21 September 2009

Tourist Tips for a Parisien "Virgin"

Being in Paris for the first time can be overwhelming. The language barrier and the city's golden treasures could blind a tourist into taking costly 'dead ends' that only wastes one's time, money and patience. This entry hopes to guide first-timers away from expected tourist traps and as much as possible, give them a taste of  Parisien living without having to spend a fortune.  

Airport Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 

At  CDG's Customs and Immigration point, expect some basic questions like length of stay, hotel details etc. If they are rude, which is more likely expected from Parisiens, my never-failing solution is to simply smile and greet them with a "Bonjour!". Don't be offended by their smug nature; blame the cold or their boring job but remember, it's nothing personal. 

Transportation from Charles de Gaulle airport to your temporary residence/vice-versa

Thanks to my friend, Jill, my reliable guide during my first-ever trip to Europe/Paris, I was introduced to Parish Shuttle, a cheap airport shuttle service van, which you can choose to rent privately for a higher cost or share with other passengers. Cost for one person each way is 25€   . Normally tourists prefer this because the chauffeurs speak English; but to cite a bad experience, I actually had used them another time for my parents' arrival and we waited for our pick-up for almost an hour! Horrible. Although there is a cheaper shuttle service, 19€ each way, Airport Paris Transfer, used by a friend and he had no complaints.

Now, I prefer to line up at the airport's official taxi stand which costs approximately45€ ( with a 3€  tip) to reach my place in Paris(south). Do not go with the unregistered taxis whose drivers  wait by the exit doors to propose a 'special' deal. As what happened to a couple I know, the ride was not metered and they were charged an absurd fare per person!

A more frugal and adventurous option is to take the RER B subway train from your arrival terminal (either 2 or 3) which will get you to any part of the city. The price of an RER ticket from the CDG airport  to Paris (and vice-versa) is 8.50€  .   Make sure you grab a metro map (free) which you can ask from the representative at the metro ticket booth. You can pay by card when purchasing RER and metro tickets. Take note that the RER--crosses Paris to the suburbs-- and metro trains --only within the city--are entirely different and thus, have their own tickets. A single metro ticket is 1.60€   and for a set of 10 tickets (un carnet), it's 11.60€.


 Always asked by many vacationers--which hotel is affordable and nicely located? My recommendation is to steer clear of the predictable hotel scene and try out a French apartment! There are great sites that rent out well-equipped flats for a short period in the district of your choice. Homelidays is a vacation site we used for apartment hunting in Corsica and Tuscany and they have equally great options in Paris. With apartments,  its rates are inexpensive, plus, you have the chance to feel like a local,  experiencing a day-to-day life in their quarters!

If you prefer a more hassle-free nook, then you can check out hotels in the areas which in my opinion are the coziest arrondissements: 3rd and 4th -Le Marais for an artsy flavor,  5th and 6th- Latin Quarter where every place is walkable, and 11th and 12th-Place de la Bastille.

Getting Around

Unless you are with people who have trouble walking, I highly suggest that you put on your comfiest flats/sneakers and roam around the city on your feet! Especially after those foie gras and cheese-filled meals, it is the only way to get you feeling less guilty about the calories and to truly discover your way around Paris even if that means getting lost. Generally the streets of Paris are safe but at night, don't think you can carelessly walk through 18th,19th and 20th arrondissements without a 'local' to guide you.

If you don't wish to move those buns, try to cruise through the city's monuments via boat, Batobus, a hop-on hop-off service running from February to November. I also booked my parents on l’Open Paris tour which is the same concept but on an open top deck bus with several routes to choose from. For Batobus the adult rates for passes are: one-day(12€) , 2-day(16€)  and  5-day(19€)  while L'Open Paris tour charges 29€ for a day and 39€ for 2 days.

                                               commute along the Seine river

As for taxis, it is not like New York wherein you spot them yellow boxes every minute. Normally you call for a taxi via Taxi Bleus by dialing 0891701010*. They are operational 24 hours a day.

 Metros are the most convenient for me. They are open as early as 5:30 am until 12:30am weekdays and 1:30am during weekends. Important: there are random checks in the metro so never throw away your tickets unless you have completely exited the station.

Velib is a popular alternative to getting around the city without the hassle of renting a bicycle and storing it. These are generic bikes with its own magnetized pods stationed in almost every avenue of Paris. The idea is to borrow a bike which is possible by registering your credit card onsite and when done, find an available pod for its safekeeping. To use it for a day, it costs 1€  and for 7 days, it is 5€ . Talk about a great initiative to combat car pollution!

                                             Velib bikes and its 'home' pods

Don't be Fooled!

I know you are a tourist but try not to be spotted and fooled like one.

People may approach you in the middle of your monument-gazing asking if you speak English. Say "No" and walk past them. If you pause and try to help, they will also try to get you to take out your wallet and trap you. Before as I was walking to work at a very decent neighborhood, a guy stopped me and picked a ring from the floor asking if it were mine. I quickly walked away and snubbed him. Five seconds later, I hear the man performing the same stunt on the person behind me--unbelievable!

           view of the Eiffel tower from the 15th district, former workplace

Do not get sucked into those trinket shops selling the same tourist souvenirs in every corner of the street. Most products are MADE IN CHINA or elsewhere. If you want authentic French gifts to bring home, go to specialized shops!

Avoid going to the cafes or brasseries which are a few meters away from an important monument or site because you will be paying the price for your order + the view to go with it as well. And let's not forget the quality of food which is nowhere near its price. Don't be afraid to walk further and explore the streets which don't look too busy.

                                                  Chez Plumeau at Montmarte

To land in a good bistrot or restaurant, you must do your research. Ask friends, locals or go online and read comments of diners; that way, you are prepared to order the right dish and wine within your spending means.


Street food equals divine crepe! Hey, that isn't bad at all! To see that it is freshly done,  choose a stall which has it prepared before you and as a plus, you get a whiff of some heavenly butter! Another cheap alternative are the bakeries (boulangerie) selling delicious French pastries like croissant( a must-try!!), pain au raisins (raisin bun) and pain au chocolat (croissant bread crust with chocolate); for lunch, they have fresh sandwiches (3,50-4€ each sometimes including a drink), using of course their baked, straight-from-the-oven baguettes, ranging from a club to tuna. Paul is a reputable bakery found everywhere in France and they also have quaint tea rooms if you wish to be seated.

                                        a neighborhood bakery (boulangerie)

For now, I am going to stop here (activities in Paris will be reserved for another entry). These tips should suffice for a Parisien 'virgin' vacationing in the city of Light. Let me end by stating that the FIRST time is always the best and most memorable experience so enjoy every mistake, unintended luck and the sweet romance!



Star said...

Great tips to go around a beautiful City...

The Happy Spectator said...

Thank you, Star! :-)

Pilly Willy said...

those bike things are so cool! have you tried one?

The Happy Spectator said...

of course! they are heavier than the usual ones.

Ryan said...

Its always better from a local, great job THS.

As for accommodation, I would agree with avoiding hotels/hostels and rent a Paris flat or room. They are more personal, in my experience- more comfortable and clean, as well as better value for money than any other over-priced and run-down hotel in Paris. A great website for finding this can be www.venere.com.

That place in Montmarte looks awesome, must visit next time.