Paris is without question best explored on foot and, thanks to Baron Haussmann’s mid-19th-century redesign, the City of Light is a compact wonder of wide boulevards, gracious parks, and leafy squares. When you want a lift, though, public transportation is easy and inexpensive. The métro (subway) goes just about everywhere you’re going for EUR 1.40 a ride (a carnet, or “pack” of 10 tickets is EUR 10.90); tickets are good for the vast bus network, too.
Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (or neighborhoods) spiraling out from the center of the city. The numbers reveal the neighborhood’s location, and its age: the 1st arrondissement at the city’s heart being the oldest. The arrondissements in central Paris—the 1st to 8th—are the most-visited.
It’s worth picking up a copy of Paris Pratique, the essential map guide, available at bookstores, and souvenir shops.
Paris is by no means a 24/7 city so planning your days beforehand can save you aggravation. Museums are closed one day a week, usually Tuesday, and most stay open late at least one night each week, which is also the least crowded time to visit. Store hours are generally 10 AM to 7:30 PM, though smaller shops may not open until 11 AM, only to close for several hours during the afternoon. Some retailers are still barred by law from doing business on Sunday, but exceptions include the shops along the Champs-Elysées, the Carrousel du Louvre, and around the Marais, where most boutiques open at 2 PM.
Saving Time & Money
Paris is one of the world’s most visited cities—with crowds to prove it, so it pays to be prepared. Buy tickets online when you can: most cultural centers and museums offer advance ticket sales and the small service fee you’ll pay is worth the time saved waiting in line. Investigate alternate entrances at popular sites (there are three at the Louvre, for example) and check when rates are reduced, often during once-a-week late openings. Also, most major museums—including the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay—are free the first Sunday of each month.
A Paris Museum Pass can save you money if you’re planning serious sightseeing, but it might be even more valuable for the fact that it allows you to bypass the lines. It’s sold at the destinations it covers and at airports, major métro stations, and the tourism office in the Carrousel du Louvre (2-, 4- or 6-day passes are 30, 45 and 60EUR respectively; for more info visit www.parismuseumpass.com).
Stick to the omnipresent ATMs for the best exchange rates; exchanging cash at your hotel or in a store is never going to be to your advantage.
Restaurants follow French meal times, serving lunch from noon-2:30 PM and dinner from 7:30 or 8 PM on. Some cafés serve food all day long. Always reserve a table for dinner, as top restaurants book up months in advance. When it comes to the check, you must ask for it. (It’s considered rude to bring it unbidden.) In cafés you’ll get a register receipt with your order. Gratuities (service) are almost always included in the bill but it’s good form to leave some small change on the table: a few centimes for drinks, or 2EUR -3EUR at dinner.
What to Wear
When it comes to dress, the French reserve athletic-type clothing for sports. Sneakers are fine as long as they’re not “gym shoes” (think urban hip). You’ll feel comfortable wearing jeans just about anywhere as long as they’re neat, although before you head out for the evening make sure to check if they’re acceptable.
The Parisian reputation for rudeness is undeserved. In fact, Parisians are sticklers for “politesse” and exchanging formal greetings is the rule. Informal American-style manners are considered impolite. Beginning an exchange with a simple “Do you speak English?” will get you off on the right foot. Learning a few key French words will take you far. Offer a hearty bonjour (bohn-zhoor) when walking into a shop or café and an au revoir (o ruh-vwahr) when leaving, even if nobody seems to be listening (a chorus may reply). When speaking to a woman over age 16, use madame (ma-dam), literally “my lady.” For a young woman or girl, use mademoiselle (mad-mwa-zel). A man of any age goes by monsieur (muh-syuh). Always say please, s’il vous plaît (seel-voo-play), and thank you, merci (mair-see).