Paris is a destination of endless romance and deep literary history. Whether you’re more inclined to read Ernest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein, Julia Child or David Lebovitz, chances are somebody has made you dream of dropping everything and moving to Paris, where you can while your day away in a cafe, working from your laptop.
When to Go
Springtime in Paris is a cliche for a reason. Between the blooms on the trees and the more moderate crowds, April and May might be the most pleasant time to visit the City of Light. Just wear plenty of layers as mornings stay quite cool all the way through late June.
Summer is a more lively time to visit. Midsummer night fills the streets with music, dance, and drunken revelry, particularly in the Latin Quarter. The Paris Plages festival running all summer lines the banks of the Seine with sand, beach chairs, and other oceanfront acoutrements. Far enough north that temperatures don’t get too hot, Paris is one of Europe’s best destinations for peak season travel.
Autumn and winter will have the fewest visitors and so is best for those actively seeking to avoid crowds and snag bigger deals.
How Much to Spend
A flight to Paris from the eastern US at the height of summer is going to cost $300-400 at the bare minimum. Staying in an off-the-beaten track neighborhood like Belleville or on the northern outskirts of Montmartre will score you a dorm bed at 30-35 euro a night. Plan on having at least one night to splurge and treat yourself to world-famous French cuisine. The cheapest quality meal you can find at a sit-down restaurant will probably be around 20-25 euro, but prix fixe menus at lunch are a better deal. For the rest of your trip, expect to spend 20-30 euro per day on food. The metro is unavoidable in Paris – a carnet of 10 tickets is 14 euro.
As part of the EU, France uses the euro now, instead of its old system of francs. The conversion for euros to U.S. dollars is quite close, so don’t bother doing any mental math on the go. Just treat them as one and the same, unless you’re making a very large purchase and need to calculate the conversion exactly.
Multiple airports serve the city, the largest being Charles de Gaulle. If you’re arriving from elsewhere in Europe, however, you might land at Orly instead. Buses to the city center serve both airports, with tickets costing 7-10 euro. You can also take the RER train from Charles de Gaulle for the same price. The trip from Charles de Gaulle is about an hour.
There are also of course ample bus and train routes arriving in Paris from other European cities. The Gare de Paris Bercy, on metro line 14, is a major hub for Ouibus, as well as serving as a train station. Porte Maillot, on metro line 1, is an arrival point for Flixbus. Be prepared for a stop and search when arriving by bus. The recent targeting of France by terrorist groups has Paris on high alert.
The Paris metro is quite extensive and your best bet for traveling throughout the city. A single ticket costs just shy of 2 euro, which is a bit steep. So matter how little you think you might use the train, buy the discounted 10 ticket carnet for 14 euro. Chances are, you’ll wind up using more tickets than you expected.
The quality of Paris metro trains varies considerably. Some platforms on line 1 are extremely high tech, with extra safety barriers between the platform and the train door to prevent anyone from getting to the tracks. Other trains, particularly on the double digit lines, are noticeably older. You may have to put a little elbow grease into working the handle to open the doors at your stop.9
Give yourself plenty of time to navigate the metro. If you’re staying farther out of the city center to save money, such as in Montmartre or Belleville, you may need as much as an hour to get from your lodging to a central attraction door to door.
What to Pack
Paris is considerably cooler than many other French cities. Even in summer, a chilly morning can catch you off guard. Light layers are critical and a lightweight scarf should always been in your bag. Sticking to neutral colors, especially black, will help you blend in. That Paris chic look relies on well tailored items with a limited palette. Comfortable flat boots are a good all-weather choice.
As a digital nomad, you’ll of course have your standard electronics in your pack, whether that’s a smartphone, laptop, or DSLR camera. Paris is full of amazing viewpoints, so if you’re a professional photographer, don’t leave your tripod at home. While you should always keep a close eye on your belongings in large cities, this is one place where you can typically feel comfortable setting up equipment for a long exposure shot of the Eiffel Tower if you’re so inclined.
You should also make sure you have a nice collapsible tote, like the ones made by Envirosax, for shopping. Browsing a morning market to pick up the makings of a picnic is a delightfully Parisian experience. There are so many scenic places throughout the city to set up camp for the afternoon. Grab some fresh fruit, cheese, and a bottle of wine for a budget-friendly al fresco meal. Slip a little stain remover in your bag just in case that wine flows too freely.
Where to Stay
The best bargains on hostel beds can fortunately be found in Paris’ most artistic neighborhoods. Belleville is one of the few parts of the city that still lies off-the-beaten-track and has a truly eclectic nature. The streets are packed with graffiti, youthful cafes, and many an Asian restaurant or market. Local creators show off their wares – typically jewelry or fashion – at Chez Robert Smith. The Belleville metro station serves lines 2 and 11. The Loft Boutique Hostel is about a 10 minute walk from the station. Dorm rooms are a bit snug, but very clean and just 30 euro a night at peak season. Staff is superb and the kitchen is very well appointed.
Should you prefer to be a bit closer to the city center, St. Christopher’s Inn has a location close to the Gare du Nord train station at a similar price. A private room in a hostel or Airbnb averages about 100 euro a night, so if you’re on a tight budget, be prepared to share.
Where to Eat
We’ve already touched on the idea of picnicking, but it’s not a thought you should forget. The Jardin des Tuileries or the Jardin de Luxembourg are both extremely posh spots to lay out some wine and cheese. The Champ de Mars can be a decent dinner spot. Snack as you watch the Eiffel Tower illuminate at dusk. Just be warned, vendors and hawkers are out in full force with tacky light-up toys and bottles of cheap champagne.
When you want to treat yourself to a nicer night out, head to Saint Germain des Pres, Pigalle, or Republique. The latter two are especially favored by locals. In the former, you’ll find more tourists, but you can also track down high quality, low budget meals. Au Pied de Fouet is one of those cases where Lonely Planet actually makes a great recommendation. The cuisine is a bit less fancy Paris in favor of heartier French country fare. A full meal with a glass of wine and dessert runs about 20-25 euro.
Where to Work
Paris has no shortage of work-friendly cafes, making it as ideal a city for creative pursuits as it was in the days of Hemingway and Sartre.
In Belleville, Cafe Cherie is quite popular with the under-40 crowd for its low prices and free WiFi. Nearby, La Mer au Boir is a haven for all manner of local creatives, from the writers taking advantage of its free WiFi to the cartoonists and graphic designers decorating the walls to the musicians playing on weekends.
Scandinavian joint Coutume Instituuti near the Sorbonne is a well-liked spot for working or people watching. In the same corner of the Latin Quarter, the student-packed Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie has a decidedly artsy vibe and serves up both good coffee and wine.
What to Do
Paris is a city of infinite attractions. No matter how long you’re staying or how many times you’ve visited before, you should have no trouble filling an itinerary. The trick is not spending too much.
If you’re lucky enough to be around the first Sunday of the month, the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Centre Georges Pompidou all offer free admission. Be warned – European free museum days draw huge crowds. You should carefully weigh the costs and benefits of paying to visit another day. If you’re not a huge art or museum person, the d’Orsay is your best bet. The museum’s tight focus on Impressionism makes it easy to see the full collection in as little as one to two hours. The same amount of time in the Louvre would barely put a dent in the world’s largest museum.
Some more off-the-beaten-path museums are always free, like the Musee National du Moyen Age, the Musee d’Art Moderne, and the Musee Carnavalet.
Some of the city’s most famous landmarks also never charge admission, like the cathedral of Notre Dame. Skip paying to go up the Eiffel Tower. Instead, just enjoy a free photo op with the icon of Paris in the background, and enjoy a view of the city from the steps of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.
Paris Greeters offer free walking tours of the city, or you can craft your own itinerary, strolling along the Champs Elysees from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. You could also wander Roman ruins at the Arene de Lutece, or pay a visit to Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf at the Pere Lachaise.
There are also plenty of green corners of Paris with no admission. The Jardin du Luxembourg, the Place des Vosges, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and the Promenade Plantee are just a few highlights.
Looking for more ways to fill your Parisian itinerary? Check out some alternatives to the classic slate of Eiffel Tower and Louvre visits. These Paris attractions aren’t totally off the beaten track, but don’t always make the cut for first-time visitors either.