Growing up, I was fortunate to visit France several times with my parents. Each time, a day or a week in Paris fulfilled our hunger for history, architecture and people watching. I think my Paris visit tally is over one dozen now. As you can imagine, with all that time there, I’ve collected some favorite places to dine, stay, and shop as well as other practical tips. But also so many cherished family memories. I feel especially lucky to have been brought there by my parents so the city will never be tainted with memories of a former love – because my parent’s love is always and forever. It reminds me how Bruce Paltrow once said to his daughter Gwyneth as they were flying home from Paris, “I wanted you to see Paris for the first time with a man who would always love you, no matter what.” My parents believed that too. It was also important to them that I know there was a world beyond my hometown, home country or lifestyle. I’ll include little stories from my past visits alongside these travel tips.
They’re Not Rude If You Try
I’ll admit that speaking French makes it easier, but I’ve found that after uttering my first sentence in French most Parisians are more than willing to respond and assist me in English. Don’t take it as an insult to your French, merely a gesture of hospitality. When traveling, it’s all about making an effort with the language and culture. It’s a sign of respect and gives you the chance to more fully experience a place. David Sedaris mentioned in an interview with Rick Steves that watching what others do is a great way to learn.
France enjoys a high context culture. One thing you may notice is that when you enter a shop, you are greeted and it is polite to respond with a ‘bonjour’. There is something so lovely about shopping in France since you are acknowledged. Knowing how to say ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way in France. Though I enjoy high context culture, it can be confusing and fatiguing for visitors. I suspect this cultural difference is one reason Americans have the misconception that the French are rude – or those spreading this ‘truth’ have been meeting all the wrong people.
Best Photo Bomb Ever
C and I flew over to meet my Dad in Brest then I went on with him to Paris where we did some of our favorite touristy things and saw friends. Arriving at Notre-Dame on a rainy Monday, we began our ritual taking photos of each other in front of the Cathedral. Then between us and the Cathedral trickled a group of German cyclists. One glance led to a garbled discussion in a mix of German, English, French, and Latin with the realization that we had no common language except smiles and gestures. We took a few group photos of them to commemorate their cycling journey from Germany then snapped a couple pics with all together. Their safety yellow vests stood out against the gray day so I change it to be black & white. Somewhere out there is a group of bicyclists with a similar photo in full glorious color.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Eiffel Tower
A few years ago, C and I met his parents for a long weekend in Paris (before which we spent a few days in Normandy with my family friends) and one night we walked through the city to reach this overlook so we could watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle. It was a nice reminder how lucky I am to have the in-laws I do.
If you don’t already know this, you’ll find Paris easier after learning that the region (or ZIP) code helps you learn a lot about a Parisian address. All Paris region codes start with ‘750’ and the final two digits are the arrondissement. When you see a number with ‘eme,’ ‘ieme,’ or ‘e’ after it that is the equivalent to a number with ‘nd’ or ‘th’ after it. Arrondissement can be abbreviated to ‘arr.’
Most Paris bookstores and many newstands sell the very useful Paris book of maps. It is a pocket-sized book containing maps by arrondissement and often an index with all street names. It is very helpful and won’t make you look like a tourist (the white sneakers and baseball hat will give you away long before any map). Try to find one that has good page layout because there’s nothing worse than trying to find a place that falls on a page crease. Waterproof is also a nice feature if you plan to use it a lot or during winter. Here is an old version of it to give you an idea.
Paris Metro is helpful in getting places within and in the immediate outskirts of the city. A Carte Orange gives the user unlimited use during a specific period of time. The TGV and SNCF serve a wider area and are known for high-speed trains.
Getting to/from the airport to the city can be less pleasant than your actual trip. One thing I’ve found to be very helpful is the Yellow Van Shuttle. Passengers share a ride to the airport from downtown Paris and are charged a flat-rate fee (aka tariff) starting at €25pp. The prices are per party/group, not per person, unless there’s just one of you. It is very cost effective when traveling as a family or small group since with five people the group price (€75) evens out to €15pp. Pets have special tariffs. If you stay in a hotel you can reserve through your front desk and, I believe, part of the tariff goes to the hotel and the other part to the driver. You can reserve online for an arrival lift or departure drop.
Useful Parisian taxi and rental car information available on TripAdvisor.
Paris has several train stations, so check into which one works best for your destination.
Outdoor Market Memory
My mother-in-law and I went one morning to one of Paris’s many lovely outdoor markets. This one specialized in food and was within walking distance of where we were staying. We leisurely browsed the stalls, bought nibbles of cheese and bread, tried on scarves and sunglasses and she didn’t roll her eyes once at all the food photos I took.
More than a decade ago, a dear friend of ours got married in Lyon, France so my Dad and I flew over for the wedding weekend. The airfare was amazing so we had a few days in Lyon and a couple days in Paris. We flew over to Lyon on Ash Wednesday and by Sunday, we had enjoyed a sunny weekend and beautiful wedding at a chateau. We then took the train up to Paris where we checked into a hotel in the Latin Quarter and took naps. We awoke to hail chiming on the iron railings of the hotel balcony. It was such a contrast to the warm sun of the south of France. We then went to dinner at a place called Papillon where I had perfect fois gras. To this day, we remember that weekend with such fondness. Father-daughter road trips are so memorable, even more so when it’s a road trip in France!
Best steak. Order “á point” for medium, never order well-done in France. Open for lunch and dinner and is even open on Mondays, when other restaurants are often closed. Opens for dinner at 19:00 (7:00 p.m.).
20 Bis, rue St Benoît, 75006 Paris, France • 01 45 49 16 00
Delicious ice cream put on a cone in the shape of a flower.
5 rue Mouffetard, 75005 Paris, France
Trait de l’Union
Neighborhood nightlife, deliciously creative dishes and drinks. Love their nutty chicken main course.
122, rue Rennes, 75006 Paris, France • 01 45 48 70 66
Three-course fixed price meals at €10pp.
31, Avenue Théophile Gautier, 75016 Paris, France • 01 42 24 52 31
Known for their lamb dishes, a lively neighborhood spot.
2,rue Casimir-Périer, 75007 Paris, France • 01 44 18 94 64
In college when studying art history, I remember when our professor was showing us her usual slideshow when the Nike of Samothrace came up. My breath caught in my throat. I had never been much for sculpture but this was different. And for it to have been atop a mountain. Here is a photo from Wikipedia by Marie-Lan Ngyuen:
Hotel Aramis (Best Western)
Rates starting at under €100 per night in the heart of the 6eme.
124, rue de Rennes, 75006 Paris, France • 01 45 48 03 75
My favorite thing to do on Sundays in Paris is to visit Le Marais neighborhood. Its Jewish history means it is lively on Sundays when much of the rest of the city is quiet or closed.
Jewelry, accessories, and shiny sparkly things.
75, rue de Rennes, 75006 Paris, France
Fun household goodies, including lavender sachets, knife rests, reusable market totes, and much more. Friendly staff.
Five locations, four in Paris – in the 4e arr., 6e arr., 8e arr., and 9e arr.
92, rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris
85, rue de Rennes, 75006 Paris (I’ve gone to this one, closest to hotel above)
80, Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris
79, rue Saint-Lazare, 75009 Paris
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
An American bookstore in Paris.
37, rue Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France • 01 43 25 40 93
New York Times had a recent article about enjoying Paris on a budget, which seems like a clever idea given the economy.