Difference between revisions of "Paris"
Revision as of 12:29, 23 July 2007
Paris  is the cosmopolitan capital of France and - with 2.2 million people living in zone 1 (Central Paris) and another 9.9 million people in the suburbs (la banlieue) - is one of the largest cities in Europe. Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historical associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light, it is the most popular tourist destination in the world.
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 les banlieues. Schematically, those on the west of Paris (Neuilly, Boulogne, Saint Cloud, Levallois) are wealthy residential communities. Those to the northeast are poor immigrant communities with high delinquency; keep in mind, though, that this is a very schematic classification.
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 Parisian 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 la 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 travelers. Today, there's more nationalities represented in Paris than even in New York (over 100).
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, however, 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 livability 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 beneficiaries of these policies as much as the Parisians themselves are.
Paris has, in many respects, an atmosphere closer to that of New York than to that of London, Lyon, or any other European town; that is, hurried, and businesslike. Parisians have, in France, a reputation for being rude and arrogant.
However, Parisians' abrupt exteriors will rapidly evaporate if you display some basic courtesies. A simple "Bonjour, Madame" when entering a shop, for example, or "'Excusez-moi"' when trying to get someone's attention, or very important; say Pardon if you bump into someone accidentally or do other mistakes, will transform the surliest shop assistant into a smiling helper or the grumpiest inhabitant to an understandable citizen. Courtesy is extremely important in France (where the worst insult is to call someone "mal élevé", or "badly brought up"). If you know some French, try it! The French love it if you try!
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. Keep in mind that the people around you in the Métro are not on vacation, in general: they are going to or coming back from work and thus may not appreciate another source of headache.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of the Parisian population are not in any way related to the tourism business. You are not in a resort or theme park, with paid personnel meant to give you directions around, but in a city where people have to get on with their lives. But if you ask politely, any French will help you if they can.
For most people English is something the Parisians 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 for visitors from North America is the fact that the French generally learn British English, as all in the European countries, in the "received pronunciation", aka "the Queen's English". Since hardly anybody from the US really talks that way you will need to put effort into avoiding all slang and speaking clearly.
Likewise, the French taught in schools in English-speaking countries tends to be written French which is quite different from spoken French. Indeed, French spoken by native English speakers tends to be really hardly understandable by the French - do not be offended if people ask you to repeat, or seem not to understand you, they do not act out of snobbery. Keep your sense of humour, and if necessary, write down phrases or place names. And remember to talk clear and slow.
So, if it's your first time in France you will have some problems to understand what people are saying. They talk very fast, swallow some letters and make it all sound like beautiful music. So unless you have an advanced level and can at least sort of understand French Movies you should also assume that it will be difficult for people to understand what you are saying. Your French will grow when you have been a while in this amazing country and a glass of red wine will surely help the language to flow.
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), fail to greet them and say "where is place X or street Y". This will not go down well.
Now if you do speak French, remember two magic sentences : "Excusez moi de vous déranger" and "Pourriez-vous m'aider?" —use them liberally - especially in shops; they will work wonders. However, in the parts of the city that tourists frequent the most (Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, Champs-Elysées), the shopkeepers, information booths attendants, and other workers are likely to answer you in English, even if your French is advanced. These workers tend to deal with thousands of foreign-speaking tourists, and responding in English is often faster than repeating themselves in French. This is not the case in the rest of the city.
Tip: before you leave you may want to read a book like French or Foe by Polly Platt or Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — interesting, well written records from English speaking persons who live in France.
Tip: If you find yourself lost in the streets, a good idea is to find the nearest Hotel and ask the concierge for directions. Since all hotels are run by the National Tourism Board of France, they are not competing against one another and will gladly give you directions to your hotel, should you not be able to find it. Best part is, most speak English well-- but remember to be polite! A simple "Bonjour Monsieur, parlez-vous anglais?" should suffice.
Paris is served by three international airports - for more information, including arrival/departure times, check the official sites.
Charles de Gaulle International Airport (Roissy ICAO: LFPG, IATA: CDG)  to the north-east of the city is one of the major hub airports of Europe. It's notoriously confusing, so allow plenty of time for transfers. There are three terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 2 (which is huge and subdivided into 2A through 2F), and Terminal 3 (formerly T9). The free CDGVAL shuttle train connects the terminals together.
For getting to or from Paris, RER-B has stations in T1 (from where you can walk to T3) and T2; trains to Paris (Châtelet-Les Halles) leave every 15 minutes, cost €8,50 each and take around 40 minutes, making this the fastest and cheapest way to connect. Alternatively, the Roissybus service connects all terminals directly to Opéra Garnier in central Paris, but it's subject to traffic jams and takes 60-90 minutes even on a good day. There is also a TGV station in T2 for high-speed connections, mostly towards Lille and Brussels, but there are also some trains that head south to eg. Rennes and Nantes, bypassing Paris.
Orly International Airport (ICAO: LFPO, IATA: ORY), to the south-west of the city, and served by a southern branch of the RER-B line. This older international airport is used mainly by Air France for national lines, and other international carriers in Europe. Orly is roughly forty minutes from Paris via the OrlyBus, which departs from Métro Denfert-Rochereau; the price is €6.
Beauvais (Aéroport de Paris Beauvais Tillé ICAO: LFOB, IATA: BVA), to the north of the city, is a smaller regional airport that is used by some low-cost carriers, such as RyanAir. The airport operates a shuttle service connecting with the Métro at Porte Maillot station. Buses leave 20 minutes after each flight arrives, and a few hours before each flight departs. This is important: you should be there waiting for the bus around three hours and fifteen minutes before your flight, and the bus stop has no facilities, it's just a parking lot! Exact times can be found on the Beauvais Airport website. The journey will take about an hour in good traffic conditions, and costs €13 each way (as of October 2006).
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 disembarking, 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.
To get to the city center you'll need a Noctilien bus if you arrive to CDG Airport at night. The bus stops in all three terminals (in terminal 2 it will be the second level in departure section - it is very difficult to find, but it really exists). The bus leaves every 30 minutes after 00:30 (see timetable). The buses you'll need are N121 and N120, the price is 7 Euro.
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:
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.
It is advised not to drive in the Paris Metro Area. It is better to drive to a metro station with a parking lot and then use the metro to continue your trip throughout Paris. Traffic inside the city tends to be heavy, especially at rush hour, driving however may be rather easy and efficient in the evening; parking also is difficult. Also, the medieval nature of parts of the city's street system makes it very confusing, and traffic will almost never allow one to stop or slow down to get one's bearings. If you are unfamiliar with the streets and still insist on driving in the city, make sure you have a navigator in the passenger seat with you.
It is generally a bad idea to rent a car to visit Paris. Traffic is very dense, and parking tends to be difficult. This is especially true in areas surrounding points of touristic interest, since many of these are in areas designed long before automobiles existed. Many Parisian households do not own cars.
Driving may be an option for going to some sights in the suburbs such as Vaux-le-Vicomte castle or the castle and city at Fontainebleau, or for starting to other places in France. You may prefer to rent from a location not situated in Paris proper.
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 2 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.
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 Elysees towards Place ('square') de la Concorde. On the way towards the obelisk on the square, you'll see 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 de la 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, behind you 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.
You may have heard of the hazard of walking into dog droppings in Paris. However, this is now largely a thing of the past, with the current city administration aggressively enforcing fines against dog owners who do not properly clean after their pets. Pet owners are reminded that not cleaning after their pet may result in a fine of 183€ up to 450€, and the City of Paris has increased the number of agents enforcing this law.
Paris has an excellent subway train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de Fer Métropolitain i.e. Metropolitan Railways). There are 16 lines (lignes) (1-14, 3bis and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes between 5 AM and 1:30AM, stopping at all stations on the line. Line 14, which is fully automated, is called the Méteor. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the center sign. By 2007, the metro is to extend its working hours until 2-3AM.
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 hanging from the ceiling on the platform. Beware that traveling outside the city center without a valid RER ticket will get you fined, and the packs of inspectors who roam the system show no mercy to tourists pleading innocence. In particular, CDG airport is not within the city, and you'll need to purchase a more expensive RER ticket to get there (see Get in).
A single ticket costs €1.50; however, it is generally not advisable to buy tickets by the unit and to rather purchase a carnet of ten tickets, which can be bought for €11.30 at any station, that will bring the price per ticket down to €1.13. The ticket is valid for unlimited metro, RER, bus and tram transfers during one hour.
A 1-day ticket is called Carte Mobilis and the price is 5 euros. There are also 1 to 5 day tourist passes, called Paris Visite, available, starting at €8.35 for one day of unlimited travel within Paris and inner suburbs. 'Carte Orange' is cheaper, even if tourists are not supposed to buy it for some obscure reason you can easily buy one.
Métro stations both have ticket windows and automatic vending machines. Ticket windows in certain stations tend to be crowded, often with groups of foreign tourists. Instead, try finding out if your debit/credit card works in the automatic machine and buy tickets for the whole group.
If you're staying a bit longer it might be interesting to get a Carte Orange Hebdomadaire (1 week pass, €16 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. In the recent times nobody experienced problems about buying one Carte Orange being a tourist.
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 examiners where you get out from the RER A...
When the train arrives, the doors may not open automatically. In such a case, there are handles located both inside and outside the train which you have to push in order to open the door.
NB: Keep your métro ticket or carte orange with you at all times, you may be checked or "controlled." You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot. Most likely spots for controls are at big métro stations or during métro line changes "correspondances". RATP agents may be present in the metro stations even on sunday night. You are highly likely to encounter a team of "controleurs" if you ride the Noctilien, especially on weekends.
Tip: you can download  on your Palm or handheld a very neat program that will give you all the Métro, buses & night buses itineraries + a few tips to notable places...very useful. (BTW, it works for a lot of cities around the world)
There is an excellent boat service which makes use of the Seine. As well as providing easy, cheap transport to much of central Paris, excellent photo opportunities abound. You can buy a day or 3 day ticket and hop on and off the boat as needed. The boat takes a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D'orsay.
Paris is the mecca of city skating. This is due to the large, smooth surfaces offered by both the pavements and the roads. Skating on the pavement is legal all around Central Paris (zone 1) and its suburbs (zone 2+).
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. 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. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling as well. 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 (download here) at the information center in the 'Hôtel de Ville.
Bikes can be rented from numerous private vendors, including Fat Tire Bike Tours, Bike About Tours, and Roue Libre, a joint project of the Mayor's office and the RATP.
To contact Fat Tire Bike Tours  call their office at +33 6 56 58 10 54,. They are open daily, and rentals are €2/hour, €15/day, €25/2 day period, or €45/week. They are located at 24, rue Edgar Faure, 75015. Fat Tire also provides daily tours.
The Bike About ( 06 21 18 46 93)  rental point is located in the center of Paris at the Vinci Car Park, just behind the town hall or "Hotel de Ville" (Rue Lobau). They are open daily, and rentals are €4/hour, €15/day, €25/2 day period. They also provide guided bike tours of Paris, given by local, English-speaking guides who know the city well. This is a great way to experience Paris. They are one of the smaller tour companies in Paris & give you a great insiders look at the city.
In addition to operating a number of bike rental buses, the RATP has 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. A bus ride is also interesting if you want to see more of the city. 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 Noctilien, 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.
Paris has too few taxis, so do not expect to be able to flag one down without a wait. If you know you will need one to get to the airport, or to a meeting, it is wise to book ahead by phone (Taxis Bleues and Taxis G7). Taxis are comparatively cheap, especially at night, when there are no traffic jams to be expected. In the daytime, it is not always a good idea to take a taxi, as walking or taking the metro (See: Métro) will often be faster.
To stop a taxi, watch the sign on the roof:
Remember if a taxi is near a 'taxi station', they're not supposed to pick you up but at the station... where there may be people waiting... Taxi stations are usually near train stations, big hotels, hospitals, large crossings... You can also call for taxis & make a reservation in advance [there] and[there] or book a flat rate [Shuttle Taxi] When a taxi stops, he will sometimes pull down his window and expect you to tell where you go. Sometimes, a taxi can be difficult to stop, and you have to try several times. If the driver can't go where you want, he might tell you so in a somewhat offhand manner -not expected of a taxi driver in other parts of the world —As often as not they'll tell you they're near the end of their working day & can't possibly get you where you want before they have to turn off-duty.
Keep in mind that there is a €5.50 minimum on all taxi rides, mandated by city law, but the meter does not show this amount, which can result in being asked to pay more than the metered amount on short rides.
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. You usually pay still seating in the cab (not through the front window, New York style)-just avoid misunderstandings. The driver will not let you sit in the front seat (save if there's 3 or 4 of you, & they generally don't like that), and will expect you to get in the back. Taxi-drivers come in all types, some nice, some rude, some wanting to chat, some not. Smoking in taxis is generally not allowed, just ask & it might be that the taxi driver himself wants a cigarette. Many taxis won't have you using your cellphone during the ride; if you do have to, make an apologizing gesture & sound, and do make a short call.
You don't have to have problems with drivers; just try and be nice, and be ready for the unexpected —a smiling, knowledgeable, English-speaking cab driver ;-). If you wish to file a complaint, note the taxi's number on the sticker on the left hand backseat window.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass (previously known as 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 2007). 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.
Also consider the ParisPass also a pre paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise, open top bus tour, cycle hire and allows free metro & public transport travel.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month; note, however, that this may mean long lines and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week. It's really crowded. People have to queue up at the Eiffel tower for several hours.
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, stage plays and museums. Available from many kiosks. Unfortunately their website is of no use at all. If you prefer a web version, you can visit Cityzeum, with maps of Paris, audio tours to download freely and more than 2000 visit and entertainment points.
Museums and galleries
Maison & Objet  France’s furniture and interiors trade fair
Six Nations Rugby  The annual rugby tournament brings together France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
Fashion Week  Women’s pret-a-porter collections for the following winter, summer collections follow in October.
French Tennis Open  Over two weeks , starting on the last Sunday in May, the world’s top players battle it out on a clay court.
Rendez-vous au Jardin Open doors for many parisian gardens.
La Gay Pride 30th of june.
Fête de la Musique  Paris celebrates the summer solstice (21st June) with this city-wide free musical knees-up.
Bastille Day, see above
Cinema en Plein Air  The annual outdoor cinema event takes place at the Parc de la Villette, on Europe’s largest inflatable screen.
Paris Plage  This now notorious event sees an artificial beach set up on the banks of the Seine for 6 weeks over summer. Urban family fun.
Tour de France This cycling race is held every year in July. It's route varies annually, however it always finishes on the last Sunday of July under the Arc de Triomphe.
Rock en Seine  On the last full weekend in August, this world-class fest reunites international rock stars.
Jazz à la Villette  The biggest names in contemporary jazz from around the world at Paris' annual jazz festival.
Nuit Blanche  On the first Saturday of October Paris is transformed into a moonlit theme-park for this arty all-nighter.
Fashion Week  Women’s pret-a-porter collections for the following summer; winter collections are presented in March.
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.
Be aware that most of the movies shown in France are dubbed to french. Some shows may have french subtitles.
It should go without saying that Paris is a good place to learn French.
Université Paris IV offers 'scholastic' as well as 'university' courses for foreigners in French language and culture, which start at various times of year.
Paris is the seat of a great variety of higher education establishments.
Paris is one of Europe's culinary centers. The restaurant trade began here, but some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialities. Even amongst French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.
That said, the Parisien restaurant trade is very much alive and well. 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 with its Anglophone rivals.
Of course there are also some traditional offerings, and for the budget conscious there are hundreds 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 for poor food and poor service - because they always tried to eat close to major tourist magnets. Try to go eat where the locals eat.
Many restaurants are tiny and have tables close together - square meters are at a premium and they like to save on sitting space. In some cases, when the restaurant is crowded, you may have to sit besides strangers at the same table. If you disagree to it, go to a more upscale place where you will pay for increased room.
Trendy restaurants often require reservations weeks, if not months in advance. If you haven't planned far enough ahead, try to get a reservation for lunch which is generally easier and less expensive.
For an easy-to-manage eating budget while in Paris, consider: breakfast or "petit dejeuner" at a restaurant, possibly in your hotel, consisting of some croissants, coffee, and maybe a piece of fruit (this typically costs around $5 to $10 depending on the area). Get a 'walking lunch' from one of Paris' many food stands--a panini in the center of the city, a crepe from a crepe stand, a falafel pita or take-out Chinese in the Marais. Traiteurs serving Chinese food are ubiquitous in the city and good for a cheap lunch and many patisseries sell inexpensive coffee and sandwiches. All these are cheap (about the same as breakfast), easy, and allow you to maximize your sightseeing and walking time while enjoying delicious local or ethnic food. For dinner, stroll the streets at dusk and consider a 20-to-40-Euro prix-fixe menu. This will get you 3 or 4 courses, possibly with wine, and an unhurried, candlelit, magical European evening. If you alternate days like this with low-budget, self-guided eating (picnicking, snacking, street food) you will be satisfied without breaking the bank.
Budget travelers will be very pleased with the range and quality of products on offer at the open air markets (e.g. the biggest one on Boul Richard Lenoir (near the Bastille), Rue Mouffetard, Place Buci, Place de la Madeleine and over the Canal Saint-Martin in the 11th or in any other arrondissement). 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 ( Casino, Monoprix, Franprix, 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 along the Canal Saint-Martin. The finest food stores are Lafayette Gourmet in the Galeries Lafayette or La Grande Epicerie in the luxury department store Le Bon Marché. They are worth discovering. You will find a large variety of wines there, otherwise try wine stores such as Nicolas or Le Relais de Bacchus (all over the city), or why not some wine cellars. Some of them are real diamonds.
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.
Do also try the french salads. Tasty and delicate.
France is very expensive for visitors. A can of soda can cost €2.50 from some kiosks. It is recommended you buy a load from a supermarket and keep them in your hotel frige. Don't expect to do Paris on the cheap, you can't! The only way is to eat French bread and water.
Fast food restaurants are often the best value in town and you should familiarise yourself with their location for when you want food late-night.
Just about all the Kosher restaurants are concentrated on rue de la Rosiers. Walk up and down to see the variety and choces available from Israeli, Sushi, Italian and others.
For vegetarians, eating traditional French food will require some improvisation, as it is heavily meat-based. For fast food and snacks, you can always find a vegetarian sandwich or pizza. Even a kebab shop can make you something with just cheese and salad, or perhaps falafel. 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.
Moroccan and Algerian cooking is common in Paris - vegetarian couscous 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'aubergine). 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, like the Bastille.
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). You might also want to try Cabaret (Palais Royal), Maison Blanche, le Baron (M Alma-Marceau). Remember when going out to dress the part -- you are in Paris! Torn clothing and sneakers are not accepted. The better you look the most likely you will get past the random decisions of club bouncers. Also important to remember if male (or in a group of guys) that it will be more difficult to enter clubs, try to always have an equal male/female ratio.
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 is of course one of the great fashion centres of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a great place to do clothes shopping. For the high end, the area around Place Vendome is known for it's jewellery shops as e.g. Cartier. All the way from Louvre to Place de la Concorde has a number of sophisticated shops. And of course you shouldn't miss Gallerie Lafayette and Le Printemps (close to the Operahouse), Samaritaine (opposite le Pont Neuf/now closed) and BHV which you can find in the Le Marais area close to Hotel de Ville. The Le Marais area is the jewish area in Paris and most of the shops are open on Sundays. Le Marais is also known as the Gay area in Paris which means you can find a number of bars, cafes and clubs special for gay people.
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.
Crime in Paris is similar to most small cities, but violent crime is uncommon in the heart of the city. Pickpockets are active on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle airport to downtown Paris and on the number one metro (subway) line that cuts across the city center east to west servicing many of the major tourist sites. A common scheme is for one thief to distract the tourist with questions or disturbance while an accomplice picks pockets, a backpack or purse. Thieves often time their crime to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the metro, leaving the victim secured on the departing train. Many thefts also occur at the major department stores (Galleries Lafayette, Printemps and Samaritaine) where tourists leave wallets, passports and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.
Popular tourist sites are also popular hunting grounds for thieves who favor congested areas to mask their activities. The crowded elevators at the Eiffel Tower, escalators at museums and the area around the Sacre Coeur church in Montmarte are all favored by pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves. The area around the famous Moulin Rouge is known as Pigalle and best avoided after dark unless with a tour group headed for a show. Pigalle is an adult entertainment area known for prostitutes, sex shows and drugs. Unsuspecting tourists often run up exorbitant bar bills and are forced to pay before being permitted to leave.
The Marché aux Puces (Les Puces) flea market is virtually designed to make pickpocketing easy and gangs can be witnessed spotting victims. Walkways are often crowded, narrow, dark, with no way out except to wait for the extraordinarily-slow walkers to move.
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 neighborhood like Barbes. Meanwhile, if you are easily identifiable as a rich 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 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. 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.
Beware also of distraught-looking women and children asking if you can speak English. You'll be presented with a card or letter with a story explaining something like "My mother is in hospital in another country terminally ill. I'm stuck in Paris with no money and I need to visit her." You´ll encounter them at the major train stations (such as Paris Nord) and also at most major tourist attractions. Even on the Champs-Élysées.
Some Parisian restaurants, particularly in the tourist-laden Latin Quarter, make a living ripping off tourists who are hampered by a language barrier. When ordering, particularly if ordering a "menu" or prix-fixe meal, point to the actual menu item and ensure you repeat the price. Eye contact works wonders, as does a modicum of conversational French.
Be aware that there are hefty fines for littering in Paris. Be a litterbug at your own risk!
Since 2007, it is strictly forbidden to smoke in close areas (train stations, subway stations, buildings). You can still smoke in restaurants and bars until 2008.