After two long years, with travel restrictions eased, people are ready to pack up and go somewhere. Recent statistics show that travelers are willing to spend a little more and go a little farther to make up for lost time. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that time is fleeting.
Paris consistently makes the list of places Americans want to visit, and for good reason. In every sense of the word, Paris is romantic. There are monuments and museums in every district and architecture of every style. You can eat in Michelin star restaurants or pop into a quiet corner café for Croque Monsieur and a glass of rosé for only a few Euros. You can shop in Chanel or buy inexpensive street art from a local painter. Stay a week or a month, and you’ll never do the same thing twice.
If Paris is on your itinerary this summer, then take a few tips from us to help make your vacation a little more enjoyable.
For the first-timer, navigating Paris can be overwhelming. After all, American cities aren’t laid out in a spider web of 20 districts with a metro and train system that looks like a plate of spaghetti. Before jetting off to Paris, take some time to study the layout of the city’s arrondissements, as well as what attractions lay inside them. A good starting point is The New Paris Metro Map (https://metromap.fr/en), which is a comprehensive yet easy-to-read digital map of the city available for download. It has all the biggest tourist spots labeled so you can navigate the districts via public transportation.
Keep in mind that the Metro (M, or Metropolitan railway) is the city’s subway system, while the train (RER, or regional express network) goes beyond the city limits. You can get everywhere you want to go inside Paris by sticking to the Metro, but if you want to make day-trips to other areas in France, you’ll want to explore the RER system.
If you’re only staying in Paris for a few days, you can purchase a multi-day Metro pass with unlimited stops (called Paris Visite) for less than €40 a person. However, if you are staying in Paris longer and want to visit places outside the city, such as Versailles, Disneyland, or a city in another region, it’s worthwhile to invest in the Navigo Pass, which has myriad options depending on your needs.
Regardless of the transportation you choose, download the Metro Paris app, a comprehensive and interactive navigation map that includes the Metro, RER, and tram lines within central Paris. Not only is it easy to use, but the app works offline, so you won’t have to use international data or WiFi to figure out how to get from your hotel to the Eiffel Tower.
Dining in Paris is another one of those areas that can be exciting yet overwhelming. The options are seemingly endless, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid going to places immediately next to big tourist attractions. Prices will be higher, and the food won’t be as Parisian as you might hope. Instead, look for the tucked-away restaurants and smaller cafés, which likely offer better food at more reasonable prices.
Brush up on your French, not only out of respect, but so you can better navigate menus and understand what you’re ordering. For example, Americans are used to getting iced water at the table for free, but that’s not the case in Paris, or in most of Europe for that matter. Ordering water almost always means ordering sparkling water in a glass bottle and paying for it. So, if you want regular tap water to sip on, order “une carafe d'eau.” The server will bring a liter of tap water for the table to share, usually at no charge. Here’s a tip: Download Google Translate – specifically the French translation – so you can use your phone to help read menus and communicate with your server. Downloading the language means you can use the translation service offline. However, if you want to refresh or refine your French, consider hiring our local Knox French Coach and tutor, Sébastien Crépieux. (www.KnoxFrenchCoach.Wordpress.com).
Expect to sit longer in restaurants and cafés, as Parisians take dining seriously. No one rushes through a meal, so it can be 15 minutes or longer between each interaction with your server. Instead, embrace the European way of breaking bread with friends and family. Savor each bite, put your fork down, and enjoy the art of people watching. Also, if there’s a place where you know you want to eat while in Paris, be sure you know whether or not you need a reservation. Many restaurants require it.
Without a doubt, the big name museums and attractions warrant a lot of visitors each year, so adjust your expectations regarding lines and wait times. In fact, as you plan your trip, it is worthwhile to buy tickets to places like the Eiffel Tower before you even leave the States, particularly if you want to visit the top floor. Those tickets are limited and may not be available on the day you want to go. (The Louvre is another high-traffic tourist attraction, so pre-ordering tickets and getting in line early will be helpful.)
If crowds aren’t your thing, consider visiting one of the many other museums Paris has to offer, such as Musée Carnavalet, a museum about the history of Paris in the 3rd Arrondissement, or the Musée Marmottan Monet in the 16th Arrondissement, which boasts two floors of exhibitions from various artists, including a permanent collection of Monet’s work on the bottom floor.
If you’ve never been to Paris, a good first stop is Galeries Lafayette on Haussman in the 9th Arrondissement, directly across from the Palais Garnier (Opera House). Galeries Lafayette is a high-end department store chain, but this location is its flagship store and boasts brands from reasonably priced to haute couture. Not only is the opulent art nouveau style of the domed building worth the gaze, but visitors are invited to the store’s rooftop free of charge for an incredible view of the city. Before you leave Galeries Lafayette, grab a quick snack and use the free restrooms.
Another free view of Paris is from atop the hill in Montmartre at the Sacré Cœur in the 18th Arrondissement. The Metro can get you close, but you may have a small hill or staircase to climb, so be mindful of the potential hike. On a clear day, you can see the expanse of Paris from one spot.
While nothing tops the view from the Eiffel Tower, it is also one of the most expensive and crowded views you’ll pay for. The Arc de Triomphe in the 8th Arrondissement is less expensive and provides a unique view into one of the busiest roundabouts in the city. Here’s a fun idea – record a time-lapse video of all the traffic circling the Arc. It will make you grateful you’re using public transit!
A few more tips:
Be sure your credit/debit cards have the contactless “tap to pay” option, as many establishments don’t provide swiping or chip options. Keeping cash (Euros) on hand in case your cards fail is always a good idea.
Check the French calendar as you plan your trip. Recurring bank holidays mean many establishments could be closed on a day you want to visit.
When booking a hotel or AirBNB, consider staying outside the city limits to save money and provide a slower-paced stay. Vincennes is a great option, which is a small, impeccably clean and safe suburb on the edge of the 12th Arrondissement with its own castle and two Metro stops. You'll still get the Paris experience without the high price and bustling streets.