In Part 1 of The Ultimate Parisian Experience: How to Rent an Apartment in Paris, I gave you tips for figuring out whether apartment living or a hotel would be the best choice for you during your stay in Paris. We also looked at who you should rent an apartment from and how to decipher Paris apartment descriptions.
Now in Part 2, we’re exploring the What, Where and When of Paris apartments:
- WHAT you want in a Paris apartment
- WHERE your Paris apartment should be
- WHEN to plan your Paris adventure
While it’s easy to imagine you’ll be so busy sight-seeing that you won’t be in the apartment much, once you’re in your very own place you’ll quickly realize that living like a local – even for a few days – is a tourist attraction in and of itself!
In fact, I can almost guarantee that you’ll spend more time in an apartment than you will in a hotel room, so take the time to consider what you really want.
Of course, if you are a Paris Made for You client, you’ll never be alone in this process of apartment hunting. We do the work for you (based on all your input) and find the haven of your dreams. But even if you’re one of our cherished clients, still read on! After all, the more you know about what you want, the more insight we’ll have for finding your ideal match.
Now, let’s open the door to finding your special place in Paris!
WHAT do you want in your Paris apartment?
First and foremost, lower your expectations of any Parisian apartment. You may find everything you’re looking for, and still find the bathroom too small.
In reality, no Paris apartment is perfect.
They’re often in buildings dating back to the 17th century, and it’s hard to rewire or renovate for air conditioning, elevators or more space.
Of course, old buildings are part of the charm of vacationing in this glorious city. But what’s not so charming is having absolutely nowhere to store luggage or an apartment so dark it puts a real damper on your enjoyment.
Following are all the things to think about when choosing your apartment. Prioritize your list and be happy to get most, but not all, of your wishes.
First, set a budget. Working within a somewhat flexible budget is ideal as it gives you a place to start and room to go a bit up or down, or end up right on target.
Also, make sure that your budget includes the entire cost of the apartment. Most agencies have one price that is all-inclusive of everything you’ll need. I’ve seen some owners on listing services charge one base price that looks great, but then add on extra fees for housekeeping, after-hour arrival, linens, use of the sofa bed and more!
One bundled price is best.
Compare the cost of the apartment to that of staying in a hotel. Then add in the cost of having to eat every meal out on the hotel side of the equation, and many less meals out on the apartment side. The savings can be substantial, especially when traveling with a family. While you do have to calculate the cost of groceries on the apartment side, they will be minimal compared to restaurant meals.
Finding a triple hotel room for a family can be difficult too – and expensive. So there’s no question that apartments are more cost-effective for larger families, and even booking a double hotel room can put an apartment on the winning side of the equation if you have children in tow.
Many of my European friends are in awe of how much space there is in an American apartment or home. There is no need to entirely give your space up; but don’t be disappointed by the fact that space is tight all over Paris.
The good news? You might learn to do with less space once you return home!
If you’re going to be staying longer than one week, go for at least 40 square meters, about 430 square feet. That’s larger than many hotel rooms. And if you are traveling with more than two people, it will be most comfortable for you.
But also note that the apartment layout makes a difference. That’s why it’s important to ask for a layout of the apartment from the agency, listing service or owner you are renting from. Even if smaller than 40 square meters, a smartly arranged apartment can feel bigger – and if there’s a terrace, outdoor space can also make a small apartment feel significantly more spacious.
Sometimes studio apartments can actually seem larger than one-bedrooms. Many apartments have tiny bedrooms that make you feel closed in, even if the apartment is of good size, and one large space can have an expansive feel versus one with lots of closed doors. An apartment with high ceilings can also give you the feeling of having more room.
A good example of this type of studio apartment is Guest Apartment Services Hibiscus. It’s cleverly designed with the bed shielded by a pretty divider. The entire apartment feels more spacious than having myriad little rooms closed off by too many doors.
Décor and Layout
Only you know what style you like. You need an apartment that will make you and your travel partners comfortable and which you all can actually live in.
While French classic is very charming, the couches and chairs can be fussy and the furnishings overall can seem like they belong in a museum rather than an apartment. You may also find that many apartments are furnished economically with inexpensive and flimsy furnishings.
With all that said, what’s included in the apartment and how it’s arranged is also as important as the décor. Here’s a checklist of what you should look for:
I’ve never been a big fan of loft bedrooms where you have to climb stairs to get some shut eye, but many Paris apartments have this arrangement. Kids love it, but as an adult I’m less than thrilled by the loft situation. After all, many ladder-style stairs have no handrails, so if you’re at all shaky I’d forgo loft-style sleeping.
In non-loft bedroom arrangements, look at where the beds are situated. If they’re shoved up against a wall, it can be difficult to get in and out of bed if there are two of you and, even if it’s only for a single person, the bed-up-against-the-wall style makes it hard to make up the bed.
I’d also think twice about in-the-wall Murphy beds. Yes, they allow for more space once they are put away but ask yourself if you really want to fold up a bed every morning of your vacation.
Finally, look for reading lights next to the bed. It’s lovely to curl up and read about the adventures you’ll be having in Paris the next day.
In Paris, as well as in many other European countries, the toilet in an apartment is separate from the rest of the bathroom. I think its kind of smart. Two people can do what they have to do at the same time (one in the loo and one in the shower or at the sink).
Definitely look for an apartment with two bathrooms if traveling with more than four people or with people who desire more privacy. Your day in Paris can get started very late if there is only one bathroom for all of you.
More bathrooms are hard to come by though, and can be more expensive. So it’s worth it to get used to the idea of having one well-separated bathroom.
The bathroom with separate toilet space doesn’t need to be large, but do look for one you can move around in without having to cramp up your knees to do your business (you’ll likely see mentions of this type of bathroom situation in some of the apartment reviews you read).
When it comes to shower, some apartments have fixed showerheads and others have the hand-held type – a design I personally dislike. But if you don’t have a preference, it’s one less thing you need to concern yourself with.
Also keep in mind that many showers in Paris apartments are shower/tub combinations with high-sided tubs, so you’ll need to make sure that will work for you and, if it does, be careful getting in and out of them!
Finally, showers in Paris apartments often do not have curtains. But don’t dismiss an apartment based on this fact alone. After all, it’s very European and you can add showering this way to your list of Paris experiences! Plus, most Paris hotel showers/tubs are designed the same way.
The Living Area
The critical thing to look for in a living room is seating availability. If you’re not traveling solo, look for a chair in addition to a couch. Additionally, make sure the couch isn’t the futon type as they are often uncomfortable. It’s also nice to have a side table for your guidebooks and other reading materials you might bring along.
As you peruse photos, notice if there are a lot of throws on the couches and chairs. It makes one wonder what’s underneath those throws! Better to see the furniture sans the throws.
It’s also really lovely to have high windows that bring in the light. There’s nothing more depressing than a really dark apartment.
It’s important to assess to what degree you’ll be using the kitchen in order to find a Paris apartment with the perfect kitchen for you.
As a cookbook author, I love shopping at the markets for ingredients to prepare a full meal and if you want to cook with the incredible offerings you find in Paris markets, look for a kitchen you can move around in. However, if you simply want to heat up pre-prepared food, a large and fully equipped kitchen is certainly not a must and even a two-burner stove will suffice. Keep in mind that most Paris stoves are induction or electric, not gas.
Expect to find a small-sized refrigerator (think college dorm room sized or just a bit larger) and it’s doubtful you’ll need a larger one. The French rarely stock up with a week’s worth of food as we do in America and, instead, make food shopping an everyday occurrence. It can be a lot of fun to emulate this approach to grocery shopping even if only during your stay.
Some apartments will provide only the bare minimum of cooking utensils – pots, pans, spices, oil, etc. – while others will blow you away with the number of things to play with! Just ask the agency or owner what’s available and also read online reviews as this is usually commented on.
The Clothes Washer/Dryer
If you’re in Paris for a week or more, it’s great to have a washer so that you can pack super light.
A washer/dryer combo is what most apartments have, but while the washer is usually just fine, the dryer cycles can take forever and have been known to “cook” clothes! So, look for a separate washer and dryer if you can. Also, you can simply hang clothes to dry on towel racks in the bathroom or, if your apartment has a terrace, you can air-dry outdoors.
Most apartments, even the most basic, have a TV. But some only provide French television and no international channels. Additionally, some apartments have big, beautiful flat-screen televisions and many have stereo systems, DVD and CD players and the like. However, some have none of this. So ask.
While many apartments do have Wi-Fi, it can be spotty. Therefore, if having an Internet connection is critical to your stay, have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work well.
Some apartments will supply enough toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing soap and hotel-sized bathroom toiletries for your stay. Others supply nothing, leaving you to shop for these on your own. Similarly, some have an ample supply of towels and others are stingy. It’s best to ask about these things up front.
While you’re at it, ask if there’s a supply of light bulbs so you can simply change one yourself. Although replacing lights in chandeliers or recessed lighting will likely require help from the agency, owner or owner’s representative.
Location within the Apartment Building
What floor an apartment is on is interpreted differently in France than in America. For example, if a Paris apartment description states the apartment is on the second floor, then it’s really on what would be considered the third floor in the U.S.
If you don’t want to climb stairs to get to your apartment, look for an elevator. First floor apartments (second floor in the U.S.) are usually fine without an elevator, but ask to see a photo of the actual staircase leading up to the apartment. Some stairs are very steep and can be a problem for those with limited mobility.
That said, I would avoid ground floors as they are often dark. Additionally, there may be too much foot traffic right outside your windows, and many have metal bars on them. However, some ground floor apartments lead out to some charming outdoor areas complete with small gardens. So you be the judge.
Elevators in Paris apartment buildings are often old and can only hold one to two people at a time. They also break easily. If you don’t cherish climbing stairs, reconsider renting a fifth- or sixth-floor apartment even if it has an elevator.
Make sure not to blame the agency or owner if the elevator breaks. The agency might come back to you with a discount to make up for the elevator outage, but they’re not directly responsible for fixing the elevator. Even so, they should stay in constant contact with the building’s maintenance person or department to help resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that the higher the floor, the more natural light the apartment will typically get. But if you’re renting in the summer without air conditioning, heat will be trapped more readily on higher floors on a hot day.
Also, apartments on the top floor of some buildings have slanted ceilings that can make you feel really closed in. Just think about this before you rent a top floor.
If you want to have a fabulous view of any of the major monuments (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, etc.), expect to pay for it. Views of the Seine or anything panoramic will cost more as well, but boy can those be heavenly!
Once you’ve created your list of apartment requirements, it’s time to choose your arrondissement, the Paris neighborhood you’ll be staying in.
WHERE should your apartment be?
You might wonder why I didn’t make location the first thing to consider when renting a Parisian apartment. Here’s why:
The beauty of Paris is that it’s extremely transportation-friendly. You can get to various parts of the city quite quickly by metro, bus and your own two feet. So, what neighborhood you lodge in should be secondary compared to the apartment itself. Nonetheless, once you’ve been to Paris a few times, you’ll find that you start to gravitate to certain areas and I will be covering all 20 arrondissements at great length in Part Trois.
No that you know why location should be your second consideration let’s get to it!
Typically, the closer you are to the Seine, the pricier the apartment. Yet those apartments are usually more central to many of the things you’ve likely come to Paris to see. While most guidebooks recommend a first-time visitor select arrondissements 1 through 8 (and, yes, those neighborhoods are closer to the center of Paris) they come with a price tag when, with just a few steps outside a single-digit neighborhood, the price can drop.
For example, the 14th arrondissement just over the border from the 6th arrondissement can be less expensive and still central.
Do consider your time on the metro or buses, though. If you’re a first timer and/or are in Paris for less than one week, too much time can be spent in transit if you rent further away from the main tourist attractions.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you can turn that time into an adventure; just be aware of the time you’ll spend commuting.
If you’ve been to Paris a few times, you might relish lodging further out into a neighborhood with fewer tourists. But as a first timer, don’t make the mistake of thinking you want to be “away from other tourists.” You’ve come to Paris to see the iconic sites that are so worth seeing, and that’s exactly why millions of tourists visit Paris every year.
When choosing an arrondissement, I like to look for an apartment housed in a building on a small street. I wouldn’t necessarily avoid an apartment with an address on a major and probably noisy boulevard; you just want to be sure that the bedrooms are in the back where it may be quieter.
At the same time, don’t shy away from an apartment that has a front living area that faces a street. Experiencing the street life is one of the reasons you’ve come to Paris – and watching it from your own apartment is truly magical.
If the entire apartment faces a courtyard it can be boring and dark, and there may be noise from your neighbors. Not necessarily noisy, but less than perfectly quiet for certain.
Do ask if the apartment building houses a ground-level bar, café or restaurant. Parisians eat late and stay up to all hours. It can be a deal breaker to discover that the perfect apartment building also houses a noisy café that keeps you up all night!
Choose an apartment near a metro, at least within a five- to 10-minute walk. Walking around all day can be tiring and the last thing you want to do is come home on the metro and then have to walk another 15 to 20 minutes.
Every neighborhood has its fair share of restaurants, cafes, shops, bakeries, parks and more. You are never far from a scrumptious éclair. As you select apartments, go ahead and use Google to map the street address to see what your location will look like. This tool can be tremendously helpful in choosing the right location.
WHEN should you visit Paris?
Some travelers have no choice regarding when they will visit Paris (it has to be when the kids are out of school for example) and others have more flexibility. Here are the basics you need to know regarding timing:
Except for during June, July and August, you will not need an apartment with air conditioning. This opens up many more possibilities, as air conditioning is still a luxury in Paris. Even so, extreme heat in Paris is rare, and you may be fine without air conditioning even during the summer months. Also be aware that what is considered air conditioning is typically a portable machine that doesn’t chill the air very well. Some apartments do have built in systems, so do ask, but also be prepared. Paris apartments are usually well heated during the colder months.
The rental seasons for Paris apartments are generally as follows:
Low Season: January and February, and also March for some agencies/owners
High Season: From March (for some) or April (for others) until the first week of August (although some go into the first three weeks of September)
Shoulder Season: September (usually the end of) until Thanksgiving week (when high-season rates are typically in effect), then after Thanksgiving until Christmas week (Christmas week is also treated as high season)
As you can imagine, seasonal rates can vary dramatically. So, if you are flexible, some of the priciest apartments are actually great bargains in the low or shoulder seasons and should not be overlooked.
There are some agencies and owners that charge the same price year-round. If you wish to stay a month, the price is typically prorated and it usually works out that you’ll get a full month for the price of three weeks.
But, in truth, a trip to glittering Paris is perfect any time of year, n’est pas?