I hear of many people that come to Paris and are disappointed.
They say the service is bad, the people are rude, the metro is dirty, everything is expensive and they leave feeling defeated. On many counts they aren’t necessarily wrong, but there are a handful of mostly logical tips that can save a short séjour in the city of lights.
Speak Bad French
Don’t be afraid. You are here for a few days and no one is going to care or remember that you sounded ridiculous or used the word for ‘camel’ instead of ‘charming’. They will care if you accost them in the street screaming a language that is foreign to them, just as you would if you were on home turf. Get a phrasebook, learn please/thank you, hello/goodbye and yes/no and you’re already ahead of the pack. If you make the effort, chances are the French will help you.
Drink Coffee at the Comptoir
What many don’t realise is that it costs good money to sit at a table in most French cafés. If you look to the comptoir – generally a large zinc or marble bar – you will notice an economical looking group of misfits electing to have their daily perched on stools or even standing. This is because the same coffee will cost you say €1 au bar and €3 au table. In the mornings there will also be baskets of croissants and you will still have change from a fiver.
I’m not sure how the Champs-Élysées got its romantic reputation, but from a local perspective it’s a suburban mall pasted onto an idyllic boulevard. Sure the Arc de Triomphe is a sight to behold, but aside from luxury hotels and overpriced restaurants, the surrounding 8th arrondissement is a wilderness of haemorrhaging cash. Should you need sustenance in any tourist areas, dip down a side street, locate a boulangerie, and you will likely source an overstuffed baguette for €5.
Ignore People on the Street
Sad but true, if you are in a tourist spot and people are hassling you, they are probably up to no good. You don’t need to be rude but you do need to use your brain in Paris – zip up handbags, don’t leave iPhone’s in pockets, hold onto things when exiting the metro, be an iPad photographer at your own peril. Paris is not an unsafe place, its just not for dummies. Use common sense at all times and don’t be fooled.
Catch the 69 Bus
If you are pressed for time and are looking for a few signature shots of Paris monuments, jump on the 69 bus. Start at Chatelet from Rue du Rivoli and you will pass through the Carousel du Louvre, roll along the Seine, turn at the Musée d’Orsay, take in Hotel des Invalides and end up at Champ du Mars, home of the Tour Eiffel. Once you have your flicks hop back on the bus to end up for dinner somewhere in the 75011, or for an afternoon walk around Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Avoid the RER
There are two types of train in Paris, the Metro (numbers) and the RER (letters). The RER looks great on paper, as you can traverse half of Paris in four-odd stops, but each train will stop at a different mix of stations, the stations themselves are confusing, the trains smell like a mix of coal and urine. The whole point of the RER is to connect Paris with the suburbs beyond the peripherique, which it does, but when inside Paris stick to the metro. It’s 100% plus simple.
The one time I wholeheartedly recommend catching the RER is getting to Charles de Gaulle airport, for which it is generally brillant (save occasional trackworks).