Paris, France is my favorite city on the planet. History and culture drip from every blue-gray roof and ooze down the cream-and-charcoal walls of the 17th, and 18th, and 19th century row houses. Staring at the glowing colors of the rose windows in Notre Dame, I feel the presence of the Divine. As I tread the gritty cement sidewalks bordering the river, I’m home.
But…traveling Paris with pain and chronic illness can be a challenge. I could do a whole blog just on this city, but here’s a super-quick overview for chronic travelers who may be considering a trip to Paris.
In Parisian museums including the Louvre and the d’Orsay, you’re actually expected to stop often to reflect on the artwork. The Louvre has seats in most of its galleries, and visitors of all ability levels are welcome (even encouraged!) to take a seat in front of your favorite painting or sculpture.
Museums in Paris range widely in their accessibility, crowding, facilities, and comfort levels. The more modern the museum building, the more mobility accessible it may be. In older museums such as the Cluny, you’re expected to navigate stone stairways, elevators may not be available, doorways get narrow, and restroom facilities can be minimal at best.
Attractions and Gardens
Big attractions like the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomph, and the Centre Pompidou tend to be chronic traveler friendly. The Eiffel Tower is all about the elevator rides up to the viewing decks and the photos from the flat ground below. Cathedrals have nice flat floors and free seats regardless of religious affiliation.
Depending on the age of the attraction and the year of its last renovation, it may or may not have accessible (or any) public bathrooms.
Cheap hotels and hostels in Paris are not disability friendly. Most guest rooms lie somewhere above the ground floor and if you want a functional elevator, you’ll pay for the privilege. Rooms can be miniscule–think “skinny people have to turn sidways to get around the rock-hard bed to shut the window overlooking the all-night traffic-filled boulevard below.” And to top off all this cheery news–many low-budget accommodations don’t have private bathrooms.
To truly enjoy Paris with a chronic condition, plan to spend at least $200 per night on a hotel room. The bigger your per-nght budget, the more comfortable you’ll be.
Other options these days include subletting an apartment or doing a home exchange. Be sure to research any such thing super-carefully or you may wind up in a charming 7th floor studio with a staircase last improved in 1765 and a bathroom so small you have to back into it.
Be aware that in Paris as in much of the rest of Europe, “1st floor” means “one flight up.” Only the Ground Floor is on the ground.
Eating in Paris. Aaaaahh. Fresh, perfect croissants and deep black coffee lurk around every corner. Neighborhood marketeers hawk the freshest seasonal fruits, veggies, and seafood. Steak frites, gyros, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean…I can almost taste it now.
If you have severe food allergies, bring a French-language card describing these to all restaurants and bakeries.
Though most Paris eateries no longer serve dinner beneath a permanent bluish cloud of cigarette smoke, smoking is still permitted in many restaurants. Ask for non-smoking (non-fume) to avoid the worst of it, but be aware that in the cutest and smallest brasseries, locals who smoke expect you to adapt to the local customs, not the other way ’round.
Restrooms in restaurants may not be mobility accessible, and might well be up or down a steep flight of ill-lit stone stairs.
Taking the Metro is a true Parisian experience. The smooth tiled tunnels of the major Metro stations see tens of thousands of locals and tourists every day, luring them below the city streets with their ubiquitous convenience. Trains pull into every stop about every 5 minutes, and the stops are everywhere.
But the Metro isn’t the most disability-friendly mode of transit in Paris. Stations do not have elevators, and the escalators are notoriously unreliable and often run only one way (up). Some stations require only a one-flight stair climb, while others plummet five or six or two hundred flights down into the earth (like Notre Dame-St. Michel). On the bright side, the stations all have seating for waiting passengers and if you travel during off-peak hours you have a chance of getting a seat on the train.
Buses can be easier, with fewer stairs to negotiate. But they get stuck in traffic, and as in the Metro you’re not guaranteed a seat.
For comfort, taxis have the most going for them. Of course, taxi riders get to pay for the privilege of leather seats and Mercedes emblems.
While public toilettes can be few, far between, and frankly foul, Paris has adopted the common Continental solution to human needs. Pay toilets. Yup, it costs a Euro to go. And after a few experiences with the so-called sanitation of public loos in Paris, you’ll think that these super-clean conveniences are worth every 1.5 cent penny.
Just don’t leave your pet or small child in there after you’ve finished. Pay toilets stay so clean because they’ve got powerful self-washers that activate as the door slams shut behind each patron.
The Bottom Line
They’ll take my Paris away from me when they scrape my cold dead remains off the silvery sidewalks. I don’t care how many challenges the city presents, I will find ways to meet them head on and beat them down below the lowest Metro tunnel.