Undiscovered Paris: A Self-Guided Tour of Paris’ Hidden Gems

We truly believe that Paris is best explored by wandering. Or as the French call it, flâner. And while we could spent a lifetime strolling around Paris, we thought we would save you some time and compiled a list of the top hidden spots in Paris!

Le Palais Royal

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Despite its proximity to the Louvre, this spot gets passed up by many tourists. This garden oasis is a reprieve from the bustle just outside its walls in the heart of Paris. And its black and white columns make for a fun Instagram shot! People watch in the gardens or from atop a column and soak in some sunshine.

Courtyard of the National Archives

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While the National Archives are a tourist destination, the gardens are worth exploring in themselves. For the quietest time, visit on a Tuesday when the archives are closed, but the grounds are still open. Walk through the main gates and to the right for more gardens and impressive building exterior views.

Passages of Paris

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We came across several of these covered arcades, which are easy to walk right by without noticing. These arcades often have shops and restaurants housed on the interior. The Galerie Vero-Dodat is one of 25 remaining passageways built in the 19th century. The passage’s black and white diamond-shaped marble paving give it a beautiful effect, and the parts of the ceiling that are not glass are decorated with beautiful engravings. We found this arcade to be especially enchanting in the evening. And the Christian Louboutin store housed here is perfect for window shopping. After stopping by Galerie Vero-Dodat, catch happy hour in one of the small bars nearby.

Les Arènes de Lutèce

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Did you know that Paris has a Roman Colosseum of its very own? Long forgotten, this remnant from the Gallo-Roman era resurfaced in the 1800s during construction in the area. Situated in the Latin Quarter, this amphitheater could once seat 15,000 spectators for gladiator fights. The Arènes de Lutèce is a fun stop for history buffs, and a walk around the perimeter past beautiful gardens is enjoyable for all.

Neighborhood courtyard parks

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Paris has some incredible parks tucked into its neighborhoods that only locals know about. Square Georges Cain is a little park situated in the trendy Marais district, and provides an oasis of greenery to people who have been lucky enough to stumble upon it. This park is also popular among neighborhood regulars who would like to keep it a secret. Square Georges Cain has two pieces of artwork: ‘L’Aurore’, a bronze statue of a nude woman in the middle of a rose bed by the 17th-century sculptor Laurent Magnier, and ‘Le Rossignol Electrique’ by Eric Samakh (1990), a small electronic bird that starts singing whenever the wind blows.

 

Église St. Gervais & Rue des Barres

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Rue des Barres is a stone’s throw from Île de la Cité but will transport you to a quaint village setting. Chairs line the cobblestone street in the warmer months and are ideal for people watching. Tucked into this street is Église St. Gervais. This church is overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Notre Dame de Paris, but is equally beautiful. The church was built between 1494 and 1657 and its facade was the first example of French baroque style in Paris.

 

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Everything You Need to Know: Planning a Trip to Paris

Must read when planning a trip to Paris!

Packing

In summary, think minimalism. Stick to one small bag and a personal carry on (like a backpack or purse) if at all possible. You will be much happier to not be lugging giant suitcases up and down the metro stairs (escalators are rare). Classic clothes in dark colors with a scarf are standard for Parisians, plus a comfortable yet stylish pair of walking shoes. Bring just the essential electronics (including converter) and travel sized toiletries, or buy toiletries upon your arrival.

Money

We highly recommend exchanging money to Euros before traveling to avoid getting ripped off at airport exchange booths. Bringing sufficient cash to have on hand is useful since many places in Paris may not accept card or have a minimum. However, we have noticed that more establishments accept major credit cards now. If you end up needing to withdraw cash abroad, there are many ATMs around the city and most storeowners will know where the closest ones are. Check with your bank to see if any withdrawal fees apply. 

IMPORTANT: Call your bank before traveling to inform them of your travel dates. This will prevent your bank from freezing your card due to potential fraudulent activity.

Accommodations

The earlier you book, the better the rates and availability. Paris accommodations fill up quickly, and prices fluctuate throughout the year, being the highest at peak summertime. Le Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Latin Quarter are centrally located, making it easy to visit most tourist destinations. If you’re okay with a longer commute, Place de la République, Oberkampf, and Montmartre all offer travelers affordable and authentic Parisian housing options in buzzing areas. Paris is full of unique boutique hotels like Hôtel Providence and Hôtel la Belle Juliette. We had great experiences with our two Airbnb’s, which were more affordable than most centrally located hotels we looked at during our travel dates. 

Transportation

Metro is by far the best and most affordable way to get around. The metro’s expansive network will get you to practically anywhere you need to go. If you are in Paris for a full week, purchasing a Navigo card is well worth it. The Navigo pass permits transportation on the metro, RER, and bus systems and at a much better rate than the individual paper passes sold. Weekly pass covers travel Monday (start date) through Sunday (end date), no matter which day you happen to purchase the pass. So if you buy a pass on Wednesday, your “weekly pass” will still end on Sunday. Other Navigo pass options are also available for longer stays. 

IMPORTANT: it is not very clear and the SNCF staff will likely fail to mention that you MUST write your name and attach a photo to your Navigo card ASAP before using. Failure to do so will result in a fine of about 35 euros per person if stopped by police in the metro. You can take a passport style photo in booths set up in train stations where Navigo cards are available for purchase. Or save yourself some hassle and money and print out photos prior to your trip. 

What other questions do you have that you’d like us to answer? Comment below! Continue reading “Everything You Need to Know: Planning a Trip to Paris”

Best Indoor Activities to Do in Washington, D.C.

Don’t let a bit of rain ruin your fun in Washington, D.C.! These indoor, rainy day activities are the perfect way to spend a weekend in the Capital City.

 

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Museum exhibits

Some of our favorite Smithsonian museums include the Air and Space and American History Museums. If you have seen it all, or just want a break from the ever-popular Smithsonians, explore the Phillips Collection in DuPont. Opened in 1921, the Phillips Collection is the America’s first museum of modern art located in a converted Georgian Revival style home. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir (pictured here) is among the museum’s personal collection.

 

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U.S. Botanic Garden

Rain or shine, winter or summer, the U.S. Botanic Garden is sure to be green and warm any time of year. This living plant museum was established by the U.S. Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. Wander among blooming orchids, cacti of all shapes and sizes, dramatic air plants, and gigantic trees.

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Bookshop browsing

There is nothing better than snuggling up with a good book while the rain pours outside. Browse in these unique and quintessentially D.C. spots: Capitol Hill Books, Second Story Books, and Kramerbooks.

 

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Library of Congress

Speaking of books… Did you know there are more than 162 million items stored here, making the Library of Congress the largest library collection in the world? Notable exhibits include a re-created version of Jefferson’s library, the first document printed with the name “America” (also known as America’s “birth certificate”), and Lincoln’s pocket items at the time of his assassination.

 

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Coffee shops with a unique atmosphere

Heads up that many D.C. coffee shops have selective hours on Sundays. Our favorites are Baked & Wired in Georgetown (both the cupcakes and coffee are excellent), Emissary in DuPont (great brunch and happy hour every day 4-7pm too), and Sidamo Coffee & Tea on H Street (they roast their beans on-site and perform Ethiopian coffee ceremonies on weekends).

How to Book Cheap Flights Anywhere

Getting to a travel destination can be the most expensive part of planning a trip. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some key tips that will save you time, frustration, and most importantly money!

 

1. Use flight search engines

Search engines aggregate flights to find the best deals for you. Many also offer price alerts when airfares drop to whatever destinations you’ve been eyeing. Our 5 favorite search engines are:

Scott’s Cheap Flights is a useful subscription service we frequently use. Subscribers receive cheap flight alerts going all over the world departing from the region(s) you choose. 

2. Keep searches private

Thanks to the cookies in your browser, flight prices increase when a particular destination is repeatedly searched. Search for flights incognito in private browsing mode to view the lowest prices.

3. Be flexible with dates

Avoid flying on weekends (Fridays through Sundays), which are typically the most days to travel. Offset costs by leaving on a Thursday and returning the following week if possible.

Also avoid busy travel times like holidays and school breaks, since flights will be more expensive during these high-demand periods. Additionally, planning a trip during your destination’s low season practically guarantees lower prices on flights AND accommodations, not to mention fewer crowds.

4. A longer flight itinerary means savings

If extremely price sensitive, look for flights with long connections or overnights. While it may be less convenient to add travel hours or even overnight in an airport, doing so could mean big savings on flights and more money to spend during your vacation.

Not recommended for those with limited vacation time.

5. Book as soon as possible

Flights typically become more expensive the closer you book to your travel dates. Your biggest savings come from booking far in advance when possible.

International flights are less expensive at least two months before travel dates, while domestic flights can range from a few months to weeks in advance. The beginning of the week is generally the best time to book flights, while Fridays are the most expensive.

 

We want to hear from YOU! Where are you planning your next trip? Comment below and subscribe so we can keep in touch.

 

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The West Texas Bucket List

Your guide to the top things to do and see in West Texas.

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Davis Mountains – Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like the movies would have you believe. Explore Davis Mountains State Park’s miles of trails, camping, and informational programming… More

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McDonald Observatory – The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers unbeatable star gazing… More

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The Gage Hotel – This historic desert oasis in Marathon, TX was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast. Talk about old country charm!… More

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Marfa – In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends… More

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Alpine – Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Catch a semi-pro Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field… More

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Alpine, Texas: “The Last Frontier”

Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Get a sense of place at Stylle Read’s wall mural Big Brewster outside of the Kiowa Gallery. This mural portrays notable town figures including visionaries such as Everett Townsend who spearheaded the creation of Big Bend National Park, successful rancher Herbert Kokernot who established the Alpine Cowboys baseball club in 1946, and local celebs such as Dan Blocker who became better known as Hoss Cartwright on the“Bonanza” TV series also appear in the mural. Keep an eye out for more murals scattered throughout Alpine.

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Catch a semi-pro Alpine Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field during the season that runs from May through August. With inexpensive tickets, a boisterous local crowd, the Davis Mountains as the field’s backdrop and brews from nearby Big Bend Brewing Co., you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Fun fact: the 06 symbol found throughout the park tie in to the Kokernot family’s cattle branding from back in the day. Not in town during baseball season? You can still visit the field’s exterior intricate ironwork.

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The Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University is worth a visit. The Big Bend Legacy exhibit gives visitors deep insight into the natural and human histories of the region. Other temporary rotating exhibits include Terry Cockerham’s “Big Bend and the Terlingua Project” and “Early Education and the Annual Summer Normal in Alpine.” Admission to all exhibits is free!

Nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Davis Mountains

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Top Photo Ops in Marfa, Texas

A tiny blip on the radar, Marfa is a far West Texas town turned cultural art mecca. Getting there won’t be easy though — the nearest airports are located in El Paso and Midland and are both about 3 hours away — but we promise the extra effort will be worth it! In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends. Here are our top photo op picks and things to do in Marfa.

The Paisano Hotel

The historic Paisano Hotel has old world charm, so its no wonder the film stars of the movie epic Giant, including Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean chose to stay here when filming nearby. The hotel courtyard offers a tranquil relaxation spot, and the bubbling fountain makes you almost forget you’re in the west Texas desert. Step inside the lobby to view photography on exhibit from the making of the film epic Giant. Bonus: Grab a super cheap and delicious breakfast burrito served up at the hotel restaurant in the am for just $5.

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Presidio County Courthouse

The charming pink building is nestled at the end of Marfa’s main street and can be seen from almost any spot in town. The view from the top of the courthouse tower is phenomenal, especially if you get up early to catch it at sunrise.

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Prada Marfa

The surreal Prada Marfa shop is a short 30 minute drive from Marfa through ranch land and desert. You’ve probably seen celebs like Rihanna pose in front of this false storefront, so why not snap a picture in front of it yourself? Plan to drive out in the evening to catch sunset for great lighting.

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El Cosmico campground

Just minutes from the heart of Marfa, El Cosmico campground offers visitors an eccentric glamping paradise. Stay overnight in colorful trailer homes, teepees or yurts. Communal spaces with hammocks and an outdoor kitchen give guests a chance to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories.

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Chinati Foundation

Renowned artist Donald Judd created larger than life installations in and around Marfa. The Chinati Foundation building in town exudes desert vibes with its dusty colored exterior. This converted building was formerly the Marfa Wool and Mohair Building in the center of town located just off the railroad tracks. Today, the building houses the installation of John Chamberlain’s 22 sculptures in painted and chromium-plated steel. Take a short trip out of town to visit more contemporary art installations that are part of the Chinati Foundation.

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Pure Joy Marfa tower

Located a few blocks off of the main street, this silo will remind you to find happiness in the little things.

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