Transportation around Paris
- The Metro goes everywhere, so there’s no reason to use taxis (except maybe from the airport). Hotel, restaurant and museum websites usually list the nearest Metro stop. The Metro runs from about 6 am to about midnight. Most stations are attended, but some are machine-only early in the morning or later at night, so be sure to have a ticket in advance if you are travelling at those times.
- The most convenient way of buying tickets is by carnet (book of 10 tickets), which gives you a small discount. (Single tickets are 1.80 €; a book of 10 is 14.10€).
- Paris Visite cards offer unlimited travel for 1, 3 or 5 consecutive days, but they are kind of expensive (e.g., 39.30 € for 5 day ticket). They are convenient though. You can buy them when you get there.For extended stays, the weekly Navigo Découverte pass works for all transit modes in the Ile de France (but not TGV), and is reasonably priced.
- Metro tickets are good on buses and on the RER (regional railway) network within Paris (zones 1-3). All the Metro stops are single fare, but your “carnet” tickets will not work on the RER outside the city limits (e.g., Versailles and the airports).
- You can get to the city from Charles deGaulle airport via RER B; it takes about 40 minutes and costs 10 € per person. Service is frequent. This is convenient if your hotel happens to be close to one of the RER B stations inside Paris (Gare du Nord, St. Michel, Luxembourg, Port Royal).
- Otherwise you have to change to the Metro, which can be a pain with luggage. There is also an express bus to the Opera which takes about an hour and costs 11 € per person.
- A taxi from the airport will cost about 75 €. It’s not really any faster, but it is more convenient.More info on public transportation:
- The Musee d’Orsay and the Picasso Museum offer the opportunity to buy tickets ahead of time online. You should definitely do this – lines to get into these popular museums during the summer can be very long. Your hotel may also offer the ability to book and print out tickets.
- You can also do advance purchase at the Louvre, but they have so many ticket counters the wait usually isn’t that long. I’ve noted that even when the museum is open, they close some of the galleries, so if you have your heart set on seeing Rembrandt or Velazquez, check the website to make sure the relevant gallery isn’t closed that day. The Mona Lisa is always available.
- You can buy a museum pass, but it’s priced such that you have to go to a lot of museums to make it worthwhile. The advantage is that you can skip the lines. Be aware that the card only works for public museums; many of Paris’ best museums are privately-owned.
- Paris has many smaller museums that are well worth a visit. Here are some of our favorites. Be sure to check your guidebook (or the museum website) for closing dates – many public museums are closed Tuesday, while many private museums are closed Monday.
- Musee Rodin: Wonderful collection of Rodin sculptures, in the house where he lived. A whole room is devoted to the underappreciated Camille Claudel. There are many sculptures in the adjoining garden, which you can visit separately. Public; can be crowded.
- Musee Monet-Marmottan: Wonderful collection of Monet water lilies in a former private home in the 16th. Upstairs, more Impressionists, including Berthe Morisot. Often has interesting special exhibits. Private; usually not too crowded.
- Musee Jacquemart-Andre: The Jacquemart-Andre were private collectors, and this lovely museum was once their home. Their collection of French art is downstairs; Italian art (Perugino, Botticelli, Bellini) is upstairs. Magnificent staircase with Tiepolo murals lifted from a Venetian palazzo. The café (Tiepolo ceiling) is one of the prettiest places to have lunch in Paris. Private; open every day; usually not too crowded.
- Musee du Moyen Age: Medieval statuary, stained glass and tapestries, including the recently-restored Lady and the Unicorn. Public; surprisingly uncrowded given the quality of the collection.
- Quai Branly: African/Oceanian/native American art and artifacts in a new museum not far from the Eiffel Tower; public.
- I strongly recommend that you visit only 2 of the “big 3” museums (the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre and the Picasso Museum). The Louvre in particular can be exhausting – it’s an incredible collection, but a huge space. This will give you time to visit some of the smaller museums, see other sights, and just walk around, which is one of Paris’ greatest (and cheapest) pleasures.
- There are often special exhibits going on – sometimes at regular museums, other times at exhibition spaces like the Grand Palais. The France Today e-mail that I forwarded to you will have information on special exhibits that may be going on while you are there.
- Museum audioguides may push you to spend more time in a museum than you really want.
- Most museums have pretty good captioning, often with English translations, so you can pace your visit yourself. That being said, audioguides are generally useful for special exhibits. And we regretted not getting one for the Picasso Museum, where the captioning was terrible.http://www.parismuseumpass.com/fr/pass_tarif.php
http://www.parismuseumpass.com/fr/musees_liste_nom.php (list of museums that take the Pass)
- The ascent of the Eiffel Tower is particularly dramatic at night – it’s open until midnight during the summer. I don’t know if you can book online.
- The bateaux mouche that ply the Seine are also fun, if a bit touristy. Don’t bother with the dinner cruises – the regular trips are fine. There is something called a “Batobus” which is essentially a boat bus run by the public transportation system – it runs from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame – the same route as the tourist boats, for a much lower fare.
- Notre Dame is truly amazing, and should not be missed, but it can get very crowded in summer. Late afternoon, surprisingly, can be somewhat less crowded. The church is free, but there’s a fee to climb the bell tower, and the lines can be very long. (I find the view underwhelming, considering the hassle.)
- The Church of Ste. Chapelle (somewhat difficult to find behind the Hall of Justice) has the best stained glass in Paris. There’s usually a line here, too, but in this case it’s worth it. If you do go, be sure to go upstairs, where the stained glass is virtually floor-to-ceiling. (Some visitors don’t realize it’s a 2-level church).
- I find Versailles kind of overwhelming, but they run the fountains on Sunday afternoons in
- Paris is full of parks, and on Sunday afternoons in fine weather it seems like everyone in the summer. You can buy a “garden-only” ticket, and they give you little maps of the fountains, including some that are only open when the fountains are turned on. Highly recommended.
- In addition to the “inside Paris” parks, like the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens, there are two gigantic parks, the Bois de Boulougne and the Bois de Vincennes, at opposite ends of the city. (Both available by Metro.) Of the two, the Bois de Vincennes tends to be somewhat less crowded. The Chateau de Vincennes, near the Metro entrance, is reputed to be the place where the English King Henry V, victor of Agincourt, died. The park also has a very nice botanical garden (Parc Floral).
Food and Drink (in Paris and elsewhere)
- French eat a small breakfast — usually just rolls or croissants with café au lait.
- Most hotel breakfasts are ridiculously overpriced; in Paris, you can generally get a better (and cheaper) breakfast by going to the café down the street.
- Cafes have a dual price structure, with one price for standing at the counter, and a second (higher) price for table service. Only Ugly Americans order something at the counter and bring it to the table.
- On the other hand, if you order something at a table, you can stay as long as you like, even if it’s only a tiny cup of coffee. Sitting at a café and watching the passing street theater is one of Paris great pleasures. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for a check (“l’addition, s’il vous plait”).
- Many restaurants offer a prix fixe (multi-course) meal which generally offers good value, but you can wind up eating more food than you want. I’ve noticed that many French people only order a single course. Dinner starts at about 7:30 or 8:00. Dinner is the main meal of the day, except on Sunday, when many people eat a bigger lunch.
- The French tend to cook their meat rare by American standards. “Saignant” (bloody) is very rare; don’t order it unless you like your food nearly raw. I usually order “a point” (medium), which is closer to “medium rare” by American standards. You can order your meat “bien cuit” (well done), but the French don’t really understand well-done meat and it will usually arrive burned.
- Don’t order food with dressing or sauces “on the side.” The French spend quite a bit of time making sure foods are appropriately sauced or dressed, and they don’t like to disturb those preparations. The dressings and sauces are generally much lighter than the American “French restaurant” equivalents. Try them, you’ll like them.
- Similarly, don’t ask for share plates (although it is perfectly OK for you to give your dining companion a taste of whatever you’re having). Or, mon Dieu, “doggie bags.”
- Dogs are perfectly welcome in French restaurants, but they are remarkably well socialized. You may be surprised to find, when the couple next to you gets up after dinner, that there has been a dog sitting under the table all along. So there isn’t likely to be a problem unless you are highly allergic.
- Many fine-dining restaurants are open only for dinner. If they are open for lunch, they may be closed between lunch and dinner. They generally serve lunch from 12 – 2. If you arrive at 10 minutes before 2, you can order a full meal and stay as long as you want. If you come at 2:05, you will be turned away. The exceptions are cafes (which serve light meals all day) and brasseries (which have long hours and offer “service continu”, i.e., service all day long).
- In general, restaurants that are very close to major tourist attractions cater primarily to tourists and are probably not very good. Try to avoid restaurants with menus in 4 languages.
- Restaurants that are full at non-French eating hours (e.g., 6:00) are likely catering primarily to tourists.
- Menus and prices are generally posted in restaurant window. Check out the desserts on offer – if it looks like a lot of care went into the desserts, they probably paid a lot of attention to the rest of the food too.
- VAT and a service charge (15%) are included in the menu price. You can leave a little extra (from a couple of euros up to 5% more) if you were happy, but it is not required,
- At the end of the meal, you can linger as long as you like. When you are ready to leave, you ask for a check (“l’addition, s’il vous plait).
- Many restaurants are closed on Sunday evening (although they will be open for Sunday lunch).
- American sodas are available, but tend to be expensive. Try the French brands, like Orangina.
- Tap water is safe to drink, but most French drink mineral water (either bubbly or non-) with their meals because it tastes better.
- Most French people drink coffee rather than tea, but both black tea and herbal tea (tisanes) are generally available if you ask.
Specific Restaurant Recommendations
Paris of course has many fine dining establishments, but one of the wonders of the city are the number of restaurants serving excellent food at remarkably reasonable prices. You have to do a little research though – while there are few really bad restaurants in Paris, there are many mediocre ones.
Be sure to make a reservation – for all but Michelin-starred restaurants, a week is generally sufficient, and you may even be able to make a reservation a day or two in advance. Many restaurants in Paris are incredibly small (that’s one way to keep the costs down), and can’t afford to rely on walk-in traffic. And you will get a better reception if you have reserved in advance – it shows respect for the restaurant.
Another reason to call is to make sure the restaurant is open – many are closed Sunday and/or Monday, and some are even closed Saturday – you certainly want to know that before you make the trek. Most restaurant personnel in Paris speak at least some English; alternatively, your hotel might be able to call.
That being said, Paris has so many restaurants you will generally be able to find something, especially if you’re willing to eat “late” (which in Paris means 9:30 or later).
Here are some smaller restaurants we have enjoyed on recent visits. Most would fall into the category of “modern French food” (traditional food with a lighter hand and a few unusual spices). Many are very small (with tiny tables). Prices are per person without wine.
Willi’s Wine Bar, 13 Rue des Petits Champs, 1st. Metro: Musee du Louvre, 01. 42.61.05.09. Lunch menu €24; dinner menu €36. Traditional food (roast guinea fowl a specialty) with many excellent wines by the bottle or glass. Great place for lunch, not far from the Louvre.
Le Gaigne, 12 rue Pecquay, 4th, 01.44.59.86.72. Lunch menus €16 and €22; five-course tasting menu €39; à la carte €45. In the Marais.
L’Agrume, 15 rue des Fossés Saint Marcel, 5th, 01.43.31.86.48, Métro: Les Gobelins or Censier-Daubenton. Lunch menu €16; five-course tasting menu €35; à la carte €35.
Semilla, 54 rue de Seine, 6th, Métro: Mabillon. 01.43.54.34.50. Two-course lunch menu €19, à la carte €20–50. An exception to the general rule that restaurants in touristy areas aren’t very good. Fish, across the street and owned by the same folks, is also good.
KGB, 25 rue des Grands Augustins, 6th, 01.46.33.00.85. €45. “Kitchen Gallerie Bis” is the second restaurant of the Michelin-starred Kitchen Gallerie down the street, offering similar cuisine (modern French with Asian accents) in a more casual atmosphere.
Huitrerie Regis, 3 rue Monfaucon, 6th, Metro: Mabillon or Saint-Germain. Oysters only, minimum order one dozen per person. Not a problem. Some of the best oysters in Paris, at about ½ the prices you’ll find elsewhere. Tiny room with about 8 tables, plus a few more set up outside in nice weather. Opens at noon and fills up fast. No reservations.
L’Affriole, 17 rue Malar, 7th. 01.44.18.31.33. Lunch menus €25 and €29, dinner menu €35; near Tour Eiffel.
Jadis, 208 rue de la Croix Nivert, 15th, Métro: Convention, Porte de Versailles. 01.45.57.73.20. €35. The chef here used to work at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but decided he would be happier at a more casual place in an out-of-the-way residential area. Outstanding food at reasonable prices.
Le Hide, 10 rue du Général Lanrezac, 17th, Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile. 01 45 74 15 81. €35. French cooking interpreted by a Japanese chef.
More recommendations here: