Firstly a Quick Summary
Accommodation: I emailed about 10 different hostels in Paris in regards to accessibility and most them had stairs, therefore I ended up staying at the Generator Hostel in Paris. A very trendy upmarket hostel (yes they exist) in the 10th Arrondissement. The hostel was nice and flat to get into and there was lift access to the room. I stayed in an 8 bed dorm room with it’s own toilet and shower cubicle The bathroom was pretty roomy however there was no chair to put in the shower. The staff advised me that there was a twin room available with a fully accessible bathroom, however as I was trying to save money (when travelling for a long period of time you really have to try and stretch your money out) I stayed in the dorm room.
Transport: Again don’t even try to use the train system (Metro). As it’s old lots of the stations don’t have lifts and it’s also very hard to get around as it’s super busy. Again the bus system here is very accessible with 99% of the buses having ramps and it’s FREE!. The buses also show what stop you are coming up to. I also used the City Mapper app that I used in London and switched my city to Paris so I knew exactly what bus stop to go to and what bus stop to get off at. The bus stops here are a little more further apart than in London so you can end up walking/pushing a little way from your stop to get to your destination.
Overall Accessibility: Paris is very accessible. The bus system was very easy to navigate, it was possible to push/walk around most the city and the best bit is that as a person with a disability you never have to wait in line for any of the major tourist attractions and you get in almost everywhere for free which is a huge win in my books. Some of the shops and restaurants can have one or two stairs but there are usually plenty of options. Be prepared however for some people to be a little bit rude and unhelpful – apparently this is a typical Parisian thing so don’t take it personally.
Day 1: Eurostar, Centre Pompidou, Notre Dame Cathedral
To get from London to Paris I ended up catching the Eurostar. It was so much nicer than taking the plane as it was easy to use there was ramp access waiting for you when you got on and off the train and you don’t have to part with your wheelchair (like you do on the plane). My Eurostar ticket was one of the only things I booked before I left and it was very easy to book online. Or you need to do is click that you are in a wheelchair when booking your ticket and you will get assistance on and off the train and a seat in First Class.
From the main train station (Gare du Nord) I caught an uber to my hostel (another top tip always have Uber downloaded on your phone it’s so handy if you get stuck). This was my first time travelling alone in a city with a pack on my back so it did take a bit of getting used to balancing the pack the right way.
After dropping my stuff off I decided to start exploring a little bit. My first stop was the Centre Pompidou which is a modern art museum and designed to look like it’s inside out. Finding the accessible entrance was a bit tricky, but after asking a few very unhelpful people I found it at the side. Like most Parisian tourist attractions wheelchair users get in for free and the views from the top floor are amazing.
I then pushed over the river to the Ile de la Cite which is an island in the middle of the Seine and houses the Notre Dame. Again I didn’t have to wait in line, I just went to the front of the line and the security guard let me in. Also again it was totally free. Totally worth it as the Notre Dame is amazing inside and out.
After that I navigated the super easy bus system back to my hostel after a busy day.
Day 2: Palace of Versailles and Uber to the Rescue
I really wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles while I was here as I heard it was amazing. The only problem is that you have to get a train out of the city. It’s easy the lady at the hostel told me you just catch two trains that run all the time. Are these train station accessible I asked? no answer. I ended up going to the main station (Gare du Nord) and after asking alot of very unhelpful people a station attendant helped me onto the first train. After that train I had to get on a tram and then another train to take me to Versailles. Once I got off the tram I had to find my second train I had no idea where I was and could not find an accessible way to get to the train so ended up panicking and ordering an Uber (uber’s are my saviour). The uber driver gave me water and let me charge my phone so that was amazing.
Once I got to Versailles I got to go past the very long line and go straight to the front. The access to get down to the gardens is not laid out very well and can be a difficult to navigate and you can wait a long time for the lift as it’s also the service elevator. The gardens are worth it though as they are absolutely amazing. They are very large and there is a bit of a hill. You can hire a golf cart which if you are with an able bodied person I would recommend as it it quite a push. I had to push around the gardens as I didn’t have an able bodied person to operate the golf cart.
The inside of the palace is the definition of opulence and the hall of mirrors is something you have to see to believe. On the way back I couldn’t be bothered navigating the train/tram bus system so I ended up ordering an Uber which cost a small fortune. In hindsight I should of planned this day a bit better. There are many companies that offer day coach tours to Versailles for the day and this would of been a much better option. Despite the hassle it was totally worth it – one of my favourite things I saw.
Day 3: Arc du Triomphe, Champs Elysse, The Lourve
Today I tried to pack in most of Paris’ main tourist attractions. Number one was the Arc du Triomphe. The Arc du Triomphe is sits in the middle of a very busy intersection and acts as a round about. So to get to the actual thing you have to go underneath the road by a system of tunnels which then comes out in the middle. Unfortunately all the tunnels to get to the Arc du Triomph had stairs so I had to look at it from across the road which is still pretty close. I found this a little confusing as I know there is lift access to get to the top if you want to see the views. I therefore couldn’t understand why there was no access to actually get to it. But maybe I missed something.
I then meandered and window shopped my way down the Champs Elysee which is a very nice shopping street and and into a large square called the place de la Concorde which has a gold tip obelisk and from which you can see the eiffel tower. To get to the Lourve I pushed/ walked through the Jardin des Tulleries which is a very pretty garden. A lot of the entrances have steps to get into the gardens but there is one accessible entrance. It was just nice to sit there and contemplate the day.
Then onto the Lourve. Again I bypassed the massive line and was taken down a lift underneath the iconic glass pyramid. I was given free access and a map that was marked with an accessible route. However the Lourve is HUGE and it can be very easy to get lost. The lifts sometimes had a rope across them but usually there was someone to unhook the rope. The Mona Lisa was a bit hard to find as the accessible entrance was through a secret door but once I asked someone it was easy. The great thing about the Mona Lisa is that there is a section right in front especially reserved for wheelchair uses so you have a great view and don’t just have to look at people’s bums while they look at the Mona Lisa.
And that I think was enough for today.
Day 4: The Eiffel Tower and a Confusing Train Ride to Belgium
I only had the morning in Paris so after my last chocolate croissant I made my way to the Eiffel Tower. It was a freezing cold morning but because I was there early missed most the crowds. Again you go straight to the front of the line and it’s all very well signposted for wheelchair users. You do however have to pay for entrance but it is massively discounted. Unfortunately as a wheelchair user you can’t get all the way to the top as there is a steep staircase leading up to the elevator that takes you to the top but you can get to the second level which is still very high and gives you amazing views.
After that I had a bit more time so went to Bastille, which is where the start of the French revolution occured and is now marked by a statue. I then aimlessley wandered (my favourite way of exploring a city) back to my hostel where I packed up all my things ready to continue my journey to Bruge – a small town in Belgium.
This was my first Eurail experience and I will cover the frustration and confusing nature of the train system as a wheelchair user in another blog post (stay tuned). A couple of things I learned; your request for a ramp onto and off the train has to be lodge 48hrs in advanced. This is not good for a traveller trying to plan as little as possible. Also I thought by buying my ticket a day before in person would be enough for them to put me in wheelchair accessible carriage and also register my need for a ramp on and off the train – no they don’t like to put two and two together at these train stations. To get ramp access you have to call someone else for this. Also if i registered my need for assistance in Paris and the ramp helped me on this does not mean that there would be a ramp waiting for me in Belgium because I therefore needed to call Belgium beforehand – All this confusion and being shouted at in French did not bode well for the beginning of my train travel across Europe. Anyway I safely arrived in Bruge and as it was dark caught a taxi to my hostel as Bruge sadly doesn’t have Uber.