Off to Paris – here’s what you need to know

Planning tips

I am fortunate enough to have been to Paris twice before so planning our earlier trip this year was no trouble at all.

A key part of planning your European vacation is obtaining a Schengen visa. Application for a Schengen visa is made at the consulate of the country of first point of entry, or the country in which you spending the most number of days. I tend to plan my trip such that I am able to present myself at the nearest consulate or Capago office. Obtaining a Schengen visa is quite onerous as you need to plan every last detail of your trip beforehand, leaving with you with little or no flexibility once you there.

When searching for a suitable hotel, it is preferable to find one close to the main metro stations, to avoid the hassle of needing to change trains. It is relatively easy to get around Paris due to the underground train network, and if you prefer to walk, the main attractions are within close proximity to each other. We settled on Hotel Stella Etoile. The hotel is situated close to the Arc De Triomphe and the Champs Elysees and one of the most affordable hotels in Paris at the time of our booking. Although we had a room with a view of the Arc De Triomphe, the bathroom and overall size of the room was very small, considering we also had large suitcases.

View from our hotel room

We flew via Frankfurt from Johannesburg with SAA. The service from the SAA crew left little to be desired but we were sold on an overnight flight into Europe and we tried not to take notice. The one advantage of visiting the EU region is that you go through immigration just once, even when you are travelling between countries.

Once you arrive in Paris, you will be approached by non-official taxi drivers. Little did we know that there is an airport shuttle bus that makes a stop at Via Carnot, on the same street as our hotel. A one-way ticket costs approx €10 per person and tickets can be purchased on the bus.

Tourist attractions

I’ve listed the main tourist attractions below with a short note on my experience, some tips for your visit as well as the nearest metro stations.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

The entrance to the cathedral is free and there is hardly a queue. If you do notice a queue it is probably for access to the tower where you can enjoy amazing views of the city. It is a long, narrow staircase leading all the way to the top, enough for one way traffic only. Please be cautious if you travelling with elderly people.

Metro station – Hotel De Ville

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is an iconic Paris landmark and a must-see both during the day and at night. Summit the tower during the day to enjoy exceptional views of the city. Tickets can be pre-booked online for a specific date and time. This way you avoid the long queues. Don’t despair if you cannot buy tickets online for the highest summit as these tickets can be purchased from the ticket office on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower.

At night, you want to view the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Park, which is situated directly opposite the tower on the river side. Every hour on the hour from 9pm onwards (I think) until midnight, the tower sparkles. It is such an amazing sight and a definite must-see.

Metro – Trocadero Park

Seine River cruise

Seine River Cruise
Views from the Seine River

For a first time traveller, a cruise along the Seine is a wonderful way to take in the city. Boats dock across from the Eiffel Tower and tickets can be purchased here. Please note there is a recorded guide in English, but this is only available inside the boat.

Metro – Trocadero Park

Arc De Triomphe

Arc De Triomphe

The Arc De Triomphe can be accessed via the nearest subway (underground) as it stands in the middle of the busiest traffic circle. If you do wish to go up to the top, there is a small entrance fee and a short queue.

Metro – Charles De Gaulle Etoile

The Louvre

The Louvre

One can easily spend days in the Louvre. The museum is filled with paintings and sculptures going back many years, although most tourists have one mission only – to see the famous Mona Lisa.

There are multiple entrances to access the Louvre, the most popular being through the glass pyramid, as per the pic above. Although the quickest access is via the shopping mall entrance, which I would highly recommend.

Metro – Louvre De Rivoli

Chateâu de Versailles

Chateau De Versailles Gardens
Chateau De Versailles

Chateau de Versailles was once home to royalty. It is approximately an hour out of the city by train. A separate ticket is required and can be purchased at most metro stations in Paris. We visited the palace over the Easter weekend which wasn’t a good idea in hindsight, due to the long queues. The grounds, gardens and musical fountains are probably more impressive than the inside of the Chateau. Allow for at least 5-6 hours at a minimum for your visit including the train trip back to the city. Tickets can be purchased online as well.

Metro – Bir Hakeim and RER C

The Big Wheel

The Big Wheel

The Big Wheel (similar to those in a merry go round) was quite a disappointment. It was relatively expensive for a short ride and the views are not that impressive.

Metro – Concorde

The Love Lock Bridge

The Love Lock Bridge

If you looking to declare your undying love to your significant other, you may want to carry a lock with your names or alternatively buy one there…you welcome! 🙂

Metro – Louvre / Pont Neuf

Shopping in Paris

For curios and gifts, the souvenior shops close to the Notre Dame Cathedral offer good value for money. If you looking for clothing items, then try the shops on Rue De Rivoli. The big brand names can be found on the Champs Elysees.

Metro – Hotel De Ville (for Rue De Rivoli)

Food in Paris

Crepes in Paris
Street vendors in Paris

Pastries, crepes and macaroons are a must. Crepes are best eaten fresh from the street vendors. Laduree is famous for their tarts and macaroons and you can find a store on Champs Elysees.

And yes, its true what they say. Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world.


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