Please sign in to post.

Best place to walk around and soak up the culture

Hello! My wife and I will be in Paris in about a week for two and a half days. One day will be taken with Versailles, leaving about a day and a half. We of course want to see the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Elysee, Notre Dame, etc., but we want to spend the rest of our available time in a less-touristy area, just walking around and experiencing Paris.

Any suggestions?

Thanks!
Mark

Posted by
1842 posts

Well, with that small amount of time, I'd suggest skipping Versailles altogether and spend more time in Paris.

The walk from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs de Elysee to the Musee D'Orsey is a great walk. Wandering around the Isle de la Citie is lovely. I also suggest a trip on the Metro to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. There's plenty of Parisian atmosphere there. The neighborhood around the catacombs is less touristy and the markets are wonderful. Then there's Montmartre.

I highly suggest you splurge and take a evening tour in a vintage 2CV. Wait until 8:00 when the traffic dies down and do the 2 hour tour. You drive all around the city, stopping at the halfway point to watch the Eiffel Tower lights. Then it's up to Monmartre to see the city lights. They pick you up and drop you off at where you stay. It was a highlight of our stay in Paris.

Posted by
2054 posts

It typically takes 3 to 4 days to see the basics of Paris. That´s 4 to 5 nights.

Given your amount of time, I would unquestionably drop Versailles, get a good guide book and check off as many highlights as you could as well as go to a concert and visit an exposition.

Posted by
9893 posts

I agree with skipping Versailles unless you feel you must see it. I'd suggest doing a walk with the company Paris Walks if there is one of interest on your days. They can take you in to some interesting areas with lots of side streets so it gets you off the main thoroughfares. I always think I am going to remember exactly where we walked so I can get back to some of the places but I never remember them all! They meet up at a Metro stop and end near a Metro stop.

www.paris-walks.com

Posted by
1023 posts

Dare I even say this? Much of Paris is not necessarily touristy, but as travelers, we tend to gravitate to the famous sights, the comfort zone areas of this grand city that enable us to say, "Oh, yes, we went to the Louvre, but it was so packed with tourists! But we did finally see the Mona Lisa--you know it is really small!"

Some of the "outer" arrondissements are the richest insofar as the cultural experience is concerned. I, too, love the 10th. And the 11th. True, there are fewer world class tourist attractions, but I will never forget a morning spent in a public park in the 10th, watching French school children playing on the climbing apparatus under the supervision of their teachers. As I nodded off due to a persistent bit of jet lag, I thought, "this is what France is really like."

A stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens, or along the top of the Promenade Plantee, or even along the city streets connecting the Ecole Militaire and the Place de la Bastille (done without a clear goal in mind) are head clearing activities, and allow for a connection to be made between you and the City of Lights. I agree that off beat places like the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the banks of the Canal Sainte Martin offer an immersion into the reality of Paris. Just about anywhere you can stroll to will allow you to capture a Metro to take you back to your place of origin.

See Notre Dame, by all means, but flee the crowds and find yourself on the streets as a Parisian rather than a tourist captured by the recommendations in your tour book.

Edited to add: By all means, with your limited time, skip Versailles. Much more relaxing and satisfying things to see downtown.

Posted by
8493 posts

To soak up the culture, Marché Aligre in the 12th is authentic, down-to-earth French culture. It’s open six mornings a week.

Posted by
1878 posts

How many times have you visited Paris—if this is your first visit I would agree with dropping Versailles. My wife and I had good results year ago walking in the area around Jardin Les Plantes, in direction of Rue Monge. A good walk that we took led by a local friend was 1 Rue Linne along Rue Lacepede, up to Place de la Contescarpe. You can see the route on Google Street View. Our friend did not mean to be taking on a walk, we were looking for a restaurant but we felt as if she was leading us down a rabbit hole into backroads Paris when we arrived at the plaza referenced above. Might have changed as that was some years ago. Actually a walk in any of the parks especially Lumembourg, Jardin les Plantes, Tullieries would be great. You can also catch a bus near Rick's recommened hotels near Rue Cler, and ride it all the way up to the Marais. Generally many people like the Marais area. It's not without tourists but I found the Trocadero area across from the Eiffel Tower to be a great viewing point for the tower itself. The Place du Trocadero is the far side of a park from the tower, and elevated for a great view. I could not believe that it took me four trips to Paris to discover this, and only on the final night with my wife already sensibly in bed for the night back at the hotel. Rick's book will point out bus routes and walks that are worthwhile. Or most any other guidebook, I am sure.

Posted by
6509 posts

I stayed in the Marais area when I was there and I loved just walking around the area around my apartment. Of course there will be tourists but get away from the main thoroughfares and walk the back streets, visit the local bakeries and shops. Even Place Des Voges, while definitely on the tourist trail, is great for watching Parisians as they go about their daily lives. Another one of my favorite places to walk around was Parc Monceau in the 8th Arr. If you go, get out of the park and walk around the neighborhood too, it's lovely, and busy with locals, and less touristy than, say, Luxembourg Gardens. In the evening I liked walking around the neighborhood behind Notre Dame, also touristy but local too. I'll second the area around the Canal St Martin and a walk along the Promenade Plantee. There's so much to see and so many places to go that a day and 1/2 will feel like 10 mins.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses! A little more info - my wife has not been there but I spent one afternoon and everning there on business about 15 years ago, so I'm somewhat familiar with the central tourist area. We are spending 5 nights in London before taking the Eurostar over on Wednesday September 19th. We will discuss all of your ideas and figure out what we have time to do.

Thank you!

Posted by
340 posts

I'm with what other people have said. Drop Versailles unless is a major focus of your trip. It's easy to spend 3-4 hours with the Eiffel tower (getting there, waiting in line, going up, walk around the vicinity), add in 2 hours for strolling down Champs de Elysee, poking into shops, buying an expensive coffee, lunch, and that's a day right there. I don't think another 1/2 day is going to deliver the experiences you talk about, and you still have Notre Dame to fit in to that time. Honestly less is often more.

IMHO the way to experience Paris is to open yourself up to serendipity; you see a street market and you go peruse the stalls among the Parisians there for their grocery shopping (and you can look up ahead of time what markets there are on the days you are visiting). You see an inviting outdoor cafe and you sit down, people watch, soak it in; buy a drink or coffee and the table is yours until you convince the waiter to bring the bill. You see a street performer outside the Pompidou center and you join the crowd to watch (still one of our favorite memories after many years). You walk around the Jardin du Luxembourg and there is a band playing so you stop to watch and a French grandma explains to you in broken English who is playing and a bit about the park (another favorite memory). You sit at a cafe for a coffee and watch the waiter dash to a boulangerie a few doors down to get the croissants you ordered (happened for us near Rue Moffetard on a street we first saw on the Paris Walks Hemingway tour). Maybe you enjoy the shops strolling down Rue Saint Jacques, a must-see destination for anyone who's ever used the Pimsleur French course. The point I'm making is it takes time to allow things like this to happen, I expect you can have entirely different discoveries and experiences that are just as enjoyable.

Posted by
6 posts

Many say that an evening cruise on the Seine is a must. We're looking in to that, but is an evening walk along the Seine just as good?

Posted by
139 posts

I would definitely suggest a boat ride along the Seine. There are many companies that do those but my favorite is the vedettes du pont Neuf. Their boats are smaller than some of the others such as the bateaux Mouches. Check the time of sunset and take a cruise after that so that you see the city of lights lit up! It is beautiful! If you take a ride on the :45. ( I.e. 8:45, 9:45, etc. ) you will see the Eiffel Tower twinkling! It is gorgeous! A walk along the Seine is lovely but you will see more and from a different perspective if you take a boat ride. Enjoy!

Posted by
6 posts

That's what we're starting to think. We think we can do the 2CV tour our first (half) day there, and the river cruise after Versailles on our second day. (I appreciate everyone's thoughts on skipping Versailles, but it's a must-see for my wife, and it's our 30th anniversary, so...). :)

What are your thoughts on the 2CV tour? We're thinking of doing the two-hour tour. Better during the daylight hours, at night, or overlapping?

I wish there was more I could do to say thanks for all of you taking time out of your busy days to help a stranger, but know that it is very much appreciated!

Mark

Posted by
681 posts

If you want to experience Paris my tip would be to avoid the Champs Elysees. It is huge, multi national chains, nothing charming or very French, except the view down to the Louvre. Also very over priced.
Totally agree with just getting lost in back streets, enjoying a coffee or glass of wine and people watching. Heaven!

Posted by
1127 posts

To me you cannot do better than Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis. Nothing feels more French in Paris. While in many ways touristy, le quartier latin is amazing. Especially Place Saint-Michel.

Posted by
6 posts

@Kathy - There are many companies that do those but my favorite is the vedettes du pont Neuf

Kathy - My wife looked up Rick Steve's recommendations for the river cruises and he seemed to think the tour guide(s) for "Vedettes du Pont Neuf" were "stiff" and the cound system was bad. Bu I assume you had a good experience? When was your cruise?

Thanks!
Mark

Posted by
1842 posts

What are your thoughts on the 2CV tour? We're thinking of doing the two-hour tour. Better during the daylight hours, at night, or overlapping?

Hmm We chose the 2 hour tour starting at 8:00 pm. They recommended 8:00 because the traffic has calmed down by then. Paris is magical any time, but especially at night.

Our driver Pierre (natch) picked us up at our B&B in the Montparnasse section. He was right on time. He is a student who drives at night. His English was excellent. In addition to hitting all the big attractions, including watching the Eiffel Tower light show at 9:00, he took us into typical Parisian neighborhoods. He was very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of history of the different sites.

He asked us where we were from and when we told him Macon, GA, he immediately reached for his iPhone. In no time Otis Redding was playing through his Bluetooth speaker. For the next 2 1/2 hours (he was having so much fun he was late returning us to our B&B) he played his favorite R&B and soul between descriptions of town. We also got a little Edith Piaf and other French music thrown in. The top of the 2CV was thrown back. There's nothing like trundling through the streets of Paris, singing along with your driver to Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign" at full voice! ("You know wine and women is all I crave...")

Posted by
9893 posts

"Many say that an evening cruise on the Seine is a must. We're looking in to that, but is an evening walk along the Seine just as good?"

It's only a must if it's important to you. To me...no interest at all and I'd rather walk!

Since you are going to Versailles, be sure to make yourself pickpocket-proof while you are in the crowded rooms in the Palace. I was on a RS tour that included Versailles a few years ago and we had those whisper sets so the guides could talk into our ears. At one point the local guide (who is also a regular guide for RS) said "The guard in this room just told me there are pickpockets working the room so be on guard." (Well, I wondered why if they knew who they were they didn't stop them and at least escort them out but oh well...and maybe they recognized them but had not seen them take anything that day?) So...have on your moneybelts and don't have anything easily accessible to others either in your pockets or your wife's purse. Have her hold her hand over the zipper closure and have the bag in front of her.

Posted by
139 posts

@Mark... I am a French teacher and for over 20 years I have taken high school students to France. I have always had a great experience on the vedettes boats. It is not personalized or upscale but if you are just interested in the views ( which are amazing) and a basic but interesting commentary I would definitely go with the vedettes du pont neuf. If you are looking for something more upscale then perhaps this is not the right tour but for 10€ you will get a great view on a relatively small boat . I’m traveling to Paris next May with my husband and another couple who have never been to Paris. We will be doing the vedettes boat ride. I never tire of those views;)!

Posted by
3336 posts

My family stayed in the 12th this summer for about a month and it was a very real French neighborhood! We were very close to the Marche Aligre which is a daily street market that is exactly what you expect it to be! We went every other day or so to buy gorgeous produce and browse the brocante. Take the metro to the station Ledru Rollin and walk southeast...check out Google maps for an exact location to walk there...about a 5 minute walk. If you want a slice of the real Paris, this neighborhood and market is it.

Posted by
6 posts

Just booked the 2CV tour for our first afternoon there. We will plan to end the tour (around 5:00 PM) in a neighborhood where we can explore and get dinner. We'll do the river cruise the next night after Versailles. That will leave most of our last day for exploring.

Thanks, everyone!

Mark

Posted by
7691 posts

I've got to say I disagree with this well-meaning advice:

The walk from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs de Elysee to the Musee D'Orsey is a great walk.

If I only had a day and a half in Paris, I would certainly not want to spend part of it walking down the Champs-Elysées, which is jam-packed with tourists, those who prey on them, and big box stores. A most unpleasant experience, in my book!!

Posted by
2349 posts

Kim, I absolutely agree! The funny thing is that when I took my husband to see the Arc at night, we walked down afterwards to the next Metro stop. I was thinking how much I disliked the Champs, and he told me how much he enjoyed it! He's not a shopper and doesn't usually like crowds, so I can't explain it. But I avoid it.

Posted by
1842 posts

I've got to say I disagree with this well-meaning advice:

Well, it's hard to argue with someone who lists their address as Paris! I guess we were there at the right time. It wasn't crowded with tourists and only one "survey" taker made a half-hearted effort to distract us. We popped into an eyeglass store and bought some clip on sunglasses at a reasonable price. I found a department store and bought more SD cards and looked at lenses for the camera I bought before we left. It was brisk Fall morning our first day there and we wanted to stretch our legs before spending the afternoon in museums. The Metro would have gotten us to the museums from the Arch de Triomphe in a few minutes, but the scenery wouldn't have been better.

It was also a retracing of an evening walk we had taken 51 years ago when we were high school students in Paris for the first time. I also wanted to see if the Ferrari dealership we had found on the first trip was still there. I do agree, if time is short, there are better places in Paris to stroll.

I'm reminded of a song:

If l had my way
I'd just walk out those doors
And wander
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret
-"Free Man In Paris", Joni Mitchell

Posted by
1842 posts

DougMac - How is the legroom in the 2CV? My husband is 6'3", would he have to fold up?

He may have to ride standing up. ;-) I'm 6 feet and could fit but it was "cozy". We rode in the back. If he sits behind the front passenger seat and the driver pulls it up. I think it will work. Still, Barnum and Bailey comes to mind. :D

Posted by
7691 posts

Now DougMac, if the walk also reminded you of your first trip to Paris, when you and your wife were students together, I can SEE how it would have been captivating!!

Indeed, everyone's experience is different. That's why I didn't say you were wrong, simply that I disagreed. We have different opinions, and that's fine!

Posted by
45 posts

After lots of research, we decided to stay in a boutique hotel (hotel de banville) in the 17th. We selected it because it's in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Because it's close to public transportation, we will be able to visit our favorite museums and restaurant (Comptoir de la Gastronomie), while enjoying evenings away from the hustle bustle of the city.

Has anyone stayed in the 17th? If so, what did you think? Susan