Paris Reflections and Travel Tips
Sigh...Paris. Time for some Paris reflections. No destination so far on our Grand Tour has put an exclamation point onto what we are trying to achieve more than Paris. Paris really is a series of small villages, all with their own infrastructure, rhythm of life, and feel to the streets. And Montmartre must be the quintessential Paris village.
Some Paris Reflections
Montmartre, our ‘home’ for two weeks in Paris, was a good choice as a base, especially staying in an apartment. You can do just about everything you need to do to live happily without ever leaving the 18th Arrondissement.
This assumes, however, that you’ve been to Paris before and already covered the key sights. And this is fine. Staying in a hotel the first time in Paris will make staying in an apartment, even a small one, seem luxurious as the hotel rooms in Paris are so cramped.
Do see the sights the first time round, though, as they’re some of the best in the world. Just to walk the streets of Paris is a joy and Paris now comes with about 50% less dog poop than it used to, and no smoking inside the restaurants anymore.
Montmartre was an excellent choice for us to attempt to live a little like locals too. Based on previous trips to Paris, my idea of Montmartre had been confined to Sacré Cœur, horrible overpriced food, bad caricature artists, and wily pickpockets. But there is a whole other everyday side to the neighbourhood, indeed there are many sides that we reveal in our blog posts, that I found infinitely fascinating.
I’m not sure that I could have said the same about the Marais, for instance, as it’s too central and there are just too many tourists. In Montmartre, which was essentially a village outside the city until 1860, you have to choose to go into the centre of Paris, but the beauty is that you don’t have to.
Even after only a couple of days we had already identified our favourite cafés and bistros, a butcher, cheese shop, fishmonger, boulangerie, wine shop, the grocer that always had the freshest vegetables, and we found a cute little bar that would become our local.
But more importantly we very quickly got to know the rhythm of these places. We knew when to go to the boulangerie for those fresh baguettes without having to queue, when to go to our favourite bistro for a bite before the lunchtime crowd, and when was the best time to score an outside table at one of our favourite cafés.
We became familiar with the people who hung out in the square: the eccentric older gentleman with the perfectly tied cravat; the woman he always chatted with who has two cute little dogs; and the musicians who play there and what time they turn up.
Sure, we sacrificed a few new gallery showings and museum exhibitions that we had desperately wanted to see. We ate locally a lot instead of trying to hit every new modish bistro. We didn’t spend much time in St-Germain-des-Pres or the Marais, Belleville or Canal St Martin, and we didn’t go to the Champs-Élysées or Eiffel Tower, but then we’ve experienced them all before.
It may have been our sixth trip to Paris but on reflection we feel more enriched for having lived like locals in Montmartre. Now who’d have though that? We certainly wouldn’t have.
Our Paris Travel Tips
- On arrival, get a pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone, sold in phone shops – you’ll need it for making restaurant reservations and calling cabs.
- The first number to store on your SIM is a Paris taxi number. In Paris, there are never taxis around when you need them. We like this service, which has English-speaking operators, in case your French is as bad as ours: 0141276699
- Buy the pocketsize Paris street directory, Paris Pratique par Arrondissement, from a newsagent or bookshop. Trust us, it won’t leave your pocket and you won’t need a big guidebook. These essential little books include a street atlas organized by arrondissements/quartiers or neighbourhoods, as well as a metro map.
- Walk! There’s no better way to experience Paris than to walk, but just in case you do need to catch a bus or metro occasionally…
- Buy a carnet of ten tickets (€11.60) from the machines in the metro to always carry on you. They don’t have to be used in one day or even over consecutive days like the passes and tickets, are cheaper than buying individual tickets, and you can share them around.
- Identify the nearest bus stop to your holiday rental and note the best routes and bus numbers. There are plenty of bus maps online but Europe For Visitors has some maps organized handily here.
- We’re trying not to use guidebooks this year, but by our second week we were getting frustrated by the need to reserve tables in restaurants, so bought the Time Out Paris magazine for the phone numbers. That’s all you’ll need. It’s a third of the price of a guidebook, is current, thin, light, and you can throw it out or give it away at the end of your stay.
- Sign up to do some walking tours, wine-tastings or cooking classes as soon as you arrive, or even before you leave home, to kickstart your stay. That way you’re meeting locals and expats straight away and can pick their brains about restaurants and the like. We did ours with Viator and Context.
- If you’re on a tight schedule, also check out hop-on hop-off tours like these from Local Paris Tours which are convenient if you’re short on time and allow you to quickly see a lot and get the main sights out of the way, so you can focus on the local stuff.
- Consult Paris blogs. We love Pret a Voyager, which has a terrific section on Visiting Paris (and living in France if you fall in love as Anne did and decide to move there); Lost In Cheeseland, covering food and travel; and food writer Alexander Lobrano’s Hungry for Paris on the city’s best restaurants.