Tips for visiting Paris & Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time of year to visit Paris?

The short answer - Paris is splendid at any time of the year. You cannot miss.

Chez Plumeau. MontmartreIf you have school-age children, you will be travelling in summer. The days are long, the weather is warm, you can dress and travel light, and this is the best time for the outdoor cafés and restaurants. Morning or evening walks are also particularly pleasant. In August, many Parisians themselves take their holidays, so some shops close for the month. But at the same time, Paris can be less crowded then.

Christmas Tree, Galeries LafayetteFall and winter are peak seasons for people who visit Paris often. The colder weather sharpens the appetite and the attraction of a leisurely hour or two in the city's cafés becomes clear. Parisians tend to dress up a little more. The season of cultural events is in full swing. The city of light lives up to its reputation during Christmas and New Year's. And airfares are at their seasonal cheapest.

Springtime in Paris - is springtime in Paris; they write songs and poems about it. The weather varies between sunshine and hail, sometimes in the same day. But it's quintissential Paris, and a perenially popular time to visit.

How far is the closest metro station?

Practically everywhere in Paris is close to a metro station. Our apartment is no exception. But here's a tip: the metro is intended for commuters, not for tourists. It's fast, frequent, and you can calculate your trip time by counting two minutes per station. But it's also crowded at peak times, it's hot in summer, the air is not great, and unless you're a train buff, there is not a lot to see.

Alternatives to the metroParis is a walker's city, especially if you're staying in a central location. Bring good shoes and a good map; exploration is well rewarded, from the small shops to the grand parks, courtyard gardens to the banks of the Seine. The city is built on a scale for walking.

Parisian buses are as frequent and as fast as the metro for the most part, cleaner and more comfortable, and you can see where you are going. They take one ticket per bus and don't permit line changes like the metro. But they make an ideal complement for getting about Paris for the visitor on foot.

Taxis are the other great way to get about quickly. Because Paris is small, they are surprisingly cheap; travel between any two locations within central Paris will usually cost less than €10. They are a great way to get home again after an evening out. A white-knuckle late night taxi ride is also an experience in itself. Many Paris taxi drivers would do Alain Prost proud.

Garden shopIs the street safe? How is the neighborhood at night? Would we be comfortable walking in the area or returning from the Metro in the evening?

It is advisable to be prudent when visiting cities, and no place is guaranteed to be perfectly safe. However, central Paris has as low a crime rate as any major capital, and police maintain a visible presence. I've even seen police out writing parking tickets on the rue de Grenelle at a quarter to seven in the morning. Guidebook after guidebook will mention that the 7th arrondissement is among the safest in Paris. 

Gourmet foods at FauchonAre there shops nearby?

Rue Cler is a pedestrian market street with a wide variety of fresh food and specialty shops. In the wider area you will find everything from inexpensive supermarkets to gourmet bakeries famous in Paris, and a myriad of small boutiques and unique shops.

How far ahead should we book?

The early birds tend to get in about six months in advance, and most people about three months in advance. But every so often we are able to reward someone for their procrastination with immediate availability.

Flexibility is key to avoid disappointment. The best tip is to make enquiries and book your accommodations before you book your flights. There are always plenty of planes going to Paris.

How do I beat jet-lag?

Here's what works for me, when flying in from North America...Apartment table

1. Try to take a flight that arrives into Paris as late as possible in the afternoon. Sleep on the plane, if possible.

2. Eat a good, solid, evening meal. This is not a time to diet.

3. Sleep early.

4. About three hours before sunrise, you'll feel like waking up. If you're like me, waking at such a righteous hour is sort of a novelty. But cede not to the temptation, you'll repent if you do. Remain slothful until at least 6am.

5. Resist the temptation to take an afternoon nap the following day. Take fresh air and coffee as needed.

6. Sleep early once again. From the morning of the second day, you'll be pretty much over the jet lag.

Many flights from the US arrive early in the morning. In that case, you may have to play it by ear. If it's your first visit to Paris, you probably won't notice that you are tired. The trick is to avoid daytime sleeping from the second day onwards.

We're planning on wearing tennis shoes - not stylish, but comfortable! What other sort of shoes do people walk in in Paris?

People there tend to wear all sorts of shoes, but you may feel more at ease, especially in restaurants, to be wearing comfortable walking shoes of the kind made by Rockport and others. There is a very good shoe store on rue Cler that specializes in very comfortable but expensive Mephisto shoes.

Should we rent a car in Paris? I am thinking of just renting a car after we leave Paris and go to the Loire Valley and the south of France. Any tips on proper driving in France?

You do not need a car in Paris. You won't be able to use it.

Driving in Paris can be "special". It's a maze of one-way streets, tunnels, and reserved lanes. The Parisians are always in a hurry to get where they are going, and they're not likely to wave you through patiently if you're going slowly, squinting at a roadmap on top of the steering wheel. Street parking is basically unobtainable - and I've seen police out writing parking tickets in a quarter to seven in the morning. The roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe is total chaos to the inexperienced, although rather fun to watch from somewhere safe.

Driving in France can be quite challenging. Perhaps the biggest difference from the US is that traffic light arrangement is different - the red light is on a pole on the near side of the intersection, rather than being suspended on the opposite side of the intersection. You stop your car right beside the pole. The lights themselves can be quite discreet, but you'd better stop, no matter how small they seem! If you are the first car, there is a smaller second set of lights on the pole, angled so that you can see the signal.

However, once you are out of Paris, the "autoroute" highways in France are great - they are velvet-smooth, clearly marked, high speed tollways. These are easy to drive. And taking some of the small "departementale" back roads is a leisurely way to see the  countryside that you won't see otherwise. A good plan is to rent a car near from Avis or Hertz, both of which have outlets near our studio. I'd recommend avoiding other rental brands - I rented Thrifty one time and found that the local outfit I'd been referred to had my name but no other information from the reservation I'd carefully set up. The Avis location on their website (www.avis.com) is "Derriere les Invalides", and the Hertz location on their website (www.hertz.com) is "Esplanade des Invalides". Pick up the car and leave Paris directly around midmorning, when the traffic is relatively light. Plan to come back to Paris during the daytime as well.

Another good option is to take the train, and pick up a car at your destination. Rental cars are available directly at the train stations.

How widespread is English? Is it spoken in the shops and restaurants?

0234380-R3-12-anmu-s300.done.jpg (24797 bytes)You'll find most people in the shops and serving in the cafés and restaurants know English to some level, and will often reply in passable English if your Anglophone accent is noticeable at all. You may find you often really only need a "Bonjour Monsieur / Madame" when you enter and a "Merci, au revoir Monsieur / Madame" as you leave as French parentheses to an English language interaction.

But be assured that the efforts you make to speak in French, even if it's only to open and close a conversation, are appreciated. And, of course, not everyone speaks English.

As with any foreign place, a knowledge of the language is the true key to the city. The more you know, the more rewarding your visit will be.

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