You can never do too much research while planning a trip to Paris. However sometimes, the amount of information you ingest seems heavier than the weight of all your guidebooks combined.
Don’t get me wrong – Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Fodor’s have helped many Francophiles locate the best crepe stands, navigate through the Louvre and understand the service compris charge on their brasserie bills.
But wouldn’t it be nice to just get the “Reader’s Digest” version sometimes, instead of the full Wikipedia article?
We think so, and we’ve created the following four points as a start. Read on to understand Paris’ geography and transportation system; determine which season is best to plan your trip to France; and learn simple tips to improve your French –all in under five minutes. This is your insider passport to Paris…
Meet the Banks
The Seine River divides Paris in half between la Rive Gauche and Rive Droíte (Left Bank and Right Bank, respectively).
On the Left Bank, south of the Seine, lie the more bohemian arrondissements. Regal universities, quaint bookstores, and bars bursting with the young and artistic fill the Latin Quarter. In the 7e arrondissement, you’ll find Paris’ most popular landmarks sprinkled about – the Eiffel Tower, Napoléon’s Tomb, the Musée d’Orsay, etc. And don’t forget a trip to Montparnasse to visit the famous cafés where the world’s most famous literary minds gathered to linger over their café au lait and exchange ideas.
On the Right Bank, you’ll enter a type of posh Parisian wonderland. There are the well-known notable luxuries (such as the Louvre, Champs-Elysées, and Arc de Triomphe to name a few) but within the upscale area hides so much more. Saunter past exquisite townhouses in the 4e arrondissement; stroll down the tree-lined paths along the quai de Valmy; and time travel back to the age of Moulin Rouge in MontMartre’s eighteenth arrondisement.
Learn How to Use the Metro
…immediately! Paris’ metropolitain is one of the most convenient public transportation systems in the world. However if you’re unaccustomed to metro systems, it can seem daunting. Spend one afternoon reviewing the map’s lines and stops. Don’t be timid – if you get lost, just hop back on the reverse line to get back to where you started!
Once you understand you take Line 1 to see the Louvre’s Mona Lisa and Line 4 for the skull-lined cellar of Les Catacombes, you’ll realize how much more convenient and economical the metro can be versus cabbing your way around. Buy a ticket valid for multiple rides or consider getting an unlimited pass if you’re planning on traveling via metro, bus, and funicular during your stay.
Know Your Paris Seasons
Already booked your flight? Then you’ve pre-determined half your trip. The time of year you land in France will determine the type of trip you’ll have. Lucky for Francophiles everywhere, Paris is gorgeous year-round. The following lends a brief breakdown of Paris by season.
Should you go during summer’s peak season, you’ll enjoy long, lustrous days of sunlight. But not all that glitters is gold: better weather attracts an influx of tourists, and you’ll be stuck waiting in much longer lines than you’ll find at other times of the year.
Fall fills Paris with newborn energy: thousands of Parisians flock back to their city after vacations, during a time that the French like to call la rentrée (“the return”). Throughout September, new restaurants, boutiques and art exhibits crop up, creating an energetic buzz throughout La Ville-Lumière.
Winter coats the city in a cloud of dreariness, but flights are cheap and indoor activities (such as museums, cafés, and theatres) abound, so you’ll find ways to keep you out of the rain and keep you busy.
Spring in Paris is about as mysterious as the city’s infamous ghost tours. Some days, it feels like summer, but then, in the middle of a sunny afternoon, a rainstorm will suddenly strike. Despite the aggravated weather, Paris in spring is a smart option: lines are generally shorter and the gardens are at their beautiful, blooming peaks.
Learn the French Basics
French is a difficult language if you’re unaccustomed to its pronunciation. However, practicing your French before traveling abroad is easy. Go online to find French newspaper articles, listen to French music (and learn the lyrics!), and take advantage of free online resources available to you.
Then, before your trip, purchase a pocket phrasebook to have the basics on hand should you forget how to ask for the bill, find yourself at the doctor’s office, or need to book a hotel room.
So there you have it: a breakdown of Paris all in under five minutes, and now you’re well on the way to embarking on your French adventure. Bon voyage!