Alright, so you want to check out the City of Lights. The sparkling Eiffel Tower, the smell of the fresh croissants, and the sounds of the Sunday markets are vivid in your imagination. Its beauty is no secret, but heads up, it’s a serious metropolis with honking taxis and people as snappy as a New York pretzel man. Bring with you a little bit of planning, some thick social skin, your Sunday best, and an attitude ready to embrace the French joie de vivre.
Parisians and etiquette
First things first, you need to remember your manners as you prepare for a visit to Paris. Parisians are much more formal than us Americans, and while we’re in their hometown, it makes sense we follow their social rules. Principally, mind your P’s and Q’s: S’il Vous Plait and Merci. And when you walk into a store, always greet the person behind the counter with a Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur. When you pull this off with a little smile, not only are you being polite, but since you’re playing into their game, it opens up so many doors, you’ll get little treats thrown at you in bakeries and snag an extra slice of cheese at the markets. It’s such an easy little thing, but makes a crazy difference in your experience with Paris. So brush up on your basics, and keep them on the tip of your tongue.
Now with your hold on French manners, the next step is to wrap your mind around the city: it’s huge! In a city as large as Paris with 2.5 million inhabitants, the sights are spread out, so it’s important to group everything you’d like to hit geographically. This will save tons of time and help you avoid doubling back. Here’s an itinerary that’s worked very well for our tours over the last few years:
Spend the first morning exploring Ile de la Cite, the island in the River Seine at the heart of Paris. Tour the Notre Dame Cathedral, and make your way over to the historic Latin Quarter. From there, hop on the RER and zip over to the Eiffel Tower. Depending on time, enjoy a sit-down dinner or have a picnic in the Champs de Mars. As the sun goes down, hop on an evening bike tour with Fat Tire Bikes and cap off the evening with a cruise on the River Seine, passing under more than a dozen beautifully lit and crafted bridges.
Day two is an early one so you can head to the Louvre and catch the heavy hitters: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, crown jewels and more. There’s a great, affordable café under the pyramid main entrance to grab baguette sandwiches before taking the metro up to Place Charles de Gaulle for the Arc de Triomph and free time on the Champs Elysees. That afternoon, explore the exciting Montmartre neighborhood and see one of the most beautiful churches, the Sacre Couer. After some free time in that neighborhood, allow for some time to rest up at the hostel. Spend your last night in town munching and sipping your way through Le Marais and Bastille nightlife districts.
If day three is a Sunday, you’ve got a ton of options for Sunday markets to choose from: Les Enfants Rouge and Crimee just to name a few. Cheap and frequent connections take tourists out to the lavish Versailles Palace. If you want to see French opulence at it’s highest, go here. Parc Butte Chaumont is a beautiful place for a picnic if the weather is nice. The Pere Lachaise Cemetary is a beautiful one with a long list of famous, permanent residents: the composer Chopin, the musician Jim Morrison, and the author Oscar Wilde. Tourists often overlook this experience, so a trip here is a welcome and quiet respite from the bustle of the city. If you’ve got another night in town, check out the student district, La Sorbonne, which has some budget-friendly hole-in-the-wall bars where you can easily meet locals out on the town.
I always say accommodations make the difference on any trip, and in Paris, you’ve got an unfortunate dearth of options. The only solid choice you’ve had up until recently has been St. Christopher’s Inns hostel near Crimee where you can count on comfortable beds, and a great atmosphere with these guys. Word on the street is that they just unveiled a brand new hostel near Gare du Nord, which is much better located and connected via public transit. So, I’d highly recommend them, with a preference for their new location.
I’m not the first to say Paris is not cheap. It’s an expensive city, and as soon as you sit down to eat at a restaurant, plan to shell out at least 20 euros. Don’t despair, budget travelers! Your choices for street food are abundant! Pop into any bakery which usually has fresh baguette sandwiches, or snag a delicious sweet—or savory—crepe anywhere you see a stand, and you’ll keep both your stomach and wallet full. Besides that, grocery stores and markets are great ways to pick up a cheap bottle of wine, cheese and salami to make up a delicious meal on the fly.
So, armed with your cheap eats, itinerary, great accommodations, and most importantly, manners, you’re all set to have a great time in this wonderful city! If you’d like to learn more about what to do in other cities across Europe, check out www.wsaeurope.com/destinations