How to plan a trip to Paris
April 20, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to Paris from Boston for my family (wife, 3 girls 13, 11, 9) sometime over the summer. I don't know what I'm doing. How do I find the least expensive flights? Are there tricks to knowing when to leave and return? e.g. are there travel days that get better rates; leave on a Wednesday and return on Monday for cheapest flights? What's the minimum number of days we should stay to make it worth the trip? I was thinking 5-6 days. Is July better than August in Paris? Do you have a favorite place to stay while in Paris? hotel? b&b? youth hostel? Thank you!
posted by GernBlandston to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of Paris is shutdown as people go on a three week vacation in August. If you have the option July is much better.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:57 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found a really cheap flight to Paris earlier this year using the OnTheFly app. It was a chartered flight, for one week, Wednesday to Wednesday. Not sure if that helps!
posted by ohmy at 6:21 AM on April 20, 2012

July is eons better than August. In August the city will be empty of locals and many shops will be closed. July, the locals are itching to get out, but at least they'll still be there.

Airline prices tend to be better on Tues-Thurs. But really, you're flying in the prime season and prices will be high no matter what.

For that size of a family, I'd suggest renting an apartment rather than staying at a hotel. Low-price hotels in Paris are dingy, and high-price are, well, high-priced. This way, you can have a cozy experience with space to make your own food at least some of the time (hitting up a food market is the absolute bestest French thing you can do!) and feel like you own a little bit of Paris for a little while. I'm sure other people can recommend reliable apartment rental sites, since I usually stay with friends.

5-6 days is quite short, in my opinion. If you want this to be your one and only visit where you Do Paris, 7-10 days is the least I'd recommend. If you're a museum family, you can visit one each day and only have scraped the surface. It's also nice to reserve a day or two to get out of the city for a day trip--go to any of the Offices of Tourism for many bus tours of Loire valley castles or to Chartres Cathedral, and you can get to Versailles on the regional metro train.

When you enter a shop or establishment, say Bonjour and Au revoir when you leave. And everywhere you go, apologize, apologize, apologize for not speaking French.
posted by Liesl at 6:31 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no reason at all to avoid Paris in August if that month works for you otherwise, unless you have a specific place in mind that you know in advance will be closed (e.g. a favorite bakery, restaurant) that is a must-see. Yes, many places will be closed, but there are always others that are open. I strongly suggest that you use airbnb and get an apartment for your family. You'll be much more relaxed than if you were in a hotel or hostel; I always hate how you never can feel comfortable sleeping in or even being in a hotel in the middle of the day when they're cleaning. Also you can save money by eating in for some meals -- this gives you the opportunity to really explore Paris's wonderful produce markets. I use airbnb all the time when I go to Paris and have found some great places. Also keep in mind that jet lag, especially with kids, takes out a day or two so maybe five days isn't enough.
posted by tractorfeed at 6:33 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, you want to go in July. If 5 - 6 days is what you can afford, 5 - 6 days will be grand, don't sweat it. If you can't score an apartment in your price range, browse listings on Hostel World. There are a lot of central hostels that offer family rooms. Please book accommodation now (like right now) for July; Paris is the most popular summer tourism destination in Europe. I like Hipmunk for flights.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:40 AM on April 20, 2012

Seconding Hipmunk for searching for flights. One of the best features is you can search over a range of dates. For instance, you can put "July 11 +- 2" in the start date, and it will search for flights leaving anytime between July 9th and July 13th.

Definitely take your time in Paris—the first time I was there, it was only for a weekend, and it was way too hectic trying to see everything. I was there again for a couple of months for work, and it was great being able to see the city at a slower pace. Obviously, you're not going to be there for 2 months, but the point still holds—make sure to leave time to just wander around the city, checking out the various neighborhoods, or for sitting by the river and enjoying a picnic. Those were my most enjoyable times in Paris.

Also, be sure to eat large quantities of pastries and baguettes.

One thing I really enjoyed in Paris was biking around the city. They have an amazing program called Velib where you can rent bikes from stations all over the city. However, in places without bike lanes, it can sometimes be a little harrowing, so maybe that's not the best idea with younger kids.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 7:08 AM on April 20, 2012

Expanding on the On the Fly app that ohmy mentioned, is the ITA Matrix (the website that the app and Kayak is based on). You can tell it to search in a 30 day window from a bunch of different airports from a date that you specify. I took a look from July 1st onwards, and it seems like flights from Boston to Paris will be around $1100 an adult (your younger girls will be a bit cheaper) for July, or ~$906 an adult in August. I've never been to Paris so I can't suggest whether July or August is better but the prices are something to consider. Also, just as an interesting option to consider if you were willing to consider other airports, flights in the same time period in July from Montreal to Paris look to be about ~$860 an adult. I would also suggest booking soon, as the prices for travel are going up the closer you get to the summer. Just to note, you can't book directly from the matrix like you can from Kayak or Expedia, you have to go to the airline's website with flight numbers to book.
posted by snowysoul at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

July is definitely better than August. Not only is it rather humid in August in Paris, but the city virtually shuts down in August, as the French take their summer vacations then.
posted by dfriedman at 8:16 AM on April 20, 2012

Most practical advice--get a flat/apartment/self catering accommodation. You will be much more comfortable. While average temperatures in Paris are quite comfortable in the summer it is subject to some extremes--get AC if possible since you are traveling with a family. With a large party do not scrimp on comfortable accommodations. Advice you may not want--If at all possible schedule your travel either right before/after summer/tourist/vacation months. It maybe my personal experience but major European cities are not the best tourist destinations in peak travel months--expensive, crowded. I think this is particularly true if traveling with a family, modest/limited budget and limited time. Also, stay as long as possible/affordable. After spending this much on travel make it work for you. Your first and last day after/before a transatlantic flight have limited value. Best of travels
posted by rmhsinc at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some additional advice--since you asked. Even though it might be more expensive schedule a non stop flight even if it means driving a bit further. Everyone will be more rested and less irritable. If you get a flat and it has a washer/drier pack extra light. Think carry on--does not mean you have to carry on but think that way. As suggested--visit the markets for food/eating. There are only three absolute essentials--Passport, prescription medicine and a credit card--know where they are and treat them with respect. I think an open/closed tour bus of the City is a great thing to do the first day after arrival--helps with orientation, perspective and is not overly demanding.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:40 AM on April 20, 2012

We were lucky enough to be in Paris for Bastille Day last year (July 14), which was a lot of fun (fireworks, parades, etc.) The city was crowded, but not ridiculously so (especially compared to London).

Because we were only there for a tiny amount of time, we really enjoyed the Batobus on the Seine, especially the ability to hop on and off.

Once you do figure out where you'll be staying, make extensive use of Google's streetview with the satellite maps. It really helped give us a jump start on understanding and navigating our neighborhood.
posted by at 9:01 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call a travel agent. This is what travel agents do. I don't mean to be rude, but you don't have the information you need to make a good trip and I doubt we'll be able to give you enough information; a travel agent doesn't cost the Earth, and they provide added value in lots of ways.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:34 AM on April 20, 2012

I am going to second the advice to rent an apartment. A vacation rental in the city will likely be cheaper than a hotel, and you will have a kitchen and probably laundry facilities. I've done it twice and both times it was great.
posted by Nothing at 10:15 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely recommend renting an apartment. We've had good success with over the years both here in the states and abroad (Paris included).
posted by hwickline at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2012

I was just in Paris in March. We rented an apartment from . Four women, one apartment, kitchen, washer and dryer with a view of the Eiffel Tower for $900.00 for 6 nights. Such a great deal. The guy that owned the apartment was so awesome to work with (this of course may change from place to place) but we had absolutely no issues. We looked at other apartment rental sites, but airbnb had the best prices by far. Have a great time!
posted by fresh-rn at 6:20 PM on April 20, 2012

Oops. Messed up the link.
posted by fresh-rn at 6:21 PM on April 20, 2012

posted by fresh-rn at 6:22 PM on April 20, 2012

Ms. rmhsinc reminded me that this is something (particularly the girls) might thoroughly enjoy
posted by rmhsinc at 6:41 AM on April 21, 2012

leave on a Wednesday and return on Monday for cheapest flights?

This is definitely worth investigating - flying on weekdays, staying at least one weekend.

On my one (so far) trip to France there was a situation where people in the group I was with had an event in France on Wednesday and had to be back in the U.S on Friday. It was apparently much cheaper to actually buy TWO round trip tickets per person that fit the above criteria rather than a single Tuesday to Friday ticket. Each person would use the first half of the round-trip ticket and then "cancel" the second half.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:09 AM on April 21, 2012

I stayed at the Lenox Montparnasse last year -- it was excellent value and situated in an absolutely perfect location. Use tripadvisor to find smaller boutique hotels and read reviews.
posted by teedee2000 at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2012

I just got back from a 5-day visit to Paris with my wife. She'd never been before, so the trip was very much a "see the highlights" vacation. We hit all the major stuff, but I really wish we had an extra day or two to just walk around. Here are some things to consider:

- Holey moley, get a Museum Pass. You can buy them online, or they're sold at various places around Paris. The cost may or may not work out vs. individual entrance fees for you, but it's worth it solely not to have to stand in line. The lines at the "big" museums (Louvre, Orsay, etc.) looked easily an hour long.

- Paris is not a very kid-friendly city for tourists. It's not like anyone's going to be rude to them, but for example there's a lot of walking, more than you're probably used to. A lot of the "important" art there may or may not be engaging to tween girls. There's not a lot of things that are flashy or cute. Did I mention the walking? Be sure to plan in lots of downtime.

- This is absolutely true:
Liesl: "When you enter a shop or establishment, say Bonjour and Au revoir when you leave."
posted by mkultra at 1:32 PM on May 7, 2012

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