Before the eager traveller embarks on their journey to Paris it is recommended to slow down a bit and take some time for planning the trip. Getting there, accommodation, public transport … exact planning will make navigating the city of love a lot easier.
Getting to Paris
Pais is truly very well connected. There are many major roads that lead to Paris and can be used for travelling by car or by coach. In addition, trains and aeroplanes offer convenient options for getting to Paris.
Most of the trains call at Gare l’Est, Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon. These train stations are right in the centre of Paris. From there, visitors can take the metro or a bus to continue to various destinations all across Paris.
Paris has three big airports. There is Charles de Gaulle airport to the North of the city, Orly airport to the south and a little way out there is Beauvais airport. Depending on their airline, visitors will arrive at either one of them.
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG). A gigantic airport – after our plane had landed it taxied for about 10 minutes until we reached the terminal. Arrivals, we were in area 2C, were very easy to navigate. Signs led us to the baggage reclaim area and we also found our way around in the big arrival hall with ease. Another set of signs marked the way to the metro. We took the RER to Gare du Nord and from there to our accommodation.
Accommodation: Hotel or apartment?
I think the decision whether to stay in a hotel or in an apartment is mostly down to personal taste. Both are available in any area of Paris, with all the facilities one desires and in all price categories. There is one thing to bear in mind, though: Paris is not cheap. Not only are the prices for accommodation higher than in other cities, food and drinks can also be very pricey.
We chose to use an apartment. Firstly, we stayed in Paris for 18 days. To pay room prices in a hotel for so long is almost unimaginable. Secondly, we wanted a little bit of privacy away from the routine of a hotel. That allowed for uninterrupted work time and also for a little bit of cooking here and there.
A tip would be to find accommodation near a bus or metro stop. Distances from one area of Paris to another can get quite long which makes it convenient to use public transport for them.
Skip using a car in Paris if at all possible. The roads are too busy, there are not nearly enough parking spaces and the roads and many one way streets can get quite confusing.
Public transport in Paris is elaborate. It has over 300 metro stops and that, too, can get confusing. There is nothing to worry, though, one will reach the desired destination eventually.
Pay attention to the different zones that Paris and its surroundings are divided into. The further away one gets from the city centre, the higher the number of the zone becomes. There are 6 zones in total. The city of Paris is zone 1. The direct surroundings of Paris are zone 2. All stops of the Metro are in these two zones (with the exception of 3 or 4 stops that are in zone 3). Travellers that only move around the city of Paris will therefore never leave zone 1. Outside of zone 1 (Paris) are the airport Charles de Gaulle (zone 5), Orly Airport (zone 4), Disney Land (zone 5), Versailles (zone 3) or Stade de France (zone 2).
Ticket options (2017)
Zone 1: 1,90€ (2€ when purchased from a bus driver)
valid for the Metro, RER, Bus lle-de-France, tram, Funiculare Montmartre
valid for 1.30h
not valid for changing from the Metro into a bus, all other changes are valid
There are some options that could potentially save some money:
The Carnet covers 10 tickets for zone 1 and costs 14,50€
A day ticket for zones 1 and 2 is 7,30€
We went for a Carte Navigo Découverte. This card can be charged with credit, but you must bring a picture of yourself to get one. The magnetic card costs 5€ at the RATP desks. The card can be charged up for either a week or a month and enables you to travel through zones 1 to 5. A week is always from a Monday to a Sunday, the days that make up a weeks worth of time are not flexible.
We picked up our weekly tickets at the airport so that we were able to use them for the first trip into Paris right away. The price for a weekly ticket was 22,15€ in 2017. For us, choosing this ticket option paid off and we enjoyed not having to purchase single tickets before every trip we made. Even our trip to Disney Land was covered by the ticket as it is in zone 5.
Food and drinks
By now, it is a well-known fact that restaurants in close proximity to landmarks are more expensive than those which are a little further away. In Paris, the price for a pizza, for example, varies by about 5€. The price difference can be even more extreme for drinks. We spotted 0.33l beer for 7€ and 0.25l Cola for 5€.
We were surprised by the prices for drinks, generally. Even in the non-touristy areas the prices were high. In the area where we had our Airbnb the price for 0.5l of beer was at least 5€. But despite the rather costly items on the menu, many locals sat in the restaurants in the evenings and enjoyed their beers. Whilst on a guided tour by two very nice locals, we heard of another tip around picking restaurants. There is a symbol that travellers should pay attention to, much like the TripAdvisor symbol. A little cooking pan indicates that the venue uses fresh ingredients only, frozen food is not allowed.
The normal Parisian meal times were almost reason to despair for us. We had breakfast between 9.00 and 11.00 and were hungry again at around 17.00. But many restaurants open much later, at around 19.00 and dinner usually starts even later, around 20.00. The French eat more around lunchtime. It got better after the first week and after a big baguette in the morning, the wait for dinner became less of a pain.
To maybe save a little money on excursions, it is wise to have a look at the Paris Citypasses. There are four different passes for Paris: Paris City Pass, Paris Pass, Paris Passlib’ and Paris Museum Pass. All city passes come as either a 2 day, 4 day or 6 day option (2, 3 or 5 days for the Passlib’). All of the passes cover different sights and activities.
We didn’t use any of them so I would recommend gathering some information about the passes from the providers. We usually skip offers like that when we stay in a city for longer. After our half day of work, we only have half a day left for excursions and most of the passes have a limited time window for going on the activities which usually means that they don’t really pay off for us. On a weekend trip with power sightseeing, this is a whole different story, though.