So you’re planning a trip to the city of love. There are so many great things about Paris, the food, the architecture, the fashion, the art, and the culture to name a few.
I remember my first trip to Paris when I was on a teaching exchange in university. I was overwhelmed when leaving the CDG airport, trying to get the RER into Paris, and navigating the metro. I was travelling with two other girlfriends, and I was luckily informed by my mother ahead of time to “pack light” as the smaller metro stations are not luggage friendly (my friends were not so lucky). As three “divas on a dime”, we didn’t want to take a 50€ (approx. $60 USD / $75 CAD) cab ride from the airport to our airbnb, but if you have the funds, Paris has a 50€ flat rate fee for rides in from the airports.
We made it to our apartment, and the struggle to get there was forgotten once we stumbled upon the beautiful iron lady (la Tour Eiffel) for the first time.
Here are some tips to make your trip one to remember:
1. Where to stay: : Know your neighbourhood
If you’re hoping to get the “like a local” anesthetic to your stay in Paris, try renting an airbnb rather than a hotel. There are plenty of airbnbs to choose from, with different views and amenities (balcony, pools, breakfast included).
More importantly, when looking for a place to stay, you need to consider the neighbourhood. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (districts).
Is the centre of the city and includes the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens, Pont des Arts, Les Halles, Ile de la Cité, Place de Vendôme, Rue de Rivoli, and a long shot view of the Eiffel Tower overlooking the river Seine at Place de la Concorde. Accommodations will be more expensive, but you can save on transportation as you can get to most central attractions on foot.
Smallest district, home to rue Montorgueil, which is bustling with cafés and shops. Also home to the textile district.
3e & 4e
The Marais boasts medieval charm with cobblestone streets, beautifully crafted architecture, and ivy covered cafés. This area was once kept by Paris’s Jewish population, and more recently hosts the LGBTQ community. Here you’ll find the Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame, Place des Vosges, Musée Picasso, Hôtel de Ville, and The National Archives. If you choose to stay here, be sure to visit the many trendy cafés, bars, and shops.
The Latin quarter, where you will find the Pantheon, and the Sorbonne. As this area is closer to the university and some prestigious high schools, it’s often frequented by students making it a bit more difficult to get around.
Saint-Germain des Près, where you will walk in the footsteps of Camus, Sartre, and Hemingway. Here you will find my favourite garden in Paris: Luxembourg, as well as many boutiques and cafés, more notably: Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.
One of the most ritzy neighbourhoods in Paris and home of the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, and Les Invalides. Staying here will be pricy as you will be among the French upper class.
If you love to shop, this is where you should stay, on the Champs Élysées. Known as the shopping district in Paris, and the most expensive (as in, you can wave to Oprah at a neighbouring balcony). Here you can also climb up the Arc de Triomphe or visit la Place de la Concorde. If you’ve ever wondered where Parisian’s flawless style comes from, it’s here in the 8th.
9e & 10e
Home of Opéra, Galeries Lafayette, and Printemps. These districts span a larger area and you may find yourself here if you’re hoping to travel anywhere by train (Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est)
A young and edgy area of the city with many bars and a rich nightlife. Not ideal for travel with children, but costs for accommodations are very reasonable here. This is also where you can visit la Place de la République.
The 12th district is starting to get a little farther from the main tourist attractions, which on the bright side means there may be less tourists in this area of town, less crowded streets. Here you can see the Bastille opera, and Promenade Plantée (which is an elevated walkway made from an abandoned rail line). You’ll also have easy access to Gare de Lyon in the 12th.
Less tourist attractions in this district, high-rise apartment buildings, schools, and the National Library of France. Easy access to Gare Austerlitz if you’re hoping to catch a train out of France.
Located on the left bank of most southern Paris, the 14th is a residential area. As it’s mostly locals, it’s a quieter area of the city, which may be nice after a busy day of sightseeing.
Residential area, view of the Eiffel Tower. However, if you want the best panoramic view of Paris, Montparnasse is located here with it’s rooftop observation deck. Even if you don’t say in the neighbourhood, Montparnasse is a must-do!
A stone’s-throw away from the Arc, this is an upscale neighbourhood with a more North American population of people who have been relocated to, or moved to Paris. Here you can visit Passy or le Musée de Tokyo for some contemporary art.
This is an up-and-coming neighbourhood for French artists and writers. Close to Champs-Élysées without the pricetag.
Best known for its hilltop views of Paris, the Sacre Coeur basilica, and Moulin Rouge this bustling place is full of shops, cafés, and starving artists. One of my favourite places in Paris!
19e & 20e
If it’s your first time to Paris, I would not recommend staying in the 19th or 20th. Other than the Père-Lachaise Cemetery there isn’t much to do or see here, and they are quite the metro trip to the larger attractions.
2. What to do: The Paris Pass
If it’s your first time to Paris, chances are you are going to want to visit all of the main attractions (Château de Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre). I suggest a trip of 5 days or longer to take everything in.
The last time I was in Paris, I purchased the Paris Pass, which saved me a bunch of time and money. The Paris Pass also includes the Museum pass and a Metro Pass for metro areas 1-3. This pass does not cover the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, the Dome at Sacre Coeur, or the Catacombs. Speaking of the Catacombs, my biggest piece of advice for this attraction is: if you’re going in high season (July-August)save yourself the 5 hour wait and BUY THE SKIP THE LINE TICKET!!! Even those who had purchased advance tickets had to stand in the general queue.
If you’re like me, you like to have things organized before you leave for your trip. My husband and I planned a rough daily itinerary for what we wanted to see and tried to stay in the surrounding arrondissements. This made for a lot more sightseeing and less time underground on the metro. However, one of my favourite things while traveling is just exploring the city and getting lost. Don’t be too strict with your itinerary and be sure to leave time to relax and sip some rosé or coffee in a park, those feet are going to get a workout on the cobblestone streets and many stairs in Paris.
3. Getting Around: The Paris Metro
The metro is by far the easiest way to get around Paris. It’s quick and easy to use once you get used to reading the metro map. You can download a free Paris Metro map on your cell phone which will help you look less like a tourist when trying to figure out your direction or your route.
The map is full of coloured/numbered metro lines, and coloured/lettered RER (train) lines. To travel the metro, find your closest metro station, and your desired destination (take note of any transfer points). To ensure you’re going in the right direction, always read the name at the end of the line, not just the destination you’re hoping to get to!
If you don’t get the Paris Pass, you can purchase a Metro pass at the RER B Station at the CDG airport by ticket window, or ticket machine (which allows for instruction in English). When buying your tickets, take note of which metro areas it will work for (1-3 [indicated in light yellow on the map] will not get you from the airport into Paris, or to Versailles). Alternatively, there are ticket machines or windows at almost all metro stations to buy tickets.
Sometimes when exiting the train, there will be metro workers checking tickets. They just want to ensure that you did indeed purchase a ticket and place it through the ticket reader before hopping on the metro (as some people have jumped the ticket reader for a free ride…). Just hand them your ticket, they’ll scan it, and you’ll be good to go!
These tickets are very small, so be sure to keep it in a safe place away from your cell phone to protect the magnetic strip!
There is also an offline Paris map if you don’t have a large travel data plan, which will follow you around using GPS.
4. What to Wear: Packing for Paris
Packing for a trip to Paris can be a daunting task if you’re hoping to look at chic as the locals. When packing, skip the sneakers, white athletic socks, and fanny packs. Instead, opt for clothes that work cohesively together. Think capsule wardrobe…for travel. (If you didn’t read it above, it’s ideal to travel light if you’re navigating the metros). I suggest that you pack a purse that has a zipper as well as an umbrella so that you don’t get stuck in the rain and suckered into buying one for 15€.
5. La politesse & Staying Safe:
If you can, learn some French before you go, it goes a long way! Although being fluent in the language is not imperative as many workers in Paris speak English, a simple “bonjour” or “merci” show that you appreciate the French language and are at least attempting to be polite.
I suggest learning basic greetings, numbers, purchasing tickets, or general restaurant vocabulary if they don’t offer an English menu. Knowing French also goes a long way with deterring the gentlemen who are trying to sell trinket souvenirs all over Paris (“Non merci”).
In terms of staying safe in Paris, if you’re travelling smart, pickpocketing is probably the only thing you’ll have to worry about. Pickpockets like to frequent the busier areas that they know tourists will be (Such as the RER B from the airport, near tourist attractions, along the Champs-Élysées) Do not leave valuables in any of your pockets, use a bag that zips up that you can keep close to your body, and don’t flash your money or credit cards in public. Make copies of your important travel documents, and don’t carry all of your cash on your person at once, if you can keep it in a safe.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these travel tips, and that you have a wonderful time on your trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris!