Getting around any city that you are not familiar with can be challenging. I grew up in a small town where the closest thing to public transport is grabbing a lift with a friend. The last time we checked, uber didn’t function there yet. So when it comes to getting around a new place, especially a city like Paris, I had no idea where to begin. Which means I had to learn quickly. Thankfully I have a very travel savvy and adventurous husband. Which is why I wanted to write this article. For people who are more like me.
That time we took a car to Paris
The first time we went to Paris we were coming from Belgium, and would be leaving for Amsterdam 48 hours later. We would be travelling through three cities in a week, so we would be in Paris with a car. That meant that we had to choose a hotel that actually had parking. This meant staying further away from the city’s centre.
I would never recommend a car in Paris. Firstly, even when staying further away from the city centre in a hotel that has parking, paring your car remains expensive. VERY expensive. And don’t think having a car in Paris will help you get around. Even if you are willing to pay the very expensive parking fees, there is still the small matter of actually finding parking.
Young, eager and naive, Mauritz and I ventured into the city with our rental car after booking into our hotel to try and orientate ourselves. We parked the car, paid for an hour what we would probably pay for 3 or 4 day’s parking back in South Africa (I am not exaggerating) and toddled off to explore. We were literally one minute late upon our return to the car, and found a ticket tucked under a windscreen wiper. I was a little shattered. We had barely been in Paris for two hours and we had a parking violation. In French. We returned the car to its expensive parking spot in our hotel and used google translate to attempt to figure out what the official looking layers of paper meant.
After some frustration, and lots of positive thinking, we decided that the document appeared to be a warning.
The time we decided to rather take the train
On our second trip we were more informed. We knew what we were up against. We actually drove back to Brussels, returned our rental car and caught a train directly from Brussels to Paris. And with the ticket being a bar code on either your phone or ipad, the process was really easy. We caught a train into Paris and then we took the subway. We got out less than a kilometre from our hotel and walked the rest of the way. In the rain, but we could still get to our hotel although we were sopping wet. This time, when we booked our hotel we knew that we wanted to be closer to the heart of Paris. But we also made sure that the hotel that we were choosing was walking distance away from a subway.
Be prepared to walk when you visit Paris. Far. And a lot. It’s part of the experience. One of the coolest ways to get around for me, though, was their public bicycle system.
In Paris, it’s called Velib’, but we have seen a similar system in Brussels. It’s so practical I can see the system spreading quickly to other cities. Basically, for small fee you buy a pass with your credit card which can last between a day, a week or a year. A day pass costs 1,80€ and a week pass costs 8€. When you buy your pass, a substantial sum is reserved on your card as a deposit to encourage you to return your bicycle. You then use your card, and your pin to release bicycles from the velib bicycle stations. If you ride your bicycle for less than half an hour before locking it back into an electronic bicycle stand at a different station you don’t pay for your ride. And if you cycle longer the fee is rather minimal and gets larger the longer you ride your bicycle.
We seldom cycled for more than half an hour at a time. When your pass expires the fees for your bike rental are taken off your deposit, and most of your money is returned. There are stations scattered all over Paris, and as there 23 600 bicycles at over 1800 stations in Paris it’s not difficult to find a bicycle or a station close to you. You seldom need to walk for more than a block or two before finding Velib.
Just in case you think you’re not up for a cycle in Paris, here is a video of me dismounting my velib’ bicycle while wearing a skirt and heeled boots.
What to choose
I don’t recommend taking a car to Paris. Our two train tickets in and out of the city cost much less than parking our car in Paris would have cost us. It also meant that we could stay in the heart of the city, a few hundred meters from The Louvre. Cycling is definitely the way to get around in Paris. I will admit that distances become relative when you are in Paris. I never thought I’d say, it’s 1.5km to the shops. That’s too close to cycle, we’ll just walk. There are always options of you don’t want to cycle more than a few kilometers. If you aren’t up for pedaling you can always catch the subway or a bus.