This is the Second Part of the Paris Insider’s Guide. I try to paint an honest picture of life in this iconic metropolis, while giving non-fuss travel advice. Here we cover Where to Stay, How to Get Around and What to Avoid, including safety tips. See Part One for When to Go, Things to Do, Costs, and Where to Eat and Drink.
Where to stay
If you look at a map of Paris, you’ll see a brain-shaped agglomeration, bordered by the Périphérique ring-road, divided into 20 districts called arrondissements, which spiral outwards from the centre of the city, starting with the 1st. Each of these arrondissements has its own unique vibe. For instance, generally speaking the 16th arrondissement is calm and bourgeois (for me, this translates as dull), whereas the 3rd and the 4th (making up the Le Marais quarter where I currently live) are lively and bohemian, as is the artistic district of Montmartre in the 18th. The 5th and 6th are home to the Latin Quarter and the city’s intellectual hub, where you’ll discover an abundance of bookshops and record stores.
Everyone will have their own selection criteria for choosing where to stay, so I strongly recommend investing in a bit of research to see which arrondissement is right for you, and if there are good travel connections nearby. Google Maps can be invaluable for this.
No matter which area you choose to stay in, a more affordable alternative to a hotel is often to rent out a room in a local’s home or an entire apartment or studio through sites such as Airbnb. If you’re concerned about authenticity, you can limit your search to those with the highest reviews. In September, for example, I managed to find a two-person apartment in the heart of Montmartre, just next to the cathedral of Sacré-Cœur, for the bargain price of £30 a night. Plus the guy who owned it was more than happy to answer questions about his neighbourhood.
How to get around
Fortunately, getting to Paris from the UK is fairly simple and there are several options. Two international airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, are located within a 40 minute bus ride from the city centre. Personally, however, I favour the Eurostar as it tends to be less expensive and quicker, once you factor in airport waiting times. Eurostar famously claim to offer round trips to Paris for £69. There are, however, only a limited amount of tickets at this price so it’s worth reserving your tickets as early as possible – from 120 days in advance – to ensure you get the times you want.
While in Paris, you can save time and money on public transport by buying sets of metro tickets in tens (a set of ten metro tickets for €13.30 should be ample for an entire weekend of sightseeing). As well as on the metro, these tickets can be used on the RER (over-ground train) within Paris, and the bus and tram for 90 minutes between the first and last validation. In my experience, the travel card marketed for tourists, the Paris Visite Passe, is not an economical option, given that it costs almost as much for 5 days as does the monthly travel card for locals.
Above all, equip yourself with a detailed map showing all roads, not just the main ones (i.e. one not designed solely for tourists), with separate accompanying diagrams showing the metro, RER, bus and tram networks. I personally never leave my apartment without A. Leconte’s Plan de Paris par Arrondissement. For journey-planning, you can refer to the public transport organization RATP’s website.
What to avoid
Firstly, the main tourist areas of Paris are generally safe; just keep a weather eye on your belongings in crowds, especially on the metro and in lifts. I tend to wear a cross-body bag and keep it tucked under my arm in these situations. Above all, never put valuables in your back pockets or in easy-to-access pockets, especially on backpacks.
Secondly, beware of people scamming in the street. My sister and I were once offered “free” friendship bracelets and before we knew it we had string tied around our wrists held by men demanding €5. Later that day (we must have “gullible” stamped on our heads when we’re together) we were approached in a boulangerie by a man begging for money. After he left, the shopkeeper informed us that he was a regular and would have stolen our purses, which we’d taken out to pay for our pain au chocolats, had she not been watching him. We learned the cold truth: always be on your guard, especially when strangers seem kind or vulnerable.
Finally, my flatmate always warns me against walking through the tunnels under bridges at any time of day. Sadly, homeless people often live there and they might not take kindly to stray tourists.
I sincerely hope that this Insider’s Guide contains a glimmer of usefulness and enhances your Parisian experience in some small way. It is an insurmountable challenge to do justice to such a ginormous, wondrous, and talked-about place. So I apologise for generalising – it was necessary! On that note, I warmly invite you to leave comments with your own recommendations.
My own photography.