The following suggestions are based on experience gleaned from annual trips to Paris for the last 10 years, and questions I’m asked most frequently by friends planning their first visit to the City of Light.
GENERAL INFORMATION & TRANSPORTATION:
There are 20 little semi-cities (they each have their own city hall) within Paris. Some of the neighborhoods also have names (e.g. Le Marais -3rd & 4th arrondissement, Latin Quartier – 5th, Montmartre – 18th, St. Germain – 6th, etc.) These areas are on a grid that looks like a spiral (you will see it on some maps of Paris.)
The Seine River separates north (Right Bank) and south (Left Bank).
The north/Right Bank neighborhoods are: (1,2,3,4,8,9,10,11,12,16,17,18,19 & 20)
The south Left Bank neighborhoods are:
(5,6,7,13,14 & 15)
Although The Metro (subway) is the fastest way to get around, it has way too many steps to navigate if there are any physical limitations, and only a few of the deepest stations have elevators.
I recommend the G-7 English speaking cab service . (+33 01 41 27 66 99) Still, I always write out the address of where I’m going and I would also have the address of the place where you are staying, written down. You can hand that to any cab driver and you probably won’t have to worry about the language barrier (Even the, supposedly, English-speaking cab drivers can be hard to understand.) Your hotel can order cabs when you are going out, but you need to know the location of cab stands to get back home. For the most part, you can’t hail a cab in the middle of a street. They won’t stop.
You can also take the bus. It is cheaper and a good way to see the city…but you may spend more time than you want figuring out which bus goes where.
My favorite Paris map is “Streetwise Paris.” It has cab stands noted on the map. Most bookstores carry Streetwise maps. I highly recommend studying your map before heading out — anywhere.
I try to keep map reading to a minimum on the street. It marks you as a tourist and could potentially make you a mark for pick-pockets. I use Rick Steves money pouches that go under your tops. I also carry purses with straps over the chest that I can hold against my front. Tourist areas and the transportation hubs are the areas to be most on guard.
Paris is in the Central European Time (CET) Zone. Europe also uses the 24 hour clock (a/k/a “military time”) and you might want to set your watch and phone on the 24 hour option to get used to it, a week or two before you leave for Europe.
Before each of my trips I put together a list of places I might want to check out (e.g. shopping, eating, parks, museums, etc.) and then I check off the ones I actually get to. I also include the arrondissement/numbered neighborhood of specific locations so I have a sense of the proximity of places.
On the Rick Steves website, there is a Travel Forum where you can ask any question that comes to mind about traveling in a specific area of Europe and you will get answers from ordinary travelers as well as Rick Steves guides. It can be immensely helpful to hear from ordinary travelers.
CASH VS CREDIT CARDS:
Your cash vs. credit needs will depend on your activities.
If you have to get cash/euros at an ATM, I suggest doing it at a bank lobby ATM during the day. If something goes wrong, you can attempt to get assistance from a bank employee. Also, indoor lobby machines don’t broadcast to everyone on the street that you just replenished your money supply.
If you decide to do the street markets or flea markets (Porte de Vanves, a weekend flea market on the Left Bank, is my favorite) you will need cash.
Also, although most cabs may have the ability to take credit cards, I always use cash in cabs. Of course with Uber (as of 2019 Lyft wasn’t available in Paris) you take care of monetary transactions online.
I like the Google Translate phone app. It can sound out words and phrases and, if you are not in a rush and really need to make yourself understood in French, you could type in the English and wait for the audio translation. (Fortunately, I haven’t had to use the app that way, yet.)
I always tip in eating establishments, but it is not expected. I know too many people in the US working in the restaurant business and I’m hardwired to tip generously. My French and Expat American friends admonish me for tipping too much (i.e. using American standards of 20%) when 10% is adequate. In restaurants, they will often add a gratuity to the bill. In bistros and cafes, rounding up and leaving change is sufficient.
Going up in the Eiffel Tower could take up a full afternoon, (you can see the Tower from all over the city and I’ve never heard anyone describe it as the highlight of a trip to Paris.) But if you really want that experience, you should get tickets ahead of time–online before you leave home.
The gardens are about 1 hour from Paris by train. The train stops in Vernon and then you can rent a bike or catch a shuttle to the house and gardens in Giverny. It’s best to take the earliest train possible (from Gare St. Lazare) because, in the summer, the little town gets packed with tourists. The visit to Giverny will probably consume a good part of the day you go.
ALL OVER PARIS:
My favorite neighborhoods are Le Marais and St. Germain — for people watching – but it requires a lot of walking. The shops and restaurant are more expensive. Montmartre is also interesting, but popular and touristy —and Very hilly. Some of the outer-ring neighborhoods (18th, 19th & 20th) have interesting flavor, but it’s best to explore with someone who knows the areas and places of interest.
I highly recommend taking the night boat rides (Bateaux Mouches) as a good, comfortable, way to see Paris — especially when you’re only in the City for a few days.
Although I now stay in the same place most visits, I have rented apartments from the following rental companies: Airbnb, Haven in Paris, Perfectly Paris, Paris Best Lodge and Home Away. These companies are now under much stricter regulations in terms of who and how they can rent for short term stays. Consult the website for individual companies.
I have also stayed at the Hotel Le Relais Saint Germain (a boutique hotel) and the Castille Paris Hotel (in the 1st) — both hotels are lovely, but expensive for more than a few nights.
Sequence Paris International Hair Salon: Emma is a stylist from Great Britain. She does fantastic work. Besides the language barrier, Parisian stylist have a reputation of giving the haircut they think you need instead of what you ask for.