Well, after two months in Paris, there are a few things I've picked up that have made my time here all the more enjoyable and spectacular. In no particular order, here are my top tips to consider when planning a trip to Paris:
What to Bring
- Make sure you bring your student ID, if you have one. Better yet, snap a photo of it before leaving on your trip and save it in your Favorites. I my student ID on my phone, which makes it very convenient in case I happen upon somewhere where I can get a discount - which is pretty much everywhere! From museums to parks to movie theaters, most places will offer some kind of student or youth discount. Sometimes this can even mean free entry. Make sure to plan for this so you don't miss out!
- Cash: Most places in Paris will accept all of your credit cards, but if you - like me - haven't quite figured it all out yet with how to avoid international transactions fees, etc., cash is a good option. Pay attention to where you're exchanging money though: some places can get real expensive real fast. The best foreign currency exchange centers, by far, are: Change Magenta, 77 Boulevard de Magenta; CEN Change, 70 Boulevard de Strasbourg, and Meson Change, 33 Rue Vivienne. Mason Change is super central and they don't change any fees - highly recommend!
Where to Stay
- I personally think there's a much more to do and see in the East bank, and the most central and well-connected area by far is Chatelet-Les Halles. Here, you have Paris's biggest metro station, that can pretty much take you any where you want to go around the city. You'll also be able to walk along the Seine and conveniently reach most of the major Parisian landmarks, including the Louvre, Tuileries, and Notre Dame.
- Republique isn't often mentioned as a top place to stay, but it's a great affordable option with a more alternative vibe. Some of the best nightlife is in this area, so it's cheap and easy to take a car back home on the weekends. There are also plenty of cafes along the streets and lots of activity taking place at all hours of the day.
Getting Around Paris
- The Metro is by far the best way to get around - even if you don't mind paying for cabs or Ubers, I think the Metro is actually a faster and easier solution. Paris is extremely well-connected. If you're staying for an extended trip, I would highly recommend springing for a Navigo pass - this will get you access to all trains and buses in zones 1-4 - which pretty much covers anywhere you'd want to go, including Versailles. For shorter trips, there are week-long Navigo charge options, as well as ticket packs of 10 for one-time uses.
- Download the RATP app as your transportation Bible while in Paris. Google Maps does not have a great sense of public transport in Paris, unfortunately, and doesn't include all the options. RATP is also super helpful as it reports when strikes are occurring (which is frequent!) and can advise against delays and line disruptions. Make sure you check the app if you're going to be relying on public transport to get home after a late night out.
- If you're planning to visit museums, galeries, etc. - always check to buy your tickets in advance. You can even do this from your phone on the way there - you'll save a lot of time skipping the ticket lines, and sometimes online ticket sales even have a fast-track entrance.
- Eiffel Tower is good to do on a weekday to avoid some of the crowds. A lot of people prefer to go to Trocadero for a view of the tower across the river, but the Champs de Mars parc behind the tower on the west bank is actually super nice and a great place to read and relax under one of the world's most iconic landmarks.
- If you're into museums, note that most of them are closed on Tuesdays. The exception is Musee d'Orsay - so, if you have a week planned filled with indoor art, Tuesday is a good day to visit Musee d'Orsay.
- Get your shopping fix in, as places can get crowded on Saturdays, and close on Sundays. Check out my blog for recommendations on best places to shop in Paris, whatever you're looking for.
- Rue Saint Saveur is a cool little pedestrian street located in Etienne Marcel. Here you'll find the unimposing but world-famous Experimental Cocktail Club, which really does make some of the best drinks you'll ever have. Stop by on a weekday as it gets completely packed shortly after 9pm.
- Get political at Republique: Place de Republique is pretty much the protest center in Paris. There's a strong history of political action and change surrounding this area, and you can find demonstrators in the square at pretty much any hour of the day, any day of the week! There's always a lot of activity going on, and a strong sense of community as people come together to discuss issues, share meals, or watch movies during long camp-outs.
- Free museum day is the first Sunday of the month. It's not really my thing, but if you're interested and willing to get up early to avoid the queue, it's a great way to visit some of smaller exhibits that might not be on your top list. My favorites are Palais de Tokyo and Grand Palais, but you'll have to prepare to wait for these.
- Le Marais is the best neighborhood on Sundays, as some unspoken custom has led to it being one of the only ones where all the stores and cafes stay open. You can spend an afternoon here browsing the boutiques and enjoying the sidewalk cafe life.
- During the summer, there's an ongoing Paris Jazz Festival, which takes place just outside the inner circle in Vincennes. The concerts are held in the beautiful Parc Floral, where you can explore the various botanical gardens between free jazz performances. Entrance to the park is still 8 Euro, 3 for youth <26.
- Le 104, or Le Centquatre, is a very cool performance art space that's worth checking out if you're into dance, theatre, and music. Around 4:30pm on Saturdays, a lot of dancers and sports artists will come to the space to practice, which can be a cool thing to be a part of. There are also a lot of showcases held here, including fashion showrooms. Call ahead for an appointment.
Libraries and Coffee Shops
If you're around for more than a week or two:
- Coutume Instituuti is my favorite coffee shop, and a great place to settle in for an afternoon to get some work done. It has a great vibe, is very bright, and a good crowd coming through. The coffee is great also :)
- Bibliotheque public d'information, attached to the Centre Pompidou, is one of the best libraries I've been to. Like the rest of the George Pompidou centre, the building itself is a piece of modern art. The floor-to-ceiling windows create offer great lighting, and it's a great place to focus and get things done. Be careful though - it can get pretty crowded on the weekends, and there's sometimes a line just to get in the door.
- For bars, Le Perchoir is one of my favorites, and offers a fantastic nighttime view with the glittering Eiffel Tower in the background. [Looking online it seems to have a lot of poor reviews, but I'm not sure why...!] It's a pretty nondescript entrance, I would never have found it if not for a my Parisian friend. It's a very trendy crowd, and the drinks can be a bit pricey. It's also a great jump-off point for a night out in Le Marais. (Read: loud music and gay bars!)
- If you're meeting up, Hotel Costes has a great lounge, often with live-music performances or guest DJs. It's located in a quite central area on Rue Saint Honoré, so it's easy to get a car or train to wherever you'll want to go.
- If you love hip-hop, Paris's Yard Summer Club has an ongoing Tuesday-night party hosted at Wanderlust. Things kick off around 11pm and go all night until the trains start running at 5:30am. I would say Wanderlust is like a mix between SF's 1015 Folsom and Booty - it doesn't quite boast the artists that visit 1015, but it has that all-night party feel. Add in a rooftop venue overlooking the Seine, and it's a pretty awesome night out.
- For a completely different type of night out, considering visiting Paris's northeast suburbs, particularly Saint-Denis. If you happen to be in town during Ramadan, Saint-Denis comes alive at night once the sun has set. With a large Muslim population (mostly North-African), everyone turns out after sun set to eat, drink and be merry, and it's quite a vibe. This was one of the coolest experiences I had while in Paris.
- For your more typical club scene, my favorites are around Republique. This is where you'll find more underground venues, with lots of hip hop and Caribbean descendants dancing the night away to trap-reggae mixes from Guadalupe. Check out Le Comptoir General as a place to start.
Seasonal Events and When to Visit
- Summertime, of course, is a wonderful time to visit Paris. May-June are ideal, since you're beating the crowds a bit, and you don't get the stifling heat. Some of the summertime highlights to pay attention to are the Fete de la Musique, taking place annually in June, in which the whole city comes alive with music, and Solidays - a not-for-profit musical festival which brings in big international artists, to raise awareness for and benefit HIV/ AIDs research.
- France has big, BIG sales twice a year - once in January, to clear out Fall/Winter stock, and once in June, with massive discounts on Spring/ Summer items. If you're in town, make sure you pay attention to when these are going on, as the weeks-long sales offer pretty significant discounts on all brands.
- There are a lot of really cool activities happening in Paris in the wintertime. One big thing to note is the ice rinks that pop up in some of the most notable landmarks - including the Grand Palais, in the the gardens around the Eiffel Tower.
Well, that's all I've got folks.... let me know if you were able to do any (or all?!) of the things on this list. Anything I missed?