By Ambre, Ciao Bella Travel’s Paris Correspondent
‘When is the best time to go to Paris?’ is a question I often get asked.
The truth is ANY time is a good time!
Paris is beautiful in all seasons, under all weather conditions (yes even rain and snow are romantic in Paris) at any holiday, high or low season! You can have so much fun frolicking in the summer months to all the outdoor terraces, festivals, parks, sitting Seine-side soaking the sun. But you can also rug up in cosy winter gear and frequent the cafes for coffee avalanches, high tea treats, restaurants, museums, bars, libraries and more in true literary, arty and romantically broody Parisian fashion.
With that in mind it is known that August is high tourist month and also holiday time for Parisian, the locals tend to leave the City and flock to their holiday destinations leaving the city predominantly tourist-filled. If you want to go in the Summer months and mix more with locals go in June, July or September.
Next, the only thing to ponder is ‘what do I pack?’ and the answer to that is: pack according to the season but always with a few pieces from the opposing – Paris can surprise you and a summer day can turn chilly if not cold and rainy. No matter what always take an umbrella!
So; assuming you’ve got your flights booked…What’s next?
Here is a step-by-step guide of the practicalities of Paris to help you plan, prepare and book for a smooth arrival and overall experience.
One of the most important elements of holiday planning is selecting the right accommodation. (and it goes without saying, to suit whatever experience or practicalities you are looking for). For some that may be a hotel, for others a self contained apartment or others again, a B&B. Your accommodation will set
the tone for your entire experience, being your starting point, your waking place, your retreat, afternoon siesta spot and your nightly cocoon. As a basis, it should be comfortable, clean and practical and there should be no skimping on the basic essentials.
In Paris, generally hotels are on the better end of the 5-star-scale and sufficiently meet these needs and for some that’s all that is perfectly required. There are many from the generic to themed and boutique styles, reflected as budget to luxury, and they certainly provide the service we have all come to know as ‘hotel’, delivering the practicality and convenience they promise.
Self-contained apartments are a great option if you want your own private place to yourself, to feel like you are living alone in your own Parisian home and the practical element of your own kitchen, laundry etc is certainly attractive. These types are often ‘empty’ homes. That is they have been purchased and renovated purely for travellers in the practical and modern sense, used only for holiday rentals.
Going one notch up in the scale of true cultural immersion is selecting an accommodation that is more homely and intimate and offers a true, authentic experience of Parisian life and culture, and B&Bs are it! Since ‘there’s no place like home’, isn’t it so much more inviting and welcoming to stay somewhere that really is someone’s home – to have a local regular person welcome you like an old friend, rather than a paying customer? - and since Paris is all about le apartment, a B&B may be for some, THE perfect accommodation.
Petite Paris (www.petiteparis.com.au)
Petite Paris has over 90 B&B apartments exclusively for Australian travellers – some are hosted B&Bs (i.e sharing with a local Parisian single, couple or family) where you will be offered not only a bed and delicious homemade breakfasts but also benefit from the knowledge, advice and tips of a local Parisian and forming real relationships i.e not just conversing with the concierge, cab driver or ticket master.
Immerse yourself in the towns culture with an apartment booked through airbnb. Here you have the choice to book a room or a full apartment.
Um, What’s ‘Arrondissement’?
Paris is divided into 20 districts know as Arrondissements – and split in two by the Seine River. Fourteen districts on the right bank and 10 districts of the left bank. Have a look at a map of Paris to see how the City is divided up
Each district is like a little village within the city with its own history, culture and atmosphere and way of life. So it’s a good idea to read about each arrondissement to decide which ‘feels like home’ to you! Generally the left bank in Particular the Latin Quarter (5th) harbours the intellectuals and artists while the right bank is more up market and business centre – which the exception of the outer ‘right-bank neighbourhoods such as the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements which are typically old world Parisian and more residential than the central touristic arrondissements.
A ‘petit’ guide:
1st and 2nd Arrondissements - the most central locations, buzzing with dizzying city action and sounds, home of many famous attractions and the upscale shopping district starting at rue
Saint-Honore leading to the Champs Elysees. Many of Paris’ oldest cafes reside here. A definite commercial feel here.
3rd and 4th – is the popular and sought ‘le Marais’. It’s a hot spot for creative’s, bobo’s (Bohemian bourgeois Parisians) and the cool cats of Paris. It is known as the best boutique shopping spot (the only shopping area open on Sundays), for its quirky after-dark liveliness and countless bars and restaurants, cafes as well as museums and being one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Paris littered with the quintessentially narrow observe cobble streets, 16th century mansions and more.
5th and 6th – The (5th) Latin Quarter is dark and mysterious with a student population thanks to the local university nearby. It’s the literary centre of Paris with all the old cult cafes of the well known writers of Paris, think arts, artistic types, hole-in-the-wall rustic bars, cafes and music spots.
The (6th) is the trendy, upscale and very cosmopolitan St-Germain des Pres – another very popular and sought after neighbourhood, Think grand boulevards, quintessential Parisian brassieres, well dressed classically styled Parisians in crisp lines and predominantly black attire. Shopping is divine here too and many of Paris’ best bars and restaurants live here too.
7th – The Eiffel Tower neighbourhood is a more upscale residential neighbourhood, although it doesn’t feel like it when you are around the Eiffel Tower amongst all the tourist masses and gypsies. It’s a quieter area with its share of great cafes, restaurants though limited nightlife. Museums are a plenty as well as sights as is true of al neighbourhood’s of Paris.
8th, 9th and 10th – surrounding the most central 1st to 7th arrondissements these neighbourhoods are good practical options for reaching the centre while still being easy to navigate quickly to all of Paris while being slightly less expensive to stay, But the exciting Paris city life is still there and strong. I would describe them as a mix of commercial upmarket and quiet residential quirky vintage boho atmosphere and the 10th is the hug of Paris’ multicultural life.
11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, - 19th and 20th - are arrondissements classified as blue collar residential Paris though all Parisian beautiful with their own village lives and atmospheres and own attractions to see.
15th, 16th and 17th – are Paris upmarket, upscale and wealthy residential neighbourhoods.
18th – is my favourite neighbourhood in Paris and where I call home for 2 months every year. It’s the art and cultural, creative life of Paris. Many of Paris’ French impressionists resided here and its easy to see why. Its an artfully inspiring very old-world quaint and quintessential Parisian village where life continues in the same way it did centuries ago. It’s the romantic capital of Paris. Think cobblestoned hidden laneways, hole-in-the-wall cafes and bars and it sits on the highest point of Paris with the hill of the Sacre Coeur at the centre giving the best view over all of Paris. The area is home to the last remaining vineyards and windmills in Paris and is also riddled with multiple independent theatres as well as the most well know the Moulin rouge.
Getting to your accommodation
I recommend becoming at least a little familiar with the Paris transport system before arriving to ensure a smooth entry into Paris and to your accommodation. There’s nothing worse than getting trans-flustered before you’ve even ‘arrived’. The Metro system is really easy to get the hang of too especially with prior studying.
A great resource is www.parisbytrain.com - it describes basically but thoroughly how
to reach the Paris centre via train from each of Paris’ airports, as well as how to switch the
underground suburban Metro train lines if you are arriving at one of the international train
stations. With maps, schedules, cost details and guides, it’s fantastic! Even giving a 3D map
of the Airport, level by level with navigation and photo guides.
In an easy nutshell: at either of the airports, simply following the signs to the lower level
RER train lines. The RER trains are Intercity trains that connect Paris Airports to Paris
Centre. At the platform buy a one-way ticket to Paris at any one of the ticket machines or
tellers for approx 13euro. There is only one train every 20 mins or so, on one platform so you can’t miss it. Catch it and get off at either ‘Gare Du Nord’ Station, ‘Chatalet’, or ‘Denfert
Rochereau’ – whichever is most practical to reach your accommodation. From there switch to the underground Metro line that will take you too your B&Bs closest metro station (there
may be some line changes involved).
TIP: You can use the 13euro RER ticket purchased at the Airport to switch to the Metro lines
and reach your B&B – no need to buy a Metro ticket.
Taking a cab from the Airport into central Paris will cost approx 40-50euro. Cabs are metered and reliable and there is never a shortage. Tip: its advantageous to learn basic French, many cab drivers do not speak English or choose not to. Being able to direct them to your accommodation while of course adding the standard expected ‘Bonjour/Bonsoir’, ‘Sil Vous Plait’ and ‘Merci’ (hello, please and thank you) will be greatly appreciated and respectfully understood. More about Language barriers later…
Getting around Paris – to and from your accommodation
The Petite Paris website has a webpage dedicated to the Metro trains, buses, shuttle services, taxi’s and batobuses in Paris. Again I would recommend taking a bit of time to look at a map of the metro system in Paris, firstly to recognize which station is closest to your accommodation and which line number (and color coded) is yours. It will also help you to see how you may need to navigate a few line changes to reach various attractions and venues in Paris.
TIP: It is cheaper to buy a booklet of 10 subway tickets (approximately 13.30 euros) rather than to buy individual tickets (1.70 euro each). Or it may be worthwhile to get weekly, monthly or 3-5 day passes. If you stay at least 4 nights in Paris and cannot walk get a weekly ticket (15.40euro approx from Monday to Sunday). Be careful, certain counter employees, certainly commissioned for each sale, will try to dissuade you and try to sell a 5-day tourist card to you. They can tell you that the orange card is only for Parisians or working people. This is incorrect. * You can pick up pocket size metro maps at each Metro station to keep handy.
KEMPTRO - Download this app for your iPhones. It’s the only Metro app giving the location of all entrances and exits of all metro stations. Once in Paris you will understand why this is so important to have handy. Download it here www.kemtro.com
Lost in Francelation – About Language Barriers
Despite their reputation, the French are actually friendly and helpful. The key is to understand the simple cultural difference that can lead some to perceive the French as rude. If you go to Paris without learning anything at all about French customs and social behaviours then you will tend to behave in a way that the French perceive as extremely rude and they will reflect that rudeness back, while you have no idea where it’s coming from.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to try to speak French. Speaking English to a Frenchman right off the batin the assumption that English is spoken by everyone is seen as rude and inconsiderate (even if he speaks English). Always attempt to speak at least a little token French. ‘Bonjour’, ‘Parlez-vous Angalis?’ simply means ‘hello, do you speak English?’ – this makes a huge difference. You will find the French will suddenly speak fluent English if you show a token effort.
The most typical attractions of Paris can be discovered on any Paris website, blog or travel magazine, web search etc – the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel tower, Luxembourg gardens etc. are all already well covered so I prefer to offer guests ‘different’ ideas based on my discoveries over the years. There is so much to see and do, things that don’t involve long lines and expensive tickets and a whole lot of elbow, nudging and overcrowded frustration, there are obscure beautiful spaces and places where the true Paris comes alive, where real life occurs and new and different sights are begging to be seen and sounds to be heard.
Here are just a few of our recent discoveries and favourite new places: best of all they are FREE!
An elevated park built on an abandoned railroad stretching 4km from Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. It’s a beautiful landscape of trees, flowers and plants where you will see Paris at the level of treetops, roof tops and church spires, follow ivy-covered arched trellises, watch the changing panorama of architectural styles and admire decorative mouldings and intricate balcony railings. Finishing at Jardin de Reuilly with its terraces, gardens, and cosy alcoves and an outdoor café. It’s one of the cities best kept secrets and a favourite Sunday stroll of mine.
Address: 290 Ave Daumesnil 75012 Paris (via staircase entry cnr Rue Lyon)
Tip: At the entry see the ‘Viaduc des Arts’ – boutique crafts and art shops beneath the vaulted arches of the old railway.
Marche des Enfants Rouge
The ‘Market of the Red Children’ is the oldest undercover food market in Paris built in 1615 and named after a nearby 17th century orphanage. With a tiny iron-gate entry that’s easy to miss, this is a small yet vibrant and authentic Parisian market loved by locals. Many of the stands sell fresh prepared food you can eat in the cafes inside. I love the bouquets of vibrant flowers, the wide selection of obscure wines, bounties of organic pumpkins, tomatoes, cauliflower, and other richly colored fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, meat, cheeses and charcuterie. I recommend the Creole cafe, the homemade hamburger stall (locals favourite) and the Turkish delights.
Address: 39 Rue de Bretagne 75003
Metro: Filles- Calvaire or Temple
Music Recital at La Saint Chappell
A highlight for any first timer or returning visitor to Paris is assuredly a visit to one of the spectacular concert recitals at La Sainte Chapelle for some therapeutic musical reflections amidst the rumblings of the city. This gothic architectural jewel is located on the Isl. de la Cite and holds over 100 concerts March to December; featuring works of the classical music repertoire. You cannot find anywhere the warm atmosphere in the St. Chapelle Church.
Concerts daily start at 7pm and 8.30pm – I recommended arriving 45 minutes prior.
Address: 8 Blvd du Palais 75001 Paris
On a budget? – Some Cheap Eats
A Creperie café with crepe flavours to serve a breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert appetite. From 7.50euro from the most simple to just over 10euro for the fancy varieties. The fillings are limited but the ingredients are the highest quality and delicious. Located in the central 3rd arrondissement so its easy to get to from most sightseeing spots. If not, I suggest making the effort, crepes are a must-eat in Paris and you can get much better or more valuable than Breizh.
TRY: Galette Buckwheat Noir.
Closed Mon and Tues.
Address: 109 rue Vieuille du Temple 75003 Paris
Metro: Saint Sebastian-Froissart
I recently discovered this small, family-run, romantic restaurant in an unassuming street at the back of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. Any weary visitor who has just braved the bustle at the Basilica and prefers to shy away from the chaos of the ‘Place du Tertre’ for dinner, will breath a sigh of warm relief at this intimate, non touristy, welcoming haven. Classic French fare is on the menu and it’s delicious and inexpensive. The fixed price menu for 20euro will have you feasting on a lovingly prepared appetizer, main course and wine or dessert.
Address: 25 Rue Lambert 75018 Paris
Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt or Chateau Rouge
Le Comptoir du Relais st Germain
Aside from being my absolute favourite Paris restaurant and usually notoriously pricey, the
BEST croque-monsieu in Paris is made here – and it’s the cheapest too! Go figure! Uniquely made with smoked salmon and comte cheese with Caesar-like salad making the standard ham/cheese version seem banal. Here you get to dine in style at one of the see-and-be-seen places on one of the most bustling people watching corners of Paris, eating the cheaply and heartily. Its perfect!
Address: 9 Carrefour de l’Odeon 75006
A great quick take away bakery. Buy the perfect Quiche – crispy flaky crusts with just the right balance of egg and cream filling, using all organic ingredients, for 5euro to takeaway, and head to a nearby park or square and enjoy Paris lunch under the sun. Their sweet tarts are great too – 4euro take away.
Address: 46 rue des Martyrs 75009 Paris
Metro: Notre Dame de Lorette
- If you go to the Louvre: To avoid the queue, go down the stairs close to the little Arc de Triomphe (when the pyramid is behind you).
- Free entrance to museums: Parisian museums offer free entry every first Sunday of each month (including the Louvre). The museums run by the City of Paris are always free, except of temporary exhibitions.
- Versailles Castle:To go to Versailles Castle, the cheapest way is to take the bus 171, departure at Pont de Sevres subway (last station on line 9).
- Don’t rush…But do keep track of your time and create a list of things you really want to experience. Even if you have an extended remember as they say, time flies. Try and check one thing off the list each day.
- If you are standing on the sidewalk at 40 Rue Reaumur don’t expect 41 Rue Reaumur to be right across the street. It may be on the other side the street but it could very well be way down the block if not, sometimes, on the next block down. Bizarre? Oui! But true!
- At restaurants if you want something “To Go” it is best to ask for “Take Away”. They seem to understand that English phrase much better.
- The Paris water has very high level of calcium and can dry the skin. Bring your favourite lotion from home.
- Weather can be unpredictable. Pack a few things for cooler or hotter weather than you expect.
- Don’t try to enter a crowded Metro subway car when the door is closing and warning sound and lights have activated. Even if the car is not crowded, stay clear of the doors, be aware that the automated door close very fast and tight. Getting something caught in the door will most likely require the assistance of other riders to free it.
- When the car is crowded do not sit in the fold down jump seats found near the doors of Metro subway cars. I is impolite and propagates the “ugly tourist” image. Signs are posted in the cars stating this rule.
- Try and stay informed. Especially if you know things are happening in Paris, for us it was strikes and terrorist warnings. You can find the English International Herald Tribune newspaper on many newsstands.
- The L'officiel des Spectables and/or the Pariscope are both good sources to find all the timetables for the museums, cinemas, church recitals, exhibitions, theatres, etc. Published each Wednesday and sold in all the newspaper shops and kiosks for 0.40euros.
Till next time,
Ciao Bella Travel’s Paris Correspondent