Essential Tips for a Delightful Trip to the French Capital
It's only when you visit France that you realize how vast the country really is, and the same holds true for its iconic city of lights and romance, Paris. Planning a trip to Paris really depends on how many days and nights you have to devote to exploring the city. For weekend trips to Paris, you can plan on a self-guided walking tour or opt for a guided tour to make planning and transportation a done-for-you affair. If you have up to a week, you can spend more time savoring the delicious Parisian cuisine and taking in the sights and sounds of the "Ville-Lumière." Regardless of how much time you have, Paris never fails to disappoint.
Getting to Paris
Because of the popularity of Paris as a destination, taking a trip to the city of light is both quite easy and quite tricky. Travelers come here frequently enough that there are always flights available, but if you're booking at the last minute, these same "frequent" flights might become quite pricey. However, its relative ease of access also means that people do a stopover in Paris. Several travelers opt for a whirlwind "24 hours in Paris" experience or weekend trips to the city rather than staying for an entire week. This means there are plenty of discounts available for those who can and do want to extend their stay. As a general rule, try and book ahead as early as possible. 21 days prior to the preferred travel date is your best option and gives you the most leeway. Advance purchasers also have the advantage of earning a few perks or upgrades on their flight.
Smart Tips for a Budget-friendly Trip to Paris
While websites used to be the best option to find a deal on airfare for a trip to the French capital, this is no longer necessarily the case. So, instead of booking yourself, look for deals by calling a travel agent, as websites are now quite saturated and add on their own hefty fees to the price of the ticket.
If you're flying in the high season, use ticket consolidators and charters as these companies use scheduled airlines with savings passed down to the flyer. It also helps to book fares for a trip to Paris during the week or choosing to fly in during October to March, generally considered the "off-season."
Arriving in Paris
Paris is accessible from all other major European cities such as London using the ever-reliable Eurostar. These are especially useful for weekend trips to Paris, when commuting from another European city. For those flying internationally, you'll be landing at either Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle, 14.5 miles northeast of the city or Aéroport Paris Orly (ORY) for intra-European and domestic as well as North African flights. Meanwhile, Aéroport Paris Beauvais Tillé services newer airlines and connects to leisure destinations.
However, these newer airlines are also the ones travelers can target if they're trying to wrangle a lower airfare. Just make sure that you have a connection to the city, such as a taxi or a rental car. Alternatively, you can also use the Aéroport Paris Orly Val airport shuttle train or the the JetBus to the Villejuif-Louis Aragon terminus of the Paris Métro Line 7.
Getting Around during a stay in Paris
If you've done your homework when planning a trip to Paris, the first thing you'll be struck by is its vast, spider-like network of public transportation. The convenient "Métro" train system is part of what makes a trip to Paris such a breeze and why it's considered a world class city. But you certainly aren't limited to the Métro. There is also the RATP app and the Paris Visite pass valid for zones outside of the city center (from zones 1 to 3, for example), the city bus system, the River Seine boats, and funiculars- which are inclined planes going to the top of Montmartre. Plus there's Vélib', which are public rental bicycles, and an electric car sharing service known as Autolib.
Tips for a 1 Day in Paris
A 1 day trip to Paris might only include the a stunning panoramic view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower (though you might not want to try for both in just one day), a leisurely brunch at a trendy café along Champs-Élysées, and then a walk down rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, past the presidential Palais de l'Élysée and the finest shops around.
Whether you're taking the train in for the weekend or doing some serious city-scape exploration, you'll want to buy a pass for the Métro. You can either get a carnet of 10 tickets for EUR14.50 or a Mobilis unlimited day card for EUR7.30. You can also use the Funiculaire du Montmartre, which starts at the bottom of the Montmartre Hill and goes to the top. Take the steps from the upper funicular to complete four major icons in one swift trip: Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Église de Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, Place de Mont Cenis, and Place du Tertre. Once you've dutifully crossed those off your itinerary, turn around and take in the breathtaking sunset over the city of Paris.
Tips for a 4 day trip to Paris
Having 4 days to yourself in Paris means that you're able to hit up many of the major attractions of Paris: its parks, panoramic views, churches, and art museums. And you'll have time to take in all the pastries and dinners your heart desires. You could also sign up for a guided tour, which will ensure that you hit all the juiciest spots, while fitting in time for shopping and dining. You'll want to start by getting yourself a Museum Pass, Paris Visite Métro pass, and/or a Paris Pass. These will allow you to head to the famous museums such as the Louvre, the Orangerie, the Pompidou, the Guimet- and multiple times to boot. Plus, it will also give you access to monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Panthéon, the Towers of Notre Dame, and the Sainte-Chapelle.
Meanwhile, your Paris Visite Métro pass gets you unlimited travel outside the city's limits, in zones 1 through 5. This opens up spots like Disneyland, Versailles, or Fontainebleau. To really get the best out of your trip to Paris, opt for the Paris Pass, which combines the Museum Pass, Paris Visite Métro pass and Paris Attractions Pass, Paris Bus Tour, and Paris Visite Travelcard. For a 4 day trip to Paris, follow the 1 day trip to Paris itinerary and start to add on from there. Go to the Île de la Cité and check out the Towers of Notre Dame. Then, make your way to Latin Quarter to explore the Invalides. After this, head to Trocadéro station for a walk to the Eiffel Tower and Champ-de-Mars.
Your third day can be spent doing a morning-afternoon combination of Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and the artist-filled Place du Tertre (using the Funiculaire du Montmartre) and one main museum such as the Louvre or Centre Pompidou. Once you're done, spend a relaxing evening simply people watching at Café Le Flore en l'Île on Île St-Louis or enjoy dinner at Aux Tours de Notre Dame. Reward yourself by making the last day of your trip to Paris all about experiencing its pleasant parks, such as Jardin du Luxembourg (which is as unsubtle and ostentatious as it is peaceful) and Le Marais, the capital's trendy artistic and bohemian quarter.
What Smart Travelers Know About Staying in Paris
A trip to the City of Light may seem like it's going to be expensive, but rest assured, there's a perfect spot for every price point and in the district you're looking for. Here's an idiosyncrasy about a trip to Paris you'd best be aware of before booking a room: plumbing arrangement vary. Don't take anything for granted and make sure you ask. For example, rooms marked as "EC" mean "eau courante", which means there is a sink with running water but no shower or bath. Meanwhile, rooms with a shower and bath may not necessarily have a toilet. For a great hotel on a budget, check out the Prince Albert Opera, a fantastic find located near the St. Lazare train station.
For those willing to pay a higher price, Paris is replete with options for a middle-grade to luxury hotel experience. Le Royal Monceau Raffles is a gorgeous destination in the heart of the 8th arrondissement, and the Hôtel Stendhal near Place Vendôme is a quaint and quiet oasis in the heart of the bustling capital.
Get Your Chow On!
Speaking of meal service, it's time to take a big bite out of another amazing part of Paris: its cuisine! There's a reason why French cuisine sets the culinary standard for "haute" restaurants around the world, and it's during your trip that you'll finally understand why.
Let's talk about experiences, because that's how food can best be understood when you're on a trip to Paris. First off, there's the natural charm of picnicking in any of its beautiful parks. Pack a lunch that you've bought from its street markets or open-air farmers markets, as well as yummy treats from the patisseries and boulangeries. Then there is the two or three course affair at a notable Parisian restaurant. Many of the smaller streets seem to be simply lined with niche and speciality restaurants serving up prix fixe lunches and multiple course dinners. Enjoy American-size portions for dinner at the Bistrot de la Grille Saint Germain or a bistro on the Rue de Buci.
Tips for a 5 day trip to Paris
For those doing a 5 day trip, it's worth taking note of some of the restaurant areas and customs. You'll be dining out often and food will comprise a large part of your budget - even if you do survive on the wonderful offerings of the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest market in Paris. Close to Place St-Michel, the 5th arrondissement is full of fast, budget-friendly options along Rue de la Huchette, Rue de la Harpe, and Rue Xavier Privas. There are also many speciality eats and locations of popular Parisian chains here.
Not far from Place St-Michel is Rue de Buci in the 6th arrondissement. Here, you'll find Boulevard St-Germain completely carpeted with sweet little restaurants and cafés with outdoor patios. These are the go-to spots for people watching and catching up with friends. Also in the 6th arrondissement is Rue St-André des Arts, off of a which a small cobblestoned road houses the oldest restaurant in Paris: Le Procope, serving patrons since 1686.
Those looking for a higher, finer cuisine on their trip should scope out a restaurant in Île Saint-Louis in the 4th arrondissement. Though it gets quieter in the evening, the dining is also of an elevated standard. And those looking for the literary and artistic nostalgia of F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway on their trip should head along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to find spots such as Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp.
Shopping in Paris
Now, for the good stuff: the shopping on a trip to Paris probably means you should pack light or bring an extra suitcase. You'll definitely end up filling your baggage while you're here - especially if you're on a 5 day trip to Paris. Of course, some of the high end, luxury brand name shopping can be found on a very fruitful sojourn down the famous Champs-Élysées. Those who wish to stick to this kind of experience should head to the boutiques within the Arcades of the Palais Royal, found at Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Rue Saint-Honoré, Rue de la Paix and Place Vendome. But there are a couple of other spots in the city where you can sniff out a good deal or two.
A small store with big deals on French perfume is Catherine's" on 7 rue de Castiglione, close to the Louvre. This obsequious building hides a perfume discounter that is popular with locals and travelers in the know. For fashion clothing discounts, you'll want to head to any of the stores on rue St-Placide during your stay in Paris.
If you're looking for the "grands magasins" experience, head to either Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, which tower over Boulevard Haussmann, and prepared to get completely lost and overwhelmed in its four stories. Winter is a primetime for shopping, not only because of the weather but also due to the festive cheer of the holiday season.
Vintage and Antiques in Paris
Those who love vintage stores and can't get enough of the charm of independent boutiques and prefer artisan and handcrafted jewelry should get themselves to district Le Marais on their trip to Paris. The Marais quarter, especially on rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Place des Vosges, rue de Turenne, and rue des Rosiers, is home to unique, one-of-a-kind fashion that double as wearable art.
A trip to Paris is not complete without a tour of its eclectic flea markets and open-air stalls. This is not just reserved for food: on your trip to Paris, you'll be able to get off at Metro Porte de Clingancourt on Line 4 or Garibaldi on Line 13 and feast your eyes on the Saint-Ouen flea market. Hagglers and antique-lovers come here for an afternoon of bargain price-sniffing and thrifting.
Paris After Dark
While taking weekend trips to the French Capital for its nightlife is a common thing to do for those living in nearby European cities, travelers who are arriving internationally and who are planning for a week or more in Paris should definitely not miss seeing Paris in a new context: after hours. She's a little rougher, rowdier, and yet she's still classy in her own Parisian way. Le Bar Long on Avenue Hoche is where you can spot the "who's who" of Paris. And, those who come to Le Café Marly come for more than the expensive fare, but rather the chance to set up shop on one of the posh, white couches on its terrace with a view of the Louvre's pyramids.
Both Silencio and Bar 228 are the moodier, more sultry and intriguing options that get quite selective of their patrons after a particular time. While the latter racks up expensive liqueurs with leather armchairs and jazz musicians for ambiance, the former is a whirl through the weird, David Lynch-inspired club form his movie Mulholland Drive. At Silencio, the night wears on and never seems to end as young women make their way from Social Club next door into its underground labyrinth of rooms.