I know, I know. Who hasn’t been to Paris, right? Well, hopefully, there are still some lost souls who are going to discover this amazing city for the first time, and if so, I hope this post will help you.
Tip 1. Learn how to pronounce Champs-Elysées. No reason. Just for fun.
So, I am finally in Paris. And on top of getting an award flight and free hotel stays, I’m also determined to spend as little money as possible, while having a grand time, of course. Thus, since doling out 50 EUR for a cab was out of the question, I went straight to the Les Cars Air France Shuttle Stop.
Tip 2: Use public transportation from CDG
If you stay in the Opera district and there are less than three or four in your party, the choice is simple. Take the Roissy Bus. The fare is only 10 EUR, and they stop on Rue Scribe very close to Place de l’Opera. Check the map to make sure it’s within walking distance of your hotel, though.
Since I stayed in Trocadero, Roissy was not an option, so I took the Air France Shuttle that made another stop at Etoile, which is close to the Arc de Triumph. I believe I paid about 17 EUR, but I’m not sure. The tickets on their website are 16.10 EUR.
If you only have light luggage, the RER train to Gare Nord, followed by the Metro transfer is a better idea. We ran into considerable traffic on our way into Paris, and my journey to Etoile took about one and a half hours. The train (9.50 EUR) and a metro ride (1.33-1.70) will run you under 11 EUR if you buy a pack of 10 tickets at 1.33 each. If you do have a lot of luggage, though, forget it. Narrow turnstiles and general lack of elevators in the Paris metro will make you regret it.
There is another dirt-cheap option if traveling between CDG and Paris for 3.20 EUR, and it won’t take you that much longer, but I’m leaving the best for last.
Tip 3: Wherever you go, take Metro
Forget taxis, the metro is great! Metro stations are plentiful (can I even say that?) and the trains are ridiculously frequent. The train cars are quirky in their own way; they’re equipped with a lever or a button to open the door. I thought it was kind of cool how they put you in charge. And as I mentioned before, buy tickets in a pack of ten to save 37 cents per ticket.
Take note, though, that they don’t always announce the stops, and the distances between the stops are often very short. So pay attention or you can miss your exit.
Line 1, the one that you will utilize a lot as it runs past the Louver and Rivoly, is driverless, just like the ones they use at airports. If you want a panoramic view of the tracks, go to the front car and enjoy the ride like you never could at home. If only they washed the windows sometimes (sigh).
Please remember to keep your ticket until you have completed your ride. They really do conduct random checks, and you being an ignorant tourist probably won’t help you avoid the fine. During my week in Paris, I’ve gone through three such inspections, so be warned.
Tip 4: Think hard about buying a Museum Pass
I know you will want to buy a Museum Pass. Not that there is anything wrong with it—if you do want to go on a museum spree, it will save you some serious money. But unless you are a bona fide art lover, and/or unless the weather broadcast during your stay is terrible, resist the temptation or at least buy a 2-day pass for about 30 EUR. I bought a 4-day pass at the airport for 60+ EUR and it was a mistake. I so much enjoyed the city itself that I found myself not getting my money’s worth. I just didn’t have the time. In addition, many Parisian museums have free or reduced visiting days and times. If you want to visit just a few museums, simply plan ahead and you might save some money over the Museum Pass.
Besides, what good is this pass when it doesn’t cover the most important of all Parisian museums, the Musee de l’Erotisme?
Yes, I am just kidding.
Tip 5: Walkable? Yeah, right!
Paris is not a walkable city. It’s a delight to walk in Paris, but enough with this walkable nonsense! When someone tells you next time how walkable Paris is, you have my permission to punch him in a face. This “smallest European capital” (not true, even though everybody keeps saying that) is still a very large megapolis and a confusing one too; you will get lost. Get a map, a good one like Streetwise, not a free map from your hotel that for some reason never has that particular street you’re trying to find.
Parisians are not rude. And they do not hate tourists. Maybe they just say it to show off to each other, but I believe it’s a myth. They are busy, but they will still try and help you when you are in trouble. A woman once led me to my hotel, and it was out of her way, too. The problem is, however, unless it’s a famous landmark, they often don’t know where it is any better than you do. It’s not always the case, but it often is. Paris is not exactly Manhattan: Their street layout is absolutely nuts! When they try to give you directions, you’ll still get lost, but at least now you know that most Parisians are friendly. That’s already worth it, but after getting directions, do ask again. And then again, just in case, you know…
Some time ago, I wrote an article about the kindness of strangers. I had another similar experience in Paris. The train was full and I was not in the mood to wait for another one, so I squeezed in. As I did, the doors hit me really hard—not hard enough to hurt me, but hard enough to kick the wallet out of my pocket. Of course, being hit by the doors, I didn’t notice, but the next thing I know, a tiny young woman knocks at my arm (seriously, she did) and hands me my wallet. I accept it with gratitude, but she’s not done. She knocks at my arm again, asks me something and points at my wallet with demand. Now, I know when people want money from me, and it’s not that. She points at my face and then at my wallet, and I realize she wants to see the ID. So I flash her my drivers license and she laughs and gives me two thumbs up. Priceless!
Although, I gotta stop losing my wallets in foreign places. They won’t always come back. What’s wrong with me!
Tip 6: Free Walking Tours
Do them. If you don’t trust that a free anything can be a good thing, don’t worry, you’ll still have to pay. The guides expect you to tip and they have no problem reminding you about it a couple of times. Nevertheless, these tours are a great and cheap way to see Paris while trying to understand what it is you’re looking at. I took four tours from two different companies, Sandman Tours and Discover Paris, and they all ranged from good to excellent. Totally worth it!
Before the walk, grab an empty bottle or a flask and look for a green decorative fountain called Fontaines Wallace. There are dozens of them all over Central Paris. They are a part of Paris history, but more importantly, the water is drinkable and perfectly fine, not even mentioning that you’ll save from 1 to 1.5 EUR per bottle. I drank from it on more than one occasion and, as you can see, lived to tell the story. Hey, they even have a fountain with sparkling water on tap in the Jardin de Reuilly.
Look: free water
Tip 7: Notre Dame: Upstairs? No, downstairs!
Do not climb the Notre Dame. Seriously. First, your Museum Pass doesn’t let you cut the line there, and yes, there are always lines. Second, if you are not claustrophobic, that narrow, winding, endless staircase will make you one. Third, it’s a very grueling experience. And fourth, after you’re up there, out of breath, what do you see? Nothing special. Huge crowds, the narrowest passageways you have ever gone through, and a long wait for the fellow tourists ahead of you to pass. The views are OK, but not worth it IMHO. Climb the Arc De Triumph for a much more pleasant experience.
The church itself, though, is worth the hyper and nothing short of amazing. If you happen to catch a service, there is a woman there whose singing would make any Opera diva grind her teeth in jealousy.
Tip 8: Go to Montparnasse Tower for a really good view
If you have braved the long line to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower and thought it was worth it (and especially if not), then do yourself a favor and go to the Tower of Montparnasse.
No lines at all, and it affords some fantastic views you will never get from the Eiffel. Guess what they are!
Tip 9: Eat, drink and be happy
Eating out in Paris is not nearly as expensive as some travel guides would have you believe. It’s maybe 15-20% more expensive than in NYC on average. The problem is not the price but the food, which is, to speak frankly, quite bland. Maybe it pays to do your research on Trip Advisor and line up the restaurants you want to go to, but there is so much to see and do in Paris that planning for eating out was not exactly my priority.
There are still delicious ways to eat cheaply in the center of Paris, though. There are lots of delis and bakeries selling fresh and tasty sandwiches for 3-4 EUR, a lot of places selling great crepes for even less than that; there are supermarkets selling surprisingly delicious and fresh food that you can microwave right there and get the utensils from a cashier. Get that and a coke, or a beer, or a small bottle of wine (no, Parisian cops will not harass you for drinking in a public place), then find a bench and enjoy your 5-6 EUR delicious lunch while doing some serious people-watching. I have never enjoyed eating frugally more than I did in Paris. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the weather was great six days out of seven. Not a frequent occurrence in Paris, which is not really a sun-kissed city.
When you do splurge on a nice meal, try Foie Gras. You are in France, after all. The portions are small, truly expensive and, oh yeah, absolutely delicious!
Tip 10: How to travel between Paris and CDG for 3.20 EUR
My final tip is how to travel between Paris and CDG for 3.20 EUR. No one I spoke with in Paris knew about this option including a Comfort Hotel Bobigny receptionist—and he, of all people, should have!
On arrival at CDG, get to the Terminal One. Then take the bus #93 to Bobigny Pablo Picasso Metro station. The ride should take about 30 minutes.
Bobigny Pablo Picasso is served by Line 5. That means that unless your hotel is in the vicinity of the Bastille, you will need to transfer to another train (if you do stay in central Paris, that is). The ride to the Grands Boulevards, for example, will take you about 40-45 minutes with one change of trains. Just remember the caveat about luggage and general lack of elevators, though.
Coming back? Retrace your steps. I believe the bus usually runs every hour, and twice as often during rush hour.
All in all, during my 7-day trip I didn’t even scratch the surface. Paris is certainly not the type of place that you can cross off your list in one visit. Don’t try that and you will be fine.
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