Visiting London, Paris or New York? Some helpful tips

By Caitlin Kelly

Remember to take a break -- and just enjoy being there!
Remember to take a break — and just enjoy being there!

I recently re-visited Paris, staying three weeks, and London, staying for one. I live just north of New York City, and have for decades, so know the city well as I am there several times a week.

As three of the most popular cities in the world for tourists — and enormous, bustling multi-borough metropolises — they’re also tricky, costly, tiring and confusing for the unwary or unprepared.

Here are 20 money-saving tips from a young woman who has traveled Europe on a budget; many of hers are the same as mine, like renting a home, walking everywhere and slowing down to truly savor your meals.

Here’s a super-trendy/stylish list of things to do/see/try in the Marais from lifestyle blog Lonny.

Here are a few of my tips…

Transportation

Getting in and out of these three cities, and around them while staying there, can feel overwhelming. It’s not. Download whatever apps work best for you (I am not an apps person!) or, as I do, grab a few really good maps, including separate maps of the bus and subway systems. Study them in bright light at your leisure — i.e. not in the dark/wind/rain when you look like a gormless tourist inviting thieves to snatch your purse, backback, phone or suitcase.

In London and Paris, the lines have names; in Paris for the final destination, and in Paris they also have numbers. In NYC, they have numbers or letters — the L, the Q, the 4. The problem with NYC? Sometimes they go express and you’ll have to get out before the stop you had planned.

I was heartened in Paris and London to see sliding glass panels at some station platforms that open in concert with the train’s doors — which prevent the horror of suicide or homicide. In NYC, which has nothing so civilized, be careful. I can’t say this too strongly; people have been shoved onto the tracks and killed by mentally-ill people standing near them. Stand as far back as possible from the platform edge and be aware of who is near you.

In Paris, you might take a horse-drawn carriage
In Paris, you might take a horse-drawn carriage

Cabs cost a fortune in London, less so in Paris and are not terrible in New York. In NYC, you’ll see bright green cabs — they won’t stop for you if you’re in Manhattan as they are designated for the outer boroughs. You’ll also go crazy around 4:30 p.m. trying to hail a cab as that’s the time of shift change and many are racing to the garage.

Take the bus whenever possible. You’ll see so much more of the city and start to understand its geography. Buy a weekly transit pass in each city to save money and speed you up; in New York, you slide your Metrocard to enter the subway, dip it when entering a bus.

Spent my life on the Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes
Spent my life on the London Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes

Remember that others work there and are weary/late/in a hurry. Don’t hog seats/space with your bags and packpack!

When walking do not, ever, walk slooooooooowly and in a large pack of bodies that spans the width of the sidewalk. It’s rude, dangerous and obstructive. Nor should you abruptly stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk or stairs or the entrance to the subway. We’re in a hurry, dammit!

This was our dinner for a few early nights at home...
This was our dinner for a few early nights at home…

Lodging

It’s too easy to assume your default setting of hotel/Air BnB/couchsurfing. How about house or apartment-sitting? A home exchange?

As I blogged here earlier, I spent my three Paris weeks in two people’s homes, both of them professional photographers and photo editors, (hence, great taste!) It was so much more relaxing for me to lounge away my mornings at the kitchen table or dining table, reading the paper or a book. I was able to spread my stuff out, do laundry, cook my own meals — and listen to music as loudly as seemed prudent.

In short, I felt truly at home in a foreign city. I loved food shopping, coming home with my baguette and gooey hunk of Reblochon (cheese) and some fresh figs for breakfast. I bought several sorts of loose tea and enjoyed it as well.

Unless I can afford a really lovely hotel, I’d rather rent a place.

Shopping

A whole set of blog posts on its own!

If you love antiques as much as I do, you’ll quickly suss out the best vintage stores and flea markets in these three cities; in Paris, I scored a gorgeous fedora and 80s earrings at Eponyme in the 11th and was deeply disappointed by the sky-high prices at the flea market at Clignancourt. In Manhattan, check out the East Village — East 7th and East 9th — for lots of vintage and some great indie shops; I just discovered Haberdashery on East 9th. Heaven! It has one of the best-edited collections of serious vintage I’ve ever seen.

All three cities offer boatloads of style from smart, savvy retailers, whether the fabric department in London at Liberty (swoon) or the jewelry in Manhattan at Barney’s (bring a Brinks truck full of money.) Pick a cool/chic neighborhood and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring it, whether Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Marylebone High Street in London or the 6th or Marais in Paris.

Don’t forget — you can, (as I did twice on that trip) — box and ship home your new things from the local post office or a bunch of your less-needed clothes/shoes to make room/reduce weight in your suitcase; mine weighed just one pound below the limit when I returned!

 

Dress

These are three of the world’s most stylish cities. Sure you can schlub around in baggy pants and white sneakers and bright pink nylon, but you might as well wave a flag shouting “Tourist!”

Stop by this terrific chain store in Paris and select a few gorgeous scarves, for men and women
Stop by this terrific chain store in Paris and select a few gorgeous scarves, for men and women

Many of their residents take serious pride and pleasure in how they present themselves, whether the hipsters of Willamsburg or the Sloanies of London. In NYC, assume that wearing black makes for good native camouflage; women favor a good, fresh manicure (easily acquired in many affordable nail salons), and haircut, with polish in cool dark non-frosted shades or pale.

Parisian women, and men, are justifiably known for their style and it’s easy enough to fit in if that’s fun for you. Women rarely wear prints or leggings and many sport truly eye-catching accessories — an unusual hat, a terrific muffler, interesting shoes. I rarely saw anyone wearing high heels; cobblestone streets chew them up. Many men, of all ages, also wear mufflers or scarves to add a dash of color and texture. Look for unusual color combinations and flashes of wit — a lavender sock, a tangerine pair of gloves.

Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London
Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London

London men, especially, dress with care: narrow-toe, highly-polished leather shoes, narrow trousers, a great briefcase. Women dress more eccentrically and playfully there than in Paris or New York — all black in London and Paris just feels sad and lacks imagination, while the pom-pom-studded skirt I saw on the Tube in London would raise dubious eyebrows in much of New York.

Staying dry/warm

Bring an umbrella to all three cities! In a month, (late December to late January), I faced a frigid low of 33 F to a high of almost 50. London was more humid. A small umbrella, (with a sealable Ziploc bag for when it’s soaked and you need to tuck it into your bag or backpack), is a must.

To stay warm, I’m a big fan of cashmere, even socks, mitts, scarf and/or hat. Light and silky, it’s super-warm but not bulky. Add a thin layer of polypro or silk beneath your clothes on the bitterest of days. Woolen tights aren’t easy to find in the U.S. but also make a big difference.

Oh, go on!
Oh, go on!

Eating and drinking

London will bankrupt you! I have little great advice other than…expect it and bring money. I save hard for my vacations and refuse to make myself miserable, so I mix up splurges, (a cup of tea at the Ritz in London [not the full tea!] for about $10) and a cocktail in their gob-smacking gorgeous bar for $30), with a quick cheap sandwich for lunch.

Keep in mind that museums and art galleries often have excellent dining facilities; I loved my lunch at Tate Modern,

A cup of tea at the Ritz in London
A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

Paris restaurants typically offer a plat du jour, always less costly than dinner.  For about $15 to $20, you can enjoy a hot meal of two or even three courses. Wine can be a little as five euros a glass — about $7. Enjoy!

New York City has a terrifically wide array of options, from the hautest of elegant bars and restaurants to the usual national chains like Olive Garden, Friday’s, etc. The city excels at diners, old-school, all-service restaurants whose enormous laminated menus go on for pages. Few things make me as happy as settling in at the battered Formica counter, (look for a shelf or a hook beneath it to hang your purse or pack so no one can grab it and run), and eating there. Try Neil’s, at 70th and Lexington, or Veselka, on the Lower East Side, in business since 1954.

Mix it up! In New York, dress to the nines and savor a cocktail at classic spots like Bemelman’s, The Campbell Apartment or the Oyster Bar. Go casual to a 100+-year-old bar like Fanelli’s , Old Town or the Landmark. The city also offers lovely, quiet tea-rooms like Bosie in the West Village and dozens of cafes. Head uptown to the Neue Galerie’s Cafe Sabarsky. Heaven!

For breakfast, head to Carmine Street and enjoy The Grey Dog.

Whatever you do, flee midtown: boring, crowded, filled with tourists.

When you’re a visitor with limited time, it’s tempting to rush around all day and forget how tired, hungry and thirsty you’ll end up.  Allow for a two-hour lunch or a glass of wine or an espresso sitting outdoors in a Paris cafe — which has heaters for the winter. Slow down.

And do not keeping staring into your bloody phone. Just….be there.

One of my Paris faves...
One of my Paris faves…

 Read about your city!

These might be histories, or fiction or guidebooks. I always take my London A-Z, (a highly detailed set of maps), and my Plan de Paris, (ditto), both of which are small and slide into a pocket or purse easily.

I treat myself each time to a new and quirky specialist guidebook; this one breaks huge, overwhelming London into its many villages. 

There are, of course, dozens of great blogs written by savvy, stylish people living in each of these cities whose posts will be timely and give you all sorts of fun ideas; I like Small Dog Syndrome for London and Juliet in Paris (whose August 2014 posts about London were super-helpful and detailed.)

Pick up the local newspapers; in New York, compare the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News to get a real picture of this city’s diversity; in London, the Guardian, Times and Daily Mail; in Paris (if you read French), Le Monde, and Liberation. The letters to the editor, alone, offer some serious insights into what people all around you are thinking and care most about.

Yes, you can read online but don’t. Go old-school and savor it.

Gives you something to tuck under your arm, and look like you belong!

 

26 thoughts on “Visiting London, Paris or New York? Some helpful tips

  1. We are kindred spirits in some ways. A cocktail or tea in a beautiful hotel always settles me. The bit about renting a place or staying in someone’s home vs. a hotel–I agree with you, go big or go home on hotel. If not quite nice, no point–in fact, can be depressing. But I sometimes find when I stay even with friends that being “on” at all hours can be tiring. No schlumping in pajamas with ratty hair in AM . . . 🙂

  2. i like the perspectives and advice from each of you. all good to hear from people who have literally ‘been there.’ much more useful than a travel guide –

  3. I LOVE museum cafes and restaurants. Often hidden gems and really good food. The V&A has a completely gorgeous one, and the members room of the British museum has an incredible lunch.

    It was so good to have you in town for a week, Jeff keeps asking when you’re coming back!

  4. Jonathan R

    Two shopping comments:

    1. I suggest always shopping for the same things, wherever you are. I am always looking for books and music and bicycle stuff. If you know what you are looking for you will end up with less schlock.

    2. For quirky or one-of-a-kind handmade stuff do not be afraid to shop at flea markets or boutiques or pop-ups in out-of-the-way neighborhoods. The person who creates the exact jewelry or toys you always dreamed of finding may only be able to make enough to sell at one or two small venues.

    1. Excellent! Thanks!

      I’m obsessed with fabric and textiles, and with fashion accessories — so those always come home with me from every trip. Great point…

      And your second one is also super-helpful. Flea markets can be treasure troves, esp. if you really know your stuff and can recognize a bargain when it’s in front of you. One of the loveliest things I own (an embroidered silk shawl) was $10 (!!!) in a shop in an unlikely spot.

  5. This is great advice! We are planning on a London trip this summer for a month. We’ve rented a place where we’ll stay – and explore. Close to restos and yet still got the option to make a home-cooked meal.
    My sister suggested the same thing too about shipping things esp we’ll be travelling with young children. Thank you for this post!

    1. Thanks much…

      Many people forget (or don’t know) how efficient foreign mail can be; my parcel from Paris was home in NY within 3 days! The post offices also sell excellent, strong cardboard boxes and strong plastic bags, tape, etc.

      Take a Sharpie with you to write addresses clearly!

      It is NOT cheap though! I paid $65 for each box — and each weighed about 7 lbs (3 kilos.) 😦

      1. That’s fast! At least you won’t have to be away from your precious cargo for too long!
        The charge isn’t that bad. Doesn’t an extra luggage fee costs around $100? So, still you saved!

      2. So true! And I’ve been compiling a list of things (little by little) we may be needing while there. Even thought of bringing a water filter with us (to save on buying water)!

  6. Pingback: Five women’s blogs I check every day. For pleasure. | Katekatharina.com

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