Ever dreamed of a weekend in Paris on your own? Of meandering along the Seine, exploring the left bank, or photographing the Eiffel Tower by moonlight? Perhaps even taking your paint box along to capture the majesty of the Sacre Coeur?
You might think that travelling solo is for the young and the brave? Or that travelling to strange places is best done with a partner. Well you’d be wrong. The boulevards of Paris play host to many single travellers, young and old alike. With the city only 2 .15 hours away by Eurostar, websites spilling over with travel information, and buses from Victoria to Paris charging as little as 30 pounds, how to get lost in Paris was never easier.
Shelly Piasecka, a university lecturer, mother of four and seasoned traveller, loves sightseeing solo “I like the freedom to walk around on my own. When travelling with a family you are continually looking for places to rest and tend to be preoccupied with your children’s well-being and safety and so you don’t really experience the full extent of the city”.
So best foot forward: here’s a simple guide designed for those too frightened to do it alone.
Get a good guide-book. I recommend Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. The city is divided into sections (1-20) called arrondissements. Plan a route around one or two sections. You can’t see everything in a day. Your heart is set on seeing the Eiffel Tower? Plan your route around that.
Make a virtual visit before your trip. Using a Google map, take the image to street level. Have a look around. Can you see yourself there? Sure you can. You can even try youtube to take virtual tours around Paris, learn how to use metro ticket machines and see how to negotiate your way out of the Gare du Nord when you arrive. You’ll feel like native in no time. If you don’t have access to the internet then plan from your travel guide-book.
Think carefully about where you want to stay. Being at the very centre of Parisian night life might sound like a good idea, but a bit depressing if you decide not to go out after dark. If you’re too far away from the attractions, it could mean a lonely trip by metro back to your hotel after dark. If you don’t intend to stay out too late at night, you might like to book a hotel near to the Gare du Nord. It’s a metro ride into the centre but you won’t have to negotiate bags, taxis or metros as soon as you step of the train or bus. There are some good hotels just a short walk from the station which are friendly and reasonably priced.
Then, hit the pavements and try my own favourite walk: Take the metro/bus/taxi to Place du Concorde. Cross the river to Boulevard Saint Germaine. The boulevard stretches for 3.5 kilometres and is one of the grandest shopping centres in Paris. Located on the Left Bank it oozes designer labels and pavement cafes. Stop for a coffee at Deux Maggots, (Hemmingway’s favourite haunt) before heading off for the famous Boulevard St Michel: its slap in the middle of the Latin Quarter. A short stroll takes you to Luxembourg Gardens for lunch and its back up the boulevard for a meander along the Seine. Tres Chic!
If you fancy a late night you simply have to visit the Eiffel Tower after dark. It’s packed with tourists so not only is it safe for solo travellers it has a wonderful holiday atmosphere. Watch for the flashing lights on the Tower and listen for the oohs and ahs – magical. A nightcap on one of the nearby river boats and it’s the metro or taxi back to the hotel. The metro runs until 1.15 am and 2.15 am on Saturday and holidays. Whilst people are always coming and going on the metro, the walk down to platforms can be quite lonely late at night. Be like Cinderella and head back to your hotel before Midnight (with both shoes I should add). Stay with the crowds, stay alert and you will be completely safe. The metro is much cheaper than taking a taxi too. Buy metro tickets when you arrive at Gare du Nord and keep them handy. They cost around £12.50 for 10. You can use them on buses and on the regional train network (RER).
All those who visit Paris agree. It’s vibrant, elegant and bustling with tourists. Go on mingle: enjoy the freedom, take photographs, drink wine by the Seine, paint a beautiful picture: but don’t forget souvenirs for the family.
Here are a few tips to stay safe:
Never walk along deserted streets: go where the tourists are.
Take normal precautions: Keep money and credit cards close to your body: a money belt with the purse held at the front of your body is a good deterrent. You’ll know if someone comes too close. Or for the more fashion conscious, try a city safe shoulder bag crossed over at the front of your body.
When using the metro and buses have your tickets handy to avoid searching through your money belt or handbag. Stay relaxed on the metro. Keep your eyes open but enjoy the ride. Blend in. Do what others are doing, and put that guide-book away. Plan your metro journey before you get on the train. There are plenty of maps on the walls of the underground. Know the destination of your metro line.
First Sunday in every month all museums are free to enter including the Louvre
Shelly’s tips: If possible, try to look like a comfortable visitor to the city rather than a nervous tourist.
If you like listening to music on headphones keep the volume low so that you can hear the traffic (and anyone behind you) Watch out for those high kerbs too.
Scams: Unfortunately there are many scammers working in Paris. If anyone approaches you to sign a petition, give you a gold ring they suggest you have dropped, or even ask you to hold their baby, say NO!