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No matter how many movies you watch about Paris, they just don’t do the city justice. Paris is magical and breathtaking when experienced in person, and a place you’re not likely to forget. The beautiful, Old World architecture with ironwork, floor-to-ceiling windows, terraces, the aromas, the energy and the history, all make American cities look ordinary.

To avoid expensive hotels near touristy traps, try renting a flat in the trendy neighborhood of Marais, just a couple of miles away from the heart of Paris. Most private apartments are half the price of hotels, and I’ve used AirBnB with great success.

Paris’ Metro system is cheap, very fast and very convenient, easy to navigate even for the most inexperienced travelers. Each ticket costs $2.16 per trip per person. If you’re in the Bastille neighborhood, stop by Au Levain du Marais for a cafè au lait and the best quiche Lorraine you’ll ever have in your life. This tiny bakery also has rows upon perfect rows of fruit tarts, éclairs, espresso cakes, chocolate pralines, and David Lebovitz’s favorite croissants ($3.50-$5.00). 28 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75011 Paris.

Most major attractions charge a pretty euro to visit, such as the Eiffel Tower. To get to the very top, you can pay $21 for the elevator, or climb the 704 steps for free. Award your steely discipline with a glass of champagne when you get to the top. For no cost at all, you can visit at night when the whole tower is lit up in amber and glitter.  Go on the hour and buy bottles of champagne and beer to pair with your view from street vendors or adjacent kiosks.

Pro tip: When visiting The Louvre ($19), get there when it opens at 9am and make a beeline for the most famous resident first — the Mona Lisa. Be prepared, as she’s roped-off behind bullet-proof glass, surrounded by throngs of people, so be patient and get your phone ready. There’s also a free, guided “Highlights” tour if you’re short on time.

After seeing the most famous painting in the world, walk across the street to Bis Repetita, a cute bistro that serves incredible French onion soup ($11) and croque monsieur ($14).  167, Rue Saint-Honore 75001 Paris.

Parisians love to dine al fresco every chance they get, so you will find diners spilling out onto the very narrow streets everywhere. Follow their lead at Au Vieux Châtelet, a corner bistro in the heart of Paris, on the river Seine.  Perfect for people-watching. You will have panoramic views of Place du Châtelet, a historic square that was once a medieval fortress; Notre Dame Cathedral across the river; as well as the Palais de Justice (also known as Marie-Antoinette’s prison!), currently gift-wrapped in Christian Dior construction silk. Order a classic dish of plump, French burgundy escargots ($24, covered in rich, garlicky parsley butter. 1 Passage Châtelet, 75017 Paris.

Look for What to Do in Paris, Part II, when I explain why you may have to suffer through a Sofia Coppola movie, where to find Jim Morrison’s final resting place, and how not to piss off the French. Hungry for more? Read about Paris here, here and here.

Address Book

Au Levain du Marais, 28 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75011 Paris
Eiffel Tower, Parc du Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris
The Louvre, Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Bis Repetita, 167, Rue Saint-Honore 75001 Paris.
Au Vieux Châtelet, 1 Passage Châtelet, 75017 Paris.