As you may know from previous posts, this semester I am studying in Italy to finish up my minor in International studies and fulfill a study abroad requirement for the Global Engagement Fellowship.
One of my recent weekend trips was to Paris (Cinque Terre, Genova and Sienna/Capri posts coming soon). In order to give a steady rating system for every major city I visit, I have created a ranking with sub – scores based on categories I find important for the 20-something traveler:
Transportation, Helpfulness, Affordability, Sightseeing, and Overall Opinion.
Below you will find my brief review of Paris within these categories that includes things I wish I knew and helpful tips.
Transportation – 9
Getting to Paris from another European city can be rarely cheap if you play your cards right. If you are in France already or a country pretty close, you can overnight train for a low price.
Because I am all the way in Tuscany, flying seemed the most practical. If you haven’t discovered skyscanner.com you need to check it out. You can enter a destination (without specifying an airport or with specifications) and it will scan the web for the best flights for cheap. I flew out of Pisa to Paris for 24 Euro through Ryanair.
Paris has an insanely efficient metro system. There are pretty much stops every three to four blocks. Maps in the subway are easily navigable and most lines cross over at some point so getting anywhere can be reached by only a few stops or none at all.
If you are spending a few days in Paris, it would be useful to buy a daily metro pass that can be bought down at the ticket machines in every station. At busy times, scammers will try to take advantage of mass amounts of tourists by “helping” them buy tickets. These people look official. They work in teams and wear badges. Let me save you the trouble of being scammed out of 37 Euro and tell you that ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP. Buy your tickets on your own. Tickets can be bought in zones. The zones range from 1 – 5. 1 – 3 can be considered the main tourist/sightseeing areas of Paris. Zone 5 will get you to the outskirts of Paris to places like Versailles.
Tip: anyone under 26 years of age is considered a child. Buying children’s metro passes can be the difference between 17 or 8 Euro.
Metro is the best form of transportation in my opinion. Trains are always on time and run pretty close together so do not fret if you think you missed a train. The busiest hours are weekends and then weekdays around 9 am and night from 5-7.
Other systems are pricy and less efficient than the metro. If you want, you can uber, taxi or rent a bike.
When it comes to walking, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. I know the Parisians are fashionable and you want to fit in, but your feet will thank you if you wear tennis shoes. A lot of places are cobblestone which can hurt if you don’t have proper arch support, and you will climb a lot of stairs if you visit museums and monuments. On my first full day in Paris I walked more than 30,000 steps.
Always beware of pickpockets no matter how you travel around the city. Keep a hand or eye on your bag at all times and keep important items tucked away. People may ask you for help to distract you or “bump into” you.
When walking you will run into persistent people trying to sell you items on the street. You can give if you want, but know that everything is overpriced and you may be contributing to an underground business. Just say no or keep walking.
Helpfulness – 3
It is probably not a surprise to most people that Parisians are not the friendliest or most helpful. It isn’t that they mean to be rude, but Paris is one of the biggest cities in Europe with a plethora of annoying tourists. For them, it is easiest to tune you out and keep walking.
What worked best for me was asking other tourists for help or asking police. Don’t be surprised if you get attitude from people who are supposed to help you, though. I was ignored by airport workers and told to learn French by desk operators at important sights.
Only three people helped me the whole trip (which is why I gave “helpfulness” a 3 out of 10): two youths we asked for directions to Notre Dame, our Air B&B hostess who let us store our bags for free (great location and price here) and the metro worker who printed out a google translate document saying we were scammed on tickets (still bitter).
If all else fails and no one will help, do what everyone else is doing, but (and I will emphasize this until I die) ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.
Affordability – 1
I came into Paris not really knowing what to expect. I was so accustomed to small Italian destinations that I didn’t think about how costly Paris would be. Unfortunately I need to save up and really buckle down for the rest of the semester because of how much money I spent. Below is a breakdown of what I spent and tips on how you can save.
Train to and from airports (two trips) – 46.10 €
Hotel in Pisa for one night – 25 €
Taxis to and from airports (three trips) – 8.5 €
Flights – $92.43
Bus from airport to city & vice versa – (two trips) 34 €
Food – 83.10 €
Scammed for metro pass – 37 €
Metro pass for three days – 33 € (didn’t know about Child’s pass until day three)
Paris museum pass – 48 €
Souvenirs – 12 €
Air B & B – 58€ (split five ways)
For a grand total of 467.57 €
Yikes. Looking at this list of prices pains me. I only spent three days in Paris (four days traveling) and spent more than 100 Euro each day. Spending money in Paris is inevitable, but there are so many things I learned that could have made the trip so much cheaper. Don’t be like me. Here are tips that could save you money:
Early morning flights may give you more time, but overnight stays in small cities to accommodate your flight may cost you. Save yourself the cash and get one at a later hour.
Pack snacks! I really went cheap on food if I’m being honest. 84 Euro for Paris and four days of travel is not a lot. Look for hole-in-the-wall restaurants with low prices and then splurge on one real Parisian meal. I saved my money for macaroons from La Duree. Some of my meals I bought from a local grocery store and farmers market for around 5 Euro. Remember that water costs a lot in Paris, so bring a water bottle and (I know it sounds gross) fill up in the sink.
Don’t get scammed. I could have saved myself 40 Euro if I had been vigilant and seen through the situation. Always know where your money is going and question every person who offers to help you. ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.
If you are under 26, get a children’s metro pass. It is significantly cheaper. I’m talking 5 – 7 Euro cheaper which can make a difference.
The museum pass from the tourism office can be great if you are into history and art like I am. It is 48 Euro and gets you into pretty much every thing you could want to see in Paris. (Check it out here.) However, I wish I had known that my student visa gets me into most places for free anyway. The website is confusing and makes it sound as though only EU students get in for free, but flashing my student visa got me in plenty of places and I’m from the U.S. The museum pass is also a waste of money if you are only wanting to see a few select places that may be free on weekends. Between free weekends and my student visa, I could have skipped the pass altogether.
Sights – 10
Paris is a 10 out of 10 when it comes to sightseeing. Not only is the cityscape beautiful from all angles, but the amount of rich history and arts contained within its borders is unmatched. Below are the top things I think everyone must see in Paris.
Arc de Triumph
It might seem obvious, but your mind will be blown by the sheer size of the arc. It looks tiny in pictures, but from the top you can see all of Paris and take beautiful pictures (plus it’s free to enter on Saturday).
This is also obvious. Tourists love it here (and so do pickpockets) but standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and looking up makes you feel so small. The amount of time people took to make something so magnificent possible is unreal. Pictures don’t do it justice either. My recommendation is to skip going to the top if you want to save money and just view the tower and the city from the arc, but make sure to have a picnic at the bottom of poo champagne.
Musee de Louvre
Ever wanted to see the Mona Lisa and Venus in one place? Then the Louvre is the place for you. A museum pass will get you in for free to see some of the most famous artworks in the world. The Louvre is something I wish I had slotted more time for. It is massive. To see it all would take a full day at least. It is worth the time though to see pictures you’ve only seen in history books right before your eyes. Not only is the art gorgeous, but the building is a work of art itself. If you go on a Friday, the museum is open until 9:30 so you can stay a bit longer taking in the art. Here is the website:
Smaller than the Louvre, the D’Orsay is an old train station converted into an art gallery with famous Monet’s and Van Gogh’s. Originally this wasn’t on my bucket list for Paris, but I’m glad my friends dragged me along because I can finally say that I’ve seen some of the most famous works of art.
Musee de Picasso
Although Pablo Picasso was originally from Spain, he lived and worked in France for most of his life which is why the Picasso museum is home to many famous works of his. The museum has a free guided audio tour that takes you through the background of his art and tells you more about the phases he went through as an artist.
Palace of Versailles
This is an obvious choice for any tourist. During tourism season, Versailles can be packed and less than luxurious. We went on a cold and rainy day at about eleven in the morning which was perfect. The line to enter was not too long and there were a lot of tourists, but not so much that we couldn’t get around to the important areas. The palace is even more beautiful than in pictures. A guided audio tour can give you the history of every room through the centuries. To fully see the palace and gardens would take a full day. Museum passes will not get you into the garden if there is a show. If you are not using a museum pass, you have to buy two separate tickets to the garden and palace. Take a look at the fountain homes, Marie Antoinette’s estate and the royal family’s summer home.
Overall Opinion – 5
I begrudgingly give Paris a 5 out of 10. It might be my fault. Honestly, I feel as though I needed more time to appreciate the city without feeling overwhelmed and annoyed with all the people. It would have been much better if I had gone later in the winter with fewer tourists. The city has a ton of downsides. The people are mean and it’s expensive and dirty. I just could have spent time in a better city and spent less money. I would like to visit France outside of Paris so that I could have a better opinion of the country as a whole. The only reason I even gave Paris a 5 is because the metro system rocked and the amount of history and art I was able to see is unattainable anywhere else. Someday I plan to visit Paris when I have more time and more money to blow.
Until my next adventure ~~~~