Destination guide: Paris, France
Paris is the capital of France and one of the most famous cities in Europe.
Each year, thousands of tourists arrive in the so-called "City of Love" to visit the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, the Moulin Rouge, the Olympic Stadium, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, the Champs Elysees and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as many other attractions.
Paris has a bohemian, inspiring and sublime atmosphere, which is why it's normal to see artists looking for their muses, poets reciting their poetry and people reading in public. Plan your trip to Paris and discover all the charm this city has to offer.
Paris - Practical Information
Paris is a compact, easily negotiated city. Twenty arrondissements (city districts) spiral clockwise from the centre and are important locators; their numbers are always included in addresses.
Each of Paris’ arrondissements has a distinct personality. The 1er has plenty of sights but few residents, the 5e is studenty, the 7e full of ministries and embassies; the 10e was traditionally working-class but is now a trendy district in which to live, while the 16e is a bastion of the well-heeled. But the profiles are not always so cut and dried; the lay of the land becomes much clearer to visitors when they see the city as composed of named quartiers (quarters or neighbourhoods).
The mother of all museums is in the neighbourhood we call Louvre & Les Halles; if you are looking for Paris framed or under glass this is the district for you. Here you’ll also find Les Arts Décoratifs devoted to applied arts, design and advertising; the Musée de Orangerie with its sublime impressionist collection; and the original bad boy of exhibition spaces, the Centre Pompidou.
For history and architecture on a grand scale, the Île de la Cité is your compass point, with Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and Ste-Chapelle all standing virtually side by side. For romance, though, cross the bridge east to Île de St-Louis or even south to the Latin Quarter. The students may be moving on to other quartiers and arrondissements, but intellectuals continue to pontificate in the cafés of the Quartier Latin and les avante-gardistes are still in control of the galleries and watering holes of the neighbouring St-Germain district.
There is no Paris without the Eiffel Tower, the most iconic of city icons, but the Champs-Élysées, with its landmark Arc de Triomphe at one end and the epic-proportioned place de la Concorde at the other, is a close second (though the offerings on the boulevard itself are now somewhat limited). Fans of haute couture should make the so-called Golden Triangle just south of the Champs-Élysées their prime destination. Those of more modest means but still with that urge to shop will head for the grands magazines(department stores) of the Grands Boulevards. And with its beautiful, Haussmann-era buildings, this district is for many visitors a reflection of the way they think Paris should look architecturally.
In search of the Paris of Central Casting, where everyone paints, wears a beret and sings to accordion music? Head up to Montmartre, the Paris of myth and films. Contiguous is Pigalle, the naughty red-light district that today looks pretty tame.
Party animals should set their sights on the Marais, Ménilmontant and/or Bastille; this is where Paris pulsates after dark. It’s not a, err, hard-and-fast rule but to simplify, let’s just say that the Marais is the playground of gays and lesbians, Ménilmontant offers what used to be called an alternative scene elsewhere (and still is here) and Bastille is today’s quartier for some of the best music – be it live, canned or whistled in the metro – in town.
That’s a claim to fame Montparnasse used to be able to make. But the brasseries and bistros where writers like Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald both worked and partied are now rather pricey eating establishments that attract foreigners and les faubourgeois (suburbanites) all in search of their own private Paris moment. For a taste – both sensual and metaphysical – of the Paris of today, head eastward to Chinatown. It’s colourful, it’s multiracial and it all tastes as good as it always did.
If you stay in a hostel, or in a room without a shower or a toilet in a bottom-end hotel, and have picnics rather than dining out, it is possible to stay in Paris for €50 a day per person. A couple staying in a two-star hotel and eating one cheap restaurant meal each day should count on spending at least €80 a day per person. Eating out frequently, ordering wine and treating yourself to any of the many luxuries on offer in Paris will increase these figures considerably.
1L unleaded petrol: €1.30
1L bottles water: €5
Average bottle of wine: €8
Croissant & café au lait: €4
Souvenir T-shirt: €10-25
For up-to-date details on visa requirements, see the French Foreign Affairs Ministry site (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr) and click ‘Going to France’.
EU nationals and citizens of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland need only a passport or a national identity card in order to enter France and stay in the country. However, nationals of the 12 countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 are subject to various limitations on living and working in France.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, the USA and many Latin American countries do not need visas to visit France as tourists for up to 90 days.
Other people wishing to come to France as tourists have to apply for a Schengen Visa, named after the agreements that abolished passport controls between 15 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. It allows unlimited travel throughout the entire zone for a 90-day period. Application should be made to the consulate of the country you are entering first, or that will be your main destination. Among other things, you will need travel and repatriation insurance and be able to show that you have sufficient funds to support yourself.
Tourist visas cannot be extended except in emergencies (such as medical problems). When your visa expires you’ll need to leave and reapply from outside France.
Weights & Measures
Duty-free shopping within the EU was abolished in 1999; you cannot, for example, buy tax-free goods in, say, France and take them to the UK. However, you can still enter an EU country with duty-free items from countries outside the EU (eg Australia, the USA) where the usual allowances apply: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco; 2L of still wine and 1L of spirits; 50g of perfume and 250cc of eau de toilette.
Do not confuse these with duty-paid items (including alcohol and tobacco) bought at normal shops in another EU country (eg Spain or Germany) and brought into France, where certain goods might be more expensive. Here allowances are generous: 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 400 small cigars or 1kg of loose tobacco; and 10L of spirits (more than 22% alcohol by volume), 20L of fortified wine or aperitif, 90L of wine or 110L of beer.
Small businesses are open daily, except Sunday and sometimes Monday. Hours are usually 9am or 10am to 6.30pm or 7pm, often with a midday break from 1pm to 2pm or 2.30pm. Shops that are open on Monday usually get started late (eg at 11.30am).
Banks usually open from 8am or 9am to between 11.30am and 1pm, and then from 1.30pm or 2pm to 4.30pm or 5pm, Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday. Exchange services may end 30 minutes before closing time.
Most post offices open 8am to 7pm weekdays and 8am or 9am till noon on Saturday.
Supermarkets open Monday to Saturday from 8.30am or 9am to 8pm, though a few now open on Sunday morning as well. Small food shops are mostly closed on Sunday and often Monday too, so Saturday afternoon may be your last chance to stock up on certain types of food (eg cheese) until Tuesday.
Restaurants keep the most convoluted hours of any business in Paris.
Most museums are closed one day a week, usually Monday or Tuesday. Some museums have a weekly nocturne in which they remain open until as late as 10pm, including the Louvre (Wednesday and Friday) and the Musée d’Orsay (Thursday).
There are no area codes in France – you always dial the 10-digit number. Telephone numbers in Paris always start with [tel] 01, unless the number is provided by an internet service provider (ISP), in which case it begins with [tel] 09. Mobile phones throughout France commence with either [tel] 06 or 07. France’s country code is [tel] 33.
The domestic service des renseignements (directory enquiries or assistance) is now offered by over a dozen operators on six-digit numbers starting with [tel] 118 (France Télécom, for example, uses [tel] 118 712, Pages Jaunes uses [tel] 118 008). For a complete listing in French consult www.allo118.com. Expect to pay a minimum €1 per request. If you can read basic French, directory enquiries are best done via the Yellow Pages (www.pagesjaunes.fr; click on Pages Blanches for the White Pages), which will provide more information, including maps, for free. From a mobile phone, use the site http://mobile.pagesjaunes.fr.
Note that while numbers beginning with [tel] 0 800, 0 804, 0 805 and 0 809 are toll-free in France, other numbers beginning with ‘8’ are not. For example (this list is by no means comprehensive), a number starting with [tel] 0 810 or 0 811 is charged at local rates (€0.078, then €0.028), one beginning with [tel] 0 820 or 0 821 costs €0.12 per minute, and if the prefix numbers are [tel] 0 890 it costs €0.15. The ubiquitous [tel] 0 892 numbers are billed at an expensive €0.45 per minute whenever you call. Numbers starting with [tel] 0 899 cost €1.35 per connection, then €0.34 per minute. Numbers beginning with [tel] 0 897 cost a flat €0.60 per call.
Most four-digit numbers starting with [tel] 10, 30 or 31 are free of charge.
To call abroad from Paris, dial France’s international access code ([tel] 00), the country code, the area code (usually without the initial ‘0’, if there is one) and the local number. International Direct Dial (IDD) calls to almost anywhere in the world can be placed from public telephones. The international reduced rate applies from 7pm to 8am weekdays and all day at the weekend.
For international directory enquiries, dial [tel] 3212. Note that the cost for this service is €3 per call.
You can use your smartphone or mobile phone (portable) in France provided it is GSM (the standard in Europe which is becoming increasingly common elsewhere) and tri-band or quad-band. It is a good idea to ensure it is ‘unlocked’, which means you can use another service provider while abroad. If you meet the requirements, you can check with your service provider about using it in France, but beware of calls being routed internationally, which can make a ‘local’ call very expensive indeed.
Rather than staying on your home network, it is usually more convenient to buy a local SIM card from a French provider such as Orange/France Telecom ([tel] 1014, outside France +33 1 41 43 79 40; www.orange.fr, in French), which will give you a local phone number. A SIM card with €5 calling time (nine minutes) plus a €5 recharge card costs €15. Throw a phone into the deal and it costs €29. The company www.callineurope.com offers good mobile phone packages for travellers to France and Europe.
For more time, buy a prepaid Mobicarte recharge card (€5 to €100) from tabacs (tobacconists), mobile phone outlets, supermarkets etc. Mobicartes from €25 upward offer extra talk time (€5 bonus for €25, €10 bonus for €35 etc). The biggest outlet is La Boutique Orange (16 place de la Madeleine, 8e; [hrs] 10am-7pm Mon-Sat; [metro] Madeleine). Other major service providers include SFR (http://international-travellers.sfr.fr) and Bouygues(www.bouyguestelecom.fr).
Although mobile phones and Skype (www.skype.com) may have killed off the need for public phones, they do still exist. In France they are all phonecard-operated, but in an emergency you can use your credit card to call. All public phones can receive both domestic and international calls. If you want someone to call you back, just give them France’s country code and the 10-digit number, usually written after the words ‘ Ici le… ’ or ‘ No d’appel ’ on the tariff sheet or on a little sign inside the phone box. Remind them to drop the ‘0’ from the initial ‘01’ of the number. When there’s an incoming call, the words ‘ décrochez – appel arrive ’ (pick up receiver – incoming call) will appear in the LCD window.
Public telephones in Paris usually require a télécarte (phonecard; €7.50/15 for 50/120 calling units), which can be purchased at post offices, tabacs, supermarkets, SNCF ticket windows, metro stations and anywhere you see a blue sticker reading ‘ télécarte en vente ici ’ (phonecard for sale here).
You can buy prepaid phonecards in France such as Allomundo (www.allomundo.com, in French) that are up to 60% cheaper for calling abroad than the standard télécarte. They’re usually available in denominations of up to €15 from tabacs, newsagents, phone shops and other sales points, especially in ethnic areas such as rue du Faubourg St-Denis (10e), Chinatown (13e) and Belleville (19e and 20e). In general they’re valid for two months, but the ones offering the most minutes for the least euros can expire in just a week.
European plug with two circular metal pins