Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter France and a visa if you plan to stay longer than 90 days.
Time: France is six hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.
Money: The currency of France is the euro. For current conversion rates go to the OANDA Currency Converter: http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic.
Phone Calls: All French phone numbers have ten numbers: fixed phones in Paris start with 01, mobiles with 06. When calling from abroad, dial 33 (the country code) and drop the first "0" (note that numbers beginning with 08 can only be dialed within France). To ring the U.S. or Canada from France, dial 001 followed by the area code and phone number.
When to Go: Winters are cold and wet (average January temperature is 40°F [4.4°C]), but the full calendar of concerts, ballet, theater, and lack of other tourists make up for it. April in Paris, yes, but pack an umbrella; Easter to June is peak season. July and especially August are good for hotel bargains—although beware that many restaurants close down in August when the city empties for the seaside. Autumn is lovely but book early: hotel rooms can be scarce during the September and October trade fairs.
Getting There: Plenty of direct flights from locations all over North America and Europe; plan your trip early to get the bargains.
Getting Around: Forget driving—you won't find a place to park anyhow. But few cities anywhere can boast such a delightfully efficient and inexpensive transport system. Taxis are relatively cheap and dependable. The Métro goes everywhere until 12:30 a.m., while RER commuter trains reach all points in the suburbs. But "take the bus to really get to know Paris at a relaxed pace," says Paris writer Catherine Nuridsany. "Each has its own personality." Buses, the Métro, and RER trains inside the city limits have common tickets—save money by purchasing carnets of ten. Also consider a trip on the Batobus, a river bus service with eight stops along the Seine. And there are plenty of places to rent a bicycle or motor scooter, with more than 220 miles of cycling lanes (pistes cyclables) and more on the way soon, part of a long-term plan to make the city center as car-free as possible. Taxis can accommodate anyone with a wheelchair, but only a few bus and Métro lines have wheelchair access.
Comfortable Shoes: Absolutely essential.
Cell Phones: In Europe, you'll need a cell phone that is GSM SIM-unlocked that works on 900-1800 GSM frequencies. These will work with any prepaid SIM card in Europe, which nearly always accept free incoming calls. For details, see www.telestial.com.
Electrical Gadgets: France operates on 220 volts, requiring a transformer for 110-volt American shavers, hair dryers, and so on. Most newer laptop computers, cell phone chargers, and iPods have built-in transformers. French plugs have two round prongs, so you may also need an adapter. Airports sell worldwide ones, but you can also purchase all-in-one U.S.-to-France transformer/adapters.
Allergy Medicine: Spring brings hay fever, and those allergic to smoke will still find lots of smoky places—although smoking is no longer allowed in French bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Money: This might be a sore point for Americans. Nobody wants dollars these days, and traveler's checks are hard to cash without paying a big commission. Before leaving, ask your bank to make sure your debit card will work in French ATM machines (and learn your pin number!) so you can automatically extract euros directly from your bank account; also let them know that you're traveling so they don't suspect fraud and put a block on your card. Visa and Mastercard are accepted nearly everywhere; Diners Club and American Express less so.
Architecture of Paris, France
An excellent site with articles, pictures, and links on many of the city's landmarks. www.greatbuildings.com/places/paris.html
Edible Adventures in Paris
Canadian-born Rosa Jackson is one of the top English-language restaurant critics in Paris and runs Edible Paris as well as a blog on her latest finds. www.rosajackson.blogspot.com
Living the Sweet Life in Paris
Musings on Paris and its sugary delights by expat dessert fiend and cookbook author David Lebovitz. www.davidlebovitz.com
Mairie de Paris
Paris City Hall's source on events and future projects; the English version tells how the city is run, how to study in Paris, and much more. www.paris.fr (French); http://www.paris.fr/english (English)
Paris, A Roman City
A guided tour, with remarkable visual re-creations, through the town the ancient Romans knew as Lutetia. www.paris.culture.fr/en/
Run by the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau; check out everything that's happening before you go. http://en.parisinfo.com/
Advice on Parisian etiquette, hotels, restaurants, and a superb collection of Web links. www.parisnotes.com/index.html
Weekly newsletter put out by a savvy band of expat Paris insiders with reviews, interviews, and current happenings. www.paris-update.com
A webzine for English-speaking residents of the city, with feature articles and listings. www.parisvoice.com/
Paris's own daily paper lives in the shadow of the big national dailies, but it will tell you more of what's happening locally. www.leparisien.fr
The weekly with all the listings for films, concerts, and everything else. Cinema info online at www.premiere.fr.
The old solid, middle-of-the-road national paper with extensive Paris listings on Wednesdays; also see its excellent culture guide and restaurant reviews. www.figaroscope.fr
International Herald Tribune
Still published in Paris, and still retaining something of the old American expat ambience of decades ago. Some Paris listings and articles of local interest. www.iht.com
New and alternative, a free bimonthly with listings, information on restaurants, and much else. Also online at http://www.lylo.fr/
France's new 24-hour cable news station with one channel in English; has a definite air of being government-run, but some excellent reporting. www.france24.com
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