AIRPORT ARRIVAL HACK
If you are travelling with luggage and/or kids the best way to get to central Paris from the Charles De Gaulle airport is Uber. The drivers hang out at Departures on the lower level, so request one via the app and start moving (take the elevator) as it will be there right away. Cost is 45 Euros versus 65 Euros in a taxi give or take.
CELL PHONE HACK
Your first stop should be the Free Mobile store near the Madeleine to buy a French SIM card from their vending machines (10 Euros) and a one-month phone plan which starts at just 5 Euros. Bring phones for the kids too, and put them on the basic texting plan for emergencies. In under 10 minutes you’ll have a French phone number (also useful for getting deliveries to your AirBnb) and won’t run up a $1000 bill using Google maps. The 20 Euro plan includes unlimited international calling. Note: Make sure you get your service provider to “unlock” your phone for international use before you go which can be done over the phone. To dial the ‘+” sign needed for French phone numbers, (+33) hold down the zero until the plus sign appears.
Getting a day or week pass online for Paris’ bike share program Velib’ is a good option for sightseeing and their app works well for finding nearby bikes and parking spots. There are now several stations that have 3 sizes of kids bikes, called P’tit Velib’ and helmets, which recently became law for kids in France. BUT, if you see a bike in the stand with its seat backward it means it is busted so don’t touch it. Insider note: the Velib’ system is being phased out as a new start-up recently won the contract. You’ll find maintenance of the current system not what it used to be.
FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON HACK
It’s a spectacular Frank Gehry-designed art gallery you won’t want to miss, located in the sprawling Bois de Boulogne. The best way to get there? The silver Louis Vuitton electric shuttle that runs from the Arc de Triomphe every 20 minutes and costs 1 Euro. Even if you just go to see the building and the surrounding Jardin D’Acclimation (a wonderland for kids with a water park, puppet theatre, zoo and carnival rides). Note: there is free music in the bandstand on Sunday afternoons so bring a picnic.
PANORAMIC VIEWS HACK
Hands down the best views of Paris are from the rooftops of the Grand Magasins, Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. The rooftop of the Galleries is accessed only by an escalator tucked away on the top floor and there is a Champagne bar in summer. Any time of year do can grab a coffee or wine from the cafeteria on the roof and join the locals enjoying their lunchbreaks there with 360 degree views. Just be careful how much you spend on the way down!
EIFFEL TOWER HACK
I beg you, don’t go up it and waste half a day, but it’s an amazing piece of architecture to see up close. The best views are from inside the newly re-opened Musée de L’Homme (free for kids). There is a cafeteria on the top floor or a tapas restaurant with a patio that have pristine views of the tower. For a more romantic option, book a table at Monsieur Blue in the Palais De Tokyo art gallery across the river for the same view but at night.
I can’t imagine anything worse than booking a tour bus to Versailles. It’s super easy and cheap to get to from the Gare St Lazare with trains leaving every 15 minutes for under 5 Euros. We go Sunday mornings (the train takes 45 minutes and is usually empty), shop at the amazing market, and picnic on the grounds of Versailles which are free (though you still must go through the security lines). Boat and bike rentals on the canal are fun too.
I would always recommend the smaller museums of Paris first (like the newly redone Picasso-Paris museum in the Marais with its rooftop deck, or the refurbished Musée Rodin in Saint- Germain-des-Près with its sculpture garden). But if you must do the Louvre, enter through the Metro entrance which has the shortest line. Still, be prepared to wait up to 2 hours. And if it is the first Sunday of the month when most museums are free, God help you.
MONET’S HOUSE AND GARDEN HACK
If you pre-buy your ticket at a FNAC store (the French equivalent of Best Buy) you can enter through the Groups entrance at the foot of the garden and avoid the line. Also, the Museum used to be closed on Mondays and the tour groups haven’t quite caught up to that, so Monday is a good day to go. For complete information on getting there, see my Paris Giverny Day Trip post here.
AIRPORT DEPARTURE HACK
If your flight happens to be in the morning you might not want to use Uber this time. Because drivers want to work the night shifts, there is a shortage in the morning, and thus always surge pricing (up to 300%).