Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A Student's Guide to Paris

With tickets on the Eurostar costing as low as £59, a day-trip or weekend break in Paris is the perfect low-cost option for students who want to experience the culture and style of the continent without burning a hole in their maintenance loan. Here are a few practical tips that I picked up whist in ‘The City of Light’.

Walk as much as possible – Paris is a beautiful city, but the beauty is lost if you take the Metro to all your destinations. Purchase a good map and plan your route throughout the city. You’ll be rewarded with quaint shops in hidden side streets and quiet parks and squares, such as the spacious Jardin du Luxembourg and the enchanting Promenade Plantée, to relax in on your way. I found that most of the parks are equipped with hundreds of chairs that you can move around to put your feet up just the way you want. It’s cheaper than using public transport for every journey and the sights are closely located, so you shouldn’t get too tired out!

Go while you’re under 26 – many of the historic attractions are free for 16 to 26-year-olds – perfect for students counting their pennies. The Lourve art gallery and the Notre Dame Cathedral towers are examples of fascinating attractions that can be visited with no admission price. All you need is your passport or driving licence and you’ll save yourself quite a few euros.

Don’t try to do everything a once – if you’re on a short break don’t spend all your time rushing around to tick off all the sights and not really enjoying yourself. Instead pick out a few things you definitely want to see and don’t worry about the rest. This gives you a good excuse to return to Paris to finish off your sightseeing!

The start of autumn is good time to go – the traditional tourist period will have just ended and Paris will be getting back to its normal self. You can take advantage of thinning crowds and get away from the rain clouds of Britain when they’re still enjoying sunny hot weather on the continent.

Don’t rely on regular opening hours – the shops and supermarkets are a law unto themselves in regards to their business hours. Make sure you check the convenient shops you may need to use. Most shops close on Sunday afternoons and Mondays but many of the smaller ones stay open till after midnight on weekdays.

Feel free to attempt the lingo, but don’t worry if you can’t - the stereotype of the French refusing to speak any tongue but their own no longer applies for the most part. The majority of shopkeepers and waiters will offer to speak English but will let you muddle through if you have a rudimentary knowledge of the native language and want to try it out. All I had to do was attempt the word ‘bonjour’ and the waiter would reply, ‘ah… English?” You’ll probably pick up some French words and phrases along the way. I now know what ‘fruits de mer’ means after ordering a disgusting seafood dish by mistake!

Get to the top of the Eiffel Tower! – Paris’ iconic landscape would be incomplete without this stunning monument, and your trip will be too if you don’t ascend to the top. When at its busiest, the top level of the tower is not open for entry from ground level. However, you can upgrade your ticket once you get to the second floor and make it to the top. Night time is the best time to go up the Eiffel Tower in my opinion, as the twinkling streetlights enhance the splendour of the Parisian streets below even further.

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