You know how every twenty-something person will finally succumb to their overpowering wanderlust? Well I gave in and flew to Paris— a French-speaking city where everything is très expensive. And even though I don’t speak French and am flat broke, I do have some insightful tips for those interested in visiting the great City of Lights.
1) It doesn’t matter if you look ridiculous, carry around a map.
I have a stubborn sense of direction where I believe I know where I am until I get lost… utterly and undeniably lost. Do not fall victim to using cafes and churches as landmarks to aid your navigation– cafés in Paris are more plentiful than Mcdons in the US. Who knew there was a Bar Du Marché and a Café du Marché in the same area? That cost me a 20 minute detour.
TIP: If you are one who easily gets frustrated opening and collapsing a map , you can download the nifty app, Citymapper. It allows you to create routes anywhere and you can even save them to your phone and somehow, magically, it will track you without using data. It even tells you how many calories you can burn (that will come in handy after all those baguettes, trust) or how long it would take if you had a jetpack.
2) Flag down busses in busy areas
While trying to find my way back from the 20th arrondissement to the 6th arrondissement, I decided to take the bus rather than the subway so I can see more of the city. I was waiting at a stop where five bus lines drive through and when my bus finally came, it drove past me. The bus driver must have seen the baffled look on my face because he stopped and motioned be to dépêchez-vous! and get on. Out of breath, I jokingly asked the bus driver if he forgot to stop. He replied that if he doesn’t see anyone who looks like they will get on or off the bus, he simply keeps driving. There were eight people waiting at my stop so how does he decide who wants to get on board? Needless to say, bus drivers are also mind readers here in Paris, so save them the hassle and start flailing your arms.
TIP: You can use your subway tickets as bus tickets and usually they cost 1.80€, but if you get on the bus empty handed you need to pay 2€ per ride.
3) Skip out on constant café dining.
Sure, cafés are quaint and inviting, and those moody servers are somehow charming, but unless you want to spend 5€ on a mint tea every meal, satiate yourself elsewhere. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a Monoprix or G20 Supermarché and getting a meal à emporter. They have a wide selection and the meals actually taste quite good. Maybe it’s because I am Canadian and am used to, well, shitty quality food but I am more than content eating a 4€ couscous salad everyday for lunch while grinning at the people sipping their 5€ espressos and eating their 15€ salads. Save those cafés for boozing.
TIP: For vegetarians and vegans, like myself, you will have a much easier time finding nourishing food in supermarkets than cafés.
4) Don’t take the stairs down the Sacré Coeur
It’s no secret that Paris is the most visited city in the world and you don’t truly realize it until you live there. Sacré Coeur is always a beautiful landmark to visit for tourists and Parisians alike. It is easy to ignore tourists as you walk up past cafés, artists, little shops, but if you choose to walk directly down the stairs to Rue Tardieu you will have to battle dozens of selfie sticks and take more photos of strangers awkwardly posing than you take of your cat playing with toilet paper. It’s quite overwhelming to descend from the glorious Sacré Coeur, but there is a secret way. Well, it’s actually not secret at all and I don’t understand why more people do it, but you can take a left after walking down the first staircase and be welcomed by a winding pedestrian walkway through lush greenery without all the nagging tourists. You can even have a picnic there! How Parisian!
TIP: It’s cool if you bring a 6-pack or a bottle of wine and chill on the stairs below the Sacré Coeur. Everyone does it and it adds to the grand Parisian experience.
5) Be kind to your wallet and partake in Happy Hours
Remember how you should save the cafes for boozing? Well, listen up. I made the mistake of going to a café that did not have happy hour ONCE. Never again will I pay 10€ for a mojito. When participating in the glorious happy hour you will pay 5€, instead of 9€ for a beer. Now, I am no mathematician, but that sounds like a much better deal to me. Virtually any Parisian café has a happy hour, some even until 10pm. This is prime time in Paris as many people come straight from work to enjoy a nice glass of wine or a cocktail and the cafes become bustling bars in a matter of minutes.
TIP: Before choosing one of the thousands of cafés in Paris, make sure to look at what days they have happy hour. Some of them take away our precious happy hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
6) Try to learn some French words/phrases
It’s very easy to get away with English while travelling abroad – too easy. People always say the Parisians are so rude but wouldn’t you be if you were surrounded by tourists and expected to speak English just so you can answer all their mundane questions? In my experience, Parisians appreciate if you at least try to speak to them in French. Fear not, when they notice you are struggling or seem confused, they will switch to English and ask “where are you from?” Only then may you answer in English.
TIP: Learn general restaurant and direction phrases. About.com offers you a great start. Bonne chance!
Just remember: When in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Paris, don’t do as the tourists do.