Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Planning a Trip to Paris

I've had several people ask different questions about our trip to Paris and how I planned or where we stayed. I've put together a summary of the logistics of our trip and a few pieces of advice, if you're interested...

Planning What to See + Do
I had wanted to go to Paris for as long as I can remember, so I had a pretty good idea of the main things that I wanted to see: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Sainte Chapelle, Versailles, Sacre Coeur. I also read some books and did research on other things to see in Paris. My favorite book was one my best friend sent me called The Little Black Book of Paris. The book was broken down into sections covering different areas of Paris, with sites, restaurants, hotels, and shopping recommendations for each area. I used this as a guide by looking for things to do around each main site I wanted to see.

I also bought a big map of Paris to get a feel for the general layout of the city. That way I was relatively familiar with which sides of town certain sites were in, so I could adjust our itinerary as needed. I thought the map was really helpful as I planned out each day, so I could visualize where we would be coming from, what all we would be passing, and in what order we should try to see things.

The other resource that I found really helpful was the Moleskine Paris City Guide. This had a metro map in it, but also had very close-up maps of the whole city of Paris, including all metro stops and the names of the stops. It's also pretty small and discreet, so it was easy to pull out when we needed to without looking too much like tourists:)

Planning Our Itinerary
I mentioned above that I picked several bigger sites I wanted to see, and then filled in around them smaller things to see or do. I kept our itinerary pretty loose until the last couple of days before I left, so I had a better idea of what the weather would be like. I planned each day by which section of Paris we would be in, along with what was open or closed on a specific day. A lot of museums and Versailles are closed on Mondays, and the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so it's really important to be aware of those closings. I also had read that Versailles is really busy on Sundays and Tuesdays, so we went on a Wednesday.

I didn't know how much time we would need in each place, or how long it would take us to walk from one place to another, so I kept each day's itinerary pretty loose. Some days we didn't fit everything in, so we just added them on to another day when we would be in the area again. One day we showed up at Musee d'Orsay and it was closed for no reason, so we had to switch gears and pick something to do from another day. My use of the word "itinerary" is probably sounding stressful and uptight, but I really think it made our trip more relaxing. We didn't have to think about what we should do next or where we needed to go, because I had already figured all of that out. And I knew that as long as we hit the things that were the most important to me, I would be happy.

Paris Museum Pass
When I was planning our trip, I stumbled across the Paris Museum Pass. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is planning on visiting some of the popular sites in Paris! The pass gives you unlimited access to about 60 different museums and monuments in and around Paris. You can choose whether you want a 2, 4, or 6-day pass. I bought our passes at an information desk at the airport, but they are also sold at several monuments/museums around Paris. We chose to get the 6-day passes, since we were going to be in Paris a little over a week. I kept track of how much all the museums and monuments we saw would have cost us without the pass: 220 euros for both of us. We only paid 138 euros for both of our passes! So we definitely saved a good amount of money, but we also didn't wait in lines at most places. This was even more worth it, in my mind. The only places we had to wait in line were Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle. At Pompidou and Versailles we had to wait in the security line, but not the ticket line. We saved SO much time, especially at the bigger places like the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and the Musee d'Orsay.

Getting Around
We took the metro and walked everywhere. We never took a bus or a cab, because the metro system is so convenient! We bought our metro tickets in sets of 10 (they're a little bit cheaper that way) at the metro station, and we ended up going through 30 tickets. We tried to spend each day in a general area, so that resulted in fewer metro tickets per day and a lot of walking.

We took the RER-C train to and from Versailles, and we bought those train tickets the day of at the train/metro station. Those trains run pretty frequently.

When I arrived in Paris I was by myself, and I took the RER-B train from Charles de Gaulle airport to downtown Paris. That ticket was about 10 euros, and I bought it at the information desk at the airport. We took the same train from Paris to the airport, and bought our tickets at the metro station.

Carrying a Purse/Safety
I had always heard that Paris was dangerous and there were a lot of pickpockets in the city. Several people recommended against carrying a purse, but I can't go anywhere without my purse so I knew that was not an option! I actually took a huge purse (you can see it here), and I felt safe the whole time. Originally it only had snap closures, so I had my mom add a zipper which I am SO glad I had her do. I carried my DSLR camera in my bag, as well as our passports, my wallet, and my books and maps. I kept my purse in front of me all the time, and on the metro and in really crowded tourist areas I made sure to keep my hand on it. I really never felt threatened at all. Caleb carried a backpack with our umbrellas and rain jackets, as well as snacks and waters. We did not put anything of value in the backpack, as it would be much easier for someone to snatch something out of that rather than my purse. I strongly recommend carrying a purse or bag that you can put in front of you and that can zip up. Just be mindful of large crowds and the metro.

We mostly used our debit cards and credit cards. I exchanged some money at my bank here in the States just so that I would have some cash on hand when I arrived. We also took money out from ATMs a couple of times, but the majority of the money we spent we put on our credit or debit card. I'm sure everyone has different experiences, but every restaurant and store we used took our card just fine, as well as our hotels. We used cash for the little bakeries and shops where we bought pastries, crêpes, or snacks.

The first night we stayed at Hôtel Europe St. Séverin near Saint Michel. The hotel was on a cobblestone, pedestrian-only street, so there were tons of restaurants nearby. Notre Dame was literally around the corner, as was the metro station and train station, so it was a great location. It was a little bit loud at night because of all the people still at restaurants and all of the foot traffic, but the staff was friendly, the rooms were clean, and we had a really good experience there.

The next five nights we stayed at Hôtel Home Moderne. This hotel was a little bit further from all of the tourist spots, and we really enjoyed being in a more residential area of town. Each morning there were open markets for the neighborhood, so we saw everyone out buying all of their meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables for the day. This was the cheapest hotel that we stayed in, but the room was the biggest out of all three hotels, and everything was very clean and nice. We had to walk a couple of blocks each day to the metro stop, but it wasn't that big of a deal. I would definitely recommend this hotel if you want something that's nice with all of the amenities, but don't want to pay a ton.

The last two nights we stayed at Hôtel Maxim Quartier Latin. This hotel was right near rue Mouffetard, so there were a ton of restaurants right near by, which I really liked. This side of town was pretty quiet as it was not as close to tourist spots like the first hotel was. A metro stop was literally across from our hotel, so that was really nice. Again, everything was very clean and nice, and the staff was very friendly.

I did a bunch of research on restaurants, and I don't think we ate at any of the restaurants or cafés I had on my lists. We found it was too difficult to predict where we might be when we got hungry for lunch or dinner, so we just picked random spots that we were near. And we liked everything we ate (except for the crême caramel we had for dessert once, but that was mostly because of the texture), so I don't think our strategy was too bad.

For breakfast each morning we would get pastries from a bakery. Honestly that was always our favorite meal of the day; there's just something about French breads and pastries! For lunch we had pretty low-key meals. We would get crêpes, quiche, or sandwiches, just something quick from a little restaurant or café. For dinner we would just find a restaurant nearby that had a good menu. There are restaurants literally all over Paris, and we found you just could not go wrong with the food. Some of my favorite things we ate were French onion soup, beef bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and this really amazing pizza with delicious cheeses. Also did I mention the pastries? :)

We had such a great experience in Paris. We found the people were very friendly, the city was easy to navigate, and the food was delicious! I really recommend a trip to Paris if you've ever thought about going. If you have any questions I didn't cover, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.


  1. You know, I had that same problem with planning our restaurant stops. We didn't visit any of the places on my list because we always ended up far from the restaurants. So we had to wing it and half the time, we ended up eating something spectacular, while the other half...was not good. I have to say my favorite eats from Paris were the pastries (pain au chocolat everyday!).

  2. So fun!! How was navigating the language? Did you study to brush up before you left? Were most things in English, or did you have a lot of opportunities to practice your French while you were there?

  3. Thanks for sharing your tips! I am so glad you had a great time! I went in high school to Europe, and we only had one day in Paris :(

  4. this is a great guide! i love getting pastries in the morning - the best breakfast :)