One of the most famous capitals of the world, flooded by tourists during all seasons, with hundreds of hot spots for passionate tourists: from architecture lovers, to fashion gurus, master chefs or just romantic travelers, Paris has a lot to offer for every taste: it has the reputation of being the most romantic and beautiful city of all, filled with history and vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design.
If you want to properly visit Paris, get to know it in every aspect of its grandeur, than you need several weeks. But if you only have a weekend or several days to catch a glimpse of its charm it’s still doable, you just need to plan very carefully your trip and take some informed decisions upfront.
Plan your trip to Paris carefully
Define your focus
For my first short trip to Paris I have done extensive research and thoroughly planned all my stops, the must see places on my agenda, means to get from one point to the other, the best accommodation, the things I wanted to experience, and the focus of my trip. Without it, I admit I would have been lost – I most certainly would not have been able to see by far half of the things I’ve seen. The focus is the first thing you need to decide on: Paris has so much to offer that there is no way to have it all on a short visit. So you will need to decide: is this a sightseeing trip, with focus on the architectural and cultural hot spots, is there a romantic trip with focus on strolling around, or boating along the seine, fine cuisine candle light dinners and wine on Champs Elisee, or maybe this is a relaxed joyous time to visit beautiful gardens and natural parks while soaking up the sun in the outskirts of Paris. Once you have decided the focus of your short visit, you can get on to planning the other aspects of your trip.
When is the best time to go to Paris?
When planning a trip to Paris, one of your most pressing questions is likely to be "when is the best time to go?". First, you need to decide what is best for you. The much-praised "Paris in the springtime" is the obvious choice for those who are interested in a romantic gateway as Paris is most beautiful in May. But depending on your budget, tolerance for large crowds, and centers of interest, another time of year may likely suit you better. The winter holiday season in Paris offers plenty of light and celebration, but it is noisy ad crowded. In the fall, events like the Montmartre Wine Harvest (Vendanges) bring the city to life in a memorable way. Summer might be preferable for those who tend to run away from the crowds (August is the holiday season for all Parisians) but it can get really hot though.
Make a budget estimate for Paris trip
Even if known as one of the most expensive cities in the world, you can have great, fulfilling experiences without spending a lot of money: you just need to be more money conscious and make your picks carefully. There are cheap ways to travel, eat, visit museums or stay in Paris.
Make a personal list of tourist attractions in Paris
Plan your trip carefully. You only have so much time to visit numerous sites and you want to make the most of it. Chose your own hot spots in Paris. You already know your focus, so you made an idea on what kind of landmarks are on your radar: you might be interested in museums, or grandiose architecture, or you might be with a special someone and want to explore the romantic parts and parks of the city. Maybe you are interested in the colorful nightlife of Paris or you want to get a taste of the fine cuisine food and famous French wine. Or, the high-end fashion could be what makes you passionate about Paris. Since there are tens of lovely places to see and experiences to live, you need to make a draft list pretty early in the planning process with what you want to visit in Paris.
When deciding which route is most suitable for your interest, you could use the help of a Paris tourist attractions guidebook or on-line guide or you can get a touring guide (booked through the travel agency or hotel). Of course, this will be most expensive and the trip is not always entirely customized for you.
Decide how to move around Paris
The best way to move around Paris is by walking: cheap, rewording and gives you the opportunity of stopping at the picturesque Parisian coffee shops. Thus, you could stay above the ground and enjoy the beautiful scenery that open at every of you steps. If you want to move a little bit faster, than you could hire a bicycle or a scooter. There are solutions for those who don’t want to rack their brains with reading maps: hop on hop off buses or boats. Finally, for long distanced, the Metro network is very dense in the city and very accessible from all landmarks. Make sure you chose the best option for you.
Decide where to stay in Paris
You could think on what is the smartest way to choose your accommodation in Paris. In case you are only staying 1 or 2 nights, the smart decision is staying closer to the spots you want to visit. You might win a few bucks staying further away from the center, but the time you lose traveling from a cheap accommodation within the outskirts of Paris to the center can really mean a lot of beautiful landmarks you will not visit due to the lack of time. In this case, you will be able to find small but coquet Paris hotel deals on the streets converging to Seine. For instance, on the Saint-Michel boulevard there are a few affordable, small hotels in old buildings, suitable enough for a quick bath, change of clothes or overnight sleep. Otherwise, you will be able to find really good deals in the outskirts of Paris. When booking here you should keep in mind the RER cost of going back and forth to the hotel and see whether it is worth the trouble.
Find out where to eat in Paris
Eating out in Paris can be expensive. However there are lots of cheap solutions at hand too. The key is to stay away from the tourists beaten tracks and the obviously expensive Champs Elysées restaurants. Around the lesser visited quarters especially, there are many cheap and yummy restaurants to be found. Also, keep in mind to order from the prix-fixe menu, and not fromA la Carte menu. This way you can sample the food cheaply and is usually more "French". Also you could drink tap water instead of bottled, much more expensive: you just need to ask for "une carafe d'eau".
Credit: By besopha (Flickr: A table) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsYou could take your breakfast (petit déjeuner) at a local café where prices are lower than at the hotel and then, for lunch, you could think of a “walking lunch” from one of Paris' many food stands: a panino from the pâtisseries, or crepe from a crepe stand, a falafel pita or take-out Chinese in the Marais.
For dinner, you could either stroll the streets at dusk and consider a €15-40 prix-fixe menu or you could buy a baguette, some cheese and a good bottle of wine and join the Parisian youth for a picnic along the Seine (especially on the Île Saint-Louis) or along the Canal Saint-Martin.
The finest food stores are Lafayette Gourmet in the Galeries Lafayette or La Grande Epicerie (grocery) in the luxury department store Le Bon Marché. A large variety of wines you would find in wine stores such as Nicolas or Le Relais de Bacchus (all over the city).
Visit best Paris tourist attractions in the first day
If you are for the first time in Paris, than you might take into account that most of the top hot spots of Paris, the iconic symbols that absolutely need to be passed by, to say the least, are gathered more or less around Seine, in walking distance from the river’s shore. So, it will be no problem walking around from one point of interest to the other.
One of the best routes to get to all of these beautiful landmarks is a walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Ile de la Cite (Notre Dame). This walk would take about 1-2 hours without any stops. But the smart way is to take 1 or 2 days for it and stop at every monument, museum and park along the way. You can start at the top of the Champs Elysees (at the Arc de Triomphe) and begin walking down the Champs Elysees towards Place de la Concorde. On the way towards the obelisk on the square, you'll see the major stores, restaurants and cafeterias of Paris' most famous avenue. You could stop here for a short breakfast with coffee and a croissant or pain au chocolat. “Le petit dejeuner parisienne” is an experience you should not walk by. Once you've passed the main shopping area, you'll get to the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais. At Place de la Concorde, you'll be able to see many of Paris' major monuments around it: the Tuileries in front, the Tour Eiffel (must see) at the right and Musee d'Orsay, and the Madeleine to the left. The Tuileries Gardens are a beautiful passing way to Louvre, with architectural fountains, beautiful flowers and lovers in the park. Passing by Luvru, behind les Halles there is quartier Montorgueil, a pedestrian zone full of pubs and restaurants which is also one of the best known shopping centers where famous brands are close to creator shops. Eastwards from Louvre, along the Seine you reach Pont Neuf. Across the Seine, there is the Latin Quarter, which goes along the Seine, until Ile de la Cité with its grandiose cathedral, Notre Dame.
Other Paris travel tips
Several sites have "choke points" that restrict the number of visitors which can flow through. These include: The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, The Catacombs and Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid queues you can use a pre-booking service that would allow you to pay your ticket Credit: By Sergey Meniailenko from Cupertino, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsand get in front (eg. For Eiffel Tour) or you could use one of the city passes: pre-paid entry plus queue jumping cards that would not only save you good money but also it will save you time (which can go from 1 to many hours in the high season). There are the Paris Museum Pas, the ParisPass or Paris ComboPass a cheaper alternative which comes in Lite and Premium versions.
Also, please keep in mind that most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment. Also, most ticket counters close 30-45min before final closing.
For those who want to meet actual Parisians in addition to exploring major landmarks, there is a personalized service, "See Paris with a Parisian". They provide 90-minute walking tours with locals. They will enchant you with the stories and anecdotes that go with the sightseeing history, but they also engage their visitors on life in Paris. By chatting with a Parisian, you will learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves.
Don't try to visit Paris by car. It's generally a very bad idea to rent a car to visit Paris. Traffic is very dense during the day, and finding street parking is exceedingly difficult in all but the most peripheral neighborhoods of the city.
Avoid suburban charges by paying attention to use Metro when you exit the zone 1-2 and not the RER. Even if it stops in the same stations outside the central area, RER charges you more than the Metro.
Besides the most touristic parts of the city where shopkeepers, information booth attendants, and other workers are likely to answer you in English (like Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, Champs-Elysées), in the other parts of the city people struggle badly with English. So if your French is not advanced you would probably need English-French essential phrase pocket dictionary.
If you find yourself lost in the streets, a good idea to get directions in Paris is to find the nearest hotel and ask the concierge for directions. Unlike the majority of Parisians, most concierges speak English well. But you will need to address them politely, preferably in their language at first: "Bonjour Monsieur/ Madame, parlez-vous anglais?".
If you are very budget aware, than you could arrange your trip at the beginning of the month since all national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, this may mean long queues and crowded exhibits. Also, you should keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding.
Cabarets are traditional shows in Paris. They provide entertainment, often towards adult audiences, with singers and dancers or burlesque entertainers. The most famous ones are at the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Crazy Horse and the Paradis Latin. They fill up quickly so you might want to book before. Be aware though that for cabarets, the prices go high (at least 80€).
Credit: By Sergio Calleja (aka SuperKeko) from Barcelona, Spain (Buddha Bar (Paris)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIn Paris you are not allowed in clubs, or even in some restaurants with a dowdy look and sneakers. The better you look, the more likely you will get past the random decisions of club bouncers. Also if you are in a group of guys, it will be more difficult to enter clubs.
Paris night life is colorful and reach. The bars scene in Paris literally has something for any taste: from bars which serve drinks in baby bottles, to ultra clubs where the access is only by personal recommendation or to platinum cardholders and above. Begin your night by grabbing a drink or two in one of the numerous dive bars, then you can go for dance and party to one of the trendy clubs or chill out in one of the jazz bars in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
The city of Paris provides with free Internet access via 400 Wi-Fi access points throughout the city, including many public parks. Look for the network called 'Orange' on your laptop or PDA device. There is also a bunch of restaurants/ cafeterias with free internet access: Starbucks, McDonald's, Columbus Café, Indiana Café .
Before you leave to Paris, you might enjoy reading a book like French or Foe by Polly Platt or Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — interesting, well written stories of English speaking persons who live in France.
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