It was a last minute decision to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Paris and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Though I still can’t figure out how we got out of the holidays with my in-laws or my family, but I digress. After giving up a planned vacation for a new job it had been 18 months since a proper vacation, and needless to say we were both thrilled to be on a plane to the City of Lights for nearly 2 1/2 weeks.
Since we’ve been back stateside we’ve been asked numerous time “What was your favorite part?” or “What would you recommend?” and honestly it’s really difficult to answer. Most in part because there were sooooo many favorites and so many recommendations. Since I’ve had some time to mull answers over, I’ve decided to do a 2 part blog-series on our faves and the recommendations. In this post, I’ll share our top 10 tips and tricks to navigate through Paris during the winter.
1. First and foremost, Kyle and I fell in love with experiencing another culture’s holiday season and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone.
There’s less tourists, the locals are out, and the people are in high spirits. Paris is definitely one of the cities you must experience and explore during the holidays. From the Christmas markets to the hot-mulled wine to the lights hung around every street corner, it was amazing on so many levels and unfortunately this photo doesn’t do it justice.
2. Speaking of hot, spiced, mulled wine. Make sure you get a cup or two or three of “vin chaud” to keep warm during the cold, windy, wet (and possibly snowy) winter season. It will keep you warm long after you’ve drained the last drop.
We fell in love with this beverage, so much so that we made sure to have a cup everyday. It was that good. Also, avoid asking the proper wine folks about this as this is considered ‘beneath’ them. We were even told on one occasion that it wasn’t ‘popular’ only to find out 25 feet away were two carnival-like kiosks selling them. Keep an eye out for sandwich, kabab, and sweets (churros, donuts, etc) kiosks….they have the best vin chaud. The cafe versions are twice as much and don’t taste nearly as good.
3. Trust me. Get a Museum Pass.
It’s 42 Euro/Person for the two-day pass and is totally worth it especially if you’re only in town for a few days. But be sure that it gets you into the Musee (museums) you want to go since it doesn’t work for Eiffel Tower. Also, these must be used in consecutive days, so plan your Musee routes in advance to get the most out of it. Finally, all Musee (museums) have two lines; security and entry. Typically security is the longest and the Museum pass lets you bypass the second line (entry) so don’t get frustrated when you’re standing in the first line with the ‘non-museum pass’ folks.
4. If you’re in need for some tchotchkes (keychains, magnets, old books, old magazines) to give to your friends, co-workers, and family be sure to buy it from the locals instead of the hawkers. The latter stalk tourists in front of the Louvre, Versailles, and all the major tourist sites. The locals are located on the Seine River by the Notre Dame Cathedral. These sellers only have green boxes to sell from and have to fit all their belongings in 4 crates. We learned that by law there are only 250 sellers allowed per year and the average wait list time is eight years. Which basically means that someone needs to pass-away. It may be the PNW in me but there’s something to be said for supporting the locals.
5. As shared in a previous travel post, eating out can get expensive even if it’s for the simplest things like water, fruit and coffee. MonoPrix is a local grocery store chain (more like Fred Meyers with clothes and toiletries) we visited at least every two days to grab bottled water and snacks that’s significantly cheaper than the museum, cafe, or restaurant food. A smaller, more express store associated to the Monoprix is the Monop…..less selection but still you can grab the essentials.
They saved us when Delta lost our luggage and we needed beanies and umbrellas. Also, both the main and express stores take credit cards with no spending minimum which is a huge life saver esp if you just want a bottle of water or a coke. Besides, this is where the locals shop and it’s always exciting to see the variations of products available in different countries.
6. You’ll inevitably use the metro lines while you’re in Paris. Make sure you purchase the carne in packs (10 tickets for 13.30) at any metro station, as it’s significantly cheaper than buying individual tickets.
Be sure to download these two apps and you can thank me later. “Paris Metro” app and “Google Maps” for Paris. Download the latter to access without wifi connection in advance. You can zoom in and identify where you’re at (using your phone’s GPS) along with the nearest metro stations. Once you have this, figure out where you want to go and open up the Paris Metro app. Click on the “route” tab and enter were you are and where you want to go. It will automatically offer you the metro links you need to take. This app saved our lives. Note: The #1 line (Yellow) is the main line to all the main tourist attractions.
And for goodness-sake don’t even consider renting a car unless you want to die.
7. The RER lines are separate than the Metros and depending on the line, and where you want to go, can only be accessed through certain Metros stations. Use the “Paris Metro” app that I noted above to help you. For example, if you want to catch a train to CDG airport, you need to head to the Chatalet metro stop to get to RER B.
Also, the RER runs every 15-30mins and they are more confusing to figure out what platforms you need to be on, so plan more time for these, especially if you go to Versailles or to the airport. If you’re staying in the city, your carnet ticket can get you on the RER and the metro (for example if you’re going to see the Moulin Rouge in the Monmarte arrondissement (neighborhood) you don’t need a separate carne. But if you’re going to and from outside the city like Versaille, you’ll need to buy different tickets at the metro counters that cost a bit more. IE) Versaille RT is 13.30.
8. Parisians get a bad rap for their stiff-arm, cold shoulder attitude. But, honestly that’s instigated from the tourists. Going up to a Parisian and speaking English isn’t going to win you points just like a Chinese person coming up to you in Seattle speaking Madarin won’t get them very far either. For the most part, Parisians are polite and you don’t need to be purchasing a new Louis Vuitton purse to be on the receiving end of this. From cafes to boutiques to bakeries Parisians will always say “Bonjur” and you respond accordingly. After 7pm “Bonjur” is now “Bonsoir.”
Get into the habit of saying “Parlez-vouz anlais?” (Do you speak English) or “Je ne parle pas francais” (I don’t speak French). It will be a headache saver. The “Speak Easy French” app is awesome to learn how to pronounce the phrases correctly. The only bummer is that you can’t access the app without wifi.
9. Create a routine . Get into a habit of popping into your local, corner cafe for a cafe au lait (cafe latte) or cafe (espresso) on a daily basis for your morning java fix and then head around the block to your boulangerie (bakery) for a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant).
If you can, grab a sandwich to for an afternoon picnic while you’re grabbing your croissant. Regardless of how long you’re in Paris, these establishments and their staff will recognize you and give you better service. You’ll become a local in no-time!
This also means you should try to spend as much time in Paris if you can. We recommend a week or more. With so many museums, cafes, gardens, etc to experience, anything less is crazy!
10. The Eiffel Tower is a must and you can’t experience it from the ground. Reserve your tickets at least one to two months in advance through their website. If for some reason you forget about this, you can can either stand in line for three to four hours (I’m not kidding) or you can pay double the price and go through a reputable third party vendor (what we did) to get in as a group. We recommend Fat Tire Bike Tours. They were great, prompt, and easy to use. The only downside was the price and there was a massive windstorm on the day we were scheduled to go up the Tower that the Summit was closed. So be sure to book in advance and save your euros for a lovely, authentic dinner.
Have you visited the City of Lights? Post your tips, tricks, and advice below and be sure to check back for Part 2: Our Favorites.