It’s impossible to see and do everything when visiting Paris, so why waste time doing anything that isn’t worthy of your hard-earned vacation hours? The next time you’re in the City of Light, don’t fight with crowds in tourist traps, eat at the wrong restaurants, or wait in line at the Eiffel Tower. Including a list of the best museums to visit and information on how best to plan your visit, this expert advice will let you actually enjoy the city and make your vacation one to remember.
1.DON’T EAT AT THE FAMOUS BRASSERIES
Full of history and charm, Paris’s legendary brasseries are definitely worth a visit, and all-day hours make them convenient for a quick bite anytime. But you don’t necessarily want to splurge on a meal at one of the brasseries. It’s an unfortunate fact that Paris’s big-name brasseries are now often run by chains cashing in on their fame, and the quality-to-price ratio varies drastically from one to the next. A beer or chocolat chaud at La Coupole, Bofinger, the sublime Le Grand Colbert, or Brasserie Lipp, for example, is a great idea. But for a truly French sit-down meal, La Palette, in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Le Chardenoux (11th), Terminus Nord, across from the Gare du Nord (10th), and if you’re feeling flush, Drouant, deliver on every front and then some. For some over-the-top fun, the newly restored Le Train Bleu, inside Gare de Lyon, is as spectacular as it gets.
2.DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE GRANDS MAGASINS
In a pinch, you’ll find pretty much everything you could possibly need or want at these historic (and huge) department stores, but you’ll have to contend with impersonal service and crowded spaces, especially at sale times (late June–July; first week of January on). Paris is known for its many fabulous shopping neighborhoods and enclaves, full of unique boutiques and oh-so-Parisian treasures. The Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Golden Triangle (Avenues Montaigne, George V, Champs-Elysées), and the Rue Saint-Honoré are the city’s most famous and plentiful, but there are scores of streets ripe for discovery: rues Charonne and Keller; the wonderful old market streets Rue des Martyrs and Montorgueil, and Montmartre; the peerless Palais Royal; rue Vavin for kids clothing; and rue Beaurepaire near Canal Saint-Martin.
3.DON’T PLAN ANY MEALS IN TOURIST AREAS
In general, the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, the area around Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and other places where tourists are plentiful are a big no-no. With so many good places to eat in Paris—plenty of them within easy walking distance of tourist areas—it’s a shame to waste money on substandard dining. Do your homework ahead of time with a good Paris restaurant guide or website and be prepared to scout out eateries and cafés that aren’t catering only to tourists. Alternatively, visit one of Paris’s many wonderful épiceries (small specialty grocers), found in every arrondissement, for prepared foods to-go. Or simply grab a baguette and some cheese—et voilà! Instant picnic.
4.DON’T SKIP THE SMALLER MUSEUMS
Paris is a treasure trove for small, gem-like museums, many of them at one-time private mansions that remain exactly as they were when the inhabitants, famous or not, lived there. The list is long: Jacquemart André, Gustave Moreau, Nissim de Camondo, Cernuschi, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Cognacq-Jay, Dapper, the Palais Galliera for fashion, and many more. Don’t forget the mid-size museums, like the Musée Carnavalet (the museum of the city of Paris), where you’ll find Marcel Proust’s actual bedroom; and the excellent Musée Guimet and its little-known offshoot, exquisite Musée d’Ennery. Many of these museums are run by the City of Paris and therefore free to the public. And on the first Sunday of the month, admission is free at every museum.
5.DON’T AVOID THE METRO
The Paris metro system is safe, clean, and one of the most convenient and economical ways to get around—and simple once you get the hang of it. Pick up a map at the yellow information booth at most metro stations, a carnet of 10 tickets (€14.20, half price for kids under 12), and you’re good to go. Metros will take you within a few-minutes walk of almost anywhere in Paris, without having to contend with traffic or worry that you’re being taken for a ride. Paris’s metro stations are increasingly automated, and though the majority have manned information booths, a few do not, so have cash on hand. Ticketing machines are in English and will take cash or a credit card with a chip, and you can buy tickets with a standard credit card at any information booth.
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