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There’s a well-known French proverb that sums up the irresistible allure of Paris perfectly:“Avec des ‘si,’ on mettrait Paris en bouteille.” In other words, if the impossible were possible, you could put Paris in a bottle. Touristy snow globes and “essence of Paris” eau de toilette aside, you probably won’t be able to bottle the city and take it home in your suitcase. And even if you could, you’d probably raise some eyebrows in the security line at Charles de Gaulle airport.
So, since you can't take it with you, focus on making the most of every Parisian moment starting the instant you get off the plane. You won’t have to waste much time getting into the city’s core if you hop on the RER (local light rail)–it whisks you to Métro stops in central Paris within 30 minutes. Stepping into the capital's sprawl can be a little overwhelming, but a quick geographical orientation will get you headed in the right direction. The Seine River bisects the city into Left Bank (more bohemian) and Right Bank (more elegant). Poetically named arrondissements, or numbered districts, spiral out from the city center. If you're at a loss for which arrondissement to head to, just check the address–the last two digits of the zip code indicate the arrondissement (for example, 75003 is in the 3rd Arr.).
A Paris Pratique portable atlas can be a life-saver when it comes to navigating all these coordinates. But so is the speedy Métro–it's one of the best ways to zip around town, so you'll want to pick up a pass straightaway. Our top pick for short-term visitors is the Paris Visite card, which gives you an all-inclusive ticket to ride on the city's interlinked transport options (Métro, RER, bus, tram, etc.) and preferential entry into popular tourist sites.
If all that efficiency is making your Parisian adventure pass by too quickly, savor the city more slowly by hitting the streets on two wheels. City-owned Vélib' has 1,800 bicycle kiosks strategically placed around town. Just sign up at the computerized terminal, swipe your card, and you're on your way. You can even pick up and drop off your bike at different locations, so it's perfect for a scenic point-to-point route. If the Seine is more your speed, hop on a water bus, which will ferry you to popular tourist sites sans traffic and can be a romantic voyage to boot. At all costs avoid driving around Paris–traffic jams and the frustrations of teeny-tiny parking spaces are definitely memories you won't want to stash in your bottle.
To get as close as possible to that un-containable Parisian essence, you'll want to blend in with the locals. It's a culture that values elegant, chic pieces over trendy, throwaway fashions, so pack classics like tailored black trousers, a sharp blazer, a silk scarf, or a simple but refined day dress to look the part. Though the local English-language listings mag FUSAC will keep you informed of current happenings en anglais, it would behoove you to bone up on a bit of French before you arrive. Parisians are a cosmopolitan bunch who often speak English, but a little bit of français can go a long way in making friends and learning where the locals like to go. You'll also want to be fluent in tipping etiquette. While service charges are usually included at hotels and restaurants, outstanding service should be recognized (e.g. 5-10% for taxi drivers, EUR 2-5 for porters, etc.). If you tip where tipping is due, you'll often receive handy insider info in exchange.
Knowing that your camera lens is the only practical way to capture the city and bring it home, it's good to know that Paris is photogenic at any time of year. There's perhaps no season as picture-perfect as spring. March's Fashion Week attracts plenty of flashbulbs, but romantic frolicking peaks as the weather starts to warm up in late April/May. Things get perhaps a bit too hot (and crowded!) in summer, when locals tend to flee, but events like Bastille Day (July) and the Tour de France (August) add some great photo ops. Camera-friendly autumn promises colorful foliage and empty tourist attractions. And though it may add frost to your lens, Paris in snowy winter can be a delight.
Finally, make sure you leave plenty of time for reveling in the cuisine and (perhaps even more importantly) the wine. (It’s a good idea to book in advance for the hautest haute cuisine spots.) You may not be able to put Paris in a bottle, but you can certainly ensure that you sample her many flavors and drink in her bottled delights.
Photo of Hotel du Nord courtesy of Eric Whipple
Restaurant, café, and hotel bills normally include a service charge of 12%-15%, so tipping is really only required if service is above and beyond what’s expected. In that case, adding a few extra euros on top of the total is fine. Taxi drivers should be tipped 5%-10% of the fare (the usual procedure is to round up to the nearest EUR 1 or 2). Porters and chambermaids should be tipped EUR 1.5-5.
Paris’ streets are extremely well lit (this is the City of Light, after all) so walking around at night is actually quite safe compared to other major cities, and crimes like mugging are relatively rare. The same goes for the Métro: it’s well lit and well policed, making it okay to travel alone at night. That said, as in any city, use common sense. Dark streets and Métro stations with long, empty corridors (like Châtelet-Les Halles, Réaumur Sébastopol, and Strasburg-St-Denis) are best avoided late at night. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, the number to call is 112.
On the other hand, non-violent crime like pickpocketing is very common, especially in the Métro and at major tourist destinations. Keep in mind that pickpockets often work in teams, with one person running a diversion (a cute baby, a scuffle, some live music) while the other works the crowd. It’s a good idea to leave your passport and most of your credit cards in your hotel safe.
Customs and Culture
Parisians have a bad reputation for being snobby and cold, but they’re actually quite a friendly, helpful bunch once you get to know them. Making an effort with the local language definitely helps to bring out smiles and offers of assistance, so don’t be shy about breaking out a “bonjour madame” or a “pardon monsieur.” Etiquette is also a very important part of the culture (after all, it’s the French who pretty much invented the stuff), so it’s a good idea to study up on phrases like s’il vous plaît and excusez-moi before you come and to engage in basic pleasantries like greeting the staff with a polite “bonjour” when entering a shop. Of course, sometimes the friendliness goes a bit too far–French men can at times be a bit too forward with members of the opposite sex. If you’re receiving unwanted attention, it’s okay to ignore it or to ask the gentleman in question to lay off.
Of course, if you really want to run with the locals, the best way to do so is to dress like them. Parisians are known for their understated chic look (black is very big here), and you’ll find most locals look great even if they’re just popping around the corner for a pack of Gauloises–so leave your sweatshirts, sloppy sneakers, and scruffy jeans at home if you want to blend in. That said, no need to overdo it–Parisians also rarely go for all-out formal looks. For example, jackets and ties are only required at ultra-upscale establishments like Michelin-starred restaurants and historic hotels.
Perhaps the most important cultural note of all is that the French love their food. If haute cuisine is your thing, it’s a good idea to book at high profile restaurants well in advance (in some cases, even months ahead!). On the other end of the scale, avoid anything labeled “menu touristique” (common at small bistros and brasseries in very touristy parts of the city)–the food is generally drab and overpriced. Otherwise, though, you generally can’t go wrong, even at your corner café.
Gyms: American-style gyms are becoming an increasingly common sight in Paris, but they’re still not hugely popular. Most Parisians tend to prefer eating in moderation and integrating their exercise into their daily life (like taking the stairs over the elevator, or biking instead of driving) instead of getting sweaty at the gym. If you’d like to use a full-service gym, your best bet is to check out the offerings at your hotel or to try L’Espace Payot (www.espacepayot.com).
Yoga: Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche (www.rasa-yogarivegauche.com) offers award-winning Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga classes at a variety of levels. Classes start at EUR 20 per session. Bikram Yoga Paris (www.bikramyogaparis.com) offers (you guessed it) Bikram yoga classes for EUR 25 per session. At least one class a day is taught in English, and drop-in students are welcome.
Running: Jardin du Luxembourg is the best spot in the city center for running, but it only offers a relatively small loop. For a more intensive workout, try the Bois de Boulogne (in the west of the city) or the Bois de Vincennes (in the east of the city). And if you’re really hardcore, you could always sign up for the Paris Marathon in April.
Biking: Thanks to Paris’s ultra-convenient and reasonably priced Vélib’ program, which operates 1,800 open-access bike kiosks around town, biking has never been easier. That said, we found Vélib’ to be better for short hops around the city rather than long-haul, calorie-burning cycle extravaganzas. (See “Transport” for more information about using Vélib’.)
Rollerblading: One of the most popular means of exercise among Paris’s coolest kids is rollerblading. Skates and equipment are available from shops like Nomades (www.nomadeshop.com; skates: EUR 8-9/day; equipment: EUR 1-3 day; deposit required) in the hipster-beloved area along Canal Saint-Martin. You can either strike out on your own or join organized weekly balades with thousands of other skaters. (See “Transport” for more information.)
Other Key Information
Arrondissements: The city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, or districts, which are arranged in a snail-shaped spiral. (The first arrondissement is at the center of the city, and the rest of the districts spiral in a clockwise direction out from there, with the highest-numbered districts being furthest from the center.) It’s always a good idea to know the arrondissement of your destination as this will give you a clearer idea of where it is in the city, and will be a big help should you need to ask for directions. You can find out the arrondissement of a venue by looking at the last two digits of its zip code. For instance, a venue with the zip code 75002 is located in the second arrondissement; a venue with the zip code 75012 is located in the 12th arrondissement. When out and about, you can figure out which arrondissement you’re in by looking at street signs.
Banking and Currency: France uses the euro, as do most countries in continental Europe. These days, the easiest way to get cash is to use an ATM (check with your bank about withdrawal fees before you travel). If you are using traveler’s checks, try to cash them at a bureau de change (though these are becoming increasingly rare) or at an outlet of the Banque Postale, as they offer better rates and longer opening hours. For credit cards, Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted, although American Express can be used at most upscale hotels and restaurants.
Customs: For EU citizens, there is no limit on the amount of goods you can take out of the country, provided they are for personal use/consumption. For non-EU citizens, the duty-free limit is 200 cigarettes, four liters of wine (or two liters of wine plus one liter of spirits), 50ml of perfume, and 250ml of eau de toilette.
English Language Papers: The International Herald Tribune (now owned by the New York Times) is published from Paris daily and available at most hotels and newsstands. FUSAC, a monthly English-language listings magazine, offers a useful overview of the month’s events.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to purchase comprehensive travel insurance (medical and cancellation coverage) before you travel. EU citizens will most likely be covered by reciprocal healthcare coverage arrangements between their home country and France (check before you travel), but non-EU citizens will need to pay to access the public healthcare system.
Language: Although the majority of Parisians speak at least some English, it’s a good idea to study up on some basics en français. Your linguistic efforts will be appreciated by the locals. Some common phrases to master before you travel:
Hello/good morning: Bonjour
Good evening: Bonsoir
Goodbye: Au revoir
Excuse me: Excusez-moi
Please: S’il vous plaît
Thank you: Merci
You’re welcome: Je vous en prie
I would like…: Je voudrais…
How much does it cost? Ça coûte combien?
My name is…: Je m’appelle….
Medical Assistance: France has an excellent public healthcare system, which provides full medical and dental coverage, and most French medical professionals are at least conversant, if not fluent, in English. There are also two privately run English-speaking hospitals in Paris which both provide 24-hour medical care: the American Hospital in Paris (www.american-hospital.org; (33) 01-46-41-25-25; 63, blvd. Victor Hugo) and the Hertford British Hospital (www.british-hospital.org; (33) 01-46-39-22-22; 3, rue Barbès).
Pharmacies are relatively easy to find in Paris (look for the neon green cross sign), and there’s one on practically every block, but they tend to close early. If you need something late at night, try the Pharmacie des Champs ((33) 01-45-62-02-41; 84, ave. des Champs-Élysées; 8th Arr.). Otherwise, most pharmacies, when closed, will display the address of the nearest open pharmacy in their window.
Phones: Public payphones are operated by cards, which you can purchase at any tabac (corner shop). Most major mobile phone service providers offer coverage in France, but roaming charges may be steep. If your cell phone or PDA is unlocked, consider picking up a local pay-as-you-go SIM card. Major mobile coverage service providers in France who offer pay-as-you-go plans include Orange, Bouygues, and Virgin.
Taxes and Refunds: France’s value-added tax (known as TVA, VAT, or taxe sur la valeur ajoutée) is 19.6% on most goods except medicine and books. Non-EU residents who spend EUR 175 or more at a single shop on a single day are eligible for a TVA refund, provided they are over 15 years old, in France for less than six months, and the goods they purchased will be carried out of the country (not shipped). Upscale department stores and boutiques can easily assist with the paperwork for this (they often have dedicated staff on hand to deal with this and will usually pay the refund upfront) but smaller stores may not be as familiar with the system, so you may need to wait several months for your refund once your purchase is processed. If you require assistance or further information, ask your hotel concierge (they often have the required forms on hand) or contact French customs (la douane) at www.douane.minefi.gouv.fr.
Visas: Citizens of EU countries do not need a visa to visit France. Citizens of the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand can visit France for up to 90 days without a visa. Similar agreements are also in place for the handful of European countries that aren’t in the EU (like Norway and Switzerland). All other visitors require a Schengen Visa, which permits entry to all 22 EU countries, plus Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. Consult the French consulate in your home country for more information.
Spring: In March, couture hounds flood the city for trendspotting and hobnobbing during Fashion Week. A few weeks later, the style set is replaced by the sporty set for the Paris Marathon (in April) and the French Open Tennis Tournament (in late May/ early June). Everyone cuts loose for national holiday Labor Day on May 1st.
Summer: Music aficionados mingle at the Paris Jazz Festival (June and July), while other tuneful types belt out patriotic songs on Bastille Day (July 14th). If you’re in town at the end of July, head to the Avenue des Champs-Elyées to welcome Tour de France riders as they complete the final stretch, or, if all that hustle isn’t your thing, kick back at the “Paris Plage”, a temporary beach set up along the Seine during the summer months.
Autumn: Autumn is a relatively quiet time of year in Paris, but a cultured set of wine-savvy revelers pop corks on Beaujolais Nouveau Arrival Day in November.
Winter: Christmas is a major holiday in France, and it’s celebrated in Paris with everything from lovely street decorations to mass at historic Catholic cathedrals around the city (the most famous being the midnight mass at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris) to late night dinners and gift opening on Christmas Eve. The new year kicks off with la Saint-Sylvestre (or New Year’s Eve in plain English), when Parisians quaff champagne, sup on oysters and watch fireworks exploding over the Eiffel Tower. Six days later, on January 6, they wrap up the holiday season with the Fête des Rois, when they indulge in the traditional galette des rois, or king cake. The lucky gal (or guy) who finds the hidden figurine in the cake is crowned monarch with a paper crown.
Photo of Velib
Best Way in from the Airport
Chances are your flight will land at Paris’ main international airport, Roissy Charles de Gaulle, which lies 30 kilometers northeast of the city. The airport’s notoriously complicated layout doesn’t win it many admirers, but fortunately ground transportation is pretty straightforward. The easiest way into the city is to use light rail line RER B (there are two stations in the airport, both easily accessible via a free shuttle bus). Tickets from the airport to the city cost EUR 8.70, and trains depart every 15 minutes from 5:00am to 12:15am. The journey to city center stations like Gare du Nord, Les Halles, and St. Michel takes about 30 minutes. A taxi ride takes about the same amount of time, but costs about EUR 40.
Paris’s second airport, Orly (situated 18 kilometers from the city center) is older and quite a bit smaller than Charles de Gaulle. That said, its ground transportation is more up-to-date, with a speedy express train called Orlyval running between the airport and RER B station Antony. (Tickets for Orlyval cost EUR 10.25 for adults and EUR 5.10 for children (4-10).) Taking public transport to the city center takes about 35 minutes, while taxis take slightly more time and cost about EUR 35.
No matter how you're planning on getting around town, it’s worth popping by the nearest bookstore or tabac (corner shop) and scooping a copy of Paris Pratique by aptly named publisher L'Indispensable ("The Indispensable"). This easy-to-use book of maps comes in a variety of sizes (from the petite poche (pocket) to the hefty Paris Police (a detailed tome that's actually used by the police)) and ranges in price from about EUR 2.75 to EUR 12. If you're striking out on a bike, check out L'Indispensable's newest guide, Paris Côté Vélib', which supplements its classic maps with useful info for cyclists, like the locations of the city's 1,800 Vélib' bike kiosks.
Paris’s two local rail systems, the Métro and the RER (express commuter trains), together make up one of the most convenient, speedy, and efficient public transport systems in the world. Trains run from about 5:30am to 1:15am (with extended hours until about 2:15am on Friday and Saturday nights). (Exact hours vary by station.) Many of the Métro stations are quaintly “vintage” (a tourist experience in themselves), while the newer RER is more modern. The Métro system covers Paris proper (stations are fairly close together and easy to find), while the commuter-focused RER extends far out into the suburbs and only runs a handful of stations within the city center. The entire train system is divided into zones, and pricing is determined by the number of zones you travel across; most visitors should not need to leave zones one and two unless they’re heading out of town to sights like Versailles.
Tickets: Tickets for the Métro and RER are available from manned ticket booths and automated vending points in all stations. There’s a huge range of passes and tickets available; in general, if you’re visiting for less than a week, a Paris Visite travel card is your best option, while a Navigo Découverte card is a good choice if you’re staying for more than a week or making frequent visits.
• Navigo Découverte card (www.navigo.fr): This combo pass swipecard is valid for the Métro, the RER, the bus, the tram, and the Montmartre funicular. To purchase a card (it costs EUR 5), bring a passport photo to the ticket booth in any Métro or RER station and the pass will be issued on the spot. Once you have your Navigo card, you will need to charge it with transport credit. This can be purchased for any of the eight zones in the transport system, but most visitors should only need coverage for zones one and two, which costs EUR 18.35/week. Cards need to be recharged weekly; credit is valid from Monday to Sunday and can be purchased from Friday to Thursday. (Note that from Friday onwards each week, you can only purchase credit for the next week.)
• Paris Visite card (www.ratp.info): A one-/ two-/ three-/ five-day all-inclusive ticket (Métro, RER, bus, tram, and the Montmartre funicular) that covers transport zones one to three and also offers preferential entry into popular tourist sites. Adult tickets cost EUR 9.30/15.20/20.70/29.90 respectively, and child tickets are EUR 4.65/7.60/10.35/14.95.
• Mobilis card: An unlimited one-day pass for zones one and two; tickets cost EUR 6.10.
• Ticket T+ (single use ticket): Tickets cost EUR 1.70, and transfer is allowed within systems (i.e., you can transfer Métro to Métro, but can’t transfer Métro to bus). Tickets are valid for 1.5 hours from the start of the journey. Always keep your ticket until you leave the station, because you may be requested to show it to transport inspectors. (If you don’t have your ticket, the on-the-spot fine is EUR 25-45.) If you will be using a lot of T+ tickets, consider buy a carnet or book of 10 tickets for EUR 12.
PRICE: Navigo Découverte: EUR 5, plus EUR 18.35/week; Paris Visite: EUR 9.30-29.90; Mobilis: EUR 6.10; Ticket T+: Single ticket: EUR 1.70; Carnet: EUR 12
CLICK HERE FOR MAP: http://www.ratp.fr/fr/ratp/c_20559/plans-des-lignes/
Paris buses can offer a scenic means of exploring the city–if you can manage to figure out the Byzantine route system. Luckily, there’s no need to stress if you get off track with the bus (or simply get so captivated by the scenery that you miss your stop) because the buses are operated by the same authority that runs the Métro, so you can easily transfer between the two. (When lost, hopping on the Métro to get back to where you need to be is probably your best bet.) All Métro tickets are valid for the bus, and most (all except for the T+) allow for transfers between Métro and bus. If using a T+ ticket, make sure you get it punched when you board; if using a pass, you just need to swipe it or flash it at the driver. (See the Local Rail section above for an overview of ticket options.) If you don’t already have a ticket or transport pass when you board the bus, you can buy a single-use ticket from the conductor for EUR 1.80.
Buses run Monday-Saturday, 5:45am-12:30am, and on Sunday and public holidays, 7:00am-8:30pm. A handful of late-night buses also run daily, 8:30pm-12:30am. A separate night bus system called Noctilien (www.noctilien.fr) runs buses every hour from 12:30am-5:30am. Noctilien routes generally start at major intersections, train stations, or nightlife spots around the city before heading into the suburbs; buses N01 and N02 circle the city center. Noctilien bus stops are marked with a blue “N.” All Métro passes and tickets are valid on Noctilien buses; if you are using T+ tickets, you will need to pay one ticket per zone you are going to cross.
PRICE: Navigo Découverte: EUR 5, plus EUR 18.35/week; Paris Visite: EUR 9.30-29.90; Mobilis: EUR 6.10; Ticket T+: Single ticket: EUR 1.70; Carnet: EUR 12; Noctilien service: EUR 1.70/zone; Tickets purchased on board: EUR 1.80
CLICK HERE FOR MAP: http://www.ratp.info/orienter/cv/carteidf.php?lang=uk
Batobus uses its fleets of sleek, glassed-in boats to offer a convenient hop-on, hop-off ferry service on the Seine. The stops cover eight key tourist attractions (Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Eiffel Tower, Hôtel de Ville, Jardin des Plantes, Musée d’Orsay, Musée du Louvre, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés), and all are convenient for linking with the Métro. During peak season (May-August), boats leave approximately every 15 minutes, 10:00am-9:30pm. Hours vary during the off season (see website for details). Tickets are available from all eight docking points and are sold as one-, two-, and five-day passes. (Adults: EUR 14/18/21; Students (with ID): EUR 9/12/14 Children (2-16): EUR 7/9/10
PRICE: Adults: EUR 14-21; Students: EUR 9-14; Children: EUR 7-10
CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE: www.batobus.com
With 17,000+ licensed taxis on the road, it seems like it should be easy to snag one at any hour, but stumble out of a Parisian nightclub in the wee hours (or even try to grab one near a popular restaurant early in the evening) and you might find them surprisingly thin on the ground. Luckily, a quick call to the Central Taxi Switchboard ((33) 01-45-30-30-30) or one of Paris’s taxi companies should sort you out quickly.
Paris taximeters use a colored light system to indicate the rate being charged. Prise en charge (flag fall) for all taxis is EUR 2.30. The white light indicates Tarif A (EUR 0.92/km; charged for daytime rides within the city limits; Mon.-Sat.: 10:00am-5:00pm). The orange light is for Tarif B (EUR 1.17/km; charged for nights, Sundays, and inner suburbs; Mon.-Sat.: 5:00pm-10:00am; Sun.: 7:00am-12:00am). The blue light is for Tarif C (EUR 1.42/km; charged for trips to outer suburbs).
Additional charges include a EUR 3 surcharge for a fourth passenger (drivers may refuse this for insurance reasons) and EUR 1 for each piece of luggage over 5kg (the first piece of luggage is free). Drivers are generally tipped by rounding up to the nearest EUR 1 or 2.
PRICE: Flag fall: EUR 2.30; Tarif A: EUR 0.92/km; Tarif B: EUR 1.17/km; Tarif C: EUR 1.42/km
Car travel is often the least convenient way to get around Paris (taxis are your best bet for short hops when you need them), but town cars can be a great way to get into the city if you’re looking for a luxury ride from the airport. Most companies offer English-speaking drivers who will pick you up outside the customs check and deal with your luggage for you before escorting you to your hotel in style. Many companies also offer luxury sightseeing packages, which are worthwhile if you’re only making a short visit to Paris and want to hit the key sights quickly. Before you book, note that most hotels have a relationship with a specific company or offer their own house car service, and they may offer preferential rates to hotel guests (check with your concierge before you arrive).
PRICE: Airport transfer: EUR 120-190
Baron’s Limousines (www.barons-limousines.com): Luxury sedans, limos, and vans available; airport transfer: EUR 140-190
Must Limos (www.mustlimousines.com): Luxury sedans and vans available; airport transfer: EUR 120; sightseeing tours: EUR 280
Driving in Paris is a nightmare and should be avoided unless absolutely essential. If you insist on renting a car (don’t say we didn’t warn you…), try to get a small one because parking spaces (the few that exist!) tend to be teeny tiny. Most major rental companies have an outlet at both airports (Charles de Gaulle and Orly) as well as a city center location. If you only need a car for part of your visit, check out easyCar–they operate self-service rental kiosks at major transport hubs around the city, making it a snap to snag one for a day or two and then return it whenever you’re done.
Want the freedom of your own vehicle but can’t stand Paris’ parking options? Check out the sexy little scooters at Free Scoot (www.freescoot.com; 144 blvd. Voltaire (11th Arr.); Quai de Tournelle (5th Arr.); Mama Shelter Hotel (20th Arr.)). They’ve got 50cc and 125cc scooters available for EUR 30-55/day (discounts apply for longer rentals; deposit required). Rental prices include insurance, two helmets, locks, gloves, and raingear. Must be 21 years old to rent a 50cc and 23 years old to rent a 125cc.
For a more retro take on “exploring Paris on two wheels,” pop by one of the 1,800 “Vélib’” (or “freedom bike”) kiosks around town. All you need to do is fill in your details at the computerized checkout terminal, and you can start pedaling around with the city’s trendiest commuters on a chic city-owned bike (complete with basket, bell, three speeds, and an adjustable seat) in no time. Bikes can be picked up and dropped off at any kiosk (there’s one approximately every 300 meters), and, with 20,000 bikes available, there’s usually more than enough to go around.
In order to rent a bike, you will need to buy a one-day, seven-day, or one-year subscription, and then pay a half-hourly rental rate on top of that for each ride you take. In order to encourage riders to keep the bikes in circulation by returning them to a kiosk as soon as possible, the first half hour is free, and rates increase over time. If you arrive at a station and there are no free spots to return your bike, all you need to do is “check in” and you automatically get another 15 minutes of free rental time. Also, certain stations (generally those that are more than 60 meters above sea level or far from the city center) are V+ stations, which means you have an extra free 15 minutes to get there.
Make sure you don’t lose your subscription code because you’ll need it to continue renting bikes for the duration of your subscription period. You will need a Vélib’-approved debit or credit card to rent a bike–check the website for more information about appropriate cards. You can always consult your balance by checking at any of the electronic kiosks. If your bike is not returned, you will be charged EUR 150. You must be 14 years old to use Vélib, and 14–18-year-olds need permission from a parent or guardian before riding.
PRICE: Subscription: One day: EUR 1.70; Seven day: EUR 8; One year: EUR 29; Rental fee: first 30 min.: free; second 30 min.: EUR 1; third 30 min.: EUR 2; fourth 30 min. and onwards: EUR 4 per half hour
If you want to roll with the cool kids, you can’t do better than rollerblading–it’s definitely one of the trendiest ways to get around Paris. Hip skate shops along Canal Saint-Martin, like Nomades (www.nomadeshop.com), rent skates (EUR 8-9/day; deposit required) and equipment (EUR 1-3/day). If you don’t fancy striking out on your own, join thousands of plugged-in young Parisians on one of the two weekly organized balades (skate trips) around the city. The three-hour Friday night skates (which leave from Montparnasse and make a 30 kilometer loop around the city) are designed for experienced rollerbladers, while the two-hour Sunday afternoon ones (which leave from Place de la Bastille) are for beginners. Skates might be cancelled in inclement weather. Check out www.pari-roller.com for more info.
Thanks to France’s stellar TGV (train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train) network, most destinations within France are only a couple of hours away from Paris, so quickie weekend trips are a snap. Trains leave from seven stations around the city: Gare St-Lazare (8th Arr.), Gare de l’Est (10th Arr.), Gare du Nord (10th Arrl), Gare de Lyon (12th Arr.), Gare de Bercy (12th Arr.), Gare d’Austerlitz (13th Arr.), and Gare Montparnasse (15th Arr.). For more information or to book tickets, go to www.sncf.com. London is also within easy reach by train from Paris thanks to the Eurostar, which runs through the Channel Tunnel. Trains leave from Gare du Nord in Paris and arrive at St-Pancras in London, and the journey only takes two hours. Book online at www.eurostar.com.
Photo courtesy of RafaelChamorro on Flickr Creative Commons
Best Time to Go
Springtime in Paris may be a whopping cliché–but there’s a reason for it. Blooming flowers, chirping birds, fresh croissants at sunny sidewalk cafés, new prêt-à-porter on the runways (and on the chic ladies on the sidewalks), sharp looking garçons zipping around on Vespas…what’s not to love? Just beware that you may need to extend your vacation if you’re swept off your feet by printemps à Paris. Of course, il faut dire, the other seasons have their charms as well. Although autumn swaps bubbly for somber, it easily manages to give springtime an elegant, foliage-accented run for its money. Winter and summer are relatively temperate (average highs range from 40F in the winter to 75F in the summer) but, despite the fact that Paris is one of the driest spots in the entire country, both are punctuated with scattered downpours–a designer umbrella or a classic black trench are certainly required. Or you could take a page from our book and stock up on all the seasonal clothing and accessories you require in Paris’ legendary boutiques…
Although March’s Fashion Week is tempting, if you truly want to sample the gorgeousness that is springtime in Paris, late April and May are the best times to visit. Temperatures range on average from 43F to 59F, so pack a couple of sweaters or a thin coat to stave off the chill.
Summer weather might be a bit erratic (be prepared for it to yo-yo between rain showers and baking heat waves), but when it’s clear and temperate, strolling the city’s boulevards in our cutest sundresses is an undeniably lovely way to spend a summer day. (Average temps range between 56F and 75F.) Unfortunately, pretty much every tourist in the universe agrees. (Yes, we’re exaggerating…but only slightly.) Prepare for long lines and overwhelmingly large crowds at major sights–and don’t count on encountering many Parisians. Most of the city’s residents get out of town for the entire month of August (expect restaurants, boutiques, and attractions like the opera and ballet to be closed), and it seems like those who stick around spend their days either picking pockets at the Eiffel Tower or sunbathing (code for “hiding from tourists”) on the Paris Plage, a seasonal Seine-side beach. Pack plenty of flimsy little dresses (outside of high-end restos and hotels, air conditioning isn’t great), a handful of light cardis or wraps (because temps tend to drop in the evenings), and, by all means, try not to look like a tourist (or your pocket will be picked before you can say, “Where’re all the locals?”).
In autumn, the refreshingly crisp air, the graceful transition of the city’s lush foliage from green to gold to gray, and the glorious evaporation of all tourist crowds make autumn a truly lovely time to visit. Be sure to pack some understated seasonal classics, like a silk scarf, a cashmere sweater, or a tailored blazer, because the city cools off quickly at this time of year. Average temperatures range from 45F to 59F.
We admit it: winter in Paris can be pretty cold and damp–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tourists are few and far between, so you’ll have the run of the major attractions (although do note that some outdoor sights, like fountains, are closed) and the legendary January soldes (sales) are worth a trip in themselves. Plus, should it snow, you’ll be treated to one of the most magical views of the city. Temps on average range from 34F to 43F. Definitely pack a toasty (yet stylish) coat, gloves, and plenty of thick sweaters.
Photo courtesy of Spixey on Flickr Creative Commons