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Most hotel rooms in Paris are appropriate for a couple, but there are virtually no one-room options for a family of four or more. If you are a family of three, some hotels will bring in a bed for a child, but know that rooms are smaller than Americans are used to, and having a portable bed will make things very cramped. For a family of four you will have to rent two separate rooms.
Are you one who likes to have more room to spread out than a hotel room offers? Something comfortable other than the bed to sit on while relaxing in your room? Would you like the option to prepare a simple meal and have a few things of your own in the refrigerator, but your hotel won't allow food brought to the room?
You can get around these problems by renting an apartment. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment rental for a family is essentially the same as the cost of two hotel rooms. Although there are some downsides to renting an apartment (see below), an apartment overall has significant benefits over a hotel for a family or a couple on a longer stay. You can save some money by eating meals at home, especially for a stay of a week or more; having separate rooms where some can sleep and some can read etc. is a big plus; an apartment will usually have a washer, and sometimes also a dryer, which lets you travel much lighter. Nearly all apartments provide equipped kitchens and linens, and many offer free local calling and free WiFi. Most agencies have onsite assistance if you have questions once you arrive.
Some possible negatives of renting an apartment are (1) if your airline loses your luggage, you may have to wait in your apartment to receive the luggage while a hotel could accept it while you are out (if you rent from an agency that has an office in Paris, they will most likely accept luggage delivery for you); (2) falling prey to a rental scam (this is why renting from reputable agencies is important); (3) not having a hotel concierge to suggest places for dinner, make reservations, give you directions, make phone calls for you about attraction hours, etc. (most rentals do have some type of "Welcome/Information" book that provides similar information, but they may not be “on call” for you all the time, unless you rent from a full-service agency that provides these services); (4) the better apartments book up one year in advance, and the rentals that remain for last-minute vacationers are not always a good value. Start your search early, for best results.
The remainder of this article provides some advice that will help you find and evaluate an apartment.
1. Decide what is most important to you: size of the apartment, amenities, location. If you are looking for a one-bedroom one-bath apartment and price is no object, you will have the luxury of choosing exactly what neighborhood you want to be in, and may even be able to find the right apartment on a particular street. If you are looking for a larger apartment, especially one with certain unusual amenities, such as several bathrooms, a washer/dryer combination, and air conditioning, and you have a price limit, there will be fewer options available to you. Most rental agencies have search functions on their website that allow you to search by number of bedrooms and in particular locations and also will show you if a particular apartment is available during the time you want to rent it. Here are some things to consider:
(a) What floor is the apartment on? Does the building have an elevator? If the apartment does not have an elevator - or if the elevator is out of order for a day or more - will you be willing and able to climb steep, narrow stairs up several flights multiple times per day? If you have a stroller or have to carry a baby and lots of groceries up a flight of stairs, you might want something on street level or not above the Parisian first floor (US 1st floor = Paris 2nd floor, etc). On the other hand, if you are very security conscious you may not be comfortable on the ground floor.
(b) Does the apartment face the street or a courtyard? If you are sensitive to noise, look at street view in maps.google.com and see if the apartment is located on a busy street. If so, determine whether the bedroom faces onto a central courtyard or onto the street. If only onto a central courtyard, whether that the street is busy or noisy will not matter. If the bedroom faces onto the street, then you may want to find a rental on a smaller street, or inquire with the owner/agency about whether the windows are double-glazed.
(c) If you are a non-smoker, consider whether the apartment is non-smoking.
(d) Is there a minimum stay requirement that is longer than your planned vacation? Many apartments have a 7 night minimum, but some rent for as few as 2 or 3 nights.
(e) Some rentals are available only from Saturday to Saturday, so if you are planning on arriving on another day, can the apartment be rented starting on your planned day of arrival?
(f) How many beds are there, and what size are they? If you have two children who refuse to sleep in the same bed, make sure that there are two twin beds or a twin and a sofa bed, or enough room and linens to create a second sleeping space on the floor of the children's bedroom or space. Many Parisiens have small apartments and sleep on their sofa beds every night, so the sofa beds available there are typically a lot more comfortable than those accustomed to in the USA. French bed sizes differ from the States. Ask for the measurement of the bed and don't rely on "double", "Queen", etc.
French Standard Bed Sizes:
Single (lg) --- (100 x 190 cm) 39 x 75 inches Single (sm) -- (090 x 190 cm) 35 x 75 inches (USA Twins are 39 x 75 inches) Double (sm)-- (120 x 190 cm) 47 x 75 inches (USA Double 54 x 75 inches) Double (lg) -- (140 x 190 cm) 55 x 75 inches Queen -------- (160 x 200 cm) 63 x 79 inches (USA Queen 60 x 80 inches) King ---------- (180 x 200 cm) 79 x 79 inches
(USA King 76 x 80 inches)
(g) Is the apartment air conditioned? It's not common, and normally not needed in Paris, except for a few days in July or August. Due to city ordinances, most residential buildings are not allowed to install central or window units, though they are approved for hotels. In some apartments, portable units might be provided, which must be vented to operate properly. Make sure there is a way to vent the unit without leaving a window open, or your cool air will go right out the window. If air conditioning is important to you and you are used to living with it, you might ask if additional fans can be provided.
(h) Is there a washer or washer/dryer in the apartment? Many machines are combination washer/dryer, though some apartments do have two separate machines. Combination units will only spin-dry, so you will have to hang your laundry until it's completely dry. European machines have much longer cycles than others, and accept much smaller loads. Plan on 3 hours to wash and dry one small load. If this is not convenient for you, Google "laveries libre-service" near the address, and go to the nearest coin laundry. Machines there are much larger, faster and are not expensive, but do not leave your laundry unattended.
(i) Bathtub/hand-held shower combinations are common, though sometimes wall-mounted showerheads are available - if you absolutely must have one or the other, make sure you know what is being offered. Shower curtains or splash guards are not commonly provided in tub-shower combinations. Shower stalls are also common, though often very small, and will be equipped with curtain or doors. Many apartments are equipped with electric "sanibroyer" toilets, which are extremely sensitive and often do not work well. It's important to ask about the toilet, especially if there is only one bathroom and if you have children. If a "sanibroyer" is the only option, you should choose another apartment.
(j) Equipment that you need in the kitchen (e.g., if you must have a microwave make sure one is listed/pictured). Freezers are generally small, and ice trays are not always provided. Don't bring cleaning products from home - European water and machines operate differently and you risk damaging the equipment. If you require non-allergenic products, they are available in any supermarket, and are not expensive.
(k) Does the apartment have a wired or wifi internet connection? TV? Phone? Many apartments these days provide free outgoing phone calls to many countries. Make sure the apartment has what you need.
(l) If you have young children, take the address of the apartment and put it into maps.google.com and see if there is a park nearly. Also determine the closest metros and which lines they are on. You want to easily be able to get to the major tourist attractions with a minimum of metro changes, especially if you have young children, because many times the changes can involve long walks underground. You also don't want to have an overly long walk to the metro above ground, especially if you have small children. Although the city bus system is much slower, it is not complicated, and can be a good option for families with young children.
(m) Google street view will also let you see what shops are on the street. Is there a patisserie, a boulangerie, a grocery store? If the street looks very industrial or not clean, you probably don't want to rent on that block. Is there a bar or other business under the apartment or across the street that may be noisy late into the night?
(n) Consider what amenities are provided. Remember that a rental apartment is not a hotel. "You get what you pay for" is applicable here--budget rentals will be completely self-catering (you supply your own toilet paper, cleaning products, etc., sometimes even towels); more moderately-priced rentals provide more (i.e. a "starter kit" with a roll or two of TP, coffee, etc.); full-service or luxury rentals supply all you need for your stay, just like a hotel (i.e. toiletries, TP, paper towels and everything down to bathrobes and slippers, and sometimes even concierge service). Many rental contracts require tenants to clean before they leave, or they will be charged an additional cleaning fee. Mid- and upper-range rentals almost always have the cleaning costs included in the price and you are not required to do any cleaning at check out. Be sure you understand what is included and what is not included in the apartments you are interested in renting. Ask questions before you sign the contract.
(o) Rental apartments in Paris are not regulated and are not inspected for fire and safety hazards. Smoke detectors will not be required until 2015, and fire extinguishers are not required for apartments. If you are concerned about fire safety, choose an apartment on a lower floor, overlooking the street. Apartments in the rear or on the top floor of a building might be quieter, but are not the safest choices.
2. Choose several possibilities and then investigate further. Narrow your search down to a few apartments based on location, price, size, amenities, and availability. Then carefully inspect the photos of each apartment, keeping in mind that many are taken with a wide-angle lens and will look bigger than they are in reality. Many websites will give you the square footage of the apartment, which is a better marker, however, this measurement also may legally include closet space, kitchen, bathroom and hallways, so it's a good idea to ask for actual room measurements or a floor plan. Decide if the decor of the apartment appeals to you. If there is a lot of clutter in the photos you might want to look elsewhere. A spreadsheet comes in handy to keep track of which apartments have which amenities. Many websites list previous customer comments. If you have any doubts about the validity of the comments, ask the rental agency or owner to provide you with email addresses or phone numbers of prior renters for you to contact.
3. Get in touch with the agencies or owners for your first choice apartment and ask as many questions as come to mind. Ask about any ambiguities in the description of the apartment or in the floor plan; get an estimate of the square footage and of the size of each room if it is not on the apartment description. Verify all amenities. Find out the exact price; the owner may offer an unadvertised discount for a certain length of stay. Do a Google search on the agency and/or owner/manager to see whether any other previous renters have posted adverse or positive comments. If you are looking at an agency rental and a Google search does not show any evidence that the agency actually exists, has a physical location, and has had interactions with actual people, move on to the next possibility. There are many reputable agencies/owners in Paris, so it's not necessary to take a risk. It is riskier to rent directly from an owner but you can mitigate some of the problem by asking for contact information for several prior renters and by checking reviews of the apartment on sites like Slow Travel France or the TripAdvisor Paris forum (see below).
4. Reserving the apartment. You will typically reserve by email. Most agencies will want you to place a deposit and many will want full payment before you arrive. Make sure you can use a credit card, which protects you in case there is some misunderstanding or fraud. Make sure you understand and are willing to accept whatever the cancellation policy and deposit refund policy is. Discuss arrival date and time, logistics for obtaining the key, and what to do if your arrival is delayed due to travel issues. Verify how to get in touch with someone who speaks English if you have a question while staying in the apartment.
Here are some links to get you started on your search. Most have reviews posted of each apartment. (Note: the following links are not endorsed by Trip Advisor and are merely suggestions of where to begin an apartment search--you should research each listing on your own and check for outside recommendations)
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