I couldn’t agree more with Audrey Hepburn who once said, “Paris is always a good idea.” My heart skips a beat at the mention of the enchanting city’s name. Once you have been to Paris, it is no longer just a destination, but it becomes an emotion, something warm and comforting, and the mere thought of it makes the corners of your mouth turn up into a smile of pleasant memories and a longing to go back for more.
I have been to very few destinations abroad that delivered exactly the magical experience the Internet promised me it would. Images can be misleading, and brochures are made for selling daydreams, not for reporting on reality. My expectations were realistic, as all cities have traffic, and crowds, and noise, and lines. They also have pickpockets you may need to be aware of. Despite these unavoidables, Paris has an indescribable charm, and delivers every bit of what its “day dream brochures” promise it to be. Sidewalk cafes, warm croissants, and steaming java on cold winter mornings. Culinary perfection, architectural magnificence, historical depth, quaint boutiques, and high end extravagance. Paris displays a magnificent performance in all spheres: art, culture, history, fashion, food, and the adventurer can even zip-line from the Eiffel Tower.
My trip to Paris was scheduled over Easter. Whether you are religious or not, the cathedral visits during this time of year are something extraordinary. The atmosphere is tangible, and all are welcome, whether you merely want to admire the architecture, say a prayer, light a candle, or stay for mass. Unless you want to attend an Easter mass, visit the Notre Dame at a quieter time, as there are so many beautiful cathedrals with delicate artwork and architecture to visit while the more popular sites are overcrowded.
Over the Easter period, buildings aren’t the only things to marvel at. Easter eggs had my attention just as much as the 16th century architecture. The biggest, most extravagantly crafted chocolate eggs, bunnies, and colorful candy creations called me through the boutique windows. Whether you’re a lover of food craft or simply just like eating, these chocolatiers will make anyone go weak at the knees.
7 Paris Travel Tips That Will Save You Money & Make Your Trip All the More Enjoyable
1. Stay Self Catering
Since I didn’t have a Kim and Kanye budget for my trip to Paris, I stayed in a small, but comfortable self cateringen-suite. Countries seem to vary greatly on their hotel star rating standards, so it’s good to find out exactly what your hotel offers for their determined rate and what you have to pay for over and above that. Our self catering hotel was conveniently located in the buzz of cafes and quaint shops, close to a grocery store and a few blocks walk to get buses or trains. We had the benefit of included WiFi. I often find that the higher-end hotels charge extra for WiFi and basic amenities, whereas 3-star hotels include this as part of the standard rate.
Either way, save your money for traveling and sightseeing, and go for a cheaper self-catering accommodation option. After all, you aren’t planning on spending your trip in your hotel room.
2. Self Cater
Since you are staying in a self-catering apartment or room, you need to self cater. One of the most exciting parts of travel is exploring new cuisines, and in France this also means superior cuisine. But you do not have to break the bank at every eatery to do this.
My favorite way to get a glimpse of the real local way of life and custom foods is going to local grocery stores in the city I’m visiting. Here you get a good idea of what people eat day to day, and buying a few snacks of your own to enjoy on a picnic or park bench will save you some money for travel. Although Paris may be known for its fine cuisine and sidewalk cafes, you definitely can’t give the street food a miss. You cannot leave Paris without having a crepe (or 10).
I must confess, I did develop a slight gelato addiction during my trip. Every evening, I would walk down to the gelato store close to the hotel and try out a new flavor. Unfortunately, my Paris stay was not long enough to try them all, despite a gallant effort on my part.
Paris is a melting pot of cultures, so try some ethnic food such as falafels, kebabs, or Vietnamese. These street food options are often cheaper ways to get a deliciously hearty meal. And just for the record, Paris calories don’t count.
3. Speak a Little French
A little tip which might get you a long way is to speak as much French as you can. If you don’t know a word of French, learn a few phrases before your trip. Parisians aren’t perceived as the friendliest folk around, and many refuse to speak or pretend not to understand English. Perhaps they are just more reserved, but making an effort to identify with them might go a long way, even if you just know a word or two.
4. Get a Paris Pass
A Paris Pass is an all-inclusive pre-paid pass which allows you to visit over 60 Paris museums and attractions, and also includes a travel card allowing you to travel on public transport networks such as the metro, bus, trams, and Montmartre Funicular between the sites.
The Paris Pass will save your travel wallet from undergoing a big dent, as all your visits are included in the pass.
In my experience, taking the Hop on Hop off Bus Tour was convenient and easy to navigate. I had an absolute ball making my way around on the bus tour. The pass includes major sites such as the Louvre Museum, Paris Opera House, Grevin Wax Museum, and the Palace Of Versailles. It also includes the Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise which I thoroughly enjoyed as we cruised past Notre Dame on the glassy river water and experienced a gorgeous city view from a different angle. The pass is valid for 2 – 6 days, depending on the option you choose. So don’t worry, you don’t need to navigate the whole city in one day. Take your time and soak it all in at your own leisure. A 6 day pass can save you $142.20 (€111), with no lines and the added benefit of stress free transport – it’s a must for any tourist! You will also receive a free Paris guidebook with useful information and tips.
5. Take Time for a Stroll
You may have a lot of museums, cathedrals, historic sites, and tours on your daily schedule, but don’t underestimate walking through the neighborhood and popping into the smaller local stores, patisseries, chocolate boutiques, and art galleries. These won’t be in your tour guidebook, and they most likely won’t be on the bus route, but take a stroll down one or two smaller pathways and discover these hidden treasures. I don’t recommend you go too far off the beaten track for your own safety’s sake, but I do recommend you get to where the locals are and avoid being only a tourist at all the sightseeing hot spots.
My favorite discoveries included a gorgeous print art gallery and a macaroon boutique which was pretty much like an art gallery – edible art, however. I also stumbled upon a small store specializing in various olive and truffle products, including large glass on-tap cylinders with infused pure olive oils. Bookstores, calligraphy boutiques, stationary shops, and home emporiums all filled with items that spark your creative juices and make you want to buy things you really never had the intention of lugging all the way back home with you.
Pastry and bread making is an art in itself. Watching French artisans craft their comforting masterpieces of flaky dough and crispy golden loaves is quite entertaining. Grab yourself an authentic French pastry before heading back to the mainstream route after your detour and savor every bite. My bet is that you’ll be back looking for that store off the beaten track again tomorrow for another visit.
6. Visit Markets
There are some local food and produce markets, but even if you have to travel a small distance outside Paris city, it is a great way to discover incredible quality local and seasonal produce but also quirky items, delicious eats, and foods you are unfamiliar with. You will most likely also find some great gifts and a few bargains. Markets are the ideal place to engage with producers and locals and find out more about their local life, get some insider tips, and spark up a friendly conversation which you very likely won’t be doing in a shopping center or boutique store.
7. French Perfection – The Art of Gourmet
There are the smaller, less visited shops and the more informal markets, but then there are also boutiques of extravagance which should be seen with as much urgency as the Eiffel Tower. Do a little research on gourmet boutique stores of your interest and be awed.
One such store I visited is Fauchon. This two-story store celebrates French gastronomy in style with impeccable elegance and class. In their own words,“the store highlights the five universes of the brand: the gourmet, the cellar, the pastry, the tea and the chocolates & confectionery.” Every item was beautifully wrapped as if it were a carefully crafted piece of prized jewelry. Whether you are merely window shopping or spending, these stores are definitely worth a visit. So much so I even took photos in the store.
Paris, I’m in love.