We visited Paris in February and we were lucky. The weather was beautiful and we had an awesome time. This was my fourth time in Paris and probably the best one yet. My husband and I fell in love with the city when we first went there together about two years ago. We fell in love with the cute cafés, the small streets, whacky thrift stores and delicous food. Just to name a few. Of course there are a lot of places where it’s very touristy and major sights are packed but there are also many places not a lot of tourists know or rather care about. Did you know that there is a vineyard at the center of Montmatre? Or have you ever heard of the Allée des Cygnes?
Of course it’s awesome to see the Eiffel Tower, take a boat tour on the Seine, visit the Louvre and to do all those other major attractions in Paris. But it’s also awesome to just walk the streets, to find hidden spaces and places that are beautiful and almost empty. This may sound like I’m a Paris pro, but I’m most definetely not. Actually I’m more a traveller on a budget and I guess this makes you kind of creative – in a good way. So here are my tipps, travel highlights and recommendations.
WHERE TO STAY
First of all, I’d recommend staying in a real Parisian hotel. This might not be for everybody because it usually means it’s rather old and very likely a little dingy and tiny. The first time we went to Paris we stayed at the Hotel Stanislas, which is a very old hotel with a very friendly front desk manager in Montparnasse. It’s clean and has all the amenities you need for a city trip, ie. a bed, a shower/sink/toilet and a relative quietness. It’s also close to two metro stations and some sights can even be conquered on foot.
The second time around we stayed at the Grand Hotel de Clermont which is situated in a quiet street in Montmatre just a short walk away from the infamous Moulin Rouge and beautiful Sacre Coeur. The hotel was cheap, clean and we had a little kitchenette which was perfect for storing and preparing some food. However the bathroom was tiny. My husband barely fit in there. And although it’s in a quiet street, I wouldn’t recommend it in summertime when you have to have the windows open because there is a bar which is famous for having had Edith Piaf as one of its patrons but is also very noisy because people like to sit and smoke outside.
WHERE TO EAT
Secondly, when you are on a budget, you might want to avoid going to restaurants all the time. The good thing is – you don’t have to in order to enjoy delicious food! There are plenty of bakerys, little hole-in-the-wall take outs and grocery stores that offer awesome food on a reasonable price. Most of the bakerys or take out places have something that’s called formule, especially for breaktfast/lunch time. It means that you get a beverage, sandwich, dessert or some other combination for a good price like 4-5 Euros. Also supermarket chains such as Monoprix (Monop or Monop Daily) or Carrefour usually have a section with a selection of take out food, ie various salads, desserts, sandwiches, cakes, etc. However if you want to splurge on a restaurant you might like www.lafourchette.com. It’s all in French and you have to register (at no cost) but you can book dinner at certain restaurants (really good ones too!) at 20-50% off. If you’re able to read a little bit in French it’s definitely worth checking it out.
WHAT TO DO
Of course there are a million things to do in Paris. Top of the list is probably the Eiffel Tower. I have to admit, I’ve never been on the top. Two reasons: I’m afraid of heights and there is always a line that’s sooooo long you get tired even looking at it. And in my humble opinion you see everything you need to see of the Eiffel Tower walking around it, under it and admiring it from afar. And if it’s about the view – there are several places around the city that afford a good view and are for free. There is a wonderful place across the Seine – Jardins du Trocadero – and also from the bridge Bir-Hakeim where you have a picture perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. However if you absolutely want to go, buy a ticket in advance.
Speaking of – if you want to visit the Louvre same thing applies. The lines at the pyramid entrance are loooooooooong. So if you do not intend on visiting the museum on the first Sunday of a month when admission is free (only October-March), then go ahead and buy online. Or use the second, less known, entrance at Porte de Lyons. It’s said to be less frequented. Aside from that the Louvre is absolutely worth a visit. Depending on how much you are into art, history or museums in general you should plan your stay accordingly. If you are just going for some main attractions, like the Mona Lisa, you might get through in 2-3 hours. I strongly advise to plan ahead what you absolutely want to see. The space is vast. There is no way you can see everything in a day. And it’s confusing in addition – even with the map that you can get at the entrance. The good thing is that they have plenty of seats throughout the museum so you can have a rest whenever you feel like it.
There are a lot of other major sites you can read all about in your guidebook. So I won’t bother listing them all here. My best advise is to to walk. Walk as much as you can. Because this will take you to places you won’t find otherwise. I absolutely loved walking from the Jardins du Trocadero (or rather the Metro station Trocadero) along the Boulevard Kleber to the Arc de Triomphe. Also a must is walking through Montmatre – don’t be afraid getting off the beaten tracks there and discover less popular streets!
- Go up to the Galerie Lafayette rooftop. You will have a perfect view all over the city.
- Visit the parks – or jardins as they are called here. Usually they are for free and beautifully maintained with art sculptures and quiet spaces.
- Walk along the Seine – for free and an absolute must.
- Another great place to walk around although a little bizarr are the cemeteries. Probably the best one is Pere Lachaise although the Montparnasse and Montmatre Cemeteries are equally popular. They are places of tranquillity and quiet. But be aware that most of the close at 5.30-6pm.
- Also most of the churches are free to visit – this includes famous Notre Dame and beautiful Sacre Coeur.
- If you’re up for a musical, opera, comedy, concert or some other kind of entertainment be sure to visit www.billetreduc.com. They sell tickets to a lot of different shows for a reduced price. Only hitch – it’s all in French. But even with basic knowledge you should be able to navigate.
SOME PRACTICAL ADVISE
If you don’t want to walk too much. Take the Metro. They have tourist passes called Paris Visite which allow you to travel on public transport as much as you like for a certain number of days and also include discounts on certain attractions. But if they are a good value highly depends on how long you are staying and how often you plan on taking the Metro/bus/etc. We find that we always walk more than we actually thought, because getting in and out of the metro stations can be a real pain and walking is often much faster and more interesting to boot. Visit the official public transport website to plan ahead. Metro tickets are easily bought in every station. You can choose from several languages at the ticket machines.
There is also a Paris Museum Pass. We never bought it but if you are into museums then this might be a good purchase for you.
As in every major tourist city there are con artists and thieves. We didn’t have any problems but when you visit major sights like Sacre Coeur there are men who want to tie a little string aroung your wrist. We never let them but they can be very persistent. The ultimate goal is to bully tourists into paying 10 or more Euro. So just push ahead and don’t stop just to be nice.
And the last and best advise? ENJOY your stay. Have fun!