My first trip to Paris was just shy of my 21st birthday. I was studying abroad in Italy and my friends and I decided to go to Paris for Valentine’s Day weekend. Just a day before the trip, I ended up coming down with terrible bronchitis. I had a fever and I was so sick but I was going to let go of my dream of seeing Paris. I pushed through the weekend making my recovery time from bronchitis a lot longer but it was so worth it. We took a double-decker bus and I ate a banana and Nutella crêpes. I wish there was a first-time guide to Paris to help me understand where to go and what not to do.
I have learned a lot since my first trip to Paris. I wish there were blogs and google maps that first time around which would have saved us hours looking for Angelina Hot Chocolate. But we made memories and I wouldn’t change a thing.
This post is to help you have the best first trip to Paris. Paris is broken up into different neighborhoods called arrondissements. To understand how they lay on a map, the 1st arrondissement is in the center of the city and follows the path of a snail moving outwards. There are a total of twenty arrondissements in the city spanning the left and right banks of Paris. To hit the major attractions you will want to start in central Paris and work your way towards different areas of Paris if you have time.
You can walk the city from one end to the other in about an hour depending on how quickly you walk. Public transportation is just about everywhere and the famous landmarks are all accessible by a close metro line. During your first time in Paris, don’t feel pressure to do it all.
If you are flying from the US, on the first day you will be jet-lagged. Make sure to get lots of water and fresh air. Don’t walk too much the first day that you are too tired before a few days of site seeing. Break it up each day and enjoy the city. Choose a destination within walking distance of the hotel and grab a good meal.
These are tips that I share with all my friends and family that tell me they are headed to Paris for the first time. It was easier to write in one big blog post than to retype or forward an email. I hope this helps make your trip as a first-time visitor enjoyable!
Make sure you keep euros on you. Not everyone will accept credit cards and if you want to stop for a quick coffee or croissant, you will need small change. I always check in with my bank and notify them before leaving. I use Bank of America and I can take out money from any local BNP in Paris. I use this wallet for a credit card and small change.
Since the pandemic, this has been updated a bit and most places will accept a credit card or Apple Pay for coffee but some spots have a minimum bank card amount that you have to reach. You can tap to pay a lot of places. I still think it is a good idea to keep euros on you for tipping and the market.
You will have a map to get you around Paris with either google maps or your local hotel. Take time to put down the map and get lost. There is always a metro line close by to get you back to your starting point. Explore the city on foot and see what you discover. The best time to explore the city of Paris without a bunch of tourists is in the early morning. It’s just you and the city. I love watching the sunrise over the seine river.
If you want a quick coffee you can save money by ordering it at the bar. If you want to sit for a while and people watch you will pay double the price but the table will be yours for however long you want. You can use this guide for How to Order Coffee in Paris. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, you can grab a glass of wine or a coke. When you visit a local café and take a table on a terrace, the terrace will be yours until you ask for the bill and pay. The French will not rush you off like they do in the US.
You can simply buy a drink and you will be left alone to people-watch or read a book. You can ask for the café wifi which most likely will be available. I recommend putting your phone down and soaking in the city. Even if you don’t speak French, you can enjoy watching the world go by. This post on Essential Café Etiquette will come in handy.
Buy metro tickets in a pack of 10 known as a carnet. If you are only in Paris for a day or two, you can always get a day pass for the metro to hop on and off multiple times. The cost is cheaper and you will always have a ticket available when you need it. The metro is an affordable way to get around the city of Paris. Some stations don’t offer a ticket machine so it is good to have these on hand. You will need to hold onto your ticket until you reach your final destination.
Do not try to cut through without paying. There are some random ticket checkers at metro stations and you will have to show your metro ticket. If you do not have a valid ticket, you will be fined. Travel at off-peak times to avoid crowded trains (rush hour) You can take the metro as late as midnight and they will be full of people so don’t worry about feeling like you will be unsafe.
You can rent a city bike which is located at different Vélib stations around the city. There are over 1,000 stations and 20,000 bikes for rent. Make sure to inspect your bike for any damages before grabbing it. I have had a flat tire before and it wasn’t fun looking for a new docking station to switch it out. Taking a bike for a ride around the city is a great way to explore Paris. You can also book a bike tour with Fat Tire Tours. I have done two, one in the city and one in Versailles. The ticket includes a guided tour of Versailles and the grounds.
The Versailles tour we did with the Atlas Adventures group was so much fun! The palace of Versailles is a day trip out of the city but it is worth visiting on your first trip to Paris. You can also take RER B to Versailles without taking a tour.
6. Be open to the left and right banks of Paris. They are very different but equally charming. Take time to explore them both. The River Seine divides the two banks. The Latin Quarter and Musée D’Orsay are on the Left Bank of Paris and the Louvre museum is on the Right Bank.
Jardin du Luxembourg on the Left Bank and The Tuileries Garden on the Right Bank are both popular. I personally love Palais Royal which is a smaller garden behind the Louvre. Take a book or picnic and sit in the green chairs and enjoy the sunshine.
The view is lovely over the city but you miss the Eiffel Tower when you are standing on it. There can be long lines and it isn’t worth the wait in my opinion. You can book advance tickets ahead online if you want to visit the top without the wait. Make sure to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at least once. It sparkles every hour on the hour after sunset. You can see this post for ideas on different spots in Paris to see it sparkle.
You can buy a Paris pass which gives access to multiple museums and tourist attractions in the city at a discount as well as the Arc de Triomphe (which has a great view of the Eiffel Tower) Sainte Chapelle, and Versailles. The Louvre is also included in the pass which will give you access to Mona Lisa if seeing her is high on your list. The pass will save you money and time. If you are on a limited budget, the first Sunday of every month allows for free entry to some of the major museums in the city.
When it comes to French pastry, visit Pierre Hermé over Ladurée for macarons. I also love the tarte au citron at Sébastian Gaudard.
You may not spend a ton of time in your hotel room but you will want something clean and safe. There are tons of options in the city of Paris with all different budget ranges. A bad stay can make or break a first trip anywhere. I have a full list of favorite hotels in Paris that I recommend to readers and friends. I prefer boutique hotels over larger hotels.
Visit on the weekdays as the weekends are packed. I love the chocolate noir and the fruit sorbets. There are seasonal flavors that are fun to try too. Berthillon has several locations on the island of île St. Louis. If one has a line, try to go further down to try another spot. It’s worth the wait. This is a perfect opportunity to try out some of your French phrases when you order.
The Marais will be lively and filled with tourists and locals on a Sunday. Place des Vosges is a great spot for a picnic on a warm day. Visit the Picasso museum which is also available on the city museum pass.
Café Camille is a great spot for brunch or a glass of wine for people-watching. The streets will be packed with people and around this corner, there is music by local artists that will play in the afternoon.
I love Duc de Lombards. If it isn’t in your price range check out Café Laurent on the Left Bank.
Grab a bottle of wine, baguette, cheese, and charcuterie and find a spot along the river bank. This is a simple meal but it will be one of the best things you do if there is good weather.
Visit a local bakery and try different French pastries. (pain au chocolate, pain au raisin, croissant au beurre )I love to visit Du Pain et Des Idées for croissants. They are famous for their escargots croissant which is in the shape of a snail. Pain au raisins and pistachio are their traditional flavors but they also have some unique flavors including red fruits. They are worth a try. If you are going with a large group, send one person in to order and the rest can grab a seat outside at a table.
You don’t want to ruin your trip. Check out my safety tips for travelers here.
Don’t turn your mind off to French food until you try it. Steak Frites at Le Relais Entrecote is a fun experience for your first time in Paris. Skip tourist streets with set menus. Here is my list of favorite places to eat and drink in Paris
I love the Bastille market. Arrive around 9 am before it gets too busy. It is open on Thursdays and Sundays. You can pick up fruits, vegetables, bread, and cheese and make your own picnic. To navigate a French market like a local you can see this post.
Even if the weather doesn’t call for it, it can rain without warning. For ideas on what to do in Paris when it rains, check out this post.
Enjoy the sunset or sunrise from one of the bridges on the Seine. In the Summer, you can bring a bottle of rosé and watch from the Seine with the rest of the Parisians. For ideas on where to watch the sunset in Paris, you can see this post.
For a few French basics including coats, sweaters, and blouses you can check out this post. I also have a packing guide for the different seasons here. I recommend different walking shoes in this post for different seasons.
Some of the best French skincare can be bought on almost every street corner. Brands include Caudalie, Klorane, Nuxe, and Avène. The staff is very knowledgeable at the pharmacies, explain your concerns (dryness/anti-aging, etc) and they can recommend specific products for your skin type.
Book a cooking class or Market Tour with La Cuisine Paris. I have done a few classes with La Cuisine over the years including a food walking tour of the city. The macaron and croissant classes are a lot of fun!
Don’t feel pressure to do it all. I always leave something for my next trip. Paris should be enjoyed and not rushed. The classics will always be there. I hope this guide to Paris was helpful in planning your trip to my favorite city.