In April I traveled to Paris with with wife. In less than a year, we’ve visited Rome, London and now Paris. It was also the first time we were hosted at an Airbnb. In the following post I’ll talk a bit about the city and also about the Airbnb experience.
We arrived in the city from the Paris CDG airport by taking a train and then a RER that left us right at the Musée d’Orsay. Our apartment was a few meters away just in the middle of the city. As always, if you plan to visit a big one it’s always worth checking its corresponding Wikitravel entry.
Compared to London or Rome, we found Paris to be much bigger. Distances between most landmarks are greater. In Rome, for example, the catacombs are so far away that you know you can’t walk your way there, but if you start from the geographical center of the city, only a few things are a bit far, like Vatican City or the Coliseum. However, in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame cathedral or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart are almost in the corners of the city (Notre Dame was formerly the center of Paris but the city has expanded greatly to the West). The financial district with its Grande Arche is even farther away. Unless you’re used to taking long walks, I recommend that you use the Paris metro as much as possible.
Speaking about the metro, the one in Paris isn’t as good as the one in London. Lines and connections are weirder, in my opinion, and its looks much worse. The London metro doesn’t look brand new at all, but it’s got a used feel like a pair of old jeans: it’s wore down, but it’s good and it works. The Paris metro, on the other hand, looks plain dirty and somehow unmaintained. The lack of a proper discount pass like London’s Travelcard (combined with an Oyster card in that case) is a bit disappointing and inconvenient at times, but the Paris metro is much cheaper and buying individual tickets or batches of 10 won’t set you back as much money as a Travelcard (which costs 30 GBP!).
Knowing the metro is not pretty will make you pay attention to the things outside. Paris' greatest beauty as a city lies in its architecture and avenues, following its alignment laws. This is best appreciated from a high point and nothing is better in this regard than the top of the Eiffel Tower. Its gardens and parks are also remarkable.
If you’re into museums, the Paris Museum Pass is a must. It grants you access to many priority queues and lets you visit important and large museums like Louvre several times without incurring in extra costs. Louvre is amazing, by the way, but the palace itself is at some points so impressive that it eclipses the beauty of the art inside.
The pass does not apply at a few important landmarks, where you may have to wait in queue for hours. This happened to us at three places. First, the Eiffel Tower. I highly, highly, highly recommend you purchase your ticket to the top from its website in the Internet. You’ll have to do it maybe months in advance as tickets per day and hour are limited and sell out, but you can easily save 3 hours in a normal day. We tried to buy them one or two weeks in advance (I don’t remember) and they were sold out.
Second, we queued to climb to the top of the Notre Dame towers. The reason for the queue is that there’s a limit on the number of people that can be in the towers at a given moment. We queued the better part of a morning and it’s nice but I wouldn’t really recommend it. The views are not that great and the towers, save for a few gargoyles, are not very interesting by themselves. In Notre Dame, if you’ve got the museum pass, it’s worth going into the crypt and learning about the history of the city. It’s not a long visit. If you have to pay, maybe it’s not worth the money.
Third, we queued an absurdly long time (several hours) to enter the Paris catacombs. Again, the long queues are due to the limited capacity. Being a fan of the original Deus Ex, I wanted to visit them myself and, frankly, the audioguide tells interesting stories about their origin and how the vast charnel house came to be. It’s a quite creepy place yet I found it amazing, but not worth such a long queue. On top of that, they’re managed independently and the Paris Museum Pass does not apply. I wouldn’t repeat my visit if I had to wait that long again. Waiting more than 30 minutes there is wasting time. Paris has much more interesting places.
I would definitely repeat the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Sacre Coeur and the Montmartre area in general, Champ de Mars, etc. As we only visited for 4 days and a half, we didn’t have time to go to Versailles, which is our pending visit.
What we didn’t like from Paris: the dust in the Tuileries Garden and other parks (my shoes are still dirty), the already mentioned look and feel of the metro, and the early closure times for restaurants at dinner time. Sometimes it borders on absurd situations. For example, we visited the Louvre museum a second time the day of the week it stays open until late in the evening, closing its doors at 21:30, I believe. We didn’t wait until that late and exited the museum at around 20:00. Right beyond the exit you can find some kind of underground shopping center. It sounds weird but it’s like that. At that time, all the restaurants in the shopping center were closed. Even McDonalds was closing! On a normal day, I more or less understand. But on the day you’ve got hundreds of people exiting the museum late and probably a bit hungry? It’s ridiculous. I know in Spain we have dinner very late (too late usually), but restaurants closed at 8PM? Seriously?
Long story short: I wouldn’t hesitate booking an Airbnb again. It really added value to our trip to Paris. We booked a small apartment (kitchen, bathroom, toilet and large living room with a bed) for more or less the same price, or a bit less, than a hotel room would have cost us.
However, Airbnb allowed us to save lots of money and time on breakfasts and a few other meals. Furthermore, I’ve never been in a hotel suite which was as big as that apartment and with such a good Internet WiFi access, which is helpful for sending pictures to your family, talking to them at the end of the day, checking weather forecasts when you need them or simply reading the newspaper from bed while your feet take a deserved rest.
On top of that, our apartment was located just 50 meters way from the Musée d’Orsay. It’s almost impossible to find a decent hotel with such a good location for less than 200 euros a night in Paris, and our apartment was around 130.
Getting in touch with our host was easy. He sent comprehensible instructions on how to get to the apartment, find the keys and get inside. The place had been cleaned before we entered and would be cleaned again after we checked out for the next guest. In addition, the place quickly became like a second home to us. The sensation when arriving after a long day is completely different from a hotel. You know nobody has entered the apartment, you have the keys… so even if you spend a few minutes a day, if any, trying to keep it all tidy and as clean as possible, you feel much more relaxed and comfortable.