Paris is the most visited city in the world. Judging by the internet, it also probably the most written about city in the world. It is also my favorite city and one I know well, but it’s still hard to find something original to say about this wonderful city. So, rather than try to capture all the usual places, here is my very personal guide to what I think is a great way to experience this magnificent city:
Arriving in Paris
You have multiple options from Charles de Gaulle to get into central Paris. The cheapest options are the RER train or the Roissy bus that drops you at the Opera (from the Opera metro you can get directly to most parts of central Paris). Personally, I like the Roissy bus – the queues for RER tickets always seem to be long and, unless you arrive at the correct terminal (terminal 2?) there’s a hike to get there.
Getting Around Paris
Paris is one of the easiest cities to get around. Like most cities in Europe, it goes without saying that having a car in Paris is just crazy, not to mention completely unnecessary. Instead, go for the Metro, the bus, or hire one of the Velib bicycles like a local. If you are staying for an extended period the rechargeable Navigo card is your cheapest option – if you are moving from London to Paris, you will find the Navigo card very similar to the Oyster card you are used to. For shorter stays buy a carnet of 10 tickets – can be shared if you are in a group, and can be used on the buses.
The Paris metro looks complicated, but is actually quite simple to use. All lines are colour coded, and are named by the last station on the route. To make it even easier, each line is also numbered. Check the station you want to go to, and note the line number and name of the last station – that gives you which line you need to take. Changing trains is easy – follow the signs marked “correspondence” then follow the directions to your new line.
Where To Stay in Paris
My favorite areas to stay in Paris are the Marais and the 7th arrondissement in the Eiffel Tower area. I love the mix of residential and tourist, and both areas have fantastic eating options. While the 7th doesn’t have much in the way of budget hotel options, there are plenty of good mid-range options for both apartments and hotels in both neighbourhoods.
Where To Eat in Paris
Obviously when you want to go to Paris you want to eat good French food, but probably don’t want to spend a fortune. In general, I like to choose restaurants where there are plenty of French people. This means I tend to avoid restaurants in tourist areas. In Paris, I would never eat at a restaurant with pictures of the food out the front, or with spruikers out the front touting for business. By choosing a good quality residential area to stay in, I find I am never short of local eating options close to my hotel.
Museums in Paris are often a good food option. I particularly like the restaurant at the Jacquemart-Andre Museum – great lunchtime food, and bright, happy service. I also like the eating options in the Grand Magasins (department stores). The cafeteria at Galeries Lafayettes is a budget option and is good for those who are a bit timid when it comes to French waiters – it also comes with a lovely view over Paris that includes the Opera, the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.
One option worth considering for a more expensive splurge is the restaurant at the Institut Vatel cooking school – fabulous, classic French cooking, served with a smile (in the 17th arrondisement).
What To Do in Paris
There is far too much to do in Paris to do justice to in a single post. Some of my favorite tourist spots include Ste Chapelle, the fabulous Gothic jewel of a church, the bird and flower market just near Ste Chapelle and the Jacquamart-Andre Museum (with a fantastic restaurant for lunch afterwards). Tourist spots I like to avoid include Montmartre and the Champs Elysees – just too loved by too many tourists, and just not French enough for me.
Detail of the stunning jewel-like Ste Chapelle
Head to the markets. Almost every neighbourhood has its own market of fresh produce. Great for people watching and to try some great food (many stalls offer samples). Don’t be afraid to buy small quantities of cheese or meats – pick up some bread and have a lovely (cheap) picnic!
People watching. There’s nothing better than finding an outside table at a cafe, ordering a coffee and just watching the passing parade.
If science or natural history is an interest (or if you just want to go somewhere completely different) why not visit the Natural History Museum? This fabulous 19th century building has been restored with its specimens all displayed in true 19th century style – complete with copperplate fountain pen-written labels on many of the specimens.
Find yourself a local patisserie and restaurant to make “yours” during your stay. No matter where I stay in Paris, I love having “my” patisserie, “my” local restaurant, and most importantly “my” favorite local ice cream shop.
Shopping in Paris
Again, there’s far too much to even think about including in just one post. I love shopping in Paris. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
Beautiful stationery and writing implements are easy to pack and make lovely gifts or momentos – there are plenty of specialist stationery shops to choose from.
I also like buying French lingerie – I choose brands I can’t buy at home (Princess Tam Tam or Etam are good budget options, or for a real splurge try Lise Charmel).
The Grands Magasins are good options if you are nervous of your French skills, and regardless of where you shop, don’t forget to ask about a VAT refund when you are making your purchase.
If a bit of lecher la vitrine (window shopping, but literally translates as licking the windows) is in order head to rue du Faubourg St Honore for upmarket fashion boutiques (also great for people watching) or to place Vendome if haute couture jewellery is more your thing.
Add to my suggestions – what are your favorite things in Paris? If you haven’t been, what would you love to see or do?
Anne @ Pretraveller says
Jo, thanks for sharing your tips for Paris. As you have said there is just so much to do in Paris depending on your interests!
When we visited we really enjoyed getting off the main tourist track. I love the fact that Paris is essentially made up of a series of smaller ‘villages’, so if you can find a place in a village area it is almost like staying in a much smaller place. And the Metro makes it so easy to get around to other areas!
Thanks Anne, I definitely agree about the village feel.
Ah, I’ve been thinking about Paris so much recently and I really think I need to go back. Preferably early next year. A weekend is easily doable for me, so no excuses really. I love how familiar you are with the city – it makes me quite jealous! But it also makes me enjoy the way you write about it all the more. I think we all need Paris in our lives.
It’s funny because when I was recently in New York, despite having a wonderful time, I did find myself thinking that I didn’t feel the same pull as I did with Paris. I’ve only visited twice, but Paris is just so intoxicating in such a fabulous way.
I think I’ve been about 8 times, and I try and find something different to do everytime. I also like to seek out new shops and visit areas I haven’t been to before – that’s how I keep my knowledge growing. I still don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination!
I’m planning on going again in early April – just to expand my knowledge of course!
I agree wholeheartedly, Clare – we definitely all need Paris in our lives!
I LOVE Paris! <3 Very nice guide! Last time i was in Paris I picked up some lingerie-it just seemed like a good idea.
As (I think) Audrey Hepburn said – Paris is always a good idea. As is good lingerie (not said by Audrey Hepburn, but I’m sure she would agree with the sentiment!).
Glad you enjoyed the guide.
Yes, I’m a great walker in Paris too! In fact if the weather’s nice I can do an entire visit without using the metro. The option of course is the bus for those who don’t want to miss the view by using the metro.
Thanks for sharing your experience and adding to the collective wisdom!
TravellingHistorian (@travelhistorian) says
Great tips for Paris! I would also suggest if you don’t want to use the metro all the time, Paris is a pretty walk-able city. I mostly walked everywhere and it was so relaxing. I took my time and just enjoyed the sites. I stayed in the Eiffel Tower area and loved it. It is a great area! I looooove this city!
Carolyn @ Holidays to Europe says
Great info, Jo. I agree with your sentiments about eating out. I’ve been there and done the ‘restaurant with pictures out the front’ and have to say I was disappointed. Eating in your ‘own’ neighbourhood always gives a more Parisian experience. The cafeteria at Galeries Lafayette is great, too – plenty of choices and, as you said, a fabulous view over Paris.
Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to check out your recommendation at the Jacquemart-Andre Museum.
Thanks for sharing your tips.
Thanks Carolyn, glad you enjoyed the post!
Super helpful information! Great post. I love how you called out the markets – those are my favorite! I’d add the Saint Ouen flea market to the list – I love wandering through the bric-a-brac and 10,000 Euro antiques. All for free!
Yes, I love the markets too. It’s so hard to decide what to leave out when it comes to Paris…..,