Paris – the City of Lights – is such a fascinating city with awe-inspiring architecture and world famous museums that anything outside Paris is just a “desert”, in my opinion. In this post, I will be sharing travel tips in dining and sight-seeing and how to stay safe when visiting Paris.
1. Keeping your possessions safe
You have to be extra vigilant at busy places such as the metros, train stations, airport and popular attractions. Pickpockets operate in organised groups and it is easy to get robbed in crowded places if you are not paying close attention to your surroundings. Before my trip, I have heard accounts of how fast and professional the pickpockets were and the tactics they used. True enough, we had personally encountered them twice during our four days in Paris. A teenager tried to snag my husband’s wallet in his back pocket, fortunately, I saw his outstretched hand in the pocket and immediately pulled my husband away. The pickpockets then pretended to be tourists looking at maps and walked away hurriedly (it was a close shave). Always put your money in different places and use a money belt when traveling. In another occasion, a Caucasian woman approached us to do a survey/sign petition (we heard that once you’ve sign, a few of them will surround you to ask for money), hence we ignored her, pretending not to understand a word.
2. City water or eau de ville (You never need to buy water in Paris again!)
The good news is that the city water in Paris is free, tastes good, safe for drinking and is widely available to Parisians and tourists alike. The city provides drinking fountains in the appearance of beautiful cast-iron sculptures that offers chilled, bubbly water when you are outdoors, so just remember to bring your bottle for a refill.
3. How do you make the most of your museum visits?
There are no less than 173 museums in Paris, so how do you maximize your time in Paris if you are a museum buff and which are the top 3 museums to visit? For the hardcore musuem buffs, purchase the Paris Musuem Pass to beat the queues and enjoy unlimited entries to your favourite musuems during the pass validity period. I have done some simple calculations. A two-day pass cost 42 euros, which means you’ll need to visit at least 2 musuems a day or 4 in two days to get your money’s worth.
The Musee du Louvre or the Louvre Museum (it was a palace previously) is a historical monument and one of the largest and most visited art musuem in the world. Nearly 35,000 works of art from prehistoric period to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 60,600 sq metres.
- Go near the opening times for all musuems to avoid the crowds.
- The Louvre Museum is closed on Tuesdays, however, you should avoid visiting on Mondays too as the Musee d’Orsay is closed and it will definitely be overcrowded on Mondays.
- Visit the Louvre Museum on Wednesday and Friday nights instead as it is is open till 9.45 pm and the entrance fees is cheaper than the day tickets. The best thing is that you can avoid the crowds and spent a more fruitful time in the musuem.
- It is said that you have not visited Paris if you had not seen the iconic Mona Lisa painting. Follow the signage that will bring you to the Mona Lisa painting in Denon Wing. Beware of pickpockets near the Mona Lisa when you are taking selfies/photos as it tends to be very crowded here no matter what time of the day it is.
The musuem was previously a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915 which includes paintings, sculptures and photographs. It also boasts the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world by famous painters such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh, just to name a few.
- The musuem is closed on Mondays. Avoid visiting on Tuesdays too as the Louvre Museum is closed on Tuesday and the Musee d’Orsay would be overcrowded.
- Visit the Musee d’Orsay on Thursday nights (till 9.45 pm) for a more intimate museum experience.
- Free entry on the first Sunday of each month.
Château de Versailles (Including the Trianon palaces and Marie Antoinette Estate)
The Château de Versailles was first a humble hunting lodge built by Louis XIII, until his son Louis XIV transformed the place, moving the court and government to Versailles in 1682 to become the symbol of royal power up until the French Revolution in 1789. The Château or the Museum of the History of France has been on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List for over 30 years.
We bought tickets to the Château, the Trianon palaces and Marie Antoinette Estate online to avoid queuing for tickets. We took the “RER C” train (yellow line) from Paris and alight at the station Versailles Château Rive Gauche (Zone 1-4), which is just a 5 minutes walk to the Château (you can’t go wrong from following the crowds). We spent an entire day there and had a great time exploring the musuems and beautifully manicured garden grounds. The Château de Versailles is open from 9 am till 6.30 pm and closes on Mondays.
While it is generally true that you can sit indefinitely in a cafe or restaurant by just ordering a cup of coffee, the surge in the number of tourists in Paris means that the waiters may not be too happy if you do that. The good news is that prices stated on the menus are inclusive of both the 15 percent tip and sales tax. The words service compris (tip included) on the receipt indicate that the tip has already been included in the total bill. So, there is no obligations to tip the waiter, unless you really want to.
The cost of your aromatic cuppa may also varies depending on whether you are standing at the bar, sitting inside the cafe or outside to people-watch in the cool weather. The most expensive cuppa would definitely be outside where everyone seems to enjoy doing as shown below.
Tips in choosing a good cafe/restaurant:
- If there are many cigarette butts near the entrance, it might be a sign that the place is popular with the local Parisians.
- Restaurants that feature only a few main dishes on the menu are most likely to serve fresh, home-cooked foods.
- Their menu is written in chalk on a blackboard which can be updated daily, as it depends on the fresh foods that the chef is able to buy from the market in the morning.
Since 2009, the city provides free, automatic and disabled public toilettes and more can be found in popular tourist areas. However, I was told by our tour guide that the doors will open automatically after 10-15 minutes (to deter homeless people from staying in the toilettes overnight), so you’ll need to be quick in your business to avoid being “exposed”. 🙂
6. The best spots to view Paris
In my opinion, you can’t really admire the Eiffel Tower when you are on it. A must visit in Paris but it may not be advisable to wait in line to go up the tower if you only have limited time in Paris. There are a few other better places you can visit to have a panoramic view of this romantic city.
Basilica of Sacré-Coeur
A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the top of Montmartre hill and is the highest point in the city. Entrance to the basilica is free and on a clear day, you can enjoy a good bird-eye view of the city. However, if you are approaching the basilica from the main steps in the centre, you’ll need to be careful of pickpockets or people who will try to block your way just to sell you beer and other trinkets. It might be easier to navigate your way from the side streets and steps which we did.
Arc de Triomphe
Although it is only about 50 metres high, it’s the location that makes it a good vantage point. It’s located at the end of Champs-Élysées and surrounded by a chaotic roundabout. I tried crossing the roundabout and got cold feet seeing the amount of traffic, but fret not, you can use the underground passageway to reach this famous landmark. You can also climb to the top (9.50 euros) and the view from the top (especially at night) is stunning with the swarming traffic below.
Again, you can’t really admire the Eiffel Tower if you are on it. The Montparnasse Tower offers one of the most amazing panoramic view of Paris and the best part is there is not much of a queue to reach the 56th floor on its super fast elevator, where the bar and souvenir shop are located. Be sure to climb some stairs to reach the 59th floor where the open roof terrace is, to take beautiful pictures of the city or maybe have a little sun tanning, why not? 🙂
Well, I hope you enjoy the travel tips and will find it useful for planning your next trip to Paris. 🙂
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Thank you for reading. 🙂