Plan my trip to France
December 3, 2010 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I am going to France for the first two weeks of May. What should I do? Where should I go? Where should I stay?

I am flying into and out of Paris. I have never been to France before, and do not intend to go out of the country on this visit. I have a friend in or near Besancon, so I am going there, but am otherwise free to go where I want to. I have no idea where I want to go.

I like water. I like museums and art. I like history. I am fairly indifferent to music. I am not into clubbing etc. I am fluently bilingual. I don't want to spend a fortune, but money isn't a huge issue either.

I will be doing more reading and planning, but I'd love a start on where to go, how long to spend in various locations, etc.
posted by jeather to Travel & Transportation around France (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Will you be renting a car? That makes a huge difference.

If you're heading to Besancon, I'd recommend continuing a bit further in that direction and visiting Annecy and its beautiful crystal-clear Lake. Lyon for Art and Museums and from there either further South into Provence or back up theough the Loire Valley and Chambord and then Chartres before heading back into Paris.

Although Chambord is really only do-able if you have a car.
posted by vacapinta at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2010

The Louvre is too big to take in in one day, so I'd recommend dividing it up into chunks and spending a couple of hours a day for the time you're in Paris (which should be a big chunk of your trip if you've never been) really enjoying the different parts of the museum.

The Musée Cluny is one of my favorite places in Paris, because it's a nice, smallish museum in a beautiful building that used to be a monastery (complete with catacombs) and, before that, a Roman bath. You can see the different periods of architecture pretty clearly when you're inside. It's like museum/history nerd heaven.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:44 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am undecided about renting a car. I am thinking likely not, but could be convinced otherwise.
posted by jeather at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2010

If you want to travel, I would suggest taking the Gare d'Arles train for a lovely ride down to the Arles area to the south. I loved it more than I loved Paris. Also, it is well known for being one of Vincent van Gogh's stomping grounds. Many famous works of his were produced there.
posted by Windigo at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2010

oinopaponton: "The Louvre is too big to take in in one day..."

Just to argue, that really needs to say "The Lourvre is too big to properly take in in one day." I did it in one day while I was over there, but my goal was to see everything that I possibly could. No quality time with anything, but I knew that going in and decided it was worth it since I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back.

The Paris Museum Pass is amazing, and pays for itself rather quickly. Take a look at what it covers and if there's enough stuff on the list then definitely get it. Skipping the line to get tickets to get into the Arc de Triomphe was amazing.

My wife and I also just walked everywhere in Paris. But our museums lined up well so that the public transportation there was practically worthless for us.
posted by theichibun at 8:14 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the best and most memorable days of my life was spent in Caen exploring the Memorial museum and taking a tour of the D-day beaches. They've got water, history, and a museum; sounds like you can't go wrong!
posted by mrsshotglass at 8:37 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, one could happily spend two weeks just in Paris, exploring on foot. You are committed to visiting your friend so take the train there but don't stress out trying to cram in a full sightseeing program. Hit a couple biggies outside of Paris, Versailles, Chartres so you can check those off. Think of this as your first trip to France.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2010

If you're going to Besançon, you're probably already knocking off a couple days from your trip there. I'd suggest stopping at Dijon on your way back to Paris for a day trip. I'd recommend getting a car for your Besançon excursion for this reason.

Other than that, honestly, I wouldn't travel. There is a lot to do in Paris, and I say this as a jaded New Yorker who gets bored with other cities quickly. There are plenty of worthwhile day trips you can easily make from there (I highly recommend Versailles) if you need to break it up.
posted by mkultra at 8:43 AM on December 3, 2010

(parisian here)

Indeed, Paris and Besançon should be quite enough for you, so I doubt renting a car will be useful, unless you intend to visit cities really outside of Paris and its suburbs (and that includes Versailles). Plus, in May Paris starts to get really nice weather, so I'm sure you'll have plenty to walk to, by or around.

Like water? Try a trip on the Seine or a pic-nic on its bank.
Like musems and arts? Oh boy you're in luck!
Bilingual? Great, so you can properly order a café-croissant! :)
Don't wanna spend a fortune? It's May, walk around, everything is quite close!

I'm sure there are plenty of previous AskMeFi questions about coming to Paris, look around!
posted by XiBe at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2010

Sounds like a great trip! You're very lucky to be fluent in French.

My favourite trips to France involve a mix of Paris and the country. I tend to spend 3-4 days in Paris when I arrive, to get over jet-lag and enjoy the city. Then I visit the country, then back to Paris for 2 nights and a flight home. Every trip has been a different place, but the same general plan. Take the train to the big town where I want to go. Rent a car (reserve in advance). Spend a week driving around little towns and seeing the sights, anchor the trip to fine hotels + restaurants found via Michelin or Gault Millau.

Unfortunately I've never been to Besançon. I imagine you could have a lovely week just in Franche-Compté and the Jura. Ask your friend for suggestions, in my experience local French people have a lot of regional pride and good suggestions. If you want to go further, Burgundy (Beaune, Chinon) is 100km west, and Neuchatel is 100km southeast. But I'd stay near Besançon if you can find things to do.

BTW, you could easily spend two full weeks in Paris and not run out of things to do. But I'd take the connection to Besançon as an opportunity.
posted by Nelson at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2010

My most distinct memory from Paris (I was just a kid) is my trip to the military museum. I think it must have been this one. I wasn't even that into museums and history at the time, but it was unforgettable for me... so for you, I'd say absolutely do not miss it.
posted by AugieAugustus at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2010

The Chamonix / Mont Blanc area is amazing. You don't need to be a snowbunny to enjoy yourself - it's easy to ride a lift up to the top & back of several mountains with croissants, jam & cheese. It may be the most amazing picnic of your life!

In particular, the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Spectacular doesn't even begin to describe the view.

Lots of hiking, shopping, yummy eating, and of course, skiing/snowboarding in the area.
posted by muirne81 at 1:08 PM on December 3, 2010

My favorite places in Paris:
  • Musée Gustave Moreau, which admittedly has a lot to do with liking Moreau but also something to do with how you work your way up a very narrow circular stair in the guy's house to enter these huge rooms jam-packed with his most famous giant paintings and also tons of carousels of his drawings and stuff that you pull out and pore over one by one to look at his technique up close.
  • Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is a beautiful, peaceful place to walk around on a cool day to find your favorite artists, writers, and historical figures (e.g. Abelard and Héloïse, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and, most movingly, Oscar Wilde's tomb covered in kisses). The other two major cemeteries are also neat, if you happen to be visiting nearby stuff like Tour Montparnasse or the Moulin Rouge, but Père Lachaise is worth a trip by itself.
Really, you'll have a hard time going wrong in the city.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:49 PM on December 3, 2010

People will recommend the train, but I had a great time driving around France even in the snow last year around Christmas time. Definitely check out Chamonix, especially if you're into skiing (yeah, you're going in May, but I'm crazy enough about skiing that I like seeing some of the world renown resorts even if there's not snow on the ground). And if you're down there, you're not far from Geneva, which is a neat place to check out for a day or two (expensive though).

The time to ditch the rental car is when you're coming back into Paris. The traffic can be horrendous and finding parking even worse. Just drive straight back to the airport, drop the car, and take the 30-min train back into the city.

If staying in Paris, consider renting a short-term-vacation-rental apartment. We did that and not only was it WAY cheaper than a hotel, it was ideally located (Latin Quarter, 5 minute walk from Notre Dame), and it was fun to live a slice of local life in Paris (finding unique little grocers, good shops for wine, etc.) rather than going 100% tourist. Also cut down on some of the dining costs, but that's more of a side benefit than a goal when you're in Paris.

20 Little Cities was helpful in planning our outings. We were there a full week and I still feel like we saw so little of the city and its museums / attractions.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:42 AM on December 4, 2010

« Older What is anxiety? How do you know if you have...   |   What to expect in the real world? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.