The Top 5 Paris Tips for First-Timers
By Mathilde Vuillemenot | Last update on December 15, 2023
Preparing your first trip to Paris? It's exciting, but can be overwhelming. That's why I'm sharing vital Paris tips for first-timers. I'm an experienced traveler, and I'm also a Parisian (who sees many tourists every day!). Tested and loved by fellow Paris travelers, these tips will make your adventure smoother. Let's dive in!
1. Don’t overschedule: slowdown and explore
As tempting as it is, don't rush and don’t try to do and see everything. You can’t, you’ll just stress trying to. And you’ll miss one of the best things about Paris: just strolling and enjoying Paris. In a survey, 'don't overschedule' is the #1 tip that foreign tourists recommend to Paris first-timers (55% of them!).
Plan two maybe three major things a day and then explore. I know people who travelled to 4-5 cities in a week. They were exhausted and didn’t perceive what really made each city. The objective is not to tick a list, but to embrace the city. Paris is perfect for that!
So, don’t over schedule, but do make reservations for the things that you absolutely want to do, and especially the most touristy ones (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Orsay museum…). By the way, I recommend booking the first slot of the day or the night sessions for these attractions. You’ll have a chance to see them (a bit) quieter.
Paris is a great city to explore. Allow slots with no set plans to get ‘lost’: explore the streets of Paris, walking if possible. The objective is to soak in the Parisian lifestyle. Discover the little streets, look up at the architecture, step by small cute shops, walk in a park or along the Seine.
Walk everywhere and when you're tired, stop at a café you just stumbled upon, for people watching (and a foodie break like chocolat chaud, crepes or pastries). The best places to get lost are: Le Marais, Saint Germain des Prés, Quartier Latin, Saint Thomas d’Aquin, Montmartre. And if you’re afraid to get lost in an unknown city, you can be accompanied by a private guide, like Sophie for example.
2. Use the Metro, make yourself learn how, it’s easy!
If you’re from a big city like New York and frequently use the metro, you’ll find quickly your way in Paris metro. If it’s not your case, then you must learn about the Paris metro before your trip.
First, don’t be afraid of the Paris metro. Download the app 'Bonjour RATP': it’s the official app of Paris transportation and covers metro, bus, tramway, and train (RER) – it’s available in English. Google Maps and Apple Maps also work, but they may not be as up-to-date in case of delay or suspensions.
Test the app before arriving in Paris so you feel comfortable with it. Check some itineraries: from your accommodation to the Eiffel Tower, or from the Louvre Museum to Sacre Coeur, for example. What’s great with the app is that it will present you with several transport options to your destination (bus, metro…). When I have time, I prefer the bus because I can observe Paris life.
If you’re staying at least 3 days, I recommend buying a card for public transport. You’ll save boatloads of time and money! Check the different types of cards before arriving so you buy it quickly and without much risk of getting it wrong when you arrive. You can even buy them beforehand, on the website of the Paris tourism office.
If you go with single way tickets, 3 things to know:
- Keep your ticket until you got out to the street, you can be controlled at any moment in the metro.
- A single way ticket can be used only on the underground (metro and / or train RER) or only on the outside transportation (bus and/or tramway). If your plan is to use the metro + the bus for a destination, you’ll need another type of ticket (or 2 single way tickets).
- Train RER inside Paris is included in the price of the single way ticket ; if you go outside Paris, you’ll need to buy a specific ticket.
For more information regarding the public transport, check the video Paris Metro & RER: Travel Guide for Beginners by Les Frenchies. They explain everything you need to know, the video is full of relevant information for Paris first time travelers.
Last thing, check this infographic regarding what not to do on the public transport in Paris:
3. Wear comfortable shoes and whatever clothes make you feel good
Be prepared to walk a lot and on various situations: cobblestones, uneven sidewalks, upstairs, downstairs… Even if you use taxis / Uber, you’ll walk a lot. So very comfortable shoes are a must!
It doesn’t matter what color, what kind, athletic or not. The #1 criterion is comfort. If you decide to buy specific shoes for your trip, use them a few times before. It will avoid you having blisters in Paris. For French style with your shoes, go with white sneakers (Adidas, Coq Sportif, Veja…). You’ll see a lot of French and Parisian wearing them with any types of outfits.
I know that you may think that comfortable shoes won’t make the right look on your photos. So here is my tip: bring your stylish shoes in a tote bag You’ll just have to switch your shoes when you want to make beautiful photos!
Now, regarding the clothes, you can wear everything! Dress how you like to. If you would like to have a stylish look, you can (just check it’s comfortable to walk ;). If you would like to wear a sporty outfit or sweatpants, that’s ok too. Don't worry about some Parisian etiquette or what Parisian would think. Parisians do wear everything and anything.
By the way, if you wish to wear a French beret, please do so! I saw in many forums that tourists were afraid to look silly. Not at all! And I can tell Parisians do wear berets, especially in Fall and Winter.
Obviously, regarding clothes, anticipate the weather. That being said, the weather is more and more unpredictable, so layering is key (even in summer!). And take a rain jacket and a pair of shoes to replace ones that might get wet. I also recommend taking a scarf, whatever is the season.
Point of attention: in churches, there are some guidelines for an appropriate outfit, just common sense and respect in a religious place. Here are below the guidelines for the Sacre Coeur, as an example.
For restaurants, usually, you can come as you are. Only fancy restaurants will have strict rules, for example, no sneakers or athletic shoes, no shorts for men. So be ready to dress up if you plan to go to a Michelin star restaurant or a fancy one.
4. No stress with the language, bonjour is the magic word
Here is a testimony of a friend from the US who visited Paris lately: 'Learn good morning, good night and thank you in French, and say them with a smile and eye contact to realize that the French are incredibly accommodating to the tourists. We found that almost everyone spoke fluently in English, and were very helpful. The only people we found who had limited English were drivers… Uber and taxi, but they tried and were kind.'
You just need to learn to say a few words in French. Greet everyone with ‘bonjour’. It’s the magic word when you start a conversation or ask for help. Get into the habit of greeting when you enter restaurants, shops, taxis... Many people speak English in Paris, but the effort of attempting a few words of kindness will win over.
In a nutshell: don’t stress about the language. Be liberal with 'Bonjour', share a smile and you’ll be good! And the second magic word is ‘Merci’ (thank you). No matter how you pronounce them. Actually, French people like your accent when you speak French, it’s cute!
If you travel outside Paris, lesser people speak French. The Google Translate app will be very helpful (it’s a free app). You can type in what you want to say in English, it will translate it to French and you can show it to the person, or read it yourself. You can use the camera mode to hold your phone over anything in French, and it will translate it to English, like menus at restaurants.
5. Do your research to plan a unique trip that suits you
I know this will sound old-fashioned, but for me, it’s key: buy a good guidebook and familiarize yourself with the city. Guidebooks have extensive information and are a good start to envision all that Paris has to offer. I recommend Paris by Rick Steves and Frommer's Paris Day by Day.
Then social media are a great source of inspiration. Give yourself time to create your wishlist of the wonderful things you want to do and see. Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram, Tiktok... They are all full of Paris content, from Paris travel bloggers and from Paris tourists. I'm sharing Paris travel tips on Instagram and Tiktok, check my videos and posts!
If you have doubts or questions, I recommend the Facebook group Paris travel tips. I often contribute (as a Parisian) answering the questions asked by tourists. You're probably not the first one with your question, so use the research mode in the group to find comments related to your question. And if there are no previous answers, post and ask the group! This group can also be a source of inspiration as some tourists share their itinerary and feedbacks from their trip.
Once you defined the list of the things you want to do, study the map to plan your days. It's key to optimize your time (and limit the walking 😉). If you need help on how to group your activities, check my Paris itineraries in video. I share ideas of itineraries with great Paris things to do (including restaurants) that consider and optimize the distance between the activities.
And ideally, pick a hotel in a good location, it makes the difference, especially if it is your first time. Check my Paris hotels guide for first time visitors to find out the best locations and the 8 essentials to know before booking your hotel.
In conclusion: enjoy, you're in Paris!
I’ll share here a tip that is relevant for travel anywhere, not just Paris. Be open to each new experience, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and people! You can expect some culture shock, don’t expect that things are or should be the same as at home. So just go with the flow, and have fun with the cultural differences. It’s really key to come with a positive mindset and an open heart.
Don’t worry if things go differently than planned, be open to spontaneity: adjust, adapt. For example, if the weather is rainy when you had planned an outside walk in Tuileries Garden. Switch your plan (cf blog post what to do in Paris when it rains) or just stick to your plan and take it with a smile: rain makes a lovely photoshoot with umbrellas. Or if the summit of the Eiffel Tower is closed because of the weather (too windy or storm), enjoy the level 2, the view is still nice from there, and visit later another spot with a beautiful view.
Whatever happens, remind you’re in Paris, a unique city with so much to enjoy!