Travel Bug in Paris

Paris, France


  • Must-See Attractions
  • Really Should See Attractions
  • Parks and Gardens
  • Food
  • Nightlife
  • Lodging
  • Transportation
  • Day Trips
  • Language
  • Related Links


    I started my first trip to Europe in July 1996 with 5 days in Paris plus 1 day in August before returning home. I then returned in May 1998 for a day here and a day there between my trips to Germany and Spain. Special thanks to Rick, Romain, Nick, Jesus (the garcon at Café Solferino), and everyone who posted to the newsgroup for their assistance.

    Time. Give yourself at least 5 days in Paris. You really need a week or two, but in 5 days you can at least see the major sights, take a one-day trip outside of Paris, and get a general feel for the city.

    Must-See Attractions. These are the places where everyone with a fanny pack and a Kodak converge because if you don't see these places, you haven't been to Paris. If I sound like I have a mild disdain for these attractions it's because I have a mild disdain for things that are touristy, but I went to see them because, well, if I hadn't seen them I couldn't say I'd seen Paris.

    Really Should See Attractions. These are the sights that if you're giving yourself more than 3 days to see Paris you really should see:

    Parks and Gardens. Paris is a very green city. Major parks (parcs) and gardens (jardins) that come immediately to mind are: Jardin De Tuileries, between the Louvre and the Place de Concorde; Jardin de Luxembourg, southwest of the Latin Quarter and home of the French National Senate building; Jardin des Plantes, near the Pont d'Austerlitz; and the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondisment. But there are lots of smaller parks that are just nice to stop at for lunch or just a little break from walking; when you see one don't hesitate to stop.

    Food. Food is definitely expensive in Paris but there are bargains out there. Breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day--a croissant and a cafe au lait will cost you less than 13 francs at a cafe. Lunch is also easy on the wallet. Depending on your budget you have two options: 1) get something simple to go such as a baguette sandwich, a slice of quiche, or a croque monsieur (grilled cheese sandwich) for under 30 Francs; or 2) go to a restaurant or bistro for a 3-course lunch special for 65-80 Francs. For dinner if you want a regular restaurant and you like seafood, I highly recommend Leon de Bruxelles, a citywide chain. It was recommended to me by a local (meaning it's not a tourist trap), and you get a steaming pot of 60 moules (mussels) with pommes frites (French fries, to be eaten with dijon mustard) for as little as 75 Francs.

    For light and cheap fare any time try a crepe, available either with meat and cheese or "sweet" and costing less than 30 Francs. My favorite variety has to be a crepe with Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread. One taste and you will be begging your grocery store to stock it (in America it's usually in the aisle with the peanut butter and jelly).

    Nightlife. I'm afraid I didn't get invited to the more exclusive clubs in Paris. However, I did manage to go to the Slow Club, a jazz club on Rue de Rivoli (near the Louvre). Hot jazz and swing dancing in a cool, cave-like setting worth the 75 Franc entrance fee.

    Lodging. Like a good budget traveller I stayed in hostels. If planning ahead and having advance reservations is important to you I recommend the Hostelling International (HI) Auberge de Jeunesse Le d'Artagnan in the 20th Arrondisment. It isn't central to the main attractions, but it has its own bar and pool table which makes it a great place to hang out and meet people after a day of sightseeing.

    If your travel plans are flexible or you can wait until the last minute to make find a bed for the night I recommend staying at one of the hostels in the Bureau de Voyages Jeunesse (BVJ) system. I stayed at the BVJ Louvre, a nice hostel in a great location near Les Halles and the Louvre. They only take reservations 1 to 3 days in advance.

    Transportation. The first time I went to Paris I happened to sit on the plane next to a nice Frenchman named Romain who along with his girlfriend gave me a ride from Aeroport Orly into the city. The second trip I flew into Aeroport Charles de Gaulle and took the RER B train into the city and back. It was convenient and fast and at 43 Francs one way was not outrageously expensive. If you are travelling into Orly I recommend the Orlybus which runs from the Denfert-Rochambeau Metro stop for 30 Francs one way.

    Once in town, take Metro. It is clean, convenient, but runs only until 12:30 a.m. After that there are night buses with fewer stops and higher prices. If you are there a full week (Sunday-Sunday) it may be worth it to get a carte hebedomaire (weekly metro pass), otherwise buy a carnet (packet) of 10 metro tickets. The best way to get around Paris, though, is on foot. Many sights are close enough together that often I only needed to use the Metro twice, once to get into the city and once to get back to the hostel.

    Day Trips. The three day trips (1 hour outside of Paris) that come immediately to my mind are Versailles, the Cathedral at Chartres, and Monet's House at Giverny. I've only been to Versailles; next time I will go to Chartres which is supposed to have impressive stained glass, and maybe to Monet's house and gardens. As for Versailles, I was impressed by the brief glimpse of Louis XIV's palace. What I enjoyed more however was renting a bike and riding it around the immense gardens of Versailles. The bike rental is inside the gardens near the Grand Canal. Note there is a separate entrance fee for the gardens.

    Language. If you have time, buy a book and a tape and learn some basic words in French. Or go to the Foreign Languages for Travelers site and learn some words from there. Most people in Paris do speak some English, but some people don't and if nothing else it is considered courteous to at least say in French, "Pardon moi, monsieur, parlez vous anglais?"

    Related Links

    Les Pages de Paris / The Paris Pages--Comprehensive information on Paris.

    Pariscope, une semaine de Paris--The Web site of a weekly paper in Paris that has entertainment information. Available in English and French.

    Le Monde--The Web site of the Paris newspaper.

    Societe Nationale de Chemin de Fer (SNCF)--The Web site of the French national railroad system.