Everyone dreams of going to their favorite fromagerie, epicerie, cave and boulangerie to do all their shopping, chatting away with the friendly vendeurs, with whom they are old pals, but the truth of the matter is, unless you want to cultivate these things from the start, grocery stores are a lot easier. While I think if you want good cheese you should definitely still go to a proper fromagerie, you can get plenty of great products in France’s many grocery stores.
Carrefour is my go-to for most of my grocery needs. Well-priced and generally good quality, it is hands down the best grocery store in France. Franprix isn’t bad, and sometimes cheaper than Carrefour, but I rarely buy produce there. Monoprix or Monop’ is obscenely expensive; Monop’ is just the grocery part of the store, pretty much avoid them at all costs. Monoprix is sort of like target, in that it has food, clothes, home products, etc., and you can do worse in terms of cost on a lot of the products they sell. However, be wary and don’t go on crazy buying binges here. Everything is NOT cheap. This is NOT target. Any of the other grocery stores (Spar, G20, 8 à huit) are fine, generally small and not enough for all of your grocery needs. Little fruit and vegetable stands/stores are all over the city and it’s a toss up–you can find great deals (there’s a little one on Rue Condorcet next to my house run by a very nice Vietnamese couple that I’ve never spent more than 10 euros at, no matter how much produce I seem to buy) or you can get ripped off. If you’re looking for organic or health food, try Naturalia or Bio en Ville. I bought all of my quinoa, oatmeal and rice at these two stores because it’s actually cheaper at the end of the day. France is new to the health food trend, so you really have to find specialty stores for things like tofu, soy milk, and just about anything gluten-free or whole-wheat. But you can’t do all of your grocery shopping here either, as the produce is really much too expensive. Finally, for frozen foods (veggies, ice creams, pizzas, whatever) there is Picard. And don’t knock frozen food, everything I’ve ever eaten from here is delicious! Great place to stock up on things you want to have on hand on Sundays (because stores are mostly closed).
Where to Stay if you’re visiting for a short while
This is a tough call; I don’t have hotel recommendations, of course, but typically the cheapest hotels are in the 18th, which can put a lot of people off. The 18th is actually the most diverse and interesting arrondissement in Paris (in my opinion) but most of the hotels are in the seediest parts of this admittedly sometimes dangerous collection of neighborhoods. But don’t be afraid to stay there! There is lots to do around the 18th, you just have to find the nice areas and don’t be afraid of Place de Clichy. Apartment shares/rentals are, I think, the best way of spending time in Paris, and you can get those at varying prices all over the city.
In terms of the neighborhoods, when you’re looking for a hotel: You want to avoid staying in arrondissements 12, and 15-17, as there’s very little to do there (That I know of…) and they’re all far out from the center city; the 1st, 5th, 6th and 8th will always be too expensive, and the 10th (away from Canal St. Martin), 19th and 20th are not for Paris novices–only French-speakers should consider staying there. Staying in the 2nd-4th is probably going to be on the upper end, but this puts you in the center city and is a great place to be. The 11th can be great; the 13th and 14th are a bit far out from center city, but they’re beautiful in their own ways. I’m obviously partial to the 9th, and knew of several hotels right in the immediate vicinity of my house that seemed nice and affordable.
Airports: All airports are outside of the city limits.
- CDG (Charles de Gaulle): The most accessible. Take the RER B train down into Paris (accessible directly from the Airport) and get off at Gare du Nord or Chatlet. This costs about 8 euros each way and is the cheapest way to get into/out of Paris from this airport! You can get from airport to Paris in well under an hour (once you’re through customs and have all of your baggage, of course).
- ORL (Orly): There is an OrlyBus that goes from METRO to the airport. The Bus isn’t too hard to find once you exit the metro! To get to this metro stop from your location, use the RATP website. It is a stop on the RER B/D as well as Metro lines 4, X. The OrlyBus costs 7 euros each way, plus the metro or RER fare to get you to the bus launch location. Plan at least an hour to get into/out of Paris.
- BVS? (Paris-Beauvais): In all likelihood, you won’t be coming in through this airport, unless you fly to Paris via RyanAir. The trick with this airport is that while the flights here are always the cheapest, there is a 15-euro bus that takes you from METRO to the airport, and unless you have a car at your disposal, it is the only way to get out to this airport. The bus is also hard to find from the metro station; you come out at THIS EXIT, and walk THIS ROAD. The bus launches from a parking lot that is across a pretty large highway when you turn onto this road, and doesn’t have any official signage visible until you are AT the parking lot. The bus itself is an hour, and getting down to the bus can take at least half an hour. I usually budget two hours when making flights at Beauvais.
Metro/RER tips for a visitor
The Paris metro system is one of the best and easiest to navigate in the world. It takes some getting used to of course, but here are some quick tips to make it easy to understand. DON’T take any RER trains unless you mean to go out of Paris. For experienced metro-system-users they are very helpful to get from one side of the city to the other, but for tourists, they can be a nightmare.
- The lines are numbered 1-14, and colored as well. Memorize the line NUMBER and not the color, as the colors have changed over the years and not all metro stations and cars are up-to-date.
- The names on the metro lines denote the last stop in either direction. Make sure you know towards which stop your destination is!
- To get on the metro, you need to buy tickets; if you’re there for a week, I recommend buying a week-long pass. To date, it is 18 euros, and you have unlimited rides on the metro, RER within Paris, AND the bus*. There are also month long passes. However, If you are not there for a whole week, buy metro tickets in “carnets” of 10 tickets, for simplicity and to save a little money.
- NEVER buy tickets from anything or anyone other than the distributer machine (which has an English language option!) or the man working at the office (see below).
- In the metro stations, Parisians are very no-nonsense. If you’re having trouble figuring out which way to go, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Do NOT stand in doorways, or other open spaces. Get as close to a wall as possible and sort yourself out.
- Also keep all valuables sealed in zipped pockets, and take backpacks off and put them on your lap/at your feet if standing ON the metro. Always be aware of yourself and your stuff.
- Etiquette: take up as little space on the train car as possible; if you have large bags, keep them as close to you as possible and try to stand in a corner. There is an unspoken rule about talking on the metro–almost no one does. If you must talk, try to keep your voice as low as you can, NEVER yell. You can ask other people on the train if it is going in the direction that you need [Ce train va a (insert station here)?], but other than that, don’t try to make conversation.
- With that said, in all the stations there are signs denoting which end of the metro line is which way, and almost always a sign near or below that one with the list of stops from where you are to the final destination. ALWAYS try to find your destination on this sign before getting on a train (But do that quickly, and see my point above about getting out of the way).
- Also, if you’re really hard up, there is often someone working in a little office next to where you put your ticket in that probably won’t speak much English, but if you at least attempt French, he will do his best to help you.