Practical Tips for Visiting Paris: How to Avoid Mistakes

 

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 2019)


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 Tower, 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. You can do them on your own by renting a car (compare car rental prices here) or book an organized tour. To name a few options:


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 Travel Tips


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.dsc07165


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.

Le Roch Hotel

Best Places to Stay in Paris:

More on Where to Stay in Paris & Arrondisements Map


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.
IMPORTANT: This restaurant is a cash-only establishment.

Polidor Restaurant Paris


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.


ALSO READ: Tips for Visting Florence


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 Too 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.

Rue Cremieux
Rue Cremieux

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 or the place was closed. The place is amazing, but under any circumstances don’t think that you’re going to be only one of a few tourists there.

 


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.Hall of Mirrors, Versailles


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.

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Louvre without crowds – only at 6 am.

Watch my Paris video:


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 World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!


Best Travel Movies about Paris:

Best Travel Books about Paris:


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!


44 thoughts on “Practical Tips for Visiting Paris: How to Avoid Mistakes”

  1. We went to the Catacombs an hour before they closed and walked right in. Plus, there were only about 10-15 other people there. If you time it right and go if the off season (we visited in October) it can be done without the experience you had!

    • For sure! Would you say it’s off the beaten path though? I’d say it’s still quite a popular attraction comparing to, for instance, the Museum of Magic or Pet Cemetery. I think places off the beaten path are those that you can’t find on every tourist website.

      • 100% agree that it’s NOT off the beaten path! It’s worth a stop but, like you said, there are real “off the beaten path” places in Paris that are just as interesting.

        • I wanted to add that the Catacombs are very much on the beaten path *however* we were recently and twice able to book skip the line tickets online just 1 or 2 days before, and then we had no wait and no fuss at all. Recommended!

  2. Lots of good points. My daughter actually managed an enjoyable visit to Paris in under 48 hours. We just made choices that didn’t keep us in lineups for unreasonable lengths of time. Skipped the Louvre, Did a boat cruise that gave us a fabulous water view of Notre Dame. We did go up the tower (evening, off-season, lineups not too bad), but were prepared to skip that if it didn’t work out. We researched ahead of time and picked 2 museums to top our list. Used Metro, stayed in a well-located hostel, explored whatever was near our hostel and metro stops. Well worthwhile.

    • That sounds like a nice trip Marilyn. A lot of people are trying to do too much and later told me it wasn’t the best trip – which is sad because Paris is amazing! Which museums did you visit?

      • Musee d’Orsay and Musee Rodin. We had previously seen a Rodin exhibit at an art gallery in Canada, so made the most of a just-before-closing visit because we knew what we were looking for and what we were seeing. Also loved seeing the grounds, which stayed open a bit later.

  3. These are all fantastic tips! I agree that if you only stick to the main tourist spots, you haven’t really seen Paris. I’ve been twice now and enjoyed it much more on my second visit which I spent mostly wandering without a purpose. I found some amazing spots that way.

    Also, I totally agree about the metro being soooo easy. I was coming from Florence where I was living at the time and the trains in Italy are absolutely terrible.

  4. Paris is too lovely to visit and your post really give great tips for us who wanna travel there. If i go there the things that i should do is to taking selfie in front of Eiffel or in the Louvre. But i will love to visit the catacomb for sure,,it must be kinda creepy

  5. This post is absolutely full of good ideas! I had to laugh when I read “the Eiffel tower might be the most disappointing spot in Paris.” It is certaintly not a place to go if you don’t like crowds, and I agree with you, don’t you want the tower in your pictures? Great suggestions on where to get a better view!

    • I’ll give the Croatian Embassy a try this time but my absolute favorite way to show first time visitors the Eiffel Tower is Metro to Trocadero, follow the signs and voilà. Granted it can be crowded but it’s a great way to get an unobstructed view and take it in against the backdrop of Champ de Mars

  6. This are great tips! What is your recommendation between getting Travel Insurance or stick with the one you get on the credit card?

    • I’d say it all depends of your credit card. If your credit card provider offers you a reliable travel insurance, then I guess you won’t need an extra one. I don’t have a credit card insurance 😉

  7. I loved your tips… they are right in line with what I’ve read in Condé Nast and Fodor. We are going in Jan 2018. We would like to take the train to the south of France. Do you have any tips for doing an Airbnb vs a hotel?

    • You can find some gorgeous AirBnBs in Paris for sure. But then the check in and check out process couldn’t (not always though) give you as much freedom as you’d have at a hotel.

  8. Great tips we will be traveling in June 2018, I just realized we need to buy a adaptor for charging cell phones the plugs in South Africa is different. Just want to know I was informed no one speak English in Paris is this true?

  9. Hi Anna, I enjoyed reading your tips and responses. My husband and I are in the process of spending 4 full days in Paris in June 2019. We will be traveling (from the U.S.) with another couple who wants to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower. What are your thoughts? In addition we will be visiting and staying in Normandy for 3 nights. What is the best way to travel there and back to Paris where we will stay another 2 nights?
    Thanks you.
    Adrienne

    • Hi Adrienne,

      I can’t vouch for the first-hand experience at the Eiffel Tower, as I’ve never done it because the food is just all right for the price, but a lot of people love the experience. The dining takes place on the first floor, so not very high (57 meters up from the ground). If you do decide to go, make sure that you book a ‘Window table guaranteed’, as otherwise you might have a table in the middle or overlooking the inside of the Tower.

      When I went to Normandy I used a private shuttle. You could rent a car or take a train, but by car, you can also stop in some cute villages on the way. From Paris, you have two train options: TGV or Train à Grande Vitesse.
      – If you’re heading to beaches, Caen or Bayeux will be your final destination stop.
      – If you want to go to Mont St-Michel first, then Paris to Rennes which is 55km south of Mont St. Michel for $70 or €56 (takes 2 hours). Upon arrival, there are buses (Keolis Emeraude) that depart four times daily (timed with the arrival of the train). Paris to Pontorson is also an option, which is 9km away. From there you can take bus #15 to Saint Michel from the station.

  10. Wow!! So much great information, thanks Anna!
    Do you know any apps that might be helpful? I’ll be in Paris for 10 days and wanted to see if there were any apps that you recommended. La fourchette and Heetch are two I’ve downloaded so far.

  11. Hi Anna,
    First of all, I want to thank you for the experiences told to everybody about my country.
    This post is reassuring on trips to paris ans some remarks made me laugh !
    I am a french woman and actually, as I start a travel blog focused on France, I’m trying to get into the world of blogging. But it is not easy… Your blog is wonderfull and I hope mine will be as beautiful as yours !

    • Hi Karine I am a French woman as well and I’m starting a company dedicated to French tourism. I’ve organized many private visits in France for my American and Spanish friends and would like to share this experience. My husband participates to French wine blind tasting championships and easily organizes initiation and visits. Can we get in touch to discuss this. Anyone interested it would be a pleasure to help for your visit in France. Céline

  12. Paris is a really awesome and beautiful country. I love Paris. I am a traveler and I am lot’s of destinations are roamed but Paris has not gone yet. I am trying to next year and I use your tips for visiting Paris. I like your blog. Thanks for sharing useful tips.

  13. This is a great guide and totally agree! Going back to Paris in July to visit a friend and taking my husband who’s never been. Definitely keeping these in mind and you’re right about the Mona Lisa… it was the most underwhelming art piece I’ve ever seen, especially when you have to battle the crowds to see it. I’m interested in checking out the other museums you listed, and I also loved Musée de l’Orangerie as well!

  14. I’ve visited Paris so many times, but it still very interesting to read what others have seen and experienced.
    Myself, I would recomment to visit Montmartre which is a very nice neighbourhood in Paris. At “Place du Tertre” (square at Montmartre) you will find many paint artists and many restaurants.
    On hot a summerday it’s also nice to have a drink in the park named “Jardin du Luxembourg”.
    For the best city-view you should go on top of “Tour Montparnasse” (next to Gare Montparnasse). It will give you a superb view on the Eiffel Tower.

  15. Nice information, very helpful…
    Curious about the Seine River dinner cruises, recommend? I had pre reserved a trip on one highly recommended “by Parisians” (supposedly) can’t think of the name of the company. Seems costly. Question is, is the dinner worth it, because you can take an evening cruise without a dinner.
    And second…I’m looking at us staying in the 6th arrondissement, I believe that’s the St. Germaine area? for four nights, a very nice hotel by all reviews, ratings, and reputation. Do you like that choice of area? We first had booked in the 7th, but it seems rather boring..for lack of another descriotion at the moment. Thanks.

    • Hi,

      I’d personally advise against going on the day non-dinner Seine cruises as they feel slightly like HOHO buses full of screaming group tours. Plus, since the river is quite low you can’t see that much from the boat, but like the roof of Musee d’Orsay etc. For the evening dinner cruises the atmosphere is different and can be fun! I can’t vouch for the food on the tour you’ve prebooked since each boat might have different menus.

      Have you seen my other post in which I explain arrondissements? https://annaeverywhere.com/where-to-stay-in-paris-arrondissements/

  16. Everyone remembers their first trip to Paris. The perfectly manicured streets, the Haussmannian architecture, the indulgent smell of pâtisseries.

  17. Hi, Anna, I have really enjoyed reading this post and others on your site. You have some wonderful tips, and I think they will be very helpful. I will be traveling in July to Paris from the US with my two daughters. One is a fine arts/photography major in college and the other is taking French in high school. They are both very excited to go on this trip. I am trying to plan our trip so that we can enjoy and not be overwhelmed with trying to do everything, and your post has been very helpful. I also enjoyed reading about Vaux le Vicomte and Fontainebleu as an alternative to the Versailles tour.

    Although the Mona Lisa would not be our sole reason for visiting the Louvre, my daughter has studied the painting in two art history classes and is hopeful that she can see it. As she says, there are many anomalies with the painting that make it a fascinating study for an art student. We are not fans of being caught in big crowds and certainly want to see other art while we are there. It sounds as if visiting in the evening might make this more possible? No matter what, thank you for your helpful tips!

    • I’m afraid Mona Lisa will be crowded as early and as late as the Louvre opens. But, in some sections like my favorite Dutch and Flemish art quite often you can be all alone with the art (apart from Rubens’ room because there are always students there). You could try visiting in the very late evening when the Louvre is open until 10pm on Wed and Fri – it gets less crowded from around 6pm.

  18. Hey – nice post. I lived in Zurich for many years and visited Paris several times, but have only just learned to appreciate it. I truly believe in “slow traveling;” that it’s better to immerse yourself in an area than to rush around and see everything. I would really appreciate more restaurant tips – especially little hole-in-the wall spots that have good, local (hopefully inexpensive) food.

    Just a couple suggestions for others from our trips (last one July 2017): Holiday Inn (Yes! Holiday Inn) Notre Dame is a great location, steps away from ND, Louvre, & Latin Quarter, not overly priced, & you can even use club points & get it for free! It also has an amazing rooftop bar/restaurant that it very trendy for the locals and has a straight shot view of the Eiffel Tower & it’s nightly light show. We found food in the Latin Quarter excellent, large portions, and reasonably priced (much cheaper than the expensive places on the boulevards around the corner); not to mention the interesting atmosphere.

    The one exception I have to your notes, Anna, is the Vaux le Vicomte. With their feature summer Saturday night candle lit walk and fireworks, I thought this would be a nice surprise for my wife. It turned out to be a mini-disaster: The train was fairly long (& pricey) and then our pre-paid shutle bus never showed up (mechanical failures…); after an hour, we were lucky enough to hail the ONE UBER in the area => there were some stranded Italians there, too, so the six of us piled into a four seater! (to their credit, Vaux refunded our busfare). While the Chateau was interesting – and has a fascinating history, being the pattern for Versailes – it is not well cared for. The Gardens were overgrown or dying; even the paths around the Chateau & gardens were ungroomed, – more like gravel and rocky roads – and it was easy to lose your footing. This was pretty disappointing since the website shows spectacular views. There are only early guided tours (so if you are there for the evening show, none) and only one tour in English a day, anyway; although the free self-guided tour is good. The Chateau itself is not air-conditioned and – in July – very stuffy and there are no ushers to answer questions. It does have snack bars & food, but most of the seating is outdoors, so in July, pretty hot (OK, it was record heat!). Also you really need to watch your schedule, since bus back to the train station (for Paris) are limited. The last bus supposedly just goes back to Paris, but I really didn’t trust it, so we took the train.

    All that said, I kind of enjoyed being at the Chateau, out in the countryside without crowds, but for some who are not used to a little inconvenience (like my wife….ahem), this might not be your best choice.

  19. Two great museums that I particularly love:

    Musee Guimet – Asian art, including a wonderful collection of art from Angkor Wat. Well displayed and remarkably free of tourists on the two days I visited.

    Musee de Cluny – museum of mediaeval art, in the old townhouse of the Abbot of Cluny. You can visit the old Roman baths in the cellar, too.

    And in the Louvre, as you say, there’s a lot more than Mona Lisa. I enjoyed the Islamic arts gallery, with some fascinating exhibits including beautiful tiles from Turkey and a pair of ancient painted doors from Egypt. Warning: don’t try to “do” the Louvre in less the week. I still haven’t seen 60% of it and I’ve visited a few times!

  20. Great tips!. I will comment on the taxi part, it will be better to avoid using taxi to see the city, besides being expensive, there is so much traffic in the city that you will probably loose some valuable time especially if your visit is short!.

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