Help this stupid tourist

In two weeks (holy crap) I’ll be traveling to Europe! I’ll be in Dublin, Ireland (June 21 – 26) and then Paris, France (June 27 – July 4). During the French leg of our trip, we’re going to take a day trip by train to Brussels, Belgium.

I can’t even explain how freaking excited I am. I’m going because I had funding through my department to attend the annual conference for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which is in Dublin this year. I’ll be giving a poster there about my recent research. Luckily for me, my boyfriend also secured funding through the department, except he’s more awesome than me and was one of the few selected to give a talk! Since we’ll be there together, we’re taking a week vacation in Paris afterward.

I. Am. So. Lucky.

I’ve never been to Dublin or Paris or Brussels, so I’m turning to you, fair readers. What should we definitely check out while we’re there? What’s the food or restaurants we definitely need to try, cheap or expensive? Are there any quirky fun things to see that most tourists miss? Best nightclub in Paris to go dancing? Cool things in the 4th arrondissement (where we’re staying)? Any general cultural tips on things that two dumb American tourists shouldn’t say or do? Best chocolate I should buy in Brussels to hoard for the trip home? Certain French phrases I should memorize but will probably accidentally say in Spanish instead? Any suggestions are welcome!

Oh, and my English readers…yes, I’m very sorry for hopping over you. The Olympics craziness scared us away. But I’m definitely coming eventually (especially if you invite me to speak, wink nudge), so spare me the “Ewwww Paris” comments. One day!


  1. RahXephon, worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, the Antichrist, Stalin, and Mao combined says

    Well, I saw a lot in Paris when I was there in high school, but it was a big blur. One thing I can remember that was pretty cool, assuming it’s still there and you can get in, is a cabaret-type club called “Lapin Agile”. They have people singing lots of cool French songs and you can get drunk.

    Also, if you happen to go to the Louvre (I don’t know what kind of time you’re looking at), I’d skip over the Mona Lisa. The room it’s in is always packed to the rafters. It’s probably more interesting to go through the normal art galleries and see the antiquities.

    I’m no expert on Paris, though. During my trip to France we actually spent most of our time outside of Paris.

  2. says

    I’m definitely going to the Louvre. I’m a huge art fan. My art teacher mother indoctrinated me well… I love art museums :)

  3. says

    omg, Dublin has plenty of awesome (and often free) museums. The Chester Beatty library for example, or the archaeological collection of the National Museum of Ireland.

    also, when I was there a few years back, I managed to get lost in Phoenix Park. Which has free-roaming deer.

  4. says

    I loved Paris. I haven’t been there in a while (Why?) I was not prepared beforehand for how much I was going to love the Louvre. The Eifel tower was a total snooze for me. But for many people it’s the other way around.

    I haven’t been to Montmartre yet, speaking of stupid tourists.

    I didn’t find Parisians to be rude. Maybe I was just incredibly lucky, or maybe it was more that I always made an attempt to communicate in French. (Believe me, it was a pretty feeble effort.)

  5. RahXephon, worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, the Antichrist, Stalin, and Mao combined says

    Awesome. Most people only think of the Louvre, but if you’d like to see more impressionist/modern/contemporary types of art, the National Museum of Modern Art in the Pompidou Center and the Musee d’Orsay are great. The latter in particular has a lot of the really famous French Impressionist works.

  6. says

    Me: “That’s a terrible name. It sounds like a pissing manikin. *clicks link* …Oh. Okay then.”

  7. RahXephon, worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, the Antichrist, Stalin, and Mao combined says

    In my experience, Parisians, and French people in general, were very nice and polite. I think anti-French stereotypes in America are just holdovers from Britain’s rivalry with France, which long predates the Revolution. I think people would only get annoyed if someone tries to pull some Entitled American Tourist crap, which I’m pretty sure Jen would never do. :)

  8. says

    I didn’t find Parisians to be rude. Maybe I was just incredibly lucky, or maybe it was more that I always made an attempt to communicate in French. (Believe me, it was a pretty feeble effort.)

    from the accumulated experience of several Americans who traveled to Paris, it seems to me that Parisians are prejudiced because of running into too many Stereotypical American Tourists. But the moment you show that you’re a)not a Stereotypical American Tourist, and b)are aware of the existence of Stereotypical American Tourists, they’ll get over it.

    to demonstrate with an anecdote: a friend of mine ordered a second cup of coffee in a Parisian Cafe, only to be sneered at with: “we don’t do refills!” (because apparently one too many American asked for a free refill, like at fucking Denny’s). She quickly responded that she understands there are no free refills in France and that she wanted to buy a second cup. At which point the waiter stopped being short with her.

  9. Don F says

    I got to visit Paris when my wife had to work there. These are the most important things I learned:

    0) A fresh baguette from the little bread shop around the corner from the hotel with a smear of Nutella makes a DIVINE breakfast.

    1) Whenever you meet a Parisian shopkeeper, always say “Bonjour”; otherwise, you will be seen as a Rude American.

    2) “Parles vu Anglais?” is all the French you really need (besides “Bonjour”, of course) because almost all Parisians do.

    3) The Musee D’Orsay is a MUST!

    4) The second-cheapest wine in the corner grocery is the best value.

    5) Crepes in the lowest level of the Louvre are to die for.

  10. Aral says

    Get a Metro pass. No, really. It’ll save you walking across the city in ridiculously hot weather – a mistake my parents made when I went with them. Also, I found the Jardin du Luxembourg a quite delightful place to be. And as a tip, just generally be polite – not that I think you aren’t – and things go much more smoothly.

    Try the cafes and spend a little bit of time people-watching; it’s a national pastime. Also, cheer for football (which we call soccer – it’s football there), and TRY THE PASTRY.

  11. David Cleveland says

    Beer, beer try the beer! Brussels every neighborhood has a brew pub that makes their own beer made with theirown recipe , outstanding beer.

  12. Don F says

    Oh yeah; McDonald’s has wifi, decent coffee, and beer with any entree. We hit a Micky-Dee’s first thing before heading out to do touristy things.

    The coffee along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is VERY expensive. (“How bad could it be?” I asked. It was about $24 for two cups.)

  13. PSG says

    I just spent four weeks in Europe, including 48 hours in Paris. I took two tours from which were fantastic. Their free tour was awesome, it includes lots of the history of Paris and does a great job of orienting you to the city itself. I also took their tour of Montemarte. They have tours in Dublin as well.

  14. Zombie says

    Ireland: Drink Guinness, eat stew. If you were lazy and ate every meal in a pub, it would not necessarily be a mistake, and there is generally one within walking distance of wherever you are.

    If you have time, get out and see the countryside; it’s a beautiful country. Plan for the weather to change while you watch and keep something for the rain within reach.

    Paris: however much time you allot to roaming museums, it won’t be enough. Check schedules in advance in case a museum happens to be closed on the day you picked. In addition to the well-known large museums there are also lots of smaller-but-significant things such as Musee Rodin and it’s garden so you have no lack of alternatives.

    I think it’s considered rude not to greet/acknowledge shopkeepers when you enter their shop.

    Ask for the check at restaurants. The French think it is rude to rush a patron by bringing the check before they ask.

    I haven’t been to Belgium I’m sorry to say.

  15. Joel Grant says

    I just got back from Paris (from there we took a train to Barcelona, stayed a few days there, and then took another train to Madrid) about three weeks ago.

    All of the famous tourist places are obvious and many have been mentioned. My personal bias in Paris is to get a good map (available at any newstand); bring a compass (believe it or not) and just walk around the city.

    Learn how to use the Metro – it’s easy to navigate – and the buses and you are in business.

    One very cool museum that is rarely mentioned is the Marmottan.

    But walk!

    Enjoy your time in Paris. I am going back next year, and the year after that. It is magical.

  16. says

    Dublin: try Grafton St. and the National Museum.

    Paris: Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower (just level 2 — I’m told “somit” is too high to really see anything), Place de Trocadero (lots of nice cafes, right across the Seine from the Tower), Louvre of course, and just walk around — Paris is great for walking and generally hanging out.

  17. Katalina says

    There was a big tour bus in Dublin when I went (admittedly ages ago – 2000) that you could get on and off all day long and would take you all around the city. That was really nice. I remember it being pretty cheap. And Dublin’s also where I found out that I really do like tea! We got flashed by a man in a kilt down in Temple Bar, so I definitely recommend that.

  18. RahXephon, worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, the Antichrist, Stalin, and Mao combined says

    If you’re strapped for time, I would probably go for the Musee d’Orsay, but I admit I’m biased towards the Impressionists.

  19. Snowshoe the Canuck says

    The Guiness brewery in Dublin. The Louvre in Paris. Skip Mona, you would be lucky to get in the room, everything else is great? The metro is good. If you have the time, try the bateau bus which takes you one river past all the landmarks.

    The local bakeries are super. Would you have room in your luggage for me?

  20. Jennifer Ryan says

    In my experience, tourists in Dublin tend to make a beeline for the Guinness Storehouse and Trinity College no matter what they’re into, so they might be worth adding to your list. And Trinity is really pretty, biased as I am.

    If you’d be into something a bit more niche, there’s the Hugh Lane Gallery (modern art), the National Museum of Ireland at Collins barracks (mostly history) and the Dublin Writers Museum. My own slightly worrying favourite is the Natural History Museum, aka the dead zoo. It’s great in a creepy sort ‘ugh, weren’t the Victorians mad?’ sort of way as well as being genuinely interesting for the whole biology/natural history element. If the weather’s nice, the Botanic Gardens is lovely for a wander too.

    ‘Tis very late here in Dublin, so I’ll leave it at that, but I’d be delira to give you more tips if you want them, just throw me an email or tweet me at @j7ryan. Enjoy your holidays!

  21. Aubergine says

    Jen, my wife and I have been to Paris twice – the last time for two months. We also have spent time in Brussels, although not for as long.

    Paris is my favorite city in the world, in large part because you can literally walk from one end to the other in a day. The 4th Arrondissement is just about in the center of everything, next to the Seine and the Île de France. We stayed in the 3rd last winter – right next to the 4th – and there is a lot of good stuff within walking distance. The shopping district of Rue Montorgueil and Rue St Denis is just west of the Boulevard Sebastopol, and it is full of fun little businesses and restaurants. Montorgueil in particular is full of butchers, bakeries, grocers, cheese shops, and the like. The bread and cheese in Paris are just fantastic, as are the sausages.

    I have to second the comment above about skipping the Louvre, or at least the Mona Lisa. I did not think the Louvre was as interesting as other museums in Paris, and it was definitely way, way too crowded to enjoy. My favorite was the Musee de l’Orangerie near the Place de la Concorde, which held many of Monet’s waterlilies.

    As for restaurants, the one I highly recommend is called Robert et Louise, which I think is in the 3rd Arrondissement. It serves very, very nicely done meats cooked on a very beat up wood-fired grill. It also offers lovely wines – my son and I went there in December and shared some beef ribs with a Bordeaux wine. It’s a tiny place so we shared a long table with a group of gay men celebrating a birthday. It was a lot of fun. Other than that we typically had good food just about everywhere we ate.

    If you have only a day in Brussels, I’d recommend just heading to the central plaza – the Kronplatz – and wandering around from that base. There is a famous shopping street (covered with arched glass windows) a few blocks from that plaza that is pleasant. There are also quite a few restaurants around the Kronplatz, many of which are very good. It is definitely worth trying some mussels with a good Belgian beer.

  22. Emu Sam says

    If I’m with a group visiting Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, I like to go upstairs early to admire the blue stained glass windows, and hang around to watch people’s faces when they make their way up to join me.

  23. Vern says

    When you get to Brussels, check out the Girl Scouts they have there. They have these really cool uniforms. There’s nothing like Brussels Scouts except perhaps in your produce section.

  24. simba says

    Dublin- do the Dead Zoo. It’s really interesting. At the risk of sounding like a scary person, St Michan’s church has naturally-preserved bodies, which is interesting, and probably counts as ‘quirky’.

    Generally Irish people get on well with American tourists, so talk to as many people as possible.

    I’ve been told the food is quite different, so sample everything (crisps and all). And I strongly recommend a steaming bag of vinegar-sodden chips (I understand Americans mostly eat them with ketchup?).

    From my little experience of France, it seems most French people are more than happy to use their English (or hand-gestures if they don’t have any) and be patient with you so long as you show willing to use your French. Any broken French will do, in any accent, so long as you’re friendly and polite (and make the effort).

  25. says

    Dublin: Drink Guinness, and try some of the other things they have on tap too. Yum.


    1. If you go up the Eiffel tower, there’s a line on the ground to go up to the first observation deck, and then another line to go up to the top. Skip the second line: not much difference between being way up, and being way-way up.

    2. Just hang out along the Seine with a cheap bottle of wine (the second cheapest rule above is a good one), a baguette (or better yet, un pain, which is the large size that you usually find here in the States) and some cheese.

    3. If you or someone you’re with wants to feel like Asterix and Obelix eating roast boar, head to le Volcan and order the porc. Yum.

    4. It would take weeks to properly visit the Louvre. I wasn’t impressed by the Mona Lisa; not worth the hassle.

    5. Consider taking the bus or walking instead of taking the subway. The subway’s great, but sometimes it’s not far to walk and you get to see the sights on the way. Also, the bus is often just as fast, and you get to see the city rather than just popping up here and there from the subway. (But the subway is easier to figure out.)

  26. says

    My friend has a “Paris Cheat Sheet” that she compiled to give to friends whenever they visit. Apparently it is quite essential. I’ll see if I can get her to give me a copy and I’ll send it on to you if you like. :P

  27. Don F says

    Oh yeah, and walk, walk, walk everywhere. I actually lost six pounds during our stay in Paris, and I was eating and drinking pretty much non-stop. But we walked almost everywhere, with the Metro taking us to the rare out-of-the-way places we wanted to visit.

  28. says

    Paris – The Centre Pompidou and Montmartre are my favorite parts of Paris. But really, anywhere is fine as long as you buy a sandwich on freshly baked baguette. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I sat in front of the Eiffel Tower eating sandwiches, and we were totally unable to concentrate on anything but how delicious they were.

    Brussels – it doesn’t matter where you go. Just find a little corner bar and order a beer. Then order another beer. Then maybe some mussels. Then another beer.

    Also, in Brussels, there is an outdoor urinal on the side of a church. You actually pee on the church, and nobody yells at you!

  29. dexitroboper says

    The Dublin Ghost Bus tour is great fun. And if any of the other places you’re staying have ghost walk tours then they’re usually a fun way to see a different side of the town.

  30. noodlezoop says

    I’ve heard the same that several others have said: the Mona Lisa is a lot of hassle for not much payoff, unless you are a devotee. The experience is apparently similar to checking out the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian.

    My only other tip-at-hand is that one should generally attempt to be sensitive with one’s choice of language in Belgium; listen to the speech and note the signs around you. Friction between the French and Flemish speakers lingers on (I couldn’t say how the minority German speakers feel), and the language chosen may occasionally cause offense. Not trying to make you paranoid, though. It’s a very friendly country. Brussels seems to be an OK place to bumble Americanly about in any case.

    If you like beer, you should go to the Delirium bar in Brussels, which has a crazy selection of beer. Largest in the world! Minimum 2,000 beers.

  31. petria says

    I spent 48 hrs in Paris once and among the highlights was simply walking along the Seine and running into famous landmarks. I had studied the Notre Dame cathedral at uni so when I spied the flying buttresses from a distance it was pretty exciting. Also the Latin Quarter is where you head for beer, bread and cheese in the afternoon, it is old, quirky and atmospheric.

    Yes always start with ‘bonjour’, then they immediately know that you don’t speak french but are making an effort. Then I just used sign language.

  32. phil237 says


    -Try visiting the Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden + zoo + Grande Gallerie de l’Evolution)

    -I recommend the cafés and restaurants in the rue Mouffetard,_Paris

    -If you want to visit the Louvres, Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, and Centre George Pompidou, be aware that the waiting lines are going to be long (those places are swarming with tourists during the summer) so try to get there early in the morning, or be patient…

    -The Louvres closes late on wednesday and fridays (9:45 pm instead of 6pm on the other days), so maybe you could visit it on the evening to avoid the crowds.

    -Oh, and yeah, we parisians don’t bite if you’re polite ;)

  33. ally says

    We pretty much just wandered around all of those cities. IMO, the best way to see a place is on foot. In Paris, I think we used the Metro once. We didn’t plan to hit any particular restaurants, just stopped wherever looked good when we got hungry. In addition to what others have suggested, I’ll add the catacombs in Paris. We visited the Louvre for free on a Friday evening (I think 6:45-9something for youth under 26). We must have hit them on an off day because there wasn’t even much of a crowd to see the Mona Lisa. We enjoyed the Eiffel Tower without climbing it, but we were broke and didn’t feel like dealing with lines. In Brussels, we stumbled upon the Grand Place (which is where we were headed, but we didn’t take the most direct route) and they were having a huge festival.

    I tried to use my French but everyone we encountered immediately picked up my accent and took the opportunity to use their English. The only time I got to speak French was when I went into the druggist looking for some meds.

    We used McDonald’s for the bathrooms wherever we went.

  34. Jackie says

    On top of things already mentioned, I vote for visiting the Catacombs in Paris. It’s an amazing sight–all those bones, stacked about. And do climb to the top of Notre Dame to visit with the gargoyles. Wandering about Pere Lachaise Cemetery is another good way to spend a couple of hours. And don’t believe all the rude Parisian stories. A smile works wonders.

  35. carpenterman says

    Memorize the following two sentences in French, Spanish, and German (Spanish included):
    “Where is the bathroom?”(Donde esta el bano?)
    “Two beers please.”(Dos cervacas por favor.)
    Activities requiring additional phrases are generally a waste of time and should be avoided.

  36. phil237 says

    The only downside to the Catacombs is that all signs down there are either in French, Latin or ancient Greek, but I guess the view speaks for itself ;) (also up to 40mins waiting line if you go there at peak hour)

  37. Andy Groves says

    Yes, I know it’s a chapel, but from one atheist scientist to another, do visit Sainte-Chapelle (should be within walking distance of where you will be staying). It really is stunning. I also echo everyone’s recs of the Musée d’Orsay. If you want to continue walking south close the Luxembourg gardens, there is a wonderful bistro/wine bar on a quiet street called Le Mauzac

    ….with excellent (and not fancy) food and wine. I asked my wife to marry me after dinner there 12 years ago, and we went back 6 years later and it was just as good. Best to make a reservation if you want to eat in the evening.

    And when in Brussels, do eat the mussels and do have mayonnaise on your frites. Best fries in the world, evah……

  38. mallard says

    I reccommend drinking beaujolais in Paris, it’s a lovely soft red. I picked up one that was the tastiest wine I’d ever had by following the ‘2nd cheapest’ rule.

    A lot of places do set menus or main+dessert / main+drink deals. I had a few that were good value. If you want to order from the actual menu go ‘a la carte’, asking for the ‘menu’ will get you the set menu.

    Watch those cultural euphamisms – If you ask an English speaking French person for directions to the bathroom/ restroom they might just blink at you, ask for the toilets.

    I’ve been to the Lourve twice and while there was a crowd around the Mona Lisa, there wasn’t a que to get into the room. I agree the Mona is underwhelming, but just opposite her is a huge fantastic mural and to her left is a picture of our buddy Jesus crying the most realistic tears I’ve ever seen painted.

    The Pompidou has some interesting things, but is also chock full of wank. You might want a few glasses of that aforementioned beaujolais before going.

    Musee D’Orsay, definetely. And check out the nearby L’Orangerie too.

    I reccomend climing the Notre-Dame. You get phenomanal views of the city that include the Eiffel tower and you feel like you’ve EARNT them!

    Yeah, not that much of a fan. I’d actually be as daring as to reccomend skipping it for Bruges (medival city) or Anterwerp (funky comsopolitan feel, great low budget shopping). Otherwise, here are some notes:

    The Mannekin Pis is smaller then you think. There’s a store opposite it that sells chocolate statues of it that are bigger! But sometimes it’s wearing a cute costume.

    Check out the Rene Magritte collection.

    The Belgians have a spiced biscuit called Specaloos. They put it in all sorts of desserts, including chocolate bars. It’s yummy.

    Buying hot chips in Belgium is a must, you’ll get them in a paper cone and be offered a range of unusal toppings, the standard options being mayo or aoili (garlic mayo).


  39. Mark says

    If you are in Paris on a Friday night and can rollerskate:
    Sitting in a cafe and watching 15,000 rollerskaters go by (includes families and kids) is spectacular enough, but being in the middle of the pack is the most memorable and unique way to see the City at night.
    Break a leg!

  40. says

    Paris: Sainte Chapelle is the most beautiful small building in the world. The catacombs are good for perspective. The Rodin grounds are lovely on a nice day.

  41. Mary P says

    Definitely get a metro pass. You can get day passes or multi day passes. It is very easy to navigate. If you go to Sacré-Cœur you can take the funicular up and down with the pass (we walked up and rode down). We had one reasonable meal on the Champs-Élysées but it is generally very expensive. Menus are posted outside all restaurants which was very useful as one of our group was vegetarian and it can be hard to find vegetarian meals in Paris.
    Best breakfast was chocolate croissants and coffee from the bakery just down the block from our hotel.
    In most places you do not need to speak french but do remember your bonjour and merci. Reading basic french helps – all of us read simple french but only one in our group was bilingual. Most of all just have fun.

  42. davidcortesi says

    We just spent 2 weeks in Paris, our first time there, and can give a couple of tips.

    One, the queue at every museum is a queue to buy a ticket. If you pre-purchase the Paris Museum Pass you won’t save much money but you never have to buy a ticket, you just go to the “I’ve got a ticket let me in” line which is much shorter. You can get it from any tourist info office or kiosk or preorder online by mail.

    Two, all lines are shorter before 11am. Go anywhere (and especially the Louvre) half an hour before opening time and you’ll breeze in. On your way OUT you will see a huge queue of hundreds of people waiting to get in. Before 10am you can fire cannons safely around the plaza in front of Notre Dame. After 12 you can’t move there.

    Three, the Louvre is immense, try to go with a plan. You can find the floor plans online. If you want to read our (I think amusing) take on the louve experience see this blog post.

    Four, physically in the same building as the Louve is the Museum of Decorative Arts, but it is a separate museum with its own ticket (or the Museum Pass). If you like gorgeous furniture, glass, ceramics etc, you can spend lots of time here too.

    Five, French culture is a polite culture and places high value on greetings and thank-yous. The only French you really need to know is Bonjour, Messieur/Madame and Merci bien. Learn to say these four words right, and say them often. You come into a store or restaurant and the hostess or clerk sees you, you say Bonjour, Madame right away and smile. Step up to a kiosk to buy a ticket, or a bar to buy a drink, you don’t just say “two, please,” you say Bonjour, Messieur! and smile, and then ask for what you want. If you look blank or expect service without the proper greeting and you get treated like an ignorant and ungrateful foreigner. Smile and greet, and you are treated with cheerful politeness even if you can’t say another word in French.

  43. says

    Brussels reader here :) You’ll find that most of our specialties commes in form of food.

    For a day trip, I recommend skipping the Atomium: it’s overrated, far from downtown, and there’s nothing else around except a multiplex.

    Instead stay in the center, starting with the Grand Place – that’s the one thing you shouldn’t miss. Then, go under the arch with the golden statue and straight ahead until you reach the Manneken pis. Now that your architecture quota is fulfilled, onto the food! There’s a great beer place right there, called the Poechenellekelder, they have everything.
    On your way back to the Grand place, get a waffle from one of the local stands (try a Liege Waffle rather than a Brussels waffle).
    Close to the Place, there’s a Dandoy shop – a country-wide renown baker – where you can get a bag of speculoos, the belgian cinnamon biscuit. If you’re more into chocolates, go for Marcolini: pricey but also considered the best of best.
    Getting thirsty? The “Delirium Tremens” is close to Janneke pis, the little sister from Manneken pis. To bring some back with you, visit the Biertemple (Beer Temple).

    If you’re there on a weekend, I might even join you :)
    Just be careful with belgian beer, it’s ranging from 8° to 12°, pretty similar to french wine.

  44. Emptyell says

    When I was in Paris the only rudeness I encountered was at McDonalds (yuch, I know, my friend was hungry and homesick) on the Champs Élysées. Otherwise all you have to do is make a small, earnest effort to speak French and you will be treated well. Just understand their efforts to correct you as signs of respect and appreciation. Key phase: “Bonjour. Je suis americain. Parlez vous anglais.” (note: my ‘merican iPad doesn’t do the accents AFAIK). All in all I have found the French to be warm, friendly and delightful.

    I always get basic language stuff for my iPhone whenever I go somewhere new and listen while I pretend to sleep on the plane. It’s a huge help no matter where you go. If you do, be sure to get stuff that’s designed for driving, unless you want to carry/read a lesson book.

    Add another vote for the Louvre and Pompidou. Absolute must sees if you care about art. I haven’t made it to the Musee d’Orsay yet. Maybe next time.

    Another place I love is l’Orangerie. Included in a great collection of impressionists is an amazing exhibit of Monet’s water lilies. They surround you on the walls of elliptical rooms. They ere especially wonderful if you are nearsighted (I guess around 20/200). Take your glasses off and they come to life. It’s really mind blowing. At least it is to me. The funny thing is I’ve never heard or seen any mention of this. (For those who can’t make it to Paris this works with all the water lily paintings. Some better than others and none like l’Orangerie, but it’s still really cool and may be in a museum near you.) if you’re not nearsighted reading glasses might do the trick but I have no data on this.

    If it hasn’t become too touristy (it’s been a while) the cafes and clubs along the Boulevard St Germain were always a favorite of mine. For great food at good prices look for a line at the door speaking French (even better if you can recognize the Parisian accent). For entertainment and nightlife I’ll leave that to younger folks with more current knowledge.

  45. Mario says

    For Paris I second the Musee d’Orsay. I found it much, much better than the Louvre, which is crowded and has too many boring artworks while you can’t see the good ones because of the crowds. I’m also a big fan of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Go see the Sacre Coueur, there is always something going on at the steps and the view on top is very good(and grab a crepe at the bottom of the steps while you are there). The Notre Dame is also awesome. A boattrip on the Seine is something you really must do, you can get on one near the Eiffel Tower. The Dome des Invalides, where you can find Napoleon is also beautiful. If you want to have a drink or a snack, prices in bars in popular areas are outrageous. Go into one of the smaller side-streets, you’re bound to find a small grocery shop, usually open 24/7. Get something to eat and drink there, sit down in one of the many parks or just on a bench in the street and enjoy Paris. Best way to get around is the metro. Get a map from the hotel (streets on one side, the metro on the other, lines are named after their endstations), buy a Paris Visite ticket (3 or 5 days of unlimited bus and metro) and off you go. And I find Paris quite safe, but I’d avoid the Bois the Bologne at night. And never ever go to Fouquets on the Champs Elysee, except if you want to see the world’s most arrogant waiters (and then only if you are a masochist or a psychology major doing research about human behaviour). If you want to see something weird, go visit the catacombs. Miles and miles of corridors and halls filled with bones (and decorations of bones). Combine that with a visit of Pere Lachaise, the famous cemetary (and not just because of Jim Morrison).

  46. Pseudoniempje says

    Skip manneken pis, really dissappointing. If you want to go for chocolate, all mayor names are at the Zavel (or Sablon in French, every place has both a French and a Dutch name, who don’t necessarily sound the same, so pay attention. This can be very confusing). For specific beers Delirium is definitely the place to go, all though any random bar will do if you’re only going for one day (there are only so many beers one can drink in a day after all).
    In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never heard of the Kronplatz, so I assume Aubergine was talking about de Grote Markt (la Grand-Place), which is definitely worth seeing. Also you might want to visit the music instruments museum, even if it were only for the beautiful art nouveau architecture.
    When are you exactly coming to Brussels? If I haven’t gone to Sweden by then, I would love to be able to say hello, if that’s ok.

  47. Slow Learner says

    Ehhh, having been to Paris recently, I can vouch for the fact that Parisians you actually converse with are reasonably polite, especially if you can make some attempt at speaking in French.
    Parisians out and about on the street, however, are really fucking rude. They’ll very happily barge you off the pavement and into a busy road.

  48. Axxyaan says

    When in Brussels I would recommend the coudenberg. The local beers are gueuze and kriek but try to avoid those from brewery “belle vue” as that is the big brewery that mass produces its products.
    You can visit the gueuze museum which is also one of the local breweries.

  49. says

    I second the motions on the Louvre, I spent all my time at the French and Italian painters. Botticelli and Ingres take my breath away. Museé D’Orsay as well. Eating near the museums is a mistake, very pricey and touristy. If you can stomach being in a church, skip the Notre Dame but run to the Sacre Coeur. The art and architecture are absolutely stunning, as is the surrounding area, Montmartre. Perfect for a stroll. If you don’t have claustrophobia or a fear of heights, [I have both, but did it anyway] climbing to the top of the Sacre Coeur is really amazing. The view of the city is incredible and climbing the old narrow winding tower is pretty wonderful in and of itself.

    For all those that say Parisians are rude, it is merely because they did not try to speak French. I don’t speak very well, and have a serious American accent but the Parisians welcomed me with open arms. They love to see Americans making an effort and are completely disgusted by those that don’t try.

    Always start with bonjour as many mentioned above, but I would go one more and try to learn a few useful phrases.

    Useful phrases in a restaurant, where you’ll care the most about how you’re treated.
    “Deux pour manger, s’il vous plaît.” [2 to eat, please]
    “Je voudrais [I would like]…une verre de vin blanc/rouge” [a glass of white wine/red wine].
    And you can use “Je voudrais”… and then just read off the menu!
    “L’addition, s’il vous plaît!” [the check please!]
    Do not call for the waiter by saying “garcon!” That’s bad form.
    “Pardonnez moi, s’il vous plaît.” Is best.
    oh and “Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît?” Where is the bathroom?
    BTW saying s’il vous plait and merci all the time will get you in good. They appreciate politeness.
    And one more “pardon.” When squeezing by people on the metro or on the street or in a restaurant.

    Lastly, walking. The city is so beautiful and old, all you really need to do is stroll! I like to start at the Louvre head west towards the carousel and walk up and down the Seine skipping across whichever bridge takes my fancy. It’s a nice thing to do as a couple, but it’s also a wonderful thing to do on your own.

    Practice a little French, and I can guarantee you will have a lovely time and think of the Parisians as the warmest people. They really are charmed by a cute American accent. “Ton accent est trop mignon!”

  50. Hannes says

    Could it be that you mean the “Grand Place” (=main square or big market) instead of the “Kronplatz”?
    I understand dutch and french names in Brussels, but german?? I don’t even think KronPlatz is correct german.

  51. Tricia says


    I live in Dublin (well work here, live in Kildare) and whilst I agree that you need to try Guinness, make sure you try it in a “Guinness” pub. Believe when I say, it makes a difference. A few, off the top of my head are Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street (immortalised in James Joyce’s Ulysses). Also, the Dawson Lounge (aka the smallest pub in Dublin, on Dawson Street). The Auld Dubliner in Temple Bar. All (I have on reliable authority) good “Guinness” pubs.

    Places to visit. I love Kilmainham Gaol. It gives a really good understanding of the political history of Ireland. If you’re interested, it’s a fascinating tour and museum though I wouldn’t recommend going on a Sat, it get’s really busy.

    If you want to see a night that is, admittedly, tourist orientated, go to the Oliver St. John Goherty in Temple Bar. They have a music session with Irish songs, I believe, every night. The drinks are grossly overpriced but the music is good.

    There is the Book of Kells in Trinity College. The ChesterBeatty Library. The Dublin Writers Museum.

    The Dublina exhibit detailing the history of the Vikings in Dublin. That’s up by Christchurch Cathedral. Also very interesting.

    As has already been mentioned, there is the National Museums/ Library, mostly up by Merrion Square and Kildare Street.

    There is the Gardens of Remembrance at Parnell Sq dedicated to all those that fought for Irish freedom. It has a great sculpture of the Children of Lir. A famous Irish myth. Keep an eye out for the bullet holes for 1916 on the following buildings. The GPO (O’Connell st) and the Royal College of Surgeons on Stephens Green. Also, there is a hole in the breast of one of the angels surrounding O’Connell’s statue at the top of O’Connell Street.

    Places to eat. There are plenty of pubs that do pretty good food reasonably enough. I wouldn’t hang round O’Connell St area very much, it’s not the nicest part of the city, I’d stick more to the South side, Grafton St, Stephens Green area. A stroll round Stephens Green is nice. Also, The Hairy Lemon is a great bar. Well, I like it. Kinda laid back, not pretentious. Nice for a drink in the evening.

    Did you check out Atheist Ireland? They often have an “Atheists in the Pub” evening on a Thurs night in McTurkells (corner of Tara Street). Don’t know if there is one scheduled whilst you’re here.

    So, I’ve kinda rambled on a bit, but hopefully something here might interest you. Again, Kilmainham. I love it. :)

  52. Q.E.D says

    If you like impressionists then go to the Marmmotan Museum in the 16th. This is off the tourist track in a lovely 18th century “Hotel Particulier” It is full of Monet’s works and has a series of very abstract water Lillies that don’t get seen outside of France very often.

  53. PhilJo says


    Visit the Guinness Hopstore and do the brewery tour, but try the Porterhouse in Temple Bar as well for some really tasty beers otherwise avoid Temple Bar as much as possible ;).

    Take a day to visit Newgrange, it’s only a few miles up the road and a remarkable site.

    Mulligans is one of the few pubs in central Dublin that survived the Formica “revolution” and the advent of “super” pubs subsequently.

    The <a href=""Phoenix Park is worth hiring a bike to wander around.

    The Science Gallery usually has an interesting exhibition on and their flair for making science interesting to the general public is remarkable.

    Trinity College is obviously worth a wander around and in the unlikely event of a sunny day, taking the DART southbound has beautiful views over the bay.

    I worked in “The Dead Zoo” for a while and can heartily recommend it also.

    Enjoy the trip

  54. Q.E.D says

    Agreed. I was born and raised in Paris. I find that most Americans who complain about Parisians being rude either conformed to the stereotype and/or were looking for rudeness and found it. Don’t forget that, just under the surface, the French really admire a lot about Americans and their culture (music clothes, classic film etc, politics and “savage capitalism” not so much). The US is one of the top tourist destinations for the French. They love Obama but unfortunately conservative politics, George W Bush, anti-abortion/contraception, fundamentalism tends to strengthen the stereotype of “ignorant Americans”.

    Top Tip: go to the Ile St Louis (an island in the middle of the Seine) and sit at the terrace of the Brasserie de L’Ile St Louis. The terrace has a beautiful view of Notre Dame from the back (with its flying butresses, I think it’s the prettiest bit). I misspent a lot of my youth there and highly recommend it. If you like Sauerkraut, the restaurant is Alsatian and serves great food.

  55. Hendrake says

    For Bruxelles I recommend downloading the Use-it Bruxelles map at

    It is in English and full of infos collected b locals about what to do, what to see, where to eat etc.

    As for Paris, you aren’t going to be able to see everything. I would just add a couple of suggestions to what other people said:

    The 4me arrondissement is very near to the Place du Chatelet, the hub of the metro system. I would get a pass. You probably want a pass for the zones 1-2 (or 1-4 if you want to visit Versailles). If you take single tickets and go out of metro zone 1, only take the metro M and never the RER since the ticket the RER uses outside zone 1 is different and you risk being stuck with a fine.

    There are more then 400 parks in Paris. It’s really not while you walk to order a take-away crepe or a salty pastry and eat it in the Jardins de Luxemburg, Jardins de la Tuillerie, Jardin des plantes, or one of the myriad parks.

    To get a taste of Paris nightlife the Place de la Bastille is the place to go. The streets around it are full of night clubs, pubs, and whatnot.

    Allow yourself to get lost just to look at the buildings, the street and the people. In French there is an verb for that, flaner. :)

    If you like cinema, la Cinémathèque française is a museum of the art and history of movies, with a temporary wing dedicated to Tim Burton:

  56. ibbica says

    Just wanted to add that for hoarding Belgian chocolates and speculoos (tastes like gingerbread, especially if you get one with almonds), do go to the regular grocery stores!

    Carrefour/GB (and I think Delhaize? Not sure though) carry a brand of chocolate called “Jacques”, which is relatively cheap but delicious! The tins or boxes of “Langues de Chat” (not what the direct translation sounds like…) tins or boxes are great for bringing back to share, as are Côte d’Or’s boxes of individually-wrapped “Mignonettes”.

    For bringing speculoos back, store brands are perfectly acceptable :) Of course, nothing beats a big, warm, freshly-baked speculoos biscuit with almonds, but those can be tricky to transport… do eat one while you’re in town, though!

    As for language… others have pretty much covered it, but I will point out that tourists are often armed with VERY formal phrases that sound ‘quaint’ to local ears, so don’t be alarmed if you get a lot of ‘oh aren’t you just adorable!’ smiles/giggles/comments. It’s OK, erring on the side of “overly polite” helps pretty much everywhere :) Another thing to try to not be alarmed about: “personal space bubbles” over here are about 4″ around…

    Protip: in Brussels and Paris (IIRC), washrooms in restaurants and tourist attractions aren’t free. They’re attended by a “Madame Pipi” who will expect anything from 20-50 cents for their cleaning/stocking services. Keep some small change on hand!

    Beer-drinking protip: don’t bother ordering Stella Artois. Please, just… don’t.

  57. Swans says

    Brussels is nice, Antwerp or Brugues are better. And why not take the train to Amsterdam while you’re at it? It’s quite disconcerning to see that all you Americans have seen more of Europe than myself. I’ve never been to Paris while it’s only a 5 hour drive away. I should put that on my to do list quickly…

  58. QoB says

    Bike tour of Paris was fun the last time I was there. If you don’t object to visiting churches, Sainte-Chapelle is incredible. Notre Dame I can take or leave, and I agree re: the view from Sacré Coeur.
    I speak a bit of French and didn’t have any issues while using it in Paris.

    I’m a Dubliner and I reiterate what I said on the last post you had about visiting Dublin:) with added BOG BODIES in the National Museum on Kildare St (free). You also might like the Science Museum on the north-east corner of the Trinity College campus – it’s not really a museum, more of an exploratorium, and they sometimes have workshops tied in with the current exhibition. It’s free, too.

    The Dublin Bikes are a good way to get around the city and I think it’s €3 for three days to use them. Ooo! and the Hit the Road app (iOS and Android) is great for getting directions around Dublin by walking/bus/tram/train/whatever. Le Cool magazine also do art and design based walking tours around Dublin – they’ll take you off the major streets and show you what’s happening that weekend – they’re @lecooldublin. Another tour that I’ve heard good things about is @irishhistory’s tours of medieval Dublin.

    IF you have good weather while you’re there (big IF), getting the Dart (train) to Howth Head is really nice and you get a great view of Dublin from there. And/or you can get a bus to Glendalough in Wicklow and hike around the lakes, see the round tower, etc.

  59. QoB says

    oops I didn’t mean that as a reply! But yes, the deer are cool:) Just to be avoided during mating season… but summer is safe enough.

  60. QoB says

    “Ireland: Drink Guinness, eat stew. If you were lazy and ate every meal in a pub, it would not necessarily be a mistake, and there is generally one within walking distance of wherever you are.”

    Haha, love this.

  61. raymoscow says

    For Paris: don’t be afraid to explore the city on foot. The metro system is pretty good (but beware of pickpockets), but walking around the place is best.

    You’ll need a couple of days just to do the Louvre, and of course there are several other world-class museums.

  62. Expaddy says

    Things to try in dublin:
    Tayto cheese and onion crisps.
    An Irish breakfast. Preferably with clonakilty black/white pudding. Don’t ask, just eat it.

    Take a taxi with a Dublin driver and let him talk at you.
    Sit next to an old man in a bar and let him talk at you.

    If you feel like junk food, try Abrakebabra.
    Just don’t expect it to be like any kebab you’ve had anywhere else.

    In brussels, start eating chocolate when you arrive. Don’t stop. Once you leave, any missed chocolate opportunities will be regretted.

  63. littlejohn says

    When in Brussells, check out their sprouts. And in Paris, say ‘hi’ to Hilton.

  64. Jon says

    Ooh, is one’s right in my wheelhouse. I’m a Canadian ex-pat currently living in Brussels, but I’ve spent plenty of time in France as well, and in fact I’m in Paris right now.

    So, first of all: I know you said to spare you the ‘Paris sucks’ advice, but…okay, Paris doesn’t suck. But it’s like the third best city in France, at best. Visit Bordeaux and Strasbourg instead and you’ll have a much better time. That said, some quick advice:

    The Louvre takes 3 days, minimum. If you only budgeted one or two days, make peace with the fact that you’re not going to see everything instead of trying to rush around and stress yourself out to see it all.

    Centre Georges Pompidou is great.

    Use for dinner plans/reservations, but go to a grocery shop and get baguette, cheese, pâté, and wine for lunch/dinner when you want to save money.

    Pickpockets abound in the metro and all of the big tourist areas.

    Visit the cinémathèque française. It is the center of the cinemaphile world, and fascinating even if you’re not a film buff. (I believe the current exhibition is on Tim Burton, so probably ok even if you don’t speak much French.)

    For Brussels:

    Seriously, a day trip??

    I’m just gonna come out and say it: Belgian beer is better than French wine. The typical tourist place to go for beer is Delerium (they have like 10,000 varieties from around the world), but right around the corner from there is a lovely small shop called Caprices et Délices. The proprietor is super nice and will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about beer, and still has a wide selection–perhaps 300-400 varieties, but they are all Belgian, and are more curated that Delerium’s STOCK ALL THE BEERS! approach.

    The best chocolatier in Belgium is Neuhaus, but they’re also twice as expensive as Leonidas and not thaaaat much better. Also, they have shops worldwide, so there’s no need to hoard for bringing back stateside–I’d bet money there’s one in an upscale mall somewhere in Seattle.

    Everyone knows Hergé, but Belgium has a long tradition of all sorts of bandes de ciné (comic books). There’s a great comic museum, and murals all around the city of gigantic comic book panels. My personal favourite is at Gare du Midi, it’s a giant Tintin mural of him on a locomotive.

    Yes, the official languages of Brussels are French and Dutch, but in actuality it’s French first, then English. You won’t have any trouble at all just sticking to English. If you want to avoid even the slightest possibility of getting embroiled in language politics, just start off by asking, in English, “Do you speak English?”

    Belgian waffles are the greatest street food known to man. Don’t get ’em someplace fancy. Grab them from a cart, with chantilly and chocolate. Belgian fries are overrated.


    . This short infographic video will tell you everything you need to know about Belgian politics.

    If you’d like to grab a beer or a bite or something with my fiancée and I while you’re in Brussels, feel free to hit me up via email (I’m assuming you can see the unpublished email addresses?).

  65. hoary puccoon says

    In France, you’re not an American. That’s what your boyfriend is. You’re an Americaine (last syllable pronounced like cane.)

    Other advice-
    If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel tower, get there before it opens in the morning, like about quarter to nine. If you think, oh, it doesn’t matter that much, and get there at quarter to ten, you’ll stand in line forever.

    You can dress casually, even in blue jeans, but if you look sharp you’ll probably get treated better–like black walking shoes instead of sneakers, a tailored jacket instead of a sloppy sweatshirt, a t shirt that isn’t oversized and doesn’t have writing on it.

    I love the bateaux mouches– the tourist boats on the river Seine. They’re touristy but fun, with a very informative spiel in multiple languages.

    Don’t spend all of your time rushing to the must-see spots. Spend some of your time just being young and in Paris– walking along the left bank of the Seine looking at the booksellers’s stalls, stopping in a sidewalk cafe for a cafe creme or a glass of wine (hint ; the domestic sparkling wine is excellent and generally cheaper than an American cocktail), eating in a sidewalk restaurant that didn’t show up in a guide, but strikes you as cute. The biggest mistake I’ve seen American tourists in Paris make is rushing around seeing all the must-see spots, but never really seeing Paris!

  66. MyaR says

    my ‘merican iPad doesn’t do the accents AFAIK

    Hold down the letter you need accented, and you’ll be able to select the letter-with-diacritic.

  67. says

    For a science geek visiting Paris, your priorities are

    1) Musée des Arts et Métiers

    2) Musée des Arts et Métiers

    3) Musée des Arts et Métiers

    4) (if you still have time after the first three) Musée des Arts et Métiers

    If you feel like a walk in the park, try the Jardin des Plantes. Paris can get very hot (and dusty!) in June / July, but the Jardin des Plantes has a nice little pavillion with a cafeteria.

    The Louvre is overrated, IMHO, except for the archaeological section, where you can tour what is left of the original medieval fortress and see scale models of Paris and the Louvre at various points in history.

  68. Humppa in Hohenheim says

    for brussels: I’d recommend buying the lowest prized chocolates at godiva(still expensive but freakin’ awesome). mary chocolatier is pretty famous but not really worth it.

    for paris: if you like great food try to get a table at “gaya, rive gauche”. it’s a restaurant by pierre gagnaire, but it’s not one of his big ones so it’s more relaxed, less expensive and you have a chance to get a table.

    on which date are you planning to go to brussels and is there any chance for fan-meet-up?

  69. DPSisler says

    I did my MBA there 10 years ago, so I can no longer comment on the clubs.

    – Get a Musee Pass! As someone else said, you can buy them anywhere and skip the lines
    – Students are treated like royalty – lots of discounts so bring your Student ID
    – The first Monday of the Month, or third (I forget), is Free Musee access for Students! check it out
    – Musee du Rodin, rocks! and is not well known
    – You are there in the summer, so do the “walking tour” of the gardens of Versailles…walk the path of Louis XIIII while listening to period music. AWESOME!

    You can email me, and I can send other recommendations with links and stuff…..

  70. says

    I’ve never been to Dublin. I’ve been to Paris but am no expert. I like the Eiffel Tower. Not as a view platform, but as an example of fin-de-siecle engineering, all Jules Verne and so on.

    I’m not a beer drinker, but Belgium is famous for having a huge variety of beers. Find a bar which has at least 100 kinds and choose the most bizarre.

  71. says

    I haven’t been to Paris yet, but I have been traveling around Europe a great deal, and I have a gadget-tech suggestion for you- get the TripAdvisor app (iphone or android). It has good maps of a ton of cities, including Dublin and Paris, along with location information for hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

    While you’re in town, it uses the gps and compass on the phone instead of superexpensive cellular data to locate you on the map and to help you find things near you. There’s also a ‘point me there’ feature that was really helpful for me in Barcelona.

  72. Eamonn says

    Well I grew up just 12 miles south of Dublin City centre so there are loads of things to do. Visit the Guinness Hop store and get a free pint of Guinness ( you can pull your own), do the splash tour, visit Grafton Street for shopping, Get a picture with the Molly Malone status at the end of Grafton Street, Visit St Stephens Green and feed the ducks (bring bread), its real oasis in the city centre, visit Trinity College (its ok but not great), walk by the GPO on O’Connell Street and see the bullet holes from the 1916 Rising, National Art Gallery on Kildare street (worth a visit). They should keep you busy. There are loads more to do as well.

    As for Paris, Its a great city. I could spend 3-4 months there and not see everything. Best tip is to buy a day ticket for the water bus/taxi (big boats see 100-150) they go along the Seine stopping at the major Tourist attractions. I would suggest the Eiffle Tower, Water Lillies,Muse De’Orassee (spelling?) (Van Gough), The Lourve -You can spend weeks here. Pre book the guides tour, takes about 1 hour and they show you the main bits and then can you wander around for the rest of the day. Visit Notre Dame, Take the metro to Sacre Cpeur then walk to the Moulin Rouge, Have a snack outside a french cafe and watch life go by.

    What ever you do in Paris, Start early. You need to be out and about around 9:00am and be first in the Queue. Tourist attractions are very busy during the summer.


  73. Georgia Sam says

    My #1 recommendation in Paris in the Musee D’Orsay. It’s my favorite art museum. It has a fabulous Impressionist collection & the building is very cool, too.

  74. Georgia Sam says

    I second your recommendation of the water taxi. Great way to see the sights along the Seine.

  75. says

    The street food in Belgium is amazing. When I was on tour we spent several days in Bruges, and I could have lived on things I bought at stands alone. Now, I admit, I have a particular love for street food, but don’t turn down an opportunity for new things as there will be new things. Off the top of my head, I was the only person in my band to try the pickled mussels, and they were absolutely delicious.

  76. says

    One important thing I forgot to mention about the Louvre. (Sorry If someone else has already mentined this.) There are several other entrances besides through IM Pei’s famous glass pyramid with its extremely long line of tourists: an underground entrance through the Carrousel du Louvre promenade, through the Porte des Lions on the quai des tuileries, and through the Passage Richelieu, but you need a pass to get through there. The Porte des Lions is probably the quickest way in.

    I would try to explain to you the locations of these various entrances and where you end up inside the Louvre if you take each one, but it’d probably be simpler for you to look at a map of the Louvre.

  77. Andy says

    I’ve never been to France, but last summer my wife and I took a trip to Germany. The big thing she warned me about was ordering water. You can order sparkling water, or normal bottled water, but never ever order tap water. It’s perfectly drinkable, but I guess it makes you look super cheap and like a total slob. I’m not sure if it’s universal, or if it’s just a German thing, but it’s something you might want to look out for.

    When I was younger, I went on a trip to the UK with my parents. Their sage advice to me was that, over there, “pants” really means “underwear” and “trousers” are what we call “pants” here in America. I have no idea why they thought it would ever come up in conversation, or why they thought it would be a stumbling block if it did… but there you have it.

  78. Alison says

    Lots of good advice about Paris and Brussels (I have never been to Dublin). If you like cemeteries, skip Père Lachaise and visit the cemetery in Montmartre instead. If you like food, visit the rue Mouffetard. Avoid the restos near the touristy things, especially the ones where a guy beckons you to come and eat. Find a cafe somewhere and take a seat outside and watch the people go by.

    If you like to ride a bike, check out the Vélib bike rentals.

    And as everyone above said, be sure to greet shopkeepers/waiters with “Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur” (or if there’s a woman and a man, “Bonjour M’sieur’dame”). Say “Merci, au revoir, Madame” when you leave.

    Have fun!

  79. says

    The last time I was in Paris, we went to this amazing Ice Cream place. “Bertillon” on Isle St. Louis. Most of the cafes there say “a la maison de Bertillon” but there is nothing like the original.

    I highly recommend it. Their ice cream is some of the best in the world.

  80. Sophie says

    The Rodin Museum is my favorite museum in Paris! Beautiful art, AND not so huge that you can’t see it all in 2-3 hours.

  81. davidcortesi says

    What you say about tap water may be true for Germany, but in Paris and elsewhere we’ve been in France, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the waiter for un carafe d’eau (uhn caw rawf doh see voo play). They immediately and without question bring a bottle or carafe with room-temperature tap water. We were startled when one time in 6 weeks, the carafe came with a few ice cubes in it!

  82. Esther says

    I second the bog bodies.

    The Book of Kells and the library in Trinity College are awesome, especially if they have other manuscripts on display too, but they are overpriced and over-peopled.

    Also, food-wise in Dublin, I absolutely recommend the Cedar Tree. Lebanese. Best. Food. Ever. Not cheap, but certainly not expensive. If there’s 2 of you, you shouldn’t need to book.

  83. Esther says

    No, no, no, not Amsterdam! If you want to visit the Netherlands, at least go to Utrecht! Much prettier.

  84. Sandiseattle says

    Don’t know how long you’ll be in gay paree, but on my list (tho not top) is Shakespeare and Co. (google it, it is way cool.)

  85. Emma Hill says

    Yes, yes to the dead zoo (the Natural History Museum)! On the top floor they have a display of models of tiny sea creatures made out of glass that the most intricate and beautiful things I have ever seen.

    The bog bodies and the gold in the National Museum on Kildare Street are must sees. I am of the opinion that the gold (which was mostly discovered by accident in bogs or fields) is the origin of the ‘gold at the end of the rainbow’ myth.The bog bodies are mostly sacrificed kings, gruesome and fascinating.

    Also good is Marsh’s Library, which is tiny but looks like something out of Diskworld (books in cages!).

    Another oddity is the Casino (as in ‘little house’) at Marino ( it’s a lovely but tiny Georgian building that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside…

    The city bus tours are good and a great way to see the city without walking your legs off.

  86. LLR says

    I love Paris. Brussels is nice, but not as cool as Paris. As a science person I would recommend Musée des Arts et Métiers. It is the place where much of the cool stuff from science history resides, including Foucault’s pendulum. When I was there it was early in the morning, during the week and it was super quiet and interesting. Well worth the time. I also love the Maritime museum in the Trocadero near to the Eiffel Tower. Do go up the tower, preferable near sunset. The view is lovely, and there are lights on the tower that sparkle. Sparkle is always good. Besides, you will wish you had done it even if you don’t think you would like it. The d’Orsay is one of my most favorite places on earth, and it is a nice place to have lunch.
    Visit a grocery store and bakery. The food is interesting, and tasty. French bread is amazing. Wash fruit before you eat it. (Apparently, Americans are not immune to whatever is on French fruit.)
    When I was in Brussels, there was an ongoing political/social war between the French and Dutch components of the city. It was easiest to avoid all problems by speaking English in Brussels. That was you don’t have to endure the political vitriol. The mussels, waffles, frites, and what ever else is on offer are worth eating. Ask at your hotel to find the best chocolate. (You can live on the chocolate here, but why miss the frites?) I do agree with the person who recommended Bruges. Bruges is wonderful.

  87. Pseudoniempje says

    I don’t think Neuhaus is the best chocolatier, especially not in Brussels. That would be either Wittamer or Pierre Marcolini, but I agree that the shop with the best quality/price ratio is Leonidas. And then there’s this awesome guy, Patrick Roger, who makes chocolate sculputurs. Last time I was at the Sablon he had a hippo ^^

  88. Mario says

    The recommendation of skipping Brussels and going to Bruges instead is a very good one! Bruges is a UN heritage site, and deservedly so. And there is good chocolate there as well. Brussels is a big city, with big city trafic and all, and the Atomium just plain sucks. As far as I can remember (it’s been a while) the central marketplace in Brussel is the only thing really nice there. Bruges is like that everywhere and traffic is very limited. Brussels is however much easier to reach by train from Paris. The highspeed train leaves Paris Nord and stops in Brussel central in an hour and a half or so.

  89. Tristan says

    As a Parisian, I thought that people tended to be rude to tourists,
    but most people here seems to feel otherwise, that’s cool !

    Everything above sounds like good advices (except about beer being better than wine! ).
    If you get the chance, buy some wine (I would usually pay 10-15 euros for a bottle) and cheese (among my favorites are comté, roblochon, or a “crottin de chèvre”) at a local store, and enjoy !

    Here are two french restaurants I tried and enjoyed recently (you can find really good food from other countries in Paris, but I guess you would rather eat french food while there) :
    Le Berthoud, 1 rue Valette
    La Canaille, 4 rue Crillon

    Oh, and if you go eat lunch at the Jardin du luxembourg (which is one of the nicest park in Paris), or some other place nearby, you can visit the museum of the Institut Curie, situated in one of Marie Curie’s laboratory :

    Enjoy your stay in Paris !

  90. says

    Haven’t read all the entries, but most seem to go on about Paris and Dublin. Which is fine, I especially like Dublin.

    When in Brussels, don’t go out of your way to see the tourist attractions such as Manneke Pis. If you walk by it fine, do not take 2 minutes to walk especially past it.

    Same goes for Mona Lisa in the Louvre, it is behind 20 cm of plexiglas, and a gazillion tourists. Not worth your time!

    DO check out the area (Brussels) that is called ‘de Marollen’. This is a neighbourhood with mixed ethnicities. Real Belgian ‘plebs’ (do not know the right word in English, I mean simple/plain people; not urbanites, but the opposite)

    Mixed with North African ‘gastarbeider’ First and second generation Algerians, and Maroccans, which makes for a fantastic blend. Especially on ‘het Vossenplein’. Middle of the neighbourhood, there is a market there, all kinds of shabby/chic kitsch and antiques. Mountains of second hand clothes, comic books, pottery, folk art, etc.

    In all the streets surrounding this market there are antique shops/junk shops where you can spend anywhere from 2 to 20.000 euro’s.

    This clip gives a good idea

    Off course, if you have time left, come visit Rotterdam. I will be glad to show you around!

  91. says

    I also recommend the Guinness Storehouse. Really fun mseum and a great view of Dublin from the top cafe as well.

    Along with several of the Paris recs, I enjoyed Montmartre. And I would just recommend trying as many different patisseries as possible, the croissants and other baked goods are just SO good.

  92. Jannie says

    Depending on whether you like meeting new people, I suggest Sunday Dinner at Jim Haynes’s place. You can see his philosophy about people and find basic information about his dinners here:

    I went this past April and it was a very interesting mix of people, albeit a bit American heavy, as a fluff article about Jim had been in the New York Times in March.

  93. Aubergine says

    You are of course correct. It is best called the Grand Place or Grote Markt.

    Thanks for the correction! My memory obviously failed me. :-)

  94. says

    Ou sont les toilettes? (Don’t make the mistake I did and ask for salles de bain, as they will laugh at you)

    Deux bières s’il vous plait (Or du vin for wine)

  95. Paddy says

    The Manneken Pis is one of the more fun identities of Brussels. He’s off the Grande Place which you must visit, of course, and now he has a female counter part in the Janneke Pis…yep, you guessed it, a little squatting girl.

    Also right off the Grande Place is the Toone theater, another classic.

    I second visiting the Sablon. Any chocolate is good, and try a waffle from a street vendor, the air is usually filled with the scent of them. Very stereotypical, I know, but I used to eat them all the time.

    You could visit the Atomium as well.

    You probably won’t have the time, but Waterloo is only 30 minutes south of Brussels and you could visit the battlefield and the Lion monument. They have the museum and shops, etc, and you can get a neat view from atop the monument.

    You MUST try moules frits (mussels and fries). There are restaurants in Brussels that specialize in nothing but a zillion different ways to serve mussels, delicious! I Belgium, everything comes with fries. Remember “French” fries were invented in Belgium, not France!

    I spent eight years growing up in Belgium and finished high school there. I know I’m biased, but I love that country. I’m excited for you, it’s a great place.

  96. Tricia says

    I don’t think you can view the bodies in the crypt of St Michan’s anymore. They were vandalised a few years ago and they decided to stop the viewing.

  97. Eamonn says

    Opps one thing I should have said is the coming from Ireland I found Paris to be very warm in the Summer so drink loads of water so you don’t get dehydrated.

  98. Humppa in Hohenheim says

    for the best ice cream in brussels go to “australian homemade” near the grande place(it’s a dutch company, but the recipe’s from Australia). they make amazing sorbets and you can also combine it with another belgium speciality: waffles. they sell their sorbet on origninal belgium waffles! soooooo good!

  99. Aj says

    I’m currently living in the UK, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to travel myself. The Olympic craziness hasn’t really started yet, and won’t do by the time you’re here, but I can’t say I blame you. I’m choosing the start of the Olympics to return home to Australia for the same reason.

    I can’t speak to Brussels or Dublin, as I’ve yet to go to either. In Paris the Lourve is worth visiting, but not for the Mona Lisa. It’s actually rather disappointing, but the rest of the museum is great and you can seriously spend a whole day there. Also, find a bakery and have fresh bread for breakfast at least once.

    It is, however, high season, so everything will be *very* crowded, more expensive, and it will be warm even hot. What I’d recommend is that you make lists of several places that interest you, and be prepared to quickly change your plans should you find that one place currently has too long a queue to be worthwhile. Also, pay attention to opening times. Often museums are closed on Mondays or other days you might not expect. Nothing more annoying than waiting in line only to find the museum closes at 1pm instead of 4 or 5 like you expected. Although, this is less true during summer, except for some of the smaller museums.

  100. says

    About the Atomium: If you’re there, take pictures and move on. Do not go inside (The exposition is not that interesting).

    If you have to stick around near the Atomium, visit Mini Europe (right besides it). It’s a display of miniaturized buildings from all over Europe.

  101. eigenperson says

    Glad to see that someone mentioned Berthillon. You absolutely have to go there while you are in Paris.

  102. Holly says

    Crepes w/ Nutella and banana, hands down THE BEST food in France. Oh yeah, the wine is ok too.

    Dublin is awesome – go to Temple Bar, which is an area of bars, and stay late. People already recommended that, but I thought I would support the suggestion. If you get a chance to travel in Ireland, you have to kiss the Blarney Stone and buy some wool scarves.

  103. Gord says

    Haven’t read through the comments, so maybe these have been mentioned, but…


    The Porterhouse for great beer and great food.

    St. Michan’s Church for mummified bodies (if you’re into that kind of thing).

    The National Museum for the bodies of people preserved in bogs (if you’re…).


    The Catacombs for the remains of 6M people, in the mine tunnels beneath Paris. (Hmmm… there’s a pattern forming here.)

    Sacre Couer Cathedral… up on the hill above Montmartre. Take the rooftop tour. Less crowded that Notre Dame but still very interesting. Also the crypt (with relics from… no, that’s enough!).

    The Latin Quarter for food… just show up, wander around, find a restaurant with lots of people in it.

    A few possibilities, anyway. Enjoy!!!

  104. Mario says

    Another reason to go to Bruges: Dominique Persoone, one of the just three chocolatiers in the Michelin Guide, creator of the Chocolate Shooter for the Rolling Stones and of a chocolate dress for Miss Belgium.

  105. Pen says

    Here’s one thing to avoid: I’m always amazed at how many tourists come up to me in France and say something like ‘d’yer know where’s a MacDonald’s?’ To which my response is ‘How did you know I spoke (colloquial) English???!!’

    A good phrase to learn is ‘Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?’ The answer is often yes, but people appreciate the opportunity to prepare their brains for it.

  106. Wolf says

    At Paris, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou are a must, if you are interested in Art. And both buildings are spectacular too.
    If the weather is nice, walk along Canal Saint-Martin. Or visit the Quartier-Latin. Or Montmartre. Or, or…

  107. DaveL says

    When I visited Paris in 2004, we stayed on a little street in the 7th arrondissment called Rue de L’Exposition that had a few (not-too expensive) nice restaurants in and around it (President Obama & family once ate at La Fontaine de Mars just at the end of it).

    If you like jazz and dancing, we found a cozy little basement club in the Latin quarter called Caveau de la Huchette that was a lot of fun.

  108. Katie says

    Grab a copy of Michelin’s Paris par Arrondissement ( — it’s like an A to Z for Paris. Especially useful if you’re going off the beaten path.

    I will second (or third or nth) the Orsay – much more manageable than the Louvre.

    Food-wise, we hit up a bakery every morning for breakfast. The different croissant-y things they have are amazing, and it’s a lot cheaper than a sit-down place.

  109. Ken says

    I’ve read a lot of the comments and there are some really good suggestions. We just came back from France on the 27th of May. We love Paris and will continue to return because everything about this city appeals to our sensibilities. Its a wonderful place to visit. We stayed in an apartment in Montmartre this time. Once you get away from Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre things get a lot quieter and its very pleasant.

    Here are some of my suggestions:
    Musée Carnavalet – museum of Paris – its free and in the middle of the Marais.
    Strolling down Boulevard Montparnasse in the evening and having a coffee or a drink in a sidewalk café.
    Lounging in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
    A walk along the Seine
    Shakespeare and Company bookstore (if you buy a book get them to stamp it.)
    Being at the plaza of the Palais de Chaillot across from the Eiffel Tower or in the Champ de Mars at 9:45P and waiting until 10:00P
    If you’re going with someone you love buy a lock and go to the Pont des Artistes.

    The bonjour thing. I seldom find the French rude, no more than Americans or my fellow Canadians.
    France like many countries in Europe continues to be dominated by small family run businesses unlike America which is the land of big business. If you walk into a boulangerie or fromagerie in Paris its probably family run. The shop is not considered an extension of the public space, it is rather considered an extension of the of the family’s private space. You would never go into someones home and not greet them. This is the same consideration you should use when entering a shop or any other business in Paris. Dont worry about the language. No matter your best ‘bonjour’ (‘bonsoir’ after 6P)their finely tuned ears can hear your accent and if they speak English they will. On the metro or busy street, dont say ‘excusez moi’ but rather ‘pardon’.

    Rue de Lappe (Metro Bastille) and Rue Oberkampf for night life.

    I hope you have the best time ever and that you return with some magical memories.

  110. says

    I’ve enjoyed reading all these comments and learned a lot in preparation for a trip to Paris and Cologne in mid October. Do y’all think it’s still beneficial to get a Paris museum pass at that time? We want to visit the Louvre, d’Orsee, de L’Orangerie, Rodin and one of the Modern Art museums (which is the better one?). We’re thinking that crowds might be down at that time??
    But we will get a transit pass. Probably for 5 zones as we do want to spend a little time in Montmartre as well.
    Do you agree that the museum pass would be an unnecessary expense?
    I am getting soooo psyched!!!

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