The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot, and secondly, using the Métro which costs €1.80 for a one way trip of any length.
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It is possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours (only if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops). In fact, within a few years, walking combined with biking and the Metro, will be the only ways to get around the very centre of Paris: The Mayor’s office has announced plans to declare the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements almost totally car-free by 2012.
The smartest travellers take advantage of the walkability of this city and stay above ground as much as possible. A metro ride of less than 2 stops is probably best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you’ll be able to see more of the city. That said, pay attention to the Métro stations that you may pass by on your journey; the Métro network is very dense within the city and the lines are virtually always located directly underneath major boulevards, so if you become lost it is easy to regain your bearings by walking along a major boulevard untl you find a Métro station.
You may have heard of the hazard of walking into dog droppings in Paris. Despite fines as high as €180 and extensive street cleaning operations, the problem persists across the city, so walk with caution.
It’s always fun to experience the city by foot, and there are numerous walking tours around Paris, whether self guided (with the help of a guidebook or on-line guide) or with a touring guide (booked through your travel agency or hotel). The city is best explored by foot, and some of the most marvellous memories you will have of Paris is walking through secret found places.
- Localers, 10 Rue Saint Marc, ☎ +33 1 83 64 92 01. offers a wide selection of walking tours around Paris.
Paris has an excellent underground train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de fer métropolitain, Metropolitan Railway). Although you will probably take the RER train from the airport (CDG) to Paris, don’t be confused: RER is a French-language acronym that translates to “Regional Express Network,” and is mostly used by commuters. Look for the Métro stations, marked either with a large “M” sign or by one of Hector Guimard’s remarkable Art Nouveau station entrances. However, crossing Paris can be much faster by RER than by Métro, and within the city of Paris, there is little functional difference between the RER and Métro (both use the same stations, and trips can be taken with the same ticket).
There are 16 Métro lines (lignes) (1–14, 3bis, and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes 05:00-00:30 (Saturday night/Sunday morning: 01:30), stopping at all stations on the line. Times for trains can be seen on an electronic scrollboard above the platform. Line 14, which is fully automated, is called the Méteor. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the centre sign. Generally, except for early and late hours, travellers should not worry about specific Metro train times; just get to your station and take the next train. Trains usually come 2-3 minutes apart during rush hour and 5-10 minutes apart during other times, depending on the line.
Visitors with heavy luggage or handicap should find out in-advance about the facilities at each station to be used. (Specific on-line information about elevators and escalators is hard to find. You may have ask at ticket counters at major stations, perhaps tourist information kiosks.) Getting to boarding platforms from street level, or going between platforms to change lines can be difficult even at major intersecting stations at most times, and everywhere during rush hours. It usually involves walking up and down multiple flights of busy stairs. Elevators are seldom seen, many aren’t working, and in major outlying stations any escalator will likely support only exiting to the street level. If you have any lingering concern about station facilities, check bus routes and timings to find convenient bus service instead; failing that, use a taxi.
Many Metro trains do not carry destination binders. All lines on the Paris metro run end-to-end with some trains terminating at certain stations. This practice is common only in peak hours and if you are on a metro train that terminates before the last station, the driver will make an announcement (in French). Listen carefully for signs that the train is terminating before the end of the line.
The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations (the end of the line). If you ask the locals about directions, they will answer something like : take line number n toward “end station 1”, change at “station”, take the line nn toward “end station 2” etc. The lines are also colour-coded.
In addition, there are five commuter train lines: RER A, B, C, D, and E. RER trains run at intervals of about 6-7min, and stop at every RER station within Paris. Although a regular subway ticket can be used within Paris (Zone 1), it is necessary to pass the ticket through the turnstile when passing between the subway and the RER lines, as the two systems are separate networks. This ticket is necessary to enter and exit the RER networks, as the RER trains travel on to the Parisian suburbs, outside the zone where a regular subway ticket can be used. Travel outside the city centre without a valid RER ticket will get you fined, and the packs of inspectors who roam the system show no mercy to tourists pleading ignorance. In particular, Charles de Gaulle airport is not within the city; you must purchase an RER ticket to get there.
The Métro and RER move staggering numbers of people into, out of, and around Paris (6.75 million people per day on average), and most of the time in reasonable comfort. Certain lines, however, are operating at or near capacity, sometimes being so full that you’ll have to let one or two trains pass before being able to board. If you can help it, avoid Métro lines 1, 4, 9, & 13 and RER lines A & B during rush hours as these are the most congested lines in the system.
In addition to RER, there are many suburban train lines (Transilien) departing from the main train stations. One line of interest is the one from Gare Montparnasse to Versailles-Chantiers, a quick way to go to Versailles castle (covered by a ticket for at least Zones 1-4). The alternative is to use RER C to Versailles Rive Gauche (this station is the closest to the castle). Do not use RER C8 to Versailles Chantiers; this will do a very long loop in the southern suburbs before reaching Versailles.
For travel outside of the Paris zone, the train arrival times are shown on a monitor hanging from the ceiling inside the RER station above the platform. Information about the stops to be made by the next incoming train is presented on a separate board also hanging from the ceiling. It is important to check this board before boarding the train, as not all trains make stops at all stations on a given line. Four letter codes (KRIN, DIPA, TORE, etc.) are used for the RER and Transilien trains. On RER A, B and C the first letter indicates the destination of the train, the second the branch or service type, and the last two are to make the name easier to memorize; on RER D and E, the first letter is destination, the second letter is service type, the third letter is branch, and the fourth letter is direction; on Transilien lines, it’s usually one name for every service type. You can look up what these codes mean on information panels in the station, but the easiest and fastest way is often to check the information screens along the platforms.
RATP is responsible for public transport including metro, buses, and some of the high speed inter-urban trains (RER). The rest of the RER is operated by SNCF. However, both companies take the same tickets, so the difference is of little interest for most people except in case of strikes (RATP may strike without SNCF doing so or the other way round). Current fares can be found at their website. Basically, as you move farther from Paris (into higher zones), tickets get more expensive.
For the subway, a single ticket (ticket t+) costs €1.80; however, it is generally not advisable to buy tickets by the unit. Instead, purchase a “carnet” of ten tickets, which can be bought for €14.70 at any station, which will bring the price per ticket down to €1.47. Tickets named tarif réduit may be purchased for children under the age of 10 but only in a carnet of 10 for €6.65. Both tickets are valid for unlimited metro and RER or bus and tram transfers during two hours for RER and metro, and 1 hour 30 between the first and the last punch for bus and tram. RER + Métro and Bus + Tram are two separate systems, but they use the same tickets. This means you have to use a new ticket if you transfer from bus to metro or from metro to bus. Tickets do not expire.
A one-day ticket, a weekly pass, and a monthly pass are also available. The price varies according to the zones for which the ticket can be used. The cheapest 1-day ticket called Mobilis, is valid for zones 1-2, with a price of €6.60. Once bought, it is necessary to write in the spaces provided on the ticket the date the ticket is being used in European notation of day/month/year (valable le), the last name (nom), and the first name (prénom). Unfortunately, this ticket is not valid for use for travel to/from Charles de Gaulle airport. Unless you plan to make many trips in one day, the carnet of ten tickets (for €1.33 per trip) will still be a much better cost than a one-day ticket. However, consider the price for all members of your group/family, including children, which days you are travelling on, and in which zones you will be travelling.
For travellers under the age of 26, there is a special ticket (Jeunes 26) that you can purchase for use on the weekends or holidays. The price varies depending on the number of zones you wish to cover (Zones 1-3 is €3.65 and Zones 1-5 is €7.85; there are other zone combinations available too) and the ticket is good for one day of unlimited usage of the metro, RER, bus, and trams.
If you are staying a bit longer, the weekly and monthly passes are called Navigo Découverte (1 week pass, €19.15 for zones 1-2) and the monthly Navigo Mensuel (one-month pass, €62.90 for zones 1-2). Note that an Découverte (DAY-koo-VERT) starts on Mondays and a Mensuel on the first of the month. The Navigo pass is non-transferrable and requires the user to provide information on the pass after the sale. The pass is sold for €5. You must write your last name (nom) and your first name (prénom) and stick your photo on the nominative card. After, you have to refill your pass with a recharge hébdomadaire (one-week refill), or a recharge mensuelle (one-month refill). You have to choose at least two of the contiguous “zones”: Paris is the first zone, La Défense is in the third zone, and Versailles in the fourth. Everything related to a “Navigo” pass is in purple (like the target for the pass in the turnstiles).
Although not as good a deal for adults in most cases as the Mobilis or Navigo, there are also one-to-five-day tourist passes, called Paris Visite, available, which are a bargain for kids of ages 4-11, starting at €4.85 per day for travel within zones 1-3.
Keep your ticket or pass with you at all times as you may be checked. You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot if you do not have a ticket. The most likely spots for being checked are just behind the turnstiles at big Métro stations or during Métro line changes (correspondances). RATP agents may be present in the Métro stations even on Sunday nights.
Métro stations have both ticket windows and automatic vending machines. The majority of machines do not take notes, only coins or European credit cards with a pin-encoded chip on the front. Therefore, to use either euro bills or a non-European credit card with a magnetic stripe, it is necessary to make the purchase from the ticket window. Be advised that some ticket vending machines do not give change, so use exact change or go to the ticket window. If you look at the vending machines closely, you may find one in the group that takes euro bills and will give change; these machines can be found at major or touristy stations such as Tuileries, Gare de Lyon or La Défense-Grande Arche.
Some larger stations have secondary entrances, where there is no ticket booth. These are labelled voyageurs avec billets (passengers with tickets).
Be aware of ticket touts who used to stay near single vending machines, which have much higher rates for tickets, eg. 7€ for single ride ticket! They can be found on Porte Maillot station.
Each station displays a detailed map of the surrounding area with a street list and the location of buildings (monuments, schools, places of worship, etc,) as well as exits for that particular metro. Maps are located on the platform if the station has several exits or near the exit if there is only one exit.
Except for trains on lines 1, 2, 4, 5, and 14, the doors will not open automatically. In such a case, there are handles or buttons located both inside and outside the train that you have to push or unlatch in order to open the door.
Strikes are a regular occurrence on the Paris public transit system. Generally during a strike, there will be reduced or no service on certain lines but parts of the network will continue to operate; however, in some cases the entire network may shut down completely. Visit the RATP and SNCF websites for information on which routes are affected by a strike. Generally, the automated Métro lines 1 and 14 will be running during a strike because they operate without human drivers – if you are caught by a strike, it is best to use it whenever possible.
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport and an excellent way to see the sights. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than most towns or cities in other countries. The French are very cognisant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn’t the easiest place to get around by bike but that has changed dramatically in recent years. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well as establishing some separated bike lanes but, even more importantly, instituted a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-peak hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.
There are a few different bike rental programs in Paris:
- Vélib ☎ +33 1 30 79 79 30 In July 2007 the municipality of Paris introduced the Vélib program (vélo Liberté or Freedom Bikes) making it possible to rent a bike for a very modest price. Numerous stations are found around the city (at major landmarks and metro stations, basically every 300 m). With a credit card with a “puce” smart-chip, you can subscribe for 1 day (€1.70) or 7 days (€8) with a security deposit of €150 & then get a bike. If your card doesn’t work in the machines, you can pay on-line for your 1 or 7 day ticket and will be given an ID number to use at the kiosk.
The first 30min are free, the following 30min costs €1, following 30min costs €2, etc. to avoid long rentals… so the game is to get to another station in 25min and get another bicycle. This rental system has been designed to allow you to “pick & drop” a bike, not rent the same one all day long. Try it! If your card works in the machines it’s a great way to get around! The bicycles are wonderful cruiser bikes, with a front basket to put a purse or bag. The system is very popular with tourists and Parisians alike; the drivers appear to be very tolerant towards cyclists.
If the saddle is turned around, it most probably means the bike is out of order (it’s a convention among Velib users, so do the same if you notice your Velib has problems). Also be sure to check your lock before leaving as many of them do not function (and you do not want to get stuck with a bike locked to a fence post that you cannot unlock). Also be sure to budget some time for parking your bike in case you need to get back for a flight. Especially during lunch hour, many of the return stations get full quite readily.
US Visa and MasterCards without chips do not work – however, American Express cards should work even though they don’t have a chip).
How it works: After registering on-line (or at the terminal) for €1.70, you will get a code that you plug in at any Velib station and is good for 24h. You will also get to choose a PIN as your password. You will enter your code, then your pin, then choose an available bike. The system will prompt you to press the button on the station next to the bike to release the bike – and you’re ready to go. You can return the bike at any station any time and get a new bike with this same code. To return the bike, simply slide it into the locking mechanism and wait for the light to turn from orange to green – sometimes the lock is broken, sometimes the station’s network connection is down and the lights will be red – you must ensure the light turns green. As of August 2014 you don’t need to interact with the terminal when returning the bike, even though the prompts tell you to confirm your return when you take out a bike.
- In addition to operating a number of bike rental buses, the RATP has some permanent locations, including:
- Roue Libre, Les Halles, 1 passage Mondétour (facing 120 rue Rambuteau, Métro: Les Halles), ☎ +33 1 04 41 53 49. Bikes can be rented for one weekend (€25), M-F (€20), a working day (€9), or one day on the weekend (€14). Roue Libre also has a location at the Bastille which is open during the summer months
- Baja Bikes Paris Daily guided bike tours in Paris for only €25.
Cycling and Traffic
While the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have experience cycling in traffic and the proper mentality for dealing with it. In particular, ‘Rue de Rivoli,’ ‘Boulevard de Sébastopol/Strasbourg,’ ‘Boulevard Saint-Germain,’ ‘Avenue de Flandre,’ and most of the Quais that run along the river are especially bad during rush hours, but are at least somewhat busy at all times. While most of these do have cycle lanes, “sharrows,” or other such accommodations, the sheer volume of traffic means that it may be a better idea to take an alternate route through the side streets. Traffic will also be particularly thick on the peripheral ‘Boulevards des Maréchaux’ (not the Boulevard Périphérique, which lies to the outside; more on this anon), and on main roads that lead to a ‘Porte’ at the edge of the city (eg: ‘Boulevard de la Chapelle’ and ‘Avenue de la Grande-Armée’). If you find yourself on one of these routes, stick to the bike lanes whenever possible.
There is also a great deal of congestion around the main train stations, particularly around Gare du Nord/Gare de l’Est in the 10th, Gare de Lyon in the 12th, and Gare Montparnasse in the 14th. Bus and taxi traffic will be particularly thick in these areas and certain streets may be reserved just for them, so stay alert.
There are a few portions of the city that you probably should not cycle unless you are very confident in your abilities to ride in an urban environment. The ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysés’ and the ‘Boulevard Magenta/Boulevard Barbès’ axes can be especially hairy, though the latter more because of some inopportunely-placed interruptions in the bike lanes and other non-vehicular obstacles. The area around ‘Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad’ is well-provisioned with bike lanes, but they are somewhat haphazardly laid out and traffic is very heavy.
Also, the city has a number of large roundabouts which, while quite logical once you’ve got the idea of priorité à droite, are not at all a good idea for the timid or inexperienced. ‘Place de l’Etoile’ is the most well-known of these, but also be wary around ‘Place de la Nation,’ ‘Place de la Bastille,’ and ‘Place d’Italie.’ If possible, look for an alternate route – in particular, Place de l’Etoile and Place de la Nation have ring roads running around the outside which make for a good bypass route.
Finally, there are a few roads in Paris which are entirely forbidden to cyclists, in particular the ‘Voie Georges Pompidou’ (the high-speed express lanes running along the Seine), the tunnels underneath Les Halles, the Boulevard Périphérique beltway, and certain other ramps, tunnels, and underpasses. These will all be marked with a sign showing a bicycle on a white background, surrounded by a red circle.
Since the Métro is primarily structured around a hub-and-spoke model, there are some journeys for which it can be quite inefficient, and in these cases, it is worth seeing if a direct bus route exists, despite the complexity of the bus network. A bus ride is also interesting if you want to see more of the city. The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly. It uses the same single-ride Ticket t+ and Navigo fare system as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the Noctilien, the night bus. Noctilien route numbers are prefaced with an N on the bus stop signage. Night buses run regularly through the central hub at Chatelet and from the mainline train stations to outlying areas of greater Paris. There is also a circle line connecting the main train stations. It pays to know your Noctilien route ahead of time in case you miss the last Métro home. Women travellers should probably avoid taking the Noctilien on their own to destinations outside Paris.
When boarding the bus, you’ll have to validate your ticket. If you have a Navigo pass, simply hold it up to one of the purple scanners (usually on a pole near the door) and wait for the tone and the green light. If you’re using a single-ride ticket, look for the ticket validating machine, a roughly shoebox-sized device with a few lights on top and a slit for the ticket at the bottom. Insert your ticket in the slot, and wait for it to stamp it and spit it back out. Check for the time stamp, in case the printer is out of ink. As on the Métro, your ticket is proof of payment, so hold on to it until you arrive at your destination lest the transit police fine you for not paying your fare. All-day tickets only need to be validated once. If you don’t have any tickets (and there’s not a Métro station or Tabac nearby that sells them), you can buy a “ticket de dépannage” directly from the driver; these cost €2 and must be validated immediately.
Be aware that you cannot transfer between the Métro and the Bus with a single-ride Ticket t+. However, you can transfer from bus to bus, or between the bus and the tram, within 90 minutes of validating the ticket. The “ticket de dépannage” sold on the bus does not let you make a transfer to another line.
Another option for travellers who want to see the sights of Paris without a stop on every street corner is the Paris L’Opentour Bus, an open-topped double decker bus that supplies headsets with the most up to date information on the attractions in Paris. Your ticket is good for four routes ranging in time from 1-2h. Get off when you want, stay as long as you need, get back on the bus and head for another site. You can purchase tickets at the bus stop. A one-day pass is €31 for adults and €16 for children. A two-day pass is €36 for adults or €19 for children.
- Metro and bus. The metro and buses are free for children under the age of 4. Older kids (4-9) can buy a carnet (a collection of 10 tickets) at half-price for discounted travel. Other passes, including the Paris-Vistes pass for unlimited travel over 1 to 5 days are also available at half-price for children below 9 years of age.
- Taxis. Parisian taxis tend to be standard cars (sedans or minivans) so almost all strollers will need to be folded and placed in trunk. Be aware that taxi drivers are proud of their cars and keep them very clean and are not big fans of messy kids.
Taxis are cheaper at night when there are no traffic jams to be expected. There are not as many taxi cabs as one would expect, and sometimes finding a taxi can be challenging. In the daytime, it is not always a good idea to take a taxi, as walking or taking the metro (See: Métro) will be cheaper and, depending on traffic, faster. If you know you will need one to get to the airport, or to a meeting, it is wise to book ahead by phone (see below).
Remember if a taxi is near a taxi stand, they’re not supposed to pick you up except at the stand where there may be other people in line ahead of you. Taxi stands are usually near train stations, big hotels, hospitals, major intersections, and other points of interest, and are marked with a blue and white “TAXI” sign.
There are a number of services by which you can call for taxis or make a reservation in advance. The two largest are Taxis G7 and Taxis Bleus:
- Transport Parisien (transfert roissy), ☎ +33 6 61 57 43 53 * Taxis aéroport de Paris (airport transfer), ☎ +33 6 58 79 38 87
- Taxi Paris (taxi roissy), ☎ +33(0)658793887
Taxis net Paris, ☎ +33 6 24 14 15 69
- Taxis G7, ☎ +33 1 47 39 47 39
- Taxis Bleus, ☎ +33 8 91 70 10 10
- Taxis de France
- Taxi-Paris, ☎ +33 1 41 27 66 99
- Shuttle Taxi (navette roissy), ☎ +33 1 39 94 96 89
- Taxis aéroport Roissy (taxi roissy), ☎ +33 6 61 57 43 53.
As in many other cities a taxi can be difficult to stop; you may have to try several times. When you do get a taxi to stop, the driver will usually roll down his window to ask you where you want to go. If the driver can’t (or doesn’t want to) go where you want, he might tell you that he’s near the end of his work day and can’t possibly get you where you want before he has to go off-duty.
There is a €6.50 minimum on all taxi journeys mandated by city law, but the meter does not show this amount, which can result in being asked to pay more than the metered amount on short rides. Frequently the taxi driver will not want to drive you all the way to the doorstep, but will prefer to let you out a block or so away if there are one or more one-way streets to contend with. Try to look at this as a cost-savings rather than an inconvenience. You should pay while still seated in the cab as in New York and not through the front window London style.
The driver will not let you sit in the front seat (unless there are 3 or 4 of you, which is a rare case usually expedited by more money). Taxi-drivers come in all types, some nice, some rude, some wanting to chat, some not. Smoking in taxis is generally not allowed, however it might be that the taxi driver himself wants a cigarette in which case the rule might become flexible.
To avoid bad surprises, make sure you download Taxibeat, a taxi hailing app available for iOS and Android that enables you to choose your taxi driver based on user ratings. Unlike radio taxis, the service comes at no extra cost for passengers – but be aware of the approach fare, and drivers associated with Taxibeat tend to offer better value service. (Most speak fluent English, offer free Wi-Fi on board, etc).
Many drivers prefer that you avoid using your mobile phone during the journey; if you do have to, make an apologizing gesture and sound, and do make a short call.
- A tip is included in the fare price; If you’re especially satisfied with the service, you can give something (basically 10%), but you don’t have to.
- There is an extra charge for baggage handling.
If for any reason you wish to file a complaint about a Paris taxi, take note of the taxi’s number on the sticker on the lefthand back seat window.
Also if you take a taxi to the Charles de Gaulle airport be prepared to pay €70 or more because there is often heavy traffic. If there isn’t traffic it will be less expensive, but that is rare. The RER B or a bus is cheaper.
UBER is very easy to hail in Paris and cheaper than local taxis.
Beware of illegal taxis (see the ‘Stay Safe’ section).
Livery or Black Car or Limos- Known as car services or livery cabs, these cars may only be called by phone, are flat rate rather than metered (ask for the fare before getting in), and are not allowed to cruise the street or airports for fares. There are two types of licence: the “Grande Remise” that allows the car & driver to pick-up & drop-off passengers anywhere in France, and the “carte verte” that allows pick-up and drop-off in the department or region where the company is based. The Grande Remise cars have a GR on their front plate. They provide more service than a normal cab.
There are several excellent boat services which make use of the Seine. As well as providing easy, cheap transport to much of central Paris, excellent photo opportunities abound. You can buy a day or 3 day ticket and hop on and off the boat as needed. The boats take a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D’orsay. Batobus offers a regular shuttle service between the main touristic sights (closed in January); other companies such as the famous Bateaux Mouches offer sightseeing cruises. By taking one of these popular tours, you can also enjoy a romantic evening dinner on the Seine. It is a unique chance to enjoy the night sightseeing, with the lights of the Eiffel Tower and other monuments of Paris.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass, a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris (and the Palace of Versailles) and comes in 2-day (€42), 4-day (€56) and 6-day (€69) denominations (prices as of Jan 2014). Note these are ‘consecutive’ days. The card allows you to jump lengthy queues, a big plus during tourist season when line can be extensive, and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, Fnac branches and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions. To avoid waiting in the first long queue to purchase the Museum Pass, stop to purchase your pass a day or more in advance after mid-day. The pass does not become active until your first museum or site visit when you write your start date. After that, the days covered are consecutive. Do not write your start date until you are certain you will use the pass that day and be careful to use the usual European date style as indicated on the card: day/month/year.
- ParisPass a pre-paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise and allowing free metro and public transport travel.
- “Paris ComboPass®” a cheaper alternative which comes in Lite and Premium versions.
Planning your visits: Several sites have “choke points” that restrict the number of visitors that can flow through. These include: The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle,The Catacombs and the steps to climb to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid queues, you should start your day by arriving at one of these sites at least 30 minutes before opening time. Otherwise, expect a wait of at least an hour. Most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Examples: The Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while the Orsay museum is closed on Mondays. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment. Also, most ticket counters close 30-45min before final closing.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, that this may mean long queues and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding. People have to queue up at the Eiffel Tower for several hours even early in the morning. However, this wait can be greatly reduced, if fit, by walking the first two levels, then buying an elevator ticket to the top. Entry to the permanent exhibitions at city-run museums is free at all times (admission is charged for temporary exhibitions).
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page (follow the link in parenthesis).
Good listings of current cultural events in Paris can be found in ‘Pariscope’ or ‘Officiel des spectacles’, weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays and museums. Available from all kiosks.
- Arc de Triomphe— The Arc de Triomphe exudes grandeur and offers a central view of the city Métro/RER Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
- Catacombs— Used to store the exhumed bones of about 6 million people from the overflowing Paris cemeteries. They fill a section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of old stone mines underneath the city. (There is a limit to the number of visitors allowed within the Catacombs at one time (200 persons). So, if you arrive just after opening, you must wait until someone exits, approximately 45-60 minutes, before anyone is admitted). Métro Denfert-Rochereau
- Château de Versailles (Versailles)— Must be seen. France’s most exquisite chateau, on the outskirts of the city, easily visited by train. Once the home to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. RER Versailles Rive Gauche
- The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)— No other monument better symbolizes Paris. Métro Bir-Hakeim or RER Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel
- Grand Arche de la Défense (La Défense)— A modern office-building variant of the Arc de Triomphe. Métro/RER La Défense
- Notre Dame Cathedral— Impressive Gothic cathedral that was the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Climb to the top! Métro Citéor RER Saint-Michel-Notre Dame
- Opera Garnier— Masterpiece of theatre architecture of the 19th century built by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 housing the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV. Métro Opéra
- Pantheon— Underneath, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie; above, a marvellous view of the city. Métro Cardinal Lemoine or RER Luxembourg
- Père-Lachaise Cemetery— Unlike any cemetery in the world. Ornate grave stones, monuments set among tree lined lanes. See the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Frederic Chopin, amongst many others. Métro Père Lachaise
- Sacré Coeur— A church perched on top of the highest point in Paris. Behind the church is the artists’ area, in front are spectacular views of the whole city. Métro Anvers or Abbesses, then climb the stairs on Rue Foyatier or take the funicular to the top of the hill.
- Sainte Chapelle— Exquisite stained glass chapel. More beautiful interior than the gloomy Notre Dame Cathedral. Métro Cité
- Place de la République— Since it’s renovation in 2014 it’s become a pedestrianized open space. Ideal for strolling or people watching. It’s also a place for demonstrations. This is where the crowds gathered in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Métro Place de la République
Museums and galleries
All national museums et monuments are free for all every first Sunday of the month. Most public museums, as well as many public monuments (such as the Arc de Triomphe or the towers of Notre-Dame), are also free for citizens of the European Union or long term residents (over three months), if they are under 26 years old.
- The Louvre— One of the finest museums in the world of art and culture. Home of the Mona Lisa and innumerable others. Enormous building and collection, plan at least two visits. Métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre
- Musée d’Orsay— Incredible collection housed in a former railway station. Works by the great artists of the 19th century (1848-1914) including Monet’s “Blue Water Lilies, Renoir’s “Bal du moulin de la Galette”, van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles”, Whistler’s “The Artists Mother”, etc. RER Musée d’Orsay or Métro Solférino
- Rodin Museum— His personal collection and archives, in a charming home with garden. Métro Varenne
- Picasso Museum— Contains the master’s own collection. Visitor should note this museum will be closed until 25 Oct 2014 due to renovations of the building. Métro Saint-Paul or Chemin Vert
- Musée Marmottan-Monet [rue Louis Boilly]— Over 300 paintings of Claude Monet. Also, the works of Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “Impression Soleil Levant” by Monet is on display. Métro La Muette
- Musée de l’Orangerie— [Jardin des Tuileries] Houses “The Water Lilies” (or “Nymphéas”) – a 360 degree depiction of Monet’s flower garden at Giverny. Also, impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau, Soutine, Sisley and others. Métro Concorde
- Musée Delacroix— Housed in the home of painter Eugene Delacroix. Métro Mabillon or Saint-Germain-des-Près
- Centre Georges Pompidou— The museum of modern art. The building and adjoining Stravinsky Fountain are attractions in themselves. Métro Rambuteau
- Les Invalides— Very impressive museum of arms and armor from the Middle Ages to today. Also contains the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Métro Varenne
- Cluny— A medieval museum exhibiting the five “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, housed in a part Roman, part medieval building. Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne
- Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs— Showcasing eight centuries of French savoir-faire. Métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre
- Carnavalet— Museum of Paris history; exhibitions are permanent and free. Métro Saint-Paul or Chemin Vert
- Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie – La Villette— Science museum primarily for children. Métro Porte de la Villette
- Mémorial de la Shoah— Paris’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, in the heart of the Marais on rue Geoffroy l’Asnier. Free Entry, weekly guided tours. Second Sunday of the month there is a free tour in English. Métro Pont Marie
- Jacquemart-Andre Museum— Private collection of French, Italian, Dutch masterpieces in a typical 19th century mansion. Métro Miromesnil
It seems like there’s almost always something happening in Paris, with the possible exceptions of the school holidays in February and August, when about half of Parisians are to be found not in Paris, but in the Alps or the South or the West of France respectively. The busiest season is probably the autumn, from a week or so after la rentrée scolaire or “back to school” to around Noël (Christmas) theatres, cinemas and concert halls book their fullest schedule of the year.
Even so, there are a couple of annual events in the winter, starting with a furniture and interior decorating trade fair called Maison & Object in January.
In February le nouvel an chinois (Chinese New Year) is celebrated in Paris as it is in every city with a significant Chinese population. There are parades in the 3rd,4th and 20th arrondissements and especially in the Chinatown in the 13th south of Place d’Italie which is not only Chinese, but also present Asian organizations, Martial Arts clubs and strangely, Brazilian culture-based groups. Also in February is the Six Nations Rugby Tournament which brings together France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, so expect to see strong guys in kilts in the streets.
If sport is not your thing, the Salon international de l’Agriculture (International farming fair/festival)allow you to huge animals indoor (bulls, cows, goats and pigs from every corner of the country) and to taste the best regional products, such as wine, cheese, delicatessen, honey, spices… Each region of France, including exotic overseas territories, present at least one stand, and often several. The former President of the Republic Jacques Chirac use to appear each year on national TV when visiting this fair.
Last but not least, 14th February is a world-recognized Valentine’s Day and there is no place more romantic than Paris. One of the spots worth visiting is Square des Abbesses in Montmarte-La Chapelle to check out Le Mur des Je T’Aime (The ‘I love you’ Wall), a concept piece of contemporary art which is an idea of Claire Kito and Frédéric Baron. It’s a 40m² wall covered with inscriptions of the words ‘I love you’ in 250 languages, with red splashes which form a heart when pieced together.
The first of two Fashion weeks occurs in March: Spring Fashion Week, giving designers a platform to present women’s prêt-à-porter, ready to wear, collections for the following winter.
The French Tennis Open in which the world’s top players battle it out on a clay court runs during two weeks starting on the last Sunday in May. By the time its done in June, a whole range of festivities start up. Rendez-vous au Jardin is an open house for many Parisian gardens, giving you a chance to meet Parisian gardeners and see their creations. The Fête de la Musique celebrates the summer solstice (21 June) with this city-wide free musical knees-up. Amateur bands are allowed to play at least until 1am everywhere in the city, and sometimes later. (Well, they don’t exactly have an authorization, but…) If Rock (of any style) is always heavily represented, every style of music including Hip-Hop, electro, traditional, classical, jazz and gospel can be found.
Finally on the 26th of June is the Gay Pride parade, featuring probably the most sincere participation by the mayor’s office of any such parade on the globe.
The most important music festival happens between the end of June and the beginning of July: “Solidays”. Each year, the program tends to be more impressive, featuring many new bands almost unknown and international stars as well, so many people wait until the program is released and then rush to get a ticket as soon as possible. Besides, this 3-day festival is dedicated to the fight against AIDS, is based on volunteering and deals a lot with AIDS prevention.
The French national holiday La Fête Nationale – commonly referred by non-French citizens as Bastille Day – on 14 July celebrates the storming of the infamous Bastille during the French Revolution. Paris hosts several spectacular events that day of which the best known is the Bastille Parade which is held on the Champs-Élysées at 10:00 and broadcast on television to most of the rest of Europe. It involves French army in shiny dress uniforms, tanks and usually an acrobatic show from the Patrouille de France, highly skilled jet pilots similar at the British Red Arrows. The entire street will be crowded with spectators so arrive early. The Bastille Day Fireworks is an exceptional treat for travellers lucky enough to be in the city on Bastille Day. The Office du Tourisme et des Congress de Paris recommends gathering in or around the champs du Mars, the gardens of the Eiffel Tower. However, you don’t need to be so close to enjoy the show, as Paris contains many elevated spots such as the Montparnasse tower, the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre and Parc de Belleville’s belvedere.
Also in July, Cinema en Plein Air is the annual outdoor cinema event that takes place at the Parc de la Villetteon Europe’s largest inflatable screen. For most of July and August, parts of both banks of the Seine are converted from expressway into an artificial beach for Paris Plage. Also in July the cycling race le Tour de France has a route that varies annually, however it always finishes on the last Sunday of July under the Arc de Triomphe.
On the last full weekend in August, a world-class music festival Rock en Seine draws international rock and pop stars to barges on the Seine near moored.
During mid-September DJs and (usually young) fans from across Europe converge on Paris for five or six days of dancing etc. culminating in the Techno parade – a parade whose route traces roughly from Pl. de Bastille to the Sorbonne, and around the same time the festival Jazz à la Villette brings some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz from around the world. At the same period, a very famous festival takes place, more pop-rock oriented, called “Fête de l’Huma”, which stands for “Fête de l’Humanité”, from the name of the newspaper which organizes it. The newspaper is clearly communist-oriented, but the festival is nowadays without any real political etiquette, as the public goes there only to enjoy the music. The program is a bit more French-oriented than Solidays, but each year (since 1930!) surprises are to be expected.
The Nuit Blanche transforms most of central Paris into a moonlit theme-park for an artsy all-nighter on the first Saturday of October, and Fashion Week returns shortly thereafter showing off Women’s Prêt-à-Porter collections for the following summer; as we’ve noted winter collections are presented in March.
The third Thursday in November marks the release of Le Beaujolais Nouveau and the beginning of the Christmas season. This evening, the Christmas lights are lit in a ceremony on the Champs-Élysées, often in the presence of hundreds (if not thousands) of people and many dignitaries, including the president of France.
For information on theatre, movies and exhibitions pick up the ‘Pariscope’ and ‘L’officiel du Spectacle’ which is available at newstands for €0.40. For (especially smaller, alternative) concerts pick up LYLO, a small, free booklet available in some bars and at FNAC. There are not any userfriendly online version of these guides.
- Cafe Philo in English, Cafe de Flore, 172, Blvd St-Germain, 75006. Cafe Philo in English meets on the first Wednesday of each month upstairs at the famous Cafe de Flore. Everyone is invited. You don’t have to be knowledgeable about philosophy. Meetings begin with a two round voting process to determine a topic. The topic is discussed for two hours. Free.
Paris is considered by many as the birthplace of photography, and while one may debate the correctness of this claim, there is no debate that Paris is today a photographer’s dream. The French capital offers a spectacular array of photographic opportunities to the beginner and the pro alike. It has photogenic monuments (e.g., Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the obelisk at Concorde, and countless others); architecture (the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Museum of the Arab World, to name just a few) and urban street scenes (e.g., in the Marais, Montmartre and Belleville). When you tire of taking your own photos, visit one of the many institutions dedicated to photography (e.g., European Museum of Photography, the Jeu de Paume Museum or the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation). At these and other institutions, you can learn the about the rich history of Paris as the place of important developments in photography (e.g., the Daguerrotype) and as the home of many of the trade’s great artists (e.g., Robert Doisneau, André Kertész, Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier Bresson).
- Better Paris Photos, 32 Avenue de Suffren, Paris 75116, ☎ 33 (0)6 74 04 21 84 (firstname.lastname@example.org). By appointment, tours last from 4 hours. Better Paris Photos offers instructional tours and workshops that combine hands-on learning of essential photographic techniques with guiding to, and commentary about, the most photogenic spots of Paris. Led by English-speaking photographers and instructors, these tours are open to all skill levels and interest. From €195/half day; €290/full day
The Cinémas of Paris are (or at least should be) the envy of the movie-going world. Of course, like anywhere else you can see big budget first-run films from France and elsewhere. That though, is just the start. During any given week there are at least half-a-dozen film festivals going on, at which you can see the entire works of a given actor or director. Meanwhile there are some older cult films like say, What’s new Pussycat or Casino Royal which you can enjoy pretty much any day you wish.
Many non-French movies are subtitled (called “version originale” “VO” or “VOstfr” as opposed to “VF” for version francaise).
There are any number of ways to find out what’s playing, but the most commonly used guide is Pariscope, which you can find at newstands for €0.40. Meanwhile there are innumerable online guides which have information on “every” cinema in Paris.
Meet and greet locals
For those who want to meet actual Parisians in addition to exploring major landmarks, in 2010 a group of locals started a new service, “See Paris with a Parisian”. You join 90-minute walking tours. The guides show you city landmarks (and the stories and anecdotes that go with them), but they also engage their visitors on life in Paris. You chat with a Parisian, you “decode” the city, and you learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves etc.
- Discover Walks, 1 rue Thérèse ☎ +33 970 449 724. Several tours to choose from everyday. Free service – guests choose their tip/donation.
- Cite des enfants ,a museum for kids within the Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie, is interactive, fun, and educational. There are two separate sections for the 3-5 set and the 5-12 set. The tots section has simple exhibits designed to be pushed, prodded, and poked. The section for older kids is more sophisticated with scientific experiments and tv studios. Métro Porte de la Villete
- Jardin du Luxembourg. It would be counted as a travesty not to take your under 10 year old to the Jardin du Luxembourg, long a favorite with Parisien children. With its world famous merry-go-round, a pond for sail boats, a puppet theater, pony rides, chess players, children’s playground, it has something for every kid (with comfortable chairs for weary parents thrown in!). The marionettes du luxembourg, the puppet theater, stages classic French puppet shows in French but should be easy to understand. There are numerous places for a snack. RER Luxembourg or Métro Odéon
- Parc des Buttes-Chaumon. Buttes-Chaumont is great for those with children that like to run, climb, and explore. Built on the site of an abandoned quarry, the park is roughly bowl-shaped with a 30-meter-tall peak situated in the middle of a pond at the park’s centre. There are trails up the rock, caves, waterfalls, a suspension bridge, and a small stone gazebo on the top of the rock with a 360-degree view. There is also a puppet theater and a playground. Métro Buttes-Chaumont, Botzaris, or Laumière
- Parc Zoologique. Like all things in France, this zoo is different because of a 236 foot artificial mountain bang in the middle. Take elevators to the top and enjoy the view or watch the mountain goats do their stuff on the sides. Lions, tigers, and everything designed to delight kids can be found in the zoo if the mountaind doesn’t do it for your kids. RER/Métro Gare d’Austerlitz
- The Jardin d’Acclimatation has a number of rides, including pint-sized roller coasters suitable for children as young as three years, as well as a mini-zoo and the estimable Musée en Herbe. Métro Les Sablons
- THATLou, Treasure Hunt at the Louvre helps introduce the Louvre Museum and make it more entertaining and manageable for teens and families travelling with children. Henri Loyrette, director of the Louvre, said that you’d have to walk 8 miles straight to cover the whole place, so THATLou (which offers 12 different themed treasure hunts) helps focus visits and highlight collections. Métro Palais Royal-Louvre or Tuileries
Cabarets are traditional shows in Paris. They provide entertainment, often towards adult audiences, with singers and dancers or burlesque entertainers. The most famous ones are at the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Crazy Horse and the Paradis Latin. They fill up quickly so you might want to book before. The tickets usually cost from €80 to €200, depending if you have dinner before the show.
- Come to Paris (Come to Paris), ☎ +33 148 740 510, (email@example.com). Book tickets to the cabarets in Paris. No extra fees.
Although Paris is better known for romance and food than gambling, Paris has a thriving gambling industry, with poker being by far the most popular. The Aviation club de France is one of the most famous casinos in the city, with poker tables open all day. The legal age to gamble is 18.
Prostitution is legal throughout France, but brothels and pimping are not, and punishments are severe. Although the age of consent for non-commercial sex is 15 in France, soliciting commercial sex from someone less than 18 is a serious criminal offence. Soliciting commercial sex in a public place is also a criminal offence.
Paris is one of the great fashion centres of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a shopper’s delight. While the Paris fashion scene is constantly evolving, the major shopping centres tend to be the same. High end couture can be found in the 8th arrondisement. In summer, there is nothing better than browsing the boutiques along Canal St-Martin, or strolling along the impressive arcades of the historic Palais-Royal, with beautifully wrapped purchases swinging on each arm.
A good note about Le Marais is that as it is a mostly Jewish neighbourhood, most of the shops in Le Marais are open on Sundays. The stores in this area are intimate, boutique, “Parisian” style clothing stores. You will no doubt find something along each street, and it is always well worth the look.
Other great areas to shop around in are around the area Sèvres Babylone (Métro Line 10 and Line 12). It is in this area you will find the Le Bon Marché, particularly rue du Cherche Midi. The area boasts some of the major fashion houses (Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, etc) and also has smaller private boutiques with handmade clothing.
In the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can find a handful of vintage clothing shops, carrying anything from couture early 20th century dresses, to 70s Chanel sunglasses. Walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will find major brands. However, if in search of eclectic finds, opt to walk the northern side of the Boulevard, especially along rue Saint André des Arts, where you can always find a nice café to stop in. The area south of Saint-Germain is just as nice, and comes with a price tag to match.
In the artsy quarters of 1 and 4, there are many bargains to be had, once again, if you are prepared to look. Souvenirs are easily found and can be fairly inexpensive as long as you don’t buy from the tourist sites. For cheap books of French connection, try the University/Latin quarter as they sell books in all languages starting from half a euro each.
Paris has three main flea-markets, located on the outskirts of the central city. The most famous of these is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) (Clignancourt Flea Market), Métro: Porte de Clignancourt , a haven for lovers of antiques, second-hand goods and retro fashion. The best days to go are Saturday and Sunday. Note that there are particular times of the week when only antique collectors are allowed into the stalls, and there are also times of the day when the stall owners take their Parisian Siesta and enjoy a leisurely cappuccino for an hour or so. The best times to visit the flea markets are in the spring and summertime, when the area is more vibrant. In and around the metro station, you may find the area a little wild but still safe.
A very attractive antiques market in the Marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen is the “Marche Dauphine” on 138 rue des Rosiers,Saint-Ouen. This market is covered so you can go there by all weather and you’ll find a large selection of goods, as many as 200 dealers under the same roof. The biggest store of vintage luggage is there selling fabulous vintage Louis Vuitton and Goyard trunks as well as aviation furniture, 1930’s ocean liner wardrobes and fabulous chandeliers. In this market, there are specialized jewelers, classic French antiques dealers, paintings dealers, and textile dealers. It’s the most versatile market inside the flea market.
Rue de Rome, situated near Gare St. Lazare, is crowded with luthiers, brass and woodwind makers, piano sellers, and sheet music stores. Métro: Europe (Ligne 3). The area south of the metro station Pigalle is also packed with music shops (more oriented towards guitars and drums).
For art lovers, be sure to check out Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is renowned for its galleries, and it is impossible to turn a street without finding a gallery to cast your glance in. On Fridays, most open until late. Most even have the benefit of bottles of wine so you can wander in with your glass of wine and feel very artistique. Great roads to walk along are rue de Seine, rue Jacob, rue des Beaux Arts, Rue Bonaparte, and Rue Mazarine. Also, be sure to visit the historical district of Montparnasse and quartier Vavin where painters like Modigliani, Gauguin and Zadkine used to work.
Paris is one of Europe’s main culinary centres.
The restaurant trade began here just over 220 years ago and continues to thrive. It may, however, come as a surprise that Paris isn’t considered the culinary capital of France; rather some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialities. Even amongst French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.
There have been other challenges in the last 20 years or so as restaurateurs in places like San Francisco and Sydney briefly surpassed their Parisian forebears – again with an emphasis on freshness of ingredients, but also borrowings from other cuisines. Parisian cooks didn’t just rest on their laurels during this time, rather they travelled, taught, and studied and together with Paris’s own immigrant communities, have revitalized the restaurant trade. Today you can find hundreds of beautiful restaurants with thoughtful (or just trendy) interior design and well-planned and executed cartes and menus offering a creative mélange of French and exotic foreign cuisines. It’s safe to say that Paris is once again catching up with or edging ahead of its Anglophone rivals.
Of course there are also some traditional offerings and for the budget conscious there are hundreds of traditional bistros, with their pavement terraces offering a choice of fairly simple (usually meat centred) meals for reasonable prices.
For the uninitiated, it is unfortunately possible to have a uniformly poor dining experience during a stay in Paris, mainly because many attractions are situated in upmarket areas of town and that mass tourism attracts price gougers. It is frequent to hear of people complaining of very high Parisian prices for poor food and poor service, because they always tried to eat close to major tourist magnets. For good food and great service, try to go eat where the locals eat .
Many restaurants are tiny and have tables close together – space is at a premium and understandably restaurateurs need to make the most of limited space. In some cases when the restaurant is crowded, you may have to sit beside strangers at the same table. If that does not appeal to you, go to a more upmarket place where you will pay for the extra space.
Trendy restaurants often require reservations weeks, if not months in advance. If you haven’t planned far enough ahead, try to get a reservation for lunch which is generally easier and less expensive.
For an easy-to-manage eating budget while in Paris, consider:
- breakfast or “petit déjeuner” at a restaurant, possibly in your hotel, consisting of some croissants, coffee and maybe a piece of fruit. But check prices carefully. The petit déjeuner at your hotel will generally cost €13-25, well out of budget eating range. A better idea may be a local café where prices are lower. Though it must be admitted, you will get free coffee refills at the hotel, while at the café you will have to pay for every cup. Note the sign behind the bar which tells you that a coffee taken standing at the bar will cost you less than one served at a table (but of course the extra price gets you a table for as long as you care to stay).
- a ‘walking lunch’ from one of Paris’ many food stands–a panino in the centre of the city, a crepe from a crepe stand, a Falafel pita or take-out Chinese in the Marais. Traiteurs serving Chinese food are ubiquitous in the city and good for a cheap lunch and many pâtisseries sell inexpensive coffee and sandwiches. All these are cheap (about the same as breakfast), easy, and allow you to maximize your sightseeing and walking time while enjoying delicious local or ethnic food. For dinner, stroll the streets at dusk and consider a €20-40 prix-fixe menu. This will get you 3 or 4 courses, possibly with wine, and an unhurried, candlelit, magical European evening. If you alternate days like this with low-budget, self-guided eating (picnicking, snacking, street food) you will be satisfied without breaking the bank.
If one of the aims of your trip to Paris is to indulge in its fine dining, though, the most cost-effective way to do this is to make the main meal of your day lunch. Virtually all restaurants offer a good prix-fixe deal. By complementing this with a bakery breakfast and a light self-catered dinner, you will be able to experience the best of Parisian food and still stick to a budget.
Budget travellers will be very pleased with the range and quality of products on offer at the open air markets (e.g. the biggest one on Boul Richard Lenoir (near the Bastille), Rue Mouffetard, Place Buci, Place de la Madeleine and over the Canal Saint-Martin or in any other arrondissement). If your accommodation has cooking facilities you’re set, especially for wine and cheese, a decent bottle of French wine will set you back all of about €3-5, while the fairly good stuff starts at around €7. Bottles for less than €3 are not recommended. Keep in mind that the small épiceries which open until late are more expensive than the supermarchés (Casino, Monoprix, Franprix, etc). For wine, the price difference can be up to €2.
Buy a baguette, some cheese and a good bottle of wine and join the Parisian youth for a pique-nique along the Seine (especially on the Île Saint-Louis) or along the Canal Saint-Martin. The finest food stores are Lafayette Gourmet in the Galeries Lafayette or La Grande Epicerie in the luxury department store Le Bon Marché. They are worth discovering. You will find a large variety of wines there, otherwise try wine stores such as Nicolas or Le Relais de Bacchus (all over the city).
For seafood lovers, Paris is a great place to try moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) (better in fall and winter), oysters, sea snails, and other delicacies. Meat specialities include venison (deer), boar, and other game (especially in the fall and winter hunting season), as well as French favourites such as lamb, veal, beef, and pork.
Eating out in Paris can be expensive. However don’t believe people when they say you can’t do Paris on the cheap – you can! The key is to stay away from the beaten tracks and the obviously expensive Champs Elysées. Around the lesser visited quarters especially, there are many cheap and yummy restaurants to be found. The key is to order from the prix-fixe menu, and not off the A la Carte menu unless you want to pay an arm and a leg. In many places a three course meal can be found for about €15. This way you can sample the food cheaply and is usually more “French”. Ask for “une carafe d’eau” (oon karaaf doe) to get free tap water.
Lots of Halal restaurants are scattered all over Paris; from Pakistan cuisine to Indian naan bread, Moroccan, Indonesian, Lebanese, Turkish baklawa to even fried chicken – all can be found in many Halal restaurants. Champs Elysées has some restaurants towards the arc, the rest are scattered all over the city. A simple Google search would find many.
There is a Japanese district in the 1st arrondissement centred around rue Sainte Anne where you’ll find many authentic Japanese restaurants.
Paris has the largest number of Kosher restaurants in any European city. Walk up and down Rue des Rosiers to see the variety and choices available from Israeli, Sushi, Italian and others. See the district guides for examples.
For vegetarians, eating traditional French food will require some improvisation, as it is heavily meat-based. That being said, Paris has several excellent vegetarian restaurants. Look for spots such as Aquarius, and Le Grenier de Notre-Dame or La Victoire Suprême du Coeur just to name a few. See the arrondissement pages for more listings. For fast food and snacks, you can always find a vegetarian sandwich or pizza. Even a kebab shop can make you something with just cheese and salad, or perhaps falafel.
There are also lots of Italian, Thai, Indian, and Mezo-American places where you will have little problem. The famous South Indian chain Saravana Bhavan have their branch near Gare Du Nord. In Rue des Rosiers (4th arrondissement) you can get delicious falafel in the many Jewish restaurants. Another place to look for falafel is on Rue Oberkampf (11th arrondissement). Take away falafel usually goes for €5 or less.
Moroccan and Algerian cooking is common in Paris – vegetarian couscous is lovely. Another good option for vegetarians – are traiteurs, particularly around Ledru Rollin (down the road from Bastille) take away food where you can combine a range of different options such as pomme dauphinoise, dolmas, salads, vegetables, nice breads and cheeses and so on.
Lebanese restaurants and snack shops abound as well, offering a number of vegetarian mezze, or small plates. The stand-bys of course are hummas, falafel, and baba-ganouche (caviar d’aubergine). A good place to look for Lebanese is in the pedestrian zone around Les Halles and Beaubourg
Tourists and locals
When you are looking for a restaurant in Paris, be wary of those where the staff speak English a bit too readily. These restaurants are usually – but not always – geared towards tourists. It does make a difference in the staff’s service and behaviour whether they expect you to return or not.
Sometimes the advertised fixed price tourist menus (€10-15) are a good deal. If you’re interested in the really good and more authentic stuff (and if you have learned some words of French) try one of the small bistros where the French go during lunch time.