ARE YOU PLANNING YOU FIRST TRIP TO PARIS? Great choice, Paris is always a good idea. It is one of the world’s most popular destination and I understand why. I have been to Paris twice and I could go back time and time again – I absolutely LOVE this city. I mean what’s not to like? World-famous landmarks, beautiful architecture, timeless elegance, cozy restaurants, rich history and stylish people. To me, Paris is the most photogenic and charming city in Europe – in all categories. It is a dream destination for wanderers seeking romance, culture, and a taste of the good life.
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I am a true itinerary maniac and love to spend time researching and planning to get an idea of what I want to see in a new place. Even though I like structure and having a travel plan, I also try to leave space for some spontaneous moments. But because planning and especially researching can be extremely time consuming I have collected some basic good-to-know information for traveling around Paris. This way you get to spend less time googling and more time exploring.
Here are a few things you need to know before going to the city of love, Paris to make your visit truly memorable. A kind of first-timer’s guide with some practical information on where to stay, how to get around and what to think about while there.
WHEN TO VISIT
Trying to figure out when to go? You will find cheaper travel deals during off seasons but Paris is wonderful all year round. It is more about your own personal opinion, schedule and interests than choosing the “right” season. Think about what you want to get out of your trip because each season has its unique charm.
My favourite time to visit Paris is in spring (March to May), when the trees start to bloom and the city is coming to life. At this time of year it is much easier to find cheaper hotel and flight deals and there will be more options to choose from. This also means less crowds to deal with as long as you try to avoid school holidays like Easter.
Peak tourist season is from June to August, so be aware that it can get busy with tourists during this period. It is also the most expensive time to visit and hotels fill up fast (so remember to book far in advance). But with that said, summer is an absolutely wonderful time to visit Paris. People are out having picnics in the park and there are things happening in every corner. It can get extremely hot (no sea breeze whatsoever) during the day so don’t forget to bring a water bottle and some sunscreen so you won’t burn in the sun.
If you are planning on going to a lot of iconic places and see some tourist attractions. Try to head there early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid tourist crowds. Remember to buy your tickets in advance if possible because they will sell out quickly and you might even be able to skip the line.
My favourite season is fall (September to November) and even though I never visited Paris during this time I have no doubt that it is absolutely amazing. The weather in Europe can change remarkably quickly, from moody and cold to rainy. Remember to bring an umbrella and a warmer jacket and you are going to be fine. I personally love the crispy fresh air, the sound of crunchy leaves and the smell of rain. You can still sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine under the heat lamps and cover yourself up with a blanket. Shoulder season also means less crowds and cheaper hotel prices.
The amount of tourists tends to drop over the winter months (December to February), which makes it an extremely affordable destination. Prices do tend to go up during Christmas and New Years though. But overall, winter can be very cold but also cozy especially around the holiday. Just imagine the Christmas lights, decorations, markets and everyone wrapped up in their winter sweaters. It is also important to take into consideration that your hours of sunlight during winter will be limited.
Be aware of seasonal variations and how it can affect your travel experience. France has four distinct seasons and the temperature varies by region and sea level.
No matter how long you are staying in Paris you are going to want to go back here over and over again. There are endless things to do in Paris but instead of rushing around trying to see all the sights in one go. Except that you can’t do everything and instead plan your trip around your absolutely have-to-see attractions.
HOW TO GET HERE
Like many major cities in Europe there are quite a few options when it comes to transportation. To find the fastest and most convenient options for you, do your research and look up tickets in advance and check what meets your budget.
When it comes to visa and passport situations, check the following things. In general, each visitor (including infants) must have a valid passport (at least 6 months past expected return date) entering France. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days but some nationalities need to apply for a Schengen visa. Check with the French Foreign Affairs Ministry for more information and they will be able to help you with whatever concerns you might have. It is important that you find out what’s required for traveling to France from your country before you make travel plans.
France is part of the Schengen Agreement which eliminated border passport control between Schengen countries in Europe. This means you no longer need to stop or show your passport when travelling in Schengen countries. But, you must still have your passport with you as a form of identification.
Flying directly into Paris is relatively easy from most places in the world. Paris has two international airports: Charles de Gaulle Int Airport (CDG) and Orly Airport (ORY). Charles de Gaulle is located north east of the city. If you are flying into Paris this is the airport you will most likely fly into. CDG is one of the biggest airports in Europe so whether or not Paris is your final destination you may have a layover here.
There are 34 international airports in France and some of the busier ones are: Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport (LYS) that is closest to popular ski resorts and Bordeaux Mérignac Airport (BOD) to enter the fabulous wine country. Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE) and Marseille Provence Airport (MRS) will take you straight down to the French Riviera.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
The main airport in Paris is called Charles de Gaulle and is located 25km outside of the city center. It will take you approx. 25-50 minutes into the center depending on transportation and end station. You can take the train, shuttle bus, Roissybus, taxi or arrange an airport transfer. CDG is connected with the RER train Line B and runs every 10 to 20 minutes to Gare du Nord and Châtelet-Les Halles station (where you can connect to the metro). It will take you approx. 35 minutes to reach Gare du Nord (also stops at Chatelet-Des-Halles and Luxembourg). You can purchase your ticket at the airport from one of the ticket vending machines. The train operates from 4:50am to 11:50pm so if you need to travel after midnight you need to arrange other transport options. If you are traveling within or outside of France, CDG is also connected with the TGV network.
The Orly Airport is located only 13km away and it will take you approx. 35+ minutes into the city center depending on transportation. ORY is connected with the Orlyval shuttle train (only has 3 stops) and Gare d’Anthony station. From here you can connect to other public transportation such as RER train Line B that goes to the city center. It will take you approx. 35 minutes to reach Châtelet-Les Halles. You can purchase your ticket at the airport from one of the ticket vending machines. ORY is also connected with the Orlybus (shuttle bus) to Paris Denfert-Rochereau station (where you can connect to the metro). The train operates from 5:35am to 00:05am, so if you need to travel after midnight you need to arrange other transportation like taxi or get a ride-sharing car.
From the city center you can continue your journey and connect with other transportation options, such as regional train, metro, bus or taxi. If you are staying inside the Paris region, the metro is the best option for getting around.
When traveling within Europe, train travel is not only environmentally friendly but also an efficient way of getting around. You can easily hop on a train and be in another city or even another country in just a few hours. Paris’s central station is the Gare du Nord (Center Station) and is also an arrival station if you are traveling from other cities in Europe.
It is possible to travel to France by train from Barcelona, Milan, Geneva, Vienna, Berlin and many MANY more cities using the TGV (high speed train) network, Thalys train, TGV Lyria (from Switzerland) train and Eurostar (from London) high-speed train.
BY DOMESTIC TRAIN TRAVEL
All regions in France are served by the railway company SNCF. There are different operators to choose from depending on your destination. TGV is a high speed train, TER a regional train and Intercités is for intercity train trips.
You can use the Assistant SNCF utility to determine your destinations in the fastest and most accurate way. It works like a comprehensive timetable and route planner for all types of public transportation travel. You can download the app and use it to buy a ticket but also have access to real-time information. It will tell you about travel updates because of cancellations or delays.
From Paris to Rouen (approx. 1 hr and 30 minutes), from Paris to Nantes (approx. 2 hrs), from Paris to Bordeaux (approx. 3 hrs and 15 minutes), Paris to Montpellier (approx. 3 hrs and 20 minutes), Paris to Lyon (approx. 2 hrs) and Paris to Nice (approx. 5 hr 45 minutes).
LONG DISTANCE BUS TRAVEL
Budget flights and train travel are the most popular means for getting between cities. However, taking a bus is definitely the most cost-effective way of getting to Paris. It is possible to travel to France by bus from Ghent, Prague, Bonn, Zurich, Amsterdam and other cities around Europe. You can check out low cost operators like Flixbus and Eurolines to get to and from Paris.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The public transport system in Paris is extremely convenient and surprisingly easy and a comfortable way of getting around.
You can check the RATP website to find time tables, buy a ticket, and find all transportation options inside the city to better plan your day schedule. If you are planning on traveling between cities and different regions then your best option is going by train.
All of the public transportation is run by the same ticket system. You can hop on a bus and change to the metro or train with the same ticket. What you need to keep in mind is that the transport system has an integrated ticket system based on geographical operation zones. Fares depend on how many zones you are travelling through.
There are ticket vending machines at every metro and train station or at any tabac, where you can purchase your ticket. Tickets can be bought as a single (one-way) ticket (cost 1,90€), as a carnet (10-package ticket book) or day-passes. After that you need to validate your ticket at the machines. Scan your ticket in the turnstiles before you go down onto the platform. Make sure your ticket is valid before you board the metro, train or bus.
If you are caught riding any of the public transport with an invalid ticket or without any ticket at all, you will face a fine. There are random ticket checks and ticket inspectors are very strict. So make sure to keep your ticket available throughout your trip.
France’s buses are comfortable and come in handy especially at night time. The buses operate from 5:30 am to 00:00 am but there are night buses operating with a limited service. It is possible to buy a ticket from the bus driver but make sure you have enough coins. Validate your ticket by scanning it in the machines on the bus.
The metro system is efficient (and huge) but easy to figure out. It will take you basically everywhere you want to go. Metro stations are marked out with ‘M’, ‘Metro’ or ‘Metropolitain’ signs and each line is colour coded and labeled with a number.
Paris has the only underground subway system in France, with over 380 stations and 16 lines. Direction of each line corresponds to its end station. Check what your destination is on the list of stations before you go down onto the platform. You will also find network maps inside the trains at the doors. The metro operates from 5:30 am to 00:40 am (until 1:40 am on Fridays and Saturdays).
Paris offers on-demand rides at a low price with ride-sharing apps. There are several apps to choose from, such as Uber, Bolt (former Taxify), Cabify and BlaBlaCar for short routes or if you want to take a day trip outside of Paris.
There are several sightseeing cruises that go up and down the Seine river (round-trip excursion). This is a great way to both see the city from the water but also relax your tired feet. There is also the flexible hop-on and hop-off boat, Paris Batobus that is more used for transportation.
Paris is an incredibly walkable city and getting lost is part of the charm of exploring Paris. I always find myself walking miles every day in Paris, just because it is sooo beautiful. There are so many small, hidden courtyards and secret gardens to stumble upon. In my opinion, Paris is best seen by walking around.
BEFORE YOU GO
When it comes to personal security, travel insurance is advised. It is wise to take out an insurance policy covering theft, loss of belonging, medical problems, cancellation and delays. Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance. Ask your card company what is covered by their card insurance policy.
Those traveling from EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein should secure a European Health Insurance (EHIC) card, which covers visitors from the European Economic Area (EEA). Note that this is non-emergency treatment only and does not cover private healthcare. Travellers from outside the EU must arrange their own private medical insurance.
No vaccinations are needed for travellers visiting France. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for at least diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.
Tap water in France is safe to drink.
GOOD TO KNOW
The official language is French but I found that most people do speak English. If you have time, try to learn a few of the basic phrases just to be polite. The French do appreciate when trying to speak their language, even if you don’t get it perfectly – A for effort, right? You can use Duolingo as a starting point. This is an easy app that offers language lessons for free, win-win.
Be aware of scammers like pickpockets and bag snatchers in your surroundings, especially around tourist landmarks and on the metro. Common sense goes a long way but here are a few simple precautions: make sure your bag has zippers and that it is closed, don’t leave your phone visible on tables (especially if you are sitting outside at a restaurant) and keep your wallet tucked away. Like any other major city, be cautious especially late at night and protect your valuables. I have never had any issues in Paris but be mindful when walking around in crowds especially in touristy areas.
Public holidays and different events to be aware of are: Paris marathon in April, Pride parade in June, Bastille Day the 14th of July, Tour de France in July and fashion week just to name a few. Depending on the event, sometimes they close down parts of the city, hotels can be fully booked and shops might be closed during the holidays.
The local currency is Euro (€).
There is no need to carry around too much cash because credit, debit and prepaid currency cards are widely accepted. If you need to withdraw money, ATMs can easily be found all around the city, in tourist areas and at the airport. Be aware of foreign currency charges and ATM withdrawal fees.
Tipping is not expected but appreciated. Taxes and service charges are already included in the price and therefore tipping is not required. If you got great service at a restaurant you are of course welcome to tip 5-10% or round up to the nearest amount.
WHERE TO STAY
Paris is shaped in a circle and there are in total 20 arrondissements (districts) in Paris. Try to explore as many as you can because they all have their own unique personality and charm.
If it is your first trip to Paris I would recommend staying inside of arrondissement 1 to 7. These are the best places to stay if you want to stay close to top attractions and activities. If you rather stay further outside of the city, stay close to a metro station so you have easy access to every corner of Paris.
On my first trip to Paris, me and my friend stayed in an Airbnb studio in the Saint-German-Des-Prés district (6th arr.). This is by far my favourite area in Paris and has less tourists than I expected. You will find charming restaurants in every corner and tiny bookstores along the narrow streets.
On my second visit to the city I stayed at a hostel in the Canal Saint-Martin district (10th arr.). This is in my opinion an underrated neighbourhood in Paris. It has a beautiful canal (packed with locals during summer) and plenty of restaurants and bars to grab a bite and drink at. Streets are filled with vintage shops and there is even a big selection of brilliant brunch spots nearby.
DON’T FORGET TO PACK
What to pack will depend on the season and how long you are planning on staying in Paris. But having the right travel gear is A and O for any trip. Here are 5 non-negotiable things to bring with you on your trip to Paris:
PASSPORT and important TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
Make sure you have a valid passport and all travel documents ready before your trip. Double-check your travel insurance before you depart just to make sure you are covered in case something happens.
The best way to carry all your day to day items with you at all times. This allows you to have everything close by when you need it, such as your phone and wallet.
Be practical about your clothing and especially your footwear. You will probably end up doing a lot of walking so it is important to pack some proper walking shoes. You don’t want to end up with sore feet at the Eiffel Tower or out of shoe options on your trip. Make sure to pack at least one pair that you can walk miles in. My personal favourites are sneakers and I have a thing for Nike shoes.
Are you like me and easily get painful blisters? Don’t forget to pack some blister plasters just in case.
Are you like me and spending countless hours on your phone? To keep it charged no matter where you are, make sure to get yourself a portable battery. If you are planning on taking a lot of photos with your phone or using it as a GPS to get around Paris the battery will run low pretty fast. This battery is a true lifesaver, because it has a charging capability that holds for several uses and up to 12 hours. All you have to do is charge it up, plug it in and you have an extra battery life for any of your devices!
REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
I like to bring my own reusable water bottle to skip having to buy a water bottle at shops. Stay hydrated and refill it at a water station before your flight and under your trip. Remember, tap water is safe to drink in France so there is no need to spend money on plastic bottles.