Visiting Paris Soon? Here’s What You Need to Know
From the new COVID passport requirements to exciting additions to the city’s museum scene, here’s what I experienced.
Unless you’re a masochist, the process of international travel is rarely pleasant. Security, boarding, draining overnight flights, border controls, luggage, inflexible airlines, and so on. The age of COVID made some things a little easier (less people) but others harder (testing, and confusing requirements). Perhaps the most difficult part was that many of the places Americans were used to going, such as France, made it clear that we were unwelcome.
Until this summer.
Beginning in late April and early May, more countries started opening up to Americans, albeit with each country having their own preconditions with testing or vaccination. One of the easiest to visit, surprisingly, is France, which announced that fully vaccinated Americans would be welcomed in without having to test, and that CDC cards would be accepted as proof of vaccination.
So after two years away, I finally returned to Paris a couple of weeks ago. From the new COVID passport requirements to exciting additions to the city’s museum scene, here’s what I experienced.
First, don’t expect a lack of crowds in airports any more. Lines for security were long and filled with angry, anxious, agitated people like the good old days. I was flying United and my flight was completely full—so say goodbye to those empty seats next to you or easy upgrades. Also, if you’re starting the booking process, be prepared for wildly varied pricing in terms of dollars and award miles for international flights from day to day.
Upon arrival at the French border, the long lines continued. I kept my vaccination card paper clipped inside my passport, but the border guard—perhaps out of boredom with the flood of Americans or a sense that it was a waste of his time to look at the little piece of CDC paper—didn’t even look or ask for it. (For those thinking this is a workaround, the airline checked multiple times.)
Then it was off to the RER to Paris. Just FYI, masks are required on public transport.
The first thing on many prospective visitors’ minds is undoubtedly how they will be affected by France’s new requirements for proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, to enter restaurants and museums and to board trains. While some reports direct you to go to a French doctor or pharmacist who might be willing to get you into the system, I just brought my passport and CDC card everywhere and never had it rejected. (I did not, however, try to just show a picture of the CDC card.)
Despite having visited more times than I can count, Paris is always exciting for me—and if you’re over it, you’re not cool, you’re just a cynic. While there was weird weather with lots of rain, and a day so cold I bought a sweater, it was great to be back. I walked 20,000 steps a day (I’m now old enough to pay attention to that) because I was so eager to soak it all back in.
Eager to stay near one of my favorite parks, Parc Monceau, and to stroll its storied Belle Époque streets, I spent a few nights at the recently opened Hotel Pley. Tucked in the quiet area between the Champs-Élysées and the park, it’s a great hotel for visitors looking for something more modern and spacious than your typical Paris hotel (plus it has a rooftop with classic views over the city).
There are some new additions to the Paris cultural space. Tickets to the Bourse du Commerce are a hot commodity. Housing part of the art collection of billionaire François Pinault, it features modern additions by Tadao Ando. The Musée Carnavalet also recently underwent a massive renovation. Housed in a rambling former mansion, it is focused on the history of Paris. It used to be a bit disappointing, with drab rooms and a curation that seemed more storage facility than thoughtful museum. Now, the rooms have been spruced up, the gardens are elegantly maintained, and while the narrative flow of the space is still wanting, the museum houses one of the most beautiful rooms in the world—the Alphonse Mucha-designed jewelry store for Georges Fouquet.
Around the corner is also the Fondation Azzedine Alaïa which has a lovely little exhibition right now on the late designer’s work with photographer Peter Lindbergh.
Just down the street, another French billionaire—the world’s richest man, Bernard Arnault—has added to Paris (or subtracted from it, some might say) with a billion-dollar overhaul of the department store La Samaritaine. Considering the whole thing is kicking up quite a storm, you should check it out so you at least have an opinion when you’re at a dinner party.
Over on the Place de la Concorde, home to Cleopatra’s Needle and the site of Marie Antoinette’s beheading, the Hotel de la Marine has also undergone a dramatic restoration and transformation. The apartment of the intendant has been restored to its 18th-century grandeur (with unspeakable sums spent on authentic pieces) and the opulent state rooms polished up. All can be visited, and are a less crowded option than many other palaces in the Paris area.
Speaking of crowds—while you still have to reserve many of the museums in advance, it’s more because of COVID protocols than because of crowds. Montmartre, overrun since Amélie, was blissfully devoid of hordes of tourists. It was easy to snag a chair at the Jardin du Luxembourg in the evening and the Marais was nearly mostly gay again.
France is dealing with some of the same staffing issues as the U.S., so be prepared for restaurants to be a little bit slower (if they are open) and same goes for hotels.
Last but not least for visitors, Uber was a nightmare. Be prepared for it to take 10 minutes after you press request for a car to be selected and then another 10 minutes for it to arrive.