Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, and it’s easy to see why. Two of the most iconic sights in the world lie in Paris: the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Movies like An American in Paris, Moulin Rouge, Midnight in Paris, Amelie, and even Ratatouille display the beauty of the city on the big screen and inspire us to see it for ourselves. And let’s face it, everyone is dying to taste the escargots, foie gras, crepes, French onion soup, and French fries, right? Just a tip on the fries – dip them in mayonnaise, not ketchup – Que magnifique!
The Louvre and Eiffel Tower can both be seen in one day, but the true essence of the city cannot be experienced in that short of a time. It would take much more than a full day at the Louvre just to see everything, and that doesn’t count taking time to stop and appreciate any of the works! There’s definitely enough to see and experience in the city for several full days, so please don’t treat Paris as a layover city if your schedule allows it. Try to live like a local for a few days. In the morning shop for a picnic lunch by visiting separate stores for bread, fruit, cheese, meat and wine, just like Parisians. (There are no one-stop shops like Wal-Mart here!) Wander the streets and get some sightseeing in during the afternoon. Then, take a full two hours to enjoy your dinner with a glass of wine (or two) and your traveling companion. Don’t be in a hurry, and know that your server isn’t in a hurry either. Enjoy your surroundings as well as the fact that you are the envy of all your friends and family.
As you begin to plan your trip there are some things you will want to consider.
- Cost-Traveling in general can be expensive, but by planning ahead and researching, you will know what is worth the money and what isn’t. Don’t travel all the way to Paris and not see the things you flew thousands of miles to see just because of the cost.
- Lodging – Depending on the time of year, a budget hotel can cost €50-70 per night, but don’t forget to look at Airbnb because you can live like a true local and rent a cozy studio for about €40-70 or a more lavish flat for about €80-100 per night.
- Food – Quick service food and snacks cost €5-10 per person, picnicking for lunch is a great way to save some time and money, and a nice spread can start for as little as €10 per person. Dinner at a sit down restaurant takes at least two hours and averages €25-40 with wine. Restaurants don’t turn tables over multiple times in a night like they do in the states, so when you sit down you have the table for the entire night if you like. You will have to attract the server’s attention if you need anything like another glass of wine or the check, so don’t perceive this as being rude, they are just giving you space to enjoy your meal and your company. To minimize this cost search for a restaurant Groupon or eat your sit down meal during lunch, when the food is the same, but the cost is less.
- Transportation – The metro and train are easy and affordable ways to get around the city. A single pass costs €1.80, and a 10 pack (carnet) costs €14.10. You can also purchase the Paris Visite Travelcard if you plan on using the public transportation extensively, which is what I did. This travelcard comes in 2 options: zones 1-3 which is the city center, or zones 1-5 that additionally covers the CDG and ORY airports, Disneyland, and Versailles. The pass is valid for 1, 2, 3, and 5 days and costs €11, €18, €25, and €36, respectively for zones 1-3 and €24, €36, €50, and €61, respectively for zones 1-5.
- Activities – Depending on how many sites you wish to see, check out the Paris Museum Pass. It’s good for 2, 4, or 6 days and costs €48, €62, and €74 Euros, respectively. I definitely got my use out of the 4 day pass, and on my 5 days in Paris, I spent on average less than €30 per day on activities, and that includes one day at Disneyland, which costs €47 for a single entry ticket. Everything else I wanted to see (with the exception of the Eiffel Tower Summit and ascending the dome of Sacre Coeur) was included with the Museum Pass.
- Timing –High season, from June to August, offers the largest crowds, but the most pleasant weather with highs in the 70’s. The shoulder season can provide cheaper flights and hotels and shorter lines. It runs from April to May and September to October, but the temperature is a little cooler with highs in the 60’s.
- Language – I’m sure you’ve heard that the French people are rude, but really, this is as far off as it gets. The French are actually very proper and polite when compared to our brash American etiquette. For example, always greet them before asking a question, placing an order for food, or starting a conversation. While at home in a shop, we can walk right up to an employ and ask where the cat food is, but in France you should start with a greeting or you might get a rude response or ignored all together. If you think about it, it would be nice to be greeted before someone starts making demands of you, right? Simply learn some French greetings (hello-bonjour, good evening-bonsoir) along with please (s’il vous plait), thank you (merci), and goodbye(au revior), and you’ll be singing the praises of the French just like me.
- Flight – You will probably have an overnight flight to Paris if traveling from the United States. If you can sleep on a plane this is good news because you won’t have to keep yourself entertained for the 8+ hour flight. All you have to do is figure out a good position to sleep in so that you’re not drooling on your neighbor’s shoulder. Unless that neighbor is your significant other, in which case I highly encourage it! If you have trouble sleeping, then take a sleeping pill, grab a pillow, and think sleepy thoughts. On your way home from Paris you will probably need to stay awake on your flight. Pack a variety of activities and snacks to keep you busy and your mind off of the time. I download a book and games on my tablet that don’t require internet, look at the airline magazine, order food and get up to stretch my legs every couple of hours.
- Jet Lag – I have gotten pretty good at being able to get over jet lag pretty quickly. My two best friends when I travel a long distance are sleeping pills and caffeine. I highly recommend 5-hour energy because of its small size, and a few bottles can easily be slipped into the liquids bag of your carry-on luggage. It’s in your best interest to adjust to your destination’s time zone as soon as possible, or at the very least when you enter the plane. If your flight arrives in the morning then you need to sleep on your flight, stay up all day, and go to bed at a reasonable bedtime. If by some chance your flight arrives to Paris in the evening, you need to do everything you can to go to bed at a reasonable bedtime so you don’t wake up at 3am bright-eyed and bushy tailed or sleep half of your precious vacation day away.
- Scams – Unfortunately, I’ve never been to a city where they are more scam artists than in Paris. It seems pessimistic to list this in a travel guide, but I was definitely glad I was warned before my trip, and I hope you will be as well. If you are aware of the scams then you can easily prevent yourself from being taken advantage of. I personally witnessed or experienced all of these, but if you keep walking and say “no” you’ll have no problem.
- Pickpocketing – Tourists are the main target because we hold all of our goodies in our wallets and purses. To mitigate any loss, travel with a money belt under your clothing for passports, credit cards, and extra cash. Only keep a day’s worth of cash in your purse or wallet, carry your wallet in your front pocket, and secure your purse under your arm or even under a jacket.
- Lost ring – A ring goes tumbling by with someone frantically chasing after it. Once the victim retrieves the ring, the scammer tells the victim to keep this “gold” ring and just asks for a small sum of money in return.
- Bracelet – A scammer begins to tie a string around the victim’s wrist and then asks for payment in exchange for this handmade bracelet.
- Guess the Cup – A cup and ball game is played where the scammer fools the victim into betting which of three cups the ball is hidden under. This game is often rigged where a second scammer acts like a tourist and begins betting big money and guessing correctly to lure in victims.
- Train Station Aid– Scammers act like officials at the train station to help tourists purchase their train tickets. They then ask for a fee for their service.
- Clipboards – Scammers go around waving pens and clipboards, requesting signatures. What the victim would end up signing is a pledge to make a monetary donation.
- Distractions – Sometimes scammers create a distraction in order to more easily pick the pockets of tourists. When we are distracted by someone falling at the train station or by a street performer, our hands aren’t guarding our belongings
Don’t let the fear of pickpockets or scammers dampen your excitement about visiting Paris. It’s really a lovely city that’s easy to fall in love with. Perusing the Louvre while walking in the footsteps of France’s kings is incredible, walking through the Latin Quarter is picture perfect, and watching the Eiffel Tower light show at night is magical. Any bad experiences you had will fade quickly and the good memories will stay with you for a lifetime.