Paris was on my list for everrr. If I look back , I really do not see any valid reason for postponing my desire to visit one of the best cities in the world. Actually one of the first things I told Manhar
on our first day of exploring Paris was – “How come we waited so long to visit this place?” , I blame him hahahhahahah. Yes 7 years of togetherness and 32 countries later , here we were in one of the most romantic places in the world – PARIS. The experience was very different for both of us. This was for the first time we had decided to take things slow – with no agenda , no plan – we were kind of improvising on daily basis. We were learning about the city of lights on the go , what makes it special and why the hell are people crazy about it. One thing was very clear to us , traveling to Paris for the first time is not very easy. The cultural difference , language , the logistics and the overwhelming amount of things that Paris offers can be a real challenge for first-time visitors. So if you are planning to visit Paris , I have compiled a list of practical tips specially for first timers. Trust me , you will thank me later . So before you set out on your fantasy trip , here is a short guide for practical tips for visiting Paris in order to avoid unpleasant experience – “Paris for First Timers – Things to know” .
Paris will not fit in your 2 day short visit :
My biggest takeaway from this trip was – Paris is not a weekend getaway. You need to have 4 – 5 days to really enjoy the city. Cramming everything you would want to see in just 2 days is bound to
leave you frustrated and literally hate Paris.During such a short visit you would be hitting the usual touristy spots like Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre and therefore experience crowds, long lines
and not the real local Paris. 4- 5 days will give you time to slow down , roam around in charming neighborhoods, enjoy local food and go beyond the touristy stuff. There are some excellent day trip spots around Paris as well which again will require some time. In nutshell , to get the whole Parisian vibe – you need to slow down.
Where you stay in Paris matters :
Location! Location! Location! .. no i am not a realtor and I am not selling a house 😛 … hahahhaha but this is absolutely true that it really matters where you stay in Paris to enjoy Paris. See Paris is a collection of numbered neighborhoods ( 20 to be precise) called arrondissements. The twenty arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral starting from the middle of the city, with the first on the Right Bank (north bank) of the Seine. To give you an idea , the 7th arrondissement is home to the Eiffel Tower and the 8th arrondissement is home to the Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. So where you stay in Paris will dictate how much time and money you will spend in commuting. If you stay anywhere between 1 to 10 arrondissements , everything will be easily accessible.
We stayed in neighborhood 2 and 8 and everything was so easily accessible. The metro stations were 5 mins walk from our hotels and most of the places were walk-able. I will highly advise to stay central even if traveling on a budget. Consider staying near the attractions you want to visit instead of booking accommodation outside of the city. Staying outside of the center and saving money is not worth it considering the money and time you’ll spend commuting every day.
Know the Metro system , it will help :
Coming from Boston which has 5 subway lines in total , I had absolutely no idea how complex Paris subway system will be. Paris metro system is the tenth-busiest in the world with 16 lines and 62 transfers between the lines. I learnt it the hard way as I got lost on my very first day in Paris. But once I understood the subway system ( the lines and the transfers) everything seemed so easily accessible.I will highly advise to take advantage of public transport. And while you do so , keep following things in mind:
1) If you are buying Paris Pass , depending on the duration of your pass , the metro pass is included in it. Else you can buy 10 ride pass , 48 hour pass , 72 hour pass etc from any metro station.
2) When getting on the metro, unless someone is getting off, the doors don’t automatically open. You’ll need to push the button to open the doors. I missed a train or two in this confusion 😛 .
3) Do not throw away your ticket until you have exited from the station. At times you will need ticket to exit the station and some times there is random checking by ticket inspectors.
4) Parisian trains will be crowded , specially at peak business hours. Take care of your belongings and beware of pickpockets.
A little French will go long way :
I work in a French company and just for me to blend in with my fellow colleagues , i tried learning French. Little did I know that my little French will come so handy in Paris specailly when it came to translating menus for Manhar and ordering our foods in restaurants. If you are a vegetarian like us , you know the struggle. While it is certainly not important to be fluent in French , knowing a few french words will really help you.
Good Day = Bonjour
Good Evening = Bonsoir
Good Bye = Au Revoir
Please = S’il vous plaît
Thank you = Merci
Excuse me & sorry = pardon
You’re Welcome = De rien
Yes = Oui
No = Non
Good to know:
How much is this for? = combien ça coûte ?
Do You Speak English? = Parlez-vous anglais?
I don’t understand. = Je ne comprends pas.
Where Is the Bathroom? = Où sont les toilettes?
Food is an important part of Parisian experience/ Make reservations and beware of restaurants opening times :
Paris is home to some great Michelin star restaurants and considering the food is soooo good ,literally everyone who visits Paris tries to eat the best in the best of the restaurants. So there is no new mantra here but rather research on the restaurants you would like to try and make reservations. Good French restaurants are generally not open for entire day . Lunch is served from around noon – 2pm and dinner is served from around 7pm – 10:30pm.
1) If for some reason you realized too late that you nearly missed the Lunch time , rather than starving yourself pop into a boulangerie or bakery for a sandwich. Even better try some hot wine with a crepe from any roadside shop – true heaven.
2) If you did not get reservation in your favorite restaurant , try arriving at the restaurant just when it opens. That way you are more likely to get a table.
3) When you do arrive in restaurant of your choice , do not rush your meal. The service in Paris is generally quite laid-back as Parisians take their good time in finishing a meal. Relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
4) Tipping is not a thing in France. French servers are paid a full wage. But if you really liked the service and want to tip , then tip in cash.
5) Tap water is as safe as bottled water in France.
Not everything is open all the time :
As I mentioned before that there are opening and closing times for restaurants , same applies to shops as well. While on a weekday , you might find shops open all the day , on the weekends specially on Sundays most grocery stores, pharmacies and shops are closed. Sundays are to be spent with the family and French people really believe in that. So , if you see a shop you want to visit, go in and don’t put it off for later. Same applies for pharmacies. Not all pharmacies are 24 hour pharmacies( actually there are very few 24 hour pharmacies) , so if you need any medicine grab it in the day time as it will be really hard to find an open pharmacy near your neighborhood past 8 pm or on a Sunday.
Note : Over the counter medicines are available only in Pharmacies unlike USA where you could get them in grocery stores or supermarkets.
If you are staying in an AirBnB and plan to cook by yourself , plan to do your shopping on Saturday or at most before noon on a Sunday. Else you will be stuck eating out the whole day.
Paris is great for solo travel:
Even though Paris is labeled as city of love and whenever people fantasize about romance Paris is considered synonym for it , I found this city as a perfect getaway for solo travel. Some people might argue with safety as their concern, but I feel a place is as safe as much common sense one uses. You need to take safety measures irrespective of being a solo or couple traveler. The fact that there is metro which makes it so easy to navigate in the city , the fact that there is so much history and architecture nestled in every corner , the fact that this city is photogenic from every angle and lastly the city boasts of amazing food and shopping choices – you have everything you need for solo travel that will keep you entertained for weeks.
You will be walking a lot , so be comfortable in what you wear : Shoes/clothes
While Paris is the fashion capital of the world , the people in Paris are stylish yet very practical in their clothes and shoes. I think Paris is one of very few places where I felt pressured to search for things to wear kind-of articles. I am a girl who is most comfortable in her sneakers with jeans and sweatshirt, so I really did not want to come across as a tourist and wanted to blend in 😛 . Turns out Parisian women style of clothing is very effortless and chic. They know they have to run between the train lines and walk in the city , so they are dressed in layers and wear comfortable shoes. Exactly what you need when you visit Paris.
November was cold and a bit windy , so it was really important that we layered well to be able to walk around in the city. The side walks are generally brick based , so with my boots I was able to walk on uneven pathways while keeping my legs warm. My point being , do not compromise on comfort over style. Its more important to be comfortable if you want to enjoy Paris.
Summer is the worst time to visit Paris :
I visited Paris in November which is kind of Off-season. I mean no season is literally Off-season specially when it comes to Paris , but November hits that sweet spot when summer and fall vacationers have left the city and Xmas market explorers have not arrived yet. But even then I could feel Paris being a busy place. There was still a line outside Louvre, metros seemed packed and getting reservation of favorite restaurants still seemed a bit tricky. I cannot even imagine how would it be in Summer. Not to mention , the hotel prices really spike up in summer months. I am also told that August is vacation month for Parisians , and as a result, the majority of businesses close in August. So if you are planning to visit Paris in summer specially in month of August you might miss the local touch. You might need to book your accommodations way in advance if you want a good location. And if you are into photography , finding locations without people will be very very tough.
Do not Climb on top of the Eiffel Tower :
The Eiffel Tower is the emblem of Paris, and it is also the monument that brings the most tourists. As a first timer , you will want to hit all the famous spots of Paris and Eiffel Tower is bound to be on the top of your list. The view ( looking at Eiffel Tower from Trocadero ) is breathtaking, no doubt about it, and perfect for an Instagram post, but if you plan to climb to the top – expect to queue for several hours. And frankly , the view from the top of Eiffel tower is not even that great( see my photo below). If you see on Instagram or any social media for that matter , you would see photos with Eiffel Tower and not from the top of Eiffel tower. You would want to have Eiffel tower in your backdrop rather than being on the top of it and that is why Trocadero or Tuleries garden are perfect for those kind of shots.
Note : If you really want to have an aerial kinda view of Paris , take the funicular in Montmartre and enjoy the view from the Sacré-Coeur.
Hope these tips help you in your visit to Paris. Stay tuned for my next blog post which is basically everything you need to know to have the most magical 5 days in Paris. I will love to know your experience as a first timer in Paris. Did you get scammed, or were you extra careful? Was subway convenient for you or did you struggle with the language? Do Let me know in the comments below. Also , can’t be more thankful for you taking time out and stopping by … XOXO..