Secrets of Paris 
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About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content 
* Free Paris Resource Guide
* Calendar of interesting Paris events
* Private Secrets of Paris Tours
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Videos

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here

Calendar of Paris Events

October 4
One of the greatest contemporary British comedians, Eddie Izzard, is bringing his show Force Majeure back to Paris, this time....en français! Mais oui! He'll be performing at the Casino de Paris one night before moving onto a week-long tour in other French cities. Even if your French sucks, you'll likely be able to follow along Eddie's own version of Franglais as he explains World History, God, Hitler, and other light topics. Tickets from FNAC starting at €25.

October 8-11
The annual Puces du Design is a free market of vintage furniture and home decor from the 1950s to today, at the Place des Vins behind Bercy Village, 12th. Over 100 stands, free entry. 

October 8-18
Celebrate Oktoberfest in Paris all week long in a huge Bavarian-themed tent at the Porte de la Villette (19th), tickets €34-€44, including €15 of drink tickets.  There will be music, Bavarian Cancan dancers, and plenty to eat and drink. Dust off the lederhosen and be ready for fun! 

Through October 18
The 32nd annual funfair carnival, the Fête à Neu Neu, opens on August 30th in the Bois de Boulogne (Porte de la Muette, 16th, M° Rue de la Pompe). Open 4pm-midnight Mon, Tues, & Thurs; 2pm-midnight Wed & Fri; and noon to midnight Sat-Sun. Free entry, ATM, Vélib station, food tents and rides (tickets purchased onsite).  

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees
to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur


How to Skip the Lines at the Eiffel Tower

Not everyone who visits Paris wants to go to the Eiffel Tower (yours truly included). But those who do usually want to figure out how to avoid the notoriously long lines. And, as usual, there seems to be a lot of confusion around the available options, some of it intentional by those hoping to profit from time-pressed tourists. 

I don't take people to the Eiffel Tower, but this is the advice I give to my own clients for avoiding the worst of the lines without being completely ripped off by the Tourism Industrial Complex:  

1. Buy Your Eiffel Tower Tickets in Advance

Directly from the Eiffel Tower Official Website - €17
Always check here first for the best price and no waiting in line. Up until just a few years ago there was no way for individuals to purchase tickets in advance. Only tour groups could do this. Now anyone can buy tickets on their official website up to two months in advance for a specific time (up until 9:30pm) to access the summit (as well as the 1st and 2nd floors) via elevator. Two important things to note: they do sell out quickly (the reason for this is below), but if you methodically check each date sometimes there are a few open slots at the last minute; even with a summit lift ticket, you'll have to switch elevators on the second level, on the way up and down, and often there are lines for this (no possibility of skipping ahead for anyone). 

Second-Level Tickets from the Eiffel Tower Official Website - €11

This is the best Plan B for skipping the lines with advance tickets. When the summit tickets are all sold out, there are often still spaces on the second level, just select "Lift Entrance Ticket with Access to 2nd Floor" on the ticket page before choosing your date. Three important things about this option: the second level is still higher than everything else around it, so the views are still amazing; the last reserved time for the second level is 10pm, so you have extra time; once you're on the second level you can actually buy tickets to take the lift to the summit if it's not full (look for the little ticket kiosque in the photo here, price is €6.50). I personally think the second level is the best view, and there are snack and drink options, shops, and more space to move around. 

- Book Lunch or Dinner on the Eiffel Tower - €41.50-€230
You can skip the line by booking lunch or dinner at one of the two restaurants, 58 Tour Eiffel (1st level) or Le Jules Verne (2nd level), each which have their own entrance away from the regular lines. The 58 Tour Eiffel is an informal brasserie serving a "chic picnic" style meal at lunch for €41.50, or a more formal dinner for €85 to €170 for a guaranteed bay window seat. The food is fine, but you're paying for the view (no option to get to the upper floors afterwards, though). Le Jules Verne is a formal French restaurant with a dress code, menus are €105 to €230 for lunch, €190- €230 for dinner. Online reservations with a credit card (pre-authorization) is necessary. It's a pain because you'll have to check each day individually to find an opening. The food is excellent and the views are great from the 2nd floor. 

- Buy Eiffel Tower Tickets through the Paris Tourist Office - €29-€55.50
The Paris Tourism Office sells a few packages that include Eiffel Tower access, up to two months in advance, which can be picked up at their office in Paris (near the Opéra and Louvre) or delivered to your hotel. First is the 1-Day Paris City Pass: €34 for a boat cruise and bus tour, plus €15 optional extra to access the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower at a designated time slot; you can then get access to the summit at the 2nd level ticket window for an additional €6.50, total €55.50 to get to the top. Second is the Guided Visit Behind the Scenes of the Eiffel Tower: this guided tour (in English 8 times per day) takes you to the 2nd level for €29, where you can then get a ticket to the summit at the ticket kiosque (€6.50, if available) at the end of the tour, so total €35.50 for the top. This is the same price as purchasing it directly from the tour company, CultivalFinally, you can Book a "Picnic" Lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant: this is on the First Level of the Eiffel Tower only, reservations possible noon or 1:30pm, for €41.50. You cannot go up to the top floor from here, but the first level has nice views (even through the glass floor, as seen in this pic below), shops, and even a post box where any post cards sent will have the Eiffel Tower stamp on them. 

- Buy Eiffel Tower Tickets from a Private Tour Operator (or not) - €36 and Up
After much research over the years, I've found this to be the worst option, unless you don't mind being ripped off. The Tourism Industrial Complex wants to squeeze as much money out of you as possible, and they are working together to make sure they all get a cut. The ugly truth us that they buy up thousands of tickets in advance at a huge discount and then sell them for 100-300% MORE than the official price. And since there are no tickets left for individuals to purchase on the official website, you're forced to buy these overpriced tickets for whatever price they're selling them for. Like many small, independent tour companies and guides, I would love to buy tickets in advance for my clients, but I don't have the thousands of clients each month needed to buy these, only a very few companies can do this. And the even uglier truth is that two companies now work together to make sure you're getting ripped off: almost every big tour operator sells its tours through the massive tour reseller Viator, which was just "acquired" in late 2014 by the supposedly unbiased review site TripAdvisor. Now TripAdvisor blatantly promotes ONLY the tour companies that sell Eiffel Tower tickets and tours through Viator. This screen shot below is Trip Advisor page for the Eiffel Tower:

As you can see in the area I circled in red, TripAdvisor makes it look as if the ONLY tickets available are through the tours sold by their own company Viator, the cheapest being €36 for the second level, not including the summit. Over on the right, tiny and out of the way is the actual link to the official Eiffel Tower website where the same tickets are just €11, or €17 to the summit. If they were offering something significantly better than what you could get through the official website, I could understand a price increase, but they are not. Do people really think it's okay for TripAdvisor to mislead readers (and making a profit from that) if it's still trying to pass itself off as a website where travelers can go to find "the truth" about the places they're visiting. Caveat emptor!

If you absolutely must buy tickets through a tour operator even though they're more expensive, please skip resellers like Viator and book direct for the best service. I always recommend Easy Pass Tours because they are a locally-based company started in 1999 by the American David Mebane (greatly expanded from its origins as one of the first bike tour companies in Paris, now called Fat Tire Tours). 


2. Take the Stairs

No one can buy advance tickets to take the stairs, so it's fair game for anyone who is physically fit, and it only costs €7. The stairs go to the 1st and 2nd levels only, but once at the second level you can buy elevator tickets to the summit from the little kiosque if there's space and it's not too late. Two important things to remember: the last access to the stairs is midnight from mid-June through the end of September (Eiffel Tower at 12:45am), then 6pm the rest of the year (stairs close 6:30pm, elevators close 11:45pm); no one checks your tickets when you're going down, so you can take the elevator back down to ground level if you don't want to go back down the stairs. There is no guarantee there won't be a bit of a line during peak times, but it will never be a long one (see below for best times to avoid lines). 

3. Go at Night

If you don't want to commit to purchasing an advance ticket (or didn't plan ahead, oops!) you can also avoid the long lines by going as late as possible in the evening. I know what you're thinking: "Let's get there early, before it opens." Guess what? Everyone else is thinking that, too! Plus, if you get there an hour before opening time, you are GUARANTEED to wait an hour, even if you're first. Bad move. Groups of travelers, families with grumpy kids, and anyone who is usually too pooped after sight-seeing all day and drinking French wine at dinner will usually collapse well before the Eiffel Tower closes, meaning the lines are much shorter.

Eiffel Tower Opening Hours: From mid-June through the end of September the Eiffel Tower is open until midnight (meaning you can enter until midnight; it actually closes at 12:45am, or 11pm for the summit elevator); the rest of the year it closes at 11:45pm (last entrance to the summit 10:30pm, last entrance to the 2nd level 11pm, and last entrance via the stairs at 6pm). I've had clients show up at 10:30pm in high season and only wait 15 minutes for the elevator to the summit. The moral to the story? Sleep in, stay up late, enjoy Paris by Night! ;-) 


Bathroom, Lounges, and Left Luggage at Gare du Nord Train Station

Of Paris' five passenger train stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l'Est, Gare St-Lazare, Gare de Lyon, and Gare Montparnasse), the Gare du Nord is the one that my tour clients use the most.  This is the station for the high speed trains including the Eurostar (Great Britain, Belgium, Northern France) and the Thalys (Netherlands, Northern Germany, Northern France, and Belgium). 

Like most busy European train stations, it can be a bit disorienting for new arrivals from London or Amsterdam to navigate the facilities. Happily, they're always improving. 

- Bathrooms: all arrivals come into the main Grands Lignes platforms; the nearest bathrooms are one level down, right at the foot of the escalators on the way to the Metro or RER (in fact, you may see the " M/RER" signs before you see the bathroom sign at the top of the escalator, so follow them if you're lost). The bathrooms are very clean and cost €0.70, paid to the attendant at the desk who will give you change if needed, but now you can also pay by credit card, a lifesaver for those of you with no Euros (or no small bills/coins). 

- Lounges: If you're traveling by Eurostar you go up an escalator and through security to the dedicated Eurostar lounge (with bathrooms, dining, shops, seating). If you're traveling by Thalys there is a new, dedicated lounge opened in July just outside the station, across the street from the taxi stand, at 22 rue Dunkerque. Other travelers can try and get a spot in the Salon Grand Voyageur (open 7am-9pm) or squat one of the few places to sit in the main hall (there are plenty of snack stands, newsstands, and some seating); don't get there too early when it's very cold because the platforms are open-air, thus no heating in the station.  

- Left Luggage: If you need to store your suitcases or bags for up to 24 hours there is a Left Luggage service, aka Consignes, just across from platform #2 and down the stairs (photo below). If you walk too far past the first platform and along the wall, you'll see a sign that says "Baggages". DO NOT FOLLOW THAT SIGN, it's for pre-checked bags (I found this out the hard way after following the signs all the way around the back of the station....creepy!). The Consignes lockers only take coins, the largest storage lockers are €9.50, smaller ones for €7.50 and 5.50 (one flat fee no matter how long they're in there, up to 24 hours). The bill changer is very sensitive and took ten minutes to figure out, so if you can come prepared with coins you're better off. Directions are in different languages. Make sure you get the receipt with the open code, and that you know the opening hours: 6:15am-11:15pm. 

- Security: Although much has been written about the safety issues in train stations since the foiled gunman attack on the Amsterdam-Paris Thalys in August, there is no reason to be anxious about train travel. It's one of the fastest, most comfortable and most efficient ways to get around Europe. The Eurostar is the only train service that currently scans baggage and checks passports (like at the airport), but you will see many police officers and armed military patrolling all of the stations in Paris. The biggest security risk is getting pick pocketed or having your bag snatched, so be vigilant about keeping your eyes on your belongings (because whatever isn't stolen will likely be designated "unattended" and the entire station will close while they bring in bomb-sniffing dogs). 

- Fun Shop: On a more positive note, one of my favorite new shops, HEMA, just opened on the lower level (bathrooms and metro/RER). It's a good place to get rid of a few spare euros on snacks, stationary, beauty products, and travel gadgets.


Unique Cinema Experiences in Paris

Back in the US you might have Netflix and a flat-screen HDTV bigger than ones in most cinemas, but in Paris going out to the movies is still a lot of fun. Because of the variety of theatres – indie, art house, international, mainstream – there are more movies showing on any given day than in any other city in the world.

Specialist Cinemas

Some cinemas are just for classic films (Le Desperado, Christine 21, Le Grand Action) showing Hitchcock thrillers, Gene Kelly or Audrey Hepburn musicals, early James Bond or Fellini films. Others have gorgeous, historic theatres (La Pagode, Max Linder Panorama, Le Louxor Palais (above) and Le Grand Rex (below)), and others are known for their special collections (Le Fondation Seydoux-Pathé shows silent films from their massive archived collection, and the soon-to-open Cinéma Les Fauvettes across the street will feature digitally re-mastered and restored films).

Dr. Frank-N-Furter Turns 40

In the heart of the Latin Quarter, the Studio Galande just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has been screened at the tiny art house theatre every week non-stop since 1980. Despite its age, the “show” (with live performers, costumed movie-goers and plenty of toast and rice being thrown around) is usually sold out for both the Friday and Saturday 10pm screenings. Go a few days in advance to purchase your tickets in person (€10), then find your props so you can join in the fun. And if you’re not going to get up and dance the Time Warp with everyone else, don’t bother going.

A Chic and Exclusive Film Experience

On the complete other end of the spectrum (in terms of neighborhood, price, and atmosphere) you have the Royal Monceau Film Club at the Raffles palace hotel of the same name just off the Champs-Elysées. Twice-monthly, guests pay €40 for a glass of Champagne, gourmet popcorn, and one of the comfy leather seats in a screening room designed by Philippe Starck. Films are usually Hollywood cult classics like “Back to the Future” and current blockbusters like “Mission Impossible”. For more information and reservations visit the website

Dinner and a Movie

A fun little place near République, Les Bobines, offers home cooked meals plus a cozy screening room (with sofas, armchairs and even a few beanbags) where they show popular or classic films (in their original version with French subtitles) and animated films for Saturday brunch. The dinner menus are €15-€33, including entrance to the film at 10pm (you can only attend the film if you dined in the restaurant). The Saturday brunch film is at 2:30pm. You can also eat lunch at Les Bobines, but there are no lunch films during the week. 


Les Néréides: Whimsical Jewelry Hand-Made in Paris

It’s not easy finding truly unique jewelry in Paris, everything starts to look the same after you visit a few shops. But Les Néréides always catches the eye of those passing by with its collections of dainty and whimsical hand-made jewelry. The story behind this family-run business is as romantic as the jewelry itself. 

Once upon a time, a woman from Belgium and a man from Italy meet as students at the Fine Arts Academy in Paris, fall madly in love, get married and move the French Riviera where they open their first hand-made jewelry boutique in 1980. Today, Pascale and Enzo run Les Néréides with their four children, with boutiques all over France and Europe (and even one in Chicago).

Their style is playful, yet elegant: flowers, animals, insects, and ballerinas made with colored stones, enamel, gold. And as cheesy as the idea may be, the Eiffel Tower, kissing lovers and Moulin Rouge pieces in the “Paris Mon Amour” line are adorable. This video show the hand-made process (for the Néréides Loves Animals collection, 15% of each sale goes to animal rescue shelters). 

There are boutiques in the St-Germain and Marais districts, but I recommend going right to their concept store near the Centre Pompidou (5 rue du Bourg l’Abbé, 3rd, M° Rambuteau) for the full collection in a stunning setting (I wandered in just to see the boutique itself before I noticed the jewelry itself). The prices are in the €25-€175 range, with a “little sister” line called N2 aimed at girls. 


Free Mobile Offers 35 Days of Roaming in US 

Cell phone service in France keeps getting cheaper. This month the low-cost operator Free has become the first to offer commitment-free mobile phone packages under €20/month that include the new Pass Destination: 35 days of free roaming per calendar year when traveling to the US and Canada (it already covers the EU and 100 other countries in red on the map). That means you get the same service you’d have as if you were inside France (unlimited calls, texts and up to 3GB of data). 

The service is €19.99/month for the mobile phone service, or €15.99/month if you’re also a Freebox internet/landline/cable client. Once you go over 35 days the usual international roaming fees apply. According to most tech news sources, roaming fees will probably be a thing of the past in less than two years, so Free is just an early adopter of what will most likely be followed by the other operators. Read details here in English.

This news came just in time for me! I’m planning on a 36-day trip to the US this fall, so I’ll be switching operators this week . I’m currently with SFR Red, which is another commitment-free option, but with expensive roaming fees in the US. 


Painlessly Navigating the Journées du Patrimoine September 19-20 

Established over 30 years ago by the French Ministry of Culture, the annual Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days, opens up thousands of historic monuments to the public for the weekend, including museums, churches, gardens, embassies, theatres, schools, libraries, the Senate and National Assembly buildings, and even industrial engineering heritage like the Paris metro control center and the Paris sewers. Most of these places are either normally closed to the public, have heavily restricted access, or (like museums) require an entrance fee, so the Heritage Days are a chance for everyone to enjoy special access to the country's amazing architectural and cultural heritage. There are usually concerts, special tours, demonstrations, or other activities scheduled alongside the visits. The theme for 2015 is "21st Century Heritage", highlighting contemporary and innovative architecture (like the newly opened Fondation Louis Vuitton). 

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