Pretty much every Parisian cliche is true: effortlessly-chic women puff on cigarettes, superb fromageries and patisseries abound, and the Seine practically glitters. The upside: everyone loves Paris. The downside: everyone loves Paris.
Whether you fall head over heels for Paris or feel a little laissez-faire about their lifestyle (aka eating copious amounts of bread and cheese and not counting calories), this playground of the senses is what you make of it. Cutting-edge fashion, world-class museums, and a history as long as the lines to enter the Louvre, Paris asks one simple favor from all visitors: to embrace it. Yes, that's an accordionist supplying the soundtrack to your romantic stroll through the City of Lights. Let it wash over you and then wash it all down again with a bottle of wine.
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A trip to "gay Paree" any time of the year is a no-brainer but summer and autumn tend to be the best times to visit. While hordes of tourists throng the City of Lights between June and August, the weather is exceptional, with temperatures hovering in the 70s and 80s (~20-30C). These temperatures are ideal for outdoor movies, sunbathing along the Seine, and France's biggest party of the year, Bastille Day. The occasional heat wave spikes thermometers upwards of 100F (~37C or more) — so stay hydrated and pay attention for advisories administered by city officials. Humid days generally lead to thunderstorms, especially in July. For less stifling heat, spring (March-May) is an ideal time to visit. Temperatures may seem a bit chilly but parks across the city come to life and flowers are in full bloom. Crowds are thick though, especially during Easter, so book accommodations well in advance.
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Autumn starts off balmy before giving way to cooler conditions. September sees temperatures in the upper-60s (~15-20C) and can go as low as the 40s (~4-9C) by October. Shorter lines and smaller crowds (except during Paris Fashion Week in late September) make for an enjoyable time among the fall foliage. Although it's cold enough for coats, Paris rarely receives snowfall in the winter (December-February). December tends to be the rainiest month but by February, skies have dried and precipitation is all but over. It's still cold though — come prepared.
Despite the enormity of the city, the charming neighborhoods of Paris are very compact, making it an ideal place to explore by foot. Like New York, Paris's arrondissements are microcosms — all the shops, bakeries, and other amenities are located within reach, meaning there is no need to venture too far. But if you're staying farther from the center or looking to discover other parts of Paris, you'll want to rely on the extensive metro system.
Paris runs a total of 16 lines that are identified by color, number, and the name of the terminus station. Fares are determined by zones — zone 1-3 include downtown Paris and nearby neighborhoods, while zones 4 and 5 include more distant areas like Versailles. There is also the Réseau Express Régional or RER, an express train system consisting of 5 lines that connects the city center to surrounding suburbs, including the Charles de Gaulle Airport and Disneyland. Make sure you know which direction you're going, as you cannot change directions without having to go through the turnstiles and paying the fare again. In addition, some lines split into different directions at major stations, so double check that your train is headed to your destination before boarding.
The metro runs Sunday through Thursday from 5:30am to 1:15am and Fridays, Saturdays, and eve of holidays until 2:15am. If catching a late train, arrive at least 30 minutes before the station closes. Some lines run all night long during certain holidays, so it's a good idea to check the RAPT website before heading out. The RER opens around 5:20am in central Paris and runs every 6 to 15 minutes until about 1:20am. While the trains are an efficient way to get around, they are some cons: many train cars don't have air conditioning, making it brutal to commute on sticky summer days, and accessibility to visitors with disabilities is lacking (i.e. elevators and escalators in most stations). There are also 8 trams that run above ground in the outskirts of the city. These do not hit big-ticket attractions along their route, and so are not often used by tourists.
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There are 64 bus routes operating within city limits. Buses come marked with double numbers and name of the terminus stop on the front. They are a great alternative for disabled or elderly travelers as most come equipped with ramps and are not as crowded as trains. Bus hours vary considerably but major lines generally operate between 5:30am to midnight. Night buses, Noctilien, run between 12:30am until 7am (marked with an N in front of the number). Electronic information systems are also in place at many stops to provide travelers with up-to-date schedules.
Consider a T+ ticket if you plan to use the public transportation system occasionally. A single-ticket costs 1,90€ and allows travel on the metro, the RER in zone 1, Île-de-France regions' buses, tramways, and Montmartre funicular. A package of 10 tickets, or carnet, costs 16,90€. Travel beyond zone 1 on the RER requires an Île-de-France ticket and cost is determined station to station but can be upwards of 12,10€.
The Paris Visite travel pass allows for unlimited travel for a specified number of days across the city center and Île-de-France region. You can purchase 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive day-passes for between 11,65€ to €63,90 (half price for children). Visite travel pass also provides entry discounts to some of Paris's most iconic attractions, including the Arc de Triomphe. Navigo passes are 63,90€ and allows unlimited travel on all forms of transportation for the month.
Buses accept T+ tickets, weekly/monthly passes, and exact change, but single-tickets do not allow for transfers. For a transfer, tell the driver your destination so he/she can charge you the correct amount. You can, however, transfer between buses within 90 minutes without extra charge if you ask the driver to stamp your ticket on the first bus. All tickets are available for purchase at desks or vending machines located in all metro and RER stations. Keep in mind that purchasing tickets aboard trains are more expensive and that tickets cannot be purchased inside trams.
You can take the city by two wheels with Vélib', the large-scale bike sharing program. The pay-as-you-go option costs 1€ or 2€ every 30 minutes for regular and electric bikes respectively. A 24-hour, 7-day, and monthly subscription passes are also available for purchase. Unfortunately, Vélib' does not provide helmets and there aren't many cycling lanes in the city. Because of this, biking can be a dangerous way to get around for both experienced and inexperienced cyclists. Ride safely.
Taxis are available but are expensive, especially during rush hour when traffic is at a gridlock. Avoid scam cabs by looking for the official "Taxi Parisien" sign on the roof of taxis. Most drivers prefer cash payment when traveling short distances but accept cards when going farther like to the airport. Major ride hailing services like Uber are popular here. As always, Uber provides a fixed price depending on distance and demand.
Euros are the official currency of France. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills or coins on hand for small transactions and for picking up the tab at cash-only establishments. It's also a good idea to have small bills on hand for taxi trips in case your driver cannot make change with larger bills.
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You may wish to practice your high school French while visiting Paris but many French natives, especially younger people, speak English fluently. And while it's polite to attempt communicating in French (definitely review the basics), there is no need to struggle. On the other hand, you may find that local cab drivers speak limited English so showing them the name or a map of your destination could be helpful.
There is a longstanding stereotype that the French are rude, but that isn't necessarily true. Like most large cities, locals may not go out of their way to help or converse with foreigners — after all, time is money, and Parisians always have somewhere to be. If you need assistance, don't hesitate to ask. However, disobeying laws or disrespecting the culture won't win you any brownie points with the French. Don't be rowdy and the locals won't be impolite.
The illustrious gastronomic history of Paris is as impressive as the city itself, but is also a complicated one. French cuisine was once regarded as the best in the world, with Paris home to many fine dining establishments that turned a meal into pure artistry. This image has since faltered — what was once an mark of high tradition (white table clothes, centuries old recipes) became stuffy and old-school in environments that simply did not translate into the 2010s. Today, there are over 40,000 restaurants in Paris, and although many of them still adhere to the strict codes of generations before them, younger chefs are entering the picture and forgoing the Michelin star for new and exciting menus.
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In the modern Paris, you'll find a vast spectrum of foods available. There is a taqueria with its very own speakeasy out back, American burgers served with artisanal ingredients, Asian-French fusion, Japanese tapas and yuzu cocktails at the Cod House, and Middle Eastern favorites are available with a French twist. Of course there are still the beloved bistros and traditionalists serving veal brain. However, French cuisine should not be overlooked because new chefs are finding innovative ways to pay homage to the masters and traditions of the country.
Keep in mind, eating out in Paris can get expensive, but the Holy Trinity (cheese, bread, and wine) never disappoints, and generally come cheap. The French take all three very seriously (the fromageries and boulangeries are world-renowned), but wine is a way of life. If you're not picking up a bottle for a picnic, vibey wine bars serving natural and biodynamic reds, whites and everything in between have aptly found a home in Paris — and are plentiful. At La Buvette, an understated setting is the stage for natural wines and powerful small plates. It's as hard to get a seat at Septime La Cave, the spin-off wine bar of Michelin-starred Septime, as it is at the actual restaurant. And hybrid wine-shop-wine-bars like La Cave de Bellville make sure you can bring a bottle home after you've sampled some from their menu.
All the cheese and steak frites should not put off vegan or vegetarian visitors. Places likes Le Potager de Charlotte are elevating greens while keeping sustainability in mind, and at 42 Degres, the focus is raw bistronomic (42 degrees being the temperature when nutrients, vitamins, and enzymes are destroyed when cooked). You can also get your superfood fix at Sol Semilla, the boutique-canteen spot that serves everything from açai to supersoups, or sip on matcha mylks and munch on spirulina popcorn at the effortlessly cool Wild & the Moon. If your wallet allows, a vegetarian-based tasting menu is all the hype at the Michelin-starred Arpège. But if all you're looking for is hearty brunch, Holybelly is the way to go — vegan or not.
There's no denying that the French are master bakers and pastry chefs. The boulangeries around every corner tantalize those following strict no-carb diets: dizzying displays of flaky croissants, fruit tarts, turnovers, and colorful macarons. To point to the very best in Paris is an impossible task, but you can start out at Du Pain et des Idées, Boulangerie Poilâne, Boulangerie Utopie, Boulangerie bo (a Japanese twist on French favorites), or Patisserie Yann Couvreur.
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Lastly, one of the simple pleasures in Paris is perusing the weekly farmers markets. Fresh produce and fruits, cheeses, and more make it easy for those traveling on a budget to eat well in Paris. There is an unspoken rule that buyers ought to point, not touch or poke the items, and let the vendors pick it up for you instead. If you're relying on this as your main food source during your stay, keep in mind that you have to pick up all you need by Sunday, as Monday is one of the two official days market sellers are closed. While you'll discover many of these along the winding streets, a trip to the lauded Marché de Rungis is sure to impress. The largest in the world (measuring just slightly bigger than Monaco), this wholesale food market supplies the ingredients to most of Paris's best known eateries. Plus 17 restaurants, including the brasserie L’Arrosoir, lies within the market, which means you can eat the freshest right on the spot.
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The best way to approach shopping in Paris is to skip the spree. Price tags are astronomical at the luxury department stores lining the grand boulevards; opting for more curated and well-sourced apparel will help you achieve that timeless, minimal, and chic French aesthetic. The hard part is: where to begin? Look to the hip neighborhood of Le Marais, where shops like A.P.C. score you practical yet subversive fashions. Fair trade is at the forefront at Merci, a concept shop where profits go to charities, and Parisians flock to L'Officine Universelle Buly for the store's botanical-based creams, perfumes, and essential oils, as well as items like hand-carved pocket combs — all packaged in beautifully illustrated tubes and bottles. Live your secondhand dreams at Tilt Vintage Paris, where new era-specific swag arrives every Thursday. You will hit the motherlode in Saint Germain-des-Prés, with ready-to-wear boutiques like Centre Commercial, bargain-filled items at cosmetic shop Citypharma, and independent bookshops like Librairie 7L. You can always embrace the flâneur image with a stroll through the airy and opulent halls of Le Bon Marché, the oldest department store in Europe, even if your budget doesn't allow.
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Historically, France has always been the hotbed for art, ideas, and politics, so it's no wonder the city attracted some of the world's leading writers and artists of the 20th century. Have yourself a little midnight in Paris by starting your Fitzgeraldian quest at Shakespeare & Company in the Left Bank's Quartier Latin. Sitting at the foot of Notre Dame, the bookstore founded by American Sylvia Beach became a central gathering place for expat creatives including Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Djuna Barnes, and James Joyce. The small, crumbling bookshop selling secondhand and English texts is still in operation today, but crowds are thick. Fight for a seat instead at Café de Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a favorite haunt for Picasso and Hemingway that dates back to the 1880s. You won't find a quiet corner here but you can fully immerse in the French culture of decades past at nightly readings and debates. Have a stiffer drink at Bar Hemingway, (Madeleine/Vendôme) where, legend goes, the American auteur "liberated" Paris from the Nazis. If Paris's 830 libraries aren't enough, opt to stay at the top literary hotels across the city instead.
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The Parisian art canon is overwhelming, making it impossible to experience the world's most famous artworks in one short visit. For example, The Louvre (Louvre/Tuileries) is a behemoth, holding a colossal collection comprising of 338,000 pieces. Visitors are advised to pick galleries they want to visit beforehand — because seeing everything would take over 100 days (yes, you read that right). And there's nothing wrong sticking to the classics like the Louvre, Centre Pompidou (Châtelet/Les Halles), or Musée d’Orsay (Louvre/Tuileries). But for the less traditional, try the photo exhibits and short films at Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Le Marais); the Bourdelle Museum (Montparnasse) for larger-than-life bronze sculptures; the Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation (Porte Dauphine) which opened in 2014 to much anticipation; the sculptures at the Rodin Museum (Invalides/École Militaire) which are immaculately arranged in an intimate mansion setting; or learn how things work first-hand at Métiers Art Museum (République), one of the oldest science and technology museums in Europe. To say there is a little bit of something for everyone in Paris is a laughable understatement.
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If Paris could squeeze another nickname to its long-running list, it'd be the city of parks. There are over 421 green spaces spread across 3,000 hectares, leaving little excuse not to stop and smell the roses. Parisians take pride in their parks, and rightly so — gardens are meticulously manicured, symmetrical, and romantic. And although you can spread out and have a picnic in many of these verdant oases, keep in mind that many parks prohibit people from walking on the grass (hence why they're so clean and well-maintained). Another quirk you may notice: many parks have chairs, not benches, in which to sit on. Don't be afraid to grab two chairs to put your feet up. On a nice day, people-watch and picnic at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Champs de Mar, or take a scenic stroll through the traditional French Tuileries Garden (Tour Eiffel/Champ de Mars) bookended by the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. At the hunting grounds-turned public park Vincennes Woods, you can lounge on the banks of placid lakes or go for pony rides, or admire the exquisite landscaping at Parc Floral de Paris (Vincennes), which doubles as a botanic garden. Escape crowds at the quiet Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (Buttes-Chaumont/Belleville), with paths and grassy lawns and a Victorian folly as the backdrop, or join the moneyed locals on a jog at English-styled Parc Monceau (Plain Monceau).
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Paris is nothing if not romantic and charming in every possible facet. The food, the architecture, the je ne sais quoi. But no visit is complete without a stay in Saint Germain-des-Prés in the 6th. The quintessential Parisian neighborhood was once home to Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, and George Sand. Here, you can sit at the lap of luxury — if your bank account allows. You will find luxurious hotels such as L'Hotel (with its own Hammam and pool) and Hôtel d'Aubusson, a 17th century townhouse steps away from Pont Neuf. Sophisticated dining options abound, including Michelin Plate winner Semilla and the chic Asian-French fusion spot Ze Kitchen Galerie, whose menu has won a Michelin star. Take a breather at stately Luxembourg Gardens where kings and queens once strolled.
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Paris is a cultural delight for all families visiting with children. It's a good idea to find accommodations in the central arrondissements, seeing as many of the top attractions are easily accessible by foot. Parks are a great place to start (see above for recommendations). Many of these green spaces boast family-friendly activities like horseback riding and playgrounds, but don't overlook the grandeur of the Parisian carousels. Whether these timeless merry-go-rounds are crumbling with age or ornately festooned, they're sure to put a smile on every kid's face. Look out for Carrousel de Saint-Pierre in Montmatre, conveniently located at the foot of Sacré-Cœur or the iconic Carousel of the Eiffel Tower in Champs de Mars. A trip to the Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes means close encounters with giant cats, red pandas, and playful monkeys, and although not the biggest zoo in Paris, it is conveniently located in the Quartier Latin. Brave young'uns can descend into the Catacombes (Montparnasse), a burial pit 20 meters below the ground overflowing with skulls and other bones. For other dead, but slightly more cheerful displays, stop by the Maison Deyrolle (Invalides/École Militaire) where an array of taxidermy animals are on display (including a unicorn!). The Museum of Natural History (Quartier Latin) is a treat for kids and parents alike, but if all else fails, Disneyland (Coupvray) is an hour train ride away.
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