Editor’s Note: Memories of a first trip to Paris never fade. The indelible experience of discovering one of the world’s most beautiful cities unfailingly leaves its mark. No matter what you do, once you’ve seen Paris it will never leave you. Having said that, there are ways to approach your first time to Paris that will assure you get the most out of the experience and guarantee a maximum of memories you’ll hold dear for years after your first steps on Paris’ cobblestone streets. We’ve asked journalist, podcaster, and Paris dweller Oliver Gee to share his advice on how to pull off the perfect first trip to Paris. Happy reading.
So you’ve decided to finally book a trip to Paris. Félicitations, you’re surely going to love it!
But let me tell you something. A lot of first-timers get it all wrong. They spend their whole trip languishing in long lines, getting mixed up on the Metro, or visiting tourist spots when Paris has so much more to offer.
Here are ten tips from a local to help you make the most of your first trip to Paris.
Get the Eiffel Tower out of the way early or avoid altogether.
The first thing people ask you when you get back from a trip to Paris is “Did you climb the Eiffel Tower?” The Eiffel Tower is amazing, but it involves a lot of lining up, so considering buying a ticket in advance, paying a little extra, and skipping the queue. That said if, like many of us, you hate lines, skip the tower and get a drop dead view of it from afar by climbing to the top of Sacre Coeur, visiting the terrace at Galeries Lafayette or while enjoying a meal in the brasserie on the balcony of Printemps du Gout.
Base yourself centrally and rent an apartment for your stay
Paris is an extremely walkable city. Imagine how nice it will be to be able to pop back into your Paris apartment rental for a breather. Leave the Metro for the hordes of tourists and walk between destinations from your centrally located apartment. Renting an apartment is the perfect way to truly experience the city as a Parisian. You can cook, dine, and enjoy extra space and amenities often for less then the cost of a tiny hotel room.
Leave a whole day empty on the itinerary
Embrace the spirit of the flâneur- a French word, referring to someone who wanders aimlessly. Wandering is an extremely Parisian thing to do and Paris is the perfect place to do it. Leave your guidebook at home, take a few Euro for snacks along the way, and set off. Get lost. Follow the smell of croissants. Try, for one day, to set yourself apart from all the other tourists standing on the intersections consulting oversized maps. You can do it!
Explore the Canal
Tourists tend to have checklists, filled with amazing sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Seine, and Montmartre. But why not set aside an afternoon to check out something slightly off the beaten path. The Canal Saint-Martin, one of the hippest and most happening places for young locals, is a gem of a neighborhood to explore and get a taste of the real Paris. Find a terrace and do some people-watching to see today’s Parisians do in their natural habitat.
Learn how to say ‘non, merci’
I hate to say it, but tourists are the number one prime target for street scammers, and there are quite a lot of them in Paris. They’ve got countless tricks all aimed at taking your money. Maybe they’re offering you a string bracelet, a lost wedding ring, maybe they’re asking you to sign a petition or bet in a game of chance. My tip: Say ‘non, merci’ (“no thank you”) to each and every one of them. Say it politely and firmly and move on. They’re experts at tricking you so don’t give them the chance.
Say Bonjour to every single person you come across
You probably have heard this before, but it’s repeated time and time again for a reason. Parisians are often (mistakenly) said to be rude, but it’s they who think you’re being rude if you don’t start an interaction with the word bonjour. Chances are, they’ll be able to tell immediately that you’re not French, so don’t worry about getting stuck in a conversation you don’t understand. Just say the magic word – when you buy a ticket, when you go in a shop, when you get pulled over by a police officer. Always say it, in France, bonjour is the magic word.
Have cash, but not too much
Paris is surprisingly slow to embrace credit card payments, so you’ll have to make sure you always have a few Euro on you. I once saw a sign that said the card minimum was 17 Euro, proof that your best bet is to always be able to pay in cash. But remember, there are also pickpockets about, so don’t carry more cash than you’re prepared to lose.
Try the river boats
These things may look like a tourist trap, but the boats that go down the Seine River are brilliant. Here’s why: 1) They’re excellent value for money 2) They’re a superb way to see a lot of the main sights quickly 3) They’re a unique view of Paris. It’s a great way to get a glimpse of what the city has to offer – without having to deal with the traffic or the other pedestrians in the way.
Enjoy prime real estate on a terrace
People-watching is a national sport for Parisians, and there’s nowhere better to do it than the terraces of bars and cafes. The terrace itself is more important than the quality of the food or the drinks, so find a good lookout and plant yourself there for at least an hour to watch the world go by.
While it might seem strange to non-Europeans, waiters in France have very little expectation that you will ever leave, so don’t feel like you’re overstaying your welcome. Just enjoy it. Heck, stay for a second drink. Try Rue Bretagne, Rue Montorgueil, or Rue des Abbesses for some excellent terrace options.
Have a picnic in a beautiful park
Grab a fresh baguette (be sure to bite the end off while walking – all Parisians do) and some charcuterie, wine, to put in a picnic blanket. Head to one of Paris’s parks and spend the afternoon there. Try Buttes Chaumont, Parc Monceau, the Jardin de Luxembourg or the Jardin des Tuileries as your first options, depending on where you’re staying.
Oliver Gee is the host of the popular Paris podcast The Earful Tower. If you like this list, you’ll probably like his show- it makes for perfect listening if you’re planning a Paris vacation.
Written by Oliver Gee for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.