What’s New in Paris: Tips for Summer 2019

I recently returned from a visit to “The Big Three” of European travel: Paris, London, and Rome. This trio of great European capitals is better (and more crowded) than ever. It had been 10 years since my last visit to Paris, and I was struck by how it feels timeless — yet subtly better in so many respects. Here are some of my fresh-from-the-rucksack observations from the City of Light.

Reports of Notre-Dame’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The fire that engulfed the cathedral’s roof back in April was a grotesque and shocking thing to watch on TV, and priceless works of art have been lost forever. But — visiting soon after the fire — I was heartened to lay eyes on France’s most important church and see that its graceful stone structure is still intact. In fact, from most angles, little fire damage is evident. I don’t mean to diminish the tragedy; France faces a long, expensive, and exhausting rebuilding process to resurrect its Gothic masterpiece. But seeing Notre-Dame’s gargoyles still peering out from its prickly roofline made my heart glad.

That said, the harrowing sight of Notre-Dame in flames reminded me of the fragility of Europe’s cultural treasures. On this visit, I found myself making a point to slow down and savor Paris’ great sights. Just a short walk from Notre-Dame is Paris’ other great church, Sainte-Chapelle, with the most spectacular stained glass anywhere. I visited in a pensive mood — putting myself in the shoes of a medieval pilgrim, wowed by the swirling play of colored light in this majestic space. If you were saddened by the Notre-Dame fire, take it as a challenge to “be present” in the presence of Europe’s great art and architecture. Ignore the crowds and just take it all in. Because you never know when you’ll be back…or if, when you are, that wonderful sight might not be there anymore.

Once a thoroughfare for busy traffic, the Seine riverbanks have been reclaimed by Parisians. The city is converting more and more of its embankments to people-friendly promenades. In this otherwise congested city, I found walking along the Seine a relaxing way to connect my sightseeing. On a nice day, the riverbanks are filled with rollerbladers, skateboarders, cyclists, and people out strolling. A few pop-up bars and cafés have opened along the river, though to be honest, I was hoping for even more — this zone would be made-to-order for a food truck circus. (A Parisian explained to me that the city is heavily regulated and slow to adopt new ideas. I think maybe I’ve been spoiled by London’s food-truck explosion.) A local tipped me off that the stretch between the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame is, not surprisingly, quite touristy — but if you carry on farther east, the embankments become almost entirely local (check out the area around the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand).

Bonus tip: If you enjoy traffic-free Paris, be in town for the first Sunday of any month — when the “Paris Breathes” initiative forbids car traffic entirely in huge swathes of the city center, and along the Champs-Elysées.

Part of my assignment for this trip was road-testing the Rick Steves’ Europe Audio Tours for Paris. I used these tours to visit the Orsay, the Rue Cler shopping street, the Château of Versailles, and more — and they significantly enriched my visit. Download the (free) Rick Steves Audio Europe app, then download the (free) audio tours for the destinations you’re visiting. When you arrive, stick your buds in your ears and simply enjoy a thoughtfully curated, fully guided tour of Europe’s top sights. (This may sound like a gratuitous plug, but since we make absolutely no money doing these audio tours, I consider it more of a public service. Seriously…I just love these things.)

Paris is c-r-o-w-d-e-d. Smart line-beating strategies can make things easier. But even so, the major sights can be time-consuming and borderline-unpleasant to visit. So consider going light on the sightseeing, and instead, focus on enjoying Paris as a temporary Parisian. Sit on a bench in a park away from the crowds. For example, tucked just across the street from the Louvre (and a short stroll from the mega-touristy Tuileries Garden) are the free-to-enter courtyards of the Palais Royal. This pristine, manicured park — with gurgling fountains, geometric hedgerows, and stately sculptures — is where Parisian parents bring their kids to escape the urban intensity of the city, and where office workers come to unwind at the end of a busy day. And there’s barely a tourist in sight.

Paris is the birthplace of department stores. And these days, some of its stately old shopping halls are becoming virtual theme parks. At the Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann — perhaps Paris’ grandest grand magasin — they’ve built a “Glasswalk” observation platform that extends out into the sumptuous atrium, under the glittering Art Deco dome. At busy times, people wait in line just to step out and snap a photo (free; you’ll find it on the third floor, near the Starbucks). And down below, they recently suspended a bouncy trampoline floor for kids — hanging in the middle of the atrium, high above the perfume counters (this is now closed, but they’re likely to feature similar attractions in the future). Purist Parisian shoppers are put off by the very touristy turn their venerable old stores are taking…but visitors enjoy seeing the department store reach its ultimate expression.

Paris has an excellent public transit network — but it’s important to confirm your transit plans before heading out for the day. I noticed more interruptions on this visit than I ever had before. For example, the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) economic justice movement has been very active this summer — especially on Saturdays. Their M.O. is to disrupt local transit, occasionally closing down key Métro lines and bus routes. (When I was in Paris on May 1 — the “Labor Day” holiday — virtually all city transit came to a standstill.) While a few of these protests have turned violent, they are easy enough to avoid. (They are targeting institutions, not tourists.) But they can create headaches if you’re trying to move around the city. 

Beyond the protests are routine transit interruptions, closures, and changes. For example, Paris recently renumbered several of its bus lines, so a year-old map is no longer accurate. And, as with any big-city transit system, key stops can be closed for construction — for example, the Pont de l’Alma RER stop, handy to the popular Rue Cler neighborhood (and my hotel), was closed when I was in town. Public transport is still the cheapest and most efficient way to get around Paris, but keep an eye on the city transit site for changes and updates: www.ratp.fr/en. And, as always, hoteliers are a great source of up-to-the-minute information about transit closures, whether planned or otherwise. (Bonus tip: When in Paris — or any other city — I use the Google Maps app extensively for both realtime transit routes and walking directions. It rarely steers me wrong.)

I had many memorable meals in Paris, but some of my favorites were simply at neighborhood cafés, with classic menus of steak-frites and croque-monsieur. While I’m a bit of a snob about seeking out top-quality meals, here in Paris, even a fill-the-tank meal at a local dive would qualify as “high cuisine” in most countries. And the people-watching from al fresco tables is fantastique. I found myself choosing the sidewalk perch I liked best, without regard for the menu. And I always ate well enough.

Even as things change, Paris remains one of Europe’s top destinations. Doing a little homework to know what’s new can help you have a more savvy, more effortlessly enjoyable trip. Bon voyage!

I’ve also blogged recently about how you can beat the crowds at the major sights in Paris (and other European biggies). And last week, I described my favorite Paris hotel.

When I’m in Paris, in addition to those audio tours, my indispensable tool is the Rick Steves Paris guidebook. Rick, along with co-authors Steve Smith and Gene Openshaw, have done a formidable job of making one of Europe’s best and biggest cities engaging, fun, and easy to navigate.

17 Replies to “What’s New in Paris: Tips for Summer 2019”

  1. We were just in Paris the first week of June. I brought your book with me and it was a great help. We did a few days on our own and then we joined a tour group- (to follow our daughter who attends FSU and is in the FSU Marching Chiefs) to travel to Normandy and accompany the FSU band to D-Day events. We appreciated your guidance.

  2. So many of my favorite places, and yes, the Londres Eiffel is excellent, so comfortable. I did miss eggs at breakfast, but smuggled a hard-boiled one in after my visit to the Louvre cafeteria.

    The park behind Notre-Dame is nice and offers easy access to the Isle St.Louis. The Marais has that great falafel place and you can stroll to the Place des Vosges, to enjoy your lunch. Paris is one of the few places where I can eat well, yet lose weight, due to all the walking I do.

  3. I was in Paris in April 2018…we went to several smaller sites. We had already seen the major ones. Had a delightful time because we bought tickets online in advance for Eiffel Tower and Giverny.

      1. I would just search the name of the sight. For example, if you Google “Eiffel Tower tickets,” it sends you to this website. Click the red “Buy a ticket” button and it’ll walk you through the process. And, of course, we have step-by-step details for buying tickets (and other tips for beating the lines at major sights) in our Rick Steves Paris guidebook.

  4. We were there mid-June of 2019. Enjoyed all that the city had to offer, and loved Le Moliere (adults and kids) for their food. We stayed right across the street from Nelson Mandela park and had no issues. Transit was easy. Beware the men peeing in public if you have children!

  5. We were also in Paris on May 1 and suffered a great deal from the train closures (and also felt a little fearful with our 3yo when we ran into protesters). Oh well! The magic of Paris was still everywhere, and we had a fantastic day! Parisians were so helpful to us. Can’t wait to go back.

  6. Your perfect article says it all . Was there May 20-26. Grew up in Paris right after the War. Been there a number of times again and again. This time with my daughter to show her where I grew up. Many people go for 2-3 days but this span of time is not enough to soak it all in. There were times the Metro skipped stopping at Stations like Concorde because of the gilet jaunes protesting. High Security everywhere. Will go there again no matter what and live like a Parisian. Most people speak English if anyone is worried not speaking Français.

  7. Took me back to 1975. I lived there for one year going to Le Cordon Bleu when Madame Brassart was still the director. I loved everything about that great city.

  8. You mentioned using Google maps I was curious about what you do about a cellular plan in Europe both for data and voice? Thanks

    1. Good question. I have T-Mobile, so data in Europe is included (calls are 20 cents per minute). But even with other plans, you can download maps on Google Maps for offline use. Just tap “Settings” (the three horizontal lines in the upper-left-hand corner), then select “Offline Maps.” You can choose the area of the map you want to download. Also, these days in cities like Paris, there are plenty of ways to get online for free–hotspots at cafes, museums, and even out in some public spaces. It’s rare that I can’t find a way to get online, when I need to.

      1. When we were in Paris May 2018, our hotel offered pocket WiFi for $5.00 per day. It was the best money we ever spent! It worked everywhere in the City. And we were able to navigate and find restaurants or buy tickets wherever we were.

  9. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, and now starting in September, we will spend a month in Paris. We have rented an apt in the Marais. My favorite thing to do when we’re there is to get up early and visit the sights and take pictures. If you arrive at the early in the morning, the boats are still docked and you can get very nice reflection pictures. Nothing really gets going until at least 9 am so you have much of Paris to yourself. We spend a month because we like the idea of temporarily living in Paris. We have used Rick’s book a lot. I especially recommend the walk around the Left Bank and St. German de Prix. Again, get up early, that is just after 6 am and walk around. You’ll get great pictures and not find yourself in crowds or long lines.

  10. 9 years ago, there was a bar/coffee shop just across the train stop in Giverny where you could rent bikes to ride out to Monet’s home and it was easy and lovely. Anyone know if that is still available? Going in September 2019!!

  11. I currently live in Paris and I know the city pretty well now, yet there is one thing I discovered last spring when my family came to visit me : it is the e- tuktuk tour.
    It was very pleasant (in summer it would be a dream) and funny, and it even allowed me to see unexpected places. The drivers are parisian guys who speak english and have many thing to teach about the city.
    The company we booked is Paris By Tuktuk. They are high rated on Trip Advisor, and I recommend it warmly.


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