10 Essential Tips When Visiting Paris
Whether it’s your first trip or your 10th trip to the city of lights, there are always essential tips to know when visiting Paris. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve discovered more tips to help me along the way for the next trip.
These are very basic tips to especially help the first-timer not feel so overwhelmed. I could do a separate post on much more in-depth tips but I think knowing these basic tips when visiting Paris will help.
Traveling to a different country for the first time can be a little overwhelming at first. Knowing a few things can help along the way without feeling too over-complicated or stressed.
The number one rule for French etiquette when visiting Paris would be to say, Bonjour (hello) anytime you enter a store, café, restaurant, or come into contact with someone. Look the person in the eye and say Bonjour even if you don’t know any French at all. That person probably won’t become your best friend or ask you about your day but they will absolutely appreciate you saying Bonjour.
There are 20 different arrondissement neighborhoods in Paris. Each one is very different and has its own special offering. You can easily tell where something is located by the zip code of the arrondissement, the last 2 numbers of the zip code tell you which arrondissement it’s located. For example, the zip code of Saint Germain is 75006, it’s located in the 6th arrondissement.
Transportation is very easy when visiting Paris, and I find it gets better with each trip. Let’s start with how to get from the airport, Charles de Gaulle to the center of Paris.
From the Airport:
There are 3 main ways to get from the airport to the center of Paris: taxi, uber, and train. I have taken all of these and found either Uber or a taxi to be the easiest.
There are taxis stations outside each terminal which cost a flat rate depending on if you are going to the Right Bank, 53 Euros, or the Left Bank, 58 Euros. Once you tell the driver where you are going, he should display the flat rate on the meter for you. You should not be charged anything different and if you are, then get out. The taxis will have a green sign atop meaning they are available. DO NOT take a cab ride from someone inside the terminal claiming to have a taxi service. Also, you will need EUROS (not American dollars) to pay the taxi driver. On the last trip, we didn’t have any euros yet and the taxi driver sat in front of our hotel until we came back from the ATM.
Uber works the same in Paris as it does here in the states. You can schedule your car ahead of time to arrive after you’ve come out of baggage claim. It depends on what kind of car you want, but you can put your destination on the website and get an estimate of how much the uber ride would be. We paid about $60 last time from the airport to our hotel in the 1st arrondissement.
The RER B is the least expensive costing 11.40 euros and takes about 35 minutes into Paris. It runs every 10-15 minutes during the week. You will follow the sign to the train station from your terminal and can purchase your tickets either from the person at the stand or at the kiosk. I would have some euros on hand just in case. The train will drop you at the Gare du Nord train station where you can then transfer to the metro if needed or catch a cab to your destination. My only problem with the trains is when carrying all our luggage, it’s easier to take a taxi or Uber.
In some places around the city, there will be a taxi stand where you can catch one of the taxis that line up generally in popular spots. When this isn’t the case, I have found it’s more difficult to catch a taxi and there were a few times when I just ended up walking to my destination because I couldn’t grab a taxi. If you are staying at a hotel, you can always ask the concierge to call you a taxi.
The metro is always a great way to get around Paris. If you will be using the metro a lot during your stay, then you can buy them in a pack of 10, which makes them cheaper. Always make sure to hold onto your metro ticket until you are done with your ride, don’t throw it away in case you need it.
You can purchase metro tickets at the window, and here are a few handy phrases to know: if you want one way then (aller) or round trip (aller et retour).
Best kind of transportation
The best kind of transportation for me when visiting Paris is always just to walk to my destination. There’s nothing better than being what the French call a flâneur (basically a lounger). Someone who strolls around the city aimlessly. Getting lost in Paris is one of my favorite things to do.
The currency in Paris is the Euro and I would recommend getting some when you arrive at the airport, especially if taking a taxi because you will need cash. Try not to do any sort of currency exchange because you never get a good rate. I usually start with 300 Euros and go from there. Make sure to call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be out of the country.
Also, take a credit card that doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees otherwise you’ll end up having extra fees added to your card for every transaction. Take either Visa or Mastercard as most places won’t accept American Express (learned this the hard way).
I always recommend to people to know at least a few French words when visiting, especially BONJOUR (hello), MERCI (thank you), and S’il Vous plaît (thank you).
Sometimes French people get a bad rap for being rude but think about if someone came up to you and started speaking another language, you would be annoyed. So, at least try and use a few phrases if you can. They truly appreciate you at least trying to speak French.
I’ve taken French lessons over the years here and there but I also do Duolingo every day and I listen to a podcast called, “French Made Easy” which has great basic beginner lessons. Highly recommend listening to this podcast.
Watching shows does help
Another thing I do to try and learn not only the language but the way it’s spoken is watching a lot of french tv-series and films. With Netflix these days there are so many different French series you can watch. It’s a great way to pick up on the language.
Sundays In Paris
When visiting Paris it’s important to research ahead of time what days places are open and closed because it can change frequently. Many places in Paris are closed on Sunday due to the law. Cafés and restaurants are still open as are most museums (double-check). Stores are all closed so in case you were planning on shopping on Sunday, you won’t be able to.
Parisians dine, they do not eat dinner and rush out. Meals are meant to be savored and enjoyed, with friends and family. Lunchtime does not include working on your laptop or staring at your cell phone.
You can walk up to and sit at most cafés in Paris except the very popular ones without a reservation and get an immediate table.
For restaurants, you will want to make a reservation for lunch or dinner and most have a website where you can make a reservation.
P.S. You can also read my dining etiquette tips for Paris to learn about tipping, how to ask for the bill, and a few handy phrases. Also, if you want to know how to order coffee in Paris, read here.
Shopping In Paris
To me, shopping in Paris is truly unlike any other place. Most European brands are actually cheaper in Paris than in the U.S. One tip I have is to try and buy items you can’t buy at home in the U.S. like a special candle, clothing, or even shoes. You won’t regret your purchases.
Know about the VAT (value-added tax) before you go. Basically, if you buy anything over 100.01 Euros in one specific store, or have multiple purchases on one receipt adding up to that amount you will qualify.
You will get back around 12% of your purchase because of the VAT tax but you need the right paperwork to quality. Make sure to carry your passport with you (yes, it’s safe), stores will need your passport number to fill out the VAT refund. If the store doesn’t offer to do it for you, you can ask them about the VAT paperwork.
The day of depature
You turn the paperwork in at the airport on the day of your departure so keep this in mind when scheduling time to get to the airport. There is a special kiosk to return your paperwork and the airport has a VAT refund sign to show you where you need to be.
Time To Go
Paris is always a good idea any time of the year. However, there are months which are more ideal than others to visit. I have been during the months of June, July, late September, and April. I have to say September and April were my absolute favorite times to visit. The Summer can be hot and most of Paris is closed in August when all the locals go South for the month, so I wouldn’t suggest that month.