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1st time every trip to Europe. Paris or London?

I am 56. This will be my very 1st time to Europe. I don't want a huge trip, just a week-ish to get my feet wet to kind of get the feel for Europe. I am debating between seeing Paris (the Eiffel tower I've always wanted to see), or London, England - because I am part English. I am sooo torn. And I am hoping to keep this somewhere between $2000-$2500.00 tops (because this doesn't even include airfare). Any suggestions. And I will be travelling solo. Thank you for any help or tips you could offer. Cathy Ortiz (Bothell, Washington State).

Posted by
5251 posts

Do you think you'll be returning to Europe in the years to come, assuming that you enjoy this trip and want to go back? Do you know any French?

If this is potentially your first trip, not your only one, and if your French is slim or nonexistent, then I'd suggest London instead of Paris because it will be an easier introduction to Europe. The Brits speak (more or less) the same language and you'll feel more comfortable if you can communicate. Just be sure to look right, not left, before you cross the streets. If you have a good time and want another trip, then make it Paris or wherever else you want to be. If you have some Spanish, you might want to visit Spain (just remember to lisp, unlike in Latin America).

If you really want to see the Eiffel Tower you could take a day trip from London to Paris and back on the Eurostar train, not too expensive if you get your ticket 90 days ahead. But I wouldn't recommend that kind of city-hopping if all you have is a week.

You can save on airfare by flying Icelandair from Seattle to Reykjavik to London, or to Paris. It's about 7 hours overnight to Reykjavik, arriving at dawn, with an easy connection to a shorter flight to London, Paris, or elsewhere in northern Europe. Total time is a couple of hours longer, they're narrow-body planes, and the food isn't free, but overall a good value.

Check out Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door and his London and/or Paris guides, and others like Lonely Planet and the beautiful DK series. (I mean literally, from the library.) See what interests you most and plan around it. You might want to buy a guidebook for whichever city you decide to visit. Or take the library book to Kinko's and copy pages with the info you need most, to save money and weight.

I went to Europe a few times in my teens and early 20s, then not again till I was 59, then a lot since then. It's never too late to start! Have fun!

Posted by
11450 posts

Cathy there is no right answer here. I like London very much.. only been four times but am going again this summer.. however.. I love Paris and been countless times over 4 decades..

Some will say "London" because there is no language barrier.. but really, most tourists who go to France don't speak french either.. and get along just fine.

I have done both cities solo and I did notice feeling less out of place solo in France.. look around at cafes... many women will sit down alone.. I didn't feel quite as comfortable at a pub in London.. but still did fine..

As for money.. well I think London is stupid expensive , I can find a dozen good clean central hotels in Paris in summer for 100 euros or less... but finding the same think in London for 100 GBPs ( and you know how much more the pound costs then the euro or dollar) was challenging.. ( but I finally find the Celtic Hotel thanks to some recommdations here )

Time of year my have some influence too.. when are you planning trip.. ?

I think both choices are great.. but if I was you and blowing all the money on airfare anyways.. why not make it a 10 day trip.. five days in London.. take the Eurostar ( 2.5 hours city center to city center) to Paris and spend last 4 days there flying home of the fifth day from Paris.

Where are flying from?

Posted by
16750 posts

Paris. Paris. Paris. In a week, you'll feel like a Parisian. And I think Paris can be a less expensive than London IMHO. Besides, you won't feel like you're really in Europe until you hear people speaking French.

Posted by
1994 posts

Cathy, I also think it would be wonderful if you could extend your trip by a few days and do both cities that interest you. As you determine how many days you can afford with your 2000-2500 budget, I'd suggest first investigating how much you'll be spending a day on lodging, since that will be the biggest ticket item after airfare.

I was recently pricing single rooms in London for this Sept and found some surprisingly good prices if you are OK with simple housing (and can forego things like concierge service, front desk staff for answering questions, room service, etc). I'm not sure when you'll be traveling, but a number of schools rent out student housing that's not being used during school breaks (London School of Economics had a number of options in some great locations). I also found some reasonably priced rooms by Googling "religious guesthouse London". EasyHotel also has a number of properties, but look carefully at TripAdvisor reviews for EasyHotel to see if you would be happy there; I don't think I'd stay there. If you want a hotel, I've had good luck with the RS recommendations, as well as the website EuroCheapo. I've not used AirBnB, but they also list some very reasonably priced rooms; just keep in mind that you're renting from a private person with a spare bed, room, or apartment, so look carefully at recent reviews and follow your instincts if something seems weird or spooky. Also, I was surprised how inexpensive the Eurostar train is from London to Paris, provided you buy your ticket very early.

In Paris, I like Grand Hotel Jeanne d'Arc; very simple, great location in the Marias (near Metro, food shops, walk to Notre Dame, pretty neighborhood). I don't know their current price, but when I've stayed, they were quite reasonable, given the location. (Breakfast is relatively expensive at most hotels; you can do better picking up something in a local cafe.)

If you decide to do two cities, fly into one and out of the other so you can avoid wasting vacation time on backtracking. I'd suggest starting with London, since it won't present an immediate language barrier.

And try to enjoy the planning. I find that I enjoy planning almost as much as the travel.

Posted by
2246 posts

Ummm…PARIS!! As Sam suggests above, you'll really feel like you're in Europe when you are in Paris. Observing the basic niceties of communication-bonjour, bonsoir, merci, sil vous plait, and a few others, often reveals a French person who is an english speaker too. If it's one or the other, I would say Paris. It does seem less expensive to me, too.
Wherever you go, it's going to be great!
Dave

Posted by
2081 posts

Welcome cathy_ortiz2003,

first off, you realize you will loose a day getting there?

Second, do you realize you will probably be there long enough to get acclimated to the time shift and then head on back home only to have to go thru it again? I did it on a whim, and the jet lag hit me really hard.

Speaking French isnt a big deal. If you can remember some words to get you by, it will make your time easier and the French will appreciate it. I dont speak alot of french just some basic stuff and i was able to have an AWSOME time in Paris. My lack of French or any other language wont stop me from going to France or any country.

Since you want to "get your feet wet" on this trip, may as well make it a doozy and go to Paris. And if you want to get really adventurous, you can go to an English speaking country across the channel. That way, when you go back, it wont be as bad. Especially if you go back to England/London and take a day trip or more back to FRance.

If you can spend more time there, it would be nice to split the time between London and France.

Also, what you can do if you feel like it is to do both places. Use London as your first stop to "get your feet wet" and then head on over to Paris. Spending 4 or so days in London you will eventually feel comfortable traveling solo and have some idea on how to travel. Then you can head on over to Paris for 4 days too.

Traveling solo is like traveling with anyone else. but you like the person youre traveling with.

happy trails.

Posted by
11613 posts

I travel solo almost all the time, and find plenty of other women traveling solo, too, so you won't have a problem there. Which city? Start the list of the things you want to see/do and then decide. Both London and Paris are expensive. Check hotel sites like booking.com to compare prices and neighborhoods and read the reviews - then you can book through their site or directly with the hotel.

i like to stay in places that include breakfast, there's at least a theoretical opportunity to meet other guests. During the day I'm usually so interested in what I'm doing that I enjoy being by myself.

London or Paris? It's a coin toss.

Posted by
11450 posts

just a note.. hotels in Paris generally do not include breakfast,, and if they do its built into the price ( no bargain).. and hotel breakfasts range from 9-15 euros .. whereas breakfast down at the corner cafe ranges from 5-8 euros.. Hotel breakfas ts in France are usually breads/pastries, butter , jam tea/coffee ,sometimes with cereal , cheese and yougurts thrown in.. a cooked egg breakfast.. not at any 1 or 2 star I have ever stayed at.. and even at the 3 stars the eggs were usually an extra surcharge with breakfast ( if available and I've only seen that a few of hotels I have stayed at )..Most small hotels ( budget -moderate price range) simply do not do cooked breakfasts as they have no real kitchens and do not have restaurants attached.

However I find that hotel breakfasts in London can be much much better..I try and find hotels that include it there !

Posted by
1915 posts

Definitely Paris. I've been to Europe more than a dozen times and still haven't been to London. And I too have English ancestors. I think I like being places where street signs and menus are in a different language and it feels more like a foreign adventure.

My biggest tip: Just remember to smile and say "Bon Jour" every time you interact with a French person (in a shop, your hotel, in a ticket office). And bring comfortable walking shoes; you'll love the metro system, but even it requires a lot of walking. You'll have a great time.

Posted by
2246 posts

Paris is not big on breakfast. We tried to have a bit of fruit and juice in our hotel room, so if we needed something first thing it was there, then maybe grab an espresso and croissant or something when we head out. There's lots of "real food" for lunch, of course, and if you are careful and a little strategic, you can keep your budget in shape. L' As du Fallafel, in Le Marais, comes to mind for good, filling, reasonably priced food-there's lots of that in Paris.
As far as Paris v London, Paris to us felt more "open" than London. Paris was very busy, but London was insane. We found it more difficult to get somewhere quickly on the Tube than on the Metro in Paris. And by the way, there are apps for those that are indispensable, in my opinion.

Best, Dave

Posted by
98 posts

Just an FYI in case you do decide to visit BOTH London and Paris (which would be my recommendation), be sure to fly into London and out of Paris as the departure tax from London to the U.S. is huge (over $200USD). You can avoid this by flying to London first, Eurostar to Paris as has been recommended and then leave from Paris. As was mentioned earlier the Eurostar trip is very easy and not expensive if you book way in advance. I have done the London-Paris trip twice....once by myself ( I am also 56) and can tell you that I was very comfortable traveling solo. I agree with everyone who has said that all you need is a few words of French, be sure to greet everyone you come into contact with and you will be fine on your own. I found that even though most people in Paris claim to know "just a little bit" of English I was able to communicate with them quite well. If I could speak French half as good as they speak English I would be so happy! Whatever you decide you will have a great trip. Happy trails.

Posted by
11450 posts

Something I want to make clear.French people are very particular about language usage.. grammar, formal versus casual .etc etc.Social gaffes can be made by speaking incorrectly. So.. while many french folks do know some english they are very EMBARRASSED to speak english if they think they will botch it up. Once they hear you slaughter their language they will often let their guard down and try their english( which yes, is often better then your french)
We as foreigners often mistake their reluctance to use english intially as being "cold" " rude" or "snobbish" but 99% of the time its just a cultural misunderstanding..
I speak for my my french relatives who are sweet people..but can barely speak english.. and some of my older relatives speak no more then "hello, goodbye, how much" lol

Posted by
98 posts

Pat, I hope you did not think that I was inferring that the reluctance to speak English by anyone I had contact with in France was thought of as being rude or snobbish (at least not by me). I appreciate your explanation of their reluctance.....it makes complete sense. The French people that I have had contact with have all been very polite and kind. As a matter of fact I have been amazed at the way many people I have come across, in many different cities in France, went out of their way to assist me with directions, suggestions, etc. I believe that the only reason a person ANYWHERE is rude to another person is if they are treated in a rude manner to begin with. As my late husband was fond of saying, "approach is everything". I will be practicing my very limited French before I make my trip to France this summer in the hope that I don't slaughter the beautiful language too horribly.

Posted by
11450 posts

oh no Lori.. I didn't take anything negative from your post,, I just know over the years I have seen the misunderstanding about why and when the french will speak english.. I see frequently people say "they act like they don't understand you , but once we tried talking to them in french they all of a sudden could speak english" ... and I was just trying to explain that to a french person they would never admit to "speaking english" if they felt their english was very poor.. and they are hard judges of themselves.. but once they hear how badly some of us speak french they then feel at ease to try their less then perfect english.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been with my family members in France , who "do not speak english" ... only to have them switch to english with me when they hear how awful my french is.. and these people don't hate me,, they oddly enough seem to like me very much .. I am the token foriegn relative that they invite to their homes .. lol

With my godfather ( who has now passed away) I always joked "my french gets better after 2 glasses of wine" to which he would burst out laughing and say "no it doesn't we just pretend to understand you better after we've had two glasses of wine"

Posted by
2526 posts

Asking whether to travel to London or Paris by posting the question under the selected country option of France, leads to obvious responses.

Posted by
50 posts

When deciding which new city in Europe to go to first, I would make a list of all of the differnet places you want to see in Europe, and see how many of them are in one city. The city with the most number of sites you want to visit should be your first trip. Have you considered Rick Steves 7 days in London or Paris tour. They are reasonably priced considering everything you get with the tour, plus you have a tour guide if you want to go to a city where you do not speak the language. They do a really good job of teaching you to get around Europe on your own. My husband and I are taking what we learned two years ago on the 7 days in Paris tour and going back on our own this year.

Posted by
1154 posts

Our first trip was spent in London but with a day trip via the Eurostar to Paris. We took the first train out and a late train back to London. Easy to do. Check www.seat61.com for all you'll need to get a cheap round trip ticket (120 days prior to travel). That will whet your appetite for Paris. We took a taxi from Gare du Nord, the Eurostar arrival station, to Notre Dame, about 15 Euros. We had booked a hop on hop off bus and caught it near there. You can do all of this online. Just make sure you let your credit card company know you are making foreign purchases before you start booking things. Check out Premier Inn and Travelodge for London. They have fantastic sales--we once stayed 5 nights in London for 45 pounds, (GBP) around $70! We are going again in April and have booked rooms in London for 29 GBP. Both chains are plain hotels but comfy and well located and you won't find much cheaper. www.travelodge.co.uk, www.premierinn.com

Posted by
2706 posts

You can do both in a week, easily. I did for my first trip. Then I did the same trip again as my first trip with small children (20months and 4). An easy itinerary (you'd want London first, I think):

1 - Arrive into London, have a low-key jet-lagged walking Day
2 - A few top London sights, depending on preference (Tower, British Museum, whatever your top priorities are)
3 - more top London sights
4 - train to Paris. PM train for more time in London, or AM if you want more Paris. Book many weeks in advance for best fares
5 - Top Paris sites (Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc)
6 - More top Paris sites
7 - More Paris or a trip to Versailles
8 - Go home from Paris

It's really the perfect intro-to-Europe week long trip, in my opinion.

If you have to pick one, I'd pick Paris. I actually prefer London personally, but Paris is more like the rest of Europe (language barrier, more cultural differences), so will feel more "exotic" and whet your appetite for more travel.

$2000 plus air is fine. For 7 days of touring, that's about $300 per day. For 1 person in an expensive place, that's good. If you mean $2000, including air, you're in trouble because a flight will be about $1200.

Posted by
3696 posts

Really like Mira's scenario... I would definitely do both and see if you have a burning desire to return to either one... if you do, you will find a way to make it happen. I would be really sad to spend a whole week in London with Paris so close and not spend a few days there. If you are only choosing one, I would have to say Paris:)) Makes you choices so you will return home with 'no regrets', and base them on what you want to do...not what someone else tells you is the proper way to travel. Have a wonderful trip:))

Posted by
1501 posts

Mira gave an excellent itineraryfor a first trip!

Posted by
38 posts

Hi Cathy -- I won't make a recommendation to you 'cause folks much much much more experienced than I have made great suggestions, and I do love the idea of doing both if you could. But I also like the idea of settling into a neighborhood and getting to know it. I just returned last week from a 7-day trip that was a day at each end for travel and 5 days in Paris (SOLO, first trip) in the middle. You can read the trip report I posted today here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/60th-birthday-solo-5-days-in-paris By way of fair disclosure, my limited European travel includes Ireland (part Irish, with my husband, met cousins there, and loved it); Denmark (part Danish, stayed for a week with my cousins there); and now Paris -- and I am completely in love with Paris and am plotting and scheming my return. Whatever you do, enjoy!

Posted by
1 posts

For a first trip to Europe, I would recommend visiting both Paris and London. They are both world class cities and are similar in many ways, but very different in others. For example, when it comes to fine dining, Paris, with 81 Michelin starred restaurants, has a slight edge over London which has 61. And when it comes to the other end of the spectrum, one of these cities has 53 McDonalds and the other one has 321! Do you know which one has more?

For more interesting facts and comparisons about Paris and London, see this brilliant infographics:
http://www.alphaholidaylettings.com/vacationfeatures/50/infographicLondonvsPariscomparecitybreaksdestinations

Posted by
39 posts

Thank you EVERYBODY for you input! Seriously, thank you! I havent checked this posting for quite sometime. Coming back and looking at all the responses, wow! Well, I followed my instincts and I'm going to PARIS! Putting any fears or apprehensions aside, putting my big girl you know what on, and DOING IT!!! and to the one posting, yes, I know I posted my question under "France", so maybe I get a "duh" on that-meaning postings would be "pro Paris" (my words ofcourse, not yours)... but I think I've gotten a pretty fair - across the board assessment of both countries. Folks here seem very open-minded, offer comments from both countries, so I think you are all wonderful and I appreciate every little suggestion/comment. Merci! -- ?right?" ;) hehe cathy (bothell, WA)