Like I have said, Paris is a city where you can truly spend each weekend discovering a new favorite park or even neighborhood to get lost in. But, when you are short on time, you want to get as much time in as possible. So, here are my tips for getting it all in!
EARLY FLIGHT ARRIVAL
Our flight left DC at roughly 5p and our 6.5 hour flight got us in at 6am Paris time. Yes, you heard that right! Having time to get in early allows almost a completely full day to explore. So, get in as early as you possibly can. We arrived before rush hour on Friday morning, so we were able to get through TSA, board the Metro and get into the main part of Paris before most Parisians were even awake. Honestly, we did not get much sleep on the plane, but if you can, try to get at least 2-3 hours of rest. You will need it (I don't recommend napping the day of, as it will disrupt your already dysfunctional sleep schedule).
YOU CAN SAVE MONEY ON HOTELS: USE AIR BNB
Granted, not everyone is excited about the idea of Air BNB but hear me out. Most hotels for a week in Paris can be as much as your flight to Paris (we found even in mid-September, rates averaged about $1200/week). Hotel can eat a huge chunk into your budget. We found a great studio Air BNB in the 5th district - near Notre-Dame for about $550/week. *Caution: Be careful for which rentals you choose as our friends had their location pull the reservation two days before they left. ALWAYS do Instant Book to prevent this!*
Paris is a city for walking; for seeing all the older buildings and monuments. Take the time to walk around. However, the Metro is a great way of getting around. As in most major cities like Boston and Chicago, it is a great tool to use. Make sure you pre-buy your tickets beforehand (I opted for a book of 10, and reloaded as I went). Each line is color-coded and is named by the final stop on the line. If you know what stop you are getting off along the line, you can figure out which direction you need to go and what line to take. Since we stayed in the main part of Paris, we only used Zones 1-3. If you are trekking to Versailles or anywhere in Zones 4-5, you will need a separate pass for those. Also, keep your tickets as we often saw conductors going in the trains and checking to see that no one skipped purchasing their tickets. It is a hefty fine if you are caught jumping the turnstiles. Bonus: The Metro line (RER) goes directly to Charles de Gaulle Airport, so we were lucky enough to be able to use tickets from our booklet to head back to the airport. ALWAYS use the Metro over the taxi (it will save you money).
One of my favorite features as a traveler in Paris was the restaurants placing the prices on their menu boards. Not only do they include tax and tip, but each menu would show how many courses you were getting per meal. Almost all cafes I went to in Paris included 3 course meals (appetizer, main course, dessert). And, there were always options to choose from for your selection. Additionally, the markets, shops and speciality stops also has these as-is prices. Tax and tip are always included in the price you see, so if an item says it is 5 euros, it is exactly that, no extra change.
I am not one for "fast food". I detest McDonald's and prefer sitting down and eating Chipotle to some cheap, greasy concoction. However, Street food in Paris is sacred. I loved my savory ham and cheese crepe for lunch, my sweet nutella crepe at the Eiffel Tower as a "snack" and my Gyro on The Seine before the walking tour. The Latin Quarter (in the 5th arrondissement - aka district) is known for their street food shops that really give you a big bang for your buck. You can eat well without dropping a great deal of cash for a meal. My Gyro has fries that came right in the middle of it. Talk about food to-go! You can get some really great meals along this street. Trust me on this. Walk by until something catches your eye. And, always be open for trying something new. Parisians are known for their killer good food. One of my favorite meals in Paris was a burger- the Ultimate BURGER (and it was in the mall)! So, be open to it.
While there are many things you can do in Paris, I suggest splurge on one thing you are going to truly love. Do you really love Van Gogh? Book a trip out to Giverny. Do you want to see the highlights all day - without having to walk to them all? Get tickets for the Hop on Hop off Bus. Want a dinner on The Seine taking in great views of the city? Try a Boat Dinner Tours. I really wanted to see Versailles, so I opted for the Blue Bike Tour. It is the best way to see Versailles without having to walk the entire grounds. It was a lot of fun to explore by bike and have a picnic at Versailles, viewing all the amazing gardens, homes and scenery. A must in my book. We had a great tour guide!
One thing I learned quickly before leaving for Paris is that some museums, like The Louvre, close one day a week. Alternatively, they also have a day they stay open later. So, you may need to adjust your schedule if you want to visit some of them. Since The Louvre was opened late on Friday, I went that afternoon, after most of the crowds had gone and there was time to explore without so much chaos. There are so many great works of art in the museums in Paris, you are not going to want to skip these treasures. My favorites and recommendations: Musee d'orsay, Musee de l'Orangerie, The Louvre, Versailles, and Musee de Montmarte.
DO YOUR CURRENCY EXCHANGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE
One big thing I noticed at the airports and terminals was those who were doing their currency exchange. Most were long lines and the exchange rate was not as ideal for the travelers as they could have been. I watched as the Euro fluctuated before finally going and getting my currency exchanged. *If you have a service like AAA, do it there to save you time.* I did my $500 currency exchange 2 months before my departure date to ensure I had enough time to get the money back for my trip. And, make sure during this time you check your passport!
Parisians are taught English as well as French when they are in school. Most Parisians can speak English very well. One thing I learned is always greet them with a Hello/Bonjour before any transaction. This is a big deal there and they will appreciate it. I tried beforehand to learn a few key phrases before leaving and it did me a world of good. Most people will switch from French to English automatically but even attempting and putting forth effort to speak French to them can get you far. The older generations in Paris may not speak English well, but I have found most places you can get by with just knowing a few basic words and phrases.
This is only a handful of tips to help you on your trip. There are so many other pieces of advice. If you have some to share with me, please do so! I am planning on another trip to Paris as soon as I can. And, stay tuned as I share what I did during my time in Paris!