It's been one week since returning from Paris on Christmas vacation and to say I'm depressed is an understatement! This was my fifth trip to Paris and I'm already itching to go back! While in Paris, I was thinking of blog post ideas to recap the trip, and it dawned on me that I haven't written a post with general tips for traveling to the city of lights for the first time. The first trip can be overwhelming, especially with a language barrier! The most important thing in Paris is to keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly explore the city, and with these tips that I've learned over my time there, you'll enjoy your trip even more!
At the Palais Royal / Photo by Daria Norman Photography
BITD's Top 10 Things to Know for Your First Trip to Paris:
1. Learn key French phrases! One of the most important things of going to Paris is respecting the culture! Make yourself familiar with a few key phrases like greetings and ordering in a restaurant- it will take you a long way. Most of the time the Parisians will reply to you in English, but its appreciated and it makes a difference to be respectful and at least try to attempt to speak French, even if it’s broken and limited. I downloaded this audio book that helped me with greetings, ordering in a restaurant, and pronunciation.
2. Airport Transport. If you’re flying into Charles de Gaulle (CDG), do yourself a favor and book a private driver to pick you up. It is the easiest and most effective way of leaving the airport and cabs can be hard to come by. It seriously makes life so much easier, especially after a 7 hour flight. I recently used Elegant Transfers and the booking process was easy and professional and the driver was waiting for us upon arrival. It should cost you around 100 euros to get from the airport to the center of Paris with a private driver. On the way back to the airport, I’ve found it best to ask your hotel front desk to book a taxi for you the day before your flight. The taxi should cost around 60-70 euros.
3. It’s not a trip to Paris without a strike! LOL. In Paris, strikes are very common and most of the time it’s transportation affiliated. This past trip the strike was pretty bad and public transportation was very limited which made it difficult to get around the city and caused tons and tons of traffic and expensive Ubers. Just be aware and ready that strikes are possible and have an open mind if they do happen on your trip. We had to be much more flexible and had to change our plans around due to the strikes and not easily being able to get to other parts of the city, but we didn’t let it affect our trip and made the best out of the situation.
4. The lay of the land. The map of Paris is sectioned by arrondissements (a French term that means district- there are 20 total). They start in the center of Paris with arrondissement 1 and spiral clockwise like a snail- out to arrondissement 20. Become familiar with them as it will help you understand the layout of Paris and getting around, as well as understanding addresses. The last two numbers of Paris zip codes are associated with its arrondissement. For example, the Paris zip code 75001 is located in the 1st arrondissement, and 75020 is the 20th arrondissement. The zip code for the Eiffel Tower is 75007- and its located in the 7th arrondissement. Make sense?
5. Where to stay. If it’s your first time in Paris or you haven’t been to Paris in some time, I recommend staying in the heart of Paris, in either the 1st, 4th, 5th, or 6th arrondissement since they are central to many sites, along the Seine, and there are lots of transportation options. I’ve stayed in the 6th and most recently the 4th in Le Marais at Hotel de Jobo, and I would highly recommend staying in either arrondissement or at this hotel.
6. Like the Kanye song, the majority of Paris is Closed on Sundays. Most local businesses close on Sunday and depending on where you stay it can be hard to find open restaurants and shops- except for in the 4th. The 4th is the Jewish neighborhood so everything is open on Sunday! It’s the best place in Paris to be on a Sunday.
7. Restaurant experiences are very different! The waiters are very hands off and many times you need to flag them down. While we consider that rude here in the US, it’s completely acceptable in Paris. Also unless you are at a fancy place, expect slower service than we’re accustomed to in the states. They let you enjoy your time and meal and do not rush you- so much so its sometimes hard to even get your bill, lol. Also, the French can be hot and cold with Americans and we had a few restaurants even turn us away saying they were "booked" but the restaurant was completely empty. It just is what it is, so don't take it personally. It’s all part of the experience.
8. In Paris, everything (tax and tip) is factored into the cost. So, that is why it is not recommended to leave tips in Paris during meals. If we had excellent service or the staff was super friendly, we would leave a few additional euros (no more than 10%), but it is not necessary and totally up to your discretion! Also! As a side note- you don't always have to have cash anymore. Most everywhere accepts cards now and you can pull cash out directly from the ATMs there- it's cheaper than exchanging dollars at a currency exchange and much easier.
9. What to wear in Paris. While Paris is the fashion capital of the world, the French are surprisingly subdued when it comes to day-to-day fashion. They are chic, but tend to stick to upscale basics and the most popular color is by far all black everything. I found it was best to wear elevated causal looks (I lived in faux leather pants and a black turtleneck this past trip, and for the spring/summer a pretty summer dress is key) to be most comfortable while exploring the city. An upscale casual look can take you from daytime to evening easily in case you can’t go to your hotel to change before dinner or evening activities. Comfortable shoes are also a MUST for all the walking, esp in the event of transportation strikes! On this same note, be prepared for stares if you are super done up with makeup and a loud outfit or jacket. I got stares when I was in more colorful or over the top looks because they are out of the norm there, so if you do want to wear something loud, be prepared for curious stares! (NOTE- I got TONS of stares wearing this all pink look for photos!!! I know, its not all black and not in comfy shoes, but I had to do it for the gram!)
10. Don’t try to do EVERYTHING. I get it, it’s your first trip to Paris and you want to see and do everything. I was the same way on my husband and I's first trip to Paris together in 2015 (although I had already been twice), and packed our schedule so tight we literally had an hourly schedule. While it may seem great at first, it’s super tiring and I found that it’s best to plan for 2-3 big things in advance and use the rest of your time exploring or have loose plans of what you want to do. In all seriousness, limit yourself to only a handful of set plans and fill the rest of your time with the inspiration you’ll find when you arrive in the city. One of my ultimate favorite things to do in Paris is to wander the streets and neighborhoods I haven’t been to before!
AND- as I was writing this post, David peered at my laptop screen and spouted off his top three tips for Paris, LOL- so here they are:
1. Learn French
2. Wear comfy shoes
3. If you see a Guinness sign outside of a restaurant or bar, they most likely speak English so you can order easier.
.....what can I say, haha, the man has definitely got jokes LOL.
Blonde in the District