A novice’s guide to Paris

My family and I recently spent five nights and four days in Paris.  That makes me uniquely unqualified to write a Paris guide.  The novice in the title of the post is me, not you.  That said, I can tell you about my experiences.  I won’t go into the standard attractions (Louvre, Notre Dame, etc.) that you can read about from more informed travel writers.  Instead, other than our hotel stay, what follows are suggestions and highlights that you might not have read about elsewhere…2014-07-07 09.44.31

Points for luxury

My family of three stayed at the Park Hyatt Vendome, in a suite.  The suite cost us 33,000 points per night at Hyatt’s pre-devaluation rates (most of which were transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards).  If you were to book the same room today it would cost 48,000 points per night.  If you were to pay for the suite outright it would likely cost around $1500 per night.  It blows my mind to think that people pay those rates, but apparently some do.  I would never argue that we got $1500 per night value from our points, but its clearly the case that points gave us the opportunity to stay in a luxury hotel that we would have never considered otherwise.

The Park Hyatt Vendome location has its plusses and minuses.  On the plus side, almost all major Paris attractions are within walking distance.  For example, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée de l’Orangerie are all within a half mile or so.  In my family’s case, we almost always prefer walking vs. other forms of transport, so we also walked to further afield attractions such as Notre Dame / the Latin Quarter, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, etc. which are each approximately 2 miles from the hotel.  The hotel is also close to at least three metro stops for quicker and easier transport.  On the other hand, the neighborhood is commercial, geared to high end shopping (not my thing), and touristy.  If you want to get a Paris neighborhood feel, this is not the place to be. 

The hotel itself was great.  We were upgraded to an Executive Suite thanks to my Hyatt Diamond status.  Unlike the regular suite, the Executive Suite has a living room separated from the bedroom, and a second half bath.  This was great because it meant that our teenage son had a room and bathroom of his own.  The master bath shower also doubled as a sauna.  Seriously.  Our room had a freakin’ sauna in it.  I only used it a few times, but it was great.

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My favorite feature of the hotel was the ability for Hyatt Diamond guests to order room service breakfast, for free, up to 50 euros per person.  We typically had enough breads and meats left over each morning to also cover a lunch or afternoon snack.  And, the food was excellent.

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WeGo Walking Tour

On our first morning in Paris, we took the free WeGo Walking Tour.  This was a fantastic introduction to Paris.  The tour was led by Paul, the over-caffeinated and highly engaging founder of WeGo. 

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If you’re visiting Paris for the first time I think it would be a mistake to skip this tour.  It’s fun and interesting for adults and kids alike, and Paul does a great job of giving everyone a very useful overview of the city.  Other than an optional tip, the tour is free

Montmartre Culinary Tour

Unlike the free Walking tour, the Montmartre Culinary Tour was expensive: 100 euros per person.  It included a small walking tour of the Montmartre neighborhood and a three course meal spread out across three terrific restaurants.  The tour was interesting, the food was awesome, and the excellent wine kept flowing.  This turned out to be a real highlight of our trip and so was well worth the price.  The tour owner and guide, John-Paul, is shown below in front of a restaurant and windmill that I might remember more about if I hadn’t had so much wine…

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Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum)

The national military museum of France is fairly close to the Eiffel Tower, but worlds away as a tourist destination.  While most other attractions were mobbed, we were nearly alone in this museum.  Maybe there were as many as 20 other visitors at the time.  Maybe.  Despite the lack of crowds, it was a fascinating museum.  The best part was finding Napoleon’s actual horse which had been stuffed and put on display:

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It’s worth noting that we found the museum’s café to be surprisingly good.

Food

Yes, the food was delicious.  The best part, I think, is to walk the neighborhoods and discover special places on your own.  One such find for us was Les Soeurs Sucrées where we enjoyed out of this world delicious chocolate éclairs and chocolate flan.  Pictured below is the chocolate flan.  The chocolate éclairs were all gone by the time I thought to take some pictures.

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Miscellaneous other thoughts

  • The Paris Metro is super easy… except when it is not.  If a single line will get you to where you need to go, then you should have no problem at all.  If you need to transfer mid-way you have a chance of finding yourself in an underground habitrail maze from which you may never again see the light of day.  OK, I exaggerate.  Sort-of.
  • Tourist scams are common in Paris, but they’re also easy to avoid if you know what to watch out for.  In particular, avoid people with clipboards asking for signatures, and watch out for people who pretend to find gold rings.  We witnessed both of these scams, but avoided them easily with a quick and harsh “no” when approached.
  • No matter how hard I tried to get the accent right, my spoken “bonjour” when I entered a shop or restaurant always resulted in an English reply.  Considering the fact that I know only a handful of French words, that was probably for the best.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I visited the Catacombs of Paris when it reopened to the public around 14 years back. We were allowed to wander around all of the open areas but I’ve heard that now visiting is a lot more restricted. To me this is a can’t miss site and one that I’d love to check out again when I eventually return to Paris.

  2. Sounds pretty much what my first time in Paris was like. We took different tours but they were pretty good.

    I saw that same windmill… but I don’t remeber what the story behind it was either.

    And the metro is pretty easy to use… once you figure out how it works.

  3. Montmartre was a zoo when we were there. Had a guide who did the obligatory tour and then when finished, directed us to the metro via a street that was entirely Gypsy scammers. Walked thru two blocks of pickpockets and multiple groups of the old pea in the shell scam. Was way more interesting than Montmartre.

    Your upgrade at the Vendome was 10x better than the crappy rundown junior suite we were given as a Diamond member. Peeling paint, broken lamps, noisy. Travesty, but hotel was supposedly sold out and couldn’t move us. Complained, but all we got was one day points refund. Ripoff.

  4. I love that you \only\ used your in-room sauna a few times. Keeping’ it real in the Vendomme!
    On a more serious note…it sounds like a really great trip. We never had much trouble with the metro, but some interchanges do seem to lead you on an underground walking tour of Paris.
    Is the military museum the one which also houses napoleon’s tomb? The most interesting part about it, to me, was the section on the first world war. Obviously a hole in my European history education, I had no idea that France had lost so many young men in WWI. And how that affected what the French were willing and able to do at the run up and start to the second world war.
    The science museum on the outskirts of the city is also very excellent. But practice your French and research what kind of tickets you want to buy before you get there. It is more oriented towards French school groups and a lot of the staff actually spoke no English (gasp!).

    • Yep, the military museum has Napoleon’s tomb. That section was a bit more crowded and, to me, less interesting than the rest. True about the museum being oriented to native French speakers! Best bet would be to bring along a friend who knows French, but we found it very interesting nonetheless.

  5. Thanks for your great tips!!! I’m preparing for our family trip to Paris in August and we also made reservation with WeGo Walking Tour. Can you make suggestions as to how much tip is appropriate for the tour guide? And if a tour is paid, like your culinary tour, what would be the appropriate tip for a paid tour?Thanks in advance!!

    • I don’t know if there’s any set amount that is considered appropriate. If I remember right, I think I gave Paul 10 euros per person for the WeGo tour. Honestly it didn’t even occur to me to tip at the end of the culinary tour. It didn’t seem to be expected.

  6. I did the Montmarte culinary tour as well. John-Paul really has an awesome thing going with that! It was the highlight of my trip last year. I went in May, and that was the only day it wasn’t raining and frigid.

    Funny that he’s actually American with that name.

    I stayed at the Park Hyatt Vendome as well – my reaction was “people are paying $900/night for this? Pretty nice bathroom, though!” After 2 nights there, we walked down the street and stayed at the Hotel du Louvre, which had just opened for booking with Hyatt points. That was nice as well, and pretty literally right in the middle of everything.

  7. Vendoming with the wife sans kids for our anniversary in September. I’ve heard France is not a tipping culture. Was this your experience? When ordering the breakfast room service was a tip expected? How about at the restaurants? thanks

    • That’s true that you are not necessarily expected to tip. I did add a 5 euro tip to the room service, though, because I felt like they did a lot of work for our free breakfast! At restaurants I either didn’t tip or left a token amount (e.g. 5% or so) if service was very good.

  8. In Paris now!

    We just did the cheese tour from Paris by Mouth. Amazing for any cheese lover. We got to take tons of leftovers back to our apartment.

  9. I’m not quite sure how to spell this, but when we visited Paris a few weeks ago everyone was saying \Bon swa\ or just \swa\ to us in the small convenience stores. When I started saying it in other places they’d always start speaking French until I asked them if they spoke English in French. We also spend $19 at McDonald’s for the two of us when we couldn’t find anything else open late on a weekday outside our hotel. We went to 9 countries and 13 cities on the 4 week trip, but the memory card died and we lost the first 8 countries. On my birthday 🙁 But hey, memories, right?

  10. I meant to write this earlier, but thank you for your trip recap! I just took my mom to Paris last week, and we did both the We Go Walking tour, as well as the Montmartre Culinary Tour, and both were fantastic!!

  11. Just wanted to say thanks for the recommendation for the culinary tour! My wife and I did it today and it was awesome. In fact, John-Paul asked how we found his tour to which I said a travel blog and he asked which one and when I said the Frequent Miler he remembered you instantly. He said he had amazing amounts of business for the next 6 weeks after you wrote your post!

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