Ah Paris! Is a visit to France and the City of Love on your baby boomer travel list? If so, you’ve come to the right place. In today’s guest post, Boyd Lemon tells boomers how to visit Paris on a budget.
Having visited Paris several times and now living here, I know that Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but baby boomer travelers, don’t despair. I’m going to tell you how you can visit inexpensively on a first time visit to Paris.
Go in October, November, April or May. The weather is still decent, but airfares and hotels are cheaper, and the city is less crowded. Don’t use a travel agent. Do the research yourself. Don’t buy a package; the hotels they use are more expensive than is necessary. As of the fall of 2010, Aer Lingus had the cheapest flights to Paris. As I write this in October, I found a roundtrip fare from Los Angeles for $787 and from New York for $548. It took two hours on the internet, but it is worth it. These fares change—rapidly sometimes–so keep trying. Try the major consolidators, Mobisimo, Kayak, Hotwire, PriceLine, Cheap Ticekts, etc.
Arriving From the Airport
The taxi fare from Charles de Gaulle Airport is about 65 Euros (about $90 at this writing). Boomers can take a train from the airport to Central Paris for less than nine Euros. Either way, it takes about 45 minutes. Just follow the signs after leaving Immigration, or ask at one of the Information Desks. Depending on where your hotel is, you probably will want to get off at the Denfort Rochereau stop, and take a Metro Line from there to your hotel. The only time I wouldn’t recommend this is if you have a lot of luggage to schlep around, but you should pack lightly to avoid this problem. When you get to the Denfort Rochereau stop, a major subway intersection, you can look at the posted maps to determine the line that stops near your hotel, or, better yet, stop at one of the ticket windows and get a subway-bus map, which you are going to need anyway later. The Paris subway (Metro) system is the best in the world. It is user friendly. Baby boomers should learn to use it, because taxis in Paris are expensive.
Hotels are the most expensive part of a trip, so you shouldn’t use one to lounge around in, because then you’ll want one with a nice ambiance, and that is what is expensive. I just use a hotel to sleep in and to ask questions about the city. If you want a luxury hotel, you don’t want to travel economically, and you might as well stop reading this article now. On the other hand, you want one that is clean, quiet so you can sleep and devoid of unpleasant little critters. You would also like a hotel in the city center, but in Paris it is impossible to find a hotel in the city center that is inexpensive, unless you’re willing to sleep in a dorm room with strangers, which I am not. The good news is you can find an inexpensive hotel within a short Metro ride to the city center.
I recommend the Tamaris Hotel, located in the 20th Arrondissment on a small, quiet street, 14 rue des Maraichers. I stayed there in an adequate room with bath during August 2010 for 57 Euros a night booked through Hotels.com, a real bargain by Paris standards. It’s worth it for the funky elevator alone, which must have been the first elevator in the world, but if you tend to fear elevators, use the stairs. It doesn’t engender confidence. If you stay there, you’ll see what I mean. There are several nearby cafes around the corner on Boulevard Vincennes for breakfast.
What To Do
- The 20th Arrondissment is interesting—see the Chateau Vincennes and its gardens, the Sarah Bernhardt Park, the public market on Sunday and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery—all walkable in a half day. You can get to the major tourist sites in Central Paris by a 15 minute Metro ride on Line 1.
- I don’t know of a city that has more art and history, and simply walking around the city and relaxing in the cafes is magical. It is full of wonderful surprises. Walking is free, and you can nurse a café au lait for a long time.
- The first thing to do, before visiting the city center, is to ask at your hotel where the nearest Tourist Center is, and get: a map of the city, called a “Plan”, a map of the Metro and bus system and brochures of the city sites. The first time you take the Metro, ask at the window for ten tickets—10 cost 12 Euros at this writing; singly they cost 1.70 Euros. Despite the great subway and bus system, walk wherever you can; you’ll see more. Boomers should know that in addition to the Metro, there are regional trains called RER that take you to cities near Paris and high speed trains that take you to other cities in France (and throughout Europe), called SVG. The RER and SVG trains can be boarded at one of several major train stations depending on where you are going. The RER makes an inexpensive journey to Chartre Cathedral, Versailles and Giverney (Monet’s home and gardens)
- Museums are less expensive in Paris than in the U.S. At last count Paris has 38. My favorites (with a bias for impressionist and early 20th century art) are Musee D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, Rodin and Picasso. You can save money by getting a ticket that lets you in multiple museums either at a Tourist Center or a museum. Some museums are free on Thursday nights. The Louvre is too overwhelming for me on a short visit, and I am not interested in going up in the Eifel Tower, but it’s your choice.
- Never, never carry your wallet in your back pocket on the subway or in any crowded place in Paris or any other big city. If you have a Bank of America Debit Card, you can get cash from any branch of the BNP Paribas Bank without any charge. They are all over the city.