Paris Travel Guide
By Valerie Scott, Contributing Editor
Paris has a reputation for being one of the most romantic cities in the world. The grand capital of France is as much loved for its many familiar landmarks, as it is for its influence in the realms of fashion, arts and food. Paris is every bit as stylish and sophisticated as the countless other travel articles have described, but no article can really truly capture the magic and grandness of this iconic city.
Despite the fact that many thousands of tourists descend upon the city each year from all over the world, Paris is certainly not a place that can be classed as “touristy”. The proud French refuse to give up their identity and this is one endearing aspect that keeps people coming back for more year after year. The real beauty of Paris can be seen when you step away from the main attractions and explore the backstreets and avenues where small cobbled streets often lead to quaint little French shops and cafes, or small flea markets and art exhibitions.
There is so much to love about Paris whether you visit during the chilly winter months or during the summer, and very few people are satisfied with just one trip.
Getting to Paris
Paris boasts three international airports, which ensures that travellers from almost anywhere in the world can conveniently access the city. The biggest and more famous of these three airports is Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG). Here there are three terminals, one of which is so huge that it has had to be divided up into subsections, 2a to 2g. Each terminal is connected via a free CDGVAL shuttle train service, but you should allow for plenty of time for transfers. The other major international airports in Paris are Orly International (ORY) and Beauvais (BVA). Both of these airports are primarily used by low cost and domestic carriers, with Orly being dominated by Air France.
There are good connecting transportation options available from the airports and the best option will be dependent on which airport you arrive at. For transfers from CDG the train (RER) service is probably the best option. Trains leave roughly every 8 minutes from the station at terminal 3. Tickets cost €9.50 and it will take around 40 minutes to get to Gare du Nord as the train serves several other key stations along the way including Saint-Michel Notre-Dam and Chatelet-Les Halles. If you are transferring from one of the other two international airports then it may be better to take the bus service. Both ORY and BVA have buses that will take you directly into Paris for between €7 and €15.
Getting out and about
Most small journeys around Paris can easily be done on foot. This is actually recommended as you can really get to take in the sights and it is a good way to discover the hidden gems within the city. With that said it is advisable that you keep one eye on the floor as you wonder about the Parisian streets as on some streets there never seems to be a shortage of fresh dog droppings. There are many organized walking tours to found in Paris too, and this is a great opportunity to meet some of the locals and get some insider info on all the hotspots in Paris.
When you are fed up of walking, or you get lost, the best thing to fall back on is the metro. Paris has one of the best metro rail systems in Europe and it covers practically every section of Paris. It is also fairly easy to get around and find your way on the network even if you have not got a good grasp of the French language. This is handy as there are very few members of staff available to offer assistance, and if you do manage to find one, there may be some communication issues.
However, do avoid stopping at the Barbes-Rochechouart station as it is located in one of the rougher parts of the city! It was a mistake that I personally made with my family some years ago. We were caught in the infamous Air France strike and we were stranded in Paris for 3 weeks. Having used the Metro extensively during that I and my young family made the almost fatal error of stopping at the Barbes-Rochechouart station. Upon exiting, we noticed blood on the platform and a group of gendarmes at the top of the stairs hesitating to enter the station. In our innocence we went shopping and on our return to the station, we were accosted by 2 Africans dressed in judo-gear. Upon boarding the train we felt their hands feeling our pockets and when I confronted them, they stopped at the next station and putting their feet at the door thus preventing the auto-train doors from closing. They then motioned that I should get down. We looked around for help but found the other passengers truly terrified. Fortunately, I weighed a good 200+ pounds and I motioned to them to get back in. The impasse lasted half a minute before they took their feet off and to our relief, the train doors closed!
A single metro ticket costs €1.70 and this is good for your entire journey regardless of how long that is. These tickets can also be used on the Paris bus services, but one ticket is only good for one transportation service or the other. A better option is to purchase a carnet of ten tickets at a time for €13.30. This way you will always have some tickets at hand and the price of each will be reduced to €1.33.
What to see and do
As indicated earlier there are a plethora of interesting things to see and do in this magnificent city. Of course all first time visitors will want to take the usual tourist route and visit such familiar landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Musee du Louvre, and La Seine, but if time allows there are many wonderful things to see and activities to get involved in that will really ensure that you have a great French experience.
• Berthillon – If you are fortunate to be in Paris during the summer months then you may want to check out this restaurant. With a choice of over 70 different ice creams to choose from you will be hard pressed to select just one. You can chill out and enjoy your cone right there at the restaurant, or take one with you on your travels.
• Moulin Rouge – This is certainly not the best kept secret in Paris and you are likely to encounter plenty of likeminded tourists here, but once you have taken in the cabaret and sights of the famous red windmill you should set about on an exploration of the surrounding area, which is equally as interesting such as La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre.
• La Basilique du Sacré Coeur – The Basilica is accessible by bus. Buses 30, 31, 80, and 85 can be taken to the bottom of the hill of the Basilica. Line 12 of the metro can be taken to Jules Joffrin station and visitors can then change to the Montmartrobus and disembark at Place du Tertre. Line 2 or 12 of the metro can be taken to Pigalle stationwhere visitors can change to the Montmartrobus and disembark at Norvins, or to Anvers station which gives easy access to the steps or the funicular car that lead directly to the Basilica.
• Sacré-Cœur is open from 06:00 to 22:30 every day. The dome is accessible from 09:00 to 19:00 in the summer and 18:00 in the winter
• Cite des Sciences et de L’Lndustrie – High-tech exhibits abound at the City of Science & Industry which is certain to entertain and amaze. You can bring a packed lunch and spend a whole day here.
• Jardin des Tuileries – Get away from it all and take in the tranquility of the large Tuileries garden. It is filled with beautiful ponds, fountains and sculptures making it a perfect place for a little reflection.
Don’t forget the many excellent museums located throughout Paris such as the Picasso Museum and the Musee Marmottan-Monet. All national museums in Paris offer free entry on the first Sunday of every month. The Louvre offers cheaper entry on Wednesdays too.
Where to stay
The price of accommodation in Paris varies widely from the high end luxury offerings of the Mandarin Oriental (prices start at €2,664 per night), to the more budget friendly Plug-Inn hostel and everything in between. The price you pay will be affected by a few things including whether or not you arrive in high or low season, the arrondissement that your hotel is located in, and of course if you are travelling alone.
Bear in mind that many of the more popular hotels will be well booked, particularly during high season, which is usually during the summer months and the weeks leading up to Christmas. It helps to do a diligent search and book well in advance to avoid disappointment and being left with the accommodation scraps.
Things to note
It is very easy to get caught up in the spell of this beautiful city and most people do. It is a good idea to make sure that you keep one eye on your personal belongings and ensure that everything is secure at all times, particularly when you are visiting the more tourist dense hotspots where pickpockets also frequent. With that said, Paris is one of the safer cities in Europe so as long as the necessary precautions are taken a great trip is almost certain to be had. THE END
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