How to Enjoy Paris: First You Have To Get There!
Updated: Apr 22
Paris or Paradise? It is easy to mix them up.
If you live on the East Coast – you most likely can book a direct flight to Paris. For the rest of the United States, you most likely will have at least one layover. Personally, I don’t mind a layover – it gives me an opportunity to stretch my legs before the 9.5-hour flight to Paris. Economy Seats on flights (February 2023) from the United States range from $650 - $1,200. Prices will run higher for Summer and the Holidays. Once you have an estimate of when you want to travel, start monitoring your preferred Airlines and Travel Search Engines for specials. When selecting your flight – be sure to note the total hours – including the layover. I once made the mistake of booking a flight with a 7-hour layover in New York. This is an example of Time = Money.
Before you know it, the jet starts its descent, while the flight attendants start opening the pull-down shades. This is a good time to look to check out the map of the airport found in the airline magazine in the seat pocket to get a general overview of the arrival airport. Most Flights from the US arrive at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. You will most likely be sleepy, excited, grumpy, and disoriented, so take your time deplaning. Make sure you have your passport, wallet, phone, and all of your belongings – because if you leave anything behind – you most likely will never see them again.
You are now in France, and it will be a bit different. The people are speaking French and all the signs are in French – don’t worry – the signs are also in English. Keep making your way through the corridors into the mob at Border Police/Passport Control. If needed, go to the bathroom before you get to passport control. If you are not a EU Citizen, line up for the “Tous Passeports/All Passports” – not the line for “Citoyens UE/Citizens EU. The line moves quickly. When you reach the end of the line, you will be motioned forward by the Border Police Officer. Greet the officer with a “Bonjour” and present your passport. The officer may ask you questions such as “Who are you traveling with?”, “Where are you staying?” Answer politely, they are pleasant, but they are Border Police – and have a serious job to do. The officer will stamp your passport and now you can head toward baggage claim.
Keep moving along following the signs for Bagages-Sortie/Baggage–Exit and a symbol of a suitcase. The baggage carousel number for your flights’ checked luggage can be found on a monitor. Once you collect any luggage you may have – head towards Douane/Customs – the symbol is an officer’s torso, a cap on the head reaching into an open suitcase.
Depending upon the terminal, you may be able to walk straight ahead, out the door, into the main reception hall of the airport. You may not realize it – but you have passed through customs. Custom officers randomly check bags and if you are chosen, smile, say Bonjour, and cooperate.
Exiting Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) Airport
The decision as to how you will be getting to Paris should be determined ahead of time. Although there are multiple ways to get to your Paris Hotel from the CDG – I personally would only consider one of the following options.
RER/Metro. The RER (Reseau Express Regional) and Metro are the most cost-effective and if during Rush Hour – the fastest transportation into Paris. RER B is for travel between CDG and Paris, while RER C is the line traveling between Orly Airport and Paris. The majority of International Flights will come in and out of CDG. Follow the signs – a circle around the acronym RER. If you have Euros you can purchase the ticket (€12) from a vending machine – if not – there is an RER station with humans selling tickets and they do accept credit cards. Be sure to keep your ticket handy as the Metro Police come by and check for tickets. If you do not have it – a citation along with a fine may be issued.
Before you get on the RER, review the route and determine what station is closest to your hotel. The Gare du Nord for Sacre Coeur and Montmartre; Chatelet les Halles for hotels near the Louvre; St. Michel-Notre Dame for those staying near St. Michel or the Latin Quarter. If you are not staying right at one of these stops, each of these stops/stations has connecting Metro Lines that can get you to the Metro stop closest to your hotel.
You will never forget your first trip to Paris.
Metro. Double-check what Metro Lines you need. Then, look right and left, find the sign with your Metro line on it, and proceed in that direction. In the larger tunnels continue to follow the signs for your line and when arriving at the line, look on the boards on the wall to find your destination stop. Go in the direction of your destination, wait on the platform, and in a few minutes, a Metro will arrive. Only board after any passengers exit and then wait for your destination/stop.
NOTE: As you can see traveling with more than one roll-on suitcase is going to be tough for the RER/Metro mode of transportation. If you have more than one bag or are traveling with children, seriously consider a taxi. You will have ample opportunities to ride the Metro during your stay.
A bad day in Paris is still a good day anywhere else.
Taxi. Depending on the Terminal – it should only take a few steps to get a cab. It is a bit costlier (€52) – however, after a long flight and all the logistics of the RER/Metro – it may be worth it. Only choose licensed taxis at the official airport stand. Unauthorized taxis or scammers may People will approach – but refuse. Get in line, and when you get into your taxi, say “Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame” and then hand the driver a sheet of paper with your hotel’s name and address. That way there is no confusion about where you are asking the driver to take you. Be sure to have your taxi driver return the piece of paper or have another copy to keep with you at all times.
You are now in Paris!
If you have taken a Taxi, you will be dropped at the front door of your hotel. If you are arriving via Metro, you will find a plan of the neighborhood near the exit – get your bearings and make your way to your hotel. The reception will want to copy the passports of all people staying at the hotel and a credit card to authorize payment. Your hotel is aware that flights from the US arrive early in the morning, and will allow you to drop off your bags until your room is ready. It might just be your lucky day and your room may be ready. If you will be staying in an Airbnb Keep your flight arrival timing in mind when communicating with your host.
"Paris is so very beautiful that it satisfied something in you that is always hungry in America" - Ernest Hemingway
Whether I can get into my room or not – I highly recommend that before you take that well deserved nap – go for a long walk outside to acclimate yourself to the Paris Time Zone. The majority of visitor hotels are within a couple of blocks from the Siene. Immerse yourself in Paris and stroll along the river – the majority of the Paris landmarks can be seen from the sidewalks along the Seine, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame.
Begin with Bonjour and End with Merci
Can you imagine if someone came up to you on the street and started talking to you in another language? Wouldn’t you be indignant? This is how Parisians feel when Americans visit and insist on blurting out questions in English. Most Europeans do speak some English; however, they would appreciate a little respect for their culture. Follow the etiquette and say “Bonjour” when entering a shop, greeting the host or waiter at a restaurant, buying a ticket at a museum, or just as a matter of being polite to people you pass on the street. Likewise, when you leave the shop always say “Merci, au revoir!” (Thank you, goodbye!) If you do need some assistance with something – such as getting directions, remember this phrase “Bonjour – Parlez-vous anglaise?” This is “Hello – Do you Speak English?” The Parisians will appreciate your effort and you may be surprised by a friendly smile and your directions.
"There should be a name for the syndrome that occurs when you're in Paris and already miss it." - Rosecrans Baldwin
How to Choose Your Paris Hotel
Anything within the city limits is accessible by Metro or bus, so you should be able to get anywhere in Paris in 30-40 minutes. If you don’t like public transportation or plan on returning to your hotel room throughout the day, it is best to remain within the center.
Generally speaking, hotel rooms in France are much smaller than hotel rooms in the United States. Because these are old buildings, the rooms are a bit tighter and there is definitely less floor space. I have found that the bathrooms – are exceptionally small – especially the showers. The elevators are tiny – and not all hotels have elevators. The majority of the hotels, do not offer a free breakfast. Almost every hotel will offer breakfast, but it costs extra. As there is a café on almost every block – why would you have breakfast in a hotel – when you can immerse yourself directly into Parisian daily life?
The Arrondissement System
An Arrondissement is a neighborhood or district of Paris. There are 20 of them in the city. The first arrondissement starts in the middle of the city, and the arrondissements extend out in a spiral around the city, with the 12 – 20th lining the perimeter of the city. Each arrondissement has a different feel and a different vibe. Some of them even have their own names, such as Le Marais, the Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain, or Montmartre.
The river Seine cuts through Paris, dividing it pretty much in half. Sometimes different areas of Paris will be referred to as the right bank or the left bank – referring to what side of the river you are on. The left bank is south of the river, and the right bank is north of the river.
You can’t go wrong with the 1st – 4th arrondissement on the Right Bank and Islands, or the upper end of the 5th, 6th, and 7th on the Left Bank.
The further you are from the exact center (which is Ile de la Cite), the less expensive and less touristry your neighborhood will be (Montmartre in the 18th being the exception). There are many excellent hotels in interesting residential neighborhoods in the 13th, 14, 15th, 16th, and 17th arrondissements. What is important – is “How far are you from the nearest Metro station, and whether it is one of the main lines like 1, 4, 7 or 14. This will avoid multiple changes to get to the center - where most of the museums and action is located.
As a rule, the shorter your stay, the less time you will want to spend getting to and from your hotel, so stay more central. Remember, Time = Money. For longer stays, save money and get immersed in the real Parisian atmosphere by staying outside the city center.
What to Eat in Paris
Do yourself a favor and ditch the diet while you are in Paris. The combination of all the walking, stairs, and the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish – will leave you feeling super fit and bit more room in your clothes.
If you consider yourself a Foodie and are afraid you won’t be able to fit all the delicious Parisian cuisine into your trip – consider taking a Food Tour or cooking class.
All of the famous French food in Paris will have you drooling just reading about it, but wait until you arrive and smell the amazon aromas of the city. These are the Paris foods that you must try when you visit!
"Paris is always a good idea," Audrey Hepburn
Fresh Bread from the Boulangerie – There is nothing better than crunching into a baguette fresh out of the oven! Ask your hotelier where their favorite/closest boulangerie is located.
Croissants – A buttery, flakey roll that is a breakfast staple for the French. Pain Au Chocolate aka Chocolate Croissant – There is nothing better than a Pan Au Chocolate (or two or three) in the morning with your first cup of coffee.
French Cheese – The best part about eating French cheese in Paris is how cheap it is. At 2€ - how can you possibly pass up a big slab of brie?
Parisians like their Meat and Potatoes too!
Steak Frites – This is a French classic and is on the menu of most bistros.
Macarons – One of the most famous French foods. These cookies are like biting into a rainbow cloud and are gluten-free!
Chocolate Chaud - Heaven in a cup.
The Real Hot Chocolate – Thick, rich, and creamy. Made with hard chocolate, melted with milk, and way less sweet.
Crepes – The tastiest street food ever. Get a classic Banana Nutella or a savory ham and cheese. The stands are around every corner.
Crème Brulé – Delicious eggy custard with a crunchy sugar crust on top.
Don’t skip the Duck - French Duck or “canard” cooked the French way is a poultry lover’s dream.
Coq Au Vin – Chicken stew – especially on a cold night.
Boeuf Bourguignon – No one makes a better beef stew than the French - well, except your Grandmother.
Real French Onion Soup – You have probably had this at home – but nothing better to warm you up than a steaming cup of beef broth, onions, cheese, and real French Bread.
Fois Gras – Made from the Duck or Goose Liver. It is rich with a velvety texture and a meaty butter flavor. It is most often served as a spread with bread. Don’t knock it until you have tried it.
Fish – Try the Sole Meuniere wherever you can find it. It was the first food that Julia Child had in Paris that made her fall in love with French Food.
Quick Burger – Missing a hamburger? - It is like the McDonald’s of France.
Escargot – Don’t be scared. Similar to oysters, but taste like whatever they are drenched in - Can you say "Garlic Butter?"
"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy. Dining is not a fuel stop, it is recreation." - Julia Child
How to Pick a Parisian Restaurant
You will have an amazing choice of restaurants to choose from in Paris and the majority are fabulous, but here are some tips for choosing the local gems over the tourist traps:
Find the main tourist attraction (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.)
Walk away from the said attraction at least 3 blocks or so.
Find somewhere small. Parisian restaurants are known for their tight fits and for sharing tables with strangers. You may meet some of the loveliest strangers just by dining next to them.
Look for French Menus on display. This means that locals frequent this spot.
Look for small menus without pictures. Avoid flashy menus with large pictures and no prices!
Look for a crowd of French people. If it looks like 100% Americans – walk away.
Read Trip Advisor Reviews. Once you know the game plan for the day - read ahead, so that when the hungries hit - you will be prepared.
This is the 2nd Installment of 3 – the 3rd Installment will help you plan Your perfect Paris Itinerary.