Louvre by the Seine
Region and City Guides

Paris Tips: What to Know Before Visiting

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Paris is practically a mandatory stop of a tour of Europe. But it’s not a city you can easily zip in and zip out of. Paris is large and can be the source of stress if you haven’t prepared properly for your trip.

My 3-Day itinerary for Paris post covers popular landmarks and areas of the city worth visiting on a short stay. This Paris tips post is for independent travellers who want to make their trip more manageable.

First up, a quick guide to Paris geography and orientation.

PARIS ORIENTATION

The River Seine bisects Paris roughly into north and south. However, these are commonly known as as the Right Bank (north) and Left Bank (south). Secondly, Paris is divided into 20 numbered areas called arrondissements that are arranged in a circle around the Seine.

PARIS TIPS

ACCOMMODATION:

There’s no denying but staying in Paris is expensive compared to other European capital cities (London and Scandinavian cities excepted). But the choice in Paris is astonishing, from backpacker hostels to the lavish Ritz and George V.

Booking months in advance is an absolute must for reasonable deals and availability. Paris is a year round destination so prices only drop (slightly) during the winter months of November to February.

I’ve always stayed in the 5th arrondissement when visiting Paris but the 6th arrondissement would be my second choice. Booking.com has over 7,000 properties listed for Paris so filter searches by arrondissement and area.

SAFETY:

Paris has been subjected to terrorism attacks for decades so armed counter-terrorism police are present at major transport hubs. Since the Friday 13th ISIS attacks in November 2015, this security presence can be supplemented with army troops, even at tourist landmarks.

I’ve never felt unsafe during the day in Paris but night-time can be a different story in certain areas. Friends and acquaintances who have attended sports matches at Stade de France in Saint Denis are not keen on that area after dark. Pickpockets are active at transport points and tourist sites.

BEST TIME TO VISIT PARIS:

As mentioned above, accommodation will be cheaper from November to February but the weather isn’t at its best. March can be hit or miss weather-wise but the months from April to June are good options. The changing leaf colour months of September and October are equally good. July is hot and busy whereas August sees Parisians flee to the coasts for their holidays.

TRANSPORT:

Paris is a large city so the metro system will be key to travelling between the arrondissements in an efficient and stress-free way. Download or print off a map of the system.

Paris Metro station entrance

Travelling within an arrondissement can be done by Velib’ bike rental or by simply walking.

Some people recommend buying the Paris Visite Travel Pass but if you are following my 3-day itinerary or are organising your activities within specific areas, minimal use of public transport is required. It may be more economical to buy individual tickets per journey.

Paris has three airports. Large and complicated Roissy Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is north of the city while Orly (ORY) is south. The RER B line is the key train line for both of these airports. RER B travels directly to Charles de Gaulle airport from city stations Gare du Nord, Chatelet Les Halles and Saint-Michel Notre Dame. For Orly airport, change at Antony station and board the Orlyval train shuttle.

Beauvais Airport (BVA) is located approximately 100km/60 miles north of Paris (1.5 hour drive). It is mainly used by low-cost airlines. The bus stop for the Beauvais Airport shuttle is on Boulevard Pershing near Port Maillot metro station.

Paris has a number of mainline train stations (Gare). SNCF is the French rail operator. The following is a list of stations and the destinations served:

  • Gare St-Lazare: Normandy
  • Gare du Nord: Northern France, London, Belgium, Netherlands.
  • Gare de l’Est: Eastern France, Luxembourg
  • Gare de Lyon: South East France, Switzerland
  • Gare d’Austerlitz: Central France
  • Gare Montparnasse: West France, Southwest France

Official and unofficial strikes on all transportation systems, including air traffic control, are common in France.

TIPPING:

If you see the words service compris it means the tip has been included in the bill. TVA on the bill is the sales tax. However, if you feel the service is exceptional, feel free to tip anything from rounding up to the nearest euro to 10% of the bill.

There can be different price levels depending on where you sit in the café/restaurant. Standing at the counter is the cheapest whereas dining at an outside table could be more expensive.

Cafe des Deux Molins, Montmartre. This is the cafe that featured in the film ‘Amelie’.

French food portions are smaller than most other European countries. For those who want to fill up, so to speak, the Flunch chain of restaurants comes recommended.

LANGUAGE:

The French are very proud of their beautiful language so, of all the Paris tips in this post, this is the one that will require lots of advance preparation. Learning the basics will curry you favour. My Visiting France for the First Time post has a list of useful French vocabulary.

French is part of the Romance language family so bears a slight resemblance to Spanish and Italian.

Paris street signs will also list the arrondissement

When I first visited France in 1990s, few could speak English (nor wanted to) but, over the years, English language fluency has improved. Nevertheless, always initiate a conversation in French. If a Parisian feels that their English is better than your French, they will change to English.

CITY OF LOVE?:

There is a commonly held notion that Paris is a city of romance only suited to couples. Paris is a city with so much character that it can cater for any type of traveller. For me, Paris is a picturesque city of cultural pursuits and that’s an activity that can be done solo or accompanied.

I’ve visited Paris solo and thoroughly enjoyed it. So don’t let the romance perception put you off visiting the French capital.

OTHER TIPS

The French rest on the Sabbath so you will find few sites and shops open on a Sunday. Book major sites such as the Louvre in advance.  

Have you been to Paris? Let me know your experience in the comments box below.

Paris Travel tips

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