Welcome to one of my favourite cities – Paris!
Yes, there are still so many places in the world that we have never been to and still need to explore. But Paris is something different. Paris completely took my heart in it’s grasp and proved to me that it can be so much more than the romantic cliché that is so often depicted as. Our last visit to the French capital last summer was an eye-opening trip not only because we got engaged there (yes, that is right!) but also because I found a new perspective to the city that I never thought possible to experience.
The Paris that I love is about discovering little cobbled streets on the Left Bank and Latin Quarter, the small but characterful shops with the detailed facades that are so unique each offering something very different not forgetting the mouth-watering, elaborate and quintessential Parisian patisserie and boulangeries. It’s about spending hours in the historic bookshops like Shakespeare & Company, the romantic botanical gardens with their little maze like passages each leading to a magical discovery only you thought had made. It’s about the village within Paris, Montmartre, the only way to describe this delightful separate slice of Paris with it’s little but nonetheless charming museums and hotels, it’s teeny weenie streets with picturesque cottages and of course the regal Sacre Coeur Basilica.
We spent a wonderful week in Paris last August and I cannot wait to tell you more about it in a series of upcoming posts on the blog. As a starting point, I will share what I learned while planning our trip to the French capital. No matter how much I am in love with Paris, it can become quite dainty and overwhelming when you plan your trip (especially in the busiest month of the year, August). Fear no more, I am here for you with my top 5 secret tips and tricks which will make your stay in Paris less stressful so that you can truly enjoy the magic of the city.
Navigo Decouverte – the cheapest option to get around Paris
Let’s start with the practical matters. Paris is a large city and no matter how much you like to walk (which is always the best way to explore any city), you will find yourself opting for using the public transport way more often that you think. Whether it is for your transfer from the airport to the city center, or your only way to visit the Palace of Versailles, or the quickest and safest option to get to the Louvre museum from your hotel at the other side of the city, Paris’ public transport undoubtedly can cater for all of your needs. This, however, comes to quite high a price, as for example the Tourist Travel Card which gives you the opportunity of unlimited travel for 5 days costs 38.35 Euro per person without even including the trips to any of the city’s airports (if you want that package, you need to be ready to spend as much as 65.80 Euro per person). And what if you will spend more than 5 days in the French capital? Then, your budget will, undoubtedly, increase even more.
There is one option, however, that not many tourists visiting Paris know and it is mainly due to the fact that the French authorities do not promote it much. I am talking about the Navigo Decouverte Week Pass which is not even included in the main website of the Paris’ public transport. This lack of publicity is really understanding as it is almost half the price of the regular 5-days Tourist Card while covering all 5 transit zones (Paris and surrounding suburbs). This includes Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport (zone 5) and Orly (ORY) airport (zone 4), Chateau Versailles (zone 4), Fontainebleau (zone 5), Disneyland Paris (zone 5) and the majority of the Ile-de-France Paris Metropolitan area. The services included are any Metro, RER (suburban express) train, buses (RATP/Noctilien/Optile), Transilien suburban trains, and trams up to the zone limits of your pass. It is valid from Monday 00:00 to Sunday 23:59:59 and is the best option if you spend a whole week in the French capital. By now you must be thinking that this will cost you a fortune but in reality the Navigo Decouverte Week Pass costs only 22.80 Euro plus 5 Euro fee for the physical Navigo card itself. Yes, that is right – for only 28 Euro you can explore Paris and its area without any limits or worries and you can still use your card next time you are visiting the city as you can reload it anytime you want.
The only thing you need to issue a Navigo Decouverte Week Pass is a passport-size photo and a pen to write your name on the card cover. More information you can find on this website which we found incredibly useful before going to Paris last summer.
Opt for buying your food at the local boulangerie or grocery store
Now that we have covered the cheapest means of transportation from one of the Parisian airports, it’s time to have our first bites of the Parisian cousine. We always try the local food when travelling and we did not want to make Paris an exception to the rule. We researched numerous restaurants and patisserie in the hope to find the best ones while keeping in mind our budget. When we got to Paris, however, we were so impressed by the local atmosphere and the general unspoken consensus that having a picnic at the park is way better than having an expensive lunch at a haute restaurant that we wanted to try it out ourselves. We were eager to blend in with the locals and strove to imitate their daily routines.
That being said, we explored different boulangeries and food markets and tried out a variety of local types of cheese, baguettes, sweets, and wine. Even the big grocery store chains (like Carrefour) had a very decent variety of French products that made our dinners much more affordable and still very delicious. Give this article a read before going to Paris next time – you will find much information on the major types of cheese you can find in France that you will definitely try out some of them. So my number one advice when it comes to eating in Paris is not to be afraid to experiment and explore the local grocery shops.
Speak a bit of French
Speaking a bit of French opens whole new doors in front of you, trust me. And believe it or not, this comes from a person who knows no French at all. However, I tried to learn a few basic phrases before going to Paris last summer and realized that the locals are much more inclined to help me out. It is really understandable – you don’t speak to foreigners in your country in their language, do you? Well, don’t expect it from the French people, too.
Even if you can probably find someone who speaks English well enough to communicate with you, it’s still worth the effort to learn a few phrases in French. Making an effort to speak French can help you avoid scams and you’ll often find that it leads to a warmer welcome from locals. For example, asking for une carafe d’eau instead of water can mean not being charged for expensive bottled water at a restaurant. Greeting someone with Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais ? before asking your question will often lead to a more pleasant interaction.
FNAC – when everything is sold out
We visited Paris in one of the busiest months of the year, August – not the brightest idea, I have to admit, but we had no other choice at the time. It was my second time in the French capital and I had already ticked some of the tourist stops off my list. This was not the case for Kaloyan, though, who visited the city for the first time so we had to include attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum in our itinerary no matter that long queues and sold out tickets were expected. As I was still 25 at the time, I was allowed to a free access to many of the attractions (European Union residents under the age of 26 can enter for free) so we decided to buy tickets for Kaloyan directly on the spot. Boy, what a mistake!
We planned a visit to the Louvre Museum on our second day. We woke up bright and early ready to wander around the biggest art museum in the world so we arrived half an hour before its regular opening hour. We patiently waited for the museum to open, together with at least 40 more people at the Le Carrousel Du Louvre entrance directly from the Palais Royale-Musee du Louvre metro station and when it finally opened its doors, we found out that only people with pre-purchased tickets can enter the museum. There were so many people expected to visit the Louvre that week that the museum had stopped selling tickets on the spot. Everything was practically sold out at the official website as well so there was no chance for us to visit it.
We started wandering around trying frantically to find another way in – we talked with the museum staff, begged them and browsed the official website constantly hoping for a single ticket to free up. Finally, one of the security ladies told us about FNAC – well, told us is a bit of an overstatement as her English was not very good. That evening we searched for it on Google and found out that it is a large retail chain company that among many other things sells tickets to major tourist attractions, including the Louvre Museum!
So, if all tickets are sold out at the attraction’s official website, give FNAC a try. It is not so much well know by foreigners and it is your best chance to get your tickets (for a slightly higher price). Be prepared, however, to use Google Translate a lot, as the FNAC website is only in French.
Walk, walk and walk
Paris is a city that rewards those who explore it by foot. Yes, you by all means need to visit the top tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Sacre Coeur Basilica but do not be afraid to go off the beaten track and explore the hidden side streets. Take a walk and discover the small cute restaurants at the Montmarte district while watching the local artists draw their next masterpieces; indulge in an intellectual stroll in the Latin Quarter which can be a bit of a disappointment to many tourists but I personally find it very charming; find the hidden gems in Île de la Cité, an area which can offer so much more than just the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saint Chapelle Church. Let’s not forget the many city parks that Paris can offer – Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries, and Parc Monceau are just one of the few locations in which you can indulge in that picnic we already talked about.
That are my top 5 tips and tricks for you to consider before visiting Paris next time. What are your favourite spots in the French capital? Let me know in the comments below.