An amazing city to visit. Some of our tips and links:
CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport
Info for CDG. It really is a challenging airport. Most of it designed and built in the arty-farty early 70s with nowhere near enough capacity to handle multiple A380s and 747s hitting the deck at 6am. Be prepared to wait for luggage and wait in immigration lines. Patience is a virtue and a handy skill is to subtly block others behind you from trying to sneak in front. Keep an eye out for anything that indicates a special queue for modern digital passports as these may be speedier.
If you happen to arrive via a Schengen Convention country, as we did in 2014 from NYC via Iceland, you will arrive as a domestic passenger and fortunately not have to go through French passport control. We were very surprised when we realised we were “outside” the secure area of the airport, in public space, without seeing any passport control. Turns out we had entered Europe when we transited in Keflavik airport overnight.
Here is the airport website – do some research of your own.
Train To/From the Airport
It is possible to catch a train to and from the airport but, as we found in 2004, on arrival you may be in the middle of the morning peak and the locals get rather upset that your luggage is taking up valuable floor space – and of course you stand out like a sore thumb.
Make sure you have some Euros (multiple denominations) ready for your arrival at CDG. You will likely find the ATM (in French “DAB” ) will be out of cash. Ticket machines may only take French or European credit/debit cards. Yes there is a certain French logic in that…
Two Major Airports
Remember that Paris has two major airports. Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on the north side and Orly on the south. Most international flights go through CDG but be aware and make sure you go to the correct airport when departing. A ride between the two could be very time consuming and expensive and you may not make it.
Allow plenty of time to get to your airport as things just happen in Paris – traffic jams, train strikes etc.
The Metro (subway) is the best way to get around Paris. Lots of info below:
- Look on maps at where you want to go, then work backwards to where you are. You may have to change lines once, twice or even three times to reach your destination.
- Trains on lines (eg line 4 purple) only run between each end of their designated line. So you need to make sure when you change that you change to the platform for your chosen line in the direction you are heading.
- Unless a station is closed for maintenance or security reasons, the train will stop at every station.
- Every carriage has a route map on the top of the wall. You can keep a count on which station you’re at and how many to go. Newer trains have indicator lights for your current and next stations.
- If you miss a train – just wait. Another will be along in a few minutes.
- When getting off don’t waste time. Exit the train and step to the far side of the platform and let the locals go about their business. They know where they’re going while you and your party may need a minute to gather your thoughts and directions.
- Metro lines terminate (terminee) at 1am weeknights. They do run a little longer on Friday and Saturdays. Be aware so that you don’t get stranded a long way away from your hotel etc at 1am and have to hope like hell a taxi is nearby.
- Be careful when entering Metro stations. Some undesirables run a ploy pretending that an entry gate is blocked in an attempt to get people to squash into one gate – whereby they or their gang members may try to relieve you of possessions that you have. Do not fall for this ruse.
Lots of info here about tickets. A pass to cover the number of days you are in Paris is usually a good idea. You can rack up the costs of single tickets quite rapidly. The passes usually cover bus services too. Apart from two bus rides for Deb in 2004 we have not used the buses.
A map – best printed on A3 in colour. You can get a map nearly anywhere
Museums and Attractions
Paris has heaps of museums and historical locations of course. Wherever possible try to pre-purchase tickets online so that you can avoid queues. Be aware of which days a museum may be closed (often Tuesdays) to avoid disappointment.
Expect security checks at most locations – especially since recent tragic events in France.
All the red text below are links to the mentioned attraction or activity’s website.
Well worth a visit as it has an enormous collection of impressionist art works and also some art nouveau period pieces. Arrive early and when you enter go to the top of the building and work your way down. Most of the tours and general visitors enter at the ground floor and work upwards.
Lunch in the main restaurant is well worth the experience. You may have to book as soon as you arrive at the museum.
The Louvre is, to put it bluntly, enormous. Way too much to take in on one visit, but worth going to see some things.
The Mona Lisa is a disappointment – a tiny painting, hidden under layers of glass and barely visible among the sea of arms holding up smartphones taking what would have to be useless pictures.
With so much to see there is something for everyone, and if the weather is poor, everyone will be there with you!
Pre buy your tickets online to avoid queues.
Check this site to ensure the palace and gardens are open when you are planning to visit. It can be extremely busy and the queues enormous, so plan well and take lots of water and food and be prepared to wait. The fountains do not run every day so if you want to see and experience them (well worth it) ensure you get it right. Be aware there are TWO train stations that service Versailles – make sure you get the one that is closest to the palace and not the other which is about a 1km walk.
You must go. It’s the quintessential Paris tourist site. If you go later in the afternoon and have tickets to take you to the second and third levels, it is possible to watch sunset twice.
Pre buy tickets online.
Sadly this museum of Paris history is closed for renovation until late 2019
That ugly brown glass tower at Montparnasse in the 14th arrondisment is a Paris eyesore. It is said, and it’s true, that the best views of Paris are from its observation deck. That’s because from the top of the Tour Montparnasse you cannot see Tour Montparnasse! However they are magnificent views – day or night. While you’re viewing – just think that by looking around 360 degrees you are “seeing” about half the total population of Australia…
In 2005 we did a Segway Tour of some of Paris. It was an absolute hoot! We met the guide near the base of the Tour Eiffel and walked with him and the rest of our group for the day to a nearby location where we were fitted with helmets (provided and compulsory), given training on how to use the Segway and then some practice in the courtyard. We then headed off on a tour back past the tower then on elsewhere. We then lunched (at our cost) at an outdoor cafe in Tulliries garden whilst our Segways recharged.
After lunch we continued the tour and at times in bike lanes at the side of the road.
It was a great day and neither Deb or Craig fell off their Segway. A little expensive but well worth it.
You will never go hungry in Paris – keep your eyes open for boulangerie and patisserie. It is said you can put on weight just from the magnificent aromas.
Fresh baguettes are made twice a day, and a queue out the door will tell you that a boulangerie is special. Baguettes have no fat content so do not keep well. Fresh this morning will be stale tomorrow morning – but OK for toast. Another day and you can play baseball!
There are many areas that seem to have a theme of restaurants eg – some may have many creperies – but they are always good with lots of variety.
If you feel the urge to have a coffee at a bistro, be aware that you will pay more if you wish to sit an an outside table. These days French coffee is not as good as it used to be, or is it that Aussie coffee is so good we do not like what others accept as good. Most milk is UHT.
Ready made meals may be an option from time to time if your accommodation has reheat facilities. Many markets will have things such as terrines or other reheatable food that can be put with other ingredients to make a quick, simple and delicious meal.
Supermarkets are common. We often use Inno as there is one near where we stay, but even your modest local supermarket will have a cheese counter that is larger than the whole deli section at an Aussie supermarket.
Fresh milk is very hard and/or expensive to find, but the French UHT is quite acceptable for cereal and tea/coffee at your hotel.
There are markets held in practically every arrondisement (area) of Paris twice a week. This is how many of the local residents source the freshest produce (meat, fish, veges, cheese) and assorted other items. You can even buy beds at the markets! Not sure why – but you can. They are colour, aroma and action filled events that are very popular. Take the time to browse and participate. Try to not get in the way while browsing and be decisive when you are ready to buy – the stall holders are there to sell their products and the locals are there to buy.
When food markets are not on there are often other types of markets in the same location – art, craft – all manner of surprising things.
We have stayed at a friend’s studio apartment in Montparnasse (14th Arr) but this is now not possible. So we have stayed at the nearby Hotel Central which is quite comfy but, like much accommodation in Paris, is becoming expensive. It really is up to you as to what you can afford and need. In reality a French 2 star hotel is quite good – clean, comfortable, own bathroom etc. You don’t want to spend your whole time in Paris in a hotel room anyway!