We adore Paris. Who doesn’t? And the great thing about going often is that once you’ve crossed all the major attractions off your must-see list, you can relax and discover all sorts of wonderful treats you may have missed while you high tailed it from the Musee d’Orsay to the Louvre.
Over the years, we’ve discovered many trip planning ideas to make your next Paris vacation more rewarding – whether it’s your first visit, or your fortieth.
Here are our top ten tips for enjoying Paris like a local:
1) If you want to use the Velib free bicycle system, bring an American Express card. Most European countries have switched to chip-and-PIN credit cards, also known as Smart Cards. Your U.S.-issued Visa or Mastercard probably won’t work in the Velib kiosks, which is really irritating if you planned on getting around the city by bicycle. Your magnetic stripe card will still work with most card readers, though the person waiting on you in a store or restaurant may not know it. Ask them politely to swipe your card and follow the instructions on the terminal. Your card probably won’t work at kiosks for train tickets, etc. and you’ll have to wait in line for service.
2) Wouldn’t it be great if you had cool, foodie friends who lived in Paris and were having you for dinner at their place. Hidden Kitchen is the next best thing. If you’re lucky enough to score reservations, you can enjoy a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings at the home of food consultants Laura and Braden. Dinners are served on Saturday and Sunday nights. The menu is finalized on the day of the dinner, depending on what’s best at the market. But past menus have included roasted sea bass, crispy pork belly, or skillet-fried polenta with braised wild mushrooms. Visit www.hkmenus.com for more info.
3) When you know where you’ll be staying in Paris, it’s helpful to find restaurants, shops, and other services nearby. One of the handiest and most comprehensive sources of information is the Paris Yellow Pages, or Pages Jaunes. Although the site is in French, it’s pretty easy to figure out, and you should be brushing up on your French anyway. Just enter what you’re looking for, such as restaurants, and then enter the address of your hotel. You’ll get a list and an accompanying map. But that’s just the start. Click on “vue aerienne” and you’ll see the establishment from the air. To see it from street level, click “Photo.” You can also get detailed maps and directions in the “Itineraire” section. It’s a great tool for getting your bearings before you leave home. Make http://www.pagesjaunes.fr part of your trip planning strategy.
4) Speaking of places to stay in Paris, why not opt for something completely different and stay aboard a beautifully restored 1916 Dutch barge. Bateau Simpatico is moored on Quai Suffren right beneath the Eiffel Tower. Owner Bob Abrams rents the barge by the week to lucky travelers who enjoy the best of both worlds — being right in the heart of Paris, yet having their own little slice of heaven floating on the Seine. The barge has a fully outfitted kitchen, a washing machine, and everything you need for a perfect week in Paris. Pick up some wine and cheese at the market, the relax up on deck and watch the sightseeing boats go by. When you turn in for the night, you’ll be gently rocked to sleep. Visit http://www.quai48parisvacation.com for more information.
5) When we lay out our travel wardrobe, black features prominently. It goes with virtually everything, doesn’t show stains or wrinkles, and won’t get dirty the first time you wear it – unless you take a stroll through the gardens of Paris. Most of Paris’s garden paths, and the ones that run parallel to the Champs Elysees aren’t paved. And they’re very dusty. A quick stroll down one of these romantic lanes will completely trash the black slacks you planned to wear to dinner. Be advised, and wear khaki instead.
6) There are plenty of places in Paris to see Art Nouveau — the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Maxime’s Art Nouveau Museum, and the Abbesses Metro Station. But our favorite is Fouquet’s Jewelry Store in the Musee Carnavalet. Designed by Alphonse Mucha in 1900, the shop was dismantled , painstakingly moved, and reassembled at the museum. Filled with gorgeous, undulating stained glass, woodwork, tile, and mosaics, it’s one of the most beautiful rooms in Paris.
7) Berthillon has long been lauded as the best ice cream in Paris. But our pick is just down the rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile on the Ile Saint Louis. Amorino specializes in ice creams you might find in Rome — zabaglione, hazelnut, amoretto — and it’s every bit as good. If you’re not going to the Ile Saint Louis, don’t despair. There are twelve Amorinos throughout the city.
8) Paris is a city that deserves a fantastic soundtrack. And Radio France FIP supplies it. On any given night, you’ll hear music from the 1930s to the present, from all over the world. Jazz, R&B, Brazilian, Cuban, blues, chill, and classical — everything but advertising. To get inspired, listen online at http://sites.radiofrance.fr/chaines/fip/endirect/index.php while you’re planning your trip.
9) After a week of fabulous French food, we start to crave something with big, bold flavors. And a sloppy, gloppy falafel from L’as du Fallafel in the Marais is just the ticket. The fried, chickpea patties are folded into a pita and topped with hummus, fried eggplant, pickled cabbage, salted cukes, and some not-too-spicy harissa.
10) Taxidermy has never been high on our list of interests — until we went to Deyrolle. Established in 1831, Deyrolle is located on Rue du Bac in the 7th. In addition to stuffed lions, tigers, zebras — there’s even a trotting elephant — there are shells, insects, ostrich eggs, butterflies, and rare minerals. It’s like an incredible, free museum of natural history that you can do in a fraction of the time. Only in Paris.