© 2012; 2008 Connecting: Solo
Travel Network & Eva Lee. Information.
NOTE: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.
Almost Free Sightseeing in Paris – A Solo Travel Report
Text and Photo by Eva Lee
Start by picking up necessities for this foot-saving, virtually free day
of music, art and sightseeing in Paris – sorry, no free lunch:
- Pariscope is the bible of Paris sightseeing. This magazine
appears each Wednesday at journaux (news kiosks) all over the "City
of Light." It lists just about all of the cultural activities going on
in town and the surrounding communities in Ile-de-France, from free concerts
in churches to big-bucks tourist shows, from Guignol puppet theaters to
bare-assed dance reviews, museum exhibits, gallery openings, and tour boat schedules.
Pariscope tells you where, when, how much, and the nearest Métro stop.
You need little if any French to understand this basic information. Look
for the words: "Entrée Libre," which means entrance is free.
- Carnet is a packet of ten Métro tickets available at any Métro
station. Bought separately, ten tickets would cost significantly more. Each ticket is
good for a one-way trip on the Métro or city buses. The Métro runs till
ParisVisite. This transit
pass allows unlimited trips on the Métro and bus routes, as well as "special"
advantages" at 16 partners' venues. It's available at any Métro station.
Before heading out, check the Pariscope for a free concert you might catch
along the way and plan your sightseeing around that event. This itinerary
includes a visit to the headquarters of Radio France for one of its free
afternoon concerts, but frequent free events are held at different venues
around the city.
On Foot, Métro, and Bus 70
For example, here's how to spend a full day doing a little
of this and that along bus route number 70.
- Hôtel de Ville, 29 rue de Rivoli. Tel. 1-42-76-50-49. Métro: Hôtel de
Ville. Paris' magnificent City Hall is located on the right bank of the
River Seine in the fourth arrondissement (district, one of 20). You'll
likely see the term written like this: 4ème. If it's winter, you can watch
the ice skaters rounding in the City Hall rink. In warmer weather, a mirrored
carousel makes you wish you were a kid again. The big, splashy fountains
in front of the statued facade remind you that "You're in Paris!"
- Free tours of City Hall state apartments are offered Monday to Friday
by appointment. In these magnificent gilt chambers with frescoed high ceilings
and walls, you might easily imagine yourself transported back 200 years
into a state ball, waltzing in the arms of a handsome, bewigged count.
Reality returns on the way out and you see civil servants walking briskly
through the wide stone corridors lit by huge pastel stained-glass windows.
- Art Exhibit: Join a line for the current art exhibit on the east or north
side of the building. There are always one or two free exhibits on show.
The "Doisneau" photo exhibit drew crowds for two years. The line moves
quickly, but the earlier you arrive the shorter the line and the wait.
People chat in line. You'll hear many languages. Listen for an English
conversation and join in. The British, Irish, and Australian tourists are
exceptionally friendly and love to talk with North Americans.
- If it's not too close to lunch time, cross rue de Rivoli to the BHV (pronounced:
bay-aash-vay) department store. Take the escalator, elevator, or stairs
down to the world's largest and most complete hardware store. Why would
you want a hardware store? This Parisian gem offers a treasure trove of
stuff you will find nowhere else and at reasonable prices. For long days
of sightseeing your feet may need help, and here you'll find foot-ease
products you won't find in the US, Canada, or on the Internet. Maybe your
purse strap broke, or the wheel on your suitcase? An electrical converter
for your PC? A metal or stick-on sign saying "Entrée Interdite" (No Entry)
or something more clever, in French, for the door of a teenager's room?
At BHV you will find at least twenty sizes of plastic identification and
photo holders. No time today? Make a note for next trip.
- Bus break: Two blocks beyond the western end of Hôtel de Ville, on rue
de Rivoli, look for bus stop Chatelet where you catch the number 70 bus.
Take a window seat. The 70 bus will carry you across the River Seine, over
Le Pont Henri IV, where you will see his young highness on his statuary
horse, and perhaps catch a glimpse (just opposite the horse) into Place
Dauphine, the almost enclosed park-neighborhood where Simone Signoret and
Yves Montand lived for many years.
The 70 bus continues on to the left bank, past the Musée de la Monnaie
(Museum of Money) into the upscale, boutique shopping district of St Germain
des Prés (6ème). At Église St Sulpice (St Sulpice Church), you could get
off the bus and walk the "Rose Line" you read about in The Da Vinci Code,
or ride on through Square Sevres-Babylone, past the Bon Marché department
store – home to L'Epicierie Fine. This specialty food shop is the place
to splurge on snacks and food souvenirs. Luscious madeleines. Sinful chocolates.
Pastilles de lavande – sugared lavender flower petals. Wine from Bordeaux,
Sancerre, or Alsace. From Denmark come X-IT sugarless mints with or without
guarana. Everything is the best quality at L'Epicierie Fine.
You had better make a mental note to stop there on the way back if your
aim is to make it to Radio France in time for the afternoon concert and,
about now, you'll probably want to fit in a lunch break.
Dine With Parisians
I recommend a stop for lunch in the fifteenth arrondissement (15ème) a
neighborhood where "real people" Parisians live. Watch the large map posted
on the bus for the stop at Voluntiers-Lecourbe.
- Le Roi Du Cafe, 59 rue Lecourbe, (15ème). Tel. 01-47-34-48-50. It is
right across rue Lecourbe from the bus stop. This is the Paris bistro you've
been dreaming of. The long curving wooden bar leads up two steps to the
rear dining room. Light and sunny, it is full of neighborhood happy chatter. Lime-green, upholstered
window seats with small round tables line the bar and full length
front windows. As you wait for the busy waitress, a carafe of water and
a clear, squat glass materialize on your table – rare for a French restaurant. A "bar lunch" here – sandwich, drink, and coffee was 5.50 when I was there.
Generously sized entrées were 10. A small carafe of wine was 3.50. The
formule (fixed price) lunch including wine, beer or soft drink, and coffee
was 11. I found the food totally satisfying and never made it to dessert.
Conversation with neighboring diners was easy. Several people, total strangers,
smiled and said goodbye to me as they left when I was sitting near the
door. For me, this was a completely enjoyable, relaxed, and happy solo dining
- Hop back on the 70 bus; wave your Carte pass or composte (machine stamp)
another métro ticket. Enjoy the neighborhood views – the vegetable, fish,
and cheese vendors with colorful displays outside their shops, the war
memorial sculpture at the Mairie (town hall) of the fifteenth arrondissement,
people walking their dogs or cycling, children playing.
- Descend again at the Pont de Grenelle. You can't miss it; it is a bridge
across the Seine with a bus-stop on it Look to your left. There she stands, lifting her torch, the Little Lady
of Liberty. Bertholdi created her, a thank-you gift from New Yorkers to
the Parisians, a smaller (two-third size) sister of our icon in New York
Harbor. Look to your right. La belle Tour Eiffel guards the Seine, as always.
If the day is fine and your knees are too, descend the stone stairs to
walk along the river paths on the Isle des Cynges (Isle of Swans), an island
park, one of several in the Seine.
- Catch the next 70 bus, ride on to Maison Radio France (116 avenue du Président-Kennedy 75016. Tel. 01-56-40-15-16), the big circular white building
you see from Pont de Grenelle. Enjoy the concert!
Shop Til you Drop
From Radio France take the return number 70 bus. Descend at the Vaneau
stop or at Sevres-Babylone. Now is a good time to browse L'Epicierie Fine
for those exquisite foodie souvenirs.
- If you're ready for a pick-me-up, there is a coffee counter at the rear
of L'Epicierie Fine. Or, to revivify in style, pass the square Sevres-Babylone
on your left from L'Epicierie Fine. Diagonally across from the north end,
you can drop into a comfortable leather chair in the venerable Hotel Lutetia.
You deserve a splurge – try a flute of champagne, un calva (Calvados),
une verre de vin rouge (a glass of red wine), or a soothing pot of tea.
Be prepared to pay 10 euros or more for the luxe of the Lutetia.
- Cross rue de Sevres from Bon Marché, walk down rue St Placide. It is
lined with discount shops, many with upscale, name-brand merchandise, although
few have brand names in the window. You have to go inside to find the best
buys. If your feet aren't yet numb, walk one block up between the Bon Marché
buildings past the big Conran's store to see La Pagode (57 bis, rue de
Babylone), a Chinese style pavilion with a porcelain decorated facade,
built in 1895. It is now a movie theater.
After all this traipsing about you may be ready to call it a day and head
for your hotel. But if you fancy staying around this area for dinner, retrace
your steps past L'Epicerie Fine, two blocks south of the Vaneau Métro entrance,
on rue de Sevres. Turn right onto rue Pierre Leroux and watch for Chez
- Chez Germaine, 30 rue Pierre Leroux (7ème). Tel. 01-42-73-28-34. This
tiny, great value restaurant is recommended by Adrian Leeds in her Good
Value Guide to Paris Restaurants. A three-course dinner was 11 the last
time I was there, in 2006. Single persons will be seated wherever there is a vacant seat, a lovely
opportunity to chat with other diners. If they are speaking French, ask
someone to pass the salt or mustard. I've met Parisians here who were happy
to practice English with a native speaker. Twice, table mates have invited
me to visit at their homes! At Chez Germain you get simple, home-style cuisine, well prepared, basic
and good. I've never been disappointed. If there is Ardechois on the menu
for dessert, do try it. A cake made from chestnut flour with an armagnac
sauce, it's heaven on a plate!