Paris is a great city that can never disappoint. You can return again and again and there is always something fantastic to experience, something to see that you haven’t seen before and eat food you haven’t tried yet. However, the overwhelming amount of things on offer can be a real challenge for first-time visitors. That’s why every needs some practical tips for visiting Paris in order to avoid mistakes.
I’ve been to Paris on several occasions and studied in Paris as well, and let me tell you: each time was different. Despite spending a decent amount of time in Paris I still haven’t seen everything and I also made a few mistakes on the way. Now I’m confident to give you a few tips for visiting Paris that will help you avoid some unpleasant disaster.
Paris Travel Tips (updated for 2018)
Don’t Go to Paris Just for a Weekend
When someone tells me that they’re going to spend just 3 days in Paris I feel like they’re most likely not going to love it. I mean, it’s possible to have a great time but if you do it right and prioritize what do you want to see. During such a short visit most tourists head to see the Eiffel Towel, Notre Dame, Louvre and some other tourist attractions, and therefore experience crowds, long lines and not the real local Paris.
Take your pick and spend some time to actually enjoy these things instead of rushing through everything. I’m not telling you not to see these famous landmarks, but in order to fully feel the Paris vibe, you need stay in the city way longer.
There are also so many amazing day trips to take from Paris. To name a few:
Eiffel Tower Might be the Most Disappointing Spot in Paris
Almost everyone is dreaming of getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But the moment you start approaching the tower you might realize that it’s not very romantic, as it’s surrounded by a ton of visitors and annoying vendors. The place is crowded, lines take forever no matter when you visit. It’s hard to find a romantic spot.
Again, you won’t like the Eiffel Tower if you just stand in the crowds. However, if you climb the stairs behind the Croatian Embassy you may be able to find a quiet spot overlooking the tower. The view is gorgeous and definitely worth it, especially at night!
Similar to the Empire State Building in NYC, going to the top of the tower is overpriced and not as worth it. I mean, you probably want to see a panorama of Paris with the actual Eiffel Tower in it, right? I recommend you to see the city from up high from the top of the Tour Montparnasse, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame towers, or even a carousel in Tuileries, and actually have the Eiffel Tower in your view.
Paris Isn’t as Expensive as Everyone Thinks It Is
Before going to Paris friends were warning me that the city was going to destroy my wallet and almost every person on any travel forum was telling me the same. But Paris does not necessarily have to be a city that sucks all the money out of pockets and bank accounts. Paris isn’t cheap, but it isn’t more expensive than other European cities. In fact, visiting London or Amsterdam will cost you way more money.
Stay in Central Location
Pinning down the perfect place to stay depends on budget and location, but quite often the second one is way more important as you think. Paris is divided into 20 neighborhoods or arrondissements and everything is being referred to 12th, 18th, etc.
Before booking your hotel check whether the area is safe and close to the places you want to visit. If you’re in Paris for a very limited time don’t choose a place on the edge of town, as you definitely don’t want to spend hours on commuting in order to save a few bucks.
During my last visit, I had a chance to stay at Le Roch Hotel & Spa and it was the best possible choice. The hotel was right next to the Louvre, 2 minutes walk from a pick-up point for many tours, and close to major metro stations. While Paris hotels are usually known for being cramped and tiny, my room was spacious and I even had a big bathtub.
The hotel was small which made the staff more attentive and helpful. Its decor made me feel like I’m in a chic apartment with a spa and not in an actual hotel. I actually had a chance to eat dinner there as well and I can’t recommend it enough.
Best Places to Stay in Paris:
Parisians Eat Dinner Late
Parisians tend to eat dinner around 8 or 9:00 PM. Many good restaurants won’t be open until 7:30ish PM, as they close between lunchtime and dinnertime.
My personal recommendation for a typical Parisian restaurant would be a historic Polidor Restaurant founded in 1845. The interior of the restaurant is basically unchanged for over 100 years. They have great escargots and steak tartare if you want to try some French snails and raw beef mixed with spices and an egg. Woody Allen used Polidor as one of the locations for his time travel fantasy, Midnight in Paris, so who knows, maybe you’ll meet Zelda Fitzgerald there too.
Don’t Think That Paris is a City Just for Lovers
While many romantic comedies portray Paris as the city for lovers, with boyfriends proposing in front of the Eiffel Tower and taking girls on romantic walks along the Seine, this image can often be very far away from reality. Paris is a great place to travel solo, as you can people watch and appreciate everything in a different way you would with your partner.
You can also easily meet people in Paris too as there are many solo travelers in the city! If you don’t believe me just check how many hostels are in town just to give you an idea.
Don’t Be Afraid of Using Metro
Metro in Paris is very easy to use. It might be slightly intimidating at first due to the huge amount of different lines, but once you figure it out you’ll use it all the time. Keep your Paris metro ticket until you’ve exited the metro system at your final destination because the police might be checking your tickets inside the station.
If you’re planning on using the metro you can buy a carnet (pack of 10 tickets) to save some money, though if you plan on staying for longer than a week, you may want to look into the longer-term passes (Navigo Pass).
On many Metro lines, the doors to the train do not open unless you press a button or lift a handle. Remember it if you don’t want to miss your station or look funny.
My tip: While taxis in Paris are expensive, Uber is definitely affordable. Just don’t try to take it to the airport as it would take longer than the RER train and cost you 5 times as much.
Paris Closes Up in August
Parisians are used to taking a whole month off in the summer months, and as a result, the majority of businesses close in August. Tourist attractions are obviously open and very full of people because of the summer, but many local boulangeries, private stores, and restaurants might be closed. If you’re opting for a mixture of local and tourist experience, it might not be the right time to visit.
You Don’t Dress Up in Fancy Clothes
Almost every article on tips for traveling to Paris is going to tell you to dress up very fancy. While I love to wear cute dresses on my travels, it’s not a requirement in Paris. They almost make it seem like you’re going to be judged for wearing a pair of sneakers or casual jeans. I’d say not to overdo it and not try to dress like a supermodel if it’s not who you are.
While I might like wearing my high heels all day you might find it uncomfortable and that’s totally all right. Dress in a chic and simple style, so you can enjoy walking around and not worry about your clothes – just like French people do.
Catacombs Aren’t Off the Path Attraction
Every guide to Paris tells you to go off the beaten path and visit the Catacombs – home to the remains of over 6 million people with lots of piles of skulls and bones. I must say you that whoever wrote all these guides must have never visited the catacombs because they’re far away from being off the tourist track.
While there are many places that tourists barely visit this isn’t one of them. In fact, I tried to visit them 3 times and every time I ended up giving up because the line was so long. The place is amazing, but under any circumstances don’t think that you’re going to be one of a few tourists there.
Update for the Summer of 2018: Catacombs are currently closed due to workers’ strike. No one really knows when they’ll reopen, yet the official website of the catacombs is still selling tickets. Beware of this mess. If you really want to go, don’t book anything online and just show up to see if they’re open or not.
Versaille: Don’t Go Without a Skip-the-Line Ticket
Versailles, Normandy, Mont Saint Michel, Giverny, or the Loire Valley are only a few incredible places to visit beyond Paris. However, especially if you’re visiting France during the summer, these place can get VERY busy and as much as combining two places (for instance Giverny & Versailles) in one day may seem tempting price-wise, it’s not the best idea unless it includes skip-the-line ticket.
I heard many horror stories from people who went to Versailles before it even opened and stood in a line for 2-3h in the sunlight waiting to get it. By the time they got inside, they had to run through the palace to make it back to the bus on time.
Don’t try to do everything and prioritize what do you want to do. I suggest you allow yourself a full day to explore Versailles, its gardens and especially the Petit Trianon. It’s a great place that can’t be missed and you don’t want to be rushed through it.
Paris Has More Awesome Museums Than Just Louvre
The Museum Pass isn’t only going to save you money, but also time. You won’t need to stand in the long line to every museum and you could skip the ticket line at both Versailles and the Louvre – the longest lines to wait in. If you want to include other attractions in your pass you could look up Paris Pass.
Note: If you’re an EU citizen under 25 you can get to museums around Paris for free. Same if you’re a student.
Speaking of Louvre… if you’re not an art lover and trying to go to Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa: DON’T! Don’t be one of the tourists who go in, takes a photo of the Mona Lisa, and leaves. The crowds in that room are horrendous and most people aren’t actually even seeing the painting, but just taking selfies with it.
There is a beautiful collection of Dutch 17th-century art (my favorite) that’s almost always completely empty, so you can see it in peace.
Remember that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays and the Musée d’Orsay is closed on Mondays. These museums normally close at 6 PM, but a few times a week they’re open until 10 PM. Not many people know about it, so it’s way more peaceful to explore. Louvre does it on Wednesdays and Fridays, while d’Orsay does it on Thursdays.
Other Best Museums in Paris to Visit:
The Centre Pompidou – If you’re into modern art.
Musée Rodin – Beautiful sculpture gardens, so do it during a sunny day.
Musée de la Magie (Museum of Magic) – Off the path unusual exhibitions.
Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine (Museum of the History of Medicine) – A museum I enjoyed a lot.
Chateau d’Auvers-sur-Oise – Right outside of Paris, the best interactive museum I’ve ever visited. If you want to feel like a real impressionist, do make a trip there.
Don’t Visit Paris Without Travel Insurance
A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense. While in places like South-east Asia it’s cheap to pay for things out of pocket, this isn’t the case in Europe. Travel insurance will refund your medical costs and will get you home for free in you injure yourself. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is Travel World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!
Best Travel Movies about Paris:
- Midnight in Paris (directed by Woody Allen)
- Amelie (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
- 2 Days in Paris (directed by Julie Delpy)
- An American in Paris (directed by Vincente Minnelli)
- Three Colors: Blue (directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski)
- Marie Antoinette (directed by Sofia Coppola)
Best Travel Books about Paris:
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (by Victor Hugo) also a Disney movie
- Bel-Ami (by Guy de Monpassant) also a motion picture starring Robert Pattinson & Uma Thurman
- Sarah’s Key (by Tatiana de Rosnay) – also a motion picture starring Kristen Scott-Thomas (my favorite one!)
- Marie Antoinette (by Antonia Fraser)
- Les Miserables (by Victor Hugo)
- The Dud Avocado (by Elaine Dundy)
Paris is one of the greatest cities on earth. If you follow these tips and do it the right way, you should have a great experience. You will make you want to come back for more!