Things to Know Before You Visit Paris — A First-Timer's Guide
Traveling to Paris for the first time? Lucky you! As someone who has visited many times, I know on paper it can see a bit overwhelming. Here is everything you need to know before you visit the magnificent city of lights — a first-timer’s guide!
ALSO DON’T MISS 8 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT MISS IN PARIS (MY MOST POPULAR BLOG POST!)
WHEN TO VISIT
Paris is truly wonderful year round (even during winter!), so it depends on what kind of trip you are looking for. For detailed information on Paris during each season, see The Best Time to Visit Paris.
HOW LONG TO VISIT FOR
As someone who continues to go back to Paris over and over again, there really is no amount of time that is too long to visit! There are endless things to see and do and one could never bore of this magical city. At the very least, plan for three days. You won’t see everything (not even close) but you will get a good taste of it.
GETTING TO PARIS
Paris has two international airports, Charles de Gaulle, the largest, and Orly.
Charles de Gaulle is located 23 km north of the city. Public transportation from CDG to central Paris is easy via the RER train. This will take you from the airport to the city where you can then transfer to the Metro in order to reach your final destination. More expensive but certainly less of a hassle, Uber is available in Paris (use code “kbae3” to get your first ride for free!).
Orly Airport is 14 km south of the city. From here you can take the Orlyval shuttle train to the RER station, then follow the same as above. Again, if you are tired and looking to get to your destination as quickly as possible, call an Uber!
You can also get to Paris via train. Each train station is reachable by Metro line, so once you arrive you can hop over to the Metro to get to your final destination.
GETTING AROUND IN PARIS
Getting around in Paris is very easy thanks to their wonderful Metro system! It takes you basically anywhere you want to go and is incredibly easy to understand, even if you are English speaking only.
Tickets to the Metro are sold as singles, in books of ten, as a day pass, and more. What you buy will depend largely on what you plan to do. Because I spend most of my time actually in the city (within what the Metro system refers to as “Zone 1”) and I do a ton of walking, for me the most logical thing is buying single tickets. Each ride is €1,90.
Do NOT buy a day pass without doing the math to see if it’s worth it. For example, currently a day pass for one adult is €12. Since each individual pass is €1,90, in order for that to make sense I’d have to be using the Metro more than 6 times a day. I personally use it 2-3 times per day at most.
Tickets do not need to be purchased in advance, but can be bought at the Metro station. Cash is accepted, as is card. To avoid waiting in line each time, I always buy a handful at once (or a book of 10 depending on how many I need).
Paris is also very walkable and, for the most part, pretty flat. There are also city bike rental services you can use if you prefer to explore on wheels!
CURRENCY IN PARIS
Speaking of payments, Paris’ currency is the Euro. Almost everywhere takes cards but I always recommend having a fair amount of cash on hand in case of emergency. There are plenty of ATMs in the city should you need one during your trip, too.
Don’t forget to double check that your credit card has no foreign transaction fees before you go. My personal favorite credit card for travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Apply HERE and get 50,000 bonus points!
HOW EXPENSIVE IS PARIS?
According to the Paris tourism site, these are the average prices:
1 full-price museum admission: €7 to €12
1 sandwich: around €6
1 pizza: between €8 and €12
1 small coffee: €1 at the bar, €2 sitting down
1 full meal (starter, main dish, dessert, not including drinks): between €15 and €20 depending on the area
1 baguette of bread: €1
1 beer in a café: around €4
1 seat at the cinema: €10
TIPPING IN PARIS
All prices displayed in Paris are inclusive already of taxes and service charge. Tipping in Paris is not as common as in the US, but if the service has been great then you are welcome to tip 5-10% (20% like in the US is not necessary or expected).
LANGUAGE IN PARIS
The main language spoken in Paris is of course French. I have found that most people in the city do also speak English, so you don’t need to go all out and learn French prior to arriving. It’s not a bad idea to brush up on your Duolingo lessons prior to arriving, though!
ARRONDISSEMENTS OF PARIS
Paris is broken up into 20 Arrondissements (districts). Like the neighborhoods here in SF, each has it’s own unique personality and is loved for different reasons. The first Arrondissement, where the Louvre is found, is located in the center of the city. From there they spiral out in a clock-wise direction.
More detailed breakdown of each arrondissement coming soon!
WHERE TO STAY IN PARIS
Le Pavillon de la Reine is a jaw-dropping five-star hotel located in the heart of Marais in Place des Vosges, once of my favorite spots in Paris. It is drenched in ivy and such a luxurious, wonderful gem tucked away from the hustle and bustle of le Marais. I have stayed here personally and highly recommend it. Read and see more about my stay: Where to Stay in Paris: Le Pavillon de la Reine.
The Hoxton is another wonderful hotel I recommend. It’s located very centrally in the 2nd Arrondissement and is beautiful beyond words. Last time I visited I booked two nights here and ended up liking it so much that I extended to four.
If you prefer a more local experience, here are 8 Paris Airbnbs in Le Marais You Must Stay In.
MONUMENTAL THINGS TO SEE IN PARIS
While I much prefer off-the-beaten-path type of trips, there are a handful of very famous things in Paris you may want on your to-do list (side note - I would recommend buying tickets to these touristy things in advance if possible):
The Eiffel Tower — summit or second floor priority access
The Arc de Triomphe — get these skip the line tickets beforehand
The Louvre — grab a timed entrance ticket (self-guided)
Sacre-Coeur — tour both the basilica and Montmarte (the neighborhood)
Palace of Versaille — skip the line tickets (VERY necessary)
Musée d'Orsay — buy a reserved access ticket
Paris Catacombs — skip the line
River Seine Cruise — one hour tour
But please do yourself a favor and also check out my list of 8 Things You Absolutely Cannot Miss in Paris for a better list of what to do while visiting :)
WHAT TO BUY BEFORE YOU GO
Some very Parisian (and Instagram-worthy) items to pick up before you: