Post overview: Paris travel tips
Visiting Paris can be daunting (especially for the first time), there is so much to learn! From culture customs to the transportation, knowing all the little details of how the city works can be overwhelming.
So I wrote this article full of Paris travel tips to help, in it I’ll ease some of your worries by giving you insight into the city. I’ll offer my two cents on ways to save money (cha-ching), useful apps to download, and simple ways to make your visit a richer experience.
Having visited the French capital a half-dozen times over the last few years I’m like that friend you’re traveling with but showed up a few days early to learn the lay of the land. Now I’ll funnel all my Paris travel tips to you!
But enough of the small talk, let’s chat about what you’re here for!
Visiting Paris? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in Paris (The best neighborhoods for first timers + two to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in Paris, hands down.
Tips for Visiting Paris
#31. Avoid getting a hotel near the Eiffel Tower
Contrary to what many first-time visitors may believe, the Eiffel Tower is not in the heart of Paris. In fact, it’s on the outskirts of the city center, away from most of the other popular attractions.
One of the best Paris travel tips is to stay somewhere more central and just visit the tower, rather than be its neighbor.
There is one exception though – and that’s if your room has actual views of the Eiffel Tower. The suite will likely max out your credit card (like this humble abode), but your future kids don’t really need to go to college, do they?
Otherwise staying near the Eiffel Tower means paying a premium on hotels (while not getting any actual views). Not to mention you’ll have to travel out of the neighborhood daily to visit other attractions on your itinerary.
To make things easier I wrote a helpful guide on Where to Stay in Paris (The best neighborhoods for first timers + two to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in Paris, hands down.
#30. Make appointments at luxury stores in advance
If you’re planning to do some luxury shopping in Paris I first want to say: go you! Second I want to give you one of the best tips for visiting Paris: book an appointment at the stores you’re most interested in visiting.
You won’t be the only one with Louis on their mind, so lines are par for the course.
In the same way you can (and should) make reservations at a restaurant you can also make appointments at luxury retailers. Stores like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Maison Goyard all allow you to make reservations and skip the line.
Making an appointment isn’t so much a rule, it’s just one of the best tips for visiting Paris. Some hotel’s concierge will even make the appointment for you, so long as you tell them when you’d like to visit.
29. Pack some extra deodorant
As a matter of fact pack a handheld fan, a water bottle or anything else that will help keep you cool. One of the best tips for visiting Paris in the summer is to pack for the heat, because much like hide & seek it’s coming whether you’re ready or not.
Due to they city’s aging infrastructure air conditioning is practically unheard of, just about anywhere.
Museums, subway stations, stores and restaurants are sweat-inducing machines. It can feel especially hot to those of us privileged enough to have adjustable thermostats at home.
I once visited the Louvre with my mom in August and she had to call it quits after 25 minutes inside. The swarms of people made small rooms warmer and the lack of air circulation made it feel like an incubator.
In tight quarters you might occasionally whiff some body odor. Imagine the smell of all the arms raised, holding on to the railing in a packed metro cart.
Do yourself (and those around you) the biggest favor by carrying a travel sized deodorant in your purse or pocket. If this Paris travel tip helps even one person survive summer in the city, this post will be well-worth it.
#28. Carry some loose change
Europe is a constant reminder that cash it (still) king. You can survive without it, but small bills and loose change will likely come in handy. One of the best Paris travel tips is to keep €20 accessible, in change or small bills.
For starters – markets are a dime a dozen across the French capital. Small bills can help you bargain with a vendor for a better price. Or you’ll come across plenty of street performers and local artist who may interest you.
Then there’s always to need to use a public restroom that typically has a one or two euro charge. If they have a card reader great – but sometimes they won’t and when nature calls you don’t want to be left scrambling.
You may want to leave a tip at a restaurant, but tipping in France isn’t the same as in the U.S.A. If you pay with a credit card most restaurants won’t ask for a tip – so if you want to leave one you’ll have to leave cash.
Speaking of tipping: Tipping culture in France hasn’t reached the heights it has in America. Simply leaving one or two euros as a tip is more than okay at most restaurants – and if you receive truly exceptional service 10% is generous enough.
#27. Make reservations as early as you can
Paris is the most visited city in the world, welcoming 44 million visitors in 2022 (numbers still below pre-pandemic levels). Combined with the fact that the French have mastered the art of leisure and you’ll understand why it feels every bistro is at capacity, regardless of the time or day.
So one of the best Paris travel tips I can offer is to make reservations as early as you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re going out early on a Monday, it’s better to be safe that sorry.
And if there’s a must-try restaurant on your itinerary odds are it’ll be on somebody else’s too, and then you especially want to book ahead of time. Don’t miss out on your top restaurants by lack of preparation!
This Paris travel tip applies to attractions as well! Book tickets for the Louvre, Arc De Triomphe, etc. immediately after purchasing your airline ticket. Tickets sell out months in advance.
#26. Athleisure doesn’t exist in France
I’m not here to tell you what you can or can’t wear – I’m guilty of a few outfits that deserve jail time myself. But I’ll still offer one of the best travel tips for visiting Paris: Athletic wear is reserved for the gym.
There isn’t a law saying you can’t wear athleisure on the streets of Paris, but if you choose to, just be prepared for a few lingering eyeballs. The French have a knack for fashion, and will unapologetically stare at those who stick out.
Instead lean into the fashion capital of the world and use your trip to Paris as an opportunity to experiment with new outfits.
#25. Bring a tote
One of the best Paris travel tips that I use daily is to pack a tote with me everywhere I go. Or better yet, buy one as a souvenir for yourself.
The same way folks check their pockets for keys and phones before leaving the house, tap yourself for a tote!
My husband will fold one up nice and small and shove it in his back pocket. It packs up so nicely you forget it’s there half the time. If we unexpectedly buy something he whips it out like a bagger at a grocery store and we’re painlessly on our way.
You might not need it daily, but it takes up such little real estate there’s no excuse not to bring one.
#24. If you’re going to the club – wear heels
This doesn’t apply to everyone (I don’t frequent clubs myself) but it’s a worthy Paris travel tip nonetheless. If you plan on enjoying Parisian nightlife at discos you have to look fly.
Dress codes at nightclubs are nothing new, but in Paris (the fashion capital of the world) they get taken up a notch.
I have a friend who was denied entry because she wasn’t wearing heels! She didn’t even pack any because of all the walking, but the fanciest clubs in Paris have a reputation to uphold and turn back those who don’t bolster the image they’re trying to portray.
All this to say – leave the ball caps, jerseys, sneakers and fanny packs at home.
#23. Don’t be shy about swinging by a grocery store
With so many alluring restaurants across the city it might never even cross your mind to visit a Parisian grocery store.
But they shouldn’t be overlooked – especially with the glorious selection of cheeses and butters available to you. The refrigerated meals sections also tends to be a great way to save money while visiting Paris. You can score a salad or sandwich for half the price you’d pay at the bistro across the street.
Stopping by a grocery store is one of the best Paris travel tips, especially for those of us who travel on a budget.
And with a plethora of parks, benches and squares across the city finding a place to park yourself should be a breeze.
On my most recent trip to Paris my husband and I swung by a grocery store for a fresh baguette, butter and cold cuts. We didn’t have anything to spread the butter so we’d tear the baguette and scrape it. I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was one of my favorite meals during my time in Paris.
#22. Order a carafe d’eau to avoid paying for water
Small but not to be overlooked – one of the most important Paris travel tips I can offer is to learn the phrase “carafe d’eau“. The phrase translates to “a jug of water” which will go a long way when dining in Paris.
When you ask for water in a restaurant, the server will usually return with a bottle of water (which ends up costing you an arm and a leg).
I simply refuse to let this happen to you! By learning this Paris travel tip you’ll get a pitcher of (free) tap water, and your wallet leaves a little happier.
And before you start worrying about the water quality, the tap water is perfectly safe to drink. It might seem insignificant, but things add up quickly and there are far better places to be sending your money in Paris.
#21. Keep your train tickets on you
Whether you’re traveling by metro throughout the city or by train on the outskirts, you have to keep your ticket on you at all times in France.
This is because there can be random ticket checks at anytime and if your ticket is no where to be found, you’ll be receiving a hefty fine.
It doesn’t matter if you can show security a receipt or a charge on your credit card – you need the physical ticket.
So to avoid any headaches one of the best Paris travel tips is to keep your train ticket handy until you leave the station.
#20. When feasible opt to sit outside
I was once told that there’s nothing to do in Paris besides sit at a bistro and eat.
My response: is that really such a bad thing?
If you sit outside it’s even better, people watching is some of the best entertainment in the city. You get to dine under stunning, centuries-old architecture and enjoy French gastronomy – is this heaven?
One of the best tips for visiting Paris is to dine outside whenever possible, odds are it’ll be more entertaining than dining inside.
#19. Book the trip to Versailles
If you’re on the fence about taking time out of your schedule to tour Versailles here’s my two cents: book the visit.
Versailles is the most popular day trip from Paris because of its accessibility. A mere 30 minute train ride from downtown and you’ll be strutting through the palace.
The former royal-home is striking, full of golden accents and opulent architecture. The gardens are free to visit and just as luxurious.
With proper planning you can swing by for a half-day excursion and be back in time for lunch. Or if time allows, you can spend the day here playing monarch.
One of the best tips for visiting Paris is to leave enough time to visit Versailles, it’s well worth the stop.
#18. A Navigo Pass is worth considering
You’ll read a lot of Paris travel tips that say a Navigo Pass is a must because you get unlimited rides.
My two cents is that it’s probably not worth it.
A Navigo Pass is a great way for locals to save on transportation costs, coming in at a variety of different price points.
But they come with stipulations. To keep things simple let’s analyze the most common pass. A weekly Navigo Pass will cost €30, plus an additional €5 for the physical card. It also requires a passport photo (sold at photobooths in the station for around €8). This puts the total cost at €43.
Meanwhile, a regular priced single fair ticket costs €2.10, meaning you’d have to ride 20 times to get your money’s worth. Depending how long you’re in Paris – I would go on a limb and say that probably won’t happen.
For reference, I stayed in Paris for a month last May and rode the subway maybe two or three times a week, max.
So I’m not saying a Navigo Pass isn’t worth it, I’m just giving a friendly Paris travel tip to do the math before blindly buying one.
#17. Keep your phone in your front pocket
And before pivoting away from public transportation I have to mention another Paris travel tip: beware of pickpockets.
With millions of tourists visiting Paris weekly, petty thieves salivate at the thought of easy targets. They’re rampant in crowded places, like the metro, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.
You should keep your phone and valuables in a front pocket, or better yet in a zippered bag hung across your body.
And while you’re on the subway be weary of your surroundings. Thieves are known to snatch phones out of folks’ hands at the last second, running off as the doors close behind them and guaranteeing an escape.
The pickpocketing isn’t bad enough to outright avoid Paris – but it’s enough of a nuisance that it warrants mentioning.
#16. Enjoy a view of the Eiffel Tower, not from it
Climbing the Eiffel Tower is a bucketlist item for plenty of folks. If you’re one of them I say go for it.
But if you just want a stunning view of the city from above, wouldn’t you want to see the most famous pillar of the Paris skyline?
Remember – if you’re in the Eiffel Tower, you can’t see the Eiffel Tower.
So one of my top Paris travel tips is to climb the Arc de Triomphe or Galeries Lafayette instead for views of the Iron Lady.
The Arc de Triomphe costs €13 to climb and is closer to the tower, but it has no elevator. Galeries Lafayette Haussman’s rooftop is free to visit and has an elevator, but it’s a bit further removed. The choice is yours!
#15. Stop by a bakery, better yet – stop at all of them
If you have any doubts that the bakeries in Paris won’t live up to the hype, throw them out the window now.
One my most valuable Paris travel tips is to stop by for as many croissants, baguettes and beignets as you can. Trust me – when your trip is over and you wake up in your bed you’ll miss the unfettered access to the world-class pastries found on every street.
Having been home for months now I’m having withdrawals myself. I look back on photos of the pastries in Paris the way folks look at photos of their true love that got away.
So cash in while you can. As cliche as it may sound, one of the best tips for visiting to Paris is to take advantage of the bakeries.
#14. Book Michelin Star restaurants for lunch
You might be toying with the idea of treating yourself to a fancy meal while visiting Paris. It makes sense, France is known for their gastronomy and is the city with the second most Michelin Stars in the world.
But here’s a little life-hack: when booking fancy restaurants try to schedule for lunch rather than dinner.
The price difference can be enough to cover another full meal. The savings are especially grand when you’re booking a tasting menu.
This Paris travel tip is just a friendly reminder that you can treat yourself without needing to take out a second mortage.
#13. Plan at least one night-time activity
Exploring a city at night is a completely different experience than during the day. Paris is no different, I mean it’s called the City of Light for a reason.
One of my best Paris travel tips is to book at least one event in the city at night, which will force you to stay out.
Traveling can be exhausting and believe me when I tell you, you’re going to want to go home after a 20,000 step day.
But if you book a dinner, a cruise, or another fun thing to do in Paris at night you’ll be forced to stay out after sundown.
Your experience doesn’t even have to cost money. You can do something as simple as staying out to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle and then walk back to your hotel.
Speaking from first hand experience, it’s easy to call it quits when you’re tired, but by planning at least one night-time activity you’re guaranteed to enjoy a completely different side of Paris.
#12. Consider buying the Paris Pass
With so many famous landmarks and attractions in the French capital the thought of “how the hell am I going to afford everything” can be a very real fear.
But the Paris Pass is here to quell your nerves. It offers bundled access to some of the top tourist-destinations in Paris at a fraction of the cost.
You have the option of a two, three, four or six day passes that range in price from €115 to €229.
#11. Take advantage of the performing-arts theaters
As an artistic hub that attracts people from all over the world, one of my best Paris travel tips is to not overlook the city’s many performing arts theaters.
The Palais Garnier, Opéra Bastille, Odéon Theatre (and many, many more) are world-class institutions that provide some of the best entertainment in the city, and it usually isn’t as expensive as you might fear.
For example: tickets to the Opéra de Paris can be had for as little as €15. Not to mention some shows even come in English!
#10. Don’t step foot into the Louvre without a plan
The crown jewel of all of France’s museums, the Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world (with 7.5 million visitors, annually!).
But with the museum’s impressive collection of more than 350,000 pieces of art, seeing it all is an impossible task. In fact – if you spent 30 seconds at every piece of art on display at the Louvre it would take you 200 days to see it all!
So one of the best tips for visiting Paris is to not step foot inside the museum without a plan. You don’t have to have an itinerary down to the second, but having a list of the artwork you can’t afford to miss will give the maze of a museum some purpose and stop you from losing track of time.
Just as an example – I went into the museum with a list of 20 things I wanted to see and thought it’d take me around two hours. I emerged from the Louvre hangry and with barking feet six hours later.
#9. Be weary of the bracelet scam
Unfortunately Paris is a city that’s ripe with opportunity… for petty criminals.
The bracelet scam is when folks (through smiles and conversation) get you to drop your guard and ask for your hand. Hell – sometimes they reach for it without asking!
They then begin to weave a “friendship” bracelet onto your wrist and ask for payment when finished. They’re common around the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, so have firm “no thank you’s” ready and keep it moving.
Another scam includes folks walking up to you with pens and clipboards asking if you’ll sign a petition to help deaf/mute children. After disarming you with a noble cause they’ll either pickpocket you or flat out ask for a donation which will just end up in their pocket rather than helping kids.
A general Paris travel tip is to keep walking past people who try to approach you and staying on your toes. It’s a sad reality, but one that comes with the territory.
#8. Make photocopies of important documents and leave them with a friend
A Paris travel tip that can be applied to any visit abroad is to prepare for the potential loss of your passport.
What I like to do is make photocopies of mine and my husband’s passports and stash them somewhere in our apartment or leave them with a friend. I also make digital scans of them to keep on our phones.
In the off-chance we lose ours abroad, the photocopies will make the process of getting a new one at the embassy that much easier. The photocopy of your missing passport proves citizenship so they can issue you a new one.
Fingers crossed this is one of those Paris travel tips you follow “just in case” and never have to actually use.
#7. Remember, Paris takes an afternoon break
Culture-shock incoming! Numerous businesses in Paris close down in the middle of the day for a lunch break.
In America it’s common for shops to stay open all day with staff rotating turns taking breaks, but the store itself never closes. In Paris businesses just close shop for an hour or two and then reopen and continue with their day.
And I get it, the work/life balance is one of the biggest pros of living in Paris but the afternoon break can throw a curve-ball at those planning an itinerary.
Luckily restaurants and bistros usually remain open, so you can always take a lunch break when the rest of the city does.
This Paris travel tip mostly applies to those who are hoping to schedule a shopping day in Paris. Boutiques are the most common businesses to close, so be sure to have a plan-B in case the store you’re wanting to visit is closed.
#6. Download an offline map
Unless you’re willing to pay steep cell phone premiums, odds are your internet access in Europe will be limited to places that offer WiFi. This can leave you in a pickle as you try to navigate a new city.
But I’m here to offer one of the best tips for traveling to Paris: download a Google Map for offline use!
Through the Google Maps app on your phone (while you still have service) search for your destination. When it populates look at the options at the bottom of your screen, one will say download offline map.
From there a rectangle will appear on your screen and you can adjust the area you want saved onto your phone.
While the map can’t route you places, it’s still an invaluable tool to help you get around. It’ll tell you which direction to head in and make you feel like Lewis & Clark, but instead of a compass you’re using an iPhone.
My husband first learned of the trick when he would travel to remote National Parks where service is non-existant. We’ve since used the hack to route us through dozens of European cities.
#5. Don’t forget your VAT refund
I can’t be the only who’s been told to shop for luxury brands in Paris because “you don’t have to pay tax.” While I appreciate the idea of shopping being one of the best Paris travel tips, the tax-situation isn’t so black and white.
The VAT, or Value Added Tax is applied to purchases made within the European Union (which includes France) of more than €100, spent at the same store within three days.
It’s important to note that even though you’re not from the European Union the store is still required to charge you the appropriate taxes in the moment – but you’ll get a refund later.
The percentage varies, but generally it’s a 20% tax of which you can expect to receive 12% back.
It’s important to know that the government doesn’t issue your reimbursement, it’s the retailer. You have to tell the store (at the time of purchase) you need the VAT reimbursement forms (in French the détaxe forms).
You also need to bring your passport so the store can issue you the form, which you’ll later need at the Détaxe Office at the airport. Depending on the airport, you might be able to use a self-service kiosk.
From here scan the barcode at the top of your form. Since all your information (including your credit card) was recorded at the store it’ll already be attached to the form and you can expect a refund within 90 days.
#4. Learn basic French phrases
Let’s address the elephant in the room, we’ve all heard stories of locals being snobby to tourists because they don’t speak French. I can honestly say that Parisians are kind, but I won’t lie and say you won’t catch any ‘tude.
My first Paris travel tip is to not take it personal. My second Paris travel tip is to practice a little bit of French before boarding the plane – it’ll go a long way.
Part of the reason for the attitude is the notion that tourists are entitled, they visit France and expect the locals to cater to their needs. But by even just greeting someone in the mother-tongue you show them your respect.
I know it might be a little embarassing (Believe me, I’ve been there) but by putting yourself out there you also break down a wall with the locals. Some might speak English well, but are insecure about their accents. By embarassing yourself a little first it opens the door to a friendly interaction.
So one of the best tips I can offer for traveling to Paris is to learn (at least) these phrases:
- Hello: Bonjour
- Goodbye: Au revoir
- Thank you: Merci
- Excuse me: Excuse-moi
- Where is the bathroom: Où sont les toilettes
- Please: S’il vous plaît
#3. Download an offline translating app
Speaking of the language barrier, you might experience a moment where you and a local aren’t understanding each other. This is why one of the best Paris travel tips I can offer is to download an offline translating app.
Similar to an offline map, an offline translating app comes in handy when you’re in a pickle and have no service.
I use the app that comes pre-installed on iPhones, but Google makes one too. You can type or even speak into it, and it’ll translate in seconds.
But the reason I consider this one of the best Paris travel tips is because you can take a picture of something (like a menu) and it’ll translate it. You’ll be glad you have the app when you’re trying to order at a restaurant where everything is completely in French!
Once you download the app, don’t forget to download the langauge for offline use. Otherwise the app will only work when you have internet service. Download both French and English, so the app has something to translate to.
#2. Waking up early is always worth it
With crowds no matter where you go, the only way to get Paris all to yourself is to get out early. The warmth of your bed might be alluring, but hitting the streets early is always worth it.
One of the best tips for visiting Paris is to visit the most popular tourist attractions first thing in the morning. Your photos will be better without swarms of people in the background and it’s more peaceful.
During my most recent trip to Paris my husband and I were jet-lagged and rather than going back to bed when we woke up at dawn we’d walk along the Seine or sit under the Notre Dame Cathedral – it was magical.
#1. Remember – Paris is a real city
This might seem like an odd thing to say, but one of the best tips for traveling to Paris is to remember it’s a real city. It’s not a Disney movie with background music and a cast full of extras making sure your visit is flawless.
I say this because Paris is such a romanticized city. As such, it’s inevitable that folks may find themselves almost let down, so much so that there’s an actual term for this: Paris Syndrome.
Everyday people live and work in Paris and it’s not all glory and Gucci every Tuesday morning. This is a real place where people are rushing to work, garbage bags are tossed on the street and the occasional waiter wishes you would greet them with “bonjour” over “hello.”
So among the most valuable Paris travel tips, this is a reminder to visit with reasonable expectations. Paris is a beautiful city full of amazing things to do, so enjoy it without the added pressure that it has to be perfect.
Tips for visiting Paris (Post Summary)
- Remember – Paris is a real city
- Waking up early is always worth it
- Download an offline translating app
- Learn basic French phrases
- Don’t forget your VAT refund
- Download an offline map
- Paris takes an afternoon break
- Make photocopies of important documents and leave them with a friend
- Be weary of the bracelet scam
- Don’t step foot into the Louvre without a plan
- Take advantage of the performing-arts theaters
- Consider buying the Paris Pass
- Plan at least one night-time activity
- Book Michelin Star restaurants for lunch
- Stop by a bakery, better yet – stop at all of them
- Enjoy a view of the Eiffel Tower, not from it
- Keep your phone in your front pocket
- A Navigo Pass is worth considering
- Book the trip to Versailles
- When feasible, sit outside
- Keep your train tickets on you
- Order a carafe d’eau to avoid paying for water
- Don’t be shy about swinging by a grocery store
- If you’re going to the club – wear heels
- Bring a tote
- Athleisure doesn’t exist in France
- Make reservations as early as you can
- Carry some loose change
- Pack some extra deodorant
- Make appointments at luxury stores in advance
And there you have it folks, the most helpful tips for visiting Paris. Let us know if you think we missed anything.