A Weekend in Paris - Tips on travel and attractions in Paris
Me and my husband Jon recently decided to take a last minute trip to Paris for our 2nd Wedding Anniversary. Neither of us have ever really been there before, both have passed through on the way to other places, so neither of us really knew what it was going to be like. It was a total spur of the moment decision to book it after realising we could get the Megabus from Cardiff to Paris (and back!) for only £20 each, and we felt we both needed a little break after some mega busy time at work. The megabus to Europe routes are all relatively knew so it was a bit of a gamble but we figured it would be a fun trip.
We decided to only go for one night even though the journey each way would take us around 15 hours. We timed it so we swould get 2 full days and just have to sleep on the bus there and back and book a hotel room for the one night - this helped keep our costs down to as we were on a bit of a tight budget too.
Getting there (and back!)
So we left at 3pm on Tuesday had a 3 hour wait at London (Vistoria Bus Station) for the connection so went for coffee, due to a reference number screw up we missed our ferry, so took a later one. Once we docked we carried on driving via Boulonge, and eventually arrived at Porte Malliot bus station at 10am on Wednesday morning (only 2.5hours later than expect).
Our return route was pretty similar (minus the missed ferry!) We left Paris at 11:00pm on Thursday (via Boulonge again) took a 3:45am Ferry, switched at London to a megabus for Cardiff via Bristol and were back in Cardiff by 1:15pm Friday - a little tired and achy but having had a great trip!
The Megabus from Cardiff to London was pretty quiet and with a whole double decker for only 8 passengers we all had plenty of room - and even a table in some cases. London to Paris was a pretty busy bus with 43 seats taken and only a normal single level bus being used. It takes about 2.5hrs to get from Victoria Bus Station to Dover on the bus so it's not really too long. You usually have a short wait to board but nothing major as they time it well (usually!) Once on the Ferry you can get out have a wander, shop and have some food if you wish. Callis to Paris take about 3.5 hours and goes via Boulonge but that doesn't take up much extra time. You will arrive in Porte Malliot bus station just outside Paris City Centre - not too far from the Arch de Triomphe, and can walk or metro into the town.
The return journey was pretty similar to be honest, although the buses were a little busier coming back.
Obviously you could just fly which would be far quicker but also far more expensive. Drive yourself if you fancy tackling french roads and traffic on your own! or euro star is also an option.
Map of Paris
Travellling in Paris
By far the easiest and quickest way to travel in and around Paris is via the public transport system of Metro and RER (underground and overground trains). Paris has a great public transport system and it is easy to travel around Paris without the need of a car or paying for taxi's (which are pricy). Although all the major attractions are fairly local to central Paris, it is still a pretty big city and walking it all would be difficult, tiring and time consuming.
So when taking the metro/RER you first have to buy a ticket at a booth or ticket machine. What is great is that most of the ticket machines have an english translation button, making using the machine a lot easier if you have none or basic french language skills. We found the easiest and most cost effective thing to do was to buy a carnet - a pack of 10 single journey ticktets that can be split between a group of people. You literally get issued 10 loose single tickets so they can be shared easily between a couple, family or group. One ticket is $1.70 whereas 10 tickets are $12.50. You do need change and not notes to use the machines though or you can use a bank card if you are really stuck. Not all stations have manned booths so paying with notes isn't always an option.
What is also great about the transport system is that each ticket can be used on both RER and Metro and between different lines. So if you need to get across the city but need to take 3 RER/Metro to do it, it all counts as one journey. It pretty much works that if you don't come out of the station you can keep travelling on that one ticket. So if you take the wrong line and end up in the wrong place, don't worry you haven't wasted that ticket just hop to the line in the reverse direction and go back again.
The tickets can also be used on the buses and trams as well, but cannot be counted in the 1 journey rule. so you can't hop between bus and metro on one ticket.
The only tricky thing is working out which direction you want the line to go in. So you work out which line you want, most are numbered and colour coded on the maps but then you need to know which direction you want to go, to do this you need to find out what is the end station for that line and see which direction to go from where you are. The signs only give the end stop. I know this is true of the systems in other cities but when they are in another language it's a little harder as some names are very similar to others - we only got it wrong once, but I did have to think hard a few times to make sure we went the right way.
The Metro/RER are very frequent, we never waited more than 10 minutes for a train and they run from early in the morning to around 11:30 at night, so are hugely practical if you wish to go for dinner or make a super early start. They do get very busy around rush hour in the morning and evening though - but again this is true of every city I think.
Where to stay in Paris
To be honest there isn't really a perfect place to stay in Paris - simple because the public transport system is so good. Originally we figured being close to the center of the city - near the Eiffel Tower - would be the best as we could walk to a few places if we needed to, but then realised that you can metro/RER everywhere so being further out wasn't so much of an issue. And if you wanted to save money on accommodation then going a little further out would be a good idea.
We actually stayed in an Ibis only streets from the Eiffel Tower and paid £119 for the 2 of us for the night and for a continental breakfast. The rooms were small but clean and comfortable, and when your only crashing for the night it really shouldn't matter how big the room is. We had a friend who spoke french book the room instead of doing it online or trying to do it ourselves. Although when we arrived most of the staff spoke good english anyway.
There are a number of great hostels just on the outskirts of the city that can be booked for as little as $35 a night. And european hostels are actually of a much better standard than hostels in the UK they are more like small hotels usually - but with dorms and a shared kitchen area. They are nearly always ensuite though which is a plus. But for us we thought they may be a little noisy and we didn't mind paying the extra.
What I will say is shop around when booking as some of the online sites vary greatly in price, and if you can book direct as you don't end up paying the bit extra that the sites make as commission. Although sometimes sites have offer prices which may make them cheap.
Making the most of your short trip
A short trip to Paris shouldn't be a highly active trip or anything too hectic, although you will want to cram a lot into a small space of time. You want to actually have time to enjoy yourself, time to chill and relax - or shop in some cases.
Parisians favourite past time is to sit in a pavement cafe (on the pavement if possible) drink coffee, wine or beer (and smoke) and people watch. So give yourself the chance to sit down and watch the world go buy over a nice drink and a chat with your travelling companion.
The Attractions in Paris
This is what we decided to see, obviously there are far more attractions in Paris but we wanted to see the main ones as we were on a tight time schedule, but actually wanted to also have time to just chill and not be rushing around everywhere.
- The Louvre - One of the biggest museums/art galleries in the world, this place is truly amazing and totally spectacular. With floors dedicated to sculpture, classical art, egyptian art, african art and whole other collection of art you could get lost in the maze of a gallery. Of course the Mona Lisa is the highlight for most people and it gets very busy around it. We got there just after 10.30 and the queue was huge to get in, it took around 30 minutes. (Hint: Under 26's get in for free to the permanent exhibitions, no queuing once you get inside just flash your passport! Plus leave your bags and coats at one of the check in counters to make it easier to move through the crowds)
- The Eiffel Tower - MASSIVE QUEUES! Be Warned! We got there pretty early and still had to queue for 2.5 hours! But it was well worth it, the views from the top are spectacular. Around €14 to get to the top. If you can pre buy your tickets so you don't have to queue do it. (Hint: To get some great photos take a stroll through the gardens opposite, you can get the whole tower in shots a lot easier)
- The Arc de Triomphe - A sight to see, we didn't pay to go to the top as it was late in the day, and didn't really see the point, but the Arch itself is very interesting, so different from other things I have seen. Lots of people just seem to chill around it, lovely place to sit in the shade and watch the world go round.
- The Champs Elysees - Shopping capital, more or less just a huge shopping street but with some of the highest end stores out there. You can literally buy anything on this street. It is again just a lovely place to walk and people watch. (Hint: Fancy a cheap but majorly yummy Macaroon? McDonalds! Honestly! 6 for €5 as good as any of the pricier ones we tried)
- Notre Dame Cathedral - We didn't have time to go inside the Cathedral but we decided we wanted to see it in the evening anyway as we wanted to photograph it with all the lights on. So we went for dinner in a lovely local restaurant (Cafe Le Petit Pont) and waited for the sun to go down (10pm in May!) then we got some beautiful shots.
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