10 Essential Tips for Your First Trip to Paris
Are you taking your first trip to Paris? I’m excited for you! Paris is a solo traveler’s dream come true in many ways. Parisians, in general, are quite introverted, which makes it easy for you to blend into the city’s fabric without being hassled for your solo status. Additionally, the many famous art museums, such as the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, allow plenty of time for introspection and reflection. Sitting at a cafe and people watching is also a wonderful option for you. By slowing down, you eventually “get to know” Paris, and this goes double for solo travelers.
Unsurprisingly, Paris is a wonderful destination for couples, too. Enjoy it. I’m jealous of you, haha. It’s known as the City of Love for a reason.
However, while the French capital is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire world, Paris also is complicated and requires planning ahead of time. By going “in blind,” you’ll make silly rookie mistakes that are detrimental to your trip. Paris isn’t an “easy” destination for a few reasons.
But the good news is …
Your first trip to Paris doesn’t need to feel scary.
I took my first trip to Paris in November, and looking back, I feel like I could’ve prepared a lot better than I did. I still had a great time, though, and feel like you can learn from my mistakes to have an even better time!
Without further ado, these 10 essential tips will make traveling to Paris for the first time a million times easier for you. My goal is for you not to frolic around the French capital as an unexperienced traveler. Trust me, your knowledge will make a big difference.
For those of you who either live or have visited Paris, feel free to leave more great tips for new travelers in the comments section. The more advice, the better! We’re all here to help each other.
1. Speak a Bit of French.
On your first trip to Paris, make an effort to learn a few French phrases to communicate with the locals. They truly appreciate your efforts. Paris attracts tons of tourists. It’s important to remember 99.9% people who you’ll encounter on the streets or the metro are just ordinary citizens trying to make their way to and from work. They are busy and tired. And probably grouchy.
Therefore treating them with respect is essential if you need their help. How do you do that? Learn some basic French.
Here are some very easy French words to help you:
- Bonjour (Good day). A simple “bonjour” is mandatory and polite when entering a small shop.
- Merci (Thank you). Mind your manners in Paris. Saying “thank you” is always appreciated.
- Pouvez vous m’aider s’il vous plait (Can you help me, please?). Lost? Need directions? Use this line to ask for help.
- Parlez vous anglais (Do you speak English?). Most people will immediately switch to English upon hearing “broken” French, but it’s still polite to ask.
Don’t be shy speaking French. You’ll make mistakes. But, as I’ve said, your effort goes a long way. I was warned that locals were cold and abrupt, but honestly, I experienced nothing except kindness in Paris because I spoke a little bit of French. One man even helped me replace my broken camera. It works.
Purchase a French phrasebook to help you on your first trip to Paris.
2. Don’t Over Plan Each Day.
Paris has a lot of attractions. A lot, a lot, a lot of attractions. Sorry to state the obvious, but it’s incredibly easy to “overbook” each day in this busy capital and burn yourself out. It’s understandable that you want to see everything … which is an impossible feat.
I’m not kidding here, guys. Overbooking will stress you out to the max. You don’t want your memories of Paris to be running from metro station to metro station. Where’s the fun in that?
Instead you want to reserve some free time to simply roam Paris with no agenda. My personal advice is to leave a couple hours available in the afternoon to simply soak up Paris and ignore all the big tourist sites. For example, book a long lunch at a cafe and people watch rather than run off to the next museum. You might want to research ways to get “off the beaten” path too, because tourism crowds in Paris aren’t any fun.
Keep your itinerary loose.
3. Try Not to Romanticize Paris.
I debated writing this point as part of my 10 essential tips, but whatever, it’s more important than I help you rather than spare feelings. Honestly, I think Paris is challenging compared to a lot of other European cities.
Petty crime and street harassment are common. For example, I was briefly cornered while walking to Shakespeare and Company and as a result, I ended up missing out on this amazing bookstore. It’s okay; I’m only a little bit bitter. I know not to talk to strangers now, haha.
But, in all seriousness, Paris isn’t cute and charming. It’s a major city with petty crimes aimed at tourists. You’ll see poverty including children begging for money or attempting to pickpocket tourists. Paris has even been a target of terrorist attacks, and while I don’t believe terrorism should be a reason to stay home, you want to take travel alerts seriously on your first trip to Paris.
Don’t build up Paris too much in your head. You’ll feel underwhelmed and frustrated. I think these misplaced expectations are why some travelers have a bad time in Paris and complain about it later.
Now I promise I’m not trying to scare you away from Paris. It’s a wonderful city. I loved it very much and want to go back. However, you’ll do yourself a big disservice putting Paris on a pedestal. Like many cities its size, Paris has its problems. Just be aware.
4. Take Advantage of the Metro.
How does a first timer get around Paris? The metro. Without a doubt, you want to use the metro in Paris. Taxis are very expensive and will wipe out your budget if you’re not careful.
The metro is smelly (hey, so is the New York City subway so I’m not a hater, I swear), but it’s extremely effective and goes everywhere. It’s fast, too. I never waited on a platform for more than three minutes. Keep a copy of a metro map downloaded on your phone or a physical copy in your backpack. The metro is huge, which is great, but at the same time, it’s easy to get lost.
Furthermore, if you’re planning to spend a few days in Paris, then I recommend that you purchase a packet of 10 tickets or carnet for the best value. Validate your tickets and hold on to them even when you’re already on the train. You don’t want to get fined when you’ve already purchased a ticket. I can’t think of a more frustrating situation.
Read More: Buy Your Pocket Guide to Paris.
5. Avoid Common Tourist Scams.
As I’ve said in #3, Paris is a city where tourists are targeted in petty scams. It’s unpleasant, but it’s the truth. However, with a preparation and awareness, you’ll easily dodge these silly scams like the jokes that they are. I’ll outline the two most common scams here.
One of the most popular scams is the Good Samaritan or Charity Scam. These people usually congregate in tourist areas, such as the Louvre, and claim that they’re collecting money for some good cause. Don’t worry about being selfish and ignoring them. They’re not collecting for a good cause. If you feel bad, make a donation to your favorite charity when you come home.
Another scam takes place (usually) around Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Random men will try to tie a friendship bracelet and then charge you for it. I won’t lie. These guys can be aggressive. Simply stay strong, ignore them, and walk as fast as you can to avoid them. Don’t be intimidated either. They don’t deserve your attention.
Ultimately, my best advice for avoiding scams is to not engage with anyone who won’t leave you alone. Don’t feel obligated to entertain anyone’s BS especially as a solo traveler. And don’t worry about being rude either. Why should you care about them anyway? You’re not the one who’s bothering a complete stranger. Ignore, ignore, ignore, and don’t feel guilty about it for one second.
6. Purchase Popular Tickets Ahead of Time.
You don’t want to waste your first trip to Paris waiting in ridiculous lines. I mean. No. Just no. This advice is even more important if you’re visiting Paris in the high season such as the summer or Christmas. The lines are deadly.
One way to skip the lines is to buy the Paris Pass. The Paris Pass admits you into over 60 attractions and saves you money especially if you’re staying in Paris for awhile and want to see a bunch of sites. Full disclosure, however, I’ve never used the Paris Pass so do your research ahead of time to decide whether or not the pass is an option for you.
If you already know what sites you want to visit, then go online and buy those specific tickets ahead of time. A lot of the scary lines are people waiting to buy tickets, not to simply walk into the museum or church. By buying tickets online, you save plenty of valuable time and avoid those nasty queues.
7. Stay Informed Regarding Protests and Strikes.
The French make their voices heard loud and clear when they’re unhappy with their government. This outspokenness translates into protests and strikes.
I’m all for supporting free and open dialogue, but as a traveler, strikes are a huge pain in the neck. Read the news and stay up to date. Plan alternate transportation if you have to.
Sadly, you have no control over whether a strike takes place or not, but you can control if the strike surprises you and ruins all of your travel plans.
8. Bring Sensible Shoes.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll do a lot of walking around Paris. I think one day I walked over thirteen miles even with the use of the metro. Don’t take the amount of walking lightly. Your feet will feel the pain, haha.
What I’m saying is leave the flashy high heels at home. You don’t want to wear them. Opt for stylish and comfortable shoes instead.
One of my favorite shoe brands is Dansko. Select a sleek pair of black flats with a supportive insole to keep your feet comfortable. Keep in mind Paris is located in northern Europe. If you visit in fall or winter, you’ll probably encounter rain. In that case, pack a pair of comfortable water poof boots such as CLARKS Women’s Gilby Cherry Snow Boot.
Don’t skimp on footwear for your first time traveling in Paris.
9. Free Public Bathrooms Are Hard to Find.
Plan your bathroom breaks ahead of time. Paris reminds me of New York City in the sense that public bathrooms are nearly impossible to find. You don’t want to “get stuck” and feel the urge to relieve yourself on the metro or something (please don’t do that).
Use the bathrooms at the major sites, hotels, and restaurants whenever possible.
In the event you stumble upon a public bathroom, have some coins to pay to use the toilets. Nothing is worse than having to pee, finding a toilet, and then not being able to use it because you have no money in your pockets.
10. Explore More than Just Paris.
Paris has an abundant number of day trips for you to take advantage of. As I’ve said, Paris is a busy city, and sometimes we need a necessary break from the chaos of said-busy city. Here are a couple of great options:
- Château de Fontainebleau.
- Giverny and Monet’s Gardens.
- Palace of Versailles.
All these day trips are easily accessible via public transportation. In the case of Versailles, check the length of the lines ahead of time and buy your tickets early to avoid being trapped in terrible lines.
For those of you staying in France longer, then I’d pair Paris with another French city to have a deeper understanding of the country. You don’t want to limit your entire stay to Paris.
Read More: Buy a Lonely Planet France Guide to Learn More About the Country
Bonus Tip! Best Area to Stay in Paris for the First Time.
First and foremost, you want to stay in a central location on your first trip to Paris. I’m dead serious. You don’t want to waste time on public transit coming in from the outskirts of the city.
On my first trip to Paris, I stayed at Saint Christopher’s Hostel at Gare du Nord. This hostel was clean and friendly, and the bar made it very easy to meet other visitors. I don’t regret staying there, but to be honest, I don’t think I would recommend the Gare du Nord area for new travelers to Paris. While Gare du Nord is insanely busy during the day and I had zero problems inside the train station itself, I thought the immediate area was a little unsavory and uncomfortable at night.
So, if I were to go back to Paris, I’d look into staying in a cool neighborhood such as classy Saint Germain or trendy Marais. Since you’re traveling to Paris for the first time, I’d recommend looking into places in the 7th Arrondissement since you’re very close to the Eiffel Tower and Musée d’Orsay. It’s easy to effectively sightsee when you’re based in this area.
What suggestions would you give to someone ready to take their first trip to Paris? Share all your thoughts in the comments.
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