Paris is one of the most beautiful, romantic cities in the world, and I can’t get enough of it.
Despite its charm, however, there can be a few tricky things to navigate while spending time in the city, especially for those who aren’t yet familiar with traveling in Europe.
We want you to have the best time possible, so we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know before your first visit to Paris.
Before You Go To Paris
Learn some French
You don’t need to be fluent in French before you visit, but knowing a few words and phrases not only make things easier, it will instantly make you more polite and likeable to the locals.
Parisians have a reputation for ignoring tourists who speak to them in a foreign language, and understandably so. It must be frustrating to have so many visitors expecting you to cater to them without putting any effort in.
Having said that, I’ve personally not had trouble with anyone while in Paris. A friendly and respectful attitude goes a long way.
I’ve read many articles and forums saying that generally if you at least use basic French greetings and pleasantries, local people will be much more inclined to help you.
- The basics:
- “Bonjour” – hello during the day
- “Bonsoir” – hello in the evening
- “Merci” – thank you
- “S’il vous plaît” – please
- “Au revoir” – goodbye
- “Parlez-vous anglais?” – do you speak English?
- “Pardon” or “excusez-moi” – excuse me/sorry (for example if you bump into someone)
- “Oui” and “Non” for yes and no, respectively
- Learn pronunciation. Of course you may not be able to say everything perfectly, but at least try not to say “merci” the same as “mercy” or over-pronounce the consonants in “bonjour.” This youtube video is a great introduction; practice words before you go and you’ll feel more confident using them!
- Greetings are very, very, important to the French. When you are entering a shop or restaurant, approaching someone to ask for help, getting on a bus, etc., always start with a cheerful “bonjour” (or “bonsoir” in the evening) or else you will seem rude and they may not want to help. And say “merci, au revoir” before you leave.
- Ask people if they speak English before you jump straight into it. Of course if someone starts speaking to you in English it’s fine, but don’t assume anyone speaks English. Even if you’re pretty sure they do, you’ll get off on a better foot by not having made the assumption. And ask them in French! This thread has a lot of great points on why you shouldn’t ask in English.
- Learn basic food and drink words. Some places will have English menus, but not everywhere. You’ll be frustrated if you sit down for dinner and you have no idea what anything on the menu is.
- Google Translate is your friend! You can even download French for offline use in case you need to use it with no data or WiFi. If you see a sign you can’t read or need help speaking to someone, you can easily translate from French to English or vice versa.
This article has more tips on phrases you can learn to be more polite in France.
And remember, mistakes are bound to happen. Many times I’ve frozen while trying to remember which word to say. Just try your best!
Research opening hours
Paris can be expensive, which often means staying fewer days in the city. There’s also SO many things to do. You’ll want to plan your stay carefully in order to make it to everything on your list.
- A lot of museums are closed on Monday or Tuesday, so make sure you check the opening times for each place you want to go. You don’t want to trek all the way to an attraction only to find out it’s closed.
- Make sure you look at what hours they’re open as well. This can vary day by day; for example some museums are open late on Thursday or Friday evening. You can fit more into your day by saving the things that are open late for the evening.
- Closing hours are final. I was once in line in a museum gift shop when they announced that the tills were closed, even though there was still a long line of people wanting to buy something. If the museum closes at 6pm, they will want everyone out by then, whether they’re looking to spend more money or not!
Look for discounts or free entry
Thoroughly research all the places you want to visit and see if you’re eligible for a discount or if there are any free days to attend.
- Many places do free entry on the first Sunday of the month.
- 18-25 year old EU citizens or students can often get free or reduced entry
- Many places have free entry for under 18s.
- Some places may have free entry one night of the week.
- There is a “Paris Pass” that you can purchase which includes entry to a lot of attractions. Personally, I’ve never used it. Depending on what you want to do, it might be a good option. I would recommend making a list of everything you want to do and seeing how much it actually costs. These passes are helpful if you want to cram a bunch of sights into a short time, but it’s worth researching first. (Some bloggers say that it’s a MUST and I can’t help but wonder if that’s influenced by their affiliate link.)
Keep in mind that free entry means everyone will be there. If there’s a place that’s really important to you and you want to enjoy it without the crowds, it may be worth paying for a ticket.
I’ll be honest; finding a place to stay is my least favorite part of going to Paris. You’ll have all these visions of staying in a romantic hotel with a view overlooking the Eiffel Tower, then realize that would cost you a small fortune. Plus it’s hard to decide what area to stay in. To make things as easy as possible:
- Start looking as soon as you can. Accommodation can book up quickly, so the sooner you look, the more options will be available.
- Make a list of activities you want to do, and try to stay relatively close by. Of course you can easily get the metro if you need to stay further away, but this can add on a lot of time and hassle. Especially if it’s on the other side of the city. Staying further out of the city may save money but often isn’t worth it.
- Airbnb is often cheaper than hotels, depending on what area you’re looking in and how many people are going. However, there are a lot of listings without many reviews, which I’m always wary of.
- A note on sustainable tourism: I’ve heard that people buying entire flats to rent on Airbnb is raising rent prices and driving locals out. If possible, try to book a room in someone’s flat, rather than a whole flat. This also means you’ll be able to get advice from a local!
- Hostels can be a great option if you’re happy with a bed and a locker. It’s a great way of meeting other travelers and keeping the budget low. Of course, just make sure you’ve read plenty of reviews to make sure it’s a good location.
- Compare different sites to find the best cost and/or discount. We mostly use Booking.com because we like their system. They often offer free cancellation too, which is helpful while you’re still deciding.
I’m not one to suggest that to visit Paris you MUST look like a local and avoid anything that could possibly make someone suspect that you’re a tourist. Let’s be real – most of us aren’t going to be that convincing, especially when we don’t speak French. However, if you want to blend in as much as possible, here are a few tips:
- Neutral solids – you won’t see many Parisians wearing bold, colorful prints.
- Jeans – don’t pack sweatpants or shorts unless you want to stand out.
- Scarves – it’s all about them in Paris! I usually bring several to mix up my outfits.
- The “little black dress” is considered a staple.
- Keep it understated: Parisian women are known for wearing natural-looking makeup, lightly styled hair, and minimal jewelry.
- Make sure you bring comfortable shoes! Flats or trendy trainers (not your beat up running shoes) are best. Paris is very spread out and you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking. Keep in mind that sidewalks can be very uneven and bumpy – heels are not recommended.
- France has different power sockets from the UK, the US, and Australia. Make sure you’ve packed an adapter to charge your electronics. Also keep in mind that because the voltage is different, you may not be able to use your hair dryer or curling iron. There’s a number of factors involved, so research beforehand to make sure you avoid any blown fuses.
- Portable charger. You’ll be on the go all day and the last thing you want is a dead phone. We recommend one that holds multiple charges, so you have plenty of battery to get you through the trip.
- Make sure to bring a student ID if you have one, or proof of age and EU citizenship. There are many places that offer discounts but you’ll have to show ID.
While You’re In Paris
Keep a close eye on your belongings
Paris is renowned for being one of the pickpocketing capitals of Europe. I’ve been very fortunate to never have anything stolen from me, but it happens a lot. On the Eiffel Tower you will regularly hear announcements warning you to be careful because “pickpockets are loose on the tower.”
- Carry your bags securely and keep them zipped. Backpacks are easier to carry but can be risky because you can’t see them.
- Don’t have your phone sticking out of a back pocket.
- Never leave your bag sitting somewhere out of sight; always keep it close to you.
- Don’t carry any unnecessary valuables around with you, and be discreet about any valuable items you have to carry.
- Don’t make it super obvious that you’re a tourist. Of course it’s not possibly to 100% blend in with the locals, but if you’re wearing shorts and an American flag t-shirt and walking around looking at a big map, you’ll be an obvious target.
- If you’re wearing a coat, make sure any belongings are kept in secure, zipped pockets, especially in crowded areas like the metro. Because they’re bulky it’s very easy for someone to grab something without you noticing.
The most important thing is to constantly be aware of your surroundings. For a more in-depth explanation of some of the common scams, you can look at this TripAdvisor page.
Ignore street vendors, petitioners, etc.
Continuing off the last point; in busy, touristy areas, there will be many people who try to get your attention. More often than not, it’s a scam or a distraction to try to pickpocket you. It’s best to ignore them and keep walking – even though it may feel rude.
- There’s a common bracelet scam where someone will offer you a “free” bracelet, then demand money once they’ve put it on your wrist.
- In places like the Eiffel Tower, people will try to sell merchandise from blankets on the ground. It’s better to buy souvenirs from the shops.
- Sometimes someone with a clipboard walks up and asks if you speak English. It’s best to either keep walking and even shake your head no.
- If you feel like someone is genuinely asking you for help, just make sure you are still aware of all your bags, belongings, and pockets. It’s probably best if you can point them towards someone more official who can help.
It’s easy to get lost; be prepared
The streets in Paris can be very confusing. Streets are often short, and before you know it you’re actually on a different street with a different name. It’s especially difficult when you don’t have a working phone. A few things to remember:
- Aimlessly wandering the streets can be fun, if you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere else. If you have time, embrace being lost for a little bit. (As long as the area doesn’t feel unsafe, of course.)
- Make sure to keep your phone charged and consider taking a portable charger with you.
- If you won’t have phone signal, download a map on your phone before going out or buy a physical map.
- Know where you plan to go throughout the day and have an idea of where those things are located, what metro stop they’re by, etc. If you can look at directions and get your bearings before heading out, you’ll be much better off.
- Central Paris has signs pointing to metro stations and main attractions. If you can find your way to a metro station, there’ll be a map inside that you can use for directions.
- Failing all this, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I once had to ask a very kind lady for directions when I stupidly went out without really knowing where I was going. Chances are if you are polite, people will help you as much as they can. They may not speak English, (and don’t be annoyed if they don’t) but hand gestures and pointing can go a long way.
- Walk as much as possible. Paris is a big city and sometimes the metro is necessary. But walking will not only save you money, it will give you more time to appreciate the beautiful streets and gorgeous architecture. Plus it will help you burn off the calories from all those croissants and glasses of wine!
- The best way to make walking more manageable is to find ways to break up the walk between places. A 60 minute walk between your hotel and the Eiffel Tower may feel like too much, but if you grab a coffee and sit in a park along the way, it breaks up the walking and makes it feel like a breeze.
- If you plan to use the metro regularly, you can buy a pack of tickets in advance and save money. Last time Joe and I went to Paris we bought the pack of 10 in advance and used them between the two of us throughout the trip. Check out this site for more information on tickets and fares.
- Keep your metro ticket through the end of your journey; an attendant may come through the train, bus, or tram to check you have a validated ticket.
- Keep in mind that locals do not usually chat loudly on the metro. Being loud and boisterous will not only make you a nuisance, it will potentially make you a target.
- The airports are serviced by train or bus lines, which are much cheaper alternatives to getting an uber or taxi. (If you’re coming from London though, the Eurostar is much nicer than flying and will bring you further into the city.)
- In general, taxis are known for being expensive and often are not necessary with all the public transport.
- Keep in mind that public restrooms are not common or frequent; you won’t often find them while walking around. Always make sure you’ve take advantage of restrooms in museums and restaurants before heading out. 😉
- France uses the Euro.
- It’s always good to carry some cash in case places don’t accept card; however with the prevalence of pickpocketing, it’s best to keep it to small amounts.
- Especially for the American readers who are used to tipping large amounts – this is not how it works in France. Workers are paid normal wages (crazy concept, huh?) and service charges are often included. Tipping is then optional, and usually a smaller percentage of the bill. You can find more details on tipping etiquette here.
Food and drink
- Research beforehand and have an idea of where you want to eat. Sure, there’s something wonderful about stumbling upon a great place to eat. But certain parts of the city don’t have many restaurants, and it will be hard to know if the food is good quality. I’ve spent a very long time on a very empty stomach trying to find a place to eat, and it’s not fun.
- Be aware of opening times. European restaurants are more likely to close during the afternoon, between the lunch and dinner crowds. If you’re looking for food at 3 or 4pm, you may have a difficult time.
- For water, you should ask for a jug of tap water. If you just ask for water, you’ll be served a water bottle which you have to pay for, while tap water is often free.
- Food service is slower and less attentive than what you might expect in the US or even the UK. They aren’t being rude; there’s just a different culture around food there. Everyone sits for longer, enjoying their meals. The waiter may take a while to come take your order, and you’ll probably have to ask for the bill at the end. It’s considered rude in France for them to bring the bill before you’ve asked – they don’t want to rush you out. Just be patient and polite!
- The same goes for coffee. The French enjoy coffee at a table overlooking the street; not in a massive to-go cup while rushing off. This doesn’t mean you can’t find coffee to go (there are Starbucks or McDonald’s around) but don’t go into a restaurant asking for a large latte to go, because that’s not how it works.
- Restaurants in touristy areas are usually more expensive. Heading just a few streets away from the main areas can uncover some more wallet-friendly places.
Now you should be ready for the trip of a lifetime in the city of love! If you have any other questions, please do feel free to reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.
And don’t forget to tag us @jkgo.co on Instagram so that we can see your snaps!
Take a look at our travel tips for more advice on how to make the most of your travels.