Known as the “City of Lights”, Paris undoubtedly has a lot to offer the tourist, and being a relatively small capital city is reasonably easy to get around. The atmosphere is romantic, the shopping areas exclusive, the restaurants beyond compare.
And yet it is also a down to earth destination that has much to interest the younger members of the family.
One of the France For Families’ team had a short break there as a teenager and the memories are as fresh as if they were yesterday. See our recommendations for kids.
Different ways to see Paris
Many of Paris’s attractions are close together and it is possible to walk between them. However there are many other alternatives for getting around – the obvious one is to use the Métro (cheap/convenient) or RER (a bit more expensive but useful for outlying areas); there are frequent boats on the Seine (expensive as a mode of transport); you can hire a bicycle or use the Velib bike service below (neither recommended for young children!); or you can join one of the many bus/coach tours . And there’s always the taxi if desperate!
Interestingly, a new service, from Family Twist, offers families the opportunity to have all their accommodation, travel and activities arranged for them whilst in Paris. We think not only does this take the hassle out of organising it yourself, but it ensures you learn and see something you may not have done otherwise, see more information here…
Velib bikes in Paris
The Vélibbike service in Paris is one of the original two-wheel programmes set up to reduce carbon emissions/urban traffic in city centres. Many French cities have followed suit, with the likes of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Lyons, Marseille, Rennes, Strasbourg, and Toulouse adding their own.
The scheme in Paris is pretty ambitious. Set up in 2007 it is now the largest in the world with over 20,000 bikes. It is known as ‘Velib’ and tourists to the capital may find the system useful as an alternative way of seeing the city. However, it should be stressed that the Velib system is designed for short journeys, rather than as an all day hire. If your plan is to hire a bike for a day or half a day then it may be more cost effective to use one of the bike rental companies available in the city.
The concept is straightforward; around Paris (and growing all the time) are hundreds of bike stations or in local jargon – Vélib stations. The word comes from vélo (bike) and liberté (freedom).
The idea is that you ‘hire’ a bike from one station and then either return it to the same point or any other station around the city. You have 30 minutes free use every time you hire a bike, but any minutes over and above this are chargeable. Here in Paris the scheme has been well thought out; to use the system you need to register a bank card as security. A sum of €150* will be taken if the bike is not returned. There is a €1.70* daily charge for all users or €8* if you wish to hire for 7 consecutive days. Usage rates after the first 30 free minutes are €1* for 1 hour, €2* for 90 mins and €4* for 2 hours. (These prices are less than when the scheme was first launched). The bikes are suitable for everyone over 14 years old.
It is possible to book online when you can set the start date for using the bikes or simply turn up at a Velib station and follow the on-screen instructions.
A word of caution: on recent visits we noticed that at many of the stations, particularly in the main tourist areas, there often weren’t any spaces for the return of your bike. If this happens you have to keep going to the next nearest station until you find one where you can deposit the bike. Providing you swipe your card at the Vélib station you gain 15 free minutes to find another.
Several French cities have a métro service, including Paris, Toulouse, Lille, Rennes, Marseille and Lyon. These are efficient and good value.
General Info: The Paris Métro is first class with over 350 stations and 14 lines and nowhere is further than 500 metres from a station. Many of the station entrances were designed in the Art Nouveau style by Hector Guimard and are popular tourist attractions in their own right!
The Métro comprises 2 systems – the Métro or underground trains (16 lines) and the RER (5 lines lettered A-E). The former is similar to the London underground while the latter is more like a suburban train system with larger, usually double-decker trains that run from one side of Paris to the other, often over-ground. For example there is an RER (line A) service that goes out to Disneyland in Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy to the east of the city. Take care as this line splits so make sure you get the correct destination.
Buying tickets: To travel you need to buy ‘une billet’ (a ticket), otherwise known as a t+ ticket. These can be bought either at the ticket office or the self-service ticket machines with instructions available in English. Buying a ‘Carnet’, a book of 10 tickets is cheaper than buying tickets individually. Single tickets cost €1.70* while a carnet costs €12*, with children aged under 4 being free and under 10 at half price. Tickets are valid for 1.5 hours from the time they are validated by the ticket machine and are for use on one continuous journey (with any number of changes) within that time frame, providing you stay on your chosen mode of transport – metro-metro, or bus-bus. Alternatively you can buy a ‘Paris Visite’ for €9.30* for zones 1-3. (a two day Paris Visite is €15.20*, three days €20.70* and five days €29.90*) Children aged between 4-11 are half price. You can use Métro tickets on the funicular railway at Sacré Coeur. A Mobilis pass allows unlimited travel for one day on bus, metro or RER. This costs from €6.10* – €17.30* depending on the zone.
Using the metro: When travelling on the Métro you need to decide which station you wish to get to and then check the name of the station at the END of the line in the direction in which you will be travelling as this determines which train you get. So, for example, imagine that you have arrived on Eurostar at the Gare du Nord and you wish to head south to Les Halles near The Seine River. This is Métro line 4 so you must follow signs and trains in the direction of Porte d’Orléans that is the last station at the southern end of the line. Should you have wished to travel north on line 4 then you would have followed signs in the direction of Porte de Clignancourt.
RER trains (Réseau Express Régional) operate a similar procedure. These are five suburban trains (Routes A-E), often double deckers, that serve outlying suburbs (e.g.: Disneyland Paris is on Line A). As the Disney route will probably be the most popular RER destination from Paris it is worth noting that line ‘A’ splits and you need to get the one to Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy.
Weather in Paris
In the spring/autumn there is always the risk of a shower in Paris, however as the summer approaches the weather warms up, becomes more reliable and pleasant balmy evenings are the norm.
* please note, all prices quoted are subject to change, so please check the official website for the very latest details
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to Paris: