Follow my 10 essential Paris vacation tips and you’re sure to love la Ville Lumière as much as I do.
In This Paris Travel Article You Will Discover:
- Unique Ways to Save Money
- How to Find the Best Restaurants
- Daily Travel & Sightseeing Tips
- And Much More!
The best way to truly know a city is to stay put. Rather than airport-hopping, I love to settle into a place like Paris and try my best to live like a local. I shop at neighbourhood markets, take public transit and source out side-street eateries. And I generally move at a slow pace.
Sure, in a city such as Paris it’s key to visit the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Pere Lachaise Cemetery and so on—but on our trip in November, we spent most of our time free-form roaming. We estimated our walking routes took us through 15-plus-kilometres of Parisian streets daily (see tip #4). And in 10 days, I picked up 10 tips that will ensure you see success during your (temporary) life in the City of Lights:
1. Learn the Language (A Little)
As Canadians, we had a leg-up on a lot of France-bound travellers. Even a West Coast Anglophone such as myself can easily recognize words like “sortie” or mumble out a passable “bonsoir.” (A Kiwi friend of mine told me he was stumped just navigating his way out of Charles De Gaulle Airport, as he thought “sortie” meant “baggage sorting.”) Although Parisians are well accustomed to hearing the languages of the world (especially English) it would be a challenge to navigate the city completely sans Francais. Pick up some basics—even if just to read le menu—and life will be easier.
2. Skip the Hotel
If you’re in Paris for just a weekend, book wherever you like. But if you plan to immerse in the city’s joie de vivre for an extended time, look a real home base. You’ll want a refrigerator to store pâtés and cheeses, a kitchen in which to brew espresso and munch croissants with jam and a neighbourhood to feel comfortable in. Returning to a shoebox hotel room every night in the heart of a tourist epicentre won’t satisfy these needs. (I know, Paris has some of the world’s finest hotels—with palatial rooms and personal concierges—but if you can afford those you probably aren’t getting advice from a travel blog.) Pro tip: look to local, Parisian-based vacation rental companies for the best prices. (We had a great experience with Feels Like Home in Paris.)
3. Metro, Yes. Multi-Day Pass, No
I love the Paris Metro. In 10 days, trains and bootleather were our only forms of transportation. So a multi-day pass is a no-brainer, right? Nope. We bought a pair, and we overpaid. Bear with me as I breakdown some numbers: a five-day Metro pass is €37.50. A single-ticket is €1.90. So, in order to make it worthwhile you’ll have to ride the Metro four times or more every single day. On the slow-travel regiment I espouse, you’ll likely ride it once from your apartment to a chosen neighbourhood, perhaps once more, then back home again. That’s three rides. Often, it’ll only be two. Rarely will it be four. (Lower-value two- or three-day passes require even more rides to break even.) My advice? Grab a carnet de 10 (10-pack) at the bulk-buy rate of €14.50. Even if you do ride four times daily, you’ll still spend less than with a five-day pass. Plus, the tickets themselves are tiny and way too easy to misplace during five busy days… which sucks if you paid €37.50 for it.
4. Comfortable Shoes, Always
Paris is the fashion capital of the world; a stop into shops like Colette or the renowned Galeries Lafayette and will leave little doubt. But for your trip, ensure your footwear matches form with function. Beyond the uneven cobblestone streets, or endless stairs in hilly Montmartre, you’ll likely be roaming the City of Lights for hours every day. You can try doing that in stilettos. But I don’t want to be around you when you do.
5. The Louvre Takes a Day
When my wife first visited Paris, she was on a grade 10 school trip. They had less than an hour in the Louvre—which is ridiculous practically to the point of being offensive. This is the world’s biggest, world’s greatest museum. If you have fewer than four hours to spare, don’t go at all—Musee d’Orsay is a better bet for a short visit. We strolled into the Louvre at 10:00 a.m., staggered out at 6:30 p.m. and still didn’t see it everything. (If you’re one of those types who aims to beeline it for a selfie at the Mona Lisa then hit the road, you’re reading the wrong blog.)
6. Nix the Eiffel’s Elevator
I like to keep things positive. So rather than steering you away from wasting your time in a long lineup and cramming into a sweatbox elevator just to have quick gander from a crowded observation floor, I’ll gently encourage you to take the stairs instead. The rumours are true—you can only take them to the second observation platform, and there is usually no option for a mechanized ride down, but this is all part of my slow-travel mantra. After a relatively short queue (or none at all—see tip #10), you’ll quickly be heading up the Eiffel, marveling at the intricate metallic architecture and reveling at the open-air view as you ascend some 700 steps. The view is wonderful from the second platform; you’re missing out on nothing from above. Time it for late afternoon and you’ll descend as the lights illuminate the Eiffel’s inner-works. It’s quite magical.
7. Mornings & Nights Matter Most
In fact, this is general travel advice for any destination—when choosing your accommodation, find a neighbourhood where you’d like to wake up and close out the day. Obvious? Well—too often I see people paying a premium to stay near an attraction, such as the Eiffel Tower, when really the famous structure is little more than an afternoon stopover. It’s visible from most of the city anyway—staying next door offers no advantage. Nor does staying near the Louvre, which you’ll visit once, or sleeping within walking distance of Notre Dame, which takes an hour to experience. I prefer to find quiet, off-the-beaten-path neighbourhoods with plentiful places to dine or grab groceries and easy access to transit. A place with a coffee shop or fromagerie next door and a nearby locals’ pub for a nightcap is just about perfect. In Paris, I believe good choices are found in the 18th, 9th and 5th arrondissements. But you do you.
8. Eat Adjacent
Again, this is solid general travel advice—but paramount for Paris: the best restaurants are near touristy centres, but not necessarily in them. For example, my favourite restaurants in Montmartre were located east of the Sacre Coeur, not set near the souvenir shops immediately to the west and south. And even in that busier area, we located two more wonderful eateries, again, just outside of those tourist-traps. I think this carries over throughout the city—unless you enjoy long lines and high prices, of course. Because it’s actually difficult to find a bad meal in Paris. (Keep posted—I’ll detail my top eats in an upcoming post.)
9. It’s Not Your Imagination. The Coffee Sucks
If a friend hadn’t prepared me for this one, I may have spent 10 days in denial—pretending I enjoyed watery, burnt espresso topped with lukewarm shelf-milk. And classic Parisian coffee doesn’t just taste bad—it’s expensive, often €3 for a shot of espresso. Wine, beer and chocolat chaud are safer bets. That said—Parisians have been recently made aware of their lackluster beans and better-quality coffee is popping up around the city. It’s just usually made by Australians.
10. Remember: November
We sped though the lineup to enter Basilica Notre Dame in three minutes. There were only two people ahead of us at the Eiffel Tower staircase. We waltzed right into the Louvre, sans queue, and in some collections we found ourselves totally alone. Versailles was a breeze. We often dined without reservations and usually had a seat on the Metro. This is Paris in November. Sure, the weather is cool and light misty rain often cascades onto the cobblestones—but that’s just an excuse to wear stylish wool coats and debonair hats. I could scarcely imagine visiting at another time. Well, maybe spring… and I hear autumn is nice… *checks Air France ticket prices*