Most of my overseas travel is lived vicariously through friends and the TB forum but in a couple of weeks I am being sent to Paris for a few days. Other than the obvious tourist destinations, I would love a few suggestions of things not-to-miss, novel places to eat (not too pricey), and so on. Thanks in advance!
A few simple things: If you have an iPhone/ipad that will be working there, get the ParisbyMetro app. It's similar to HopStop and makes plotting your way through the Paris Metro much easier. BTW, the Metro is, for a very large system, pretty easy – much more so than, say, New York's.
Wander. Especially away from, say, the Champs Elysees. You'll find food everywhere with plenty of choices for every budget. The French take food very seriously and even the most mundane place can turn out to be excellent.
A touristy thing that many people miss: Saint Chappelle. It's a couple blocks from Notre Dame, on the same island and surrounded by government buildings. You'll enter the first floor, wander a bit, and think: This is pretty cool but you probably won't be blown away, especially if you've visited Notre Dame previously. But then go upstairs and see the stained glass.
For an interesting lunch spot not too far away: Le Lioir dans la Théière. It's within walking distance in the Marais. It's a tiny lunch spot/tea room with enormous deserts. Your waiter/waitress will take you to look at the actual desserts so you can decide in person which you want.
And just walk. Walk, walk, walk. It's a wonderful city.
Oh, and if you haven't read this already: Always, ALWAYS say, "Bonjour," to every shopkeeper, wait person, etc. that you see. And "Au revoir" when you exit. Seriously, when you walk in a shop, YOU make it a point to say, "Bonjour," to each employee you see. If you're an American, it seems weird but it's one of the French social cues that we often miss – leading to many, "Oh, the French are so rude!" stories. No, they're not any more rude than Americans (and possibly quite a bit less); just that there are differences between what we consider polite and what they consider polite.
Anyhow, hope this helps.
We're in Paris in 3 weeks. Thanks for the tips!
I second the walk, walk, walk advice. We went to a neat jazz club near Notre Dame called Caveau de la Huchette, and stayed at a pretty nice boutique hotel called the Eldorado.
And the bonjour/au revoir advice is also good. It's just a social norm, and it even applies to kids. I kind of liked it, actually, and have more-or-less continued it at home.
And watch if you're buying tickets for the Metro. My husband mistakenly bought children's tickets and I ended up with a 30 euro fine because they do check occasionally. And they expect you to pay the fine on the spot! Live and learn lol.
Something else I just remembered:
I found this site (Paris and beyond in France) to have a wealth of information for simple things like shopping, ordering and eating in a restaurant, etc. And the reason I bring this up, besides the fact that the site is fun to read, is that I found on it a link to a PDF of an English-French food dictionary. A food dictionary? Yes. The French have what seems like five times more words for different types of food that we have in English. And while I can usually muddle through with my high school French in other situations (reading anyway; forget understanding it spoken, thats way too fast), menus mostly went right over my head. This little PDF, which I carried on my phone, was really helpful.
@Nli Where willyou be staying in Paris (which arrondissement, if you know it, or at least on which Bank of the Seine)? Have you already booked a hotel? @bransom's suggestions are very good, though a visit to La Saint Chapelle is even better during the summer time, when they often hold music concerts there. And there are also free guided tours, though at more frequent intervals in French than in English.
I've used several of the web pages and resources in the linked pages in @bransom's second post. Especially if this is your first time traveling to Europe, and you have an iOS or Android device, I'd recommend that you pick up the Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2014 Kindle eBook I posted about this weekend under the Travel Tips forum, since it's still on sale for $1.99 (in U.S. and Canada), if only for the wealth of country specific resource links and tips all in one place.
I agree with everyone else that this is a city you want to explore on foot and using public transportation such as the Metro. I like to go to the Dalloyau tea room near the Luxembourg Gardens when I'm in Paris. You can find my post about it, with picture of location, Google Map link, and link to an old food blog near the end of the old Food and Travel thread. It's very close to the Metro stop at the corner of the Luxembourg Gardens.
I've also read/used some of the books and resources listed in @bransom's second post.
And while I've tried some of the restaurants in Alexander Lobrano's Hungry for Paris and I like to read through suggestions in David Lebovitz's blog, I still mostly enjoyed smaller places, or even just buying fresh bread from a bakery and cheese from a Frommagerie to make a meal. You can also visit some of the small, Breton creperies for good, relatively inexpensive meals.
You might want to be alert against possible pickpockets in major rail/metro transfer sites. See this thread for tips.
While you're visiting Notre Dame or Chapelle, check the bulletin boards for live music. I attended a string quartet concert in Saint Chapelle that had about 50 people total in the audience. It was a unique experience and gave time to really study at the chapel. The building was (at the time) floodlit at night so the windows were simply gorgeous. And no milling crowds to contend with.
The Notre Dame concert was amazing. It was religious music through the ages and started with ALL of the lights inside the church extinguished while the a capella chorus walked in behind the audience singing Medieval song and carrying candles. From a small floodlit platform in the crossing, they then progressed through time up to 20th Century works, with the pipe organ kicking in as it became period appropriate. And the best part was the price: FREE! Well, the hat was passed and you donated what you could afford. They were funded by the city government.
Aside from that, I concur with the others: just get out and walk. There are cool churches and museums scattered all over the place. And if you're into dead peeps, Pere Lachaise and the catacombs are definitely worth a visit. There are quite a few notables interred in Pere Lachaise, that you would never think are buried there.
Tavapeak and Nli, in case I didn't mention it, I'm jealous. I'd love to go back to Paris in the near future but I don think that's in the cards this Spring. Have a great time!
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I need to start this post with an expression of unbridled chauvinism: while Notre-Dame de Paris is beautiful, it does not compare well with the real masterpieces of gothic architecture in the neighboring regions, such as the cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, Rouen and especially Amiens (my city - of course). All these places are 2 hours away or less by train from Paris, so if you have the time a day trip to one of these places will be worth the effort.
Now that this is out of the way I will try and contribute some actual advice.
If I understand correctly you are going to visit Paris in the spring. Rain is a distinct possibility, so you may want to prepare a short list of museum of interest in case you can not enjoy the outdoors:
- Le Louvre is an obvious choice, but buying your ticket at the museum entrance means endless queues. You can and should buy your ticket on line or in independent stores (the FNAC music stores are everywhere in Paris and sell tickets). There is a smaller, more discrete entrance in one of the galleries surrounding the courtyard dedicated to visitors who have purchased their tickets in advance. The queue at this entrance is much shorter (after the security control you walk right in). If you decide to visit the Louvre, you should select a collection (Renaissance Painting, Greek antiquities, Medieval Art...) and stick with it. Flying from the Mona Lisa to the mummies to the Victory will at best be very tiring and at worst even stressful.
- The Museum of the Middle-Age in Hôtel de Cluny is quite nice, and usually less crowded than Orsay or le Louvre. Its calligraphy exhibition is quite a sight.
- If you are into Modern Art then you should visit le Centre G. Pompidou (aka Beaubourg).
- I +1 the other posters about la Sainte-Chapelle. The building is inside the premises of a tribunal, so you should stick to the designated areas until you reach the Chapelle. The stained glass windows are probably the most beautiful in France (I would say in Europe, but that would be too much chauvinism in a single post) with the possible exception of the Cathédrale de Chartres. In my opinion, la Sainte-Chapelle is ranking higher than Notre-Dame in the list of Paris marvels - but this is obviously subjective. The story says that Saint Louis brought back a few shards from the True Cross from the crusades, and he had a Sainte Chapelle built in different French cities to keep them.
- Just close to the tribunal hosting the Sainte Chapelle is the former royal prison of la Conciergerie. This is not necessarily a must-see, but worth the visit if you like the Gothic architecture (the big halls of the lower floors are nice) or are interested by Queen Marie-Antoinette (who "resided" there during her final years).
- If you are more into the Imperial period of French history, you will want to visit the inside of the Arc de Triomphe and the military hospital of Les Invalides. Napoleon's tomb is in the church there.
- I believe there is a "Paris tourist pass" of some sort offering unlimited transportation for a few days and access to the major museums. I think it is sold at the airport. If needed I can look it up.
- you should avoid the excessively touristy areas of Saint Michel, Notre Dame, and Place du Tertre. Popular eating areas for locals are le Marais, la rue Mouffetard. A clue to spot good, affordable restaurants: check the door for the "Guide du Routard" sticker (a backpacker with the world in his backpack). This popular restaurant guide focuses on places giving good quality for the money.
This is pretty much what I had in mind. Do not hesitate to ask details or clarifications should you find my English too hard to follow.
In any case, enjoy your stay in France.
+1 on the suggestion above for Rue Mouffetard in the cinquieme for dining.
It is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; if you go in the morning, you can enjoy an open air market where vendors sell charcuterie, cheeses, pastries, fruit and veg, etc.
After a morning in the bustling crowds of the Mouffetard market, you can swing by the Grande Mosquee (also in the 5th, nearby) for a relaxing break. Enjoy a hot mint tea in a tree-filled courtyard and/or take a massage in the hammam.
I'm taking my 14-year-old son (who is nearly fluent in French, and asks me not to speak any French, as my accent is that bad ;-). We're renting an apartment in the 12th near Gare de Lyon. We'll head to Chartres on a Friday, when I hope the labyrinth will be available for walking.
Packing question: Will a trench, layered with a polar fleece or sweater be warm enough for the end of March? Of course it's hard to tell with weather, but wondered if anyone had input for this.
@Tava: the last time I was in Paris (regrettably long, long ago) was in mid March. I wore a gore-tex jacket with a light fleece or sweater most days and was comfortable, though not particularly stylish. I imagine a trench would be similarly useful and much better looking. As I recall, we had all sorts of weather, including a day that poured and was blazing hot mere hours apart, and a number of mornings that were quite cool with sunny afternoons. If your fleece is compressible I imagine you could tuck it in your bag if it got warm.
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@TavaPeak if you are staying near the Gare de Lyon, you might want to take the Air France bus (Les Cars Air France) from the airport (CDG) to there. If I'm staying somewhere near an RER B station, I'll travel directly directly to and from CDG via RER., since there are no transfers, and CDG is on the RER B line. However, if you've just gotten off the plane and are carrying your luggage, the bus might be more convenient, since the luggage gets stowed under the bus, and you don't have to worry about changing lines (not hard or very far, but maybe not what you want to do, particularly with luggage, if this is your first experience negotiating the metro just after a long plane ride; you'd need to change to the RER A or D lines). The buses run every 30 minutes.
Originally Posted by TavaPeak
I think you should be warm enough, but others may weigh in. Envy! at your trip to Chartres.
You guys are so amazing - thanks for taking your time to make all these wonderful recommendations which will help me a lot. As is my fashion, I of course forgot to ask what to wear / take but you guys covered that too --- sounds like good walking shoes are at the top of the list. Thanks again, very much!! Au revoir, à demain.