The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot, and secondly, using the Metro.
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It is possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours, but only if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops. In fact, within a few years walking combined with biking and the Metro may be the only way to get around the very center of Paris as plans develop to reduce access to cars in the city center.
The smartest travelers take advantage of the walkability of this city and stay above ground as much as possible. A metro ride of less than 2 stops is probably best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you'll be able to see more of the city. That said, pay attention to the Métro stations that you may pass by on your journey; the Métro network is very dense within the city and the lines are virtually always located directly underneath major boulevards, so if you become lost it is easy to regain your bearings by walking along a major boulevard until you find a Métro station.
You may have heard of the hazard of walking into dog droppings in Paris. The problem is now virtually nonexistent due to fines and extensive street cleaning operations.
It's always fun to experience the city by foot, and there are numerous walking tours around Paris, whether self guided (with the help of a guidebook or online guide) or with a touring guide (booked through your travel agency or hotel). The city is best explored by foot, and some of the most marvelous memories you will have of Paris is walking through secret found places.
Paris has an excellent underground train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de fer métropolitain, Metropolitan Railway). Although you will probably take the RER subway train from the airport to Paris, don't be confused: RER is a French-language acronym that translates to "Regional Express Network," and is mostly used by commuters. Look for the Métro stations, marked with a large "M" sign.
There are 16 Métro lines (lignes) (1-14, 3bis, and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes. The service starts on each end of every line at 05:30, and the last metro arrives on each end at 01:15 (service ends an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights, and the day before a holiday), stopping at all stations on the line. Some lines have rare trains that terminate at an intermediate station; if that happens, get off the train with the rest of the crowd and board the next train on the same track or on the other side of the platform (the driver will usually make an announcement in French). Lines 7 and 13 have a fork, so if you take line 13 north of La Fourche or line 7 south of Maison Blanche, make sure to board the train for the correct destination which is indicated by a lit arrow on the sign in the middle of the platform and on color-coded binders in each carriage. Times for trains can be seen on an electronic scroll board above the platform. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the center sign. Generally, except for early and late hours, travelers should not worry about specific Metro train times; just get to your station and take the next train. Trains usually come 2–3 minutes apart during rush hour and 5–10 minutes apart during other times, depending on the line.
The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations (the end of the line). If you ask the locals about directions, they will answer something like: take line number n toward "end station 1", change at "station", take the line nn toward "end station 2" etc. The lines are also color-coded.
Visitors traveling to or from the airport/train stations with heavy luggage need to keep in mind that changing metro lines might be difficult at times, especially at major metro intersections. Moving from one platform to another generally involves walking up and down multiple flights of stairs. Very few stations have elevators (only the newest line 14 is wheelchair-accessible at all stations, except when the elevators are out of order). Only the busiest ones have escalators. It might be a good idea to check out the Bus routes and timings and see if one can find a convenient bus connection.
In addition, there are five commuter train lines that cross Paris: RER A, B, C, D, and E. RER trains run at intervals varying from about 3 minutes (RER A) to 6 minutes (RER D), and stop at every station within Paris. The rest of the regional network, called "Transilien", departs from the main train stations (Lyon for line R, Est for line P, Nord for lines H and K, St-Lazare for lines J and L, Montparnasse for line N) and La Défense (line U). Trains can run up to every 5 minutes during rush hour, and you will never have to wait for more than 1 hour between two trains, even on the least served lines in the evening or on the weekend.
RER and Transilien will stop at every station within Paris (zone 1), but may skip stations outside Paris, so if you're going to the suburbs make sure your RER stops where you need! Information about the stops to be made by the next incoming train is presented on a separate board also hanging from the ceiling. Four letter codes (KRIN, DIPA, TORE, etc.) are used for the RER and Transilien trains; the first letter indicates the station where the train terminates, and the other three indicate the route and stops. Each line has its own nomenclature. You can look up what these codes mean on information panels in the station, but the easiest and fastest way is often to check the information screens along the platforms.
The Métro and RER move staggering numbers of people into, out of, and around Paris (6.75 million people per day on average), and most of the time in reasonable comfort. Certain lines, however, are operating at or near capacity, sometimes being so full that you'll have to let one or two trains pass before being able to board. If you can help it, avoid Métro lines 1, 4, and 13 and RER line A and B during rush hours as these are the most congested lines in the system.
RATP (website) is responsible for most public transport including metro, buses, and about half of the RER A and B. The rest of the RER, as well as Transilien, is operated by SNCF. However, both companies take the same tickets, so the difference is of little interest for most people except in case of strikes (RATP may strike without SNCF doing so or the other way round).
A single ticket, ticket t+, allows you to either:
Beware that traveling outside the city center without a valid RER ticket will get you fined, and the packs of inspectors who roam the system show no mercy to tourists pleading ignorance. In particular, the airports and the Versailles Palace are not within the city, and you'll need to purchase a more expensive RER ticket to get there (see Get in).
If you're going to the suburbs, an origine-destination ticket allows you to make a one-way trip on the exact route printed on the ticket (no matter which direction). Price is distance-based (prices can be found here. You can also buy packs of 10 (with a 20% discount), or single or packs of 10 "demi-tarif" tickets (for children aged 4-10, 50% discount for single tickets, 60% for packs of 10). For long same-day return trips, a day pass (see below) can be cheaper than a return ticket.
If your ticket leaves from or goes to Paris, or includes a transfer "via section urbaine", you can also connect with other metro or RER lines prior to /after your main trip to/from the suburbs.
For the following kind of tickets, you need to know that the Île-de-France region is divided into 5 concentric zones. Paris represents zone 1, all of Paris' immediate neighbors (including Vincennes and Saint-Denis) are in zone 2, La Défense is in zone 3, Orly and Versailles are in zone 4, and Fontainebleau, Provins, Disneyland and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport are in zone 5. The few stations outside Île-de-France that are served by the Transilien system are "hors tarification Île-de-France", meaning it is necessary to buy a special fare not affected by the zonal system.
A one-day ticket, Mobilis, allows you to make an unlimited number of trips between 12:00 am and 11:59 pm on the date you wrote on the ticket, within the zones it is valid for, on bus, tram, metro (a zones 1-2 pass is valid for the whole metro network), RER, Transilien. You do need to write your name and the date of validity on it you've chosen before using it.
For travelers under the age of 26, there is a special ticket (Jeunes Week-end) that you can purchase for unlimited travel between 12:00 am and 11:59 pm on the day written on the ticket on the weekends or holidays, on bus, tram, metro (a zones 1-2 pass is valid for the whole metro network), RER, Transilien.. The price varies depending on the zones you wish to cover. It is NOT valid from/to Charles de Gaulle airport on RER B, Roissybus, Orlybus, Orlyval. The date and your name must be written on the ticket as for the Mobilis ticket described above.
If you are staying a bit longer, you can buy a Navigo Découverte (DAY-koo-VERT) pass (you will need to write your name and put a photo on it, otherwise it will be considered as invalid). You can choose between zones 2-3, 3-4, 3-5, 4-5, or "all zones", but most visitors of Paris will simply choose the "all zones" pass. Everything related to a "Navigo" pass is in purple (like the target for the pass in the turnstiles). You need to validate your Navigo every time you get on a bus or a tram as well. If you're not holding an "all zones" pass, weekend travel is free throughout the entire Île-de-France region for passengers holding a monthly or yearly Navigo pass, despite which zones are covered during the week. Navigo allows you to reach Orly (zone 4) or Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (zone 5) airports with any public transit line, except for Orlyval light-rail to Orly airport where it's not valid.
RATP and SNCF sell passes dedicated to tourists called Paris Visite, more expensive than the one they offer to locals, but they do include something more (a map, and some discounts on selected attractions). Depending on which attractions you consider visiting, it can be an attractive option... or not. Although not as good a deal for adults in most cases as the Mobilis or Navigo, the Paris Visite passes might still be a bargain for kids of ages 4–11 for trips on Monday-Friday (when the Ticket jeunes is not valid).
Keep your ticket or pass with you at all times as you may be checked. You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot if you do not have a ticket. The most likely spots for being checked are just behind the turnstiles at big métro stations or during métro line changes (correspondances). RATP agents may be present in the métro stations even on Sunday nights.
Métro stations have both ticket windows and automatic vending machines. The majority of automatic vending machines do not take notes, only coins or European credit cards with a pin-encoded chip on the front. Therefore, to use either euro bills or a non-European credit card with a magnetic stripe, it is necessary to make the purchase from the ticket window. Be advised that some ticket vending machines do not give change, so use exact change or go to the ticket window. If you look at the vending machines closely, you may find one in the group that takes euro bills and will give change; these machines can be found at major or touristy stations such as Tuileries, Gare de Lyon or La Défense-Grande Arche.
Some larger stations have secondary entrances, where there is no ticket booth. These are labeled voyageurs munis de billets (passengers with tickets).
When entering the turnstile with a ticket or Navigo pass, it will only work once for that particular station and can only be reset if you use it at another station. Once you have passed your ticket or card, promptly move through the turnstile as it will not let you through if you attempt to use it again.
Each station displays a detailed map of the surrounding area with a street list and the location of buildings (monuments, schools, places of worship, etc.,) as well as exits for that particular metro. Maps are located on the platform if the station has several exits or near the exit if there is only one exit.
Except for Métro 1, 2, 4, 5, 9 and 14, the doors will not open automatically. In such a case, there are handles or buttons located both inside and outside the train that you have to push or unlatch in order to open the door. Many locals may try to squeeze into the trains after the alarm has sounded to signal the closing of the doors. While one can occasionally pass through on lines with a driver, the automatic doors on Métro 1 and 14 will continue to close despite the presence of a limb or article of clothing. It is strongly advised to wait for the second train than to chance being caught between the doors.
Strikes are a regular occurrence on the Paris public transit system. Generally during a strike, there will be reduced or no service on certain lines but parts of the network will continue to operate; however, in some cases the entire network may shut down completely. Visit the RATP and SNCF websites for information on which routes are affected by a strike. Generally, Metro lines 1 and 14 will be running during a strike because they are operated without human drivers - if you are caught by a strike, it is best to use it whenever possible.
Since the Métro is primarily structured around a hub-and-spoke model, there are some journeys for which it can be quite inefficient, and in these cases, it is worth seeing if a direct bus route exists, despite the complexity of the bus network. A bus ride is also interesting if you want to see more of the city. The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly. It uses the same single-ride tickets and Navigo as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the Noctilien, the night bus. Night buses run regularly through the central hub at Chatelet to outlying areas of greater Paris. There is also a circle line connecting the main train stations. It pays to know one's Noctilien route ahead of time in case one misses the last Métro home. Women travelers should probably avoid taking the Noctilien on their own to destinations outside Paris.
Another option for travelers who want to see the sights of Paris without a stop on every street corner is the Paris L'Opentour Bus, an open-topped double decker bus that supplies headsets with the most up to date information on the attractions in Paris. Your ticket is good for four routes ranging in time from 1-2 h. Get off when you want, stay as long as you need, get back on the bus and head for another site. You can purchase tickets at the bus stop.
There are several excellent boat services which make use of the Seine. As well as providing easy, cheap transport to much of central Paris, excellent photo opportunities abound. You can buy a day or 3-day ticket and hop on and off the boat as needed. The boats take a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musée d'Orsay. Batobus offers a regular shuttle service between the main touristic sights (closed Jan); other companies such as the famous Bateaux Mouches offer sightseeing cruises.
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport and an excellent way to see the sights. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn't the easiest place to get around by bike but that has changed dramatically in recent years. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.
Note that, while the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have sufficient urban cycling experience. Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Bastille, and Place de la Nation are particularly hairy, especially during weekdays and the Saturday evening rush, and should not be navigated by anyone not confident in their ability to cycle in heavy traffic. Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Place de l'Étoile, and voie Georges Pompidou (the lower-level express lanes along the banks of the Seine) should be avoided at all times.
You can find an excellent map of the bike network called Paris à vélo - Le bon plan) at the information center in the Hôtel de Ville.
Paris is an incredibly open city, with its many "grande boulevards" and monuments with large open spaces around it makes for a city perfect to be explored and viewed from on a scooter. A lot of people think it is a dangerous city to drive a scooter or motorbike, and when you're sitting in a corner cafe watching it may look that way, but in reality it is actually quite a safe city because the drivers are very conscious of one another, a trait that drivers certainly do not have in most other countries of the world! There are so many scooters in Paris, and there have been scooters in Europe forever really, so when people learn to drive here they learn to drive among the scooters. The French do drive quite fast, but they respect one another and it is rare that a driver will suddenly change lanes or swing to the other side of the road without signaling. When you're driving a scooter or motorbike in Paris you can expect to be able to "lane-split" between the rows of cars waiting in traffic and go straight to the front of the lights. Parking-wise there is plenty of 'deux roues' (two wheel) parking all over the city. Do be careful of parking on the sidewalk though, especially on shopping streets or around monuments.
Paris is the Mecca of city skating. This is due to the large, smooth surfaces offered by both the pavements and the roads. Skating on the pavement is legal all around Central Paris (zone 1) and its suburbs (zones 2+).
In a word: don't. It is generally a very bad idea to rent a car to visit Paris. Traffic is very dense during the day, and parking is, on average, exceedingly difficult and expensive. This is especially true in areas surrounding points of touristic interest since many of these are in areas designed long before automobiles existed. A majority of Parisian households do not own cars, and many people who move to the city find themselves selling their cars within a month or two.
That said, driving may be an option for going to some sights in the suburbs such as Vaux-le-Vicomte castle or the castle and city at Fontainebleau, or for starting to other places in France. You may prefer to rent from a location outside Paris proper.
Traffic rules in Paris are basically the same as elsewhere in France, with the exception of having to yield to incoming traffic on roundabouts. However, driving in dense traffic in Paris and suburbs during commute times can be especially strenuous. Be prepared for traffic jams, cars changing lanes at short notice, and so on. Another issue is pedestrians, who tend to fearlessly jaywalk more in Paris than in other French cities. Be prepared for pedestrians crossing the street on red, and expect similar adventurous behavior from cyclists. Remember that even if a pedestrian or cyclist crossed on red, if you hit him, you (in fact, your insurance) will have to bear civil responsibility for the damages, and possibly prosecution for failing to control your vehicle.
Paris has several beltway systems. There is a series of boulevards named after Napoleonic-era generals (Boulevard Masséna, Boulevard Ney, and so forth), and collectively referred to as boulevard des maréchaux. These are normal wide avenues, with traffic lights. Somewhat outside of this boulevard is the boulevard périphérique, a freeway-style beltway. The périphérique intérieur is the inner lanes (going clockwise), the périphérique extérieur the outer lanes (going counter-clockwise). Note that despite the looks, the périphérique is not an autoroute: the speed limit is 70 and, very unusually, incoming traffic has the right of way, at least theoretically (presumably because, otherwise, nobody would be able to enter during rush hour).
Taxis are comparatively cheap especially at night when there are no traffic jams to be expected. There are not as many as one would expect, and sometimes finding a taxi can be challenging. In the daytime, it is not always a good idea to take a taxi, as walking or taking the metro (See: Métro) will often be faster. If you know you will need one to get to the airport, or to a meeting, it is wise to book ahead by phone (see below).
Fares are fixed by the city law and every driver complies to them. Fares vary according to the day of the week, the hour of the day and the area you're crossing.
If you call a taxi, the meter starts when you call and not when you get in.
Remember if a taxi is near a 'taxi station', they're not supposed to pick you up except at the station where there may be people waiting for a taxi. Taxi stations are usually near train stations, big hotels, hospitals, large crossings.
There are a number of services by which you can call for taxis or make a reservation in advance. The two largest fleets are Taxis G7 and Taxis Bleus:
As in many other cities, a taxi can be difficult to stop; you may have to try several times. When you do get a taxi to stop, the driver will usually roll down his window to ask you where you want to go. If the driver can't (or doesn't want to) go where you want, he might tell you that he's near the end of his work day & can't possibly get you where you want before he has to go off-duty.
The driver will not let you sit in the front seat (unless there are 3 or 4 of you, which is a rare case usually expedited by more money). Taxi-drivers come in all types, some nice, some rude, some wanting to chat, some not. Smoking in taxis is generally not allowed, however it might be that the taxi driver himself wants a cigarette in which case the rule might become flexible.
Many drivers prefer that you avoid using your cellphone during the ride; if you do have to, make an apologizing gesture & sound, and do make a short call.
If for any reason you wish to file a complaint about a Paris taxi, take note of the taxi's number on the sticker on the left-hand backseat window.
Beware of illegal taxis.
Known as car services or livery cabs, these cars are not allowed to cruise the street or airports for fares. You need to book them before they can pick you up. They are flat rate rather than metered (ask for the fare before getting in), and There are two types of license: the "Grande Remise" that allows the car & driver to pick-up & drop-off passengers anywhere in France, and the "carte verte" that allows pick-up & drop-off in the department or region where the company is based. The Grande Remise cars have a GR on their front plate. They provide more service than a normal cab.
You can find two kinds of the cab: private and shared.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass, a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris (and the Palace of Versailles) and comes in 2-day, 4-day and 6-day denominations. Note these are "consecutive' days". The card allows you to jump lengthy queues, a big plus during tourist season when the line can be extensive and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, FNAC branches, and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions. To avoid waiting in the first long queue to purchase the museum pass, stop to purchase your pass a day or more in advance after mid-day. The pass does not become active until your first museum or site visit when you write your start date. After that, the days covered are consecutive. Do not write your start date until you are certain you will use the pass that day and be careful to use the European date style as indicated on the card: day-month-year.
Also consider the ParisPass, a pre-paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise and allows free metro & public transport travel. Also note a cheaper alternative with this new combined pass available since September 2008 is the Paris ComboPass, which comes in Lite/Premium versions.
Planning your visits: Several sites have "choke points" that restrict the number of visitors that can flow through. These include The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, the catacombs and the steps to climb to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid lines, you should start your day by arriving at one of these sites at least 30 minutes before opening time. Otherwise, expect a wait of at least an hour. Most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Examples: The Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while The Orsay Museum is closed on Mondays. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment! Also, most ticket counters close 30-45 min before final closing.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, this may mean long lines and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding. People have to queue up at the Eiffel Tower for several hours even early in the morning. However, this wait can be greatly reduced, if fit, by walking the first two levels, then buying an elevator ticket to the top. Entry to the permanent exhibitions at city-run museums is free at all times (admission is charged for temporary exhibitions).
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page (follow the link in parenthesis).
Good listings of current cultural events in Paris can be found in Pariscope or Officiel des spectacles, weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays, and museums.
All national museums et monuments are free for all every first Sunday of the month.
It seems like there's almost always something happening in Paris, with the possible exceptions of the school holidays in August and February, when about half of Parisians are to be found not in Paris, but in the South of France or the Alps respectively. The busiest season is probably the fall, from a week or so after la rentrée scolaire or "back to school" to around Noël (Christmas) theaters, cinemas and concert halls book their fullest schedule of the year.
Even so, there are a couple of annual events in the winter, starting with a furniture and interior decorating trade fair called Maison & Object in January.
In February le nouvel an chinois (Chinese New Year) is celebrated in Paris as it is in every city with a significant Chinese and Vietnamese population. There are parades in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and especially in the Quartier Asiatique (Asian Quarter) in the 13th south of Place d'Italie. Also in February is the Six Nations Rugby Tournament which brings together France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy.
The first of two Fashion weeks occurs in March: Spring Fashion Week, giving designers a platform to present women’s prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) collections for the following winter.
The French Tennis Open in which the world’s top players battle it out on a clay court runs during two weeks starting on the last Sunday in May. When it concludes in June, a whole range of festivities start up. Rendez-vous au Jardin is an open house for many Parisian gardens, giving you a chance to meet real Parisian gardeners and see their creations. The Fête de la Musique celebrates the summer solstice (21 June) with this city-wide free musical knees-up. Finally on the 26th of June is the Gay Pride parade, featuring probably the most sincere participation by the mayor's office of any such parade on the globe.
The French national holiday Bastille Day on the 14th of July celebrates the storming of the infamous Bastille during the French Revolution. Paris hosts several spectacular events that day of which the best known is the Bastille Parade which is held on the Champs-Élysées at 10:00 and broadcast to pretty much the rest of Europe by television. The entire street will be crowded with spectators so arrive early. The Bastille Day Fireworks is an exceptional treat for travelers lucky enough to be in town on Bastille Day. The Office du Tourisme et des Congress de Paris recommends gathering in or around the champ de Mars, the gardens of the Eiffel Tower.
Also in July, Cinema en Plein Air is the annual outdoor cinema event that takes place at the Parc de la Villette, in the 19th on Europe’s largest inflatable screen. For most of the months of July and August, parts of both banks of the Seine are converted from expressway into an artificial beach for Paris Plages. Also in July the cycling race le Tour de France has a route that varies annually, however it always finishes on the last Sunday of July under the Arc de Triomphe.
On the last full weekend in August, a world-class music festival Rock en Seine draws international rock and pop stars to the Domaine national de Saint-Cloud, just west of Paris.
During mid-September DJs and (usually young) fans from across Europe converge on Paris for five or six days of dancing etc. culminating in the Techno parade - a parade whose route traces roughly from Place de la Bastille to the Sorbonne, and around the same time the festival Jazz à la Villette brings some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz from around the world.
The Nuit Blanche transforms most of central Paris into a moonlit theme-park for an artsy all-nighter on the first Saturday of October, and Fashion Week returns shortly thereafter showing off Women’s Prêt-à-Porter collections for the following summer; as we've noted winter collections are presented in March.
The third Thursday in November marks the release of Le Beaujolais Nouveau and the beginning of the Christmas season. This evening, the Christmas lights are lit in a ceremony on the Champs-Élysées, often in the presence of hundreds (if not thousands) of people and many dignitaries, including the president of France.
Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive event guides covering concerts, clubs, movies or special events. For theater, movies and exhibitions pick up the Pariscope and L'officiel du Spectacle, available at newsstands. For (especially smaller, alternative) concerts pick up LYLO, a small, free booklet available in some bars and at FNAC. There is no user-friendly online version of these guides.
Paris is considered by many as the birthplace of photography, and while one may debate the correctness of this claim, there is no debate that Paris is today a photographer's dream. The French capital offers a spectacular array of photographic opportunities to the beginner and the pro alike. It has photogenic monuments (e.g., Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the obelisk at Concorde, and countless others); architecture (the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Museum of the Arab World, to name just a few) and urban street scenes (e.g., in the Marais, Montmartre and Belleville). When you tire of taking your own photos, visit one of the many institutions dedicated to photography (e.g., European Museum of Photography, the Jeu de Paume Museum or the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation). At these and other institutions, you can learn the about the rich history of Paris as the place of important developments in photography (e.g., the Daguerrotype) and as the home of many of the trade's great artists (e.g., Robert Doisneau, André Kertész, Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier Bresson).
The Cinémas of Paris is (or at least should be) the envy of the movie-going world. Of course, like anywhere else, you can see big budget first-run films from France and elsewhere. That though is just the start. During any given week there are at least half-a-dozen film festivals going on, at which you can see the entire works of a given actor or director. Meanwhile, there are some older cult films like say, What's new Pussycat or Casino Royal which you can enjoy pretty much any day you wish.
Many non-French movies are subtitled (called "version originale" "VO" or "VOstfr" as opposed to "VF" for version francaise).
There is any number of ways to find out what's playing, but the most commonly used guide is Pariscope, which you can find at newsstands. Meanwhile, there are innumerable online guides which have information on "every" cinema in Paris.
The Paris Opera, as well as its associated ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, are considered to be among the premier classical performance companies in the world.
If you are under 26, there is a flat rate for every private theater of the town every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night. This fare does not apply to public theaters nor opera.
Paris is one of Europe's culinary centers. The restaurant trade began here just over 220 years ago and continues to thrive. It may, however, come as a surprise that Paris isn't considered the culinary capital of France, rather some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialties. Even among French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.
There have been other challenges in the last 20 years or so as restaurateurs in places like San Francisco and Sydney briefly surpassed their Parisian forebearers, again with an emphasis on freshness of ingredients but also borrowings from other cuisines. Parisian cooks didn't just rest on their laurels during this time, rather they traveled, taught, and studied, and together with Paris's own immigrant communities, have revitalized the restaurant trade. Today you can find hundreds of beautiful restaurants with thoughtful (or just trendy) interior design and well-planned and executed cartes and menus offering a creative mélange of French and exotic foreign cuisines. It's safe to say that Paris is once again catching up with or edging ahead of its Anglophone rivals.
Of course, there are also some traditional offerings, and for the budget conscious there are hundreds of traditional bistros, with their sidewalk terraces offering a choice of fairly simple (usually meat-centered) meals for reasonable prices.
For the uninitiated, it is, unfortunately, possible to have a uniformly poor dining experience during a stay in Paris, mainly because many attractions are situated in upscale areas of town, and that mass tourism attracts price gougers. It is frequent to hear of people complaining of very high Parisian prices for poor food and poor service because they always tried to eat close to major tourist magnets. For good food and great service, try to go eat where the locals eat.
Many restaurants are tiny and have tables close together - square meters are at a premium and understandably restaurateurs need to make the most of limited space. In some cases when the restaurant is crowded, you may have to sit beside strangers at the same table. If that does not appeal to you, go to a more upscale place where you will pay for the extra space.
Trendy restaurants often require reservations weeks, if not months in advance. If you haven't planned far enough ahead, try to get a reservation for lunch which is generally easier and less expensive.
For an easy-to-manage eating budget while in Paris, consider breakfast or "petit déjeuner" at a restaurant, possibly in your hotel, consisting of some croissants, coffee, and maybe a piece of fruit. Get a 'walking lunch' from one of Paris' many food stands—a panino in the center of the city, a crepe from a crepe stand, a felafel pita or take-out Chinese in the Marais. Traiteurs serving Chinese and/or Vietnamese food are ubiquitous in the city and good for a cheap lunch and many pâtisseries sell inexpensive coffee and sandwiches. All these are cheap (about the same as breakfast), easy, and allow you to maximize your sightseeing and walking time while enjoying delicious local or ethnic food. For dinner, stroll the streets at dusk and consider a prix-fixe menu. This will get you 3 or 4 courses, possibly with wine, and an unhurried, candlelit, magical European evening. If you alternate days like this with low-budget, self-guided eating (picnicking, snacking, street food) you will be satisfied without breaking the bank.
If one of the aims of your trip to Paris is to indulge in its fine dining, though, the most cost-effective way to do this is to make the main meal of your day lunch. Virtually all restaurants offer a good prix-fixe deal. By complementing this with a bakery breakfast and a light self-catered dinner, you will be able to experience the best of Parisian food and still stick to a budget.
Budget travelers will be very pleased with the range and quality of products on offer at the open air markets (e.g. the biggest one on Boulevard Richard Lenoir (near the Bastille), Rue Mouffetard, Place Buci, Place de la Madeleine and over the Canal Saint-Martin in the 11th or in any other arrondissement). If your accommodation has cooking facilities you're set, especially for wine and cheese. Keep in mind that the small épiceries which open until late are more expensive than the supermarchés (Casino, Monoprix, Franprix, etc.).
Buy a baguette, some cheese and a good bottle of wine and join the Parisian youth for a pique-nique 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 in the luxury department store Le Bon Marché. They are worth discovering. You will find a large variety of wines there, otherwise try wine stores such as Nicolas or Le Relais de Bacchus (all over the city).
For seafood lovers, Paris is a great place to try moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) (better in fall and winter), oysters, sea snails, and other delicacies. Meat specialties include venison (deer), boar, and other game (especially in the fall and winter hunting season), as well as French favorites such as lamb, veal, beef, and pork.
Eating out in Paris can be expensive. However, don't believe people when they say you can't do Paris on the cheap - you can! The key is to stay away from the beaten tracks and the obviously expensive Champs Elysées. Around the lesser visited quarters especially, there are many cheap and yummy restaurants to be found. The area around Fontaine Saint-Michel, the fountain facing Notre Dame is crowded by particularly tasty places to eat, with good ambiance, cheap prices, and excellent service, with the advantage of being very centric of many places of interest. The key is to order from the prix-fixe menu, and not off the A la Carte menu unless you want to pay an arm and a leg. This way you can sample the food cheaply and is usually more "French". Ask for "une carafe d'eau" (oon karaaf doe) to get free tap water.
Paris has the largest number of Kosher restaurants in any European city. Walk up and down Rue des Rosiers to see the variety and choices available from Israeli, Sushi, Italian and others. You will also find a wide assortment of Kosher restaurants in the 9th arrondissement of Paris near the rue Richer and rue Cadet areas. See the district guides for examples. Kosher restaurants and snacks usually display a big orange rectangle on their front, which ensures clients that they are Beth din certified.
For vegetarians, eating traditional French food will require some improvisation, as it is heavily meat-based. That being said, Paris has several excellent vegetarian restaurants, and many non-vegetarian restaurants will provide vegetarian dishes.
When eating in a traditional restaurant, be careful before ordering dishes labeled as "vegetarian". Many French people presume that fish and seafood are vegetarian dishes. This is a widely spread misunderstanding all around the country. Additionally, French people tend to confuse "real" vegetarians with vegans. When explaining that you're a vegetarian that won't eat fish, people will often presume that you won't eat milk or egg-based products.
Look for spots such as Aquarius in the 14th or and Le Grenier de Notre-Dame in the 5th just to name a few. See the arrondissement pages for more listings. For fast food and snacks, you can always find a vegetarian sandwich or pizza. Even a kebab shop can make you something with just cheese and salad, or perhaps falafel.
There are also lots of Italian, Thai, Indian, and Mezo-American places where you will have a little problem. The famous South Indian chain Saravana Bhavan have their branch near Gare Du Nord. In Rue des Rosiers (4th arrondissement) you can get delicious falafel in the many Jewish restaurants. Another place to look for falafel is on Rue Oberkampf (11th arrondissement).
Moroccan and Algerian cooking is common in Paris - vegetarian couscous is lovely. Another good option for vegetarians - are traiteurs, particularly around Ledru Rollin (down the road from Bastille) take away food where you can combine a range of different options such as pomme dauphinoise, dolmas, salads, vegetables, nice breads and cheeses and so on.
Lebanese restaurants and snack shops abound as well, offering a number of vegetarian mezze, or small plates. The standbys, of course, are hummus, falafel, and baba-ganouche (caviar d'aubergine). A good place to look for Lebanese is in the pedestrian zone around Les Halles and Beaubourg in the 1st and 4th.
When you are looking for a restaurant in Paris, be wary of those where the staff speaks English a bit too readily. These restaurants are usually - but not always - geared towards tourists. It does make a difference in the staff's service and behavior whether they expect you to return or not.
Sometimes the advertised fixed price tourist menus are a good deal. If you're interested in the really good and more authentic stuff (and if you have learned some words of French) try one of the small bistros where the French go during lunch time.
The bars scene in Paris really does have something for everyone. From bars which serve drinks in baby bottles to ultra luxe clubs that require some name dropping, or card (black Amex) showing, and clubs where you can dance like no one's watching, (although they will be). To start your night out right, grab a drink or two in a ubiquitous dive bar, before burning up the dance floor and spreading some cash, at one of the trendy clubs.
Of course, there are lots of interesting places which are sort of off on their own outside of these clusters, including a few like the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz which are not to be missed in a serious roundup of Parisian drinking, so check out the listings even in those arrondissements we haven't mentioned above.
Some nightclubs in Paris that are worth it: Folies Pigalle (pl. Pigalle, 18th, very trashy), Rex Club (near one of the oldest cinemas on earth, the Grand Rex, house/electro. You might also want to try Cabaret (Palais Royal), Maison Blanche, le Baron (M Alma-Marceau). Remember when going out to dress to impress, you are in Paris! Torn clothing and sneakers are not accepted. The better you look, the more likely you will get past the random decisions of club bouncers. Also important to remember if male (or in a group of guys) that it will be more difficult to enter clubs; try to always have an equal male/female ratio.
Paris is one of the great fashion centers of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a shopper's delight. While the Paris fashion scene is constantly evolving, the major shopping centers tend to be the same. High-end couture can be found in the 8th arrondissement. In summer, there is nothing better than browsing the boutiques along Canal St-Martin or strolling along the impressive arcades of the historic Palais-Royal, with beautifully wrapped purchases swinging on each arm.
A good note about Le Marais is that as it is a mostly Jewish neighborhood, most of the shops in Le Marais are open on Sundays. The stores in this area are intimate, boutique, "Parisian" style clothing stores. You will no doubt find something along each street, and it is always well worth the look.
Other great areas to shop around in are around the area Sèvres Babylone (Métro Line 10 and Line 12). It is in this area you will find the Le Bon Marché 7th, particularly rue de Cherche Midi 6th. The area boasts some of the major fashion houses (Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, etc.) and also has smaller private boutiques with handmade clothing.
In the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can find a handful of vintage clothing shops, carrying anything from couture early 20th-century dresses, to 70s Chanel sunglasses. Walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will find major brands. However, if in search of eclectic finds, opt to walk the northern side of the Boulevard, especially along rue Saint André des Arts, where you can always find a nice café to stop in. The area south of Saint-Germain is just as nice and comes with a price tag to match.
In the artsy quarters of 1 and 4, there are many bargains to be had, once again, if you are prepared to look. Souvenirs are easily found and can be fairly inexpensive as long as you don't buy from the tourist sites. For cheap books of French connection, try the University/Latin quarter as they sell books in all languages starting from half a euro each.
Paris has 3 main flea-markets, all on the outskirts of the central city. The most famous of these is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) (Clignancourt Flea Market), Métro: Porte de Clignancourt, in the 18th, a haven for lovers of antiques, second-hand goods, and retro fashion. The best days to go are Saturday and Sunday. Note that there are particular times of the week when only antique collectors are allowed into the stalls, and there are also times of the day when the stall owners take their Parisian siesta, and enjoy a leisurely cappuccino for an hour or so. The best times to visit the flea markets are in the spring and summertime when the area is more vibrant. In and around the metro station, you may find the area a little wild, but still safe.
Rue de Rome, situated near Gare St. Lazare, is crowded with luthiers, brass and woodwind makers, piano sellers, and sheet music stores. Subway station Europe. The area south of the metro station Pigalle is also packed with music shops (more oriented towards guitars and drums).
For art lovers, be sure to check out Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is renowned for its galleries, and it is impossible to turn a street without finding a gallery to cast your glance in. On Fridays, most open until late. Most even have the benefit of bottles of wine so you can wander in with your glass of wine and feel very artistique. Great roads to walk along are rue de Seine, rue Jacob, rue des Beaux Arts, Rue Bonaparte, and Rue Mazarine. Also, be sure to visit the historical district of Montparnasse and quartier Vavin where artists like Modigliani, Gauguin and Zadkine used to work.
October 21, 2021
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