Paris, the most visited city in the world, is only 4 hours away from Aachen, Germany and about that from Brussels as well. In fact, it’s really easy to combine Paris with other European trips especially with use of budget airlines like Ryan Air, so there’s no reason to miss it… unless there’s a transportation strike… but I’ll save that for another post… :)
I’ve learned, to my dismay, that if a place is touristy, that it’s touristy for a very good reason, and, Paris made it to the top of the heap for very good reasons. The city itself is absolutely beautiful full of all the history, architecture, and pomp that you would expect, but you can also find the small local neighborhoods with artsy cafes and stylish boutiques oozing with atmosphere. It’s completely easy to get around in with the Metro or bus systems or boats. People are friendly (really), and the food is amazing. So, here’s my little guide to Paris based on my experiences. Feel free to comment and add your experiences as well.
By Car: From Aachen, Germany to the outskirts of Paris, it takes almost exactly 4 hours by car. Factor in Parisian traffic and a potty stop and it could be longer, but the drive is really very nice, easy, and beautiful.
Things to remember:
- Depending on the gas situation at the time, there is a nice gas station and convenience store right off of the autobahn just south of Mons. It has clean bathrooms, a lot of food and snack items, and, or course, it’s the final gas stop in Belgium. If you are waiting until you get into France, then you’ll find a very nice sign listing the gas stations ahead with prices of the fuel and distances to the stations just across the border. (While in France, you’ll almost always find better prices at a supermarket gas station as opposed to a stand alone gas station.)
- Once you get into France, there will be toll roads and they aren’t always cheap. Have 20 Euros on hand. It won’t cost you all of it, but it’s good to be prepared. They do take credit cards too (visa and mastercard), so if you get stuck without cash, just watch for the credit card lanes and they’ll be a machine to swipe your card.
Driving in Paris:
- The traffic on the highway going through Paris is very heavy, so if you are going south of the city, expect that part of the drive to take a while. Driving through the city is complicated for other reasons…
- The roads are wide, but once off the highway, there are very few painted lanes at all making driving sometimes scary especially in roundabouts. There often does not seem to be much rhyme nor reason to the way traffic flows.
Parking: We’ve parked in lots from 50 Euros/week to 23 Euros/day. It’s best to do the research ahead and find a good lot near your lodging. Transportation is great in Paris, so it’s best to park your car and forget about it while staying in the city.
- From Maastricht to Paris by train takes just over 3 hours and costs roughly 60Euros roundtrip. Go to: http://www.nshispeed.nl/en
- There is an ICE train from Aachen to Paris as well that takes roughly 4 hours and costs about the same as the Maastricht trip. http://www.dbahn.de/ (I’ve heard about this from friends and have read about it online, but can’t find a good website. Dbahn has been challenging. Any suggestions?)
Paris is deceptively big, so though you can easily walk from the Louvre to the Concord or from the Eiffel Tower to the Orsay, you’ll most likely need to use the bus, Metro, or RER trains to get around and see everything that you want to see – especially if the weather is bad.
The most cost effective (and easiest) way to do this is to get a Paris Visite pass which will give you instant access to the Metro, RER train, and bus systems in Paris. Sold by zone and in increments of 1, 2, 3, or 5 days, they will save you fiddling for tickets, standing in line at ticket booths, and quite a bit of money.
Paris Visite Pass: This is invaluable. You can purchase it ahead of time at a zillion websites that sell them, but all the sites I checked sold them (even with the Euro conversion) at the same price or more than the Metro stations themselves, so I’ve always purchased my passes in Paris at the Metro stations on my first day. You can get a pass for different zones. A zone 1-3 pass will get you most everywhere. If you go to Versailles or Paris Disney, you’ll need either get a extra ticket for that day, or get a zone 1-6 pass. Children under 12 are half price. The visite pass is sold in 1, 2, 3, or 5 day increments. All the information that you could need including maps (and in English) is on the official website below.
- http://www.ratp.info/touristes/index.php?langue=en (This site has printable maps of their bus, train, and Metro lines. Read it – it has all the information that you need to make your trip easy.)
How to use the Metro:
- Study the map and know your lines. Some tunnels are very well marked and others are not, so don’t get too comfortable just knowing the color of the line. You want to take note not only of the color, but also the number and the end point on the direction that you’re going. There are signs listing every stop, but they are usually only at some major tunnel intersections. You can walk a lot underground and get turned around in the tunnels if you don’t pay attention to the signs. It’s good to study your map and know where you are going before you get into the tunnel. Walking confidently will reduce your chances of being identified as a clueless tourist/pickpocket victim.
- You will need to run your ticket through the machine to get through the gates and turnstiles. Children ages 4 and under are free, so you’ll need to either carry your child or have them duck under.
- At certain times the trains get crowded. Locals are used to this. They will push and shove and there will be no personal space. Sometimes waiting for a train will help and sometimes there will be more room in a different part of the train. But, usually, you just have to hold your breath and deal with it.
The BATO Bus (Boat taxi):
Some things you just can’t see well from the road, and this fabulous water taxi will give you a different perspective on Paris and a relaxing ride as well. Plus, it’s a big hit with the kids when they get tired and don’t want to walk any more.
The prices are NOT reasonable for one ride, so if you get there at the end of the day, it’s quite a luxury item. But, your ticket is good for an entire day no matter when you buy it, so get the ticket early at one of the 8 stops they make, then you can hop on and off the boat all day. The majority of the boat is covered and heated, so in the bad weather, you can still see some of Paris while staying warm and dry. Both the front and back decks allow passengers, so the areas are small, but if you can brave the elements, you’ll get great photos of the buildings and bridges from here.
On the website, you’ll notice that kids tickets are half price which really helps. They also sell a “Paris a la Carte” ticket that includes bus transportation, but if you have the Metro (Paris Vistie) pass, you won’t need this. It’s a better deal to get the Paris Visite pass for your Metro, RER train, and bus transportation needs and then get just a BATO bus pass for how ever many days you think you’d use it. The price difference between 1 day and 5 days is so minimal, that if you are going to stay in Paris long enough, it would almost be worth getting the 5 day pass. (Especially in bad weather times of year or if you have people in your group who aren’t going to be able to walk as much.)
The Website: http://www.batobus.com/english/index.html
Ok… so you’re in Paris and you know how to get around? Now what? Lodging, sites, and more coming next.