paris

          Handy Guide to Paris (Advice for First Timers) 

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Parc du Champ de Mars

I wanted to make a really easy reference guide for the details here that might get overlooked. When I started planning my first trip to Paris, I had a hard time finding a blog that had everything practical on one page. I also got so caught up in where I wanted to go, that I overlooked some important things like, how to dress for the weather here, or the store hours(I still mess up on that today), or how to get into Paris from the airport. I compiled some different aspects to the city below and my advice for them, along with links if you need to find specific information or pricing.

Changing Currencies

  • If you forgot to make change in your country, don’t panic! There are a lot of change exchange places in Paris that have either horrible rates, or good rates but tack on huge fees. Check and see with both your bank which ATMs will give you a good rate by just taking out cash. Or bring your currency with you and go to YES change, check the actual exchange rate of your country on google and compare to YES change. Also they have a slightly better exchange rate on their website, when you go into the store ask them to honor their online rates. One of their stores is right next to the Louvre.

Phone Service

  • If you want to use your phone overseas, check with your provider to see how much it will cost you each day. Verizon RatesT-Mobile RatesSprint Rates, AT&T Rates
  • If you’re planning on traveling through multiple countries on your trip or throughout the year check out Keepgo. It’s $59 for 1GB and active for a year. It covers over 50 countries, so you don’t need to change sim cards when you cross a border. Click here for 15% off
  • You can also just put your phone in airplane mode and just use wi-fi. I still haven’t gotten a french data plan and survive off of home and café wi-fi. If you haven’t already, download WhatsApp so you can call using wi-fi, or text people in different countries without paying fees. Just ask wherever you go if they have wi-fi, “Vous avez du wi-fi ?

Museums

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Crowds at the Mona Lisa
  • This seems beyond obvious to me, but if you want to see Paris less crowded you need to do things early. If you want to go to the Louvre without tons of people, then get there before it opens. *if you can’t get there before it opens they do have a lesser used entry from the metro stop Palais Royal Musée du Louvre it’s better to enter from there*
  • Museum Pass, if you’re into museums and don’t want to wait in the queues then buy this pass. It’s a bit expensive at 48€/2 days  62€/4 days  74€/6 days but you get to skip the line in most places and it covers over 50 monuments and museums.
  • If you are a college student make sure to bring your student ID as a lot of museums and monuments will give you free access. Also if you’re under 26 from the EU most museums are also free for you.
  • If you’re going to a specific museum to see a specific art piece, go to the website and download a map of the Museum and locate where you want to go. The first time I went to the Louvre I got lost and ended up only seeing one half of it and rushing through most of it, right as I got to the wing I wanted the museum had closed.

Business Hours

  • It’s in your best interest to make an itinerary for your trip here. Because there are so many varying business hours to museums, boutiques, restaurants, bars. It still astonishes me how many places have very limited hours or are just closed randomly. And there’s nothing worse than planning to go somewhere only to show up and it’s closed.
  • Keep in mind that most businesses are going to be closed on Sundays here. My first trip, I didn’t know that and had saved a lot of little gift buying adventures to Sunday. Only to have to buy everything at the airport, plan ahead!
  • DOUBLE CHECK HOURS. This might sound a bit redundant but I can’t tell you how many times I show up to a coffee shop, cocktail bar or boutique and it’s closed. Either I forgot to check the hours beforehand or there was a handwritten note saying it’s closed. This just happened to me again on Wednesday, so just double-check the hours before you go anywhere.

Views of Paris

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Arc de Triomphe
  • The lookout at the Pompidou is one of my favorite views, it cost 5€ or is free with your museum entry.
  • The steps of Montmartre have an incredible view of Paris, and it’s free. Make sure you get there before 9:30 if you want a scenic view with fewer people.
  • The Arc de Triomphe is at the end of the Champs-Élysées and offers a great view, bonus points if you go at sunset. Click here for rates at the Arc.
  • The Eiffel Tower gives you a view and a possible workout. You can either take the elevator or walk up the 704 steps! There are different price points depending on what part of the elevator you get off. Click here for rates at the Tower.  I would recommend buying before going to avoid the long queue.
  • The rooftop on Printemps also gives a great view of Paris and it’s totally free. It’s connected to a cafe so if you want to grab some food and a beverage you get a great view as well.

Taking Transportation

  • Unlimited pass verse Carnet of 10 verse navigo week pass. The unlimited 5 day pass is 37€ which is half the price of a month pass. Or you could get a navigo week pass for 22€ but you have to buy the navigo pass for 5€ and it’s only re-loadable on Friday for the following week. Opt instead for a pack of 10 tickets for 14.50€. The ticket is active for 90 minutes and allows you to transfer between the bus and bus or train and train. So if you get off and get back on within 90 minutes you’ll be able to reuse that same ticket. However you cannot use your ticket to transfer between bus and train. Learn more about the metro and prices here.
  • ALWAYS keep your tickets. There are the train police that are randomly spaced in the subways and different times, if you cannot produce your ticket you get hit with a 63€ ticket.
  • If you want to take a cab from the airport into Paris it’s about 30€+ or you can take a big bus from the airport to a certain location in Paris. Try taking Le Bus direct instead, they’re usually under 20€ a way and sometimes they even include wi-fi.
  • Try taking the city bus instead of the train for great views of Paris. Some good lines are Line 63Line 72, Line 73, Line 42, Line 69, Line 80, Line 72. These lines offer great views and you can see so much more of Paris than on the subway. And would cost you only 1.90€ verse 27.50€ for the hop on hop off bus.
  • If you’re planning to take the bus or the metro download the app Citymapper it gives you the best routes using the train and the bus. Citymapper also tells you which sortie(exit) to take and what part of the train to be on. It’s also helpful to have a metro map on your phone so you don’t have to stare at the ones on the wall.

Weather

  • There’s a reason french people always wear scarves, the weather here changes drastically within the day and inside businesses. It may be warm outside in the sun, cool in the shade and freezing on the train. Or it could be cold outside, excruciatingly hot on the train and chilly in a restaurant. Dress in layers so you can be comfortable in every environment.
  • Remember to pack an umbrella or carry a small one with you. It tends to rain a lot here and sometimes unexpectedly.
  • If you’re visiting in the summer, just a heads up that most places here don’t have AC like in the US or at all. It can get pretty hot in Paris.

Etiquette

  • Using a few words in french here will really go far with the locals. It’s rude to assume that everyone speaks English here because they don’t. Always say bonjour, bonsoir when you enter somewhere and au revoir when you leave, it’s considered rude if you don’t. Don’t worry if you think your accent is strong, they think it’s cute, trust me.
  • Remember to speak quietly here, Americans in general are pretty loud. I’ve experienced multiple times here an American shouting loudly about private things or making fun of people or whatever. People can understand what you’re saying more than you think. Remember to be courteous.
  • If you want to kindly tell someone you don’t speak French or if you’d like to ask someone if they speak English say “je ne parle pas français” or “parlez-vous anglais ?”
  • If you’re in a restaurant and you need an english menu because you cant read french. Just say “Vous avez une carte en anglais ? S’il vous plaît

Shopping

Window display at Des Petits Hauts
  • One of my favorite parts about France is the VAT tax refund! You have to spend at least 175€ and you must fill out a form with your passport and make sure that the retailer accepts doing the refunds. The current VAT is 20% for non EU residents, which can make a huge difference on a Chanel bag or Hermes scarf. Click here to learn more of the step by steps you’ll need to take, because it’s complicated.
  • Soldes, okay this one is a bit specific but it’s amazing! So in France they really only have big sales twice a year. At first I thought “this is so dumb why don’t they have them all the time?” But now I know why…shop your favorite french brands in the fall or spring and just window shop if you’re looking for a good deal. In January and July they have soldes where almost EVERYTHING is on sale from the fall/winter season and spring/summer. There are 3 démarques, if you can hold out to the second or third you’ll get the best deals. I recently got a jacket 70% off that I’ve been crushing on since September. This upcoming soldes is from June 28 to August 8.

Cafés

Café de Flore in Saint Germain
  • Les Cafés, the quintessential idea of Paris. I hate cafés, and here’s why…the food here is mostly terrible, the servers are usually not nice(even to french people) and their coffee is usually not any good. And they’re also usually over priced; once at a cafe in Saint-Germain a plate of fries was 15€. Most french people I know come to cafés to smoke and relax and drink cheap wine with friends. If you’re wanting a typical French restaurant try a brasserie instead.
  • Although cafés do have good breakfast deals. Usually around 7€ for orange juice, croissant, bread with jam, and a coffee. If you’re dying to come, just go for petit-déjeuner.

Extra Tip

  • Find a boulangerie next to wherever you’re staying, instead of ordering just a baguette opt for a baguette tradition instead. They’re usually 10-20 euro cents more expensive but the quality is much better. Bonus points if you ask the boulangerie when the fresh bread comes out, a warm baguette is heaven!

I hope this was helpful for your future trip to Paris! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, or if there is something specific you’re wanting me to do a post about!

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