Tips on travelling to Paris from Olivier Normand

Olivier was born and raised in Paris and even as a child would spend his free time visiting museums and parks and exploring the different neighbourhoods of Paris. Olivier works in the tourism industry and is the co-owner of Triple M Tours, a company which specialises in tours of France and Paris.

For more information on Triple M Tours visit the website: www.triplemtours.ca

What do you love most about Paris?

I love that Paris is actually multiple small villages interacting together on a daily basis. I love being able to travel from China to Greece, from Cameroon to Tunisia with only a Metro Pass. You can spend days and evenings visiting so many interesting venues and participating in different events 365 days of the year. In these little villages you get to know the name of the owner of the little bakery at the corner, shop daily for locally produced food and forget supermarkets and malls.

When is the best time of year to visit Paris?

April to June (early summer), mid-September to October (autumn) and finally, for the holiday festivals and shows, December and early January (winter).

I advise avoiding Paris in peak summer because many locals leave for their annual vacation at this time leaving only crowds of tourists, it can be uncomfortably hot and humid, and prices go up.

Where would you send a first-time visitor in Paris?

The list is so long!

First to the roof of the Galleries Lafayette, for the remarkable view of the city, and the casual relaxed ambiance. And best of all, entrance is free of charge.

Then to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur for much the same reasons.

The Louvre, for the massive art collection in the museum and also the colossal masterpiece of architecture that contains the collection.

Next to the Grands Boulevards around Opera to discover and visit the hidden shopping passages and buildings overlooked by most tourists.

And last but certainly not least, to enjoy a Seine River Cruise at night and see 75 percent of all main monuments in an hour or so, lit up in all their splendour. They don't call it The City of Lights without good reason.

Are there any tourist attractions that are overrated, or best avoided?

The Arc de Triomphe is overrated in my opinion. The 'big name' Cabaret shows are far too expensive and often just tourist traps. Montparnasse Tower is not worth seeing in my opinion either.

How long should I spend in Paris?

Three full days for a quick taste, a week for a full experience, and longer if you can manage it. One could spend a lifetime in Paris and not discover all its hidden secrets.

Where would you recommend travellers find accommodation in Paris?

Paris-centre accommodation tends to be significantly cheaper than in some other Paris districts. As an example a three to four-star hotel in Opera District will be far smaller and less comfortable than the same level hotel in the 15th district, even though the public transportation system serves both comprehensively.

What are some of your favourite local dishes?

Paris is so multicultural it is hard to choose something that is really 'local cuisine' anymore, with the exception of good coffee and pastries which are usually cheap and easy to find. Personally I like to have a gyro in the Latin Quarter, a couscous in Barbes, or a potee (cabbage stew) in the Halles.

What is the best mode of transport for tourists in Paris?

Definitely your feet and a public transport pass.

Is Paris a safe travel destination?

As in any big city, if your behaviour is asking for trouble, unfortunately you will find it. But, Paris is extremely safe for tourists, with visible security measures in place, including bag searches in tourist areas and plentiful police officers. As with everywhere simple rules apply: don't keep wallets in back pockets, wear handbags across the body so they cannot be snatched, and don't 'flash' expensive items or wads of cash. If you can't afford to lose something, leave it at home.

Is Paris an expensive travel destination?

Yes and No. Paris is like New York, London, and other big cities in that it is as expensive as you want it to be. For example, if the menu of a restaurant is in more than two languages, run! That's where the tourists eat and the prices will be higher than a place where the menu is in only in one language and the tables are full of locals. A cab from the airport to downtown can be very expensive, but the same trip can cost dramatically less if you take the train or a shared shuttle. Shops aimed at tourists are generally much more expensive than the shops the locals use. An expensive breakfast at the hotel is three times more expensive than a few feet away at the corner bakery. So, try your best to live and eat as the locals do and you will save money.

What are the best Paris souvenirs?

Postcards bought along the Seine near Notre Dame are cheap, easy to transport, and beautiful pieces of art. The best picture of Mona Lisa you will obtain is by buying a postcard of it.

What is the best thing to do with children in Paris?

There are many free and fun activities, including Buttes Chaumont, Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens, watching street performers at Pompidou Centre, or climbing Sacred Coeur Basilica Hill.

Reasonably cheap options that kids will enjoy include the Grevin Museum, the Vincennes Zoo, the Eiffel Tower (buy tickets online ahead of time to avoid massive lines with kids), the Museum of Magic, or a River Seine cruise (best in the evening when the lights of the city come on).

And, although it is expensive, Disneyland Paris is a must for many families, with Aqua Boulevard another fun option.

Is there anything else you feel travellers should be aware of?

Only 50 percent of your trip should be planned when you visit Paris. Get 'lost' (with a map in your pocket) and randomly choose a subway station to go to and discover the history of that particular neighbourhood. Enjoy the free tours, organized daily in almost every interesting district, guided by local students who speak your language.

For more information on Triple M Tours visit the website: www.triplemtours.ca