Visiting Paris for the first time and wondering what to expect? Helpful tips for Paris travel and first time in Paris tips to set realistic expectations for your upcoming vacation.
For as long as I could remember, Paris was at the tippy top of my travel wish list, up until 2014 when I planned my first solo vacation to the ‘City of Lights.’ Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two more times, most recently with my mom and son. Experiencing Paris through their eyes prompted this blog post and podcast episode.
Whether you’re drawn to the iconic landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower or the grandeur of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, the Parisian timeless fashion style, culinary delights, or more relaxed way of life, these tips for visiting Paris for the first time will not only let you know what to expect, but also pave the way for a truly unforgettable vacation.
If you’re dreaming about visiting Paris one day, or actively planning your vacation in the coming months, here are some things first-time visitors should know about Paris (from the perspective of an American millennial). Such as when crossing the street, be mindful of bike lanes, cultural norms and differences, and tips for navigating the city with a baby.
Listen to this podcast episode below.
This podcast episode is made in partnership with Medjet. While travel medical insurance reimburses you for the costs associated with medical emergencies while traveling, most medevac benefits will only get you to the nearest “acceptable” hospital capable of stabilizing and treating you. To get moved home, you need an air-medical transport membership like Medjet.
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A First Timers Guide To Paris
Some love Paris while others dislike it vowing never to return again. I strongly believe everyone should visit at least once and form their own opinion. I hope traveling to Paris for the first time is as magical for you as it was for me and my family.
Listen to this podcast episode on YouTube.
1. Smoking is common.
Unlike the U.S., smoking cigarettes is alive and well in Paris. While smoking indoors is prohibited and strictly enforced, smoking is normal when sitting outside, including on a patio or bistro sidewalk.
This is especially important to keep in mind if you want to sit outside with your baby.
It’s common to see people enjoying a cigarette while people-watching at an outdoor cafe.
Typically smoking is seen as a social activity and a way to take breaks throughout the day.
2. Emphasis on face-to-face interactions.
People are less on their phones. They may have their headphones on, but overall it feels like screen consumption is less prevalent in Paris.
There’s more of an emphasis on making personal connections, catching up with friends, and enjoying the present moment.
3. Paris is a walkable city.
While there are plenty of convenient and affordable public transit options like the metro and bus system, if you prefer to walk, you certainly can.
On foot, it’s easy to spend an hour or more getting from one side of the city to another.
One of my favorite things about Paris is that a lot of attractions are relatively close together. For example, the Arc de Triomphe is near the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mar, Champs-Élysées, Jardin des Tuileries, and more.
Since we stayed near the 9th arrondissement, we easily spent an hour walking from one side of the city to another.
Pack your comfortable walking shoes.
Alternatively, consider a multi-day Paris hop-on, hop-off bus tour for sightseeing and transportation built all in one.
4. Easier to use cash.
Not all places accept credit cards or there may be spending minimum requirements when using plastic, so have Euros on you especially for coffee and quick bites like a croissant. Cash is also great for tipping. Round up for good service. Tipping in Paris isn’t obligatory; €1-2 is more than fine.
5. Avoid using the metro with a baby stroller.
If you plan on taking the metro with a baby stroller, be mindful there are a lot stairs and escalators. While there are elevators at some stations, it’s pretty random, so prepare to exert a lot of effort navigating with your baby.
For a compact, lightweight stroller, I use the Blahoo Lightweight Baby Stroller. I love that you can push a button and the stroller collapses making it easy to fold when walking in/out of the train.
Personally, taking the metro was too much of a hassle for us. We much preferred to walk long distances and when we were too tired, we opted for Uber rides (once or twice during our weeklong stay. That being said, we were on vacation and had no where urgent to be.
If you decide to take the metro, using Google Maps will help you navigate: click here for other recommended vacation planning apps.
6. Sidewalks can be difficult to navigate with a stroller.
Speaking of difficulty navigating with strollers, be prepared for uneven sidewalks and surfaces.
Sometimes our stroller would get caught in the ramp making it a jarring experience when crossing the street. We never knew when we would have to adjust our stroller last-minute in a hurry.
Countless times walking in Paris I wished the sidewalk ramps were as smooth and uniform as in the US.
7. Be mindful of bike lanes.
On popular streets, right when you leave the side walk, there are bike lanes which may be difficult to recognize. Bike lanes are typically marked with road markings. Always look both ways before crossing, and be mindful of oncoming cyclists.
8. Groceries and the pharmacy conveniently on every block.
Grocery stores and pharmacies are very common, as well as boulegeries (bakeries) and chocolate shops.
A lot of neighborhood groceries are small markets where you can find fresh produce, dairy products, meat, bread, and wine.
Popular grocery stores include Monoprix and Franprix which have an extensive wine section.
Pharmacies are usually marked with a green plus (+) neon sign. Here you can get prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, skincare products, more.
9. Easily get baby supplies on the go.
Don’t worry about forgetting baby supplies at home because you can easily grab a lot of items at the grocery store, including distilled water, wipes, and baby food.
10. Youth get discounts.
People under 25 years old can take advantage of discounted tickets to museums and cultural attractions, public transit, and more.
Be sure to carry identification that proves your age, such as your passport or license.
If you’re a student, it’s worth carrying a valid student ID as proof of eligibility for discounts, even if you’re not a student in France.
11. Uber is easy to use.
Uber is a convenient and a reliable transportation option in Paris.
Use the Uber app already installed on your phone. When booking an Uber in Paris, there are no language barriers. Everything is translated in English for you and pay using the payment methods already on file or add a new one.
Unfortunately, at the airport we couldn’t order an Uber ride.
Flat rate taxi rides from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport was €60 to the 9th arrondissement. Look for the official taxi stand, avoid unsolicited offers to take you the city center.
While it took a lot longer to get to our hotel, we choose a shuttle bus for a fraction of the price which dropped us off at Paris-Opéra within 1.5 hours.
12. Visiting the Eiffel Tower
Due to high summer demand, elevator tickets to the Eiffel Tower’s second floor can sell out fast, so if you know you want to visit, book early.
While you may not be able to take the elevator up, everyone can take the elevator down regardless of ticket type.
If you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower with a baby, beware there’s no where to store your stroller or diaper bag.
On the second floor, there’s a lounge area with a tropical theme where you can rest, eat a slice of pizza, order coffee, or enjoy a cocktail.
13. You may have to pay to use the restroom
While this is more common in other European cities. There are places where you have to pay to use the bathroom, like Notre Dame Cathedral: €2.50 per use; credit card or cash accepted. The bathroom was upscale, neat, and attendants were at a ready available to clean and be of assistance.
14. Shops in residential areas closed on Wednesdays.
Since we stayed in a residential neighborhood, we noticed a lot of small shops closed on Wednesdays.
Larger stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, and tourist-oriented areas maintained regular hours throughout the week, including Wednesdays.
Keep in mind, businesses and attractions may not be open every day of the year, so double check operating hours online beforehand.
15. Wait staff won’t rush you.
While, waiters will come right away to take your order, they don’t rush you afterward.
Food service in Paris is fast, but after they serve you, they’ll let you be, so expect to be at a cafe or restaurant for a while. Enjoy the slower more relaxed pace of life!
Also, handwritten menus in cursive are popular, which may be difficult to read.
16. Late dining after 7 pm
It’s quite common to grab dinner between 7:30 pm and 9:00 pm in Paris. Restaurants, cafes, and bars are quite popular even later, well into the night.
17. Parisian fashion (summer).
Generally Parisans wear loose fitted clothes in the summer. I didn’t see a lot of short shorts or skin tight clothing like in the States. Babies were covered up to protect from the sun.
In addition to using sunscreen, I recommend bringing light-weight long sleeve shirts and pants for your baby.
18. Learning a little French goes a long way
Do you need to learn basic French for your trip?
While a lot of people speak English in Paris, or want to practice their English with you, making an effort to learn some basic French phrases goes a long way, even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect. Most locals will appreciate your effort.
Don’t assume everyone speaks English; start with French and see how far you get.
For example, say “Bonjour” when entering any restaurant or establishment. It’s the polite and respectful thing to do.
Some popular French phrases to know before you go include:
Please – S’il vous plaît
Yes – Oui
No – Non
Thank you – Merci
Excuse me – Excusez-moi
How much does it cost? – Combien ça coûte?
Good morning / Hello – Bonjour
Good night – Bonne nuit
Help me – Aidez-moi
Do you speak English? – Parlez-vous anglais?
The bill – L’addition
The bill, please – L’addition, s’il vous plaît
Water – L’eau
The menu – La carte
Restrooms – Toilettes
I am lost – Je suis perdu
19. Wine is affordable.
You can find reasonably priced wines in Paris, especially if you purchase them from supermarkets or local wine shops.
Dining at restaurants or cafes, a pitcher of wine (4 glasses) is cheaper than buying a single glass.
20. Ask for ketchup, see their reaction
Partisans think asking for ketchup is weird, likely because it overpowers the flavors of the dish. But here in the States, we love our ketchup, sauces, and condiments, especially on fish and chips, burgers, and fries!
Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.
21. You won’t see it all.
You can pack your itinerary with things to do in Paris from morning until night and still won’t see everything. This is one of my top travel tips for Paris.
Don’t stress about crossing things off your list, or missing something quintessential.
Relax, space out activities, and appreciate what the city has to offer, for whatever time you have. Although I recommend spending 5-7+ days on your first time to Paris to soak it all in.
There will always be a next time.
I hope these travel trips to Paris offered lots of insights, answered some of your questions about traveling to Paris, France and what you can expect.
What other travel tips for first time in Paris would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Danielle Desir Corbett paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27, and has traveled to 27 countries, including her favorites, Iceland, China, and Bermuda. Go here to learn Danielle’s incredible story, from struggling financially and in debt to finding creative ways to earn more and live on her terms. Listen to The Thought Card Podcast, where Danielle shares how you can creatively travel more and build wealth regardless of your current financial situation. Reach out to Danielle by contacting: thethoughtcard (at) gmail (dot) com.