The First-Timer’s Guide to Paris
So, you are planning your first trip to Paris and you need to low down on what to expect and what to do in order to make the most out of your trip.
Well, have no fear my little friend, I have got you covered!
There is a lot to get through, so buckle up!
If you’re looking for some specific info on Paris, I’ve created a quick-jump menu below so you can go straight to the bit that you need – you’re welcome ?
TRAVELING TIP: If you are traveling from the UK, particularly from England, don’t forget to price up the Eurostar, as well as flights, to make sure you get the best deal. For more tips on traveling on a budget, check out my related reads below.
- 4 Ways to Cut Costs and Travel For Less on a Shoestring Budget
- My Inside Secret to Cheap Travel Money
- 10 Cool & Creative Ways to Document & Remember Your Travels
First-Timer’s Guide to Paris: Quick Jump Menu
- What to expect
- Getting around
- What to do
Paris – what to expect
Mind your language!
Although the majority of French people working in restaurants, hotels, bars, and shops speak good English, not everyone does. You will find that, rather as you might expect, French is the most commonly used language in the city!
Before you set off on your Parisian odyssey, try to learn a little of the language or brush up your school French. The locals really do appreciate it if you make an attempt to parlez Francais!
If you’re not sure what lingo to use, simply ask, “Parlez-vous Anglais?”, which means “Do you speak English?”, in French!
As in most EU countries, the Euro is the accepted currency in France.
Although you can exchange common currencies in most hotels and banks, check out my inside secret to cheap travel money.
The easiest way to pay for things in Paris is to use cash or an international credit or debit card.
You can use MasterCard or Visa all over France, and American Express can be used in some places. However, you should be aware that not everywhere in Paris takes plastic, so it’s essential that you carry a small amount of cash too.
It can be helpful to take a few traveler’s cheques with you. These can be cashed at most urban post offices and banks in France, although not many places accept them as payment for goods and services.
Paris is generally pretty temperate for much of the year with average rainfall.
The winter months run from December through to February and can see a little snowfall. The temperatures usually range between freezing and 8°C/46°F
In the summer months, June through to August, temperatures can hit highs of around 30°C/86°F and rarely drop below 20°C/68°F
In the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), the weather in Paris tends to be unsettled with a wide range of temperatures, and it’s not unheard of to have snow during March and April.
Rainfall is pretty constant all year round at around 50mm per month.
The safest bet is to check the forecast before you leave to help make sure you pack accordingly.
Here’s a link to an updated weather forecast for Paris.
Getting to and from the airport
If you fly to Paris, you’ll most probably land at the Charles De Gaulle Airport.
If you want to splash the cash, then feel free to take a taxi or book an Uber. However, if you’re a budget traveller like me and you want to save yourself some pennies, then I recommend taking the train (The Paris RER) into the city.
Check the departure board over the relevant platform in the station and choose a direct train, rather than one of the slow ones that stop at most stations en route to central Paris. The slow trains tend to fill up at all the stations in the less desirable northern suburbs of the city, so always wait for a fast train.
Trains into Paris run every 10 minutes or so, and one of every two trains is a fast one, so you won’t have to wait long.
Once you reach central Paris, the fast trains stop at all stations, so you won’t end up stranded miles from where you want to be.
Three of the main RER routes cross at the Chatelet Metro hub. Chatelet is the largest interconnection station on the Paris Metro and can be a source of some confusion for disorientated visitors!
Negotiating the Chatelet Metro hub is actually much simpler than it first appears, with clear signage over each platform and indicator boards for all RER and Metro routes.
When traveling on the Metro, always keep your ticket until you have completed your journey, even if it’s just a single ticket.
If you use the RER to travel around the central area of Paris, you will need to use your ticket to enter the platforms and then again to leave the RER area. If you discard your ticket too soon, you might find yourself having to buy another one in order to complete your journey.
To find out more about the Paris RER click here to visit their website.
Paris travel and tourist passes – which to choose?
If you are visiting Paris for a short break and you want to get around as many sites as possible in the time you have available, visitor passes are very useful.
A visitor pass will save you valuable time from waiting in queues to buy tickets to get into popular sites or museums. You can also get discounted entry into the attractions.
There are a number of different visitor passes to choose from:
- Paris Pass: an all-in-one pass for sightseeing, museums, and travel.
- Paris Visite: a Paris transport pass.
- Paris Museum pass: entry into all the main museums.
- Hop-on hop-off tourist buses: valid on tour buses only.
Note that none of the Paris passes include access to the Eiffel Tower. Tickets to access the Tower must always be purchased separately, or as part of specific tour deals. More on the Eiffel Tower below.
Before buying a pass, double check what’s included and what’s not. I’ve linked the passes above to the relevant websites for you to check out, but here’s some information on two of the main passes – The Paris Pass and Paris Visite Pass.
The Paris Pass (main tourist & transport pass)
The Paris Pass is the most comprehensive of all the different Paris passes, allowing you free entry to a total of around 60 different monuments and museums located in and around Paris.
The pass also includes free use of public transport, including the Metro and buses, the Cars Rouge tour buses, a river cruise on the Seine, a free Paris guide book, and a wine tasting session.
Admission to the Orsay Impressionists’ museum, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Dali Museum, and Versailles Palace are also all included with this pass.
It’s also worth noting that, unlike most other retailers, the Paris Pass issuer offers a refund guarantee insurance. This means that if you have to change your travel plans, you’ll get your money back!
Paris Visite Pass (transport only pass)
If you are planning on arriving in Paris by air for a day trip, it’s a good idea to buy the one day Paris Visite pass for zones 1 to 5. This pass will give you unlimited hop-on-hop-off public transport travel within these zones, giving you a considerable saving on ticket prices.
Traveling around Paris
Paris is definitely not a location to be visited by car. Parking is, at best, a nightmare and is also extremely expensive. So I’d highly recommend leaving your automobile at home, or if you are driving through Europe, leave it on the outskirts of the city center and hop onto a train into the city center.
Fortunately, Paris has a really efficient public transport network, including buses. In addition, the city’s underground and over-ground Metro system extends right out into the suburbs.
There are also plenty of taxis. However, they can be expensive and are surprisingly elusive too, but there if you need them.
The most economical way to use the Paris public transport network is to invest in one of the travel passes that include it (listed above).
The Metro runs above ground, as well as underground, and this can offer you an alternative way to see Paris from above street level.
Like London’s tube, the Paris Metro network may appear intimidating at first, but it’s actually not difficult to find your way around.
All you need to do is to use the maps available and make a note of the line number and terminus station at the end of each line you want to take.
If you need to change lines, just refer to the “Correspondance” signs on each platform and through the foot tunnels.
What to do in Paris
Areas to check out in Paris
Paris is divided into 20 boroughs, or “arrondissements”. The following are the most popular and worth visiting:
This area of Paris (located in the third and fourth arrondissements) is traditionally home to the wealthy and aristocratic. These days, Le Marais contains many of the city’s best hotels and art galleries, in addition to being home to a vibrant Jewish community.
Window shopping here is a must!
The 1st Arrondissement is generally the first port of call for Paris “virgins”. Here you’ll find the Louvre and the Royal Palace, as well as many of the city’s other main tourist sites.
This area of Paris is also famed for several impressive palaces, as well as the Champs-Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe.
If you’re looking for some lively nightlife, the 11th Arrondissement is where it’s at. There are also plenty of good restaurants to choose from. The Edith Piaf Museum is also located in this area.
Located on the very outskirts of the city, the business district of La Defense is a modern arrondissement where culture lovers can enjoy some wonderful public displays of modern art and take in some fine examples of modern architecture.
Top tourist attractions in Paris
As with any city, there are certain attractions that you cannot miss.
Thankfully, all the below attractions are really close together, so you should have no problem in getting them all crossed off your list.
I’ve also plotted them for you on this handy Google Map so you can work out the best route from your hotel/hostel.
So, no-particular-order here is my absolute, must do list, of things to see in Paris:
Eiffel Tower (obviously)
If you are visiting Paris for the first time, the Eiffel Tower is an absolute must! You cannot go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It is the symbol of Paris and France, and one of the most famous monuments in the world. So, make sure you cross this off your list first.
Depending on the amount of time you have and your budget, you have lots of different options.
You can visit the tower and view it from the ground – this is obviously the cheapest and less time-consuming option, but still a spectacular sight.
You can go up to the 1st and/or 2nd floor, via stairs (all 704 of them!) or via the lift, and take in 360-degree views of Paris. You can have a glass of champagne at the top or a spot of lunch in the restaurant on the 1st floor.
In the winter months, you even have the option of ice skating on the 1st floor, 57 meters above the ground overlooking Paris.
Overall you have a lot of choices!
I am a huge Disney fan, so this just had to be on the list of my recommendations. If you grew up watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, then this should be on your list too!
Notre Dame is a medieval Catholic cathedral, with THE most amazing architecture. The monument is a pure work of art, both inside and out.
Even if you are not religious (I’m not) you cannot fail to appreciate it’s history and craftsmanship.
Plus…admission is free. Bonus.
Arc de Triomphe
Another hugely famous monument in Paris, and another free one (I am on fire!)
The Arc de Triomphe is the most monumental of all the triumphal arches.
It was built in honour of those that fought for France during the Napoleonic wars. You can see the names of the generals and wars fought engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch.
This is another one not to be missed.
The Louvre is the world’s largest museum.
The building itself is even a work of art!
It is home to the famous Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace. (Both of which can also be spotted in the movie, Annie)
Tickets cost €15, however, there are a few exceptions that allow free admission. For example, from October to March, the first Sunday of each month is free to all visitors. So plan carefully.
Eat snails (escargot)
Okay, this isn’t really an attraction – it’s more of an activity.
But snails are a delicacy in France and are often served as a starter. They are usually cooked in parsley butter and garlic whilst still in their shell.
They are not ordinary wild garden snails, so don’t freak out too much. The snails are harvested in controlled environments by farmers.
If you have ever eaten winkles at the seaside, snails taste pretty much the same – they’re just a bit bigger.
Give ‘em a go!
There are still sooo many things to do and see in the French capital, but the above should be your ‘must-do’ list. You cannot go to Paris without seeing and experiencing all the above – It’s just wrong.
I hope this guide has helped prepare you for your trip to the French capital. I’m sure you going to have an awesome time – don’t forget to come back after and let me know how it went.
Also, if there are any important points that I’ve missed, please comment below and let me know.
Enjoy your Parisian adventure!