How to Have the *Best* First Time in Paris

The author on a boat on the Seine river. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Courtesy of a bona fide fashion girlie.

What if I told you that I, Jennifer Berry, a fashion-obsessed, Champagne-sipping, certified pain au chocolat aficionado waited an appalling four decades before visiting Paris, France for the first time? If you said that feels like a crime, I’d agree.

I’ve watched and rewatched Amelie. I was obsessed with the Paris episodes of Sex and the City. (“I came all the way from New York to squat and scoop in Dior!” IYKYK.) I grew up in Montreal, pour l’amour de Dieu! Where did I go wrong? This fall, I finally visited the City of Light and it will surprise no one that Paris was worth the wait.

Photography by Jennifer Berry

Obviously, the thing that excited me most about Paris was the outfits. I mean the culture! OK, both. What better place to take your most elegant (and sometimes extra) ensembles for a spin than the cobblestone streets of Paris? But I didn’t do Paris like a 20-something backpacker. Mais non. I waited my whole life for this and got to do it right, travelling to the European epicentre of food and culture cosplaying as an Amex Platinum cardmember.

That meant skating through security at Toronto’s Pearson airport and going straight to the Plaza Premium Lounge to enjoy some fancy cheese and Prosecco. (Who knew how calm international travel could be when you’re not being elbowed in line at an airport Starbucks?) Living life like a Platinum girlie also meant access to the chicest Fine Hotels + Resorts with perks like 4PM late checkout, daily breakie for two and $100 USD hotel benefit, all of which I got to use at Paris’ Prince de Galles hotel. A hundred cold ones I can use for stuff like room service? Say less!


The lobby at the Prince de Galles hotel. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

As a luxury-loving Taurus whose life basically revolves around treating herself, but who has only ever passively collected travel points on a credit card (or really paid much attention at all to the benefits my trusty piece of plastic offers me), using these kinds of credit card perks was kind of… mind-blowing? But I’ll get to the 12-course two-Michelin star meal I enjoyed, arranged by Amex’s 24/7 concierge, soon. (And yes, my outfit was a 10/10.)

Here’s my guide on how to plan a trip to Paris and have the absolute best first time in the French capital, without feeling stress about doing it all — because as soon as you visit Paris once, you start planning your return trip. Bon voyage!


The author outside the Louvre. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Take in some culture

You will feel pressure to visit approximately 3,537 museums and galleries when in Paris, but don’t let the abundance of artsy hotspots stress you out! My advice? Pick a couple, book them in advance if possible (trust me, they fill up super fast so reserving your time slot is the move), and try to really enjoy the moments instead of rushing to another museum.

In my few days as a Parisienne, I was treated to a private tour of the Louvre with one of the museum’s curators, with the help of Amex Travel & Lifestyle Consultants who help cardmembers arrange these kinds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The sprawling museum was as busy as people say it will be (pro tip: if you’re feeling a bit germ-shy since the pandemic, bring a mask), but that didn’t stop our impressive tour guide from pointing out some of the most iconique works. (Yes, I saw *her* but I was almost more tickled to see the selfie-taking Apollo, which Beyoncé famously posed in front of in 2014.)

After touring the Louvre, make time to stroll around the nearby Jardin des Tuileries (you know, where all the stylish girlies are snapped during fashion week). I was lucky enough to catch a special Art Basel installation.


A striking gown on display at the Galerie Dior. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

I also visited the stunning Galerie Dior, which more than scratched my fashion itch with its collection of historical Dior works, ranging from archival Christian Dior creations from the 1950s to iconic gowns last seen on the Oscars red carpet (like Nicole Kidman’s chartreuse Galliano-era Dior!).

For more art and fashion, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent is a quick and easy tour in the chic 8th arrondissement, while fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa’s personal clothing collection, full of couture treasures from Madame Grès, Paul Poiret, Cristobal Balenciaga and more, is on display at the Palais Galleria until January 21, 2024. Plus, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has a Mark Rothko exhibit on until February 2024.


The author’s view from a boat on the Seine. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Do some touristy stuff

My approach when visiting a city with as much history as Paris and so many tourist attractions is to do less. Now, I don’t mean rot in your hotel. But running yourself ragged from the 1st to the 14th arrondissement and back again trying to see every. single. thing. is the fastest way to feel stressed (and blistered). Remember: This is a vacation. Do as the French do and take things at a leisurely pace.

I don’t have to tell you to visit the Eiffel tower (she’s an icon!), but I will say that one stunning way to meet her is while sipping a flute of bubbles on the Seine river. As seen in the main image of this very article, it was there that I ascended to my purest self. I was fortunate enough to do so aboard a private boat with handsome French cater waiters, so consider a private tour if you have a group. Otherwise, join the masses on one of the bigger cruise boats. It’s a delight!


A boutique-lined street in the 1st arrondissement (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Shop (the right way)

Shopping in one of the most stylish fashion capitals of the world? Groundbreaking. But if you love fashion and consider “spending money” a hobby (be honest), Paris is the place to do it. A few spots I would recommend include malls like the Galeries Lafayette and the newly revamped Art Deco wonder, La Samaritaine, both stacked with cool brands and *vibes.* (Pharrell Williams staged his first Louis Vuitton presentation just steps from the LVMH-owend Samaritaine on the Pont Neuf.)

You can find cool shops, designer havens and vintage wonders on nearly every street, but I felt particularly at home browsing on the Champs-Élysées, Avenue Montaigne and Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Le Marais neighbourhood is definitely the cooler younger sister of the city, home to cult-favourite boutiques like Merci and beloved French brands like Sézane.


La Samaritaine. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

If I can offer one piece of advice must-follow when it comes to shopping in Paris, it’s this: Take advantage of the VAT refund! Don’t be like me (honestly, I might get my magazine editor licence revoked for this admission), and FORGET YOUR I.D. when shopping, only to miss out on a $50 refund for the Ganni bag you bought. Some retail locations, like La Samaritaine, process your VAT refund on the spot, too, so you don’t have to line up at the airport. C’est geniale! 


The author dressed and ready for dinner at Le Meurice Alain Ducasse. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Eat somewhere spectacular and somewhere you can cosplay as a local

In all my days, I never imagined I’d sit down in a literal ballroom to enjoy a four-hour, 12-course meal by a two-Michelin star chef, but this was clearly a bucket list trip. Everything from flavoured foam to fine fromage was had at Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, and there was not just a bread and a cheese cart, but a Champagne cart, too. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it.


Le Meurice Alain Ducasse restaurant. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Aside from having at least one extravagant dining moment while in Paris, I’d recommend two other crucial eating experiences. Firstly, you must park you derriere in one of those street-facing outdoor seats at a bistro and have a glass of wine. (It’s mandatory for all Paris tourists, I don’t make the rules.) Next, try to find a cozy restaurant off the beaten path where you can feel a teensy bit like a local. For me, this was a solo dinner at the bar — THE BEST — of Le Mary Celeste in the Marais, a recommendation from my sister-in-law who had recently eaten there multiple times in a few days. The vibes were immaculate.


The author showing off her French blowout at a local bistro. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Get your beauty fix

Paris might be best-known for its art, food and fashion, but make no mistake, it is a destination par excellence when it comes to beauty pampering. Fancy a French facial? The Dior spa is brand-new and beyond beautiful, while the Biologique Recherche spa has reached cult status. Want to freshen up you hair before a chic night out? No one does a blowout quite like a French hairdresser. My temporary Platinum cardmember status meant the hotel’s concierge could help me book one locally, and I was sitting at the shampoo station faster than you could say “tout de suite.”

Firstly, I’ve never had a hair wash quite like this one. An older French woman with an outwardly stern way but kind eyes gave me a live-affirming double cleanse with the most divine-smelling products, then whisked me away to a chair where a magician named Nicolas was finishing the classic French “brushing” of an elderly client. (Did I assume she has a standing appointment to have her hair set weekly? Of course.) After complimenting my hair colour — my proudest moment? — Nicolas swiftly whipped my thick, semi-coarse mane into an immaculate ’90s blowout using little more than a blowdryer and a small round brush, curtain bangs curved to perfection. Heat tools? Paris doesn’t know her.


A fragrance-making workshop. (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Make something

Hear me out: The best souvenir is something you took part in making. For me, that was a fragrance workshop at the most charming private residence where a professional perfumer (“un nez”) took us through how to mix different notes to create our dream perfume. Mine smelled of amber and musk and reminds me of my Paris self every time I spritz it.

Other bespoke activities include a stop at Timeless Pearly, the viral charm-focused jewellery mecca where you can choose your baubles and get a custom necklace or pair of earrings, and a visit to a local apothecary like Officine Universelle Buly where you can make your own soaps, fragrances and lip balms.


The view from Cafe de L’Homme (Photography by Jennifer Berry)

Just say oui

A private, Amex cardmembers-only electronic music party in the Louvre after a dinner at Café de L’Homme, so close to the glittering Eiffel Tower, you felt like you could touch her? Say less! Sweating through my silver pants while listening to cute DJs like Kungs and Kavinsky in the basement of the world’s most famous museum was not on my 2023 Bingo card, but it was fabulous.

MORE TRAVEL

Shopping

By
Jillian Vieira

Date December 7, 2023

Beauty & Grooming

By
Melissa Fejtek

Date July 17, 2023

Shopping

By
Jennifer Berry

Date August 1, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Main Menu