A First-Timers Guide to Paris

We took a short trip to Paris for the first time and had to overcome some major learning curves. If you’re planning your first trip to the City of Lights, we have gathered lots of information and tips to help you navigate this large European city.

Getting There

Depending on where you are coming from, your options to get to Paris are typically by air, train, or car.

By Train: We were actually in London, so we decided to take the Eurostar train to Paris. We got a great deal on their site for first class tickets. The best way to get a deal is to book as early as possible and/or go during their off seasons (November – March, excluding major holidays). The upgraded tickets come with better seating, a table (in most cases), and a meal. There are reading lamps, plugs, and a USB port as well. The total train ride takes about 2.5 hours, with 20 minutes being under the channel that separates the UK and France.

By Plane: If flying by plane, I highly recommend Skyscanner. This website scans flights across multiple airlines. If your dates are flexible, you can get some of the best deals on flights.

By Car: Driving to Paris is another option for those already in Europe, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are either already close to Paris or absolutely need a car. A car isn’t necessary in Paris because they have plenty of public transportation options. Another downfall to driving is that parking may be hard to find in some areas of Paris as well.

The Metro System

Paris has one of the most extensive underground metro systems in the world and if you throw in a foreign language, it can make it hard to navigate. There are booths for information (many have attendants that can help), so be sure to utilize these if you need to.

The ticket system for the metro can be a bit confusing compared to other major metro systems we have used (possibly due to the language barrier). There are automated kiosks, as well as manned booths to purchase tickets from. I recommend a manned booth if you are new to the metro system. There may be a slightly longer wait, but it’s better than staring at the kiosk screen in confusion like we did the first time! A single ticket is good for one trip, but there are options to purchase a pack of tickets (usually 10) for a discount. A ticket can be used no matter your destination on the Paris metro.

Slightly separate from the underground metro system is the RER system, which is basically public rail trains above ground. Metro tickets can be used on these as well.

If the metro system is not for you, Uber is a great option. You can put in your destination in the app and very little communication is needed with the driver. We used both methods, but preferred the metro due to overall cost.

Hotel

Hotels in Paris book up fast during the summer months, and with it being a priority for us to be close to it all, we were happy to be able to book the Hotel Eiffel Seine (which was less than half a mile from the Eiffel Tower!). We definitely recommend it if you want to be close to it all, but are looking for more affordable accommodations. You won’t have an Eiffel Tower view however. Remember that most European hotels are often smaller than those typically found in America, but we found our room a perfect size for us two.

One way we book hotels for a low price is through TripAdvisor. If you put in your trip date, you can filter by price, location, or reviews. Former guests also publish reviews and pictures, so you can learn all about the rooms and hotels prior to going.

TripAdvisor’s most valuable resource? They list prices across a multitude of websites so no need to comparison shop all over the internet – it’s literally all in one place there. Our hotel was rated 4.5 stars at booking per reviews.

Food

There are many, many restaurants in Paris. I would recommend getting familiar with ones close to your hotel first. We were next to a place called Le Bistrot De La Tour, which had some amazing Nutella crepes.

Restaurants that are close to the major attractions are familiar with people from around the globe coming to visit, so they are the easiest to communicate with. Many know English, plus they often have menus or pictures of each dish for guests who don’t know English or French. We tried Le Suffren which was about 0.6 miles from the Eiffel Tower. It’s listed as a French/European restaurant and we decided to order pasta dishes – both of which were délicieux!

Paris is definitely a pricey city in comparison to a lot of other metropolitan cities, so we did try some cheaper food – including McDonalds and Chipotle. The language barrier is a bit harder at places further from the main attractions, but luckily we were able to utilize the kiosk and app to place our orders. Fair warning – McDonald’s in Paris came to about $30 for 2 people (2 meals and an extra sandwich). It was by far the most expensive fast food restaurant we’ve experienced in our travels.

Things To Do

One thing I definitely recommend (especially if short on time) are the open bus tours that visit all the major landmarks. We personally used (and recommend) Big Bus Tours. You can hop on and off whenever and wherever you wish. We did this tour later in the day, so we had an English speaking tour guide for about half of our trip and then nearly the whole top of the bus to ourselves for the second half of the trip. They also have prerecorded informational guides in 11 different languages, several various routes, and multi-day ticket options. The bus tour was about 2 hours long and we got to see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Luxor Obelisk, Notre Dame Cathedral, and so many more museums and stunning architecture. Side note: You can save money by booking online or in advance – Book in advance here.

Another fun thing to do is to explore the Eiffel Tower. You can venture under the Eiffel Tower and check out the nearby gardens. There is a security checkpoint, so expect to wait in line to get into the area. The line to visit the upper levels of the Eiffel Tower can get pretty long, so I recommend trying to book it in advance. There is also an option to dine in the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, but it’s recommended to book early as reservations go pretty fast. Don’t forget that the Eiffel Tower lights up every hour at night (from sundown to 1 am).

We also had a private catacombs tour booked with an English speaking tour guide via TripAdvisor. You can walk freely in the catacombs, but only certain tours allow guests to venture to areas that are restricted. I highly recommend the tour because some of the most amazing areas were restricted from general access and there were no other people there (other than our tour group of about 10 people). Be prepared to take A LOT of stairs down and then back up. Also, when you’re done with the tour, there will be bathrooms and a gift shop available – there are no bathrooms while in the catacombs. Don’t forget to tip your tour guide if you use one.

There are many, many attractions in Paris. When trying to find places to go, we consult TripAdvisor again and look at the top-rated things to do per user’s reviews. A lot of major landmarks are at the top of the list, but you can find some interesting & beautiful activities or locations by utilizing this website.

Lastly, Disneyland Paris is located to the east of the city, roughly about an hour drive or train/metro ride from the Eiffel Tower (timeframe is estimated for average to slightly heavy traffic). The good news is that single day tickets are usually less expensive than their American counterparts, ranging from $62-$97 per person* depending on what time of year you visit. Be sure to check the Disneyland Paris website for current ticket prices and for any deals.

*Prices listed are from the date of this article & subject to change.

Extra Information & Tips

Safety: We never felt unsafe. There were armed guards present at all the major tourist attractions. However, always be observant and watch for pick-pockets. Many large cities with high amounts of tourists suffer from pick-pockets, so keep wallets/phones in your front pocket and wear purses across the chest instead of just on the shoulder. We, fortunately, didn’t have any issue with pick-pockets, but we try to be proactive in terms of safety.

Language: We got by with knowing very little French (only the basics). I would recommend knowing greetings, yes, no, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, and how to ask if they speak English. A quick youtube video helps with knowing how to pronounce these things in French.

Sales: Be cautious of random street vendors. A lot of them will try to sell you trinkets from China and can be pretty aggressive. There are souvenir shops located close to the Eiffel Tower (as well as all over the city) and I recommend those instead. Also, watch for those who shove something into your hand (like a rose) because they will hassle you to pay for it. This is common in a lot of major foreign cities, so never take something from someone (even if they are shoving it in your hand) and don’t let them take something from you (like a camera) because they may take a picture for you and demand payment before giving back your camera/phone.

Health: One thing that’s not talked about much on most sites is to be careful going here if you are very sensitive to exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke. The area is pretty heavily polluted with diesel fumes & those with respiratory issues or migraines may have symptoms exacerbated. If you ride the open bus tour, you will be in traffic a lot, so it’s almost impossible to escape it. Smoking is also very popular there and many people will smoke at these attractions, in restaurants, etc. I would recommend avoiding busy seasons or when people are commuting to and from work to keep exhaust exposure down.

Don’t Forget To Bring: Passports & a France plug adapter (and possibly a power converter). No visa is required for US citizens staying less than 90 days. Only bring a plug converter if you have hair styling tools (curling iron, hair straightener, blow dryer) that are not capable of 220-240 volts. You can find this information in the small print located on your device – it should say something like 100/240V, meaning it is dual voltage. Most say 100-120V – these are NOT dual voltage.

Before You Go: Don’t forget to let your bank or credit card company know of your travel plans. With a pretty decent time change (6 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast), you don’t want to be spending your late night/early morning trying to unfreeze your card. If you have a credit card with travel protections & benefits, I recommend using that one for all purchases. It also helps if it has points to collect that can be used for future travel purchases (airlines, hotel, etc.).

Parting Advice: Remember that Paris can be expensive, so make sure to utilize deals on the sites I’ve mentioned. Not only have we saved money, but it helped us save time during our trip as well.

Au revoir!


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