So you’re coming to Paris and you want to maximise your time and spend your money wisely. But how to do it?
Here are some suggestions, based on our deep explorations of the city as part of our Paris Countdown series (from which we’re currently on a two-week intermission).
So here they are: Ten expert tips for planning your Paris trip. (You can listen to a fun version of this list in the podcast episode embedded below.)
1) You’ll often pay for the story
If you’re going to a restaurant where Ernest Hemingway used to visit, or if you’re on a cafe terrace with an Eiffel Tower view… you’re going to be charged seemingly unreasonable prices. And we know they seem unreasonable because we get a lot of messages and comments that some dining experiences don’t seem worth it.
But a 40 euro steak is sometimes not just a 40 euro steak. You’re paying for the provenance. The food and drinks will maybe be better across the road, so be sure you don’t confuse a good meal with a good story.
2) You don’t need to linger
If you want to make the most of your time in Paris, visit lots of places. Don’t have dinner, dessert, and a drink all at the same restaurant. Grab the main course in one place, then dessert nearby, then a cocktail elsewhere. You’ll feel like you’ve got triple the experience in essentially the same amount of time.
3) Ask the locals for advice
Some of the best places we’ve found on this series have been recommended by waiters, hotel staff, or cafe owners. Or even folks passing by! Guide books and even travel podcasts get dated quickly, so turn to the locals for the most up-to-the-minute tips.
4) Invest in your hotel experience
This is surely true for the whole world, but we’ve noticed in Paris that when we choose a more central hotel, or a slightly better room, then it makes the whole visit better. If you have the means to go up a notch on your hotel (even if it means a shorter stay), then do it. If you’re on a tight budget, ignore this advice. After all, I crashed at a stranger’s house on my first Paris trip and it’s a story I still tell today. But if you have the option, a good hotel makes an unusually big difference.
5) Gimmicks are hit-and-miss
We have favoured a lot of gimmicks during this season because it makes places easier to share. Which bar will you remember us talking about: The good cocktail bar, or the good cocktail bar where the bartenders are in their boxer shorts? Of course it’s the latter. But remember, just like a speakeasy bar or a floating hotel, once the gimmick has been experienced, it’s just another bar, or hotel. Decide if you’re in it for the cool story, or just for a place to sleep or drink. Bonus: The bar below is an excellent place for a beer on a boat!
6) The Metro can be horrible
Yes it’s efficient and cheap. But some of our worst experiences this season have been on the Metro. Getting fined despite having valid tickets, getting onto such a crowded train that we were held upright by strangers’ sweaty bodies, and hearing announcements for pickpockets… If you can avoid the Metro, do it. Or at least avoid peak hours at all costs. On the plus side, the Metro can make some for some pretty photos.
7) Double check opening times
Do not trust the opening hours from online search engines. Paris can still be a bit behind with technology. Websites are often out of date. But the Google “opening hours” are incorrect strangely often. Usually it isn’t a big deal, but if there’s something you truly want to see, it might be worth double checking with a telephone call. Especially if it’s for a small museum or a restaurant.
8) Don’t ever go door to door
There is so much to see in Paris, so much to find, that if you take a taxi from A to B you’ll miss everything else. Why not walk part of the way, or get off the bus a few stops early. There’s so much more than just the big monuments in Paris and it’s worth exploring.
9) Don’t be fooled by social media
Instagrammers sharing their “secret” photo spots are very often sharing places that are swarming with snap-happy tourists, queuing up for the exact same photo. If you want to recreate that exact photo, then sure, go to the end of rue de l’Université and jostle for the same picture 30 other people are trying to snap.
But better idea: Go and find the real Paris at an authentic restaurant, or in a charming cafe, or along a hidden passageway, and come away with a much better memory (and maybe even a better picture). And as we said in the podcast: Don’t be the person in the middle of the Champs-Elysées risking your life for a photo! There are better things to do in Paris 🙂
10) Go through the open doors
This is an old tip from The Earful Tower but a good one. If the doorway to a private-looking courtyard is open, or if a shop seems a bit intimidating and small, or if a hotel looks a bit too grand and majestic… don’t worry about it… just go in! The worst that will ever happen is someone will ask you to leave. The best that can happen? Why, you’ll discover some kind of wonderland that even we don’t know about.
Bonus: Consider getting a private walking tour
Over the spring we’ve been developing our Earful Tours; private walking tours in the Marais and Montmartre. The idea is to showcase the best parts of these districts, while revealing their deepest secrets. The walks are kind of like a live version of an Earful Tower episode, led by a member of the team. They skip the boring scripted historical facts and show you the real Paris, the exciting Paris, and the “wow-I-had-no-idea Paris”. To book a tour or to find out more, click here.
Below are all the episodes of the Paris countdown so far. We are looking forward to sharing the second half of the season with you next month. A big thanks to all the Patreon members who make this all possible. They get my PDF guide to Paris for free, or, you can buy it here for even more Paris tips.