Whereas 2014 was all about knee defenders, awkward profiles of Brits in the German press, and Outlander-themed tours of Scotland, this year has been very different.
We’ve seen terror on the streets, refugees in crisis, and a king reburied half a millennium after his death, and that’s only a snippet of what 2015 involved.
A World in Chaos
With ISIS/ISIL-led terror attacks tragically striking Egypt, France and Tunisia, and with parts of Belgium on lockdown following the recent Paris attacks, it’s been a sobering year. Western tourists have naturally been cautious, but holidaymakers are not the only targets. Locals socialising or going to work also lost their lives. Whilst the travel industry is under pressure to deliver better safety measures and tighter security, anyone driven to cancel their holiday and stay at home won’t be risk-free, because domestic threats are just as common. The sad fact is that we can’t always prevent these attacks from happening, however we can’t live our lives in constant fear.
A Louis Vuitton trunk at the airport speaks volumes about its owner. For one thing, they’re probably not bothered about excess baggage charges (no fear of Ryanair restrictions here). For another, they probably won’t buy three copies of The Daily Telegraph in WHSmith just to get the free giant bottles of Buxton water for the flight and the onward journey. And they won’t have a dilemma about whether it’s ok to nick the blankets from the plane on long haul flights or not, because they don’t fly economy.
Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
- If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
- The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
- Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
- Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
- The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
- Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
- Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
- We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
- Browse one of my previous posts for things to see and do on a budget when you get here, including the Pompidou Centre.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
- I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
- Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Musée de Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
- If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
- Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
- Loads of major museums and galleries are closed on a Monday or a Tuesday; many restaurants can also be closed on a Sunday or Monday. Always check listings before you travel!
- The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…
So, you want to see culture in Paris without spending a fortune? So did I. Being short on both time and money when I visited (I was working at a trade show as part of Paris Fashion Week), I created my own adventure and ticked off some of the well known and the more obscure sights of the city, knowing that every second counts when you’re trying to absorb a new destination.
Along the way, I stumbled upon some great places that I think you should know about, too – just put down the guidebook for a second and you’ll see what I mean. Get ready to try out your finest Franglais phrases and enjoy a whistle-stop tour.
On my first night in Paris during a work trip, still getting my bearings and exploring the city with my boss, we stumbled across an in-store gig by a rockabilly band, Ghost Highway, which was a really unexpected introduction to the music scene here. I had no idea that there were many French rockabilly bands, or that they’d have such a hardcore following, but I’m really glad that we got to see them play.
Afterwards I did a bit of research about the rockabilly scene in France and it turns out that it’s definitely alive and well, with most bands adopting American names, such as Howlin’ Jaws, Curfew or Kathy and the Firebrands. One bizarre translation I learned along the way was that batterie is the French word for drums, which kind of makes sense but seems pretty violent as it reminds me of ‘assault and battery’ (“I’m afraid we’ve charged your son with assault and drumming, madam”, etc).
Rather than starting this blog with an introductory post that nobody wants to read, I’m diving in at the deep end with an unexpectedly cool place that I came across in central Paris. In the midst of high street advertising and desperate recession-bitten traders sat this artists’ squat, which occupied a beautiful old terraced block just minutes from some of the city’s big attractions.
I couldn’t decide whether it was heartening to see people fighting back against hard times, or whether it was pretty sad that they had (presumably) taken over someone else’s property. Either way, I was curious to see more. Each floor was divided into little sections holding several different artists’ work, from the more commercial pieces with business cards carefully placed in your line of vision, to the sprawling murals filled with rants against pretty much anyone and everyone and accompanied by stern signs banning photography.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.