- Wedding: April 2013 - Rhode Island
We went to London for 4 days and Paris for 9 days for our honeymoon. It was awesome! I’ve been to Paris about 4 or 5 times, so I have TONS of tips!
Overall Parisienne Tips: Don’t tip your waiters. It’s already included. Asking for “un carafe d’eau” means you’ll get free tap water. Asking for “une bouteille d’eau” means you’ll be charged about 6 Euros or $8.20 for a bottle of water. This really adds up over the course of a vacation, so I recommend asking for tap water. “Carafe” sounds like giraffe with a K instead of G. “d’eau” is pronounced doe like a female deer. Consider buying a Larousse pocket dictionary. I tried a lot of different French-English dictionary apps and nothing came close to the accuracy of Larousse. A lot of people speak English in France, but some don’t (and some will pretend they don’t). It’s helpful to learn a few phrases before you go. Note that hotels in Paris are really tiny and expensive. You can save money and have more room by renting an apartment instead. We used airbnb.com and had a wonderful stay! We were also able to choose a location directly in the center of Paris. We never could have afforded a hotel room in the same place.
Metro and App Tips: If you have a smartphone, learn how to turn data off while you’re abroad so you won’t be charged but can still use the phone for offline apps. (Easiest way to do this on an iPhone is to put the phone in Airplane mode but then re-enable Wifi). Download the “Paris Metro” app (may be called “Visit Paris by Metro”. It is developed by RATP and is free. It has two offline maps: one of the metro/RER and one of Paris (you need data to download them but then you can use it while offline). You can use this app to calculate your subway route without using data! This was invaluable to us! It also stores your most recent searches so you can get to and from the same location quickly. You can search by fewest changes or fastest time. If you will be carrying luggage to/from the airport, definitely use fewest changes. Also, I highly recommend taking a taxi to/from airport instead. The Paris metro is unlike American metros. You can walk underground for 10-15 minutes at a time to change lines. Also, KEEP YOUR METRO TICKET WITH YOU! Do NOT throw it away! Police can ask to see your ticket and they will fine you a lot of Euros if you don’t have it. You also need it to change lines sometimes. The RATP website describes the various ticket and pass options, so do your research to see what fits you best. We personally bought “Carnet de 10 tickets t+”, which is a package of 10 metro tickets at a discounted price, cheaper than buying 10 tickets individually. If you want a Paris Visite pass, consider where you will be going in Paris first. The vast majority of attractions are within zones 1-3 so that is likely all you need. But the airports require a pass with access to zones 1-5 (yet another reason to take a taxi to/from the airports).
Other Great Apps: 1) Ulmon Paris. It’s free and has a gigantic, easy-to-read map of Paris. It also includes all major sightseeing attractions, local cafes and restaurants, etc. You can click an attraction and then “pin” it with a colored icon so you can quickly find it on the map for later. Most attractions listed in the app include hours of operation, but you may want to double-check these before departure. 2) My Currency Converter (jRuston Apps). There are many currency converters both free and paid versions. I found this one to be the most accurate, available offline, and plus it’s free. If you want to convert other things too besides just currency, consider downloading GlobeConvert Free (Ivan Karpan). However, that one has been hit or miss with currency conversions. 3) Tripomatic. Can be useful for creating your own itineraries that are then viewable offline.
Food Tips: We found food to be ridiculously expensive while in Paris. Try not to eat in the fancier, more touristy areas (for example, avoid lunch on the Champs Elysees). It took some searching, but we did find some reasonably priced places. A couple of our favorites were in the Marais district (take the metro to Saint-Paul). Coffee is unlike in America too. They pretty much only serve small shots of espresso and these are almost always not available to-go (or “for take-away” as is commonly said in Europe). Depending on your coffee habits, you may want to search out a local Starbucks. There are a couple spread throughout the city (Marais, Bastille, Louvre, etc). If your hotel or apartment has an espresso maker in it, seriously consider making your morning cups of Joe before you leave.
Sightseeing Tips: Depending on the length of your stay, you may want to buy a Paris Museum Pass. Do not confuse this with the “Paris Pass” sold by ParisPass.com. That one is a rip-off. The Paris Museum Pass is great but requires a little bit of research beforehand to be sure you’re getting the best value from it. Be sure to read the instructions carefully as the pass is only valid starting the date you write on it, and the date should be written DD/MM/YY in the European style. Lots of the attractions/sites are actually free, and all the gorgeous old churches are free. Many places are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so again, do your research before you show up to avoid disappointment. I have a 4-page guide to all the best sites broken down by neighborhood if anyone is interested in taking advantage of all the research I’ve already done. Just send me a message with your e-mail address and I’ll send it to you. My overall advice for sightseeing is allow more time than you think you need. Even if you plan your trip perfectly and rush around to try and fit everything in, it takes about 8 or 9 days to see everything Paris has to offer (and even then, it’s not really everything). I also highly recommend taking 1 day trip out to Versailles. It’s easiest to get to by train but also accessible by bus. Don’t be dismayed by the line because it’s worth it! Buy a ticket to see the chateau (castle) and then consider buying a ticket to ride the little train to the smaller chateau. They recently started charging to access the gardens, which I find ridiculous. This used to be included. The small train drives through the gardens to get to the chateau, so it kind of kills two birds with one stone IMO. I would skip the garden ticket and just buy the small train ticket to access the other castles (petit trianon, grand trianon, and Queen’s hamlet or Hameau de la Reine). The gardens are GIGANTIC, so be advised that if you buy one of those tickets, you will have A LOT of walking to do. But the Palace of Versailles is really a must-see when visiting Paris. Allocate an entire day just to do that. Le Louvre is also another whole day event. Our favorite museum was probably Musee d’Orsay. If you love Claude Monet, then you absolutely must visit some of the lesser-known museums: Musee de l’Orangerie and Musee Marmottan Monet. I could honestly go on and on about Paris.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask away! I’d love to help. 🙂