PARIS TRAVEL TIPS

BONJOUR FROM PARIS!

eiffel_tower_at_night_paris_france-normal

No better place for me to write my Paris Travel Tips blog post than sipping espresso and eating a croissant in a quintessential Parisan café.

This  post is to help people make the best decisions when traveling in and around Paris on their first trip, as I hope that everyone gets the chance to see this city in the best light possible.  This is also assuming the initial visit is 3 days or less. The info below is the best “tourist” experience I can give.  Let’s face it, you are a tourist visiting a city for 3 days. I am aiming to point you in the most comfortable, perfectly Parisian experience possible.  There are local hot spots to point you to, but I am steering this post to still be in the middle of everything you want to see in Paris while enjoying touristy areas, just maybe the less touristy areas.

Let’s begin..

TRANSPORTATION

Arrival at the airport. You have a multiple options.

  • Taxi & Private Transfers.  Being the most expensive, but will take you where you need to go directly.  It is mindless and the least frustrating of course, which is nice after a big flight and especially if you have big luggage. I have seen people severely ripped off by hiring private drivers/limo companies on the fly, so just be aware and ask the price before you depart.
  • Metro. The metro from either airport is efficient and inexpensive.  When you arrive at the airport decide which metro lines you need to take. Having a plan initially will make the process smoother if transfers are needed.  Downloading the Paris Metro app is well worth your time too. No doubt, most people’s hotels will be within easy walking distance to one or two metro stops.  I will note that if you have bigger bags, the metro can be painfully frustrating (especially during peak travel times.) Many stops don’t have escalators, so being able to carry your luggage upstairs is a must in many cases. If this is our choice, here are your step by step directions.

METRO
Whether you choose to take the metro or not from the airport, I would highly suggest buying a metro pass for the duration of your stay.  Without luggage, the metro will become your best friend.  This is not NYC where you can just hail a cab and cabs are expensive.  The metro is easy to learn and once you get the hang of it, it is great!  Every part of the city will be accessible to you in a matter of minutes. Yes, certain lines are dirtier than others but just remember where you are. You are in an old beautiful city that is filled with contrast. Rougher neighborhoods are adjacent to the majestic ones. So just relax, bring hand sanitizer and enjoy the people watching as you make your way around the city.

  • Bus. Worried about the stairs and luggage and on a budget?  Here are step by step directions for bus transfers.
  • Rental Car. Like any big city, parking is expensive and driving here makes me a little crazy. I still think that seeing the city is better on foot/metro if possible.

ACCOMMODATION

Location! Location! Location!  I will argue that it is important where you stay.  Restaurants and shops that surround your hotel will be most attended and which area of town you are in I think greatly likens he chance of falling in love or out of love with Paris on your first trip.

arrondissements

A few tips:

  • Paris is made up of 20 Arrondissements.  All in all, you will have a good chance of finding yourself in a decent and accessable part of town if you stick to the single digits when booking accommodations.  So Arr 1-9. I would say the exception is 18.  Montmartre (18arr) is a fun, artsy part of town.  Near Sacre-Cour would be the best area.  It has a cast of colorful characters, sightly rough around the edges, but beautiful and has fun markets.  My favorite area is near metro stop Censier Daubenton. Eating and staying in this area is fun because of the hustle and bustle of Rue Mouffetard. This area is known as part of the Latin Quarter (5arr). Near The Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg or close to Notre Dame are all also great centrally located places to be. Arr 3 (Le Marais) is a lovely, trendy part of town that is also worth staying in. One of my favorite neighborhoods for good restaurants.
  • Hotel, Vacation Rental or B&Bs?  All are great options, it just depends what you want to spend. Most vacation rentals require a minimum stay of 3+ nights so sometimes this isn’t an option. If you can stay in a vacation rental, this is often the most cost effective way to go. Chain hotels are prevalent throughout Paris, but few are located on the left bank. St. Germain and the Latin Quarter have lots of smaller, family run hotels. Note that most of these types of hotels don’t have elevators, so carrying your bags up 4+ flights of stairs isn’t unheard of.
  • The Eiffel Tower is often best seen/photographed from Metro stop Trocadero. I like to go early in the evening before dinner to watch it glitter. (every 15 min it has a glittery light show)

HOTELS

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Hotel du Lys: This hotel is on the cheaper end, and they include a breakfast. Not for the person who may have to walk up a few flights of stairs to get to their room. No elevator. Owner is sweet and they have a terrible online booking system. Try booking.com or calling them directly. Super convenient location and perfect metro line to get to and from the airport.

Hotel du France Latin Quarter: More bare bones, less charm, but comfortable and great location for some local flavor.

Les Jardins du Marias: A great little boutique hotel that is in great neighborhood and decent pricing–often having good room specials.

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Le Pradey: Across from the Louvre — a great central location. Nice price point for a honeymoon or special trip without breaking the bank.

Astotel Hotels: There are 10+ hotels under this brand and they are all a good value. Most hotels include breakfast and wifi. Some more expensive than others. None in the “perfect
location” but all within a block of great neighborhoods and metro lines.  123 Sebastopol is a good one. The 3 hotels near the Opera are good as well.

Hotel du Continent: A chic boutique hotel that is a block away from the hustle and bustle of Rue du Rivoli and the Tulleries Gardens/Louvre. Great central location if only staying
for a couple days.

Melia Colbert: In a great location in the Latin Quarter, just just far enough away from the touristy restaurant scene on the left bank near St. Michele.

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Le Meurice: Last time I was here, Jay Z and Beyonce where here. That about explains the magnitude of incredible elegance of this place.  So for your wow factor Paris trip, book here. Or just pop in for a drink at the bar.

Any of the chain hotels are also good if you are a hotel points person. Most are in the expensive areas of town but there are some comfort inns and best westerns that are pretty nice andaffordable in the right areas of town.

DINING

paris cafe

Again, stay away from all areas of high traffic and major tourism.  Even in the Latin Quarter area, just stay away from the main streets and go find yourself down one of the charming side streets. There are actually really affordable places to eat in Paris and the best part is they are often in fabulous neighborhoods. Reading restaurants reviews helps in this city.

For good or bad, everyone seems to have a story about dining at a Parisian restaurant.  Here are a few things to know before you sit down for a meal. Dining in Paris is different than the US and knowing these things ahead of time will hopefully help you adjust your expectations before you go.

  • Personality. You won’t find a bubbly hostess grinning from ear to ear, eager to help you find your seat.  Don’t take this as rude, they just aren’t going to be your BFF and be overly excited to meet you.  Learning a few French phrases goes along way at a restaurant or when our shopping.  A simple Bonjour, Madame means a lot. Even if your delivery isn’t perfect, they will usually acknowledge you are trying. You are in their city/culture, so just do your best to blend in and you might even get a smile out of your server or neighbor.
  • Time of Day.  There are some cafes that serve food “non-stop” as they say.  Some form of food will be available at any time of day.  These are usually smaller cafes that are good for a snack/fuel.  Don’t expect a culinary experience in this city at 5pm.  Most restaurants close between lunch and dinner, with restaurants not reopening after lunch until 8pm.  
  •  Breakfast. Big breakfast meals are hard to find so join the locals for a cafe et croissant instead. Note: if you order to go or to stand and eat, it is cheaper than sitting down with your coffee.
  • Menus.  Probably the biggest difference from France to the USA is what you see is what you get.  What is on the menu today, may not even be what is on the menu tomorrow. Don’t be surprised when you see something on a menu and they don’t have it at all.  Don’t ask for substitutions or omissions. Customizing your food just doesn’t happen and it is considered rude.
  • Many restaurants have English menus, you just have to ask.  If they don’t, have your google translate app available or if your waiter speaks English, they are usually happy to help if they can.
  • Water. You can order tap or bottled. Still or “with gas.”  None of these options come with ice.
  • Tipping. While not expected, it is appreciated.  Leaving a 1 euro to 5-10% of the meal is normal, but if you don’t have change they won’t hate you for not tipping.  Tips are mostly in cash.
  • Credit card? Always ask if they take credit card.  Smaller cafes and restaurants often have limits.  So you need to spend a certain amount in order to use a card, or some may not even take cards at all. It is always a good idea to have cash on had.
  • Check Please! Often the most frustrating thing to learn in Paris, France or most of Europe for an American is that servers don’t rely on tips so “checking in” on you is not priority. Getting your meal ordered is usually a breeze but don’t expect them to ask you if you want the check. So you are at the end of your meal and you would like to pay.  Subtle foot tapping and putting coats on won’t help you.  You need to ASK for it and it is not considered rude in any way, or simple walk to the pay station.  They are just respecting your time and don’t want to rush you..
  • Smoking.  Yep, it is still everywhere (outside).  Most restaurants don’t allow smoking inside but it is allowed on the terrace, including tables closest to being inside.  Hard to avoid but the further you sit inside a restaurant the better if this bothers you.
  • Dining is not rushed. I can’t express this enough. If you are looking for fast service , go to a cafe, not a brasserie.

I could probably write an entire blog post on all the restaurants in Paris I like, and some day I just might…but for now, here are some good ones:

  • Breakfast: Street Cafes
    The French aren’t much into breakfast besides a coffee & croissant or pain au chocolate. They are great, so defiantly grab one at some point.
  • Brunch: Bakers Dozen – 13
    This Parisian-American woman realized the need for a brunch spot and opened a great place. Completely worth the visit. She is wonderful and the best breakfast food you will find in Paris. Also in a cute, quiet neighborhood. I love this part of the 7th Arr! It is a bit tough to find so keep your eyes peeled and look down every little alley way your GPS may take you to. Call ahead to reserve a spot if you can.
  • Best quick cheap lunch: Au Petit-Grec
    For under 6€ and a 15-30 min wait, you won’t regret eating the best most massive and impressive crepe in Paris. A must do. Owners are funny too! Also in a darling neighborhood.
  • Best “fabulous” French lunch: Le Poulpry
    This is not a cheap lunch but still cheaper than their dinner. French cuisine at its finest and the price is about 50€pp including 4 courses, wine and coffee. With only 8-10 tables, it is worth making a reservation. Not open weekends.
  • Cute, quiet atmosphere near Notre Dame: Duck off the beaten path and throngs of people one block and head for Au Vieux Paris (simply adorable)…then of course, dessert at Bertie’s Cupcakery next door. Fellow American runner kin opened up a cupcake shop if you are in need of a fix if the macaroons and eclairs don’t fill you up. 🙂
  • Casual Dinner Spots:
    • Aux 3 Elephants
      Where French and Thai cuisine collide. Order the frog legs in green curry! Reasonably priced and always a hit. In a great neighborhood that is perfect for a night cap after dinner.
    • For local inexpensive Paris I would suggest anywhere on Rue Mouffetard or its surrounding side streets. Every cuisine imaginable in that area. Censier Daubenton metro.
  • Good for 2 or groups that are larger (which is more than 4 people in Paris)
    • O Chateau
      In the trendy Marias neighborhood. They also have a great wine tasting cave downstairs too. You can choose menus with wine pairings and has been a consistently great place to go. Fun staff. Reservations are encouraged, especially for larger groups.
  • Higher end/Michelin rated:
    • La Truffiere
      One of the best “bang for your buck” Michelin rated restaurants in Paris.

NON-OBVIOUS THINGS TO DO

I am not going to list every big obvious museum or monument such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, etc.  Most people that travel to Paris for the first time already have an idea of what they want to see when it comes to the big attractions. Don’t spend all of your time in one place if you are only in town for a couple days.  Sometimes just seeing the outside of a monument/museum is good enough.  After your big day or two of seeing the usual suspects, here are a few things to fit in if you can…

Opera Garnier Grand Escalier

  • Jardin du Luxembourg. It is like the Central Park of Paris.  Great for a nap, picnic or just taking a time out to read a book.  There are often little concerts in the summertime and there is a little cafe in the middle where you can get cold beverages. Beautifully calm in the center of the city.
  • Palace of Versailles. Most day pass metro tickets include getting to Versailles.  It is worth a look.  Most people have heard of this Palace but some aren’t aware how easy it is to get there.  If you aren’t into the museum inside the palace, the gardens are worth seeing and picnicking in.
  • Rue Mouffetard. One of my favorite little streets in Paris. Located in the Latin quarter, this old, charming, bustling little street is a great visit earlier in the day (10am-2pm) or on Friday nights.  There are no cars and the street is filled with fresh markets, vendors, restaurants and locals enjoying their daily shopping routine.  Great place to get picnic food, food for your vacation rental or just to people watch.
  • Seine River Cruise.  Great way to see the city by water. You can do a all sorts of cruises from informational to romantic dinners.  Worth doing while you are in town.
  • Go see a show, special exhibit, fashion show, ballet or opera. Le Palais Garnier (Opera House pictured above) is divinely Parisian and you get to see a beautiful landmark as well as a fantastic performance. Moulin Rouge would be another Parisian staple to visit for a burlesque show, if the opera is not your thing.
  • Midnight in Paris. Literally. They don’t call this the city of lights for any other reason.  This city is arguable even more beautiful by night.  Start with a late dinner, post dinner drinks and skip the metro ride home.  Walk this city at night and take the long way home.  You won’t regret it. Wear comfortable shoes! One of my favorite strolls is starting at Pont Alexander III (for those Sex and the City lovers, this is the bridge where Carrie and Big unite at the end of season 6). Watch the eiffel tower glitter in the night. (Every 15 mins it starts glittering for a few minutes.) From there, walk along the Siene passing the Tuileries Gardens, Louve and Notre Dame.
  • Flea Market. Speaking of Midnight in Paris, remember the flea market in that movie?  Well, I ventured up there a month or so ago.  You have to get through a part of town that is far less charming and hold on to your wallets/purses, even during the daytime. Not only are pick-pockets rampant in this part of town, you will need your wallet once you get to the nicer flea markets.  The antique prices are sky high for those serious buyers! Regardless if you are a serious buyer or not, once you get past the cheap flea market on the main street, the magical ones await.  You could get lost for hours in the catacombs of these markets and the vendors were very friendly.  Here is a good post on where and how to get there.
  • Macaroon or Cooking Class: La Cuisine Paris — check out this great little company that has English speaking classes. From shopping at the market and cooking dinner to tackling the details and secrets of making the best macaroon.  So much fun!
  • Rained out and tired of museums? If you happen to be in Paris during holiday season (esp late Nov-Jan) check out Galleries La Fayette. It is basically a giant mall that does Christmas big time. Pretty awesome.

Do you like to run?? — here is my favorite running route to tackle all the big monuments and  museums in one run if you are short on time 🙂

  • Go for a run/walk to start your day. It is a great way to see many of the monuments of Paris in just a couple hours without having to go in them.
    • I start at metro stop Abbsses. This will put you on top of the city in a fun neighborhood call Montmartre. You can get your heart pumping by climbing the stairs to the large white church called Sacre-Cour. View of Paris is amazing from up there. If you are looking at the church from the front, wander to the left of it and walk through the artsy markets, grab a croissant, etc. They often have some sort of street festival.  Wind your way down through this fun and hilly neighborhood until you reach a main street called Rue de Clichy (can’t miss it.) If you run to the right you will see the famous Chat Noir restaurant and the Moulin Rouge.
    • (to shorten your run/walk a little if needed) Hop on the metro to Concord. Once you are at this metro stop you can go see the Arc du Triumph and Champs Elysees. Don’t forget to go check out the famous bridge Pont Alexander III while you are in the neighborhood (great pic of the Eiffel tower from this bridge.) From there I would start a nice jog through the Tulleries Gardens, where you pass the Louvre. Continue down the banks of the River Seine down to Notre Dame. Il Saint Louis is the island just after Notre Dame (they are connected by bridge.) This island is the oldest part of Paris. It is where some of the initial real estate was built. This neighborhood is quiet and most known for the incredible ice cream called Berthillion. So end with ice cream and head back to your hotel for a shower. THEN go get that crepe I was talking about earlier. J

I hope you enjoy your trip and fall in love with this beautiful city. If you are looking for more specific restaurant or hotel recommendations, don’t hesitate to email me!

Au Revior!