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Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is - with 2.2 million people living in the dense (105 km²) central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area - one of the largest agglomerations in Europe. Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière) and Capital of Fashion, it is home to the world's finest and most luxurious fashion designers and cosmetics, such as Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Guerlain, Lancôme, L'Oréal, Clarins, etc. A large part of the city, including the River Seine, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has the second highest number of Michelin-restaurants in the world (after Tokyo) and contains numerous iconic landmarks, such as the world's most visited tourist site the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum, Moulin Rouge, Lido etc, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with 45 million tourists annually.
HistoryParis started life as the Celto-Roman settlement of Lutetia on the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine currently occupied by the Cathédral de Nôtre Dame. It takes its present name from name of the dominant Gallo-Celtic tribe in the region, the Parisii. At least that's what the Romans called them, when they showed up in 52 BCE and established their city Lutetia on the left bank of the Seine, in what is now called the "Latin Quarter" in the 5th arrondissement.
The Romans held out here for as long as anywhere else in the Western Empire, but by 508 CE they were gone, replaced by Clovis of the Franks, who is considered by the French to have been their first king. Clovis' descendants, aka the Carolingians, held onto the expanded Lutetian state for nearly 500 years through Viking raids and other calamities, which finally resulted in a forced move by most of the population back to the islands which had been the centre of the original Celtic village. The Capetian Duke of Paris was voted to succeed the last of the Carolingians as King of France, ensuring the city a premier position in the medieval world. Over the next several centuries Paris expanded onto the right bank into what was and is still called le Marais (The Marsh). Quite a few buildings from this time can be seen in the 4th arrondissement.
The medieval period also witnessed the founding of the Sorbonne. As the "University of Paris", it became one of the most important centres for learning in Europe -- if not the whole world, for several hundred years. Most of the institutions that still constitute the University are found in the 5th, and 13th arrondissements.
In the late 18th century, there was a period of political and social upheaval in France and Europe, during which the French governmental structure, previously a monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights. Notable events during and following the revolution were the storming of the Bastille 4th arrondissements, and the rise and fall of Napoleonic France. Out of the violent turmoil that was the French Revolution, sparked by the still known Passion des Français, emerged the enlightened modern day France.
The Paris of today was built long after the Capetian and later the Bourbon Kings of France made their mark on Paris with the Louvre and the Palais Royal, both in the 1st. In the 19th century, Baron von Hausmann set about reconstructing the city, by adding the long straight avenues and replacing many of the then existing medieval houses, with grander and more uniform buildings.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris New wonders arrived during La Belle Époque, as the Parisian golden age of the late 19th century is known. Gustave Eiffel's famous tower, the first metro lines, most of the parks, and the streetlights (which are partly believed to have given the city its epithet "the city of light") all come from this period. Another source of the epithet comes from Ville Lumière, a reference not only to the revolutionary electrical lighting system implemented in the streets of Paris, but also to the prominence and aura of Enlightenment the city gained in that era.
The twentieth century was hard on Paris, but thankfully not as hard as it could have been. Hitler's order to burn the city was thankfully ignored by the German General von Choltitz who was quite possibly convinced by a Swedish diplomat that it would be better to surrender and be remembered as the saviour of Paris, than to be remembered as its destroyer. Following the war, the city recovered quickly at first, but slowed in the 1970s and 1980s when Paris began to experience some of the problems faced by big cities everywhere: pollution, housing shortages, and occasionally failed experiments in urban renewal.
During this time however, Paris enjoyed considerable growth as a multi-cultural city, with new immigrants from all corners of the world, especially La Francophonie, including most of northern and western Africa as well as Vietnam and Laos. These immigrants brought their foods and music, both of which are of prime interest for many travellers.
Immigration and multi-culturalism continues in the 21st century with a marked increase in the arrival of people from Latin America, especially Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. In the late 1990s, it was hard to find good Mexican food in Paris, whereas today there are dozens of possibilities from lowly taquerias in the outer arrondissements to nice sit-down restaurants on the boulevards. Meanwhile Latin music from salsa to samba is all the rage (well, alongside Paris lounge electronica).
The 21st century has also seen vast improvements in the general liveability of Paris, with the Mayor's office concentrating on reducing pollution and improving facilities for soft forms of transportation including a huge network of cycle paths, larger pedestrian districts and newer faster metro lines. Visitors who normally arrive car-less are the beneficiaries of these policies as much as the Parisians themselves are.
ClimateBeing located in Western Europe, Paris has a maritime climate with cool winters and warm summers, therefore it is best to wear a beret to accommodate the varying skull warmth possibilities. The moderating effect of the Atlantic Ocean helps to temper temperature extremes in much of western Europe, including France. Even in January, the coldest month, temperatures nearly always exceed the freezing point with an average high of 6°C (43°F). Snow is not common in Paris, although it will fall a few times a year. Most of Paris' precipitation comes in the form of light rain year-round.
Summers in Paris are warm and pleasant, with an average high of 23°C (75°F) during the mid-summer months. Spring and fall are normally cool and wet.
With the weather being so pleasant in the summer, it's a great time to visit.
By planeParis is served by three international airports - for more information, including arrival/departure times, check the official sites.
Charles de Gaulle International Airport (Roissy)[☛] , . The major hub airport to the north-east of the city. It's notoriously confusing, so allow plenty of time for transfers. There are three terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 2 (which is huge and subdivided into 2A through 2G), and Terminal 3 (formerly T9). The newest exception is terminal 2G which is a separate building and is only reachable via navette/bus in 10-15 min (bus leaves every 20 min) so allow extra time. The free CDGVAL shuttle train connects the terminals together. Everything at this airport is very expensive, especially food. If you're traveling from Terminal 1 it's also worth noting that the food court is located at the CDGVAL floor, before the security check. There are hardly any benches around. There are no public shower facilities in the airport. Air France lounges have such facilities, and the departure lounges have showers. Lounge access is included for Air France business and first class travelers. The members of the Air France and cooperating frequent flyer programs may gain access with sufficient status. There is a possibility that some lounges may grant access to travelers on their flights for a fee. If you consider paying for access to the lounge, inquire when checking in for your departure. If you must have a shower and your frequent flyer status (and charm) are insufficient to gain entry to a lounge, the airport hotels generally have rooms available (in Sep 2009, the Sheraton in Terminal 2 at the train station charged €155).
When you arrive at CDG, you should note what terminal you arrived at (2A, 2D, etc.), because when you come back to the airport to depart at the end of your trip, the RER subway train makes two stops at CDG to cover the three terminals, but there are few indications of which airlines are at which terminals. Have a close look at your air ticket to figure out which terminal you are departing from. Air France and associates leave from Terminal 2. The RER B has the airlines serviced by each terminal on a not so obvious chart posted by the door of the train.
Terminal 1There are quite a few points with power outlets specifically for charging passengers' laptops/mobiles, both down by the food court and by some of the gates.
Terminal 2EVAT Tax refund: First, have your tax refund papers stamped at the tax refund counter in the main terminal area, before you check in with your airline. Showing goods is signposted as mandatory, usually only required for high priced, marquee items.
To locate the tax refund counter in the terminal, look for the signs or ask any airline employee for directions. Don't be confused by a single line splitting between currency exchange and tax refund office: choose tax refund if you prefer Euros--while currency exchange refunds only in USD or your national currency, both buy at a robbery rate (and with no rollback to the refund window after you realized the rate).
The line can take a long time, expect several minutes per customer. At either office, you can also receive refund for your spouse if you have their passport and refund forms.
Duty-free shopping: There are no shops before security check zone. When you shop in post-security check zone, it's not genuinely taxfree, as you can receive a tax refund for those purchases as well.
Contrary to what one may expect, there is no L'Occitane; cheese is limited to soft sorts (and there are no ripe varietes); wines starts at €11 and some popular sorts like Chinin can't be found; selection of sausages is extremely limited.
There are no mid-range clothes or shoes stores, only luxury brands.
Get in / outFor getting to or from Paris, the RER commuter train, line B, has stations in T3 (from where you can take the free CDGVAL shuttle train to T1) and T2. Trains to Paris leave every 7-8 minutes and stop at Gare du Nord, Châtelet-Les Halles, Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, Luxembourg, Port-Royal, Denfert-Rochereau and Cité Universitaire. Adult tickets cost €9.25, and for children between 4-10 the fare is €5.95 each; unusually, day tickets are normally not valid for travel to and from the airport. The train takes around 35 minutes to Gare du Nord and 45 minutes to Denfert-Rochereau, making this the fastest way to get to the city. Tickets can be purchased either through green (sometimes blue) automated ticket vending machines ("Billetterie Ile-de-France") or through the ticket office serviced by transport authority personnel. Engineering works near CDG Terminal-1 and Aulnay-Sois-Bois stations are conducted between 2300hrs and 0100hrs everyday, so you must take a coach (bus) from Terminal 3 to the station where you can take the RER B train to Paris. The fare is included in the train ticket you purchase.
The automated ticket machines accept Euro coins of €2, €1 and 50, 20, 10, 5 cent denominations and give change...Euro notes not accepted. Credit card payment is ok on this machines though. There is one separate automated machine which changes €20, €10 and €5 notes to €2 and €1 coins. However, due to the high demand, the machine frequently runs out of coins. There are currency exchange centres, but they explicitly state notes will not be changed for coins. Alternatively, except for some non-European credit cards, many smart-chip credit cards can be used on the ticket machines . Because of these limitations, purchasing tickets from the ticket office may seem to be an attractive method. Although there are many counters, the queues can be very long. On Sunday at "lesser" stations, don't count on its ticket office being open. Although it is a nuisance, the fastest way to get some tickets is to take a lot of Euro coins with you. It is also possible to explain the situation to a European buying a ticket with a working credit card, and ask them to buy one for you in exchange for a paper note.
Trains for Paris usually leave from platforms 11 and 12. Look for signs saying "RER B" or "All trains go to Paris". When using the ticket from and to the airport (as with tickets for the RER commuter trains in general) you have to use it to enter and to exit the train. Always keep the ticket handy as the SNCF officials sometimes check for tickets, and if you are without one you may be fined €40. This means that after you put the ticket into the entry gate and are cleared to pass, you must retrieve the ticket from the machine and keep it with you until you leave the train system including any connections.
Alternatively, the Roissybus service (€10) connects all terminals directly to Opéra Garnier in central Paris, but it's subject to traffic jams and rush hour, so it averages 60-90 min even on a good day. You could take bus number 350[☛]and 351[☛] to the city and it requires three tickets t+ per person (about €5.10, or €5.70 if the tickets are purchased on the bus), making this the cheapest option to go to and from Paris. The tickets can be purchased at newsstands, at ticket machines, or, for a higher price, inside the bus from the driver and they need to be validated with a device lying next to the driver's seat.
Air France buses [☛] offer two stops in Paris (Porte Maillot, Montparnasse) from CDG with a 50-min ride. To reach a specific address into the city, this shared shuttle service [☛] costs €19 per person [☛], private transfers cost €79 [☛]. Mercedes E transfer costs €129 and are available from CDG and ORY. There is also a TGV station in T2 for high-speed connections, mostly towards Lille and Brussels, but there are also some trains that head south to eg. Rennes and Nantes, bypassing Paris.
BE CAREFUL when using buses to get to CDG. There are frequent traffic jams on the motorways leading to the airport - the Air France bus normally may need 50 minutes to get to CDG, but it may take 1½ hours as well... your best bet for arriving on time with the buses is to take them very early in the morning or during times otherwise when there isn't much traffic.
ContactPost office only exists in B and D terminals. However, you can send postcards buying post stamps in a newspaper stand, and dropping them into a postbox (both exist in every terminal).
Orly International Airport[☛] (, . This airport is southwest of the city, and served by a southern branch of the RER-B line that heads in the direction of Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse (not Robinson). This older international airport is used mainly by Air France for domestic departures, and international departures by European carriers. Orly is roughly 40 min from Paris via the OrlyBus, which departs from Métro Denfert-Rochereau (ligne 6); the price is €7. There are buses every 10 minutes from the Orly Sud (Platform 4) and it stops at Orly Ouest on its way to the city. Tickets can be bought at a counter near the baggage claim area or directly at the counter in Platform 4. The tickets need to be validated once on the bus. Another option is bus 285 that takes you to the Métro Villejuif - Louis Aragon(Line 7) in 15 min, but it stops on the way and is designed for commuters and not for travellers. Bus 285 costs €1.90 and runs every 10 min, stopping at airport level -1.
The Orlyval light rail connects the two terminals to each other and to the RER B line at Antony. It runs every 4-7 min and cost €9.85 for transfer to Paris, including connections to central area metro stations. The RER B from Antony runs through Paris to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle.
Beauvais (Aéroport de Beauvais Tillé)[☛] , . This airport, a distance north of the city, is a smaller regional airport that is used by some low-cost carriers such as Ryanair (list flights [☛]) and WizzAir. Like many small airports there is a cartel in operation in the form of the airport operated shuttle service connecting with the Métro at Porte Maillot station. Buses run even during the small hours of the morning (6AM). Buses leave 20 min after each flight arrives, and a few hours before each flight departs. Exact times can be found on the Beauvais Airport website. The journey will take about an hour in good traffic conditions, and costs €15 each way, there is no reduced price for children over the age of 2 years. Unless you hire a car this is the most realistic way to head toward Paris, hence why the airport charge the price they do.
Airline ShuttlesIn addition to public transport, Air France operates shuttles between Charles de Gaulle and Paris (€15-16.5), Orly and Paris (€11.5) and between the two airports (€19). Note that if you have connecting Air France flights that land and depart from different airports, you would still generally need to fetch your luggage after landing, catch either the Air France shuttle or a taxi (readily available at all airports) to the other airport and check-in again. This altogether could take up to 2 hours particularly if traffic is at its worst. It is also common to lose time during disembarking, as passengers often need to get off at the tarmac and get on buses which will bring them to the terminal building. Be sure to have sufficient time between flights to catch your connection. Note that check-in counters usually close 30 min before the flight departs, longer if flights are international carriers.
If you want to take RER B and catch an early flight, make sure you bring enough change, because you can only buy tickets at the coins-only machines before the counter opens.
If you arrive to CDG Airport at night you'll need a Noctilien bus to get to the city center. The bus stops in all three terminals (in terminal 2F it will be the second level in departure section - it is very difficult to find, but it really exists). The bus leaves every 30 min after 12:30AM (see timetable [☛]). The buses you'll need are N121 and N120; the price is €7.
Paris is well connected to the rest of Europe by train. There is no central station serving Paris and the six different stations are not connected to each other. You will probably want to know in advance at which station your train is arriving, so as to better choose a hotel and plan for transport within the city.
•Gare du Nord, (10th), Métro: Gare du Nord - TGV trains to and from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Cologne, Germany (Thalys), and the United Kingdom (Eurostar) and regular trains from Northern Europe.
•Gare d'Austerlitz, (13th), Métro: Gare d'Austerlitz - regular trains to and from the center and southwest of France (Orléans, Limoges, Toulouse the long way), Spain and Portugal and arrival of majority of the night trains.
•Gare de l'Est, (10th), Métro: Gare de l'Est - ICE/TGV to and from Luxembourg, Saarbrücken, Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart, Munich in Germany and Basel and Zurich in Switzerland.
•Gare de Lyon, (12th), Métro: Gare de Lyon - regular and TGV trains to and from Southern and eastern France: French Alps, Marseille, Lyon, Dijon, Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Italy.
•Gare de Bercy, (12th), Métro: Bercy. Overnight trains from and to Italy and regular trains to Auvergne.
•Gare St Lazare, (8th) Métro: St-Lazare - trains to and from Basse-Normandie, Haute-Normandie.
•Gare Montparnasse, (15th), Métro: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe - TGV and regular trains to and from the west and south-west of France (Brest, Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse the fastest way and Spain).
The SNCF (French national railway authority) [☛] operates practically all trains within France excluding the Eurostar to St Pancras, London [☛] and the Thalys to Brussels and onward to the Netherlands [☛] and Germany [☛]. There are also a few local lines of high touristic interest which are privately owned. All SNCF, Eurostar and Thalys tickets can be bought in railway stations, city offices and travel agencies (no surcharge). The SNCF website allows to book and buy tickets up to two months in advance. There are significant discounts if you book weeks ahead. Reduced ticket prices are different for each day and each train and can be used only on the train the reservation is for. Surprisingly, round trip tickets (aller-retour) with a stay over Saturday night can be cheaper than a single one-way ticket (aller simple). A very limited selection of last minute trips are published on the SNCF website every Tuesday, with discounts of more than 50%.
There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
• TER: The regional trains (Train Express Régionale); cheapest tickets, though prices are variable on the time of day of departure (and the day of departure as well). TER are slower, stopping at almost all stations.
• Intercités: A bundling of the former Intercités, Téoz, and Lunéa train categories. There are two kinds: the regular trains, which are priced the same as the TER and the trains you'll find yourself on if you have a Eurail or InterRail pass and don't want to pay extra for reservations, and the trains à réservation obligatoire, which require a reservation and are priced differently from the regular Intercités trains.
• TGV: The world-famous French high-speed trains (Trains à Grande Vitesse) run very frequently to the Southeast Nice(5-6h), Marseille (3h) and Avignon (2.5 h), the East Geneva (3h) or Lausanne, Switzerland and Dijon (1h15) , the Southwest Bordeaux (3h), the West Rennes (3h) and the North Lille (less than 1h). Eurostar to London (2h15) and Thalys to Brussels (1h20) use almost identical trains. Reservations are obligatory.
• Thalys A high-speed train service running daily to/from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. It can be a bit expensive compared to normal trains, but cheap enough if you buy in advance.
• Intercity: Intercity trains leave for all parts of Europe, including overnight trains to San Sebastian in Spain, Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.
• Eurostar: The Eurostar service connects Paris with London St. Pancras directly and Brussels indirectly, as well many other destinations indirectly through the various west European rail services. Travel time between Paris Gare du Nord and London St Pancras International currently averages at 2h15min, following the opening of a new rail link in late 2007. Eurail and InterRail passes are not valid for this train, though passholders can benefit from a reduced price. You must arrive at the station 30 minutes before the departure of the train to complete security and passport controls.
• City Night Line (CNL): Overnight trains by the German operator DB which have sleeping berths in addition to the regular coach cars. These are not particularly speedy; they are designed to arrive at their destinations at a reasonable morning hour. While the trains themselves are covered by the rail passes, the sleeping accomodation supplements are not, and need to be booked separately, but what you get is a moving bed which transports you to another city, saving on hotel bills in the process. Paris has 3 departures nightly, all from the Gare de l'Est - to Munich (with continuing service to to Innsbruck), Berlin and Hamburg.
Transfer between Train Stations
From Gare du Nord• Gare du Nord - Gare de l'Est (8 mins): Metro line 4 direction Porte d'Orleans. By foot, it is also about 8 minutes, but you will have to descend a set of stairs.
• Gare du Nord - Gare de Lyon (20 mins): RER D direction Melun/Malesherbes; alternatively, if the RER D is not operational, RER B direction Robinson/Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse to Châtelet Les Halles and then RER B direction Marne-la-Vallée/Boissy-Saint-Léger to Gare de Lyon.
• Gare du Nord - Gare Montparnasse (30 mins): Metro line 4 direction Porte d'Orleans
• Gare du Nord - Gare de Bercy (25 mins): Follow the directions for Gare de Lyon, then switch to Métro line 14 direction Olympiades to Bercy.
From Gare de l'Est• Gare de l'Est - Gare du Nord (8 mins) : Metro line 5 direction Bobigny. By foot, it is also about 8 minutes, but you will have to climb set of stairs.
• Gare de l'Est - Gare de Lyon (20 mins) : Metro line 5 direction Place d'Italie, stop at Quai de la Rapee and follow pedestrian signs to Gare de Lyon. Alternatively, Métro line 5 in the same direction to Bastille and then Metro line 1 direction Château de Vincennes to Gare de Lyon.
• Gare de l'Est - Gare Montparnasse (30 mins): Metro line 4 direction Porte d'Orleans.
• Gare de l'Est - Gare de Bercy (25 mins) : Metro line 5 direction Place d'Italie, stop at Bastille and switch to Metro line 1 direction Château de Vincennes to Gare de Lyon, then switch to Metro line 14 direction Olympiades to Bercy. Alternatively, Metro line 5 to Place d'Italie and then Metro line 6 direction Nation to Bercy.
From Gare de Lyon• Gare de Lyon - Gare du Nord (20 mins): RER D direction Orry-la-Ville; if the RER D is not working, take RER A direction Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Cergy Le Haut/Poissy to Châtelet Les Halles and then RER B direction Aéroport Charles de Gaulle/Mitry Claye to Gare du Nord.
• Gare de Lyon - Gare de I'Est (25 mins): Metro line 14 to Chatelet, direction St. Lazzare followed by Metro line 4 direction Porte de Clignancourt.
• Gare de Lyon - Gare Montparnasse (30 mins): Metro line 14 to Chatelet, direction St. Lazzare followed by Metro line 4 direction Porte d'Orleans.
• Gare de Lyon - Gare de Bercy (15 mins): A free shuttle runs between the two every half hour. Alternatively, Metro line 14 direction Olympiades to Bercy.
From Gare Montparnasse• Gare Montparnasse - Gare du Nord OR Gare de I'Est (30 mins): Metro line 4 direction Porte de Clignancourt
• Gare Montparnasse - Gare de Lyon (30 mins): Metro line 4 to Chatelet, direction Porte de Clignancourt followed by Metro line 14 direction Olympiades
From Gare de BercyFor all train stations, either take the free shuttle to Gare de Lyon or Metro line 14 to the same and follow the directions given from Gare de Lyon.
By busEurolines [☛] .A transEuropean bus company that offers trips to and from Paris. Generally offers prices significantly cheaper than the train at the cost of much longer journeys. The Parisian office is located at Bagnolet, adjacent to the Gallieni metro station. Megabus [☛] .A British low-cost bus company that offers routes to and from Paris from throughout the UK, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Seats start at £1.00.
By carSeveral autoroutes (expressway, motorway) link Paris with the rest of France: A1 and A3 to the north, A5 and A6 to the south, A4 to the east and A13 and A10 to the west. Not surprisingly, traffic jams are significantly worse during French school holidays.
The multi-lane highway around Paris, called the Périphérique (BP), is probably preferable to driving through the center. Another beltway nearing completion; L'A86 (also A186 and A286) loops around Paris about 10 km further out from the Périphérique. A third, incomplete beltway is much further out and called La Francilienne (N104).
It is advised not to drive in the Paris Metro Area. It is better to drive to a suburban train station with a parking lot and then use the train to continue your trip throughout Paris. Most of Paris' roads were created long before the invention of automobiles. Traffic inside the city tends to be heavy, especially at rush hour; driving, however, may be rather easy and efficient in the evening. Parking is also difficult. Furthermore, the medieval nature of parts of the city's street system makes it very confusing, and traffic will almost never allow one to stop or slow down to get one's bearings. If you are unfamiliar with the streets and still insist on driving in the city, make sure you have a navigator in the passenger seat with you.
First and foremost, French (le français) is of course the country's official language. Any native French person will speak French and it helps if you can speak a bit of it. In the parts of the city that tourists frequent the most (Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, Champs-Elysées), the shopkeepers, information booth attendants, and other workers are likely to answer you in English, even if your French is advanced. These workers tend to deal with thousands of foreign-speaking tourists, and responding in English is often faster than repeating themselves in French. This is not the case for the rest of the city.
For most Parisians, English is something they had to study in school, and thus seems a bit of a chore. People helping you out in English are making an extra effort, sometimes a considerable one. Parisians younger than 40 are much more likely to be fluent in English. Immigrants, often working in service jobs, are less likely (often, still struggling to learn French.) If it's your first time in France you will have some problems understanding what people are saying (even with prior education in French). Unlike most language education tapes, real French people often speak fast, use slang, and swallow some letters.
When attempting to speak French, do not be offended if people ask you to repeat, or seem not to understand you, as they are not acting out of snobbery. Keep your sense of humour, and if necessary, write down phrases or place names. And remember to speak slowly and clearly. Unless you have an advanced level and can at least sort of understand French movies, you should also assume that it will be difficult for people to understand what you are saying (imagine someone speaking English to you in an indiscernible accent, it's all the same).
When in need of directions what you should do is this: find a younger person, or a person reading some book or magazine in English, who is obviously not in a hurry; say "hello" or "bonjour" (bone-zhor); start by asking if the person speaks English, "Parlez-vous anglais?" (Par-LAY voo on-glay?) even if the person can read something in English, speak slowly and clearly; write down place names if necessary. Smile a lot. Also, carry a map (preferably Paris par Arrondissement); given the complexity of Paris streets it is difficult to explain how to find any particular address in any language, no matter how well you speak it. If anything, the person may have an idea as to the place you are looking for, but may not know exactly where it may be, so the map always helps.
On the other hand you will probably get the cold shoulder if you stop a random person in the métro (like, say, some middle-aged hurried person who has a train to take), fail to greet them and say "where is place X or street Y".
Now, if you speak French, remember two magic phrases : "Excusez-moi de vous déranger" [ex-kuh-zay mwuh duh voo day-rawn-ZHAY] ("Sorry to bother you") and "Pourriez-vous m'aider?" [por-EE-AY voo may-DAY] ("Could you help me?") especially in shops; politeness will work wonders.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass [☛], a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris (and the Palace of Versailles) and comes in 2-day (€39), 4-day (€54) and 6-day (€69) denominations (prices as of Apr 2012). Note these are 'consecutive' days. The card allows you to jump lengthy queues, a big plus during tourist season when line can be extensive, and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, Fnac branches and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions. To avoid waiting in the first long queue to purchase the Museum Pass, stop to purchase your pass a day or more in advance after mid-day. [☛] The pass does not become active until your first museum or site visit when you write your start date. After that, the days covered are consecutive. [☛] (Do not write your start date until you are certain you will use the pass that day and be careful to use the European date style as indicated on the card - day/month/year.
Also consider the ParisPass [☛] also a pre paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise and allows free metro & public transport travel. Also note a cheaper alternative with this new combined pass available since September 2008 is the Paris ComboPass® [☛], which comes in Lite/Premium versions.
Planning your visits: Several sites have "choke points" that restrict the number of visitors that can flow through. These include: The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle,The Catacombs and the steps to climb to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid lines, you should start your day by arriving at one of these sites at least 30 minutes before opening time. Otherwise, expect a wait of at least an hour. Most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Examples: The Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while The Orsay museum is closed on Mondays. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment! Also, most ticket counters close 30-45 min before final closing.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, that this may mean long lines and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding. People have to queue up at the Eiffel Tower for several hours even early in the morning. However, this wait can be greatly reduced, if fit, by walking the first two levels, then buying an elevator ticket to the top. Entry to the permanent exhibitions at city-run museums is free at all times (admission is charged for temporary exhibitions).
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page (follow the link in parenthesis).
Good listings of current cultural events in Paris can be found in 'Pariscope' or 'Officiel des spectacles', weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays and museums. Available from all kiosks.
Notre Dame de Paris • Arc de Triomphe (8th)— The Arc de Triomphe exudes grandeur and offers a central view of the city Métro/RER Charles de Gaulle-Etoile (1, 2, 6, A)
•Catacombs (14th)— Used to store the exhumed bones from the overflowing Paris cemetery. (There is a limit to the number of visitors allowed within the Catacombs at one time (200 persons). So, if you arrive just after opening, you must wait until someone exits, approximately 45-60 minutes, before anyone is admitted). Métro Denfert-Rochereau (4, 6, B)
•Château de Versailles (Versailles)— Must be seen. France's most exquisite chateau, on the outskirts of the city, easily visited by train. Once the home to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. RER Versailles Rive Gauche (C)
•The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) (7th)— No other monument better symbolizes Paris. Métro Bir-Hakeim (6) or RER Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel (C)
•Grand Arche de la Défense (La Défense)— A modern office-building variant of the Arc de Triomphe. Métro/RER La Défense (1, A)
•Notre Dame Cathedral (4th)— Impressive Gothic cathedral that was the inspiration for Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Climb to the top! Métro Cité (4) or RER Saint-Michel-Notre Dame (B, C)
•Opera Garnier (9th)— Masterpiece of theatre architecture of the 19th century built by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 housing the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV. Métro Opéra (3, 7, 8)
•Pantheon (5th)— Underneath, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie; above, a marvellous view of the city. Métro Cardinal Lemoine (10) or RER Luxembourg (B)
•Père-Lachaise Cemetery (20th)— Unlike any cemetery in the world. Ornate grave stones, monuments set among tree lined lanes. See the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Frederic Chopin, amongst many others. Métro Père Lachaise (2, 3)
Sacré Coeur •Sacré Coeur (18th)— A church perched on top of the highest point in Paris. Behind the church is the artists' area, in front are spectacular views of the whole city. Métro Anvers (2) or Abbesses (12), then climb the stairs on Rue Foyatier or take the funicular to the top of the hill.
•Sainte Chapelle (1st)— Exquisite stained glass chapel. More beautiful interior than the gloomy Notre Dame Cathedral. Métro Cité (4)
Museums and galleriesAll national museums et monuments are free for all every first Sunday of the month.
l'Eglise du Dome, church of Les Invalides, site of Napoleon's tomb
•The Louvre, (1st)— One of the finest museums in the world of art and culture. Home of the Mona Lisa and innumerable others. Enormous building and collection, plan at least two visits. Métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (1, 7)
•Musée d'Orsay, (7th)— Incredible collection housed in a former railway station. Works by the great artists of the 19th century (1848-1914) including Monet's "Blue Water Lilies, Renoir's "Bal du moulin de la Galette", van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles", Whistler's "The Artists Mother", etc. RER Musée d'Orsay (C) or Métro Solférino (12)
•Rodin Museum, (7th)— His personal collection and archives, in a charming home with garden. Métro Varenne (13)
•Picasso Museum, (3rd)— Contains the master's own collection. Visitor should note this museum will be closed until 2012 due to renovations of the building. Métro Saint-Paul (1) or Chemin Vert (8)
•Musée Marmottan-Monet [☛] (16th)[rue Louis Boilly]— Over 300 paintings of Claude Monet. Also, the works of Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. "Impression Soleil Levant" by Monet is on display. Métro La Muette (9)
•Musée de l'Orangerie, (1st)— [Jardin des Tuileries] Houses "The Water Lilies" (or "Nymphéas") - a 360 degree depiction of Monet's flower garden at Giverny. Also, impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau, Soutine, Sisley and others. Métro Concorde (1, 8, 12)
•Musée Delacroix— Housed in the home of painter Eugene Delacroix. Métro Mabillon (10) or Saint-Germain-des-Près (4)
•Centre Georges Pompidou, (4th)— The museum of modern art. The building and adjoining Stravinsky Fountain are attractions in themselves. Métro Rambuteau (11)
•Les Invalides, (7th)— Very impressive museum of arms and armor from the Middle Ages to today. Also contains the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Métro Varenne (13)
•Cluny, (5th)— A medieval museum exhibiting the five "The Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries, housed in a part Roman, part medieval building. Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne (10)
•Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs, (1st)— Showcasing eight centuries of French savoir-faire. Métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (1, 7)
•Carnavalet (3rd)— Museum of Paris history; exhibitions are permanent and free. Métro Saint-Paul (1) or Chemin Vert (8)
•Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie - La Villette, (19th)— Science museum primarily for children. Métro Porte de la Villette (7)
•Mémorial de la Shoah, (4th)— Paris's Holocaust Memorial Museum, in the heart of the Marais on rue Geoffroy l'Asnier. Free Entry, weekly guided tours. Second Sunday of the month there is a free tour in English. Métro Pont Marie (7)
•Jacquemart-Andre Museum , (8th)— Private collection of French, Italian, Dutch masterpieces in a typical XIXth century mansion. Métro Miromesnil (9, 13)
EventsIt seems like there's almost always something happening in Paris, with the possible exceptions of the school holidays in August and February, when about half of Parisians are to be found not in Paris, but in the Alps or the South of France respectively. The busiest season is probably the fall, from a week or so after la rentrée scolaire or "back to school" to around Noël (Christmas) theatres, cinemas and concert halls book their fullest schedule of the year.
Even so, there are a couple of annual events in the winter, starting with a furniture and interior decorating trade fair called Maison & Object [☛] in January.
In February le nouvel an chinois (Chinese New Year) is celebrated in Paris as it is in every city with a significant Chinese population. There are parades in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and especially in Chinatown in the 13th south of Place d'Italie. Also in February is the Six Nations Rugby Tournament [☛] which brings together France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
The first of two Fashion weeks occurs in March: Spring Fashion Week, giving designers a platform to present women’s prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) collections for the following winter.
The French Tennis Open [☛] in which the world’s top players battle it out on a clay court runs during two weeks starting on the last Sunday in May. By the time its done in June, a whole range of festivities start up. Rendez-vous au Jardin is an open house for many Parisian gardens, giving you a chance to meet real Parisian gardeners and see their creations. The Fête de la Musique [☛] celebrates the summer solstice (21st June) with this city-wide free musical knees-up. Finally on the 26th of June is the Gay Pride [☛] parade, featuring probably the most sincere participation by the mayor's office of any such parade on the globe.
The French national holiday Bastille Day on the 14th of July celebrates the storming of the infamous Bastille during the French Revolution. Paris hosts several spectacular events that day of which the best known is the Bastille Parade which is held on the Champs-Élysées at 10AM and broadcast to pretty much the rest of Europe by television. The entire street will be crowded with spectators so arrive early. The Bastille Day Fireworks is an exceptional treat for travelers lucky enough to be in town on Bastille Day. The Office du Tourisme et des Congress de Paris recommends gathering in or around the champs du Mars, the gardens of the Eiffel Tower.
Also in July, Cinema en Plein Air [☛] is the annual outdoor cinema event that takes place at the Parc de la Villette, in the 9th on Europe’s largest inflatable screen. For most of the months of July and August, parts of both banks of the Seine are converted from expressway into an artificial beach for Paris Plage [☛]. Also in July the cycling race le Tour de France has a route that varies annually, however it always finishes on the last Sunday of July under the Arc de Triomphe.
On the last full weekend in August, a world-class music festival Rock en Seine [☛] draws international rock and pop stars to barges on the Seine near moored off of the 8th.
During mid-September DJs and (usually young) fans from across Europe converge on Paris for five or six days of dancing etc. culminating in the Techno parade - a parade whose route traces roughly from Pl. de Bastille to the Sorbonne, and around the same time the festival Jazz à la Villette [☛] brings some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz from around the world.
The Nuit Blanche [☛] transforms most of central Paris into a moonlit theme-park for an artsy all-nighter on the first Saturday of October, and Fashion Week [☛] returns shortly thereafter showing off Women’s Prêt-à-Porter collections for the following summer; as we've noted winter collections are presented in March.
The third Thursday in November marks the release of Le Beaujolais Nouveau [☛] and the beginning of the Christmas season. This evening, the Christmas lights are lit in a ceremony on the Champs-Élysées, often in the presence of hundreds (if not thousands) of people and many dignitaries, including the president of France.
Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive event guides covering concerts, clubs, movies or special events. For theater, movies and exhibitions pick up the 'Pariscope' and 'L'officiel du Spectacle', available at newstands for €0.40. For (especially smaller, alternative) concerts pick up LYLO, a small, free booklet available in some bars and at FNAC. There is not any userfriendly online version of these guides.
Cafe Philo in English ,Cafe de Flore, 172, Blvd St-Germain, 75006 [☛] , price Free.Cafe Philo in English meets on the first Wednesday of each month upstairs at the famous Cafe de Flore. Everyone is invited. You don't have to be knowledgeable about philosophy. Meetings begin with a two round voting process to determine a topic. The topic is discussed for two hours.
PhotographyBoop Doobs in Paris is considered by many as the birthplace of photography, and while one may debate the correctness of this claim, there is no debate that Paris is today a photographer's dream. The French capital offers a spectacular array of photographic opportunities to the beginner and the pro alike. It has photogenic monuments (e.g., Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the obelisk at Concorde, and countless others); architecture (the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Museum of the Arab World, to name just a few) and urban street scenes (e.g., in the Marais, Montmartre and Belleville). When you tire of taking your own photos, visit one of the many institutions dedicated to photography (e.g., European Museum of Photography, the Jeu de Paume Museum or the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation). At these and other institutions, you can learn the about the rich history of Paris as the place of important developments in photography (e.g., the Daguerrotype) and as the home of many of the trade's great artists (e.g., Robert Doisneau, André Kertész, Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier Bresson).
Better Paris Photos ,32 Avenue de Suffren, Paris 75116 ,☎ 33 (0)6 74 04 21 84 [☛] , (email [email protected]),By appointment, tours last from 4 hours, price From €195/half day; €290/full day.Better Paris Photos offers instructional tours and workshops that combine hands-on learning of essential photographic techniques with guiding to, and commentary about, the most photogenic spots of Paris. Led by English-speaking photographers and instructors, these tours are open to all skill levels and interest.
MoviesThe Cinémas of Paris are (or at least should be) the envy of the movie-going world. Of course, like anywhere else you can see big budget first-run films from France and elsewhere. That though, is just the start. During any given week there are at least half-a-dozen film festivals going on, at which you can see the entire works of a given actor or director. Meanwhile there are some older cult films like say, What's new Pussycat or Casino Royal which you can enjoy pretty much any day you wish.
Many non-French movies are subtitled (called "version originale" "VO" or "VOstfr" as opposed to "VF" for version francaise).
There are any number of ways to find out what's playing, but the most commonly used guide is Pariscope, which you can find at newstands for €0.40. Meanwhile there are innumerable online guides which have information on "every" cinema in Paris.
With children• Cite des enfants in the 19th, a museum for kids within the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, is interactive, fun, and educational. There are two separate sections for the 3-5 set and the 5-12 set. The tots section has simple exhibits designed to be pushed, prodded, and poked. The section for older kids is more sophisticated with scientific experiments and tv studios. Métro Porte de la Villete (7)
• Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th. It would be counted as a travesty not to take your under 10 year old to the Jardin du Luxembourg, long a favorite with Parisien children. With its world famous merry-go-round, a pond for sail boats, a puppet theater, pony rides, chess players, children's playground, it has something for every kid (with comfortable chairs for weary parents thrown in!). The marionettes du luxembourg, the puppet theater, stages classic French puppet shows in French but should be easy to understand. There are numerous places for a snack. RER Luxembourg (B) or Métro Odéon (4, 10)
•Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th. Buttes-Chaumont is great for those with children that like to run, climb, and explore. Built on the site of an abandoned quarry, the park is roughly bowl-shaped with a 30-meter-tall peak situated in the middle of a pond at the park's center. There are trails up the rock, caves, waterfalls, a suspension bridge, and a small stone gazebo on the top of the rock with a 360-degree view. There is also a puppet theater and a playground. Métro Buttes-Chaumont (7bis), Botzaris (7bis), or Laumière (5)
• Parc Zoologique in the 12th. Like all things in France, this zoo is different because of a 236 foot artificial mountain bang in its center. Take elevators to the top and enjoy the view or watch the mountain goats do their stuff on the sides. Lions, tigers, and everything designed to delight kids can be found in the zoo if the mountaind doesn't do it for your kids. RER/Métro Gare d'Austerlitz (5, 10, C)
• The Jardin d'Acclimatation in the 16th has a number of rides, including pint-sized roller coasters suitable for children as young as three years, as well as a mini-zoo and the estimable Musée en Herbe. Métro Les Sablons (1)
Meet and greet localsFor those who want to meet actual Parisians in addition to exploring major landmarks, in 2010 a group of locals started a new service, "See Paris with a Parisian". You join 90-minute walking tours. The guides show you city landmarks (and the stories and anecdotes that go with them), but they also engage their visitors on life in Paris. You chat with a Parisian, you "decode" the city, and you learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves etc.
•Discover Walks, 1 rue Thérèse ☎ +33 970 449 724, [☛]. Several tours to choose from everyday. Free service - guests choose their tip/donation.
Paris is one of the great fashion centres of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a shopper's delight. While the Paris fashion scene is constantly evolving, the major shopping centres tend to be the same. High end couture can be found in the 8th arrondisement. In summer, there is nothing better than browsing the boutiques along Canal St-Martin, or strolling along the impressive arcades of the historic Palais-Royal, with beautifully wrapped purchases swinging on each arm.
A good note about Le Marais is that as it is a mostly Jewish neighborhood, most of the shops in Le Marais are open on Sundays. The stores in this area are intimate, boutique, "Parisian" style clothing stores. You will no doubt find something along each street, and it is always well worth the look.
Other great areas to shop around in are around the area Sèvres Babylone (Métro Line 10 and Line 12). It is in this area you will find the Le Bon Marché 7th, particularly rue de Cherche Midi 6th. The area boasts some of the major fashion houses (Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, etc) and also has smaller private boutiques with handmade clothing.
In the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can find a handful of vintage clothing shops, carrying anything from couture early 20th century dresses, to 70s Chanel sunglasses. Walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will find major brands. However, if in search of eclectic finds, opt to walk the northern side of the Boulevard, especially along rue Saint André des Arts, where you can always find a nice café to stop in. The area south of Saint-Germain is just as nice, and comes with a price tag to match.
In the artsy quarters of 1 and 4, there are many bargains to be had, once again, if you are prepared to look. Souvenirs are easily found and can be fairly inexpensive as long as you don't buy from the tourist sites. For cheap books of French connection, try the University/Latin quarter as they sell books in all languages starting from half a euro each.
Flea MarketsParis has 3 main flea-markets, located on the outskirts of the central city. The most famous of these is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) (Clignancourt Flea Market) , Métro: Porte de Clignancourt, in the 18th, a haven for lovers of antiques, second-hand goods and retro fashion. The best days to go are Saturday and Sunday. Note that there are particular times of the week when only antique collectors are allowed into the stalls, and there are also times of the day when the stall owners take their Parisian Siesta, and enjoy a leisurely cappuccino for an hour or so. The best times to visit the Flea Markets are in the spring and summertime, when the area is more vibrant. In and around the metro station, you may find the area a little wild, still safe.
Musical InstrumentsRue de Rome, situated near Gare St. Lazare, is crowded with luthiers, brass and woodwind makers, piano sellers, and sheet music stores. Subway station Europe. The area south of the metro station Pigalle is also packed with music shops (more oriented towards guitars and drums).
ArtworkFor art lovers, be sure to check out Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is renowned for its galleries, and it is impossible to turn a street without finding a gallery to cast your glance in. On Fridays, most open until late. Most even have the benefit of bottles of wine so you can wander in with your glass of wine and feel very artistique. Great roads to walk along are rue de Seine, rue Jacob, rue des Beaux Arts, Rue Bonaparte, and Rue Mazarine.
Also, be sure to visit the historical district of Montparnasse' and quartier Vavin where painters like Modigliani, Gauguin and Zadkine used to work.
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