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Home to more than 10 million people, the "City of Light" is majestic in its architecture and artistic heritage. More than a destination of pleasurable externals, bourgeois absolutes and just-baked baguettes (French law demands they bake them fresh thrice daily), Paris is great sightseeing, incredible shopping and leisure dining that always comes with desserts in the form of delicate trays of the finest chocolates and macaroons.
Paris is so much more than the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame and the Louvre. This trip, stroll the Marais and shop along rue des Francs Bourgeois or walk under the arches of the oldest square in Paris, Place des Vosges. Take time to explore the Latin Quarter to see the church of St. Severin, the Sorbonne and rue Mouffetard -- not just because it's where Joyce, Orwell, Balzac and Hemmingway once lived, but also for the rows and rows of fresh food glistening like bouquets of colorful gems under the street market's faded French-blue-striped awnings. Stop by the bookseller's stalls along the banks of the Seine around Notre-Dame for antique and second-hand books, comic strips, post cards and posters at great prices.
Saint Germain-des-Pres and the stately Church of St. Sulpice's beautiful Delacroix murals are a must-see this trip -- as is the St. Germain Church, the city's oldest church -- before heading down its enchanting streets, through the old squares and artists' studios that surround it. Don't forget to leave time to head up to the little village of Montmarte and the old cobbled streets where Renoir, Lautrec and van Gogh lived and worked; there are wonderful views of the city.
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A well loved copy of Hemmingway's “A Moveable Feast” purchased on the Rive Gauche from a secondhand bookseller.
French. Although English is understood and generally spoken throughout most of Paris, it's not uncommon to find that many waiters, shopkeepers and taxi drivers don't speak English. It's considered impolite by the French to assume everyone speaks English, so it's best to begin by first asking if English is understood. The gesture is appreciated. Monsieur, madame or mademoiselle (for young girls) should follow bonjour. Merci should always precede a departure from any shop, whether you were helped or not.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency in France is the euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. In France, a sales tax of 19.6% (VAT) is tacked on to almost every purchase; however, if you spend 175 euros or more at any one participating store, you can get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions). ATMs and credit cards make traveler's checks nearly obsolete. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs found almost everywhere.
Note: Many French ATMs display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit to memory or jot down the translation to numbers. Credit cards are widely accepted in Paris.
Where You're Docked
Most ships that list Paris on their itineraries actually dock at the ports of LeHavre and Rouen.
Paris is basically divided twice, first into 20 municipal quarters called arrondissements and second by the Seine, which divides the city into the Right Bank to the north and the Left Bank to the south, linked by 32 bridges. Two of those bridges connect to two small islands at the heart of the city: Ile de la Cite, the city's birthplace and site of Notre-Dame, and Ile St-Louis, a moat-guarded oasis of 17th-century chateaux. The quarters spiral out like a snail, beginning with the first arrondissement. Included in these 20 "neighborhoods" are well known areas like Montmarte, Montparnasse and the Marais.
The Champs-Elysees, running from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde (where important historical events have taken place, including the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette), is considered the "main thoroughfare" of the Right Bank -- and has 12 of the city's most famous avenues fanning out in an etoile (star) from the Arc (e.g. Haussmann, Kleber, Foch, Wagram, Victor Hugo).
Walking is the transportation of choice. Still, if you need to hop on to something, the Paris Metro is a no-brainer. For minor stair climbing and line changes, take the bus. As a matter of fact, buses can't be beat for economical sightseeing. For a spin past many Paris landmarks, climb aboard No. 69 or 94. There's also the Batobus -- a boat service up and down the Seine that stops at all the best attractions. Service begins at 10 a.m. and stops anywhere from 6 to 9 p.m., depending on the season.
Public transportation is not 24/7. What's more, some buses stop running after 8 p.m. Timetables are posted at bus stops, so check before you find yourself waiting a very long time for a bus that will never come. The Metro is sealed tight from 1:15 - 5:30 a.m.
Taxis are plentiful, but in general, you can't "hail" one. They're marked by large blue signs, and taxi stands are never far from Metro stops. Cabbies abide by the system and really never pick up "renegades." Taxis can also be ordered by telephone -- a system well used by both locals and visitors. Just take note that the meter starts running at the phone call, so depending on how far away the driver is...well, you get the idea. Usually it's not really more than a few dollars extra (and the convenience is usually worth the extra fare). You don't have to tip drivers, but Parisians often round up to the nearest euro. A receipt ("re-sue" for recu) is available upon request.
The best way to find an address is by checking out the arrondissement first, which is indicated by a number followed by "e" or "er" which in English means "th" or "st" (i.e., 7e, 1er). It's also indicated by the last two digits of a postal code (i.e., 70007 = the 7e). Pick up Paris par Arrondissement -- the official street guide -- at any travel bookstore in Paris or the U.S. You'll be glad you did.
Watch Out For
When using mass transit, validate your ticket in appropriate machines. On the buses, there's one at the front and one more to the rear. It's an honor system, so the driver has nothing to do with how you pay -- nor does he care if you punch your ticket or not. For the Metro, the machines are at the line's entrance. Keep your ticket until you reach your destination, since plain-clothes inspectors check at random on both systems to make sure you've canceled ( used) it. They are seriously rigid about fining offenders, including tourists and senior citizens.
Taxi drivers very, very rarely take more than three passengers at a time, and there's a charge for luggage, sometimes large packages and absolutely for fourth passengers.
Classic sights like the Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and Sacre-Coeur will always lure visitors. Add the Champs-Elysees, the Bateau Mouche along the Seine and strolls through the Tuileries to the mix -- and it's easy to see why nobody visits just once.
What's 7000 tons and has 1,665 steps and 10,000 light bulbs? Eiffel Tower! This breathtaking landmark was built by Gustave Eiffel (Did you know he designed the framework for the Statue of Liberty?) for the 1889 Universal Exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution and was opened by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII of England. Open 9:30 a.m.- 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. - midnight late June - August. (Champ de Mars)
Moulin Rouge has been putting on its famous show since 1889. Of course, being immortalized by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and known for the risque can-can didn't hurt either. It's still fabulous with plenty of feathers, sequins and, of course, gorgeous semi-naked showgirls. Open every night with two shows, 9 and 11 p.m. Dinner and a show begins at 7 p.m. (82, bld. de Clichy; +33 (0) 153 098 282)
Musee du Louvre is the world's greatest art museum -- so it really doesn't matter if you've been here before since there's no chance you've seen it all. Collections divide into Asian antiquities, Egyptian antiquities, Greek and Roman antiquities, sculpture, objets d'art, paintings, and prints and drawings. Obviously, the top attractions (and most likely the ones you've seen) are the "Mona Lisa" and the 2nd-century "Venus de Milo". Open Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m. – 9:45 p.m. Closed Tuesday.
Note: Avoid the never-ending lines to enter through the Pyramid. Instead, come in from the Carrousel de Louvre mall on rue de Rivoli or, even better, through the Louvre's Metro stop.
The 164-foot Arc de Triomphe was planned by Napoleon to celebrate his military successes, but wasn't finished for another 20 years after he took a trip to Elba. It has some magnificent sculptures, and the names of Napoleon's generals are inscribed on the stone facades. There is a small museum halfway up the arch devoted to its history (you can actually climb to the top). France's Unknown Soldier is buried beneath, and the flame is rekindled every evening at 6:30 p.m. Open April through September 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. and October to March 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (Champs Elysees -- use the underground tunnel on avenue de la Grande Armee side of the circle or access tunnel from Wagram exit of Metro)
Although it's probably easier to take the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can also climb 387 steps up to the south tower of 12th-century Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris for a nice view of the city. It was here in 1804 that Napoleon crowned himself emperor and then crowned Josephine as his empress. The cathedral is open year-round from 8 a.m. until nearly 7 p.m., but the towers and crypt usually don't open before 9:30 a.m., and they close before 6 p.m. (place du Parvis-Notre-Dame)
Musee d'Orsay is in fact a magnificent 1900 railway station that now houses a superb collection of Impressionist art from 1848-1914, including major works from Degas, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Gauguin. If you don't have lots of time, browse the upper level to see the enormous railway clocks in addition to some of the museum's best exhibits. Open daily (except Monday) 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., until 9:45 p.m. on Thursday. (1, rue de la Legion d'Honneur)
There's little left of the Bastille and its remains are pretty much surrounded by a neighborhood filled with an array of popular cafes, clubs and the Opera Bastille, completed in 1990. The Colonne de Juillet dominates la Place de la Bastille, marking the site of the prison which was stormed at the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
In the 16th century, 30 windmills were built in Montmarte for winemaking and milling grain, but only two remain today. Wander the back streets, away from the main square and souvenir shops. At dusk, sit on Basilica of Sacre-Coeur's top steps and watch Paris indeed become the City of Light. The basilica is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ and the crypt contains what many believe to be Christ's sacred heart. By the way, when its 19-ton bell tolls, you not only hear it, you feel it!
Been There, Done That
Off-the-Beaten-Path Museums: Musee Rodin was once the home of Rodin and houses several of the artist's impressive collections, including personal ones. The garden is as spectacular as the inside, so leave time for both. Open daily (except Monday) 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (79, rue de Varenne, 7th; 01 44 18 61 10) Hotel des Invalides is the magnificent 17th-century domed structure constructed under the direction of Louis XIV to shelter old and wounded soldiers and is also the site of Napoleon's tomb. Open daily (except first Monday of the month) 10 a.m. (129, rue de Grenelle, 7th; 08 10 11 33 99) Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme in the Marais is a wide-ranging collection of objects dating as far back as the Middle Ages. Open Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed Saturday. (71, rue du Temple, 3rd; 33 1 53 01 86 53)
Paris Walks offers two- and three-hour walking tours that range from the Latin Quarter to Hemingway's Paris. It's a great way to get up close and personal. (12, passage Meunier; 01 48 09 21 40)
Chinatown in Paris? Who'd have thought! It's actually an amazing way to spend an afternoon. In particular, browse the aisles at giant Asian supermarkets along avenue d'Ivry such as Tang Freres packed with dried mushrooms, Vietnamese lemongrass, canned litchi juice and powder water chestnuts. A must-do for finding those ingredients you can never seem to find for a recipe (as long as it's canned or sealed, it's fine for getting through Customs back home). Take-out is available if you feel like munching on spring rolls rubbed with fresh mint as you explore the neighborhood. Just south of place d'Italie in the 13th.
Head for the rue de Bac for smart shops and a bit of neighborly biographic history. Edith Wharton lived around the corner on the rue de Varenne at Nos. 53 and 58; the Prime Minister's official residence is at No. 57 on Varenne. The chapel of the Miraculous Medal, where Catherine Laboure was said to have visions of the Virgin in 1830, is at 140, rue de Bac.
Faubourg St-Honore pays homage to glamour, fashion, high style and the world's most expensive shops and galleries -- and the President's Palace.
Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, in the Palais de Chaillot, is the first and only permanent collection dedicated to architecture and architectural heritage. Designed by Jean-Louis Cohen and Jean-Francois Bodin, the museum showcases the collections of drawings, drafts and models of the French Institute of architecture. Open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed Tuesday. (1, place du Trocadero; 01 58 51 52 00)
Paris Roller lets you skate with 10,000 locals any Friday at 10 p. m. along a three-hour police-escorted route. Not up to the challenge? Then watch! It's the most incredible sight to behold. The 17-mile event is strictly for experienced skaters.
Note: Access is free to the permanent collections of all City of Paris museums, including Musee d'Art Moderne, Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris, Cognacq-Jay, de la Vie Romantique, Bourdelle, Zadkine, des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Jean Moulin; Maison de Balzac, Maisons de Victor Hugo, and Memorial du Marechal Leclerc.
Serious shoppers who want to make the most of a day (or two) in Paris should take a shopping tour; several companies, including Chic Shopping Paris, offer different options.
Avenue Montaigne: Courturier Shangri-La from the likes of Chanel, Laurent, Dior and Lanvin. (8th)
Clignancourt Flea Market: HUGE! Just beware of pick-pockets. Saturday to Monday, 9 a.m. – 7. p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (la Porte de Clignancourt ,18th)
Colette: Sleek and chic for fashionistas, at a price. (213, rue St. Honore ,1st)
Maille: Freshly made Dijon on tap. (6, place de la Madeleine, 8th).
Inside scoop: For gifts, hit any Monoprix (they're everywhere) and buy cheapo mini-Maille gift packs downstairs in the food market.
Rue Furstenberg: Amazing fabric from Braquenie, Pierre Frey, Manuel Canovas, or visit Musee Delacroix -- the former home of the 19th-century painter, who lived and worked at this studio apartment. (6th)
Note: Refunds are almost non-existent, so shop mindfully. In most department stores, you will be handed a "bill" to pay at the cashier (sometimes a long walk away) before getting your items. By French law, sales take place twice yearly (January, July). They're amazing and the long lines form outside the swankiest shops on day one. To avoid fines, some stores (mostly department stores) mark some racks as "specials" or "just in," but it isn't all that common.
Angelina: Chocolate bars melted down to thick syrup in the name of hot chocolate. (226, rue de Rivoli, 1st)
Au Bon Accueil: Stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. Excellent and inexpensive. (14, rue de Monttessuy, 7th; 01 47 05 46 11)
Bechu: Best-in-the-city croissants. (118, ave. Victor-Hugo, 16th)
Les Bouquinistes : Guy Savoy's trendy Left Bank bistro. (53, quai de Grands-Augustins, 6th; 01 43 25 45 94)
Cafe Marley: Inside the Louvre's courtyard overlooking the Pyramid. Slightly pricey, but comfy. (93, rue de Rivoli, 1st)
Granterroirs: You can have...er, buy your foie gras and eat it, too. Add truffles and other like-minded goodies for a light lunch. (30, rue de Miromesnil, 8th; 01 47 42 18 18)
Jacques Genin : Usually sends his fresh-everyday chocolates off to the George V, Crillon and Hediard. Now he welcomes customers into his tiny workshop. (18, rue St.-Charles, 15th)
Jules Verne : Eiffel Tower + awesome location + one of the city's best = expensive + extraordinary. Need to call months in advance, though lunch is an easier reservation. (5, avenue Gustave Eiffel,7th; 01 45 55 61 44)
Laduree: Go for the macaroons and hot chocolate. (75, Champs-Elysees; 16, rue Royale; 21, rue Bonaparte; 64, bld. Haussmann)
L'Auvergne Gourmande: Baby bistro near the Eiffel Tower specializing in food from the Auvergne region. (127, rue St.-Dominique, 7th; 08 99 78 68 41)
Raspail Organic Market: For the Le Pain de Midee's breads, cheeses, wines and caramelized-onion galettes. Sundays 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (bld. Raspail between rue de Cherche Midi and rue de Rennes)
Market : Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Paris outpost for the fontina-black truffled topped pizza. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Saturday and Sunday brunch noon – 4:30 p.m.(15, ave. Matignon, 8th; +33 1 56 43 40 90)
Mariage Freres: Cozies, strainers and scoops come with 500 tea choices since 1854. (30, rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 4th; 13, rue des Grands-Augustins, 6th; 260, Faubourg Saint-Honore, 8th; Carrousel du Louvre, 1st; 17, place de la Madeleine, 8th)
Pierre Herme: City's premiere pastry chef for glorious macaroon confections in pistachio, coffee, rose, passion fruit-chocolate, lemon-hazelnut and the like. (72, rue Bonaparte, 7th)
Staying in Touch
Baguenaude Cafe (30, rue de la Grande-Truanderie, 1st)
Cyberport Forum des Images (Forum de Halles, 1st)
Le Web Bar (32, rue de Picardie, 3rd)
CyberBeaubourg (38, rue Quincampoix, 4th; 01 42 71 49 80)
Jardin de l'Internet (79, bld. Saint Michel, 5th; +33 144 072 220)
Le Meilleur des Mondes is across from the biggest train station in Paris.(4, bis rue Michel Chasles, 12th; 01 43 46 01 64)
Le Rendez-vous Toyota (79, ave. des Champs-Elysees, 8th)
Zowezo (37, rue Fontaine, 9th; 40 23 00 71)
Cyberzen Cafe (85, rue Amelot, 11th; 01 53 36 76 13)
Planet Cybercafe (173, rue de Vaugirard, 15th; (33) 1 45 67 71 14)
For More Information
On the Web: www.paris-touristoffice.com
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Europe
The Independent Traveler: France Exchange
Photo of French patisserie appears courtesy of the Paris Tourist Office/Catherine Balet.
-- Updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor