PARIS CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for a tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations
- Best Time to Travel: Spring: April - June Fall: September - December. Peak Season is Summer June-August
- Currency: 1 Euro (€) = $1.12USD / $1.49CAD / $1.59AUD (Exchange rates as of 9/2015)
- Cost of Typical Meal - 13 Euros + for a cheap, local breakfast or lunch. 5-8€ for a standard bottle of wine from a supermarket.
- CC friendly: Yes
- Transportation Friendly. Trains are incredibly efficient, easy to understand and affordable, approx 1.80€ 1 way / 14.10€ 10pack
- Airports: Closest airports are Charles De Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) with most budget airlines flying to ORLY. If you are traveling to and from CDG it will cost €10.00 on the RER and if you are flying out of ORY it is €12.50 by train and RER.
- Budget Airlines: AirBerlin, Jet, Vueling, Norwegian, Ryanair
- Language: French, but a lot of people speak English within the touristy areas.
Ongoing Rumor: "French people are rude and will chastise you if you butcher their language"
My Experience: False. Paris is after all, a metropolitan city - people may be abrupt or short with you if they are headed somewhere but so will people in NYC. French people were polite with me. Make sure to smile, be polite and ask, "Bonjour! Parlez - vous anglais?" (Do you speak English?)
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE IN LOVE TO LOVE THIS CITY.
*Please plug in your headphones or turn on your speakers and listen to THIS as you read this page.*
I stepped off the plane and immediately witnessed the reunion of a young couple. The two ran into each others arms and embraced in a kiss that would have put, "The Notebook" to shame. His hands caressed her face and held on as if he hadn't felt her skin for years. He whispered something in her ear. She immediately became pregnant right then and there.
"Paris really is for lovers." I thought to myself.
I was joined by my good friend Justine, and we made our way to explore the city of romance.
BUT FIRST, A LITTLE HISTORY
The entire city of Paris was leveled in 1853 by Emperor Napoleon III to build a brighter, more unified Paris. If the name sounds familiar it's because Emperor Napoleon III was actually Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew. Prior to this, Paris's narrow and overcrowded streets were a breeding ground for Cholera and fire, streets you may recognize from "Les Miserables". With new designs from Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the streets of Paris finally saw sunlight, apartment designs become regulated and sewers and water systems were updated. The gorgeous, single tiered balconied apartment buildings Paris is known for came to be named the Hausmann Apartments.
A walk through the streets and you'll see the pristine architecture of the city where perfectly trimmed trees pepper the Champs-Élysées from the Louvre all the way to the Arc De Triomph.
After visiting the Louvre, take a walk down the Champs-Élysées, the equivalent of Manhattan's 5th Avenue. Even the usual Suburban mall staple Abercrombie & Fitch, is adorned with gold and black metal gates and lined with perfectly trimmed hedges. My favorite shop on this street is the macaroon shop - Ladurée : Home Maison . It's worth the lines and prices, make sure to get a few and sneak upstairs to look around. You can also visit the Arc De Triomph for 8€ per person. The entrance is located in the Charles- de-Gaulie-Etoile train station, there is no above ground way of reaching the arc as there is a massive traffic circle surrounding it.
Of course, being in France, you can't help but learn about the history of Napoleon Bonaparte. The former emperor was so revered his grave was designed so that viewers could only look at it from above by bowing down or on the ground level, by looking up as if to praise him. Hitler was such a big fan of Napoleon that when he came to visit his grave in the The Museum de Invalides, he had his staff build mirrors to reflect Napoleon's grave so that Hitler would not have to bow down to anyone. Visit The Tulieres Garden and grab a seat by the fountain to feed the birds. At the other end of this long parkway is the Eiffel Tower.
PARISIAN CAFES, CAN CAN DANCERS, AND PICNICS IN THE PARK
Montmartre is the quintessential neighborhood when you think of Paris, complete with modelesque Parisians sipping coffee in outdoor cafes and breezy accordions playing alongside every gust of wind. This is the neighborhood famous for being the backdrop of the film, "Amelie". Montmartre is also home to the infamous Moulin Rouge and red light district, where to this day you are still able to watch and enjoy shows. Start off with some outdoor coffee and a Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame for lunch and enjoy people watching.
Throughout my travels in South America and Europe, the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur is my favorite. The church stands on top of a hill which you can reach from either walking up 726 steps or taking a tram up. The steps are pretty easy, so don't be lazy. There's a food market on top with vendors selling cheeses, cured meats, candies and street foods. You'll find street performers dancing and huge crowds of tourists taking over the steps overlooking the city. Take advantage of the food up here and buy some meats, cheeses and fresh bread, then make your way onto the grassy green hill just below and have a picnic. Don't forget to pick up a bottle of your new favorite wine, which sell for cheap in Paris.
After making your way through the church and past the throngs of hungry people, you'll find a staircase to the side of the church that leads you to the base of the hill. These steps are much more quiet and are surrounded by stunning apartments and lamp posts. At the base there are several restaurants, shops and even a little guided train that you can hop on. If you're lucky, you'll stumble onto some live music performances. Don't be surprised if you see more than a few examples of PDA around here. The Au Lapin Agile, famous for being an age old Cabaret and which Steve Martin made famous in his play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" stands just a five minute walk away.
You can also make your way to watch one of the infamous MOULIN ROUGE shows. When I was in JHS, my neighbor Alex and I would watch, "Moulin Rouge" every single day after school. We knew the lyrics to each song by heart and secretly married Ewan McGregor in our heads. Saying I was excited to see Moulin Rouge in person would be an understatement.
Today, Moulin Rouge stands on a street alongside a techno bar, lingerie shops and kebab stores. The show itself is gawdy and overpriced, and the location has been downsized over the years. Tickets fall anywhere between 125€ - 210€pp depending on if you get dinner or half a bottle of champagne. I found the show to be entertaining, but it reminded me more of a show you would see on a cruise boat than something worthy of the Moulin Rouge. Instead you can visit the Rue Caulaincourt and visit the Montmartre Cemetery where Alexandre Dumas and the rest of my excitement for the Moulin Rouge are buried.
BABY, YOU'RE WORTH IT
It's the largest museum in the world and once the home to a single royal family, but now the Louvre is often said to be skipped due to the long lines and crowded amount of tourists who come here. Check out my hack HERE for cutting the line and getting into the LOUVRE within 5 minutes. Otherwise, you can also buy a museum pass that will get you entry for the other museums and attractions or just buy your ticket online. The Louvre is generally crowded at all times, but the crowd hits it's peak during the morning hours, try and come later from mid-late afternoon to have a little more freedom.
THE MONA LISA
If you are going to the Louvre, you can't go without seeing it. It's said that the painting is switched out from time to time to prevent thievery so at any given time you could be just looking at a superbly made copy. If you turn around, there is a gorgeous painting directly opposite the Mona Lisa called "The Wedding Feast". Funny how It's the largest painting in the Museum and oddly enough overshadowed by such a seemingly small painting.
NAPOLEON BONAPARTE'S APARTMENTS
More impressive than the Mona Lisa, Napoleon's apartments allow you to glimpse into his lavish life. There was nothing that could prepare me for the royalty and splendor that was Napoleon's apartment. It's a MUST SEE.
THE CORONATION OF NAPOLEON
Look for some of the paintings by Jacques Louis David, who was commissioned by Napoleon. The picture below really doesn't do it any justice because in person, the painting is massive and spans an entire wall. In fact there is an entire hall dedicated to every single French victory, many of which are painted by David. It's probably a little less crowded than the Mona Lisa, but you do get caught in the detail and wonder of each piece.
THE Palace of Versailles
A PALACE WORTHY OF IT'S NAME
The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful garden once home to Marie Antoinette. The palaces are about an hour away from central Paris and an easy train ride away. The trains are even emblazoned with some cheesy palace like decorations on the insides to give it some sort of regal tone. Keep in mind here that the lines are hellishly long. They even stand outside of the golden gates.
There is always a shorter way to get into the museum. In the case of the Palace of Versailles, the line went out of the gates because of the purchase line. Instead, you can buy your tickets from the automated tills once you finally do get inside (which still involves some waiting) or buy your tickets online. Both options will still have you waiting in line, but presumably a shorter time. Also be aware that you are not allowed to bring food in and the security guards check your bag beforehand. If you were on a picnic craze (like me) and tried to smuggle in a full baguette, just know that they will make you check it and not bring it on premises.
Napoleon was such a badass that he refused to sit for his paintings, you'll see how different his portraits are from the usual stuffy and lifeless portraits of the past. The Palace of Versailles will truly stir up some interest in French history and Napoleon as you roam through Marie Antoinette's former home and the rest of this gorgeous building. The gardens are a sight as well, and there are hidden sections with fountains and marble statues all throughout.
THE SWEET SPOT
My favorite day in any city, is usually the last day. It feels as if the city knows that you're leaving so it opens up all of it's secrets for you to enjoy, even if only for a few hours. I call this, The Sweet Spot. My final day in Paris I wandered through Montmarte to Rue de Martyrs, an uphill street packed with immaculate chocolate shops, vendors selling ruby red strawberries and adorable stores filled with knick knacks. Locals were toting freshly baked baguettes and nibbling on the warm crusts as they shopped for groceries. Visit Jeff de Bruges or Henri Le Roux Chocolatier for some delicious chocolates. Stroll through the many vintage shops and pick up a piece of local history. I made it to Rue Lafayette, but I'd suggest skipping it unless you like shopping at H&M and being bombarded by busloads of tourists. Rue de Martyrs is the quintessential Paris experience you are looking for. Film fans can visit Rue Houdon to shop at Malavida La Boutika, a French film shop to pick up classic French movie posters. The sun settled and I found myself happily lost, walking by beautiful outdoor restaurants with locals and tourists chatting alike on Avenue Turdaine.
WHERE I STAYED:
Le Village Hostel in Montmarte. It's extremely close to the train station and a five minute walk from the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. I met the most amazing friends here, and would definitely recommend for both solo travelers or friends. The balcony also has a view of the Basilica, and rooms are clean though the lobby and kitchen are dingy.
WANT SOME INSPIRATION?
Watch Amelie on Netflix! Directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet, Amelie follows the story of a 22 year old introvert named Amelie as she tries to get the attention of her lover in Montmarte, Paris.
Read: Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts.
*On account of losing my phone immediately upon arrival in Paris, nearly all of these photos are from my good friend Justine Palivoda who spontaneously joined me halfway across the world to adventure through Berlin and Paris. *