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Paris Travel Guide : South African Version

So rewind a bit and you’ll remember I asked for some Paris Travel Tips for our Family trip in October? Sadly we are back already after our amazing experience, and I cannot wait to share all the stories with you!  To travel really opens your eyes to new cultures and ways of living, and once you have traveled – anywhere – the travel-bug bites you.  It motivates you to start saving and planning the next trip! Oh where will we go!

I had been to Paris previously with 2 of my girl friends while doing a Topdeck trip through Europe (This one), and since then something about the city of love stuck on me.  Naturally, I had to go back when I had the chance, so this time I made sure we had enough time and stayed in Paris for 4 nights and 3 full days.

In this guide I am going to share some travel do’s (and don’ts) when travelling to Paris. (Especially from a South African point of view).

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To stay:

We decided on using Airbnb for our stay (You can see the listing here).  Due to us being 4 adults traveling we wanted to be able to have a bit of privacy and experience true Parisian culture by living like the locals.  We stayed in the 10th Arrondissement, which was close to Gare du Nord (The Central Station).  I loved this area as there were so little tourists and we truly experienced the local culture.  It was also really easy to navigate from here to any attraction we wanted to visit (By train or walking).  I would advise anyone to stay in areas outside the inner circle, the prices drop and you get more value for your money. You get to experience so much more by strolling through these areas and shopping at local grocers!  The bars and restaurants in these areas are almost always cheaper and serve real Parisian food!

paris-002The apartment we stayed in was in true Parisian style, entering through a huge door that is built right on the busy streets.  But once inside being stunned by the silence that has just been blocked off by the huge door, then amazed by a cute little courtyard that is in the looked down on by many apartment windows.

You can find many of these apartments on Airbnb, and if you book well in advance you can find really good ones at a very good price per night!

parisTo see:

If you have not been to Paris before then you have got a lot to see!  I worked out this little Itinerary for our 3 days in Paris:

Day 1 – Acting like a true tourist (but not visiting museums)

  • Make you way across the seine river to the little island that boasts the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

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  • Stroll through the Latin Quarter and explore the quaint little shops.  Don’t forget to stop for a Caffé and a pain au chocolat along the way to enjoy at the next stop.
  • Now is the time to admire the beautifully structured Luxembourg Gardens by sitting by the fountain and enjoying your treats. (Le Jardin du Luxembourg)paris-10paris-14paris-17
  • Walk past all the love promise locks on the Pont des Arts Bridge
  • Stare at the long line at the entrance of the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre) and decide that one day when you are older you will do this museum thing!paris-27
  • Strolling away from the many tourists enjoy the calmness of the Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries)paris-28
  • Pay tribute to the soldiers at Place de la Concorde and look ahead to see the stunning Arc de Triomphe boasting in the horizon.paris-29
  • Make your way down the Champs-Élysées stopping for a Nutella crepe halfway to survive the crowds ahead.
  • To end up at the Arc de Triomphe – go closer and appreciate the amazingly carved pillars.paris-34paris-003paris-35
  • Walk to the Eiffel Tower and go up! Oh you have to!  I know this is cliché, but the views from here are astonishing, even just going up to the 2nd floor.  (We were planning on going to the top, but when we saw the line at the second elevator we decided that we were happy with the views from there)paris-37 paris-38
  • Take a slow cruise on the Seine River – I strongly suggest doing this around twilight.  You experience Paris in a whole new light 🙂

Day 2 – Our whole day trip

We took a metro train from one of the nearby stations to get to the direct train to Château de Versailles.  This was planned as a whole day trip, so we left Paris at about 9 AM and we were back at around 4 PM.  There is really so much to see, so give yourself enough time!

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I struggled to buy tickets ahead of time from their website as it did not want to process any of our payments.  So we took a chance and were lucky to see a ticket shop selling entrance tickets just across from the train station.  The price was exactly the same as on the website and almost no queue!

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Versailles is very easy to navigate around, especially with the handy map they provide when buying the tickets.  I would suggest buying your tickets ahead of time even if it is at the shop we bought at, as this allows you to  enter the estate directly and skipping long queues.  Once inside it might be confusing where to start.

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DO:

  • Arrive as early as you can, it gets really really busy and crowded later in the day.  Especially inside.paris-42
  • Take the FREE audio guide at the entrance of the palace.  Even if you just listen to a few tidbits.
  • Watch the short movies shown in some rooms – it really gives you some perspective.
  • We bought the day pass where one can visit all areas as we did not want to be limited to what we could see. So we visited the Trianon hunting house which was also very interesting to see.paris-004
  • Watch the musical fountain shows!paris-46

DONT:

  • Feel like you have to stare at every room and take pictures.  The palace is huge and the rooms endless, and it is OK if you do not see every single room.
  • Miss out on the gardens!  I really enjoyed them and would have wanted to explore the whole estate if we had more time!paris-005
  • Expect to see everything in one day.  It really is just too big!
  • Eat at the restaurants on the estate – seriously overpriced! Rather pack in some snacks, and drinks and enjoy while strolling around.  Just be aware of the no-picnic areas.

Day 3 – Taking it slow and exploring

On the third day make your way to Montmartre.  We approached it differently to the usual tourist.  After taking the traditional Moulin rouge photo we made our way up Rue Lepic past Le Moulin de la Galette to the Montmartre Village.  This area is famous for artists sitting on the street and painting passers-by.  This is also the perfect area if you haven’t done any souvenir shopping!  Cute little shops line the narrow cobblestone streets, but be aware that if an artist approaches you and you agree to have yourself sketched you will need to pay.  They can be quite pushy at times.  The best is to just pass by, no eye contact and just keep saying no thank you!

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Just a few steps away you will then see the astonishing Sacré-Cœur church which was built as a dedication to the sacred heart of Jesus as a sign of penitence, trust, hope and faith after being defeated in war.

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After staring a bit at the incredible structure and almost feeling the sadness of the dedication take a stroll down the steps (they are better down than up!)

(If you have the chance, go inside and go up!  Apparently, the views are amazing from here!)

Admire the church from below as this gives much more perspective on the size and structure.

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Stroll through the little streets and alleyways.  For good food, once again move away from this tourist side and walk towards Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis where you will find a street filled with Brasseries and restaurants.

to Eat & Drink

  • Eat a Croque Monsieur at least once! This is a famous Parisian baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich.  Really good!croque
  • Many Brasseries have specials for 2-course or 3-course dinners (we had one and tried some other french specialities : Escargots (Snails) , Beef bourguignon (Braised beef in red wine) and Creme Brûlée
  • Pastries pastries and more pastries – no one makes them quite like the french do!
  • Local pubs are the best place to get cheap beer!  Red wine is also reasonably priced in non-tourist spots!  We found a great bar, Bonne Nouvelle (4 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière) which had the cheapest beer the guys could find! Their Coffee was also great!beer
  • Unfortunately, I could not find a decent Flat white (or cappuccino for that matter) in Paris!  I guess being used to Origin Flat white made by a South African barista spoilt me!
  • The local grocers like Franprix , Bio c’ Bon, Monoprix are everywhere and one can get delicious cold meats, cheese and bread for cheap.
  • Eat a Nutella Crepe – it is really really good!crepe

Good to know

  • We found it was cheaper and much easier to take an UBER taxi from the airport to where we stayed.  (A train ticket from the airport – CDG to Gare du Nord is 10€)
  • If you plan on using public transport – buy a Carnet consisting of 10 tickets that works out as 1.45€ per ticket instead of the 1.9€ per ticket. (More info here)paristicket
  • The train to Versailles :you can take any metro train which connects with the c -line in the direction of Versailles chateau. which will take you straight to where you need to be.
  • Pickpocketing is a reality in Paris, so keep your belongings safe.
  • Autumn is supposed to be off-season in Europe – but nonetheless, it was extremely busy everywhere! So book everything you can in advance.
  • Be prepared for any weather.  While we were there it rained one day and the next it was sunny but still cold!  Autumn in Europe is chilly so pack enough warm clothes.  Layer ladies layer!
  • Pack your most comfortable shoes!  But stay classy.  Parisian women dress really well and if you want to feel like a local don’t dress like a tourist.

If you have any Paris stories to share please let me know in the comments! I will also try and answer any questions!

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