Hi everyone! As I mentioned in my last post that I just got back from a 10-day trip to France! It was an amazing trip and I'm so sad it's already come to an end. For those of you that don't know, I actually studied abroad in Paris in college and was itching to go back and visit, it was even on my 101 in 1001 list!
Earlier this year Alex and I were talking about going on vacation this year and I advocated hard for us to take a trip to France. First off, Alex had never been to Europe, and second off since I know the country fairly well planning the trip would be a little less stressful than going somewhere we've both never been and neither of us spoke the language. Also, for those of you with questions about the origin of my blog name (or why it's worded the way it is) see my 'About' page.
Anyways, for our trip we spent about 4 days total in Paris and the other six in the South of France, which I will post about in a separate guide post! I thought my readers might enjoy a little guide with some tips and tricks about Paris that I picked up on this trip and in the six months that I lived over there, so without further ado, here are my tips for getting the most out of Paris!
Getting there: Paris has two airports, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY). Both are located outside of the city and there are public transportation options to get into Paris from the airports. For CDG I suggest taking the RER B into Paris, it will cost you 10 euro for a one-way ticket and will take 45 minutes to an hour to get to central Paris. for ORY I suggest taking the OrlyBus, this direct bus costs 8 euro and shuttles visitors between the 14th arrondissement and Orly airport. It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. You could also take a cab from either airport, but it will cost you about 50+ euro from CDG and 30+ euro from ORY.
Getting Around: Now that you're in Paris you need to get around! Lucky for you the metro is a great system which is fairly easy to pick-up. Buy a packet of 10 metro tickets (un carnet) from the machines in any metro station. It's cheaper to buy a pack of 10 rather than individual tickets (and buying a ticket every time you need a train would be very annoying). There are 14 metro lines in the city and all run regularly throughout the day. The metro can take you basically anywhere you want to go, just look at the easy to read maps located in all stations to figure out which lines overlap and where to change trains. Unlike NYC there are no express trains, so every train will stop at every stop on it's line, just pay attention to the direction the trains are headed; especially if you take a line with a fork, which will have trains that go either way on the fork, this usually occurs at the ends of the lines and won't be an issue if you're staying in the heart of Paris.
Where to Stay: When I lived in Paris, I had a studio apartment in the 15th arrondissement near the La Motte-Picquet Grenelle metro stop. I have a really soft spot for this area since it was my home, but also upon re-visiting the city I realized it's also a great neighborhood for visitors. La Motte-Picquet has a more neighborhood-y vibe than some of the more touristy areas , but it still boasts three different metro lines which meet here, thus making getting around really easy. There's also plentiful cafes, a really nice Sunday outdoor market, and it's a 10 minute walk to the Champs de Mars (the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower). La Motte-Picquet is also close to Rue de Commerce which is filled with great shopping that also isn't super touristy or over-crowded (like the Champs-Elysees).
This particular trip to Paris, however, Alex and I stayed at two different hotels, since our time in Paris bookended our visit to Southern France. When we first arrived in Paris we stayed at Renaissance Paris Republique hotel. This hotel was located right next to the Republique metro station, convenient distance to/from Gare du Nord (which is nice for those coming into Paris either on the RER or a regional train service) and was walking distance from the heart of the Marais neighborhood, which is on my favorites in the city. I loved this hotel since it was brand new and the rooms were much larger than most that you'll see in Europe. The rooms boasted the most comfortable beds ever, fluffy robes, a brand new rain shower, and great city views. They also had our room ready for our requested early check-in which was so nice.
When we got back to Paris after our time in the South of France, we stayed at the Grand Hotel Saint-Michel. This hotel is a boutique hotel located in the Latin Quarter (another area I adore) and walkable to Rue Moufftard which is one of my favorite streets to grab a bistro dinner or get a drink on. The hotel was also convenient to walk to the Jardin du Luxembourg; and the RER B station there which goes to Orly and CDG airports. The neighborhood is also close to the Notre Dame/Saint-Michel area which has a lot of cafes, shopping, and my favorite crepes shop (crepes Genia). Our room also had a little balcony which was really nice to step out onto and take in the sites. An added bonus is that they stock your bathroom with Hermes beauty products in lieu of your typical hotel shampoos, conditioners, etc.
Where to Eat: Admittedly when I lived in Paris as a student I didn't eat out all that much. I mostly cooked dinner every night with my friends, ate yogurt for breakfast, and sandwiches from my school cafeteria for lunches. On this trip, however, Alex and I were more than willing to indulge in eating out at some of the places I've been wanting to try in Paris.
That being said, similar to the restaurant scene in NYC, there are TONS of amazing restaurants in Paris and this is by no means a complete list. If you're in the city I suggest looking up suggestions based on neighborhood, cuisine, price, etc. You can pretty much find whatever you're craving! From traditional French, to amazing burgers, to bomb Italian, to even tacos! Paris pretty much has it all. Here are some places I recommend:
- Pain, Vin, Fromage - located in Le Marais this little fondue restaurant is reasonably priced and offers a great Savonyard fondue. Their wines were also very reasonably priced and I enjoyed the neighborhood they're located in.
- Le Souffle - located near Concord metro station in the 1st Arrondissement this upscale restaurant specializes in both sweet and savory souffles. I tried the complete souffle menu, but the dessert souffle stole the show. If I ever go again I'm ordering the delicious looking steak-frites for my main course with the tomato and basil appetizer souffle and the all chocolate dessert souffle (which I would eat every day if I could).
- Le Refuge des Fondues - this little fondue place is located near Sacre Coeur in Montmatre. It's an experience for sure! You'll be greeted with an aperitif and possibly need to step over the table to get to your seat (keep this in mind when deciding on whether to wear a skirt or not). You can pick from cheese or beef fondue and everyone receives a bottle of wine in a baby bottle! It's a really fun experience with friends and not very expensive!
- Rue Moufftard - I'm just going to categorize the MANY bistros located along this road in one point. If you're looking for a traditional french bistro dinner, this is the place to go. They offer many prix-fix menus and you can get an appetizer, entree, and dessert for anywhere from 13.50 euro to 27 euro depending on the formula. There's also a lot of nightlife around here so there's plenty of bars to dip into for a quick drink!
What to Do: There's obviously so so so much to do in Paris. Honestly you could stay busy for weeks doing all the amazing things the city has to offer. Here are a sampling of my favorites:
- Have a picnic at the Champs de Mars - go to your local grocery store (or open-air market) and grab some cheese, bread, charcuterie, fruits, and wine. Take a blanket and head over to the Champs de Mars for a picnic. There's no laws against open containers of alcohol in Paris so feel free to enjoy a bottle of wine outside with your food! I usually get my goodies from the Monoprix at La Motte-Picquet Grenelle or the Sunday market there and take those treats to the Champs de Mars since it's about a 10 minute walk. Some other great markets are located at Rue Cler and Rue Daguerre.
- Take a Seine river boat tour - If you're going to do a city tour I highly recommend taking a Seine river cruise as your option. I usually use Bateaux Mouche when I go on tours with friends, but there are several options along the river, mostly boarding near Trocadero or Pont Alma. The tours last about an hour and go up the river showing you most of the most famous sites in the city. There are also night tour and dinner cruise options available if you're interested in that as well.
- Go to a museum - If you only have a few days in Paris and you're visiting during a very busy time you might not be able to go to all the famous museums the city has to offer, but you should at least try and make it to one. If you like art check out: the Louvre (most famous and has lots of very ancient artwork), Musee d'Orsay (my favorite, impressionist artwork in a converted train station), Musee Orangerie (the best place to see the famous water lilies paintings by Monet!), and Rodin Museum. There are also several modern art museums which are worth checking out if you're interested in that type of thing. If history is more your thing try visiting the army museum at Invalidies (you can see Napoleon's tomb as well), the catacombs, or the pantheon.
- Visit the famous monuments - Paris is chock-full of famous landmarks. Don't miss walking or taking the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, going to the Arc de Triomphe, visiting Notre Dame, hanging out on the steps of Sacre Coeur, and checking out the Grand Palais. These sites are all famous for a reason, and trust me they are breathtaking in person!
- Take a quick day trip to one of the amazing countryside towns easily accessible from Paris - I recommend Versailles (obviously), Giverny (to tour Monet's gardens), Reims (tour the champagne caves!), and Fountainbleu. The French train system makes it easy to book a train ticket the night before or the same day. Plug any of the aforementioned cities into the SNCF train website and see the times and rates for the trains and decide where to go!
Obviously Paris is also famous for shopping! There are several neighborhoods chock-full of amazing shopping throughout the city. Some things to buy include French drugstore products, like my favorite the Bioderma Crealine H2O Micelle (the best make-up remover ever), also pick up Embryolisse moisturizer. These are basic drugstore products but so so good.
Another favorite store is Merci on Boulevard Beaumarche, they have a really great aesthetic and great jewelry pieces! I also love checking out all the great thrift shops in Le Marais neighborhood, the spanish brand Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Longchamp, Saint-James, and also checking out the Galleries Lafayette shopping mall.
For books, walk along the Seine river near Notre Dame to check out the little antique book stores. The Notre Dame/Saint Michel neighborhood also has a ton of cute little bookshops as the Sorbonne and the Medical University of Paris are located in this area. If you're looking for English language books check out Shakespeare and Company.
Some things to stay away from buying are electronics, as they tend to be more expensive than in the States and you can technically only bring back about $800 of tax-free goods.
Other Do's and Don'ts:
- Do try and speak French! Even though many people in Paris speak English, they always appreciate the effort of trying a few French phrases.
- Do ask for a "carafe d'eau" at a restaurant to get a full jug of tap water. The tap water in Paris is totally safe to drink (and I think it tastes good!).
- Do leave about a 10% tip at restaurants; tips are included in the price of the food, however for good service leave a 10% tip as a general rule. For something small you can throw down a couple of euro, this is considered polite.
- Don't expect everywhere to have air conditioning! Especially the metro! My way to combat this is to bring a small hand-fan in my purse so I can cool myself off on those hot summer days. Also having a little spray bottle of mineral water can feel so refreshing after spending a hot afternoon without air conditioning.
- Do watch out for pick-pockets. I have seen one of my friends get pick-pocketed on the metro, the threat is real! The best thing to do is be aware of your surroundings, use a purse with a zipper and keep it closed (especially in crowded areas) and don't leave anything valuable in your pants pockets.
- Don't talk too loudly in public! The French tend to be a little quieter in general than Americans. Just try to talk in lower volumes when in public areas like the metro to be respectful.
- Don't bring your hair styling tools (unless they can handle 240 volts). You should check any American-bought electronics to be sure they can handle the higher voltage of power you will experience in France. My straightener and curling iron cannot handle it so I left them at home. I do have a small travel straightener from Sephora I pack along for little touch-ups, but I mostly rely on braids, ponytails, leaving my hair wavy, or blowing out my hair with the hotel blow-dryer to style myself while traveling.
- Do slow down and enjoy your time in Paris! The pace is a little slower in Paris than in big cities in the United States, just soak in every moment and enjoy! Look at the amazing architecture and appreciate that you can turn a corner and see a famous monument, a picturesque cafe, or the most adorable little shop. Take advantage of your time in the city of light and share photos so we can all live vicariously and be jealous!
Do you have any tips or suggestions for people visiting Paris? I'd love to hear so I can keep a list of things to check out next time I'm in the city!