Last Updated on 17th October 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Thinking of heading to Paris for the first time, the fifth time, or the thousandth time? Well, I’m sure that there are plenty of things you may well not have considered, but that you totally need to know! From the best time to visit the city to exploring off the beaten path, here are some Paris travel tips you need to know before visiting.
#1 The best time to visit Paris is in the shoulder seasons
Of all the Paris holiday tips I have, this is one of my top recommended! What this means is that the best time to go to Paris is just before or just after peak season (i.e. Summer). This way, you’ll still get the good weather, albeit without as many of the crowds that inevitably visit during the warmer months of the year.
Spring and autumn also provide perfect photo opportunities, with cherry blossom season in April and fall foliage spotting in October and November. Visit outside of peak season and you can also expect to find fewer queues and invariably lower prices when it comes to plane fares and accommodation. To find the best airfare/ bus/ train fares in advance, check out this price comparison site.
#2 Plan your accommodation well in advance and stay in a central location
Only book your accommodation close to the aiport if you’re getting a flight early the next morning, and only then for that night only. When it comes to your Paris visit, accommodation is going to be a large portion (if not the largest allocation) of your travel budget.
As such, I highly recommend booking your stay well in advance. Choosing a place to stay in Paris is dependent entirely on your own personal travel preferences. Most of the luxury hotels can be found in the 8th arrondissement of the city, while more budget locations can be found near the peripherique. Check here for the best accommodation rates in Paris.
Otherwise, if you’re looking to get a local’s perspective on the city and don’t feel like dining out every night, then you might consider booking an apartment on Air Bnb. From luxurious studios offering views of the Eiffel tower to budget rooms, there’s something for every price range. New to Air BnB? Sign up with this link to get credit towards your first booking!
#3 Paris is a city best explored on foot
Like many European capital cities, Paris is a place best explored on foot. Prepare to walk plenty. After all, I often find that it’s only when I’m wandering around Paris that I truly get a feel for the authentic Paris and see the settlement from a local’s perspective.
This way, you’ll also get the opportunity to peek behind those doorways and discover the hidden gems you might have otherwise missed if you were sat on a bus or standing on the metro! For example, this Le Marais walking tour will show you the best of medieval Paris and this old Paris vintage tour will allow you to experience the highlights of the city in just a few hours.
#4 Take some free and self-guided walking tours
When visiting Europe, you’ll soon learn that the best way to explore a new (or new-to-you, at the very least) city is by taking advantage of all of the free walking tours on offer. While many companies offer ‘free’ tours with the expectation that you’ll tip the guide at the end, you’ll soon find a plethora of self-guided tours if you type ‘free & self-guided walking tours in X’ in your search engine. Here are five free and self-guided Paris walking tours.
#5 Beware of pickpockets and common travel scams
Throughout Paris, you’ll likely come across a variety of scams, especially if you’re largely frequenting touristic areas (around Montmartre, Hotel de Ville, and Le Marais). These range from someone asking you to ‘sign a fake petition’ to people trying to tie a string around your hands!
Read my full guide on how to avoid these common tourist scams in Paris. Likewise, always keep an eye on your belongings, especially in places like the metro, as pickpocketing is fairly common. Always use a bag with a zip, never wear a backpack on your back, and even then, don’t leave your wallet/ valuables near the top of your bag!
#6 Use public transportation
Avoid taxis and traffic queues and hop on the metro instead. Fast, efficient, and affordable, if you’re planning on taking the metro a fair few times, or are travelling as part of a group, be sure to purchase a ‘carnet’. This is essentially a pack of ten metro tickets and offers a cheaper rate than buying each metro ticket individually.
Though Paris metro tickets are being gradually phased out in favour of the Easy Navigo pass, they’ll still be on sale for at least another year or two. When using public transportation keep a close eye on your belongings at all times, especially on the metro.
A common scam is for someone to ‘offer’ to help you purchase metro tickets, only to scam you of money and buy a cheap ticket that’s only valid for one journey. This scam is particularly prevalent around Gare du Nord and so be sure to only buy tickets from the machines or at the designated kiosk directly.
#7 Learn a few words of French
‘Hello/ Good evening,’ (Bonjour/ Bonsoir) ‘Please,’ (S’il vous plaît) ‘Thank You,’ (Merci) and ‘Sorry’ (Pardon) are a great place to start when learning a new language. Though many people you’ll encounter will speak English, people are more likely to be helpful if you at least try to make an effort with a little French.
A common misconception about French people is that they’re ‘really rude’. I honestly can tell you from personal experience that this is simply not the case! Instead, making an effort to speak a few words of French will go a long way. Bring along a simple French phrasebook like this one to help you out!
#8 Discover France beyond Paris
One of the biggest Europe travel mistakes people make is that they don’t give themselves enough time to explore France beyond Paris. After all, there are countless château, small medieval towns, and a wealth of stunning countryside to explore beyond the French capital.
Day trips close to Paris worth taking include Versailles, the château at Fontainebleau and the medieval city of Provins. For those who are wishing to go more off the beaten path and escape the more touristy destinations, Meaux is perfect for foodie lovers, while Auvers-Sur-Oise is a historical town that’s also the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh.
#9 Consider purchasing the Paris Pass
If you’re planning on visiting a lot of attractions while in the city (or simply want to skip many of the long waiting lines), then I highly recommend purchasing the Paris Pass (buy the card here). Benefits of the pass include skipping the long line at many of the major attractions and you’ll get free transportation on the metro and buses.
Before purchasing the pass (or any individual entrance tickets), add up the cost of all the attractions you wish to see and work out whether it’s cheaper to buy the pass or pay for each ticket individually. In any case, I highly recommend purchasing all of your entrance tickets in advance so as to make the most of skip-the-line functions on offer! I use GetYourGuide to purchase tickets in advance.
#10 Bring a comfortable pair of shoes
When it comes to exploring the city, there’s perhaps no way to uncover the French capital’s greatest secrets than by wandering around and getting a little lost. When wandering around Paris, it’s not uncommon to clock upwards of 20,000 steps a day, so be prepared and wear your comfiest shoes to walk in!
I personally own these sandals and love them so much that I’ve bought them in several colours! Otherwise, you should know that while once upon a time, trainers were a big no-no, today fashion and practicality have caught up with one another, and you’ll be thankful for packing a pair of comfy trainers. I personally love these fashion trainers but find plimsolls like these ones the most practical for exploring the city!
#11 Avoid making the biggest Paris mistakes
From ordering bottled water in a restaurant to not greeting the shop keeper upon entering the store, there is a myriad of mistakes you can make when visiting Paris without even realising it. For a full guide, check out the 12 most common Paris mistakes (and how you can avoid them)!
Otherwise, my top tip would be to avoid wasting time in Paris by ensuring that you don’t have to wait in any long lines of queues! what this means is to book your entrance tickets well in advance and with skip-the-line functions for all the major monuments and attractions. Purchase your skip-the-line Louvre ticket here, purchase your skip-the-line Versailles ticket here, and purchase your Eiffel Tower skip-the-line ticket here.
#12 Expect things in Paris to be closed on a Sunday
As in many predominantly Catholic countries, many things are closed for business on a Sunday, or at the very least, operate under limited hours. As such, if you need to purchase some supplies from the supermarket or the like, be sure to buy these well in advance.
Head to the countryside, and you can expect to find that even many of the bars and restaurants will be closed come Sunday. With this being said, most major museums, as well as attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, remain open on Sundays. Museums such as the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay are typically closed on Mondays or Tuesdays instead.
#13 Bring your student ID
And while we’re on the subject of French monuments, it’s worth noting that many attractions, monuments, and museums allow free entry to those under 26 who are residents of the EU. As such, be sure to bring along your ID to make the most of this offer. Other establishments across the city (including eateries) offer student discounts, so be sure to bring your student ID along with you if applicable.
#14 Make the most of coffee culture
Sitting in a café, sipping on an espresso, and watching the world go by: it is perhaps one of Paris’ clichés. But, truth be told, you have to make the time to enjoy café culture at least once when in Paris. In the past few years, coffee culture in Paris has exploded, resulting in exciting new openings and plenty of delicious caffeine stops across the city.
Some of the prettiest coffee shops in the city include Le Consulat (Montmartre), Odette (the Latin Quarter), and Café Oberkampf (the 11th arrondissement). For a closer look at Paris’ ever-growing coffee culture, check out The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta of the blog, Lost in Cheeseland.
#15 Try some French cuisine
And while we’re on the subject, of eating in France, stay away from the usual chain restaurants when in Paris. After all, the city is often thought to be one of the best gastronomic capitals of the world. For one of the most unusual dining experiences in the city, be sure to head to Le Refuge des Fondus where you can enjoy fondue with wine from a baby bottle!
Even if you’re vegan or vegetarian in Paris, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy fresh and authentic French cuisine, albeit with a meat-free and dairy-free twist! Here’s your complete guide to eating vegan in Paris. One of my favourite meals of the day is that of the French breakfast; for more details, check out this guide on everything you need to know about a traditional French breakfast.
#16 Always say ‘Bonjour’ when you enter a shop
If you don’t make the effort to say ‘hello’ when entering a store in France, this is seen as the height of rudeness. As such, you’ll find storekeepers much friendlier and easier to talk to so long as you say ‘bonjour’ when entering any establishment/ shop.
#17 Visit the Louvre Museum but don’t try and see everything
As the largest museum in the world, it’s clear that the Louvre has plenty of things to see, including of course, the Mona Lisa! However, if you want to make the most of your visit, then try and plan your visit in advance, or at the very least try to stick to just visiting one wing of the museum.
That way, you’ll be able to enjoy your visit all the more. Before visiting, I’d recommend purchasing a Louvre ticket in advance (or entrance to the museum is included in the Paris Pass). This has a handy skip-the-line feature which will mean less time waiting, and more time actually enjoying the museum. Otherwise, check out my Louvre travel tips that will help you get the most out of your visit to the largest museum in the world!
#18 The Eiffel Tower is NOT in the centre of Paris
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the Eiffel Tower is in the heart of the city, in the midst of all the other Parisian attractions. Instead, the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by empty space (the Champ de Mars and Jardins du Trocadero).
La Tour Eiffel, as it is so-called, is in the Western side of Paris and not anywhere close to Notre Dame, Montmartre, or Le Marais. If you’re looking for the very heart of the city, then you should be looking towards Île de la Cité, the larger of the two natural islands on the River Seine where you’ll find the likes of Sainte Chapelle and Hôtel Dieu de Paris.
#19 The Eiffel Tower does not provide the best view of the French Capital
And while we’re talking about the Eiffel Tower (or Tour Eiffel as it is so-called in Frenc), make note of the fact that the Eiffel Tower probably provides the most disappointing view in Paris! If you’re looking for a gorgeous view, then one of the best Paris travel tips which I highly recommend is to skip out on the Iron Lady and instead, head to the Arc de Triomphe.
#20 Wake up for sunrise at least once!
While almost everyone is present for sunset, the sunrise provides the perfect opportunity to get more of the place to yourself. In my opinion, the best place to see the sunrise in Paris is at Trocadero. Once there, you’ll soon discover the largest fountain in Paris acts as a water mirror, reflecting the Eiffel Tower and pastel skies.
#21 Bring a travel adaptor
Paris (and France in general) uses plug types, types C and E. As such, if you’re travelling from the UK, USA, Canada, and many other destinations, you’ll need to buy an adaptor. I recommend buying a universal travel adaptor that you can use for multiple destinations (rather than buying a new adaptor for each place you visit).
#22 Keep your metro ticket throughout the journey!
Many people make the mistake of discarding their used metro ticket as soon as they’ve passed through the gate. However, if you do this, then you’ll be at risk of getting a fine! So be sure to keep hold of that tiny ticket in case someone checks your metro ticket at any time during your journey (including when you’re about to exit the metro!)
If you’re found to not have a ticket, the fines can be anything upwards of €33, so be sure to keep that ticket super safe (and do actually buy a ticket, rather than jumping over the barrier)! Ignorance of how the system works is not a valid excuse and you’ll still be made to pay a fine if you’re found to not have a validated ticket.
#23 Scout out one of the best views of Paris at Galeries Lafayette
One of the best free things to do in Paris is to head to the Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace. Located above the ever-so-pretty Art Nouveau Cupola in the department store’s flagship store, the rooftop terrace is typically open during daylight hours. Offering unparalleled views of the Eiffel Tower, Opera House, and more, you really should be visiting during your trip to Paris!
#24 Dress as the Parisians do
What this means is maintaining a largely neutral wardrobe. Skip the bold prints and bright sneakers. Instead, opt for a monochromatic feel (though neutral sneakers/ trainers are fine for walking around and is what many Parisians wear). For more tips, check out this article on how to dress more like a Parisienne.
#25 Explore off the beaten path locations in Paris
Between a lost iron railway that loops itself around the city and a colourful street that appears as if it comes straight from London’s Notting Hill, there’s no shortage of unique, quirky, and unusual things to do in the city. After you’ve seen many of Paris’ major attractions, be sure to check out these offbeat Paris locations (I promise you won’t be disappointed!)
#26 Make restaurant reservations in advance
The most popular places in town tend to get booked up fast, especially if you’re dining out during the weekend. As such, I highly recommend booking your table well in advance. And for those who are wondering some of the best places to eat in Paris, there are plenty of options from which to choose!
For example, Bouillon Chartier (7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre) offers affordable and authentic French food, though you can’t book in advance and Le Bistrot d’Henri (16 Rue Princesse) is a tiny eatery has barely any cover spaces and is perfect for date night. You can reserve a table in advance, which I highly recommend considering the popularity of the place!
#27 Allow yourself time in your itinerary for exploring at a slower pace
Of all the tips for travelling to Paris that are on this list, this one is incredibly important. Paris is a city that simply can’t be fully seen in ten decades, let alone in a long weekend! If you try and do too much while in the French capital, you won’t be able to fully enjoy your experience.
Likewise, pull out a map and plan to see attractions and monuments by area, otherwise, you might find that you’ll spend much of your visit on public transport! Of course, one of the best ways to enjoy Paris and stumble upon an otherwise hidden gem is to allow yourself to get a little lost… So allow yourself time to do this too!
#28 If you DO want to go up the Eiffel Tower (though I recommend you don’t), reserve tickets in advance
As I’ve previously said, the best view of Paris can be found in the form of the rooftop of the Arc de Triomphe, at the end of the Champs Elysees. However, if you do still want to ascent la Tour Eiffel, I recommend booking your ticket well in advance. This way, you’ll get a skip-the-line feature. Check Eiffel Tower tickets and prices here.
#29 Write down your hotel and its address
If your phone fails you, as so often technology does, you’ll want to have your hotel’s name and address written down in a safe place. After all, thanks to the Haussmannian renovations of the city in the 19th-century, many streets across the French capital look pretty similar and it’s easy to get a little lost!
#30 The Moulin Rouge is largely for tourists
Whenever I’ve gone past the Moulin Rouge, it’s soon become apparent that the only people standing in front are largely tourists, clicking away with their cameras. Just as many of the shows in Las Vegan are catered towards visitors as opposed to residents, so are the shows at the Moulin Rouge.
#31 Parisians (and the French in general) tend to eat late
Typically, people in Paris will dine after 8 PM and even up to 9 PM or 9:30 PM. This also means that many restaurants don’t open until at least 7 PM, and more often than not 7:30 PM. If you’re looking to enjoy a traditional French meal, then this is worth bearing in mind and perhaps you’ll want to carry snacks with you so as to wait for the late dinner!
#32 Paris isn’t only a romantic city!
If you’re thinking of skipping out on Paris as you think it’s only a city for romantics, then this would be your first European travel mistake. After all, you can travel solo in Paris if you so prefer, or you can plan a girls getaway with all of your best friends. Paris has so much to offer and is simply not just for couples!
#33 Many places close up shop in Paris in August
While July is a hectic month, with crowds of tourists from all over the world converging on the city, August is traditionally the time when the Parisians themselves go on holiday, often to the South of France. What this means for you is that the city is generally quieter than other times in the high season, though many stores and coffee shops will be closed for the month.
#34 Paris has plenty of small museums worth visiting
Of all the tips for visiting Paris, checking out some of the smaller museums in the city is close to the top of the list. From a museum that specialises in Vampires and Legends, to a house museum where Renoir once resided close to Montmartre’s vineyard, here’s your guide to the best small museums in Paris.
#35 Montmartre is much more than the tourist attractions!
While many people venture inside the Sacré Coeur and wander around Place du Tertre, where all of the artists can be found, few go beyond this. As such, they’re missing out on much of what makes Montmartre such a wonderful place to visit. Here’s a guide to the best hidden gems of Montmartre.
#36 Don’t rent a car in Paris!
One of the best travel tips for Paris I would give you is not to rent a car in Paris! The traffic is quite congested in some areas and the driving may be completely different from what you’re used to back home. Instead, public transportation can be found in abundance across the city.
#37 Paris is divided into districts known as ‘Arrondissements’
In total there are twenty arrondissements in Paris. Each has its own vibe, set of museums, attractions, and merit. Some of the more popular arrondissements include the 18th (Montmartre), 3rd and 4th (Le Marais) and the 5th (the Latin Quarter). Do your research before and decide where you most want to explore!
#38 The Mona Lisa is actually pretty small!
What may well be Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work is the Mona Lisa and it can be found surrounded by security guards in the Louvre Museum. What you may well not know is that this work of art is so famous because the Mona Lisa was actually stolen during the early 20th-century. In an adjacent room, you’ll find equally beautiful Da Vinci works, albeit without the crowds surrounding the Mona Lisa.
#39 The Covered Passages of Paris are the perfect rainy day activity
Once upon a time (well, in the 1700s and 1800s, actually!), there were over a hundred and fifty covered walkways constructed in Paris. Today, only a handful of these passages exist, containing all manner of shops, cultural establishments, and independent boutiques.
Perfect for escaping the weather on a particularly cold or rainy day, some of my favourites include Passage des Panoramas (the oldest covered passageway in Paris), and Passage du Grand Cerf (a pretty and tiled passage named for a pub at the end of the walkway).
Other rainy day in Paris activities include scouting out the best macarons in the city, or even taking a macaron baking class like this one, discovering the quaintest cafés the city has to offer, and hiding from the rain in one of the one hundred plus museums that the city has to offer!
#40 The first floor is not at ground level
If you come from North America, then you may well be used to calling the ground floor/ level, floor 1. However, visit Europe and you’ll soon discover that instead of floor levels being 1, 2, 3, 4, the levels are instead labelled as follows: 0/ ground level, 1, 2, 3, 4. This means that what you might have previously called the second level, is actually the first level in Europe.
#41 All of Paris can’t be seen over the course of a weekend
If you’re looking to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of Paris, then it’s worth noting that the entirety of Paris can’t be explored over the course of a weekend. Instead, if you’re visiting for a shorter amount of time, then focus on a topic or area that you particularly want to enjoy. For example, would you like to go in search of Art Nouveau architecture, or would you prefer to discover delightful Montmartre?
#42 The currency in Paris is the euro
Prior to 2002, France used francs, and if you visit some restaurants, you’ll soon discover that some menus and receipts still print the franc price/ conversion as well as the euro amount. 37 countries across the continent use the euro now, meaning that you won’t have to dabble in different currencies when visiting many European destinations.
ATMs are readily available across Paris and so don’t feel the need to carry too much cash on you at any one time. It’s also not possible to purchase/ pay for anything for more than €1000 in cash as this has been banned since 2015.
#43 Not all baguettes are created equally!
Though France is famous for their legendary breads, it’s clear that some boulangeries create better baguettes than others. If you can, avoid grocery shopping for baguettes in the supermarket as these tend to err a little on the dry side. Instead, head to your local boulangerie, where the price of a baguette will typically be between €0,90 and €1,30. You should also know that boulangeries are only legally allowed to be called ‘boulangerie’ if the bread is baked and kneaded on the premises.
#44 You can find authentic French food at reasonable prices
If you’re on the lookout for a reasonable price, then be sure to head to Bouillon Chartier in the 9th arrondissement of the city, not far from many of the covered passages of Paris. Though a little more touristy than some of the other destinations, service is fast and the restaurant is set against the backdrop of a Belle Époque dining room. For a slightly more intimate and less touristy foodie experience in Paris, I highly recommend heading to Le Bistrot d’Henri in the 6th arrondissement of the city.
#45 Free bathrooms are rare
More often than not, public bathroom facilities are to be paid for and so you should always keep some change on you in the eventuality you’ll need to use the WC! While I personally recommend heading to a café and getting an espresso as this will work out at around the same price, public bathrooms in Paris can range from anything to 30 cents and up to €1,50 (such as those in the Jardin des Tuileries).
#46 Free WiFi is common!
Unlike in other European countries (such as Switzerland) where often the only way to access the WiFi is to have access to a phone number, free WiFi in Paris is becoming increasingly common, particularly in more modern bars, restaurants, and cafés. Indeed, I’ve never come across a hotel in Paris where you have to pay for the WiFi either!
#47 Pharmacies can be found in abundance
Although, unlike in many other European countries, medicine such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can’t be purchased in the supermarket, there’s no shortage of pharmacies to make up for the fact. Selling everything from over the counter medication to luxury beauty and hair products, there are close to a thousand pharmacies across the French capital.
#48 Greet people with ‘la bise’
If you’re from an Anglophone country, then you may well be used to greeting friends and family with a hug. However, in France this is not commonplace and friends and family will instead greet one another with ‘la bise,’ an air kiss on either side of the cheeks (and up to five times, depending on which region you’re from). Otherwise, note that, in more formal situations, a handshake is the right course of action to take.
#49 No hot drinks after a certain time
If you visit Paris, then no doubt you’ll be pleased to discover the French capital’s coffee culture, whereby cafés, bars, and bistros quite literally spill out onto the streets of the city. But one peculiar quirk of this is that, unlike what you might imagine, many cafés stop serving hot drinks after a certain time. In some places, this can be as early as 4 pm (or “16h” as French person would say).
#50 Internet information isn’t necessarily correct
It’s not unheard of to head to a café, shop, or place of business, only to discover that it’s actually closed or simply operates under different hours from which are advertised online. It’s happened to me many times where a shop has been said to be open, only for me to go and visit and the store is ‘actually closed for a lunch break’. As such, don’t be surprised should this happen to you!
#51 You don’t have to dress incredibly chic wherever you go
If dressing in heels and dresses is not your thing, then that is completely fine. While the rather outdated stereotype of a Parisian woman is that she’ll always have the latest fashion accessories, this is not at all the reality of life in Paris. Instead, plenty of people wear sneakers to wander around the city.
#52 Read Paris blogs before you go!
Last but not least, if you want the inside scoop on the best things to know about Paris before visiting, then I highly recommend checking out Parisian bloggers before you go. Of course, this site has plenty of know-how tips, tricks, and practical guides, but there’s a wealth of information just waiting to be discovered! Just hop onto Pinterest, Instagram, or indeed a search engine, type in what you wish to discover, and away you go…
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