paris many times with work but I felt like I was there all over again! Thanks.

  • amindfultravellerblog

    Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world.
    You have such s great blog here Dee. I love your idea of slow travel. It is indeed the best way to do it! Thanks for stopping by my blog and connecting. Glad to discover yours. Lorelle. ?

  • insidersguidetoireland

    Nice post Dee. I find people are often disappointed with Paris. I think it is because of prior expectations. I think it was on my third trip to Paris that I finally “got it” and had the Paris feeling suddenly in my spirit. I was walking along the banks of the Seine and just felt and saw the beauty and elegance of the place. The sunny Paris was in my bones.

    • Dee

      Thank you! For me, Paris was overwhelming the first time around because there was so much of a rush.. I think it’s definitely one of those cities that’s best taken slow and explored in depth.

  • RainydayinCph

    I don’t really know why, but Paris is the only city in the world (even France) where I actually stop by the boulangerie to buy breakfast almost every morning! Paris magic ?? Great post!

  • kapfanny

    Hey Dee, I love this piece on Paris, I go for the first time later this year and I am definitely putting a loosely planned wander on my list of must do’s.

  • kagould17

    Excellent post. We were in Paris for 2 1/2 days this past May. It was our 4th trip and while we did some things again, we did a lot of new things. Walking to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe is a highlight for us. Watching the traffic chaos below is like watching waves or a fireplace. We went on line our last morning to see if we could get on a tour of Palais Garnier and were rewarded with the last 2 tickets for the English speaking tour. We walked and walked and did not go into many of the tourist stops. Instead of the Louvre, we went to Musee d’Orsay. We were staying in the Marais this time and we need to go back to wander this area some more.

    • Dee

      Thank you! I’ve heard such great things about the Marais, and it sounds like a beautiful neighbourhood to wander around.. There’s always so much to see in Paris, no matter how many times you go! The Louvre definitely needs a full day on its own.

  • Photo Richard Canada

    Love your Paris post Dee. I have been there numerous times and there is always something new to see and/or photograph . . . or some same things in a different light and time of day. Looking forward to reading more!

  • 1944april

    Thank you – you brought back all my memories of Paris, I think we must have had the same inner guide :- ) at least when we did it only rained once, but even in the rain, particularly in Paris there is magic.

  • Sita

    Loved your post on Paris… The Montmartre area, with the beautiful Sacre Couer is a lovely place to stroll around & people watch while sipping coffee in one of the roadside cafes. Another area I love walking around is Saint Germain & nearby St. Sulpice. Loads of lovely cafes and patisseries, with the Jardin du Luxembourg just round the corner.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Sita! It’s a beautiful city, and the cafe life in all of those neighborhoods is wonderful to experience too and really makes you feel like you’re part of everyday Paris life.

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