So you have decided to visit Paris, home to outstanding wines, savory sauces and crepes on every corner. It is also where you can find the Code of Hammurabi, the final resting place of Pierre and Marie Curie and other famous things like the Eiffel Tower. Paris is a wonderful city and visiting it is a must. There is something for everyone here, so if world-class art isn’t your scene go to the Louvre anyway and make for the Egyptian wing. If you don’t like heights, admire the Eiffel tower from ground level, then go underground and crawl through the catacombs or take a tour of the sewers. Not much for wine? Get an amazing coffee or sample some beers from France’s burgeoning craft breweries.
From the Airports
If you arrive by plane, grab your luggage from the overhead compartment; there is no need to wait at the baggage carousel, because you carried your luggage on board. When you get off of the plane, follow the signs (they are all in English) to the arrivals lobby. If your flight originated outside of the European Union, you will need to get your passport stamped. Don’t worry; the lines here are much shorter than the lines at U.S. airports. Once in the arrivals lobby, find an ATM and withdraw some euros if you don’t already have them. Unlike ATMs in the U.S., French ATMs don’t charge you a fee for withdrawing money, which means that there is no reason to avoid airport ATMs. Your bank (you still use a bank? Switch to a credit union now!) may charge you for using the ATM, but they won’t care which one you use. What about the bureaus de change that dot the airport halls? Skip them. You will get the best exchange rate by using an ATM. Your bank make may charge you a foreign transaction fee, which can be minimized by using a credit union instead. How much should you withdraw? A hundred euros or less. Use your credit card for everything you can, saving your cash for things like breweries, markets and places that only accept cash.
Paris has two airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly. Most international flights land at Charles de Gaulle, and getting from here to the center of Paris is breeze on the train. The RER (Paris’s suburban train) line B connects the airport to the center of Paris in about 30 minutes for €9.50 and trains run every 10 to 15 minutes.
Orly airport handles most of the European flights bound for Paris. From this airport, take the ORLYVAL shuttle train, which runs as frequently as every four minutes to connect you to the RER-B line at station Antony. From there, you can take the RER into the center of Paris. Cost is €11.90 and it takes about 30 minutes total to get from the airport to the center of Paris.
After looking at Ryanair’s website, you might think there is a third airport in Paris called Beauvais. This airport is not in Paris, but rather 50 miles outside of the city. It is connected to Paris by a shuttle bus that takes 1:15 hours (2 hours in traffic) and drops you off near the edge of town for €16. Beauvais is not alone in connecting themselves with a nearby metropolis; the airport in Rockford, Illinois is now called “Chicago-Rockford Airport,” which should surprise most people familiar with the geography of the Midwest. However, some of the fares that Ryanair offers are so low that even the inconvenience of deplaning in the middle of a pasture can be overlooked.
Metro and the RER
While many of the sights are in the center of Paris, it still pays to use public transportation. The Louvre is larger than the town I work in and you will need all of the strength your legs can give you to walk through its multitude of rooms. The Paris Metro is clean, convenient and easy to use. Unlike the London Underground with its iconic roundel, the Paris Metro has several different signs denoting the entrances to the subterranean platforms: a yellow capital letter “M”, the word “METRO” in white letters across a red background and everyone’s all-time favorite, the green Art Nouveau METROPOLITAN metal archways.
Rides on the metro within the city center are €1.70 each and tickets are available from ticket machines on the platform. These machines accept coins and bills and many also accept US-issued credit and debit cards. If you know you are going to take more than just one ride, opt for a carnet. These are packs of 10 rides sold for €13.50, making each ride €1.35. They are sharable and are so much more convenient than buying single tickets every time you want to take a ride. Also available are single day passes for €10.55 and multiple day passes (i.e. 3 days for €23.40). For the average trip to Paris, a carnet will do.
The RER is the suburban train line and is useful for getting to and from the airports or connecting major hubs within Paris (i.e. the train stations Gare du Nord and Gare Lyon). Metro tickets can be used on the RER within the center of Paris, but trips out to the airports cost extra.
Paris is divided into 20 districts, called arrondissements. In the very center is the first arrondissement, and they are numbered in a clockwise spiral, making the 20eme (French for twentieth) on the eastern edge of the city. Paris is bisected lengthwise by the Seine, forming the Rive Droite (Right Bank) to the north and Rive Gauche (Left Bank), you guessed it, to the south. In the middle of the city are two islands, Ile de Cite and Ile St. Louis.
Many of the city’s most famous sites are located on or very near the river inlcuding the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Tuileries, Place de la Concord and Notre Dame. There are plenty of boat tours operating on the Seine, but the Batobus is less of a tour and more of a boat bus. It looks like a tour boat with its glass roof, but there is no commentary. The cost is €15 for the whole day. This ticket enables you to get on and off at stops along the river, making it not only a convenient way to get between the city’s main attractions, but also a way to get a river cruise at a reasonable rate.
To give your map some scale, using the Louvre as the middle of the city, most sights are within 30 minutes of it with Gare du Nord being about 30 minutes north, the Eiffel Tower about 30 minutes west, Jardin du Luxembourg about 30 minutes to the south, and Jardin des Plantes about 30 minutes to the east.
The streets of Paris cannot be experienced from a crowded bus or from a train underground. In order to get the most of the most romantic city in the world, you have to use your feet and simply stroll the streets. Cafes can be found on nearly every corner, serving coffee, wine, beer, crepes and soups du jour. Stop in at any one of them to give your feet a much needed rest and do what people the world over have been coming to Paris to do.