A Friendly Beginner’s Guide to Paris
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. – Elizabeth Barett Browning
Ninety-nine percent of the random people I ask always included Paris in their bucketlists because, hey, what’s not to love about this romantic city? I finally ticked the City of Lights off my bucketlist last year with my husband, surprisingly on our own with a little help from the internet and Lonely Planet. How did we do it? Well, here’s a simple guide I’ve put together based on experience. Read on.
In order to enter France, you must have a Schengen Visa (Visa issued by European states and allows you to travel among 26 countries). This was our third time to apply for Schengen Visa, as we have traveled to Greece in 2014 and Central Europe in 2015. We’re currently residing in the UAE so this part right here only applies to Filipino expats like me. For detailed information on the application process, go to the VFS Global website where you can find the step-by-step instructions and forms including visa application, requirements checklists and fees. We paid 245 AED for the Visa and Service fee, and additional 30 AED if you want your passport to be delivered by courier. Otherwise you could still claim your passport from the VFS Office in person. Processing time may take up to 10 working days and you will be contacted either through text or email.
We booked our flights via Gulf Air on the last week of February for travel dates of April 1- 10 (Dubai-Bahrain-Paris, roundtrip, non-refundable). It was definitely a gamble because there’s no guarantee we will be granted a Visa yet but we trusted our cards nevertheless. We got it for 1835 AED/person, which was pretty much a good deal at that time, given that we only had a month to book. To find cheaper flights, try booking at least 3-4 months in advance and if you’re unsure, take the refundable option.
WHERE TO STAY
The key in booking your accommodation is to identify your preferences – which area/district you’d like to stay in or explore, which type works for you best – hotel, hostel, airbnb, proximity to public transport, and take into account the month or season of travel. During our trip, we stayed in three hotels which were mostly just 1-3 stars but still served their purpose. After all, we wouldn’t be staying much indoors anyway. Here are some of our top picks.
HOTEL VILLATHENA ★★★
On the first three nights, we booked a hotel in the Opera area (9th Arrondissement) for two reasons: one, we’re taking the Roissy Bus from the CDG airport and it only stops in this area and two, it’s much closer to central Paris and is easily accessible by public transport (6-minute walk to the nearest metro stop Sainte-Lazare). I found this hotel to be the best we’ve stayed at in Paris. It’s in a nice and quiet neighborhood, the interior is sleek and stylish, service is commendable and the room (including the bathroom) was squeaky clean! It was also a little bit narrow for two people and the luggage but we didn’t mind. And although we paid a hefty 1162 AED for 3 nights, the comfort was truly worth it. Highly recommended!
GRAND HOTEL MAGENTA ★
On the fourth day, we transferred hotels and picked one from the 10th arrondissement because we would be catching an early train to Brussels the next morning so we needed to stay somewhere that’s just a walking distance from the Gare Du Nord train station. We also planned to tour the nearby district of Montmarte on the fourth day so we wouldn’t be that far from the hotel. It’s not as updated and stylish as the first one but for 238 AED for one night, it was alright. I was also a bit skeptical of the neighborhood as I’ve read in some reviews that it was quite unsafe during the night so it’s best if you avoid staying out late in this area.
PRINCE ALBERT OPERA HOTEL ★★
Upon coming back from Amsterdam on the ninth day, we stayed in Prince Albert Opera Hotel, again in the 9th arrondissement since we would be taking the Roissy Bus back to CDG Airport the next morning for an 11 AM flight. Like the previous hotel, this one is quite old and needs a lot of work. We booked a double room with shared toilet for 240 AED/night and that’s how far you can go. You can’t beat the price and location.
We traveled during spring season so hotel prices were just average. Prices may tend to hike up during peak season (summer). As for all three hotels, we booked them via www.booking.com but didn’t choose the hotel plus breakfast option because it’s either we went out very early in the morning to start our tour or we wanted to have déjeuner in some authentic french cafe somewhere.
The top attractions in Paris are fairly accessible and I can say that the transport system is efficient and easy to get used to. We didn’t take any cabs during our entire trip because the metro itself was greatly advantageous – it’s cheap, fast and reliable. Here are some things to remember that could be useful when taking public transport in Paris:
We took the Roissy Bus from the Charles De Gaulle Airport because for me, it was the most accessible and nearest to the city center. We paid 11 Euros for a one-way ticket, travel time is 45-60 minutes to the Opera, and departs every 15 minutes so you could hardly miss it.
Paris has 14 metro lines, identifiable by different colors and takes you to most of Paris’ tourist spots. You might want to be cautious in taking the metro because it could be a little stressful at times(and watch out for the pickpockets). Just be mindful of the color, number and platform corresponding to the terminal of your destination (french words could be really confusing). A single ticket lets you travel between 2 metro stations for a period of 90 minutes, unlimited (1.8 Euros each). As suggested by my friend Jose, we got the Carnet book (10 tickets for 14 Euros, a little savings there) since we will be using the metro for the whole trip anyway.
RER SUBURBAN TRAIN LINE
We took the RER C Suburban Train to Versailles on our second day, departing from the Invalides Station. In order to get to the famous chateau, get off at the Versailles Chateau River Gauche station. Travel time is 30-45 minutes and roundtrip tickets cost 7 Euros (you will be given 2 tickets for the trip so don’t lose the other one in order to get home).
Prior to the trip, carefully lay out the attractions you want to see. For an artsy girl like me, one smart decision we made was purchasing the Paris Museum Pass (64 Euros for 4 days) that offered fast track queue and unlimited access to top museums including the Louvre and the Versailles Chateau (watch out for my detailed Paris Itinerary posts to see which museums are included in the Paris Museum Pass). If we had just bought the usual entrance tickets, we might not had the chance to visit the Louvre for the second time. It’s definitely worth our buck! Thanks to this pass, I can say that I truly had my fill of French art. (Note: Access to Eiffel Tower is not included in the Paris Museum Pass. You have to buy it separately or book it online.)
I can only think of two apps to download that could cater to your basic needs when traveling to Paris.
NEXT STOP PARIS
This is the official app of RATP, Paris’ underground network, free and downloadable for everyone. It’s the most useful app to use when navigating the city because you can still use it without connecting to the internet. Just type in your FROM and TO destinations and it will show you the metro trains to take and platforms to get on and off from. It’s basically google maps minus the net.
RICK STEVES AUDIO EUROPE
I wish I could have known about this Rick Steves app before going on the trip. It’s a free app and offers downloadable walking commentaries of different attractions around Europe, complete with an interactive map and even allows the user to create playlists depending on the cities you choose. It’s a perfect alternative for when you can’t afford a tour guide or join a tour group ; or if you just want to explore on your own but still would want to listen to some historical or trivial insight about the place you’re visiting.
That’s just some of the basic stuff to consider when traveling to Paris. At first, this city can seem daunting and can give you perplexed notions especially if you’re on your own without friends or tour guide as a fallback. But with correct planning, timely preparation and an audacious mindset, you just might surprise yourself and even experience an adventure of a lifetime.