Traveling alone can be both invigorating and terrifying. This is only compounded when traveling to a place that traditionally opens its arms exclusively to couples. But there is enough love in Paris to go around. Here are some tips to unlocking that love when alone in Paris.
Before leaving, it’s a good idea to check out a website designed for those traveling alone. Look no further than www.independenttraveler.com, a site that offers travel deals, shortened destination guides, and a message board where you can read about another’s experience traveling alone or post a question about your destination.
Once you arrive in Paris, why not splurge on accommodation? Hotel St. Jacques in the Latin Quarter is close to all major sights and, being just minutes from La Sorbonne, Paris’s leading university, is surrounded by the young, hip French. St. Jacques offers singles with complete bath for 80e ($85) a night. The staff is very friendly, the rooms quaint, old-fashioned, and impeccably clean. And because it is such a small hotel, you will immediately feel at home and shed of any solo-traveler inadequacies.
Probably the best thing about traveling sans others is not having to worry about someone else’s preferences or schedule. You can go out and explore whatever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like. Paris is quite a compact city, so it makes sense to take the metro out to one end of the city, then work your way back to your hotel area on foot, strolling by the Seine and literally bumping into amazing Parisian wonders.
Now, everyone knows the Eiffel Tower (metro Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel or Trocadero) is an absolute MUST on any tour of Paris. Take the elevator to the top (open in winter 9am-11pm and summer 9am-1am) for 10e ($15) or walk up to the second tier (open in winter from 9am-6pm and summer 9am-12am) at 3e ($8) for spectacularly expansive views of the city. The Eiffel Tower is a great place for international people-watching, so relax and revel in voyeurism. Across the street is a gofres avec chocolate (waffles with chocolate) stand for those feeling peckish. Simply cross the street and head toward the mini-carousel near the Seine to purchase these divine treats.
After braving the heights of the tower, walk east along the Seine to arrive at Le Louvre. Café Marly, a quaint café with great eats and a court-side seat to all the Louvre action, is a great place to start any Louvre experience. Admire or scoff at the monstrous crystal pyramid by IM Pei which tops the entrance to the elegant, underground, and cavernous museum like the lid of a spectacular candy dish. Mona Lisa and her famed tight-lipped smirk are the main attraction here, so be prepared to wriggle your body through the crowds for a snapshot. If, however, you are not feeling so dexterous, there are some ways to beat the crowds. Either get to the museum a bit before opening hours or arrive about an hour and a half before closing time to avoid the herds of tourists. Operating hours at the Louvre are 9am-6pm, with later hours of 9am-10pm on Wednesday and Friday. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so take note! There are several ticket options for the museum: a permanent collection ticket at 8e ($13), temporary collection ticket 8e ($13), or a ticket for the whole lot at 13e ($18).
Next, continue east along the Seine and north to Le Centre Pompidou. The bright colors of the whimsical fountains outside will definitely give you some of the Paris loving and bring a smile to your face. Pompidou, which outwardly looks like a waterslide park-cum-complex lab-rat maze is Paris’s premier Museum of Modern Art. The Centre is open every day except Tuesdays from 11am-9pm at 10e ($15) for a one-day centre pass (this pass is only available online).
Another example of exquisite architecture in this city full of love is the Arc de Triomphe, just off the Champs Elysees. On your way to this commanding sight, you can give some loving attention to your wallet and consumer heart. Take the metro to Franklin D. Roosevelt and go southeast to the Triangle D’Or (Golden Triangle), where you will find such posh shops as Givenchy, Prada, and Hermes (oh my)! Get back on the Champs Elysees and walk up toward the Arc de Triomphe. Champs Elysees, named after Elysium, which in Greek mythology was the place where happy souls went after death, is just as much a place for happy living souls to dine and shop.
After the sights and the shopping, it’s time for some spiritual affection. Love for your spiritual side can be found in Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. First up on the spiritual-loving tour is Notre Dame, the mother of all cathedrals, flying buttresses and all. It’s hard not to feel warmth in your heart when in this massively breathtaking cathedral. The cathedral is open everyday from 7:45am-6:45pm at 6e ($11). The area outside of the cathedral next to the Seine is perfect for resting your blistery feet and catching up on postcard writing.
From the mother of all cathedrals, go visit its baby girl, the basilica Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Take the metro to Anvers and walk up Rue de Steinkerque to the lush green gardens, before getting to the steep stairs and stark white basilica. The lawn area and stairs leading up to the basilica are great for hanging out and chomping on a fresh baguette sandwhich or panini which you could have picked up on Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter, before heading out to these sights. Be on alert, though, when traveling over to this destination, as the surrounding area is quite shady. Two great pieces of advice: tag along with large groups of visitors you see, AND, to all the ladies, be mindful of your derriere!
Weary from pounding the Paris streets, it’s time for some nighttime fine dining. To avoid feeling extremely uncomfortable and being pestered throughout the night by waiters wondering where the rest of your party of one is (you couldn’t POSSIBLY be dining alone in Paris), follow these tips for solo dining. Avoid the "romantic" little French and Italian bistros; instead head to a place that will be brimming with people, like a fondue restaurant with large tables where strangers sit side-by-side, enjoying a great meal, or a small café with people overflowing onto the sidewalks. L’Etoile du Berger
(tel 01 43 26 38 87, 42 rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève, metro Maubert Mutualité) is a great example of an inviting fondue restaurant. L’Etoile is fashioned after a Swiss chalet with long wooden tables for large groups. The food is fabulous and reasonably priced, and with a warm, inviting atmosphere, you don’t have to worry about justifying eating alone. Heck, you might even end up with a whole new gaggle of friends to dine with!
And finally, the one great experience that must be had in Paris is enjoying the nightlife. Just because you are on your own does not mean that you cannot partake, women especially. There are ways to do it and be safe about it. First, chat with mixed groups of girls and guys. Second, always have a story prepared for the dreaded "why are you here alone?" question. Such as, "I’m traveling with my friend, she’s pretty tired and back at the hotel, said she’d try to meet up later." Third, if you want to go out but not be too far away from your hotel and "safety net", try local joints near your hotel. And finally, if ever you are feeling uncomfortable, call a cab, or have a bartender call one for you, and return to your hotel.
For my adventurous night out on the town, I opted for the foreigner retreat and place where Frenchies go to practice their English, Violon Dingue (rue de La Nontagne and Genevieve 8, metro Genevieve Street). There I was lucky enough to be chatted up by a group of Parisians, male and female, and headed to L’etoile, a super-chic club where we danced till late in the morning. It was the perfect end to my tour of Paris.
So, if you are hesitant to travel to and in Paris alone--buff! No problem, you are now equipped with the knowledge to have a lovely time there. Remember, opportunities are all around us, companions around each corner--we just need to take a leap of faith (not a reckless one, but a safe one), and we'll be amazed at what we find.
Links for up-to-the-minute hours and rates:
http://www.france-hotel-guide.com/h75005stjacques.htm (Hotel St. Jacques)
http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/ (Eiffel Tower)
http://www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home_flash.jsp?bmLocale=en (le Louvre)
http://www.cnacgp.fr/Pompidou/Accueil.nsf/Document/HomePage?OpenDocument&L=2 (Centre Pompidou-in English)
http://www.cathedraledeparis.com/FR/0.asp (Notre Dame)
http://www.paris-tourist-information.com/sacrecoeur.htm (Sacre Coeur)
Other popular foreign friendly bars:
Coolin-in the heart of St. Germain
Bombardier-on Place de Pantheon
Fubar-a short walk form metro Odeon
The Hideout--in the Latin Quarter