Planning Your Trip
To aid our guests in planning their trip and activities in Paris, we’ve put together this page of useful information and tips.
If you are coming from North America and plan to bring electronics or heating appliances (such as a hair dryer, curling iron etc.), here’s what you need to know. Most electronics such as laptop computers, iPads/iPods/iPhones, cell phones and hand-held games are now “dual voltage”, meaning they will run safely whether on North American 110-volt electrical current, or the 220-240volt current used in the rest of the world. (You can check if yours is dual voltage usually by looking at the charger, where it should indicate 110v to 220-240v.) All you need to bring for dual-voltage electronics are “plug adaptors” for these items (the apartment does come with an iPhone/iPod player/charger/clock radio and one plug adaptor for the use of our guests). You do not need voltage converters unless your electronic items are ONLY 110v.
However, we do not permit the use of 110v-ONLY heating appliances such as hair dryers, curling irons, flat irons for hair, etc. even with a voltage converter. Even with a converter, these appliances will usually overheat, damaging the appliance and even causing a fire! We ask you NOT to bring them with you. We do supply a hair dryer and a flat iron that are made in Europe. Or, if you prefer to have your own appliances (you may be traveling to other parts of Europe before/after your stay with us), you can purchase dual-voltage appliances at travel retailers such as www.Magellan.com and www.TravelSmith.com, or you can purchase your own European appliances once you arrive in France.
Other things to know about packing: we don’t supply personal care items such as shampoos, soap, shower gel. You’ll either need to pack them or buy some when you arrive (there are many little shops in the immediate neighborhood where you can buy personal care/beauty products). Also, Parisian weather tends to be unpredictable; you can have sun and rain in the same day and sometimes it will change from hour to hour! Best bet is to plan to dress in layers and have at least a light rain jacket and portable umbrella on hand. In winter, dress warmly of course! We don’t often get much snow but it does get cold, so a warm coat, hat, scarf and gloves are essential. In summer, we enjoy longer days (it stays light until almost 11pm!) and the temperatures can range from cool to “heat wave” level.
Safety and Security
Overall, Paris is considered to be a very safe city. That being said, crimes such as pickpocketing and muggings are cash machines are the most common, especially in areas with many tourists. Here are some of our best tips to avoid being a victim of crime.
- When taking cash at machines, try to do so during the day and if possible, use the interior cash machines at banks (where there are employees nearby) instead of out on the open sidewalks. If you must use the machines on the sidewalks, try not to use the ones at major tourist areas, where pickpockets and muggers are more likely to be looking for easy prey. Avoid taking cash from machines at night, even using the interior machines, especially if you’re alone. (If you are with others, have them stand near you as deterrents.) A little advance planning, where your cash is concerned, can save you a big headache later. The good news here is, muggings and pickpocketings in Paris are very rarely violent. Better to lose your money than risk something worse happening.
- Avoiding pickpockets: Parisian pickpockets are extremely efficient at their “jobs”. They can lift your wallet most times without you even knowing it. I was the victim of some pickpockets on the metro line 1 on the Champs Elysées while here on vacation in 2001; all it took was a very crowded subway car and me forgetting that my wallet was in my backpack on my back, where I couldn’t protect it. So, to protect yourself and your wallet: (1) be aware of your surroundings, (2) don’t leave your valuables in a backpack on your back or in a back pocket in crowded places; wear the backpack in front of you or move your wallet to a front pocket, (3) avoid scams designed to distract you while someone picks your pocket (see next bullet).
- Avoiding scams: There are a few well-known scams going on that you would do well to avoid. (1) Gold ring scam: someone will bend over near you and appear to pick up a gold ring he/she “found” on the sidewalk. They will ask you if you dropped it, and when you say no (of course) they will try and bargain with you to exchange it for cash. Just wave them away and move on. (2) Clipboard gypsies: clusters of typically young people, often part of Paris’ “gypsy” population, hang out at monuments and metro entrances with clipboards, accosting tourists, pretending not to speak and making motions for you to sign their “petition”. While they detain you (if you pause to fall for this scam), one of their friends could be picking your pocket. Again, wave them away and keep moving.
- If the worst happens, and you are a victim of a crime or a lost passport: you will need to find a police station to file a report, especially if your passport was stolen; then you will need to go to your country’s Embassy or Consulate to get a new passport (you will need the police report as proof you believe it was stolen as opposed to lost). The US Embassy in Paris is here; the Canadian Embassy is here. If you’re from another country, check online for the address of your embassy in Paris. Knowing where your embassy is located will be a huge relief in case you have this kind of emergency and need assistance. We also advise that you make photocopies of all passports and other ID, and leave them in the apartment while you’re out; if your passport is lost or stolen, you can come back and retrieve the copies before going to the Embassy. Also keep a note somewhere (keep it in your luggage) with numbers of credit cards and phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen; the Embassy can probably give you the use of a free phone to make those calls. If you have an American Express card, the American Express office in Paris (11 rue Scribe, 9th arrondissement, next to the Opera Garnier) can issue you a new one usually the same day.
- Medical Emergencies: If you are taking prescription medications, you should bring copies of your prescriptions with you. If you lose your medications, you will still need to see a doctor in France in order to obtain a legal prescription here in France (French pharmacies can’t honor foreign prescriptions) but having your original doctor’s prescription will be helpful. Pharmacies are found everywhere, and have green neon blinking crosses outside so you can easily identify them. If you need an off-hours/all night pharmacy, there are just a few: (1) 84 Champs Elysées, 8th, metro Franklin Roosevelt; (2) 6 Place de Clichy, 9th, metro Clichy; and (3) 6 Place Félix Eboué, 12th, metro Daumesnil. If you need a doctor, here’s the good news – there is a house-call service called SOS Médecins (call 01 47 07 77 77) where a doctor will come to your apartment or hotel room 24 hours a day. You will have to pay in cash (typically between 50-80 euros on average) but it’s worth it. When you call the service, you can ask for an English-speaking doctor if you speak no French. If you need a doctor but it’s not an emergency, go to a nearby pharmacy and ask the pharmacist for a recommendation to someone in the neighborhood. Many doctors, especially generalists, offer some hours “sans rendez-vous” (without appointment).
- Try and blend in. Tourists often stand out for the way they dress and the way they conduct themselves in public. One way to avoid problems with pickpockets is to do your best to blend in with the locals. (1) How you dress: don’t wear fanny packs. Parisians normally don’t wear shorts, sweatpants or white sneakers/tennis shoes unless they are exercising or unless they’re at a beach resort. They tend to wear more neutral colors and a lot of black. (2) How you speak: the French, when in public, tend to speak rather quietly, being rather private people. While you will always find exceptions (even the French can be annoyingly clueless about talking loudly on cell phones in public, and teenagers are loud and boisterous no matter where they’re from), in general the loudest people tend to be tourists, especially those from the U.S., Italy and Russia. Lower the volume of your voice(s) so you don’t stand out. (3) How you act: don’t stand around in the middle of a crowd with an open map, looking lost; this makes you an instant target. Don’t call a waiter “garçon!” – just say “Monsieur!” or “Excusez-moi” to get the waiter’s attention in a restaurant.
Getting Around Paris
We keep a few maps and guidebooks in the apartment for the use of our guests. But the main thing you’ll want to know is how and where to buy tickets to ride the metro and bus, which are easier, more efficient and much cheaper than taking taxis.
The metro and bus in Paris both use the same tickets: small white tickets with some printing on one side and a bar on the other, known as “Ticket +” tickets (please read this link for full information on these tickets). They are typically used by occasional riders and visitors who do not want to use the Paris Visit card. If you are here only for a short time and don’t plan to use the metro or buses much, you can buy a “carnet” (say: car-NAY) of 10 tickets at any metro station window, and in many TABAC shops or bars that also have a green sign outside that looks like a metro ticket. Each ticket is good for a one-way trip on the metro (ride/change trains as much as you need to without exiting “Sortie”) and bus (change buses as many times as you need to within 90 minutes), trams (that encircle the outskirts of the city) and the Montmartre Funiculaire that takes you to Sacre Coeur. With these tickets, you either pass the ticket through the slot in the metro turnstile or in the ticket machine in the buses (remember to take it with you when it pops back out at the top, as the transit police can and DO check for validated tickets, and when riding the RER trains you even need your validated ticket to exit the station!)
The Paris Visite card (read this link for full details on where to buy and how to activate the card) gives you unlimited, unrestricted access around the Ile-de-France (central Paris plus the immediate suburbs zones 1-3 or zones 1-5 – the airports are in Zone 5) for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days. Prices are based on number of days, whether you want central Paris only or Paris+suburb+airport, and children 10 or under can get 50% off tickets. You need one card per person during your stay; they are non-transferable. When getting on a bus or passing through the metro turnstiles, you wave the card in front of the magnetic card-reader (purple and marked “Navigo” – which is the monthly version of the transit pass); don’t forget to validate even on the bus in case the transit police are checking because you can incur a heavy fine!
You can also purchase single tickets ON any Paris bus by paying the driver 1.90euros, but this is the most expensive option and the ticket is not good for any transfers. There are also machines available to purchase individual tickets or carnets, in the metro stations, but these machines don’t accept American credit cards as they don’t contain the special security chip (called a “puce”, which literally means “flea”!) the European bank cards use.
TAXIS: Taxis are normally not permitted to stop anywhere for passengers, as you might do in New York, for example, so don’t be surprised if you try to wave one down and they refuse to stop. In each neighborhood there are designated taxi queues where available taxis line up; you will need to go to the first taxi in the line. Look for the blue and white TAXI signs to find one of these queues. There are taxi services you can call but you need to speak and understand French to navigate their phone systems. For your return trip to the airport or train station upon your departure, we can help you reserve a taxi the day before, so just ask us when you arrive.
Of course, Paris is a very walkable city, so bring good, comfortable shoes and enjoy strolling like a real Parisian during your stay! Do take your time when walking around Montmartre: with the steep hill, narrow streets and cobblestones, it can be hard on the feet and joints, but it’s very good exercise.
Things to do/Tours
- Open Tours Bus Tour - the Open Tours bus offers 1, 2 and 3-day passes priced for adults and children, and allows you to hop on and hop off at any of their stops on their predefined routes. With the open upper deck, you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the city.
- Boat/”bateaux mouche” tours on the Seine – these are really lovely ways to see some of the city. There are hour-long tours with narration in multiple languages, as well as dinner and lunch tours which take about 2 or 2 1/2 hours. There are several different tour companies. The official Bateaux-Mouches which leave from the Pont de l’Alma; Bateaux Parisiens which leave from just below the Eiffel Tower; and the Vedettes du Pont Neuf which leave from the Ile de la Cité/Pont Neuf. For the short tours, no reservations are usually necessary but you will need to make reservations for lunch and dinner cruises. Cruises operate by day and by night in all weather (except if the Seine is flooding), so take your pick!
- Louvre – short tours – (closed Tuesdays) The Louvre is enormous and much too large to see all of it, especially if you are only in Paris for a few days. However, you can take a short audio-guided tour of 1 hr to 90 minutes, and see the highlights such as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and others. You can get the audio tours at the Louvre, and even download tours for your Smartphone online.
- Musée d’Orsay* – closed Mondays; open late on Thursdays until 9:45pm. A must-see; worth standing in line. Buy tickets online in advance to save some waiting time (tickets bought online cannot be collected AT the museum, but once you have them, you enter through the Reserved Entrance C).
- Musée de l’Orangerie* – closed Tuesdays; small museum in the Tuileries gardens that house two rooms of wall-to-wall Monet Waterlily paintings and an excellent small collection of Impressionist and other works.
- Rodin Museum – closed Mondays; open late on Wednesdays until 8:45pm. Located in a mansion with original gardens, the house and gardens showcase Rodin’s most famous works, including the Thinker and the Kiss.
- Centre Pompidou – closed Tuesdays; open daily until 9pm!
- Musée Carnavalet – closed Mondays and holidays; FREE (except special exhibitions). Wonderful small museum in the Marais district (23 rue de Sevigné, metro Saint Paul) showcasing the history of Paris from Roman times onward.
- The Catacombs – located in the 14th at 1 Avenue de Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, tours take about 45 minutes, 2km. There are a lot of stairs to descend (to enter) and climb (to exit) and no elevators; persons who cannot climb stairs, or who have cardiac or nervous conditions are advised not to visit. There are no toilets and no coatroom, and the temperature is cool so wear a jacket or sweater even in summer.
- Notre Dame de Paris – open daily, FREE (except for the Treasury, the Crypt and to climb the towers). If possible, try to go on a sunny afternoon when the light will be best coming through the famous Rose Windows. On Thursdays and Saturday evenings in May and June, there are evening audiovisuals shows (free).
- The Eiffel Tower/La Tour Eiffel – Everyone wants to climb the Eiffel Tower at least once in their lives. There is a nearby bus (#80) that goes round trip from just near the apartment to the end of the Champs de Mars, the gardens where the Eiffel Tower is located; the trip takes about 30 minutes. IMPORTANT BULLETIN, SPRING 2012: UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, A TECHNICAL PROBLEM WITH THE ELEVATORS IS CAUSING EXTRA LONG DELAYS – MORE THAN 2 HOURS WAIT TIME – RESTRICTED NUMBERS OF TICKETS BEING SOLD AND ONLY 1 ELEVATOR IS IN SERVICE. In view of this problem, you may want to skip the attempt to go up the tower. Or, if you are very fit, you can purchase tickets to climb the staircases up to the 2nd level (the 3rd level, at the very top, requires elevators).
- Tour Montparnasse – since the Eiffel Tower is experiencing difficulties with elevators, an alternative (and in my opinion, much better) view of the city can be found at the Tour Montparnasse, which is the big black monolith skyscraper on the Left Bank, not very far from the Eiffel Tower. They have both an indoor and open-air viewing deck, and the view is especially pretty at night – with the added bonus that the Eiffel Tower is actually IN your views and pictures!
- Sacre Coeur – just 10 minutes or less by foot from the apartment Sacre Coeur is free to enter and well worth the trip and the climb (of course, you can take the Funiculaire using one metro ticket, to save walking up or down the long staircases).
- Père Lachaise Cemetery – where many of France’s famous (and Jim Morrison) have been buried.
- Montmartre – more on Montmartre
- Versailles – a trip to the palace at Versailles is worth at least a half-day; you’ll need a full day if you plan to see everything. We recommend that you buy your tickets online in advance and get up extra early to get in line at the entrance before they open; this way, you can avoid a good part of the many bus-loads of tourists when touring the main palace. To go on a day when the fountains are operating in the gardens (with musical accompaniment!), choose the Passport ticket, which gives you entrance to the Palace, Gardens, Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate. It is a long walk between the main Palace and Petit Trianon/Marie Antoinette’s Estate, but after you tour the Palace, there is a little train in the back, and you can purchase additional tickets to take the train out and back. The Palace is a short walk from the train station in Versailles. You can purchase tickets at any RER C station to go from central Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche and back again; ask for an “aller-retour” (say: a-lay re-tour) for round trip tickets; normal Paris metro/bus tickets won’t be accepted. By the way, if you only want to walk around the gardens, it’s FREE if you go on days when the fountains are turned off! You can rent bikes and boats in the gardens; there are also some restaurants here and there.
*You can buy a combined pass for the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie for 14 euros.