So you want to go on a trip to the most touristy place on earth and your looking for some Paris travel tips, right?
You want to beat the crowds, dine at non-touristy local restaurants and spend less of your time queuing for attractions, huh?
Well, let’s just say that Paris comes with its perks and perils. And big lines, expensive accommodation and too much traffic are almost inevitable.
This is not to say that some good Paris travel tips can’t get you anywhere, but you should be realistic about it.
30 Paris travel tips to consider before your first trip
#1 Lower your expectations
Paris is often portrayed as an ethereal romantic destination with cozy cafes and restaurants with the view of the Eiffel Tower. The media shows you less of the horrendous Parisian traffic or the not so good looking outskirts, the beggers or the fact that some of the train stations actually smell of urine. No kiddin’. Not to mention, the same pretty cafes often come with high prices, and if you’re a budget traveller, they could really affect your expenses.
It’s not exactly what you were thinking of Paris right?
This is where you need to fix your mindset of Paris or it will end up very disappointing. I’m not here to underestimate Paris. In fact, I fell in love with Paris on my first trip, but I’ve seen plenty of people who went to Paris with high expectations and were let down by the city of lovers.
So before you head out to the French capital, check your facts, know exactly what to expect and learn to enjoy Paris with everything it’s got.
#2 Leave enough days for Paris
The attractions in Paris are neverending. There so many museums, palaces, galleries and cute neighbourhoods that you could spend weeks to explore.
If you’re here in Europe to visit a few countries, make sure you leave at least 5-6 days for Paris, especially if you’ve got Versailles and Disneyland on your itinerary.
#3 visit Paris at its best
In my opinion, the best time to travel to Paris is summer. Yes, it’s crowded and full of tourists but the days are long and it won’t get dark until very late. Visiting hours to attractions are longer compared to summer and you have more time to get around the city before it gets dark. On the other hand, it’s not too hot and there’s a small chance of rain.
Apart from summer, I love Paris during Christmas and new year. Christmas in Paris is huge and enchanting. There are dozens of Christmas markets, ice skating rinks and you get to witness one of the best new year’s eve fireworks in the world.
This doesn’t mean that Paris is not good in other seasons. In fact, Paris is just as beautiful and enchanting in autumn, but there’s always a high chance of rain, gloomy weather and there’s also no sign of the Christmas lighting.
#4 Learn to say Bonjour and Au revoir
There’s this beautiful tradition in most European countries that I absolutely adore, and that’s the habit of greeting total strangers in certain places. People tend to say hello or goodbye when they get in or out of the lift or even when they enter smaller boutiques.
Make sure you do the same as the small gesture could really change how people treat you.
#5 Stand on the right side of the escalator
I know standing on the right side of the escalator is nothing surprising in most countries but Parisians take this very seriously and get cranky when they see flocks of ignorant tourists blocking their way to work each morning on the subway. This is actually where the reputation of rude Parisians might be true and you’re likely to get some fierce looks from the locals. I honestly can’t blame them!
#6 Speak as much French as you can
You’ve probably heard the rumour that most French people don’t speak a lot of English and even if they do, there’s a big chance they won’t really respond to you in English. From my personal experience, people have always answered me in English if they knew the language, but that’s after I have shown my effort in speaking French.
I personally always try to learn a few words of the local language when I’m visiting a new country. Things like hello, goodbye and thank you. Just as I appreciate people making the effort to speak my language when they enter my country, the French are the same. Start with a few words of French when you’re asking for the address and you’ve earned the respect of the French people.
#7 Rent homes instead of hotels
When summer arrives in Paris, most Parisians leave the city for the tourists and head out to the countryside. But they know well enough to make money from their absence and rent their homes to tourists. This is why Airbnb has been growing like mushrooms in Paris. One way to save money on accommodation in Paris is to opt for home rents instead of hotels.
#8 Go to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner
So you want to dine in local restaurants without breaking the bank? Then opt for fixed menus instead of choosing your own dishes. Like many European countries, most French restaurants have a fixed day menu (menu du jour) and evening menu. The menu always offers a starter, a main dish, dessert and drinks and for some good reason, lunch menus are always cheaper than dinner.
#9 Explore Paris on bike
Paris has recently become one of the most bike-friendly capitals and the bike rental culture or as the French call it ‘Velib’ has become increasingly popular among the population.
While you must have a credit card to register for a bike and leave the deposit, renting bikes for less than 30 minutes is going to end up free. Check out this website to register for bike rentals in Paris.
#10 Go for a picnic in Paris
Picnic culture in France is alive and well and it’s not limited to Parisians. In fact, picnicking as a tourist in Paris is one of the most popular things you could do. Some of my favorite spots for a picnic would be in front of the Eiffel Tower, Les invalides or anywhere near the Seine River.
I’d highly recommend shopping for some main ingredients at the supermarket and then heading to your local boulangerie (baker’s) to buy the best baguette. And voila! You have a Parisian picnic.
#11 Don’t miss Paris at night
Paris is one of the most Charming cities to discover at dark. In fact, some of its most famous monuments like the Louvre and Notre Dame are even more glorious with the evening lighting.
#12 Get the metro app on your phone
Metro is your best way of getting around Paris. Make sure you download the Metro app (RATP) on your phone and always have a copy of the metro and bus map with you.
#13 Paris is best explored by foot
To uncover the layers of Paris beyond the museums, palaces, and monuments, you need to be up for lots of walking. The best local restaurants, cafes, and boutiques are not necessarily found on the tourist route. To truly discover Paris to the core, you need to walk down the narrow alleyways, explore local neighbourhoods and wander.
Some of my favourite neighbourhoods to explore in Paris are Saint Germain, Marais, and Montmartre.
#14 Getting on a cruise is not a bad idea
If you’re staying in Paris for a shortstop, then getting on one of the hop-on-hop-off buses or going on a cruise over the Seine is actually not a bad idea. I personally prefer cruises as they give you a different perspective than what you would get from the streets but they are both a good idea to get a glimpse of the whole city in a shorter time and perhaps discover your favourite spots for your next visit.
#15 Buy metro tickets in 10
Single Metro tickets in Paris cost 1.90 Euros but if you buy carnets (pack of 10) then it will end up 14.90 Euros. The difference is small but it could easily add up if you’re staying for a long time and using the Metro frequently.
#16 Skip the Eiffel tour if you must
Skipping on the Eiffel Tower is actually not such a bad idea. With the whole fencing and everything, the view is not as glamorous as you think. Plus Paris has tons of places (like Sacre Coeur, Montparnasse and Galerie Lafayette) that offer great views of the city without having to wait in line for hours or paying for entrance.
#17 Wear your comfy shoes
No matter when you visit Paris, you’ll always have to queue for the main attractions. There’s obviously less of it during winter, but the whole fact is inevitable. Although most Paris guidebooks suggest wearing your nicer clothes to Paris, make sure you dress comfortably and definitely bring along your most comfy shoes.
#18 Sign up for a free walking tour
Paris offers numerous free walking tours. These tours run on tips given to guides and there’s even a minimum amount of tip you should give. So yes, it’s not totally free but very much worth it. Here’s where you can sign up for free walking tours. My personal recommendation? The Montmartre tour for sure!
#19 Watch Midnight in Paris before you go
I personally love to watch movies and read on destinations that I’m going to visit. It just gets me super excited for my upcoming trip. Even though there are tons of books and media to give you insight before your trip to Paris, I’d highly recommend watching ‘Midnight in Paris’ by Woody Allen or reading Hemingway’s ‘Moveable feast’.
#20 Get the Paris Museum Pass
The Paris Museum pass might not end up super cheap but if you’re serious about visiting lots of museums and palaces, then it could really save you some cash. Check out their website for all the necessary info.
#21 Museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays
Most museums in Paris are closed either on Mondays or Tuesdays. Here’s where you can find a list of their closing dates so you don’t end up with closed doors.
#22 Free entrance on first Sunday of the month
If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, then you can save yourself an entrance fee to some of the most famous attractions. Here’s a list of the attractions that are free on the first Sundays of the month. Beware that there will be endless lines though.
#23 check out the flea markets
If you’re into shopping or even window-shopping, flea markets are some of the best places to find great bargains and local gems. Fortunately, Paris has quite a few of them. Marché aux puces de Saint Ouen happens to be one of the biggest and most famous flea markets of Paris.
#24 Beware of strikes
Public transportation strikes are nothing surprising in Paris. If you’re that unlucky to come to Paris and end up with a strike then you better know your alternative options of transportation, especially from the airport to the city.
#25 Leave a tip
Tipping in Paris is not compulsory but it’s usual. Anything over 10% for cafes and restaurants would do.
#26 Find what’s happening in the city
The good thing about a trip to Paris is that there’s always something exciting happening in the city, especially if you’re there during summer or Christmas. This website helps you to find the best shows, temporary collections, festivals, fairs and everything else happening in the city while you’re there.
#27 Leave separate days for Versaille and Disneyland
Disneyland and Versailles are both on the outskirts of Paris and not at the proximity of each other. They are both big, huge and crowded and there will be lots of lines. If you really want to enjoy at least one of them, make sure you leave a whole day for each.
#28 Beware of pickpocketing
Pickpocketing in Paris is more common than you think and tourists seem to be some of the easiest targets. Beware of your belongings at all times and be super conscious when you’re on public transportation.
#29 Wifi is available almost everywhere
Paris is quickly becoming a free Wi-Fi zone. There’s almost free Wi-Fi everywhere. I found it a little tricky to connect with an iPhone but my Android using friends had no difficulty accessing free internet in most areas. There’s also free Wi-Fi in all restaurants and cafes.
#30 Paris has more museum to offer besides the Louvre
I personally prefer the Orsay museum to the Louvre, but I get it! If this is your first trip to Paris, then you have every right to want to visit the Louvre.
However, if you have already taken that off your list, there are so many other museums that don’t require hours of queuing and are just as great. Some of my favourites are the Rodin Museum and Orangerie. I’m yet to discover my share of smaller museums in Paris.