Help two seniors enjoy the pleasures of Paris
February 6, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Seniors in Paris! My super thrifty seventy-something parents are going to Paris for a week. Help them figure out what and where to see, do, eat, and stroll during their visit.

The last time they were there was in 1997, when we went as a family. This time they'll be on their own. They rarely travel so it will be a special occasion.

They'll no doubt make the Paris Greatest Hits museum visits, but I'm wondering if you can give some ProTips on other gems, neighborhoods to walk in, affordable places to eat good food. I'm thinking special streets or mercantile districts with shops and little places to explore that won't be too much of a trek for them (they will be staying in an apartment in the Marais).

Bonus points for suggestions that appeal to their inner cheapskate. They move a little slowly and tend to tire easily (so long journeys on the Metro are probably not a great idea) but otherwise their mobility is not especially limited.

Thanks! I will monitor the thread if you have any questions.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We were there last month - two adults and a little kid - and here are a couple of suggestions.
Get your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance.

The bateaux mouches - the flat boats that go along the Seine - are great fun. There are several companies, including one called Bateaux Mouches, but we tried Bateaux Parisiens and had a great time. We went at night (it was gorgeous, and lots of buildlings and monuments are lit up - and we chose a sailing with no meal. (You can bring snacks on your own.)

And lastly we LOVED this falafel joint which is in St. Germain, not the Maris. We also had lots of frugal meals by buying bread at a boulangerie, cheese at a fromagerie and everything else at the Monoprix.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One good way to save money on the Greatest Hits stuff (so that it can be better spent elsewhere) is by buying the Paris Museum Pass for the number of days they'll be visiting museums and monuments, and some kind of travel pass. (The Paris Visite is the one marketed to tourists, though the standard day or week passes may work out.)

The Museum Pass allows them to skip the queues and go in through group entrances, which is likely to be a real advantage for them, and will allow them to enjoy the Louvre or Orsay in bite-sized chunks rather than feeling compelled to see everything in one visit.

Seconding bread/cheese/charcuterie for cheap meals.
posted by holgate at 4:55 PM on February 6, 2012

Also, here's a really nice stroll: Go down the main street of the Ile St.-Louis -- that's the little island next to the island that has Notre Dame on it. The main street, which I think is called Rue de St.-Louis en Ile, is full of the sweetest collection of shops of all sorts. It's very, very Parisian. They can be frugal and not spend a penny, or they can splash out for something fancy, or a superb ice cream at Berthillion. The Berthillion ice cream is served in cafes all over Paris, but their main location is right there on that street, and they also have a lovely little tea room which is a great spot to sit and you don't have to spend more than just the cost of a cup of coffee or tea.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:00 PM on February 6, 2012

OKay, sorry, I'll stop posting, but: Do the math for the Paris Museum pass, FYI. We realized it wasn't going to be a savings for us, but YMMV depending on just how many museums/sites they want to visit.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:00 PM on February 6, 2012

We realized it wasn't going to be a savings for us, but YMMV depending on just how many museums/sites they want to visit.

Agreed, but "time spent not queueing" plus "ability to take a peek in a museum without needing to decide beforehand whether it's worth paying" can sometimes compensate. Senior citizen discounts aren't nearly as common for museums/monuments in France as the US, although they exist for travel and on private attractions like the bateaux mouches.

Anyway, back to frugal tips: look for local street markets, ask for the fixed price menu at restaurants (which is le menu/la formule de NN euro), ask for tap water rather than bottled (and take a refillable bottle with you). The Little Black Book looks like a nice combination of map and guidebook.
posted by holgate at 6:00 PM on February 6, 2012

My father, who walks with a cane and can't handle stairs really, visited Paris with my step-mother and sister a few years ago. They got around on the buses and said they were really good and quite nice. So there's a non-Metro option for you.
posted by marble at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2012

Honestly, I'd buy them a copy of Rick Steve's Paris. He's all about traveling cheaply and he's got a number of good neighborhood walks in his books, as well as all sorts of suggestions on how to enjoy Paris as cheaply as possible. (Like, having picnics and getting crepes for some meals, instead of eating out.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:27 PM on February 6, 2012

Best answer: - Maoz is the best! There is another one in the Latin Quarter.
- Bateaux mouches is/are an excellent suggestion! After hours of walking around and wondering what IS that and that building, they give all of the details while you appreciate the view and the rest.
- Have they booked their dates yet? Keep in mind that the first Sunday of every month is free for everyone, and as people of age they should have discounts all the time (bring proof of age).
- There are a bunch of free museums in Paris too, if they have seen the biggies. The Musee Carnavalet is a museum of the history of Paris, and it is really cool and it is in the Marais. There is another free museum or two in the neighborhood.
- Also, the Museum Pass mentioned upthread is awesome. It will allow them to skip lines at most museums, which can be even better than the fact that they are saving money with each place they visit! I love the pass because you can pop in-and-out of something that was interesting, but not so much you wanted to spend another 10 dollars to see it.
posted by whatzit at 3:11 AM on February 7, 2012

BHV Rivoli is a lovely department store in the Marais I used to enjoy walking around. Marais itself a beautiful and interesting area, with lots of lovely cafes to stop in.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:34 AM on February 7, 2012

And a comment I made in another thread:

There is a lovely area of Paris near St Michel [just across the river from the Marias], with lots of nice little shops. There is a nice cozy bookshop on Rue Dauphine, called the Couleur du Temps.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:40 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: The one-and-off red or yellow and green buses, which riders pay for in euros when they purchase the ticket, are the way to go for seniors on a week-long stay. They offer flexibility with all the benefits of a tour without being on a tour. The on-and-off buses hit all the major sites. Here's a possible plan:

--First day, your parents will be tired, so scope out their hotel's neighborhood before the trip--the parks, cafe/tea shop, bakeries, a couple restaurants, Rick Steves-type walking tour in their hotel area (unless the hotel is in an uninteresting quartier). If they're well located, they may only need to buy one two-day on-and-off bus pass. The second day after arrival, plan a walking tour around a site not too far from their hotel but a bit farther out than on day 1.

--Days 3-6, buy a two-day on-and-off bus ticket. (Get a second two-day pass towards the end of the week.) Ahead of the trip, scope out the parks, cafes/tea shops, stores, restaurants in the neighborhoods of 1-2 major sites. Again, use Rick Steves's walking tours of the immediate area surrounding the site/museum.

Here's a combo planned around the Eiffel Tower if they are going there: Eiffel Tower, stroll the Champs de Mars park, stroll over to rue Cler market street for lunch/cafe/tea & pastry places. Another combo near an on-and-off bus stop: Napoleon's tomb, Rodin Museum & gardens, Breteil street market (check days). Third combo: maybe one wing of the Louvre, Tuileries, cross Pont des Arts, meandering through Latin quarter cafe/tea shop. Not of fan of Monmartre area, but if they must, same idea. Use the on-and-off bus to get there while seeing things en route, then explore via a guidebook walking tour.

Young and old tourists alike, the ones who don't travel much and are only in a major city for a short time, seriously underestimate how draining and how long it takes to actually get to places, and how confusing a foreign transportation system can be. They often wind up in a jet lag fog by day 3. The on-and-off buses take care of all that and are worth the reasonable price. So help your parents orient themselves to their hotel's neighborhood when they arrive, including a plan for the first two night's evening meals. After that, use the on-and-off buses to concentrate their energies around a site and its neighborhood.

Check out Paris Pass as well, which now includes the on-and-off "cars rouges," bus as well as admission to many sites and museums.

Oh, a warning. One of our older houseguests, despite our daily warnings about pickpockets, got pickpocketed in Paris, which certainly put a damper on the trip. Luckily, my husband had confiscated her passport and kept it at our apartment. Still, dealing with the credit card loss, was a hassle. So, yes, be a little paranoid about that. Don't have everything all in one pocket or location.

Bon voyage to your parents!

posted by Elsie at 4:51 AM on February 7, 2012

We were there in September. I am writing to describe two scams that were unfamiliar to me. We encountered both.

In the first, someone walking near you on the street "finds" a heavy "gold" ring, asks if it's yours, then asks if you want to buy it for only $50 or some amount much smaller than it would be worth if it were actually gold. Obviously, it's a fake ring, dropped by the scam artist.

In the second scam, you are asked on the street to sign a petition. While you are talking to the person who asked, another person picks your pocket. Pickpockets are prevalent--our hotel warned us of even little girls who pick pockets.

Otherwise, what Elsie said!
posted by Jenna Brown at 12:43 PM on February 7, 2012

I would nth all of the recommendations for the buses, which do go everywhere (though perhaps not quite as quickly) and which are very clearly labeled with numbers and main stopping points on the sides-- the bus stations themselves also have great maps on the backs. Many metro stations are definitely not easy to do with luggage or when you're tired.

Almost every cafe and restaurant that I've seen has had the prices and day's specials listed very clearly outside, which is lovely as you can poke around a little bit and make sure that you really do want one of the main dishes and a dessert, or whatever combination they like. Many of the crepe places appear to serve a bit of salad on the side of savoury crepes, turning a 7.40 meal into a full lunch.

There are definitely free museums, and they should not miss the Musee Carnavalet, mentioned upthread. The special exhibitions are ticketed separately, though they should check to see which galleries are open and when (many were closed for three hours in the middle of the day when I was there.) Also good? The Maison du la Chasse et la Nature which is quite close by, and has two main floors with many sofas and benches. It is also free, and very wacky-- I thought I'd just see how I liked it, but I actually loved the set-up and the way it was presented. Not free, but if they like Impressionist Art, they should consider the Musee Marmottan Monet, which is a bit farther than most of the others, but within three or four blocks (mostly a park) of a metro and close to several bus lines. It's in a converted mansion, and it's just an incredible collection. There was also no line when I was there, unlike the Musee d'Orsay, which has a twenty minute wait to get to security, despite it being twenty degrees. I suspect the bigger collections always have that kind of lag time, so the pass might be a very good idea. The Musee d'Orsay does have cafes inside, but they might not qualify as "frugal," so if they do have the ability to see a floor or two and pop out for lunch (with the Paris card,) it might work out well.

There are also many kinds of supermarkets in Paris, from the independent ones on the street to street vendors to chain markets. You can pull together an excellent meal from these, especially if they have access to a fridge. Even if they don't, most picnic ingredients will be fine throughout the day. This is especially helpful if many of the shops end up being closed for Sunday and/or Monday. If breakfast isn't a big deal for them, it will definitely be easier and less expensive to keep bread and jam or pick up croissants and make coffee in their hotel.

(Oh yeah-- definitely have them watch out for the petition scam, and the guys who will try to tie bracelets around your wrists. Since most American credit cards will not work easily in most shops, they might want to consider just carrying around the cash they'll need for the day, assuming the hotel has a lockbox.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:51 PM on February 7, 2012

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