The Velib 'free' bicycle system in Paris is really a great idea. I went for a five day extended weekend with my partner and checked my credit card statement the next month to discover to my delight that I had been all over the city; to the Eiffel Tower, along the Champs Elysees, a scary whirl around Place de la Concorde at rush hour (not recommended for the faint-hearted!) and all over the Grand Boulevards and along the Seine and had spent a massive total of six euros.
The system is user friendly and self-explanatory, you can do it in a range of languages. You tap in your credit card details for a small flat hire rate (no more than five euros, as far as I recall), then hoik the rather clumsy, heavy bikes out of their stand. The bikes are a little uncomfortable and it's important to examine which number bike you'll take before you select at the controls, because some have flat tyres, wonky seats that won't budge, or rattling chains. The bikes have - ostensibly - three gears. These are 'slow', 'slower' and 'snail's cycle-rate' and it can get hairy attempting to belt across a junction will a line of irate Parisian drivers attempting to turn right and cut you up.
If you dock the bike back into another station before 30 mins are up, the ride is free. Interestingly, my partner's credit card statement showed one euro more expenditure so perhaps he had docked in a second or two after me.
However, it's an excellent way to see Paris and a lot of fun.
All over Central Paris
This Marché de la Gare is 10 minutes from Chatelet on RER A (station - Nanterre Ville, direction St Germain en Laye). Nanterre is just to the west of la Défence and is home to a huge plethora of different cultures, many west and north African. The market has its fair share of cheap household tat outside but venture inside the big hall to bustle and hassle with all the others. Veg, meat, spices, smells noises, indefinable languages, and bargains galore and not a tourist in sight. No need to stay nearby. The market is right next to the station and is open 08h to 13h30 wed and sat. Great fun, great food and something a bit different. Oh, and prices at a half of the centre of Paris!
Train RER A from Chatelet/Auber to Nanterre Ville (direction St Germaine en Laye. Station is next to market.
Rather than lug your purchases around with you on your speedy business trip, why not pick them up at Gare du Nord right before Eurostar check-in? As you exit the Metro in the 'Magenta' part of the station, there's a small stall run by a chap from Provence, who dispenses great wine, cheese, pate and meats to those London-bound. Great for picking up some goodies before heading up to the Eurostar terminal.
Gare du Nord, Paris. SNCF says: France des Provinces Niveau -1 (Level -1) sous la verrière Transilien, face au couloir RER E
Forget buying a Paris Visite card for dashing around the city - it's only valid for 1st class metro which is not always convenient. Instead, buy a Mobilis card for unlimited public transport in central Paris, €5.50 per day. Or, for longer stays, a Carte Orange, €16.60 for a week's unlimited public transport in central Paris (photo required).
The Roissey bus takes you in to the centre of Paris behind the Opera. It is not only a cheap form of transport (from a company perspective) but the bus ride helps you get your bearings and leads you into central Paris where you can shop and eat before going to your hotel.
Outside all terminals at CDG airport and at L'Opera
If you have problems with walking and mobility, avoid the big Metro interchanges as the distances between lignes can be vast - ie Chatelet, Republic etc. You can often change at a stop a bit further down. For wheelchair users and parents with pushchairs, the Metro remains almost completely inaccessible.
Paris taxi drivers seem to have a problem with carrying more than three people. We were surcharged for a family of three adults and one child with various excuses given, including an additional charge for luggage! Use the Metro whenever possible, and buy a carnet of 10 tickets for both adults and children (1/2 price).
If you are taking a short break to Paris and need to use the car to get to London (sadly we had to), Eurostar use NCP for the St Pancras station car park and this means a minimum £25.00 per day which can dampen the holiday spirit.
We used Lomax car park in Camden Town (15 minutes' walk) - very helpful staff, they will drive you to the station and pick you up on your return and, best of all, it's about £50 for four days.
Particularly if you are visiting with children make sure you take a trip on Metro line 14. This is a new line from St Lazare to Olypiades and the trains are driverless. If you get in the front carriage you can sit right up front and pretend to drive! It is great.
For those travelling to Longchamp Racetrack on 'Arc de Triomphe' raceday, there are FREE shuttle buses to and from the racetrack from Porte d'Auteuil (RATP bus station), Porte Maillot (244 bus stop), and Pont de Sèvres (RATP bus station).
If planning on multiple journeys or using the Metro over several days, purchase a Paris Visite pass (valid 1, 2, 3 or 5 days) which gives unlimited travel in either 1-3 or 1-6 zones, discounts to attractions and can be purchased in advance.
If you are staying for several days buy a Carte Orange, zone 1 & 2, to use metro/buses etc rather than the Paris Visite tourist pass which is more expensive.
Tickets can be bought at most metro stations, you will need to ask for the wallet and card from the ticket desk, then attach a passport-sized photo and you have free travel from Monday to Sunday. As this is a weekly pass, aimed at Parisian commuters, be careful with the dates, it runs from Monday to Sunday.
When travelling with small children you are entitled to a free porter service at both eurostar stations.
Just ask. This service normally costs £10. I didn't know until someone pointed it out to me as I had so much luggage I had to ask for help.
Don't rush off from the marvellous Gare Du Nord railway station - take half an hour or so to have a good look around this amazing terminus.
Over a hundred years old, the fantastic Gothic canopy is held up by huge cast iron pillars (made in Scotland actually, where the only foundry large enough to make them was located!).
The whole structure reminds one of a vast cathedral. Outside too is most impressive, with outstanding stone carvings and a most impressive facade.
Although constantly noisy and busy, the station is world class and should be savoured, not swallowed and forgotten! Enjoy.
The Brasserie du Gard Du Nord is the best place to prepare for a Sunday afternon journey back from Paris.
All the classics, fantastic surroundings, plate of oysters and a chilled bottle of something lets you drowse contentedly all the way back to Londres!
On your next metro journey take a detour to Line 14 for a space-age theme park ride.
The high-speed "Meteor" line is driverless so you can sit at the front and enjoy an exhilerating driver's eye view along the eerie twisting tunnels.
It is much faster and better than London's Docklands Light Railway. Get off at Bercy Station to admire the platform's lush underground jungle.
The No69 bus is ideal for when the legs are too tired for walking. This bus journey travels across Paris taking in some of the most wonderful views of the city along the way with plenty of places to jump off for a bite, cafe or kir!
The best and most fun way to see the sights of Paris is to take a personal tour in an original 40-year-old Citroen 2CV complete with a bereted driver.
Besides soaking up the atmosphere, you feel like a minor celebrity as tourists jostle to get a snap of this motoring curiosity. The engine stalling, dodgy gear changes and the curses directed by the driver at other motorists who have cut him up along the Champs D'Elysee, all add to the Gallic charm and fun.
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org