Paris is a city everyone wants to and should experience at some point in their life. It’s a city that is overflowing with things to see and experience. You can visit Paris many, many times and never discover all it has to offer. I’ve visited the city more than 10 times in the last two years for short and extended stays and each time, I discover something new. With so much to experience, it’s easy to make a few mistakes while you visit Paris. Trust me, I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes. Lucky for you, my mistakes can be yours to avoid! That’s why I’ve laid out 12 practical tips for visiting Paris below. It’s a quick read and you’ll be glad to have this knowledge as you plan your trip and explore the city of light.
** You should also check out my complete guide to Paris for all your holiday planning needs!
Practical Tips for Visiting Paris
1) Stay Centrally
Deciding where to stay when visiting Paris can be an overwhelming task because there are so many different options depending on location and your budget. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (French for neighborhoods) and each one offers its own bit of charm. However, my advice is to stay centrally. Choosing a good location can make all the difference in the world. We always stay in Le Marais or Beaubourg in the 3rd or the 4th arrondissements which are historical areas of Paris. These two areas combined are home to many shops, a lot of fashion, arts, and pretty much all of Paris’ gay community and nightlife as well as the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral and Centre Pompidou. It’s also not too far of a walk to Paris’ 1st arrondissement where you will find the Louvre, Tuileries and the 17th-century Palais Royal. Location is everything so determine what your goals are for your trip and plan accordingly. For an affordable stay, I suggest you book a place on Airbnb. It’ll give you privacy and a more local feeling.
If you’re hoping to live out your Parisian dream holiday then book a room with Cobblestone Paris. You can read all about my experience staying at one of Cobblestone Paris’ apartments here.
2) Walk as Much as You Can
The absolutely best way to see Paris is by walking so make sure you pack a pair of sensible walking shoes. No matter what time of the year you visiting Paris, it is always quite beautiful. We try to walk everywhere that is reasonable and sometimes we do get lost while in Paris. But that’s the best part! Don’t be afraid to get lost. Paris is made up of all kinds of micro neighborhoods and its such an ancient city that you’ll inevitable stumble on pieces of history. In fact, you should make it a point to get lost. Plan one day where you allow yourself to wander through the city. Trust me, exploring this way is so much fun and it allows you to get to know the city while gaining a better grasp of its personality. Just choose a neighborhood and go!
3) Don’t Step in Streams of Water
As you walk around Paris at night, you might notice streams of what you assume is water. It’s not water, trust me. So don’t step in them. At night, for some reason, men in the city make any place they please their personal toilet. In fact, you’ll see men whipping it out and urinating on the side of any building, fence, or wherever. I’ve watched many a tourist walk right through these little streams without a care in the world never suspecting they are walking through piss. It’s just a fact of life in Paris so step over these streams unless you enjoy that sort of thing.
3) Use Public Transportation (save your metro ticket)
Now, if walking either isn’t your thing or you plan to head somewhere that isn’t walking distance then I suggest you use public transportation. Only…don’t use a taxi or even an Uber unless absolutely necessary. Parisian traffic is notoriously terrible and hiring a car to take you from point A to point B will cost you a lot. During the transportation strikes in January 2020, Alfred and I decided to take an Uber from La Marais to Sacré-Cœur Basilica because it was freezing outside. What should have been a 21 minute ride ended up taking over 45 minutes and costing about 35 euros. Just for reference, the same route would have taken us 40 minutes to walk. Unfortunately for us, taking the metro wasn’t an option due to the strike but under normal circumstances, the metro is very reliable and easy to maneuver through.
It’s also very affordable with a single ticket costing 1.90 euros. That means you save money which can be spent elsewhere. If you do use the metro, remember to keep your ticket until your journey is over. Officials board the trains every so often to check tickets and if you don’t have yours, you’ll be charged a fine of up to 45 euros. Lastly, don’t take a taxi or Uber into the city from Charles de Gaul airport. Simply get a ticket for the RER B train. It costs substantially less then a taxi and takes you where you need to be in Paris. Simply follow the signs for trains at the airport, purchase your ticket, and be on your way.
4) The Eiffel Tower is Not the Heart of Paris
When you think of visiting Paris, the first thing to likely pop into your mind is the Eiffel Tower. That makes sense since it is one of the most well-known landmarks in the world and pretty much a symbol of Paris for international visitors. A lot of people have the mistaken understanding that the Eiffel Tower is situated in the heart of Paris. But it’s not. In fact, the Eiffel Tower is located about an hour’s walk west of Île de la Cité, home of Notre-Dame which is considered the heart of Paris. It’s removed from everything you’ll want to explore while visiting Paris but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit it.
As for the Eiffel Tower itself, you might not find it as impressive as you hoped. If you choose to see it during the day for the first time, it’ll take your breath away because it is rather gigantic and, of course, you’re seeing it for the first time. At night it sparkles which is rather magical. But there is no need to take a tour or go to the top. The views are not very good from up there and it is expensive with a ticket by lift to the top costing you about 25 euros. You can no longer walk right up to the tower due to security barricades and you’ll need to pass through a security check similar to what you’d expect an an airport. It’s also one of the most crowded attractions in Paris. You’ll likely spend a lot of time in a queue. My advice is to go see the Eiffel Tower, take your photos with it, and then move on. Paris has so much more to offer and much better views of the city can be found.
5) Make Time for Museums
You’re plans for your Paris trip likely involves visiting a museum or two since some of the most famous museums in the world call Paris home. I’m here to tell you that is a great idea. You should definitely make time for museums while visiting Paris. The city has more museums than any other city in the world with over 200 to explore. Make sure to visit some of the bigger, more famous museums such as the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, and Musee d’Orsay but also visit some of the off-the-beaten-path museums such as Musee de la Magia (Museum of Magic), Musee de L’Erotisme (Museum of Sex), and Musee de la Prefecture (Police Museum).
6) Learn Some French
Knowing a little French can go a long way during your trip to Paris. Even making a little effort can create a scenario where someone is more willing to help you. I would like to say what I just wrote is totally true but it isn’t. Unfortunately, Parisians take their language and how it is spoken very serious. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked to just speak English, in no uncertain terms. I’ve been to Paris many, many times and in my experience, a little effort doesn’t go a long way. Your efforts will be appreciated in most regions of France but Paris is the exception. Of course, knowing a few basic phrases will make your trip a little less stressful. But don’t expect Parisians to be happy with your efforts. One thing to know is while Parisians come off as rude, they are actually very polite…and they expect the same level of etiquette from visitors. This means, at a basic level, you should always greet people when you walk into a business, say thank you, and say goodbye.
Greeting: Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur
Thank You: Merci, Merci beaucoup
Goodbye: Au revoir
Good Day: Bonne journée
7) Beware of Travel Scams
No matter where you go in the world, you’re bound to encounter people wanting to scam you. Paris is no exception to this rule. In fact, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, scams abound. Here is a general rule: ignore anyone randomly walking up to you asking questions. If anyone comes up to you asking you if you speak English, ignore them. If anyone asks you to sign a petition or anything, ignore them. Don’t give them one ounce of your attention. These are scams. Another common scam to be weary of is if someone walks up to you and tries to put a friendship bracelet on your arm or something of that nature. They’ll force it on your arm and tie the knot tight so you can’t get it off and then demand you pay them for the bracelet. Do not let anyone place anything on your arm or in your hand. And if someone vending items, such as roses, forces an item into your hand, simply drop it and walk away. One last thing to be on the look out for is pickpockets. Keep your wallet in your front pocket and be attentive to your belongings. But don’t be one of those tourist who totally look like a tourist because they clearly are worried too much about being scammed and pickpocketed. There are bad people in the world but most are not. Just be attentive.
8) Try New Foods
France is known the world over for its cuisine and Paris is a great place to try all kinds of delicious French fare. I am certain you’ll try a yummy crêpe, steak frites, french onion soup, beef Bourguignon, among other common French dishes. But I encourage you to be a bit adventurous and try things that seem a bit strange and different like frog legs! I actually don’t like frog legs but there are a plethora of French foods that are definitely outside the box for some. Some of my favorites include steak tartar, duck confit, and escargot. That’s just a few examples. One food that I’d recommend avoiding is a sausage called Andouillette. It’s the worst tasting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Trust me, you’ll want to avoid that one. Food is one of the defining features of most cultures and countries so if you really want to gain a better understanding of a place then you must be willing to try new things.
9) Bring a Power Adapter
This should really go without saying but when you visit another country, you will likely need a power adapter to charge all your electronic devices. France is no exception to the rule. So don’t forget to bring a converter or else you’ll have to purchase one at the airport or upon arrival to your destination. You can actually purchase a universal power adapter which can be used in almost any country. Furthermore, if you travel with multiple electronic devices, you might find their aren’t enough outlets. In addition to a power adapter, bring a travel power strip to eliminate that problem altogether.
10) Bathrooms Aren’t Free
In the US, we are a bit spoiled by the expectation that some things should just be free. For instance, you can find toilets available to the public everywhere you go. However, in France, free public toilets are rarity. Most public toilets require you to pay a fee of 1-2 euros in order to use them. That is, if you can even find a public toilet to begin with. That being said, make sure you always have a euro or two just in case. Other than that, make sure you always use the toilet when you eat a restaurant or visit an attraction.
In the United States, tipping is required for all sorts of services you receive and especially when eating at a restaurant or ordering at a bar. But in Paris, bills include a service charge and tipping is not expected. However, servers do not generally receive these funds. They are paid an actual wage. If you’re feeling generous and would like to leave a little extra then your server will appreciate it. But, again, it is not necessary.
12) Day Trips
Visiting Paris is romantic and wonderful but there are also some pretty fantastic places to visit surrounding the city. If you can, make sure to plan in a day trip to check out something else besides Paris. Common day trips from Paris include visiting Versailles or Château de Fontainebleau. These two palaces are magnificent and definitely crowded with tourists but worth checking out. Other daytrips include visiting Monet’s Garden, Bruges, Mont Saint-Michel, and Normandy. You can even visit London as a day trip from Paris thanks to the channel tunnel connecting France to the UK. One of my favorite day trips is visiting the medieval city of Provins. You can get to by train and it is a UNESCO World heritage site. Lastly, if you love all things Disney then Disneyland-Paris is right up your alley.
Get out there and explore!
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