Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Oh Iceland, where do I begin? Let me start by saying that this country is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been…in a good way. Given that we only had 3 nights in Iceland, we opted to stay in downtown Reykjavik and partner with local tour companies for two excursions. Our full Iceland trip will be broken down into 5 sections, as I have a large amount of review, tips & tricks to share…

Day 1: Golden Circle Tour via Grayline

We woke up bright (literally- it was light out almost 24 hours!) and early on Sunday morning to grab a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby prior to our 10:00am pickup. Since we were staying in town at the CenterHotel Midgaurdar, pickup was a breeze. We waited out front as they pulled up right on time. The small bus takes you to the main bus station, where you are checked in and  directed to the appropriate large bus.

My first impression of the bus was very positive. It’s your standard 55-passenger bus, but felt new and updated. The seats reclined, there was free wifi and in-wall plugs to charge any electronics. Given that this was a full 8 hour excursion, having these amenities proved to be a valuable, and necessary, benefit.

Tip: Come prepared! We packed a backpack with extra socks, gloves, beanies, jacket, various snacks & water bottles. We used it all.

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The lush, green scenery of Iceland

Here’s our itinerary:

The Golden Circle Classic Tour takes you from Reykjavik city to Þingvellir National Park, arguably the most important site in Iceland in terms of history, culture, and geology.

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Þingvellir National Park, right after the rain passed

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A UNESCO world heritage site, Þingvellir National Park is home to Iceland‘s largest natural lake and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart. From Þingvellir, the tour continues through an area of beautiful scenery towards two of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions at Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring area.

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Gullfoss

At Gullfoss waterfall you can take a short walk down a pathway and get right up close to this powerful waterfall and feel the mist of glacial water on your face as it cascades down into the narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon.

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Getting soaked by the powerful & beautiful Gullfoss

The Geysir area home of “The Great Geysir” hot spring, which all geysers are named after, this area is an impressive collage of bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and colourful algae deposits. It also features one of the world’s most reliable fountain geyser, Strokkur hot spring, that every 4 to 8 minutes blasts out a column of super heated water up to 20 metres into the air.

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Overall, Grayline was a very easy tour group to deal with. Their busses are clearly marked, they come fully equipped & they run a tight ship. Our tour guide was very informative, knowledgeable & had a good sense of humor. I would definitely recommend them for this tour – I only wish we had more time to do a second tour!

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A surprise trip to a “secret” waterfall from our tour guide…

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Stay tuned for Day 1, Part 2 tomorrow…

Thank you to Grayline for sponsoring this post. They graciously provided us with this complimentary tour. As always, the provided opinions are my own.

 

5 Favorite Paris AirBnbs

When this picture popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today, I immediately smiled…

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How has it already been 1 year since we were in Paris?

As a throwback to my one of my favorite cities in the world, I want to share 5 of my favorite Air BnBs that I’ve found in the City of Lights. Or is it City of Love? I say both!

If You Want Cozy + Modern + Affordable

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This 1 bedroom charming flat is under $175/night and located in the Latin Quarter, near great restaurants & nightlife. The location is perfect and it’s got all you need if you’re in Paris for a few days. The apartment looks clean, updated and bright! Look at all of the natural light coming in. An excellent, budget-friendly choice.

If You Want a Tres Chic Place With A View of the Eiffel Towel

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While having this view comes with a price, this place is sooo Parisian! From the chevron hardwood floors to the french doors leading to balconies, this will have you feeling like a local in no time. Bonus: it’s two bedroom so this would be great for a group of friends, family or two couples. And let’s be honest, you can’t beat that view…

If You Want to Splurge on Luxury

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By far the most expensive on my list, this rental is luxurious bordering on gaudy…and I love it. The silk sheets, the ornate crown molding, the over-the-top decor, it’s super luxurious. Located in Saint-Germain, this place is a dream come true if you can afford it. To me, it feels like a posh French hotel but you have the space of an apartment. I mean, look at that kitchen!

If You’re Traveling Solo

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This 1 bed studio is perfectly tucked away in La Marais, arguably my favorite neighborhood in all of Paris. It’s got charming touches, old French architecture, and all you need to feel comfortable for a few days…all within walking distance to the best shops, restaurants & sights.

If You Want Amenities & Local Interaction

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With a hidden grotto in the lower level, this apartment is very unique. In addition to the pool, this rental boasts a home gym, sauna and a stylish courtyard to spend your mornings sipping coffee on. With 2 bedrooms, it’s the perfect place for a group that wants to spend time at their rental. The owners are likely to interact with you, so be sure to brush up on your French!

5 Sample Europe Itineraries

One of the travel questions I get asked most often is “how do we decide where to go?”. Specifically, I’ve had about 10 people in the past week say they’ve got roughly 10-12 days off (basically 1 work week + bookend weekends) and want to go to Europe. Given that there are about a million different options, depending who you’re traveling with, your experience level, your travel style, etc I’ve put together 5 options that are pretty versatile.

London, Paris & Amsterdam

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This is what I like to call the “starter pack” of Europe. London is always a great option because they speak English, it’s a very cosmopolitan city and it’s easy to get around. Take the chunnel or a quick flight and you’re in Paris. Three more hours in a train and you’re in Amsterdam. This trip would be great for couples, friend groups or families. Given that each city has so much to offer, you can really tailor the trip based on your wants & needs.

Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam

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I often suggest Paris (listed again, as you can see) for Europe first-timers as it’s easy to fly directly into and a great starting point for trips. There are also many day option trips from Paris (see my recent visit here), so you can use Paris as a “home base” for your entire trip. Additionally, the train is incredibly easy to take from Paris to Amsterdam (and back). It’s about 3 hours each way, with a stop in Brussels, making this itinerary a no-brainer. If you’re nervous about traveling in a foreign country, or prefer to limit your inter-country travel time, this is the route for you.

Rome, Venice & Florence

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A classic Italian trip, these 3 cities are easily accessible and in the same Northern region of Italy. You’ll get to see a ton of history in Rome, view world famous art in Florence & explore the canals of Venice. Eat, drink and walk your way through a trip of a lifetime. While this trip is ideal for multiple travel styles, I think it’s especially great for couples or a small girls trip! (I went with two girl friends to Italy & Greece for 2 weeks and it was perfect – we could share a bottle of wine, a pizza & move easily in/out of museums).

Lisbon, Madrid & Barcelona

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For all of you East Coasters, this is a great trip to take. You can easily fly into Lisbon (or Porto if you prefer) and out of Barcelona (or vice versa). Portugal & Spain are similar in that they’re usually warmer, they’ve got outstanding beaches & delicious red wine. We actually may be doing a similar trip in the fall so I’ll be sure to give more details once planning commences.

Berlin, Prague & Munich

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Whether you’re into history or beer, Germany has something for you. You can easily take the train between all 3 cities, making travel fairly simple. It’s worth noting that Prague is unlike any other city in Europe – it has this unique magic & charm about it, almost like you’re in Disney world. The old school architecture, castles & bridges capture moments lost in time. It’s romantic & magical for sure.

I could come up with a ton of other options (including about 10 off the top of my head that I’m dying to go to, including French Riviera > Monaco > Italian Riviera), so feel free to reach out if you need help. This is one of my favorite things to do!

What’s your favorite European Itinerary?!

Jackson Hole Part 3: What to do (in summer)

So you likely read my part 1 (“the wedding”) and part 2 (“food & drink”) posts on Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Today I’ll be rounding out the Jackson Hole series with part 3: what to do in summer. Of course, what to do in Winter is a totally different post and I imagine it involves a lot of snowboarding and skiing! I’m way more of a warm weather type of girl, so Jackson was an absolute blast to visit in the summer! There is seriously SO MUCH to do y’all – for couples, families, kids, groups, etc. We had about 4 free days and soaked up every minute we could, but believe me when I say the list is endless. It’s the absolute perfect place to get outdoors and explore!

Head to String Lake

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We rented Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) from Rendevous (they were $40/day) and spent the day kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming in the lake, jumping off rocks, etc. The lake is super clear with the Grand Tetons in back- spectacular view. It was so much fun and all 6 of us had the best time goofing around.

Tip: bring towels, chairs & cooler with food (be sure to store in the bear locker!)

Granite Hot Springs

We thought this was cool but would be more fun in winter, as the springs were very hot & crowded. We made the best of it and enjoyed the natural (cold) waterfalls and hiked around. If you’re there during cooler weather, I highly recommend it. Located on a back road, about 10 miles off the beaten path, the area provides gorgeous views full of wildlife. We saw deer, cows, horses, etc…

White Water Rafting

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The bride & groom organized this as a group activity for the Thursday before the wedding so the families & friends could get to know each other. What a fun idea! We had the best time rafting down the Snake River – the rapids were fast, exciting & sometimes even scary! There were people of all ages (I’m talking 10-70) and everyone had a blast. Can’t recommend this enough.

Relax at the Four Seasons

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One of the nicest hotels in Jackson (the Amangani being the other), we took advantage of our stay here and spent an afternoon drinking rose & laying by the pool. Let me just say- this was the life! Side note: we also ate at the Westbank Grill, which was one of the best meals from the trip. Chef basically brought us out one of everything (literally- bison, steak, shrimp, tuna, brussels, mac & cheese, etc) and we went to town. There were 6 of us and our 4 hour dinner was absolute perfection!

As I mentioned, we only hit about 50% of the things on our “to do” list (due to limited time) but here are some activities I’d love to do when I (hopefully) get back to Jackson:

Horseback riding

Obviously there are horses everywhere in Jackson! This place is full of barns and farms and dude ranches…however, we could never find the time to commit to a half day excursion. Had we done a bit more research I’m sure we could have made it happen though. Next time!

Visit Yellowstone/Old Faithful

About a 2 hour drive (each way), Yellowstone is obviously a “must see” if you have time. A big chunk of our group took a day trip to drive out there & explore the park and they absolutely loved it. They said the scenery, the nature, the history- it’s all worth going.

Hike to Phelps Lake on the Lake Creek Trail

We actually arrived a day too late for this, but the whole group did this hike and everything said how fun it was. They hiked for a couple of hours and ended up jumping off some cliffs into the lake. The pictures were beautiful & it really sounded like a fun day!

Mormon Row

Okay, so I kept reading about this but sadly never made it! They say that if you want to see buffalo in person, they hang out here by the old barns. I actually never saw a buffalo during our trip, but I did see a moose which was super cool.

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Who else has warm weather ideas for Jackson Hole?! I’d love to hear what else I missed so I can plan on it for round 2!

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What To Do In Austin, TX

Back in April, I shared part one of our Austin, Texas city guide, specifically what to eat! Let’s be honest, Austin is known for their amazing Mexican, BBQ, and more. So it only made sense that I started with food; however, I strongly believe in balance (especially while on vacation!) so let’s talk about what there is to do in Austin. One of my favorite parts about the city is the outdoor culture! There are so many outdoor activities you can do and ways to stay active. Of course, there’s hiking, biking, kayaking, lake water sports, and more. Today I’m going to share a few easy adventures those of us visiting can do – no equipment needed other than your shoes, a bathing suit & an open mind:

Barton Springs

Barton Springs is the perfect way to refresh yourself on a hot Texas day! This 3 acre natural cold spring has been formed into a swimming pool where you can drink an ice cold brew, lay out in the sun, or swim some laps. It’s a public space but feels a bit more private because you’re surrounded by trees. Best part? It’s less than $10 to get in.

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Wineries

Texas has a wine country? Yup, I had no idea either until I visited! After spending a day popping in & out of wineries (only about 30 minutes outside of Austin), I can totally see why so many Texas brides get married out here. The stunning views, the warm Texas sun, the friendly people…it all makes for the perfect day! We spent part of the day at Driftwood Winery and then headed over to Salt Lick BBQ after for a killer meal.

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Hamilton Pool

This was our favorite thing we did while in Austin! About 30 minutes west of Austin, the Hamilton Pool is a stunning nature preserve that is basically a huge swimming hole/grotto that was formed when an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago. We began by hiking for about 45 minutes into the woods (there’s a quicker, more direct path there but we were trying to sweat out the previous night’s libations!) and then all of the sudden, the trees open up to this beauty:

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Stunning, right? The water was a gorgeous blue-green color and so refreshing (warning: it’s freezing!) We spent a few hours there jumping off rocks, exploring the waterfall & frolicking in the water. You can hike & explore the area for hours, which I highly recommend. In fact, we stumbled across a huge river about 15 minutes away that was equally fun to wade through & take pictures. Definitely go here!

Murals

Lastly, you must do the touristy favorites and snap a few Insta-worthy photos. There’s the  “i love you so much” sign, the “greetings from Austin sign” and more. Check out this article to read about all of the creative, beautiful murals in Austin.

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What’s your favorite thing to do when you visit Austin?!

 

 

 

 

Switzerland Travel Guide: Zurich & Interlaken

So last May we went to Europe for 2 weeks and randomly decided to fly home out of Zurich. We knew we wanted to see France & Amsterdam, but wanted to take advantage of United’s open jaw flights so debated which 3rd country to visit. We ended up on Switzerland because we’ve heard time & time again how beautiful the country is. Once we found out that we could fly home direct via Zurich, we booked it.

Best. Decision. Ever.

We were only in Switzerland for a short 72 hours but we had the best experience and cannot wait to go back. We stayed at the Sheraton Neues Schloss which was a bit outdated and very pricey, but an excellent location. I’d recommend it, especially for those enrolled in SPG. Below is my Switzerland travel guide, specifically for Zurich & Interlaken.

Tip: Switzerland is expensive. Like, insanely expensive. Be prepared for all costs (hotel, transportation, dining out, etc) to be very inflated.

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Walk around Zurich

Despite being a small city, it’s a huge hub for large financial institutions and banking giants. It’s divided into 12 districts, each containing 1-4 neighborhoods. The public transportation here is stellar, making it extremely accessible and simple to get around. There’s the “old town” and the “new town”, divided by the water. There are endless churches, galleries, museums, restaurants, stores, winding streets, gardens, etc. Get lost and explore!

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This city is very clean, very safe & very walkable. One of the first things we noticed is how impeccable everything in Zurich is – the buildings, the greenery, the people. Everyone looks like a wealthy banker and is dressed to the nines. Honestly, we saw so many good looking people it was kind of intimidating! Lucky for us, they were all very friendly and all speak English.

View the City by Boat

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Zurich is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich.We didn’t know much about the area, but the boat tour was really fun because you can hop on/hop off in different towns around the lake. The weather was a bit misty & overcast when we went, but we grabbed a bottle of wine made the most of our two hour boat adventure. I totally recommend doing this!

Day Trip to Interlaken

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So, on a whim we decided to try to head down to Interlaken for a day. I have a zillion friends who went here while studying abroad and I’ve heard endless good things! The train was quite expensive (maybe because it was last minute?) so we were able to snag a rental car for under $100 total. Lucky for us, this is Switzerland and the “economy” car was a new C-Class Mercedes Benz….don’t mind if I do!

Let me start by saying- if you are ever within 2-3 hours of Interlaken, GO! We so desperately wish we could have stayed 1-2 nights here and just explored. Oh my gosh this town is SO adorable- filled with super friendly people, restaurants & bars, parks and endless outdoor excursion opportunities! We were originally signed up to go canyoning but due to the heavy rainfall the previous few days, the trip was cancelled and we were offered a white water rafting trip instead. Best $100 we ever spent and hands down, the best day of our entire trip to Europe. Words cannot describe the magical, out-of-body experience that happens as you’re floating down a river, tasting fresh (crystal clear!) water and looking up to see the majestic Swiss Alps staring back. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life and I cannot recommend this enough. The tour itself was exciting and we met a lot of awesome people. We stopped by the Balmers Hostel after for a few beers and snacks on their back porch – they have an amazing lawn filled with hammocks, picnic tables & killer view of the Alps. We wanted to spend the night here but it’s super popular & sells out way in advance. It’s on my bucket list to come back.

Train to Utielberg

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A friend-of-a-friend who lives in Zurich recommended that we check out Uteilberg and I am so glad that we squeezed it in! We took train (so easy and only S10) to Utielberg and climbed to the top for some seriously amazing views. The summit gives you a panoramic view of Lake Zurich, the Limmat Valley & Swiss Alps. There’s a restaurant up there (we didn’t go in) and the entire trip only takes about an hour. Worth doing!

Favorite Restaurants

B. Good

Funny story – as we were meandering through Old Town, we turn the corner and the first thing we see is B. Good (those of you Boston folks are probably getting a kick out of this!). They said this location was the first international spot & that so far, it was very well received. I had to support my local business, so we shelled out 33CHF for a salad & burger w/ fries (yup, it’s pricey!)

The COOP

  The COOP is the local grocery and has everything!Since Zurich is so expensive, we wanted to get a few items for the room. We picked up baked goods, fruit, chocolates (duh), wine and snacks for our trip. This grocery is clean, affordable & has everything you need! It’s great alternative if you want to avoid dining out for every single meal. 

Zeughauskeller

Our favorite Zurich spot! This actually came recommended by quite a few people. It’s actually an old armory, still decorated with tanks, canons and huge rifles. It’s a really cool vibe. Sure, it’s a wee bit touristy, but not overpriced or tacky. We sat outside because the weather was awesome. This spot is a fun, traditional Swiss restaurant with about 90 entrees and 88 of them being sausage. Ha! T got spicy sausage, while I ordered the chicken. All entrees comes with the world’s best potato salad, a traditional potato cake & green salad. Of course, we both had house beer. It was so awesome that we came back again for dinner (we usually are not repeat diners!) and had an even better time!

Santa Lucia

Since we had clearly had our fix of sausage & potatoes, we opted to try some Northern Italian food. Located down a winding road in Old Town, this was a hidden gem! We sat outside on the adorable back patio and split a glass of wine, salad & pizza. This did not disappoint. If you want a cute date or Instagram-worth spot, this is it.

Ristorante Italia

One of T’s clients who is a chef/restaurant owner here in Boston recommended this place and let me tell you…it was to die for! Given that it was in the opposite direction of where we spent most of our time, we never would have found this place. Upon entry, it feels super swanky and sultry- perfect for a date night. The delicious Italian red wine was pricey, but not by Zurich standards. They brought homemade bread & olive oil right away, which was incredible. We shared a starter salad of parmesan and fennel carpaccio…y’all, this salad was hands-down one of the best things I have ever tasted. Omg, I still dream about it! For entree, I had linguini nere with shrimp & pomodoro sauce, while T has ghnocci al pomodoro. Everything was fresh, handmade & beautifully presented. My only regret is that we didn’t have enough room to try the tiramisu because I’m sure it was outstanding. 

Side note: It was too dark to take any food pictures, but trust me and just go here!

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Overall, I can’t recommend Zurich enough! Yes, there are many other places in Switzerland that are high on my list, but if you happen to be passing through it’s a good city to have as a base to explore the area. Switzerland, we can’t wait to be back!

My Tips for Paris in the Spring

As I sit here writing this post, I am having major FOMO as so many friends have booked European spring vacations! The responsible side of me is proud that I haven’t impulsively booked a vacation for 2017 (hope I didn’t just jinx myself), but the dreamer inside says “book something now! why are you waiting?!” So, we shall see. In the meantime I will recap and relive one of my favorite weeks of 2016- our week spent in Paris.

ACCOMMODATIONS

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Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) that are in a spiral shape, starting in the city center and heading out. Luckily, Paris is easily accessible so you can get around with walking or public transit. We rented an AirBNB in the 10th arrondissement and while it was an inexpensive apartment in a cute neighborhood, it wasn’t my ideal location. I’d prefer the 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

(Hint: the Park Hyatt Vendome was all booked the week we were there but I would stay there in a heartbeat. If you have any Hyatt/Chase points, book it! It’s a great value of points redemption, prime location and tres chic!).

TAKE A TOUR

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My friend recommended Fat Tire Bike Tours one day because she had such a great experience with them earlier in the year. We chose to do the night bike tour our first day in town. What a wonderful decision! First, having a scheduled event night 1 helped us stay up and get on local time (tip: don’t nap day 1!). Second, the bike tour allowed us to get our bearings on the different neighborhoods. We left knowing which areas we wanted to explore further. Third, we learned a ton. Our guide was fantastic – his father was Parisian & his mother was American, so he communicated perfectly with us while giving us a detailed, interesting history of each landmark we visited. The best part is the 4 hour tour ends with complimentary wine aboard a boat cruise down the Seine. I cannot recommend this enough!

MUSEUMS

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This is a hard category to tackle, as there are over 130 museums within Paris. Crazy, right?! Obviously it’s impossible to visit them all within one week, so we had to pick and choose. Given that we aren’t huge museum people (we both prefer being outdoors) it was a pretty easy choice. We chose to forego The Louvre – sorry, Mona Lisa- and opted to spend our time admiring Monet, Van Gogh & Toulouse-Lautrec in the Musee d’Orsay. The museum is manageable in size and has some killer art pieces. If you’re into impressionism, you’ll leave here inspired.

For those of you who visit the Musee d’Orsay, be sure to check out the cafe on the 5th floor. It’s got an amazing outdoor terrace with killer river views. We spent about an hour there sharing a trio of eclairs & a bottle of rose. Check out this list of the 12 most unmissable Parisian museums.

(Hint: if you’re wanting to visit two or more museums, you may want to buy a Paris Museum Pass for discounts)

EXPLORE NEIGHBORHOODS

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Hands down the best part about Paris is the ability to walk and wander. Paris is THE best city to wander in & get lost. There are endless amounts of adorable cobblestone streets lined with coffee shops, unique boutiques, charming homes and restaurants.

  • Vendome & Madeline (1st/8th): These were our favorite areas to walk around & window shop. The streets are clean, beautiful & architecturally stunning. They’re exactly what you think of when you picture Paris in your head.
  • Le Marais (3rd/4th): Arguably the best area to stay, Le Marais is chalk full of galleries, gardens & gorgeous architecture. It’s hip, chic & the place to be. 
  • Latin Quarter (5th): A favorite evening spot to explore, we did a happy hour bar crawl here that was so much fun! Be sure to grab dinner & drinks here one night.
  • St Germain (6th): Another great neighborhood for grabbing lunch (it’s nearby quite a few main tourist spots), this area is full of cute streets filled with shops, stores & people.

EAT & DRINK

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Let’s get real. Paris is known for it’s fabulous wine, bread & cheese. It’s safe to say that we had all 3 of those delicious items at pretty much each meal. Whether it was croissants & cafe or croque monseuirs & frites or crepes & wine…we ate and drank it all. And I mean it ALL. Considering we walked 10+ miles each day, we didn’t feel bad about it at all. When in Paris, you must indulge!

(Tip: Take a lunch break and head to L’As du Fallafel. Located in Le Marais , this inexpensive falafel spot is incredible! Make sure you get a few pitas to split and try the green sauce…you can thank me later!)

CHILL OUT

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Truthfully, we arrived in Paris with minimal plans and it was perfect. We booked our bike tour ahead of time, but other than that we only really had a huge list of restaurants/shops/museums/attractions broken down by neighborhood (made things much easier).

While we saw a wide variety of spectacular sites, museums & shops, our favorite day was when headed to the Eiffel Tower with a blanket & some snacks. It was romantic, fun, relaxing & a wonderful memory that I can’t wait to repeat. I promise that if you just take a moment and soak it all in, Paris will quickly steal your heart.

Paris: I love you, I miss you, and I can guaran-damn-tee you that I will be back soon!

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