12 Tips for an Amazing Visit to Paris, France

Out of all the cities in Europe, none seems to have the romantic appeal that Paris does. To people from The United States like me, we really don’t have anything to compare it with. This gives the capital city of France a sensual and artistic reputation that cannot be found in the Americas. Spending a week in Paris, France does not disappoint. Like all places, Paris is, in large part what you want it to be. If you go there with specific ideas of what you should expect, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. But, if you go with an open mind and explore the city with discovery of the unknown as your aim, you are guaranteed to have the time of your life.

This article is written for anyone who is visiting Paris, France for the first time. I’m not going to tell you where to go or what to see, but rather how to structure your days and how to approach your visit to The City of Light in a general manner.

12 Tips for an Amazing Visit to Paris

Paris3

Paris Pass is worth every penny

1.  Get the Paris Pass – Please do yourself a huge favor and get this if you want to do any of the typical things visitors do in Paris.  This is a pass that allows you to access just about anything you can think of. From museums, to the catacombs, to cathedrals, metros and tour buses, the Paris Pass (affiliate link below) is beyond valuable and you will definitely get your money out of it. In most cases (not catacombs), you can also skip the long lines and enter immediately using a secondary Paris Pass only line.  This is wonderfully handy at places like Musee du Louvre (The Louvre Museum) where you can get in in under 30 seconds instead of waiting in line for an hour (seriously).  They offer a number of different options depending on how long you plan on being in Paris, but currently a 4-day adult pass costs about 170 Euros and gives you access to over 400 Euros worth of destinations you will definitely want to see. The access to the metro and major attractions alone will make this a worthwhile purchase. I’ve placed an affiliate link to the Paris Pass website below.

2.  Be smart when seeking lodging – This will be your greatest expense, but it can still be quite affordable. Paris is full of amazing hotels, bed and breakfasts, rented apartment (AirBnB) options as well as dozens of great hostels. Select your lodging wisely and take your time. Being a historic city, many very nice hotels can be found for very reasonable rates simply because the buildings have recently been renovated. Old buildings are being converted into hotels and hostels every single day and they are very affordable.

I rely on all of these online services for lodging:

  • Hotels.com – Easy search hotels in over 60 countries
  • Hostelworld – Hotels and hostels all at great prices
  • Booking.com – Hotels, villas, apartments, B&Bs and hostels at reasonable rates
  • AirBnB – Rent a room or rent an apartment or house cheaply
  • Couchsurfing – Meet a stranger, crash for free and hopefully make a new friend or two
  • Priceline – Great pricing on everything related to travel
  • Trip Advisor – Everything you’ll ever need to arrange great travel experiences

But the message here is that you can be assured that suitable lodging can be found in Paris without breaking the bank if you take a few minutes to look in the right places.  Couchsurfing is a community I have infrequently participated in for some time but have had quite a few very positive experiences with.  In fact, I met one of my best friends from Europe while he was having a hard time finding lodging in New Orleans when I lived there.  We met up, I got him squared away and we’ve been great friends ever since.  Since that time, he has returned the favor of letting me stay at his place in Europe which saves me a lot of time, effort and money.  AirBnB has been really great and I’ve found some very nice apartments in Europe for great prices.  Whatever lodging situation you are seeking, just know that it can be found for a good price in Paris with just a little time and effort.  All in all, Hotels.com, Hostelworld.com, Trip Advisor, Priceline and Booking.com have proven to be the best bet for me when traveling in Paris, France and anywhere else for that matter.

Article: 7 Strategies to Help You Move and Stay Abroad Successfully

3.  Use taxis wisely – Taxis in Paris are very cheap and are operated in an extremely professional manner. I use taxis whenever taking the metro isn’t convenient and when I want to go directly to a place without delay. The only consideration you will want to keep in mind is that while taxis in Paris are very reasonably priced, you do not want to hire a taxi between 8am and 10am as well as 4pm and 7pm. This is rush hour and traffic is bumper to bumper. So, while the taxi fare is quite low, sitting in traffic without moving will ensure you pay a lot more for the distance traveled. Use taxis any time except rush hour and you’ll be glad you did.

Money belt with RFID blocking wallet and credit card sleeves

Money belt with RFID blocking wallet and credit card sleeves are essential protection

4.  Wear a money belt – The money belt I use is the Victorinox Deluxe and it is perfect for the traveler on the move.  You don’t need to wear one all the time although they are very comfortable and easy to use. But, when you are moving around all day, running through airports, shuffling in and out of metro stations, walking the streets and mingling with the crowds, you don’t have time to be one of the unlucky who gets their pocket picked. I’ve read many accounts saying Paris is the pick pocketing capital of Europe, but have never personally had an issue or been with anyone who has. However, it does happen. So wear a money belt when you’re on the move and you’ll be just fine.

5.  Take advantage of RFID blocking technology – It’s very cheap and it’ll save your butt! I use the RFID Blocking Men’s Bi-Fold wallet and these RFID Credit Card Protection Sleeves in my everyday life in the United States as well.  It’s just a smart thing to do.  Radio-frequency identification theft is a very real issue. A traveling partner of mine had his credit card information stolen while his wallet was “safely” stored inside his locked backpack. This meant he was without access to money for almost 48 hours until his credit card company could issue and ship him an emergency card.  Not a good way to spend your vacation!  Criminals don’t need to pick your pocket anymore (although they will do that too), they now have RFID tools that can steal your information without ever touching you. This is scary and this is very real. It can and does happen all the time so protect yourself. Blocking RFID tools is very simple so you are crazy not to do it. I’m listing the products I use here, but as always feel free to use whatever you feel most comfortable using.

Photography in the early AM or late PM is great! No crowds, great light.

Photography in the early AM or late PM is great! No crowds, great light.

6.  Carry Euros – I do not care what you have read or who you have talked to, you will need Euros if you go to Paris and intend on going to places the locals go.  If you stay only in the very “touristy” areas of the city and plan on eating only at Subway or McDonald’s, you will probably be okay, but I have never seen an entire city block in Paris, France where every business accepted credit cards.  Credit card payment simply is not as widely accepted as you would think.  With regard to cafes and restaurants, you will need cash – this is the absolute truth.  If you do not have cash on you, be sure to ask if they accept credit cards before you order.  Also, these businesses do not want, nor do most take United States dollars – don’t even bother to bring US dollars with you.  ATMs are readily available and will allow you to withdraw Euros quite easily from your overseas debit card.  Your bank may charge a fee for this so find that out before you leave for Paris.  My bank charges $1.50 for every ATM transaction, so to minimize the number of $1.50 fees I get, I typically withdraw a couple hundred Euros at each ATM visit.  You’re going to spend them anyway so go ahead and get them as long as you have a means of protecting your money from theft.  The money belt I mentioned in #4 is a no-brainer and is a fool proof way to carry larger sums of money safely.  So, while in Paris, carry Euros and your troubles disappear.  Taking the chance of getting caught in a pub or restaurant that refuses credit cards isn’t fun and is completely avoidable by simply carrying Euros with you while you are visiting Paris.

Most local cafes and taxis do not take credit cards. Carry Euros and your troubles disappear.

Most local cafes and taxis do not take credit cards. Carry Euros and your troubles disappear.

Helpful tip – Do not tip waiters in restaurants or taxi drivers.  Unlike waiters and taxi drivers in the United States, in Paris (and most of Europe), these people are paid rather well and are not accustomed to being tipped.  In some areas it is offensive to tip because you are implying they are not making enough money for their work.  While in Paris, France do not tip for food or taxis, it’s all figured into the cost of the service.  You have already paid for it simply by paying your bill.

The best lighting for photography is in early AM or the evening

The best lighting for photography is in early AM or the evening

7.  Sleep after lunch – Nothing is going on after lunch and during the summer it is either really warm or it is raining so take a nap because your nights tend to go on longer, and are probably going to be more enjoyable than expected. Parisians enjoy dinner and spend hours talking with friends and drinking wine at the dinner table so do yourself a favor and take that midday nap you’ve always wanted to take and you’ll enjoy the city much more and never feel too tired to enjoy those spontaneous opportunities to stay out late with friends.  The vast majority of the fun you’ll have meeting new people and making new friends will be at night after dinner when you are just sitting around having a drink as the restaurants and bars fill up with other people.  Being open to this possibility and being properly rested puts you in the right mindset for having a good time.

8.  Learn a couple French phrases – Sure, this tip is mainly just to be polite. Most of the people you come into contact with will know at least some English and certainly enough to help you find the metro stop or the street you’re looking for. But, it’s important when visiting someone else’s home that you show some interest in their lifestyle and customs. There is nothing worse than an American in Paris who approaches the place as they would going to see fish in an aquarium, content to sit back and simply observe things without engaging anyone. If this is your idea of a vacation, why even bother? If you’re not willing to get in there and swim with the fish, don’t even insult them by your presence. Do yourself a huge favor and don’t be that American! Learn a couple phrases, give them a try and you’ll find you have more people talking with you and being friendly to you than you know what to do with.  Try these out and just do the best you can.  The locals will appreciate it and will be much more friendly about taking time to help you out.

English French
hello bonjour
goodbye au revoir
thank you merci
please s’il vous plaît
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais?
Where is the restroom? sont les toilettes?
Where is the metro?
est le métro?
I want a beer. Je voudrais une bière
I want a coffee. Je voudrais un café

In fact, the first five are really all you’ll need to know in order to function just fine in Paris. There are some people who speak no English whatsoever, but you just need to smile, say thank you (merci) and keep going on about your day.

It's amazing what you stumble across walking Paris at night

It’s amazing what you stumble across walking Paris at night.  Be sure you have a good camera in your pocket.

9.  Visit in shoulder season – Shoulder season is the time just before of after the big tourist rush.  I like to visit Paris in April/May just before everyone else in the world gets free time to travel in early June.  November/December are also nice times to visit Paris and the weather is generally pretty nice during these months as well but you never know.  May is the month for me and I highly recommend a mid to late May trip to Paris.  The crowds are smaller, the locals haven’t left town for holiday yet and the weather is a nice combination of warm days, some enjoyable rain and cool nights.  June to October are the most crowded months, but whenever you go, you’ll find that Paris that is amazing at any time of year if you have an open mind.  Shoulder season travel is cheaper all around and hotels and plane tickets will be priced right during shoulder season.

Helpful Tip: Get travel insurance.  We’ve all travelled without it and have been fine.  And then you meet a person who walks with a permanent limp, or who spent a month in the hospital with infection because they couldn’t get adequate medical treatment aboard due to lack of insurance.  It’s a pain in the ass for sure, but well worth it.  If you can afford a trip to Paris, travel stress free with some kind of travel insurance.  The cool thing is, it tends to include flight cancellation and trip interruption insurance as well.  Be sure to check with your current medical insurance first though as it may already provide some coverage.  Mine covers a number of things, so I get a basic travel insurance to fill in the gaps.  There are a lot of companies out there and I would never try to tell you what is best for you.  However, the only one I have ever used, and have really liked dealing with is Travel Guard. Here’s a sponsor link to see if it’s the company for you.  Regardless, please be safe and consider some form of travel insurance.

With a buddy from Toronto I met at the hostel. Making new friends in Paris is exactly what makes traveling so amazing.

With a buddy from Toronto I met at the hostel. Making new friends in Paris is exactly what makes travel so amazing.

10.  Take photographs at night – The lighting in Paris, The City of Light is amazing!  Every street, building, monument and waterway is beautifully lit guaranteeing truly amazing photographic opportunities that all of your Facebook friends will envy.  Not all cameras focus well at night, but good cameras that fit into your pocket are relatively inexpensive and do a great job at night time as well as during the day.  I use this waterproof point and shoot camera (it rains a lot in Paris) for still photos and video. It’s pretty awesome and very versatile.

My Osprey 46 backpack makes travel in Paris easy

My Osprey 46 backpack makes travel in Paris easy.  My last trip was 23 days and it went perfectly with this pack.

11.  When backpacking Paris, do it right – While you are visiting Paris, if you intend on backpacking, please spare yourself the headache of using a cheap, flimsy backpack, a rolling bag or a large hiking backpack.  There are a lot of amazing backpacks designed specifically for the wear and tear associated with backpack traveling.  I use the Osprey Porter 46 and this things is a dream!  It’s comfortable, easy to carry, the zippers will never break and it holds a ton of stuff that can be compressed using the exterior straps as part of its “straight jacket technology”.  This is the only bag I take on trips with me.  It’s all you need.  It also fits into the carry-on airline dimensions of the vast majority of airlines.  Its dimensions are 22 x 14 x 9 making it the perfect carry-on backpack.  I always take a small nylon duffel bag and fill it with my rain coat, pullover and other seldom used items.  This allows me to really pack the Porter 46 as full as I can get it.  Since most airlines allow for 1 carry-on and 1 personal bag, if ever the backpack was slightly oversized (it has never happened to me), I can pull out the small duffel bag and carry it on as my personal item bag and avoid any additional bag costs.  You’ll be very happy with any Osprey panel backpack.  They are so much more convenient that a top loading backpack where everything has to be pulled out in order to find an item at the bottom.  The message here is get a high quality panel loading backpack.  I recommend the Osprey Porter 46 without reservation.

12.  Do not plan a full schedule – Every instance I can think of where my travels have gone from good to great was because I met someone and had time to spend doing things together.  This is what makes travel so rewarding!  It’s the opportunity to meet people in an amazing place and experience it together.  Whatever you do when visiting Paris, do not book your day so full of items to check off your list that you overlook the very real possibility of a sudden change of plan making your travel experience even more amazing.  Being open to change will reward you with tremendous experiences each and every time and it will allow you to enjoy yourself and others as well as make friends you can go visit wherever in the world they live.  Please keep this message in mind.  Sure, you’ll have a great number of things you’ll want to see and do in Paris, I do as well.  But leave yourself time, especially in the evenings, just to enjoy the city and take advantage of the great opportunities it presents.

It is absolutely true that there is no other place on earth like Paris, France.  Every step you take is falling on history, events and stories.  With every turn you take, you’ll see one building, monument or structure larger, more ornate and more beautiful than the last.  You could spend a lifetime within the boundaries of this city and never have enough time to take in all its beauty and wonder.  So, while you visit, be sure to see and do all the things that are important to you but be sure to leave plenty of time to explore and wander because every inch of this amazing city has something to offer you.

Bonne journée!  Have a nice day!

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