As of Fall 2015, the only pass I recommend is the Museum Pass. If you are short on time and are going to visit at least five museums, get the pass. The time it will save you in lines is invaluable. You can buy the Museum Pass at most tourist shops and many hotels. The Paris Pass only makes sense is you are going to use the Hop on Hop Off Bus. Do you need a metro pass? There are 2 different passes. Know the differences before you buy. I think the Metro is cheap, and over a short stay, you will be fine walking in most cases. Paris is only a 7 mile island. I usually walk about 10 miles a day when there. That's my advice...get good shoes and some moleskin.
Paris Tip 3 - Where to Stay, What to Expect in Paris
First time? What to expect? Expensive tiny rooms. Stars only refer to services. Some 3 Star hotels are nicer than some 4 stars. It just means they offer luggage service, or an elevator, or breakfast. Elevators are a luxury and are tiny. They generally hold just 2 persons. Beware the stars as indicators of posh. Final note, ALWAYS book directly with a Paris hotel. While Booking.com is great, they do not have access to the special rooms and their rates can always be beaten on local sites (linked here where referred). If you want a special room, write the hotel directly.
Locations: All of Paris is beautiful. Your location will largely be determined by your budget and length of stay. If it is your first time, I would stay central to the Ile de la Cité (think Notre Dame) because so much is walkable from here. I have stayed in Saint Cloud and many other areas around Paris and these are AOK also if you are a good commuter. I know the temptation to stay near the Eiffel Tower with views of same may be overpowering, but I prefer staying in the 1st Arr. near the Seine or across the Seine in the left bank. Your call, but the tour buses and neighborhoods change a great deal the closer you get to the Tower. When I return home at night I want a neighborhood. I love Montmartre for longer stays, but you'll be on a Metro to get to and from as with many other areas. I think everyone needs to visit the Champs Elysees, but I wouldn't want to stay there. Leave your hotel and you are in a tourist trap. The Marais, and Montparnasse are also options but not my first. The Marais is again a wonderful neighborhood to visit, but given the age of most hotels, expect really small rooms with limited elevator service. Montparnasse is great but a bit far out and again, you will be on the metro much more.
Less than $250 per night: Expect a motel-like accommodation that is very, very small. In that price range if you want central and a view, you are going to get a small simple room. ALWAYS get the Deluxe or upgraded room in any hotel. I like Hotel Place du Louvre for location, free espresso and one block from the noisier and far more expensive Hyatt Louvre. And if you upgrade you will get working windows, a view of the Louvre and be perfectly situated between two metro lines. Hotel Brittanique is another good location. They do offer view rooms for an additional fee.
Apartments are also an option. Be aware that unless it states it is on the first floor (2nd floor American) or has an elevator, it will not. Haven rentals are the best if you are staying longer than a few days.
Less than $400 per night: Your options improve dramatically now. Run by Esprit de France (same group as Hotel Place du Louvre), The Hotel Brighton has rooms overlooking the Tuilleries Gardens and views of the Eiffel Tower. I also love Hotel d'Aubusson in the Left Bank.
$400 and above: Hard to believe but you are still in the "basement" in terms of staying at the tip-top spots. The George V, Plaza Athenee, and Le Meurice (my top spot). But at $400 and above you have some wonderful boutique options with more floor space.
Paris Tip 4 - Food in Paris
Your hotel should provide you with a sampling of restaurants in your area. There are some on my itineraries as well. For the most part, expect high prices at restaurants and a good long meal. Parisian's enjoy long meals. If you don't, you should know that restaurants are not for you. Try a Bistro where you can order a la carte. In no food establishment will a waiter bring you a check until you ask for it! That is considered rude. As for breakfast, it is the general rule that you will do just fine out on the street vs. the rate at your hotel. In a hurry, you can stand at the counter and order bread, pastry and coffee. Watch, you'll see locals doing it everywhere. If you sit you can order the same, or a croque monsieur (madame has a sunny side-up egg), quiche or another special from most corner cafes. Crepes are generally reserved for the food carts (fast food) but some cafes may offer them also. Most cafes offer fresh squeezed orange juice. Service is included and will be noted on the receipts. Rounding up and leaving the change is ok but not expected.
You will never get milk/cream with your coffee. If you need it, order a café crème. It will come with milk. For a Primer on Food in France I suggest reading Dining in Paris reprinted from David Lebovitz website. Very complete. He also offers great dining recommendations at the same site.
Paris Tip 5 - The Bus Tour, Good Shoes, Bikes and the Metro
If you are going to do the Bus Tour - Do it immediately when you arrive to get your bearings. Personally, I hate the things. Ille de Paris is only a 7 mile (ish) area... you can do most on foot. I ignore most churches except the important historical ones... and touristy destinations. Are you interested in someone or something? Consult your guide book on the backgrounds of the spots mentioned in my itineraries. I've added them where I think your book might be spare. Otherwise mine is a "best of tour" to do the most in order in a short stay and still experience some lovely sites and hidden gems. Pace yourself and I highly recommend always taking an extra pair of shoes. Changing shoes mid-day insures trouble free and happy feet. You CAN rent the Velib Bikes ( http://en.velib.paris.fr/) IF you have a credit card with a smart chip. Otherwise... by foot is best. One or two metros is ok to... but you miss so much underneath the ground. The Abbess metro is one of the few original Art Nouveau portals. You'll see it in my Montmartre Itinerary. I usually leave the Metro for the end of the day when I am tired!
Paris Tip 6 - It's Not Paris Fashion Week, but think chic
Oh you've heard it before, but you will be treated with a bit more respect if you dress appropriately. Turn in those running shoes for a nice pair of walking shoes. Ditch the logo t-shirts, shorts and baseball cap. A man can get away with almost anything in a thin black sweater and jeans, and a woman in a simple dress or slacks with a chic scarf can dine anywhere. This rule applies to most of Europe, but nowhere will you feel the scorn of the "tacky tourist" than in Paris. I dated a Parisian, I know of what I speak.
Paris Tip 7 - In Search of Tourist Traps in Paris
I am sorry to say it, but Americans all head like lemmings to the Left bank to find the bohemian life of yesterday. Yes, you can see where Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald drank and hung about (really there are tours!) And there are many other good reasons to visit the Left Bank (see my itineraries). But don't be disappointed when that visit to Les Deux Maggots leaves you with a huge bill, and an empty stomach. This does not mean you should not visit the Left Bank, it just means be prepared for what it is now. If you're just visiting the haunts, expect to be haunted by a lot of other Americans. Expect the same in the seedy area around The Moulin Rouge. Tour buses of tourists out to see a show that the average Parisian hasn't been much interested in since the turn of the century. Try catching an Opera or Concert instead. If you're lucky you'll see one in Notre Dame, Ste Chappelle or Opera Garnier. Look for Posters as you walk about. Admission is usually open and reasonable.
Paris Tip 8 - Shopping!
My itineraries include the much deserving cathedrals to shopping on Avenue Haussman - Gallerie Lafayette and Printemps. But they also include a walk along the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the chic Marais neighborhood, The Champs Elysee, once home to great shopping, now a bit tarnished and frayed, in favor of tourist mega shoppes. Still, if you want to oogle a beautiful Porsche sports car, you'll find it there. If instead, you're looking for unique truly Parisian shopping, don't miss Paris's covered passages. Dating back to the 19th century, these were the city's first malls, and beneath their vaulted ceilings of glass and wrought iron, you'll find French designers, antique book dealers, art galleries, quirky toy shops, and more. Visit Galerie Vivienne, just north of the Palais Royal, in the 2nd Arr. for an elegant shopping experience.
Paris Tip 9 - Learn some French
I would write this for any place you are visiting. it shows respect. No-one is expecting perfect french. In fact they are expecting very little. Let's use "shock and awe" to our benefit! Just a few phrases will win you the smiles and kind-heart of the locals, who will immediately start to speak English to you. Please TRY learning a few numbers and then at the very least the "niceties":
Who Goes There?
I have circumnavigated the globe a few times. I don't do backpacks. And I don't like tour groups.
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