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

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 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.

Beautiful City hostel is one of the places I stay. Great staff, really cool place

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 these online services for lodging:
Hostelworld – Hotels and hostels all at great prices
Booking – 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

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, Hostelworld.com and Booking.com have proven to be the best bet for me when traveling in Paris, France and anywhere else for that matter.

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 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.

6.  Photograph in the early morning or after 6pm – The light for taking photographs is terrible during the day and the vast majority of your photographs will to some degree be pointing up which will just turn out to be a big sunny blur. During the 11am-6pm (in the summer) time don’t even bother with outdoor photography unless you have a highly specialized camera or are in a nicely shaded area like a park. I use this awesome little Sony Cyber-shot camera and it has never failed to take great photos and video and it can really take a beating.  Keeping this in mind lets you get your mind off of site seeing and allows you to plan your day so that you can just kick back and enjoy the city during that midday time period. This allows you to visit those must-photograph spots earlier in the day or during the evening hours where the light is great and that perfect photo can be had.  VALUE TIP – get a 64GB Memory Card for your camera.  My last trip to Europe allowed me to fit over 2,500 photos and 200 videos on one card.

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’d like a beer please. Je voudrais une bière
I’d like a coffee please. 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.  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.

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 point and shoot camera for still photos and video as well as this Panasonic HDC-HS80K HD HDD Camcorder for larger video opportunities.

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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