Monday, October 15, 2012

allons-y à paris! or, renee's guide to paris

View from Notre Dame, 2008.

View from Notre Dame, 2012.

As I mentioned in my guide to Italy, this time last year I was traveling through Italy and to Paris on a 10-day Fall Break with my boyfriend. After visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice, we flew to France and spent four days in beautiful Paris. I had previously traveled to Paris in the Spring of 2008 with my mom and sister, so I knew the places to go and the things to eat and say. I was able to revisit the places I loved the first time around, while also exploring some great attractions I'd missed the first time around, like Place des Vosges and Père Lachaise Cemetery. I truly love Paris and someday, I'd love to go back for a third trip.

This blog began as a travel journal and I hope to include more travel in the future, but today, in honor of the 1-year mark since I went to Paris, I thought I'd do a little guide for anyone going to Paris or planning to go to Paris or even just dreaming of Paris. And if you're dreaming of London instead, hold on. I'll get to you in December.

So here it is . . . 

*French speakers, please excuse any forgotten accent marks or misspelled words. 
It's been years since I studied the French language and I apologize!*


(on a student's budget)

A French supermarket.

The French are known for their fantastique cuisine. Even kids know that French food is special thanks to a little rat named Ratatouille. Unlike Italy's pizzas and pastas though, the names of French food are not familiar to most Americans. So if you're in France and want some great, traditional food, here are some things I insist you try:

  • Croque Monsieur (The best ham and cheese sandwich you'll ever have. The cheese is creamy, delicious gruyère, and you'll find it piled inside as well as broiled on top). 
  • Quiche Lorraine (If you haven't had quiche before, it's sort of like an egg/cheese pie. Quiche Lorraine is made with bacon or ham, gruyère cheese, eggs, cream, and pie crust).
  • Boeuf Bourguignon (The best beef stew you'll ever have. It's a hearty peasant dish made with beef braised in red wine and combined with onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables and herbs).
  • Coq Au Vin (Similar to Boeuf Bourguignon, this is a peasant dish made with chicken braised in red wine and combined with onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables and herbs). 
  • Tarte (In bakeries, you'll always see tartes or tartelettes. My favorites are framboises a.k.a. raspberries and fraises a.k.a. strawberries. These little desserts are made with a buttery pastry, cream/custard, and fruit).
  • Crêpes (Hopefully you've already had a crêpe before. If not, it is similar to a very thin pancake. But unlike pancakes, crêpes are filled with toppings, usually rolled or folded, and can be made savory or sweet. Sweet fillings include strawberries, bananas, nutella, cream, sugar, cinnamon, etc. Savory fillings include proteins, mushrooms, vegetables, sauces, etc. Both are delicious!). 
  • Vin (Wine. Whatever type you prefer. I'm no expert. The French love their wine and, like their food, are known for it. At many restaurants, water is so expensive, the price is comparable to wine, so why not have a glass?).
  • Orangina (A popular, brand-name beverage that tastes like a combination of orange juice and orange soda. Yum!).
  • Soupe à l'Oignon (Real French onion soup! Covered in cheese and bits of baguette). 
  • Salade Verte (A green salad. This often comes along with your main dish at restaurants. It's a simple salad, but delicious. Lettuce and a wonderful dressing with hints of dijon mustard). 
  • Baguette (Suitable for every meal. Cheap and delicious. Possibly my favorite French food!). 
If you want more options, I would also recommend pain au chocolat (a chocolate filled pastry), chocolat (chocolate), la glace (ice cream), and brie (a creamy cheese). They also, strangely, have very good hot dogs. They taste more sausage-like than their American counterparts, come in a baguette, and are usually covered in gruyère cheese.

Paris is an expensive city, but you don't have to spend a lot to eat well. My suggestion is to eat a small breakfast and lunch (a baguette, a croque monsieur on the go, etc.) and then sit down at a café or restaurant for dinner. If you've got a little extra, go for a prix fixe meal (fixed price). You choose a multi-course dinner from a predetermined selection of dishes.

A few more things to remember:

1. Never rush your meal. The chef/waiter will not appreciate it and you will appear rude. Meals are meant to be savored and chefs take their time to make each item.

2. Try to speak a little French if you can. The waiter will really appreciate your effort (see my section on language below for some helpful phrases).

3. Don't expect the waiter to hover over you like American waiters/waitresses do. They only come by your table when necessary. If you need your check, have a question, etc. you will probably have to wave him down. And don't be offended if he isn't cheerful or bubbly. That's more of an American thing. Waiters in France take their jobs very seriously. Appreciate how discreet, knowledgeable, and patient they are. If you didn't know, French waiters go to school to become waiters. They are highly trained and proud of their profession. Also, because the service charge is added to your bill automatically, they will not grovel for a tip. It's refreshing, really, to not have your waiter bugging you in their attempt to make a good impression in an effort to improve their tip.

Pictures: croque monsieur and quiche lorraine (top left), boeuf bourguignon (top right), tarte aux framboises (middle left), croque monsieur (middle right), croque monsieur and quiche lorraine (bottom left), pastries and sweets (bottom right). 


If you're outside Europe, search around for the best flight. Students can get discounts at Student Universe.

To get in and out of France, we flew using Easyjet. If you're not familiar with it, Easyjet is a discount European airline like RyanAir and others. The prices are low (we flew to Paris from Venice for $80), but that means you're restricted on certain things like luggage and travel dates. It's very worth it as long as you read the rules beforehand. These airlines are very strict on weight/size limits (for luggage, not passengers) and I don't know if it's possible to exchange/refund your tickets. Just be very aware and realize that you can't squeeze something by these companies. You will get fined.

My sister and I analyzing a Métro map.


Paris is a big city, so I wouldn't recommend walking everywhere. The Metro is the best way to cheaply and easily make your way around the city. Since we're big walkers, we usually used the Metro 2-3 times a day. Often that would happen at the beginning and end of the day when we needed to get to and from our hostel in Montmarte (an area in Northern Paris).

If you only want to use the Metro a couple of times your entire trip, buy single tickets. These cost about 1.70E.

If you will use the Metro a couple of times per day, you might want to buy a carnet (pronounced car-nay). A carnet gives you 10 tickets for a discounted price, 12.50E.

If you plan to use the Metro more than a couple times a day and would also like access to the bus, you might want to invest in a Metro+Bus pass. The price depends on the number of days you will be using it and the number of zones you would like to travel within.

Enjoying some wine and Orangina beneath the Eiffel Tower.


Paris is filled with amazing museums, churches, monuments, and parks. Here are my favorites:

  • The Eiffel Tower (If you have time, go more than once. On this latest trip, we stopped at the Eiffel Tower once every day. Bring a picnic or a bottle of wine. Find a spot in the grass. Shoo away the men selling keychains. And if it's dark, watch the tower sparkle). 
  • Louvre (It is the world's most visited art museum, so you can be sure it's worth your visit. Plus, if you're younger than 26, it's free on Friday nights from 6-9:45 PM. Beware though: it is HUGE. Figure out which paintings you want to see and head to those first because it would probably take days to see everything in the museum. Some of my favorites include: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People, The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804, Une Odalisque, and The Oath of the Horatii).
  • Sacre Coeur and Montmartre (This white church is perched upon the butte Montmarte, the highest point in Paris. It is free to visit the church and afterward, you can walk around Montmarte. There are cafés, artists painting and selling their work, and nightclubs like the famous Moulin Rouge. Try to picture what the district was like back when amazing artists like Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh were wandering the streets).
  • Notre Dame (You may know it from the novel by Victor Hugo or the Disney animated movie, but if you're in Paris, you must see this very old church in person. Inside, admire the gothic architecture. Outside, pay the small fee to walk up the spiral staircase and emerge at the bell tower. You'll be right alongside the gargoyles and have an amazing, picture perfect view of Paris. See the photos at the top of this post for evidence!). 
  • Shakespeare & Co. (Near Notre Dame, this English language bookstore is incredibly cute and charming. Filled from top to bottom with books, it's definitely worth a visit). 
  • Galeries Lafayettes (If you want to go shopping indoors and you're very wealthy, this is the mall for you. But even if you're not wealthy, head on in. It's huge and the architecture is gorgeous. Plus, if you go up to the top floor, you get another great view of Paris). 
  • Hôtel de Ville (This is an administration building, so you won't want to go inside, but just stop by on your way somewhere else. The architecture is pure Parisian and very beautiful). 
  • l'Arc de Triomphe and Champs Élysées (This monument honors French soldiers of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and is very iconic to Paris. It stands at the end of Champs Élysées, a long street filled with both expensive and casual stores. If you want a great walk, start at the Tuileries Gardens, pass Place de la Concorde, walk down Champs Elysees, and end with the l'Arc de Triomphe). 
  • Place des Vosges (The oldest planned square in Paris. The architecture, again, is lovely and the square is green and popular. Kids are playing, couples picnicking, teens gathering, etc. A great spot to take a break and rest your legs). 

Me at the Louvre.


Since this is a student's budget guide, of course I'm going to recommend you stay in a hostel. There are a lot of different sites available for booking hostels. We used and for all our searching and booking. Both sites have reviews, which are invaluable when you're searching for cheap accommodations. Try to stay in hostels with ratings above 70% if possible. The most important aspects of finding a place to stay are safety, location, cleanliness, and cost. Most hostels don't offer free WI-FI or breakfasts or even towels. And even if they do, be weary. Sometimes the hostel doesn't honor what's promised on its website.

Know that the cost on these sites is almost always per person. Even if it says Double Room for 30E, they want you each to pay the 30E.

If you want the cheapest room, you will either have to travel with a bunch of friends and book a private room together (the more people, the cheaper the room) or room with strangers. Private solo rooms obviously cost the most. If you do stay with strangers, wear your wallet on you at night and lock up your luggage (with personal locks, lockers provided in the hostel, or both). You can't be too safe.

French flowers.


If you have time, consider a day trip to Versailles. Lavish and covered in gold finishings and gaudy decor, it is amazing to see in person. If you're there at the right time of year, the gardens will be green and flowering and there are amazing fountain shows and festivities. But no matter what time of year you go, you can explore the entire grounds of Versailles, including Petit Trianon and Grand Trianon, smaller and more country-like houses on the property (where Marie-Antoinette went to escape her busy palace life!). Versailles is just a short trip from Paris by train (less than an hour, I believe).

If you'd like a guided tour and love bicycling, I would highly recommend Fat Tire Bike Tours. You bike to the town market, pick up food for a picnic, bike through the grounds, lunch at Grand Trianon, and then bike on to Versailles.



In order to fly with Easyjet, we had to adhere to the luggage guidelines. Thus, I traveled with only my little backpack. It is the size of your average schoolkid's backpack, not a big traveler's pack. As a girl who sometimes brings an entire suitcase with me on a weekend trip, I was not excited to pack for 10 days in one little backpack, but it all worked out in the end. 

Here's what I packed for 10 days in Italy/Paris in October (temperatures ranged from 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit):

I wore to the airport:
- Jeans
- Regular T-Shirt (This would come in handy later. Remember, most hostels don't have towels . . .)
- Keds
- Light Jacket
- Light Scarf

I packed:
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of black tights
- 1 black cardigan
- 3 simple, form-fitting tees
- 1 long-sleeve, casual, floral dress
- Underwear and socks
- 1 pair of black flats
- Camera (with extra battery and battery charger)
- Toiletries (all 3oz. or less to adhere to airport security guidelines)
- Makeup (just the basics: mascara, eyeliner, eyelash curler, powder)
- Glasses
- Umbrella
- Folder with all our flight/train information, directions, notes, etc.

Due to Easyjet's restrictions, I was not allowed to carry my purse onto the plane (it had to be stuffed into my backpack), so room was left for that. I also tried to leave some room for souvenirs. If you do buy a lot on your travels and can't fit everything back into your suitcase, remember you can always layer-up on the plane!

My main advice is to check the weather beforehand. If you need a big coat, you can always wear it onto the plane to save space. Also, the cliché advice that is oh so true: wear comfortable shoes.

If you want to fit in with the Parisians, consider packing dark skinny jeans, boots, and a scarf.

Place des Vosges


All that said, people enjoy experiencing cities in different ways. Ask yourself: how do you want to spend your time? If you don't care about seeing everyday Parisian life, then just head to the tourist spots. If you want lots of time for certain attractions and museums, maybe you don't have time to wander there on foot. Also ask yourself: how do you want to spend your money? If you're on a limited budget, you might have to make sacrifices. Do you want to spend money on public transportation? On museums? On attractions? On shopping? On food? 

And make sure your travel buddies agree on these time/money preferences. That's the quickest way to get into fights mid-travel. It's also an easy way to end up disappointed with your trip. Or so I've heard! Luckily, my travel mate and I agreed that we wanted to spend time wandering, limit the museums, and see (if not explore) all the big sites. And as for money, we spent ours on clean hostels with good locations and food. Very little went to museums/attractions. 

My sister (right) and I at a café in Montmartre. 


A little effort goes a long way. Although you can easily get around speaking English, natives will really appreciate it if you try to speak some French. Here are some good words and phrases to know.

Inside Galeries Lafayette.


Attractions and museums are wonderful, but the best moments, I think, are when you can just sit back and enjoy where you are. Sitting beneath the Eiffel Tower with a bottle of wine. Grabbing a baguette for a picnic in the park. Looking out at Paris from Montmartre. You can absorb everything the architecture, the food, the smells, the language, the viewswithout the hustle, bustle, and hurry that comes with tourist attractions.

Picnicking beneath the Eiffel Tower.

UPDATE: I would like to add two more quick tips!

First, beware of pickpockets! They have elaborate schemes to trick or embarrass you into giving away your money. And hold tight to your purses and cameras, especially in heavily trafficked areas. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Sacre Coeur are the worst (in my opinion).

Second, use the bathroom anytime you see one. It sounds silly, but when you're wandering around a foreign city, it often happens that you're not near a public bathroom when you need to go. Luckily, Paris does have more free public bathrooms than your average urban space. Unfortunately, they take a long time and often have lines.

I hope you enjoyed this little guide. If you want to see my original post about Paris, head here.

Have you ever been to Paris? Have any tips to add? What was your favorite part of your trip?

What's your dream travel destination?


  1. I love your travel posts! This makes me so nostalgic. Great, great advice.

    1. Thanks, girl! I got nervous typing out the French because I knew you'd be reading it :)


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