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Paris. The City of Lights, or “la Ville Lumière“. The City of Love. No matter what you call it, Paris is amazing. It’s unique. Spectacular. Beautifully magical in it’s own way. I’ve only been once (so far), but I was able to spend 10 glorious days exploring as much of they city as time would allow. I went here, I went there. I went everywhere! Paris lives up to all of the hype, but it’s not perfect. Paris is a very large city and you need to do a bit of research before packing your bags and hopping on a jet plane to the capital of France. But no worries, I’ve got you. Here are a few Paris travel tips – what to know before you go!
Paris is made up of 20 districts, or arrondissements, that are situated in the form of a spiral/circle, with the 1st arrondissement being in the center of the city and each subsequent number coming next moving in clockwise direction, spiraling outwards. Sounds sort of confusing, but I promise it’s fairly easy to understand the general geographical set up once you see it visually. Here are a couple of maps to refer to:
Each arrondissement may consist of several Parisian Quartiers (aka Paris Neighborhoods). Some locales may be referenced as being in a particular neighborhood (Belleville, Saint-Germain-des-Près, Bastille, Champs-Elysées, Montmartre, Le Marais, Canal Saint-Martin, and many more) and/or a numbered arrondissement.
The second map above shows the majority of the most famous sights in Paris, and if you have several days to journey, I would advise experiencing as many of the iconic spots as possible (more on that later). The history in this city is overwhelming, in an amazing way. I’m not sure that there is ever enough time to REALLY see EVERYTHING in Paris, but you can surely try! I know I did!
Paris Travel Tips: Once you arrive in Paris, pick up a couple of the free local pocket maps at the train stations and keep them handy. Once you arrive at your hotel, or other, take a few minutes to study the map(s) and get as familiar with the layout as possible.
Where to stay in Paris
So, now that you’ve seen the way Paris is laid out, you need to decide where you are going to stay. Depending on the length of your stay, you might want to choose an arrondissement that is convenient to your intended sights. Certain arrondissments are more touristy than others, and this should weigh in on your decision of where to stay. For example, if you want to stay in a major hotel close to the most popular spots, you might choose one of the more centralized arrondissments (1-7). This will make traveling to the major tourist spots less time consuming, but understand you will be among the millions of others staying in the very same areas. Prices will be higher, streets will be more crowded (and louder), but you will be closer to it all.
On the other hand, if you want to experience life more as a “local”, then you might look at options in the outer arrondissments (8-20). There are still several major attractions in the areas, but not the most touristy ones and the crowds are lessened because of it. Smaller boutique hotels and Air BNB type options are great to consider. We stayed in a penthouse apartment in the 11th/Bastille area and it was perfection. I felt safe walking at night, it was close to several metro stops, and there was several sights to see just down the street (Place de la Bastille, Paris Opera House, local open-air markets, restaurants, shops, etc.). A small market/grocery store was on the same block, and we were able to get groceries and snacks for the week super cheap.
Paris Travel Tips: Find something that is clean, convenient, safe, and within your budget. Unless you plan on spending all of your time in the hotel (or apartment/ABNB, etc.), you really just need a nice place to rest your head at night after all of the sightseeing and exploring! Who goes to Paris to spend time in their room anyway???
Top Attractions in (and outside of) Paris
This list is easy to compile, as there is more than enough to see and do in Paris to keep you busy for days on end. The Eiffel Tower and The Louvre museum are probably at the top of any first-time-to-Paris list, for obvious reasons. But the must-do list is longer than that, right? Oh yeah. Much, much longer. In fact, the list of top attractions in Paris is so extensive that we will not be able to mention all of them in this short post. Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Couer, Centre Pompidou, Champs-Élysées, Musée d’Orsay, the Luxembourg Gardens or Le Marais are just a few.
I practically ran from sun up to well past sun down for 10 days and I know there were a few places on my wish list (outside of Paris) that I did not get to. The one I DID get to , however, was probably the most memorable attraction of all. The Palace of Versailles. Oh. Em. Gee. This is THE PALACE of all palaces. Words cannot sufficiently describe this one. We spent an entire day here touring the palace and grounds and I still feel it wasn’t enough. From The Hall of Mirrors and The Grand (and Petit) Trianon to the King’s State Apartments and The Gardens, this was one of the most spectacular experiences I have encountered. An absolute MUST SEE!
Paris Travel Tips: Lines can get VERY long at the most popular attractions. Buy tickets ahead of time, when possible, allowing you to skip the majority of the wait time. Consider The Paris Pass or Museum Pass for Paris to help save you time and money on the major sights. Versailles also offers tickets online, and I highly recommend purchasing these tickets ahead of time!
For more detailed Paris travel tips, I suggest picking up a detailed guide on all things Paris here, or click one of the pictures below, and do your homework. These are all great resources, and trust me, this is the kind of homework you will enjoy!
What to Pack for Paris
Two words. COMFORTABLE SHOES! Yes, I am fully aware that Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Yes, I know there are many who want to look picture perfect for those Instagram photos in front of The Eiffel Tower and such. This is all fine and dandy. However, the amount of walking you will most likely do in Paris almost REQUIRES that you have on shoes that can handle the task without killing your feet or giving you massive blisters. Trust me here. Wear comfortable shoes.
The weather will depend on the season you are visiting, so I always recommend checking the weather trends for that time of year, and double/triple check beginning 10 days before you arrive. Rain is always a possibility any time of the year, so pack a small, portable umbrella. Dress for comfort and in layers when you can so you can easily add or remove when needed. Comfort doesn’t have to be a fashion faux paux though. Cute and casual is always a good choice. I was in Paris in the month of March and it was fairly chilly. I needed a jacket every day, and some days needed gloves, a scarf, and ear warmers as well. Summer can get fairly hot, but having a light jacket as an option is always a smart travel tip.
Paris Travel Tips: Pack clothing items that are interchangeable. Don’t overthink it, and try not to over pack. The last thing you want to do is lug a massive suitcase around in Paris. Keep it light, keep it simple, and enjoy!
Getting around Paris
The two most recommended ways to get around Paris are the metro and by foot (hence the need for comfy shoes, yes?), but we’ll start with trains. The metro is very efficient, reliable, cost effective, and safe..for the most part. You can purchase tickets at any station and there are options to buy single tickets, a book of 10 tickets, or a multi-day pass. Which option you choose will depend on your length of stay and how many sights you need to get to. Prior to your trip, determine the places you must visit. Based on where you choose to stay, and using the maps above, decide how many time you think you will need to ride the train and purchase tickets accordingly.
Paris Travel Tips: if you are staying for more than six days, absolutely buy the Navigo Weekly Pass/all zones. This allows you unlimited rides for the week and is well worth the money.
CAUTION: Always keep your train tickets in a safe place. Do not hold them in your hand for too long, put them in your pocket, or place them down anywhere. The tickets are small and easily misplaced. I recommend putting them in the exact same place immediately after every use (a wallet or secure pocket inside a bag). I was unfortunate enough to misplace mine in transit at one point and, sure enough, the transit police were there checking tickets on our way out. What happened you ask? I was fined on the spot and had to pay cash (50 Euro) before I could walk away. Had I not done that, I could have been arrested right there. The Paris Metro Police take this serious. Read more interesting and similar stories here.
The RER train gets you to/from the airport and this is the same train that takes you to the amazing Versailles Palace. This train requires separate tickets from the metro mentioned above, and prices vary based on your travel routing and age (adult/child). All of the information you need can be found directly on their website here.
Trains (especially the metro) can get very crowded, depending on route and time of day. VERY. CROWDED. But it’s all good. Just squeeze it all in and keep still. Hold on to your purse, if you have one, and you will be at your destination before you know it. Be mindful of how many stops it takes to get to your destination, and pay attention. The metro is not the place to get into a deep conversation, or lost in thought, to the point you are not on top of your game. Be mindful.
As for walking around Paris, you just can’t go wrong. Well, hold that thought. Actually, yes you can. Always be safe by being aware of your surroundings and keeping your belongings close, but more on that next. Walking around Paris was the best overall experience for me. I discovered so many hidden gems by just roaming from one street to the next. I got “lost”several times because of the way the streets are laid out (everything is diagonal, not necessarily parallel), but I kept a map on my person at all times and I was able to find my way “home” every time. Exploring Paris by foot allows you to catch some of the boulangeries, patisseries, boutique shops, local galleries, and even street markets that you may not find if you are on the metro the entire time.
Getting lost wandering on the street of Paris was magical. One of my favorite memories. However, try to find your way to your next destination before the sun goes down. Navigating those streets in the dark without knowing your way around would be extra challenging. Doable, but challenging. I was out at night pretty much every night (by myself, for the most part), and everything was fine. Again, simple common sense precautions play well here. I did not drink while I was out, and I was aware of my surroundings. I walked swiftly and with purpose, appearing as if I knew exactly where I was going. And for the most part, I did.
What to Know Before You Go in Paris
Traveling to a foreign country is a wonderful experience, most of the time. In France, the language barrier can be an issue, but for the most part you can manage your way through Paris knowing the bare minimum of Bon jour (hell0), S’il vous plaît (please), merci (thank you), and Au revoir (good bye). Monsieur (sir) and Madame (ma’am) andbasic numbers are also good to konw. The Google translate app would come in handy as well. Paris is home to many people of many cultures, but knowing the basics of the French language is beneficial and shows respect to the locals.
*Keep your belongings close
Pick pockets are real, and you can find warnings about this issue in any Paris guide you read. You will also see/hear warnings all around the city. Be aware of groups of younger girls who ask for directions, petition signatures, or bump into you and start trying to get your attention in any manner. I witnessed two instances on the metro and both right around the Lourve metro stops. The trains were crowded and a group of girls tried to get something out of the pocket of a man standing right in front of me (unsuccessfully). These same girls moved up to the front part of the train and managed to take a wallet out of a ladies purse. The lady noticed it and began yelling at the girls in English, but they pretended to not understand and quickly took off running as soon as the doors opened at the next stop. There was nothing that woman could do.
Paris Travel Tips: Keep your purse completely zipped/closed at all times. Keep it close to you in the front of your body, and keep your hands over the top. Do not put wallets, phones, or anything valuable in any of your outside pockets (jeans, jackets, etc.). Be aware.
Paris Travel Tips
There are extensive resources with Paris travel tips all over the internet. In an effort to save you some time, I have included links to several great resources below. Research away!
US News – Paris travel guide
World in Paris – Enjoy Paris like a local
Lonely Planet – A guide to all things Paris
Nomdaic Matt’s Paris Travel Guide – For budget minded tips
Adventurous Kate – 100 travel tips for Paris blog post
Paris is, by far, one of the most famous cities in the world. A trip here tops many travel bucket lists, and for good reason. The sights, the history, the food, the fashion, the museums, and so on, and so on. All completely amazing. The food experience deserves a separate post, for sure. One day, I will get that going too!
Whether your first or next trip to Paris is officially scheduled, or you are only planning in your “dreams” for now, I hope you make it there one day and I hope these basic Paris travel tips give you a general idea of how to begin to prepare.
Jusqu’à la prochaine fois Paris,
P.S. For more travel fun and information, click here!