Kuressaare  is the "cosmopolitan" capital of Saaremaa, the biggest island of Estonia. And with only 15300 people living there - one of the smallest big(hearted) city in the world. First mentioned in a written document in 1424 the town was used as a fortified residency for local catholic bishop and was the centre of the island area in the western Estonia. In 1563 Kuressaare, at that time known as Arensburg received city status. Kuressaare, located in the south of the county on the banks of the Baltic Sea, the citys main motos are ......
"City of health resorts", has the reputation of having perhaps the most SPA's and health resorts per person in the world. Brimming with historical facts, figures, long lost tales, the eastern-vikings and other. At the same time association vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, relaxing and education.
Paris started life as the Celto-Roman settlement of Lutetia on the Île de la Cité. It takes its present name from the name of the dominant Gallo-Celtic tribe in the region, the Parisii. At least that's what the Romans called them, when they showed up in 52 BCE and established their city Lutetia on the left bank of the Seine, in what is now called the "Latin Quarter" in the 5th arrondissement.
The Romans held out here for as long as anywhere else in the Western Empire, but by 508 they were gone, replaced by Clovis of the Franks, who is considered by the French to be their first king. Clovis' descendants, aka the Carolingians, held on for nearly 500 years though Viking raids and other calamities forced a move by most of the population back to the islands which had been the center of the celtic village. The Capetian duke of Paris was voted to succeed the last of the Carolingians as king of France, insuring the city of its premier position in the medieval world. Over the next several centuries Paris expanded onto the right bank into what was called "the Marais". Quite a few buildings from this time can be seen in the 4th arrondissement.
The medieval period also witnessed the founding of the Sorbonne. As the "University of Paris", it became one of the most important centers for learning in Europe, if not the whole world, for several hundred years. Most of the institutions that constitute the University are found in the 5th, and 13th arrondissements.
The Capetian and later the Bourbon kings of France made their mark on Paris with such buildings as the Louvre and the Palais Royal, both in the 1st, but the Paris which most visitors know and love was built long after they were gone in the 19th century when Baron von Hausmann reconstructed adding the long straight avenues, and demolishing many of the medieval houses which had been left until that time.
New wonders arrived during la Belle Époque, as the Parisien golden age of the late 19th century is known. Gustave Eiffel's famous tower, the first metro lines, most of the parks, and the streetlights, which are partly believed to have given the city its epithet "the city of light" all come from this period. The epithet actually comes from Ville Lumière, a reference not only to the then revolutionary electrical lighting system implemented in the streets of Paris, but also to the prominence and aura of Enlightenment the city gained in that era.
The twentieth century was hard on Paris, but thankfully not as hard as it could have been. Hitler's order to burn the city was thankfully ignored by the german General von Choltitz who was quite possibly convinced by a swedish diplomat that it would be better to surrender and be remembered as the savior of Paris, than to be remembered as its destroyer. Following the war the city recovered slowly at first, and then more quickly in the 1970s and 1980s when Paris began to experience some of the problems faced by big cities everywhere: pollution, housing shortages, and occasionally failed experiments in urban renewal. During this time however Paris enjoyed considerable growth as a multi-cultural city, with new immigrants from all corners of the world, especially francophonie, including most of northern and western Africa as well as Vietnam and Laos. These immigrants brought their foods and music both of which are of prime interest for many travellers.
Immigration and multi-culturalism continues! The 21st century has seen a marked increase in the arrival of people from Latin America, especially Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. In the late 1990s it was hard to find good Mexican food in Paris, for instance, today there are dozens of possibilities from lowly taquerias in the outer arrondissements to nice sit-down restaurants on the boulevards. The chili pepper has arrived. Meanwhile Latin music from Salsa to Samba is all the rage (well, alongside Paris lounge electronica).
The 21st century has also seen vast improvements in the general livibility of Paris, with the Mayor's office concentrating on reducing pollution and improving facilities for soft forms of transportation including a huge network of cycle paths, larger pedestrian districts and newer faster metro lines. Visitors who normally arrive car-less are the benificiaries of these policies as much as the Parisiens themselves are.
Parisians have the reputation (deserved or otherwise) of being more brusque (or even downright rude) and business-like than other French people. This is in keeping with the fact that it is a very big city, and of course the stresses of city life can drive anybody to be a bit brusque. Be sure to be polite: in particular, do not ask a service of anybody, even of a shopkeeper, without at least saying a polite greeting ("hello" or "bonjour"). In fact it's customary to say "bonjour" to shop owner, or the first shop worker you meet after entering any shop, especially a smaller one.
Parisians undergo pretty much constant requests from beggars, salespeople, and buskers every day. Sometimes these requestors turn out to be downright crooks, so naturally the parisian becomes a bit suspicious of strangers asking for anything, even their time. Try to keep this in mind when you need to ask for directions in the Métro. Aside from being polite to a fault it's probably advisable to dress up a bit when in Paris, perhaps about a step up from what you would normally wear at home. Of course you will need to adapt the same attitude as Parisians to some degree, being a bit better dressed will make you a target for the aformentioned crooks, etc.
Yes, the french look just like folks back home (at least for many English speakers) but the local language really is French. For most people English is something they had to study in school, and thus seems a bit of a chore. People helping you out in English are making an extra effort, sometimes a considerable one. Younger people are much more likely to be fluent in English than older people.
Complicating things a bit more is the fact that the French generally learn British English in the "received pronunciation" also known as "The Queen's English". Since hardly anybody really talks that way there can be some considerable problems trying to communicate in English with a French speaker who learned English in school. Always do try to speak slowly and clearly, and maybe affect a bit of a Margaret Thatcher accent, but please don't shout.
Even worse, the French taught in schools in America tends to be written French which bears only a passing resemblance to real spoken French, so unless you have an advanced level and can at least sort of understand French Movies you should assume that it will be difficult for people to understand what you are saying. To play it safe you might want obtain some index cards before you leave home and write the names of your hotel and some other destinations.
When in need of directions what you should do is this: find a younger person, or a person reading some book or magazine in English, who is obviously not in a hurry; say "hello" or "bonjour"; start by asking if the person speaks english (even if he/she's reading something in english), speak slowly and clearly; write down place names if necessary. Smile a lot. Also, carry a map; given the complexity of Paris streets it is difficult to explain how to find any particular address in any language, no matter how well you speak it.
What you should not do is this: stop a random person in the métro (like, say, some middle-aged hurried person who has a train to take) and without a greeting start asking questions in your own normal way of speaking English, perhaps requesting directions to some attraction to the other side of town that requires two changes and some walking on the streets. The person in front of you is likely to depart quickly with a word of apology.
Like city dwellers everywhere, Parisians generally expect people to speak in a measured voice when in a crowded place. They are likely to look down on people who talk very loudly in a train or subway car. While it's unlikely that anybody will say anything such behaviour will mostly get you classified as rude and is likely to reduce the possibility that you'll get help should you need it.
Central Paris is officially divided into 20 districts called arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the centre of town. Arrondissements are named according to their number. You might, for example, stay in the "5th", which would be written as 5ème (SANK-ee-emm) in French. The 12th and 16th arrondissements include large suburban parks, the Bois de Vincennes, and the Bois de Boulogne respectively.
The very best cheap pocket map you can get for Paris is called "Paris Pratique par Arrondissement" which you can buy at any news stand. It makes navigating the city easy, so much so that one can imagine that the introduction of such map-books might be part of what made the arrondissement concept so popular in the first place.
Each arrondissement has its own unique character and selection of attractions for the traveller:
Beyond central Paris, the outlying suburbs are called la banlieue. Schematically, those on the west of Paris (Neuilly, Boulogne, Saint Cloud, Levallois) are wealthy residential community. Those to the northeast are poor immigrant communities with high delinquence.
Several autoroutes link Paris with the rest of France: A1 and A3 to the north, A5 and A6 to the south, A4 to the east and A13 and A10 to the west. Not surprisingly traffic jams are significantly worse during French school holidays. Online visual traffic information is available at http://www.sytadin.equipement.gouv.fr/.
The multi-lane highway around Paris, called the Périphérique, is probably preferable to driving through the center. Another beltway nearing completion La Francilienne loops around Paris about 10 km further out from the Périphérique.
There are several stations serving Paris. You will probably want to know in advance at which station your train is arriving, so as to better choose a hotel and plan for transport within the city.
The SNCF (French national railway authority) operates practically all trains within France excluding the Eurostar to London and the Thalys to Brussels and onward to the Netherlands and Germany. There are also a few local lines of high touristic interest which are privately owned. All SNCF, Eurostar and Thalys tickets can be bought in railway stations, city offices and travel agencies (no surcharge). The SNCF website is very convenient to book and buy tickets up to two months in advance. There are significant discounts if you book early. To get the best rates you should book at least four weeks ahead. Surprisingly, round trip tickets (aller-retour) with a stay over Saturday night can be cheaper than a single one-way ticket (aller simple). A very limited selection of last minute trips are published on the SNCF website every Tuesday, with discounts of more than 50%.
There a a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
Paris is served by three international airports - for more information, including arrival/departure times, check the official sites:
In addition to public transport, Air France operates shuttles between Charles de Gaulle and Paris (€10 - €12), Orly and Paris (€7.5) and between the two airports (€15). Note that if you have connecting Air France flights that land and depart from different airports, you would still generally need to fetch your luggage after landing, catch either the Air France shuttle or a taxi to the other airport and check-in again. This altogether could take up to 2 hours particularly if traffic is at its worse. It is also common to lose time during disembarkment as passengers often need to get off at the tarmac and get on buses which will bring them to the terminal building. Be sure to have sufficient time between flights to catch your connection. Note that check-in counters usually close 30 minutes before the flight departs.
You should not discount the time it takes you to reach the city itself. For CDG this means roughly an hour via train (RER) to Metro Chatelet; the price is €8.30. Orly is roughly forty minutes via the OrlyBus, which departs from Metro Denfert-Rochereau; the price is €5.80.
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It's possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours, if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops. In fact within a few years walking combined with biking and the Métro will be the only way to get around the very center of Paris: The Mayor's office has announced plans to declare the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements almost totally car-free by 2012.
The smartest travellers take advantage of the walkability of this city, and stay above ground as much as possible. A metro ride of less than 3 stops is probably best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you'll be able to see more of the city. Just don't forget to keep your eyes open for the "merde", ie dog droppings.
To get a great orientation of the city on foot while seeing many of Paris' major sights, you can do a West to East walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Ile de la Cite (Notre Dame). This walk takes about 2 hours without any stops. Start at the top of the Champs Elysees (at the Arc de Triomphe) and begin walking down the Champs Elyees towards Place ('square') de la Concorde. On the way towards the obelisk on the square, you'll see all of the major stores and restaurants of Paris' most famous avenue. Once you've passed the main shopping area, you'll see the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais to your right. At Place Concorde, you'll be able to see many of Paris' major monuments around you. In front of you is the Tuileries, behind you is the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, to your right is the Tour Eiffel and Musee D'Orsay, and finally, to your left is the Madeleine. Continue straight ahead and enter the Tuileries Gardens passing by fountains, flowers... and lovers in the park. As you continue straight ahead, and out of the garden, you'll see the pyramid entrance to the Louvre directly in front of you. With the pyramid directly in front of you, and the Tuileries directly behind you, turn to your right and walk towards the Seine. Now you can walk along the Seine (eastwards) until you reach Pont Neuf. Cross Pont Neuf and walk through the Latin Quarter, cross the river again to reach Notre Dame cathedral on Ile de la Cité.
Paris has an excellent subway train system, known as the Métro. There are 14 lines (lignes) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes between 5 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., stopping at all stations on the line. In addition there are 5 express lines called RER A, B, C, D, E. They can be used within Paris with a regular subway ticket. RER trains run at intervals of about 6 - 7 minutes, and stop at every station within Paris. For stations that are outside the 20 arrondissements of Paris, check the information board on the platform.
A single ticket costs €1.40; for shorter visits a carnet of ten tickets can be bought for €10.70 at any station, that will bring the price per ticket down to €1.07. There are also 1 to 5 day passes, called Paris Visite, available, starting at €8.35 for one day of unlimited travel within Paris and inner suburbs. 'Carte Orange' is cheaper, but tourists are not supposed to buy it for some obscure reason. You can still try to buy one, at your own risk (not a great risk...).
If you're staying a bit longer it might be interesting to get a Carte Orange Hebdomadaire (1 week pass, €15.7 for Paris and inner suburbs) or Mensuelle (1 month pass). For the Carte Orange you need one small photograph -- you can use a photomat in a larger métro station or photocopy and trim your passport photo. Note that an Hebdomadaire (eb-DOH-ma-DAYR: in French you don't pronounce the H) starts on Mondays and a Mensuelle on the first of the month. There is some confusion about whether tourists are permitted to buy the Carte Orange rather than the more expensive Paris Visite passes. The Carte Orange info has been removed from the English-language metro (RATP) website but is still on the French version as of April 2005. If one agent turns you down for the Carte Orange try going to a different window.
RATP is responsible for public transport including metro, buses, and some of the high speed inter-urban trains (RER). The rest of the RER is operated by SNCF. However, both companies take the same tickets, so the difference is of little interest for most people except in case of strikes (because RATP may strike while SNCF does not, or the other way round). Current fares can be found at their website. Basically, as you move further from Paris, tickets get more expensive.
The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations (those at the end of the line). If you ask the locals about directions they will answer something like : take line number n toward "end station 1", change at "station", take the line nn toward "end station 2" etc. The metro system has started implementing a color code, and on some lines N E S W directions. They are apparently ignored by the locals.
Each station displays a detailed map of the surrounding area with a street list and the location of buildings (monuments, schools, places of worship etc.). Maps are located on the platform if the station has several exits or near the exit if there is only one.
Trick: If you have any tickets or carte orange for zone 1-2 ("inside" Paris area: the lower rate) and want go to La Defense from Chatelet, you have to take the metro (line 1). you can take the RER A (and save a few minutes) but you have to pay an additionnal fare, because even though you arrive at the same station, the RER exit is supposed to be outside of Paris! On the other hand, métro fares are the same, even in the suburbs. So be careful, there are a lot of ticket examinors where you get out from the RER A...
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport. A few years ago Paris wasn't the easiest place to get around by bike. That however has changed dramatically in recent years, starting perhaps with a lengthy bus and traffic jam. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km (93 miles) of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist.
You can find an excellent map of the bike network called Plan des itinéraires cyclables at the information center in the Hôtel de Ville.
Bikes can be rented in from numerous private vendors, but the best deal is available from Roue Libre, a joint project of the Mayor's office and the RATP. In addition to operating a number of bike rental busses, they have some permanent locations, including:
Since the Métro is primarily structured around a "hub and spoke" model, there are some journeys for which it can be quite inefficient, and in these cases it is worth seeing if a direct bus route exists, despite the complexity of the bus network. The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly. It uses the same single-ride tickets and Carte Orange as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the Noctambus, the night bus, where tickets normally cost €2.70. Noctambus routes all begin hourly at Chatelet and run to outlying areas of greater Paris. It pays to know one's Noctambus route ahead of time in case one misses the last Métro home. Women travellers should probably avoid taking the Noctambus on their own.
Taxis are relatively cheap, especially at night, when there are no traffic jams to be expected. In the daytime, it is sometimes a bad idea to take a taxi on certain routes, as walking or taking the metro could be faster if there are traffic jams. When a taxi stops, he will pull down his window and expect you to tell him where you want to go. Sometimes, a taxi can be difficult to stop, and you have to expect to try several times before one stops. If the driver does not feel like going where you want at that time, he will might tell you directly in a sometimes rude manner not expected of a taxi driver. Also, you might not always expect the taxi to drive you to the doorstep, if they want to let you out a block away if the route is difficult, they will do so. Be careful and watch that the driver gives you the correct change, as you might risk that they drive away with your money otherwise. Usually the taxi driver will not let you sit in the front seat, and will expect you to enter in the back. Parisian taxi-drivers are individualists, and come in all types, some nice, some rude, some wanting to chat, some not. You will clearly feel the difference. Although smoking in taxis is generally not allowed, if you ask it might be that the taxi driver himself wants a cigarette, and will let you smoke in his car if you accept that he, too, smokes a cigarette. If you liked the service, you can give up to 15% tip, but it is not strictly necessary, especially considering that the service is not always up to par. For all the problems that are with Parisian taxi drivers, it is worth the effort to try and be nice to them anyhow, even though you have to expect the unexpected - as a few of them can be really nice if you try to talk to them. Even more so, if you know a little bit of French.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Carte Musées et Monuments , a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris and comes in 2-day (€30), 4-day (€45) and 6-day (€60) denominations (prices as of March 2006). The card allows you to jump otherwise sometimes lengthy queues and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, Fnac branches and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions.
Note that most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday - check ahead to avoid disappointment! - and most ticket counters close 30 - 45 minutes before final closing.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month.
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page (follow the link in parenthesis).
A good listing of almost everything to do in Paris are the 'Pariscope', the 'Officiel des spectacles', and the much hipper 'Zurban' , weekly magazines listing all concerts, stageplays and museums. Available from many kiosks. Unfortunately their website is of no use at all.
Museums and galleries
The Cinémas of Paris are (or at least should be) the envy of the movie-going world. Of course, like anywhere else you can see big budget first-run films from France and elsewhere. That though, is just the start. During any given week there are at least half-a-dozen film festivals going on, at which you can see the entire works of a given actor or director. Meanwhile there are some older cult films like say, What's new Pussycat or Casino Royal which you can enjoy pretty much any day you wish.
Many non-French movies are subtitled (called "version originale" or "v/o"). Still it's probably a good idea to be sure of a movie having subtitles if your French is not adequate to follow fast conversations.
There are any number of ways to find out what's playing, but the most commonly used guide is Pariscope, which you can find at newstands for 0.40€. Meanwhile there are innumerable online guides one of which is www.allocine.fr, which has information on "every" cinema in Paris.
It should go without saying that Paris is an excellent place to learn French. Université de Paris IV offers courses for foreigners in French language and culture, which start at various times of year.
Paris also has many universities, where you can learn about anything.
There is also the parallel system of elite Grandes Ecoles, generally only available to those who pass through the gruelling system of concours, or competitive exams, which demand years of preparation.
Dining in Paris can be a real treat, or can be surprisingly ordinary, so it's worth some effort to seek out the former rather than settling for the latter. The restaurant trade began in Paris, but some people prefer the French cooking found in little rural restaurants, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialties. Even amongst French cities Paris has long been considered second to Lyon for fine dining. For a complete discussion of French gastronomy see the Eat section of our article on France.
That said the Parisien restaurant trade is very much alive and well, and in fact experiencing a bit of a renaissance after having nearly been eclipsed by certain English-speaking cities such as San Francisco, Sydney, and (the shame of it!) London during the 1990s. Today you can find hundreds of beautiful restaurants with thoughtful (or just trendy) interior design and well-planned and executed cartes and menus offering a creative mélange of French and exotic foreign cuisines. It's safe to say that Paris is once again catching up to if not passing its anglophone rivals.
Of course there are also some really fantastic traditional offerings, and for the budget conscious there are hundreds if not thousands of traditional bistros, with their sidewalk terraces offering a choice fairly simple (usually meat centered) meals for reasonable prices.
Remember that many attractions are situated in upscale areas of town, and that mass tourism attracts price gougers. It is frequent to hear of people complaining of very high Parisian prices and poor service, because they always tried to eat close to major tourist magnets. Try to go eat where the locals eat.
Those travelers on a budget will be very pleased with the range and quality of products offered both at the open air markets (eg. over the Canal St. Martin in the 11th or in any other arrondisement). If your accommodation has cooking facilities you're set, especially for wine and cheese: a decent bottle of French wine will set you back all of about €3-€5, while the very good stuff starts at around €7. Bottles for less than €3 are not recommended. Keep in mind, that the small épiceries which open until late are more expensive than the supermarchés (Franprix, Casino, Monoprix, etc). For wine, the price difference can be up to €2. Recommendation: buy a baguette, some cheese and a good bottle of wine and join the Parisian youth for a pique-nique along the Seine (especially on the Île Saint Louis) or at the canal Saint Denis.
For seafood lovers, Paris is a great place to try moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) (better in fall and winter), oysters, sea snails, and other delicacies. Meat specialties include venison (deer), boar, and other game (especially in the fall and winter hunting season), as well as French favorites such as lamb, veal, beef, and pork.
For vegetarians, eating traditional French food will require some improvisation, as it is heavily meat-based. Paris has several excellent vegetarian restaurants. Look for spots such as Aquarius and Piccolo Teatro in the 4th, and Le Grenier de Notre-Dame in the 5th, or La Victoire Suprême du Coeur in the 1st just to name a few. See the arrondissement pages for more listings.
There are also lots of Italian, Thai, Indian, and Mezo-american places where you will have little problem. In Rue des Rosiers (4th arrondissement) you can get delicious falafel in the many Jewish restaurants. Another place to look for falafel is on Rue Oberkampf (11th arrondissement). Take away falafel usually goes for 4€ or less.
Morrocan and Algerian cooking is common in Paris - vegetarian cous cous is lovely. Another good option for vegetarians - are traiteurs, particularly around Ledru Rollin (down the road from Bastille) take away food where you can combine a range of different options such as pomme dauphinoise, dolmas, salads, vegetables, nice breads and cheeses and so on.
Lebanese restaurants and snack shops abound as well, offering a number of vegetarian mezze, or small plates. The stand-bys of course are hummas, falafel, and baba-ganouche (caviar d'aubergene). A good place to look for Lebanese is in the pedestrian zone around Les Halles and Beaubourg in the 1st and 4th.
Tourists and locals
When you are looking for a restaurant in Paris, be a little careful of those where the staff readily speak English. These restaurants are usually - but not always - geared towards tourists. It does make a difference in the staff's service and behaviour whether they expect you to return or not.
Sometimes the advertised fixed price tourist menus (€10-€15) are a good deal. If you're interested in the really good and more authentic stuff (and if you have learned some words of french) try one of the small bistro where the French go to during lunch time.
Each of Paris' 20 arrondissements has its own fair share of bars, cafés, taverns, but there are a some areas where various aspects of nightlife, or afternoon-life are concentrated.
For individual bar listings see the various Arrondissement pages under Get around.
Of course there are lots of interesting places which are sort of off on their own outside of these clusters, including a few like the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz which are not to be missed in a serious roundup of Parisian drinking, so check out the listings even in those arrondissements we haven't mentioned above.
Some nightclubs in Paris that are worth it: Folies Pigalle (pl. Pigalle, 18th, very trash, famous for its after, 20 euros), Rex Club (near one of the oldest cinema on earth, the Grand Rex, house/electro, about 15 euros cheap).
Generally one should be aware that Paris hotels, almost without regard to category or price, observe high and low seasons. These differ slightly from one hotel to another, but usually the high season roughly corresponds to late spring and summer, and possibly a couple of weeks around the Christmas season.
Be aware that when a hotel is listed in any guide or website this will eventually make it a bit harder to get a room at that hotel. That means that you will probably need to book ahead for anything you read about here, especially in the high season. However, if they don't have a room they sometimes know another place close by that does have a room available.
When with two it can be a much better deal to find a hotel room than to get 2 hostel beds. More privacy for less money.
For individual hotel listings see the various Arrondissement pages under Get around.
For those who are staying for a while renting a furnished apartment might be a more comfortable and money-saving option, especially if you know how to cook. Furnished apartments differ considerably in quality, so it is important to choose carefully. There are a huge number of websites in the business of helping you find one, but most charge a steep commission of 10% or more. There are however a couple of considerably cheaper non-profit options which for whatever reason do not turn up near the top of a Google search:
Paris has 3 main flea-markets, located on the outskirts of the central city. The most famous of these is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) (Clignancourt Flea Market) , Métro: Porte de Clignancourt, in the 18th, a haven for lovers of antiques, second-hand goods and retro fashion.
Paris is in general a very safe city.
However, there are some areas, like Barbès (18th), where it's better not to hang around alone at night, but they are easily recognizable by their raunchiness. In these areas, a lot depends on the way you behave and if you know how to adapt to the situation. If you know what you are looking for, speak some French and feel comfortable, there is no problem to stroll around a poor, diverse neighborhood like Barbes. Meanwhile, if you are easily identifiable as a rich American tourist who's lost in the quartier, better stay away. Also some parts of the banlieue are better to avoid, but the banlieue is, except for a very few tourists spots (Fontainebleau, Versailles, Basilique de St. Denis) not a place where the normal tourist will go anyway.
The biggest problem for tourists is pickpockets. Especially the main tourist areas (esp. Champs Elysee, Chatelet, Montmartre) are frequented by pickpockets operating alone or in groups in highly effective ways.
The metro is relatively safe, but again, pickpockets do work in the stations and on the trains especially near tourist destinations. If you are carrying a bag make sure that it's closed tightly (all zipped up or whatever). If you have a wallet in your pocket keep a hand on it while entering or exiting the trains. Don't carry any more cash than you can afford to lose. Keep your cash on different parts of your body: some in your money belt, some in your purse/wallet, some in your shoe. Keep the contents of your purse/wallet to the bare essentials: money, one debit/credit card, I.D., emergency contact information, medical I.D. When you have to access your money belt, do so in private.
Recent news reports have highlighted new tactics by thieves, targeting taxis on their way into the city from Charles de Gaulle airport. Thieves wait for the taxi to be stopped in the usual traffic jam along the A1 highway and break windows to get to the passengers' bags. To avoid this, you may place your bags in the trunk of the taxi or take the very safe Air France shuttle.