Just My Destination Guide: Paris – Part One (The Essentials)
Just My Travel Guide – Paris, France
Paris – I think no other city in the world evokes a more passionate response that Paris. There are those who love the city and those who absolutely deplore the place. It has been host to some of histories greatest artists and is also home to more tourists each year than many other countries combined. I have put together a short guide to Paris, mainly as an aid to a friend of ours who is travelling their later this year. I am definitely not an expert on Paris so please do not flame me for missing something or getting it wrong.
To make this guide easier to follow I have split it into two parts – Part One: The Essentials and Part Two: Things to Do; What follows is just my random thoughts and tips on Paris. I hope you find them of some use.
Paris Part One: The Essentials
Getting from the Airport
The first challenge you will need to face in Paris is how to get to the city from the Airport. Most international flights will arrive at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, which is about 24km from the city centre of Paris. Depending on the amount of luggage you brought with you one of the easiest ways to get to the city is by train. The train will take about 25-30mins depending on time of day and will cost about 9-10€. Another option is a taxi however this is likely to cost you around 40-50€.
Some low cost airlines or those coming from other European cities may also arrive at Orly Airport (ORY). Orly is connected by two train lines and two bus lines. My advice is to catch the train it will get you into the city centre much easier than a taxi and will also be much cheaper.
To the first time visitor Paris can be extremely confusing and intimidating. Once you get to know the lay of the land and the easiest ways to navigate the city it opens itself up and reveals one of the most incredible cities on the planet, backed to the brim with history, art and culture.
Paris is actually a pretty compact city, the centre part of the city is only around 10km in diameter. The city is split up into 20 Arrondissements (or districts) they start in the centre of the city and spiral out in a clockwise manner. One of your first purchases when you get into town should be a compact Arrondissement Street Index. These handy compact guides will help you navigate your way around the city and also help you to find the nearest Metro station. The other advantage is that they are small enough to not make it look like you are a lost tourist. The best 6€ you will spend.
One of the most loved (and hated) parts about visiting Paris is the public transport network. The nature of Paris city streets is such that most people do not have cars and instead use the extensive public transport network. It can be busy, crowded, smelly and hot – but it is without a doubt one of the best ways for visitors to get around. The Paris metro (or underground) services nearly every corner of the city with stops in all key destinations. Chances are whatever attraction you want to visit – there will be a Metro station within a few short walks. To avoid looking like a tourist download the Metro Map to your Smartphone from the RATP Website – http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/ – and make yourself aware of the main lines and destinations. If you can it is also advisable to avoid using the Metro during Peak Periods – 8am to 10am and 5pm-8pm – during these times take up the next best form of Parisian Transport – Walking.
To find a Metro station just look for the signature gothic styled Metropolitain signs above the stairs/escalator entrance to the Metro stations.
Buying Metro Tickets
At most Metro stations you will see automatic self-serve ticket machines – these generally only accept coins (or debit cards). If you only have notes you will want to look for a ticket sales booth (“Vente”). At some stations they may not have a ticket sales booth, only an Information booth – these Information booths are only to answer questions they cannot sell tickets. This is just the magic of French bureaucracy – learn to love it and go with the flow.
If you are in town for a few days the best value ticket option would be the Paris Visite Pass – it allows unlimited travel on all public transport for 1-5 days and costs from €9-40 depending on length of time and desired zones you wish to travel in. Unless you plan on exploring outside the main centre of town I would probably only suggest the Zones 1-3 pass, the majority of sites can be found within this travel zone – and will cost you about €20 for a 3 days pass. Another slightly cheaper option is just to buy a Daily or Weekly pass – depending on how much you intend to travel – these may be better suited to your needs.
Whilst the upfront cost may be a little higher you will thank me in the time it saves you having to line up at a ticket machine every time you want to travel.
Using the Metro
Ok so you have your ticket – now you need to get going. Look at the metro map to work out where you are travelling and which line you will need. Also have a look at what direction you need to travel in. Each Metro station will usually have a platform dedicated to travel in a particular direction – so to save yourself headache have a look to make sure you are pointing in the right direction.
The Metro runs from 5:30am to 1:15am (5:30am to 2:15am on Friday and Saturday nights), make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to a stop if you are worried about missing the last train – different trains leave at different times depending on the station.
Paris is a major international city and attracts millions of visitors each year. Along with this massive throng of people comes a small degree of risk of crime. In general Paris is a safe city – however as with any destination you must be vigilant to ensure your safety. The Metro is no different there are often reports of pickpockets and thefts on the Metro lines, particularly in busy peak periods when trains can be packed with people. Maintain common sense – don’t walk around with your Camera out around you neck or your handbag loosely sitting on your shoulder. Also keep any valuables out of sight – this will remove any temptation to thieves. I often travel with my wallet and phone in my pocket and then keep a hand in my pocket at all times. My bag is a shoulder bag that I wear infront of me so I can hold the zipper. I do this in every country and Paris is no different.
If you are travelling late at night, try to travel in groups and avoid hanging around in dark corners of stations (unless you like that kind of thing). Be aware of any groups of children or adults who approach you or jostle up against you – sometimes they do this to distract you.
Overall don’t worry though – 99% of people who travel to Paris will not experience any trouble at all, just avoid being complacent and you will likely be fine. But should something unfortunate happen make sure you have phone numbers and information about your travel insurance handy so you can ring them if you need assistance.
Without a doubt one of the best ways to experience Paris is on foot, wandering aimlessly down laneways and small streets exploring the city and seeing it’s people. At first glance the streets of Paris can be a little confusing (and they are) but part of the magic in the city is wandering and getting lost.
The other thing to remember is that in Paris you are usually only about 100mts away from a Metro station no matter where you walk so even if you are really lost you can usually find your way back pretty easy. Use your Paris street guide (you bought one didn’t you) and see where you are – sometimes you will find it is quicker to walk to your destination rather than trying to find a Metro station and work out the lines etc.
That is Part One of my guide to Paris, please check out the next post to see some of my essential Things to Do and See.
What do you think about Paris? Leave a comment below with your favourite parts of Paris. What is your Number 1 tip you would give to someone visiting Paris for the first time?