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First Time Guide To Paris

first time guide to Paris rooftops

First-Time Guide To Paris

My first trip to Paris was just shy of my 21st birthday. I was studying abroad in Italy with my friends and decided to go to Paris for Valentine’s Day weekend. Just a day before the trip, I came down with terrible bronchitis. I had a fever and was sick during that trip, but I would let go of my dream of seeing Paris. I pushed through the weekend, making my recovery time from bronchitis much longer, but it was worth it. We took a double-decker bus, and I ate a banana and Nutella crêpes. Looking back, I wish there was a first-time guide to Paris to help me understand where to go and what not to do

Since my first trip to Paris, I have learned a lot by making mistakes and doing all the touristy things. A helpful blog and Google map that first time around would have saved us hours looking for Angelina Hot Chocolate. But we made memories, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

first time guide to Paris everyday parisian

 

How is Paris Laid Out?

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. Paris has twenty arrondissements spanning the left and right banks of Paris. To see the significant Paris attractions, you will want to start in central Paris and work toward 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 everywhere, and famous landmarks are accessible by a close metro line. During your first time in Paris, please don’t feel pressured to do it all.

If you fly 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 on the first day if you are tired before a few days of sightseeing. Break it up each day and enjoy the city. Choose a destination within walking distance of the hotel and grab a good meal. You can see my jet lag tips here! 

These are tips that I share with all my friends and family who tell me they are headed to Paris for the first time. It was easier to write one great blog post than to retype or forward an email. I hope this helps make your trip as a first-time visitor enjoyable!

Purchase The Paris Guide 

Suppose you are looking for a more detailed guide to Paris. Check out The Paris Guide, which is 80 pages of helpful tips and favorite restaurants, hotels, and neighborhoods to discover. It is excellent for first-time travelers or those looking for off-the-beaten-path tips.

Do I need Cash For Paris?

Paris euros coffee culture

Make sure you keep euros on you. Not everyone will accept credit cards. If you want to stop for a quick coffee or croissant, you will need small change. Check-in with your bank and notify them before leaving. I use Bank of America and can take out money from any local BNP in Paris. This is the wallet I use 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. Some spots have a minimum bank card amount that you have to reach. You can tap to pay a lot of places. Keeping euros on you for tipping and the market is a good idea.

I believe in tipping well in Paris. A good concierge is a gem of information and should be tipped accordingly. I also leave a few euros a day for hotel cleaning staff.

Tips to Getting Around Paris

how to get around Paris everyday parisian

Google Maps on your phone or a paper map from your hotel will lead you around the city to wherever you need to go. Take time to put down the map and get lost. A metro line is always nearby to get you back to your starting point. Explore the city on foot and see what you discover.

first time guide to paris everyday parisian

The best time to explore Paris without a bunch of tourists is in the early morning. It’s just you and the city. One of my favorite things to do is watch the sunrise over the Seine River.

sunrise in Paris

Visit a Local Café in Paris

parisian cafe people watching summer activity everyday parisian

Save money by ordering a quick coffee at the bar, which is a faster option to grab a quick coffee. Another option is to take a seat 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. Not a coffee drinker? 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 as they do in the US.

café culture in Paris everyday parisian

You can buy a drink and be left alone to people-watch or read a book. You can ask for the café wifi, which will most likely be available. Put your phone down and soak in the city to be immersed in the culture. 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.

5 Ways to Order Coffee in Paris

How to Ride the Metro in Paris

Buy metro tickets in a pack of 10, known as a carnet. Day passes are also available for the metro to hop on and off multiple times. The cost is cheaper than buying multiple tickets; you will always have a ticket available when needed. The metro is an affordable way to get around the city of Paris. Some stations don’t offer a ticket machine, so having these on hand is good. You must 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 must 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.

Shop Paris Metro at The Louvre Print Here

First-time Guide to Paris

Explore Paris by Bike

You can rent a city bike 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 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.

Visiting 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 C to Versailles without taking a tour.

explore versailles with fat tire on a bike

Explore The Right and Left Banks of Paris

seine river paris left and right banks

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, and the Louvre Museum is on the Right Bank.

You can easily spend a day exploring different parts of Paris, such as Saint Germain des Prés, Montmartre, and the Eiffel Tower. Choose a destination and a place to eat and build around that.

Visit the Paris Gardens: First Time Guide to Paris

The gardens in Paris are a part of the culture. Jardin du Luxembourg on the Left Bank and The Tuileries Garden on the Right Bank are both famous.

Tuileries Garden

Tuileries Gardens in the fall

Luxembourg Gardens in the Spring

explore Luxembourg gardens in Paris

Shop Luxembourg Gardens Paris Print Here

I personally love Palais Royal, a miniature garden behind the Louvre. Here, you can take a book or picnic, sit in the green chairs, and enjoy the sunshine.

Palais Royal spring Paris

For a park off the beaten path, visit Parc Monceau. It is a quick walk from the Arc de Triumph. In the springtime, you can see magnolias and cherry blossoms with pops of pink around the garden.

parc monceau in the fall Paris

Explore Montmartre: First Time Guide to Paris

explore Montmartre in Paris

Visit Montmartre for an afternoon to see Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge. You can see my full Montmartre guide here. I love grabbing lunch at an outdoor café for people-watching. You can easily spend an afternoon here. Enjoy the view of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur. Walk the street of Rue Lepic, which winds behind Montmartre, for a unique experience in Paris. Rue des Martyrs is filled with delicious bakeries and cafés.

First time guide to Paris explore Montmartre

 

Skip a Trip to the Eiffel Tower: First Time Guide to Paris

Eiffel Tower at night Paris view

The view of the city is lovely, but you miss the Eiffel Tower when you are standing there. There can be long lines, and it isn’t worth the wait. You can book advance tickets online to visit the top without delay. Make sure to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at least once. It sparkles every hour on the hour after sunset. This post has ideas on different spots in Paris to see it sparkle.

Arc de Triomphe Paris

I always recommend the view from the Arc de Triomphe to see the city of lights. Below is a view of Paris from up above.

Shop Paris Eiffel Tower Spring Print Here

Visit At Least One Museum

Purchase a Paris Pass, which gives you access to multiple museums and tourist attractions at a discount, including the Arc de Triomphe (with a great view of the Eiffel Tower), Sainte Chapelle, and Versailles. The Louvre is also included in the pass, giving you access to the Mona Lisa if seeing her is high on your list. A pass will save you money and time. For budget travelers, the first Sunday of every month allows for free entry to some of the major museums in the city.

Musee D'Orsay Paris view from The Tuileries

 

Enjoy French Macarons in Paris

Paris macarons

Paris is known for their pastries. You will hear much about Ladurée for macarons, but I prefer to visit Pierre Hermé rather than Ladurée. The tarte au citron at Sébastian Gaudard is a personal favorite.

pierre macarons paris france first time guide to paris everyday parisian

Choose a Paris Hotel with a Central Location

Paris hotels where to stay everyday parisian

You may not spend much time in your hotel room, but you will want something clean and safe. There are many options in the city of Paris and 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.

le narcisse blanc Paris hotel

During your first time in Paris, stay in central Paris. This way, you are within walking distance of all the Paris landmarks and monuments. You can return to your hotel throughout the day to rest and recharge.

hotel adele and jules paris

Try Berthillon Ice Cream on île St Louis.

Berthillon Ice Cream in Paris

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 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.

berthillon ice cream first time guide to paris france everyday parisian

Spend a Sunday in The Marais: First Time Guide to Paris

Place des Vosges is the main square and park in the Marais. Picnic here or go for a stroll. You can enjoy one of the many cafés close by. Enjoy the adorable Merci concept store on Boulevard Beaumarchais for shopping in the Marais. Explore the Bastille Market early in the morning and pick up a few items to picnic.

The Marais will be lively and filled with tourists and locals on Sunday. Place des Vosges is an excellent spot for a picnic on a warm day. Visit the Picasso Museum, which is also available on the city museum pass.

Picasso museum Paris what to do on a Sunday

L’as Au Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers has always been a favorite. There will be a line, but it will move fast. I love Miznon, just across the street.

first time guide to Paris visit The Marais on a Sunday

Café Camille is an excellent 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.

Listen to Jazz in Paris

I fell in love with jazz in Paris. The local brasserie I would have dinner at each night would play TSF Jazz on the radio. Listening to jazz brings me back to those quiet nights in Paris when I first discovered the city.

jazz in paris everyday parisian

I love Duc de Lombards. If it isn’t in your price range, check out Café Laurent on the Left Bank.

Picnic on the Seine

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 can do if there is good weather. Local markets throughout the city will offer everything you need for the perfect picnic. You can also shop a food street such as Rue Cler or Rue Montorgueil.

You can see ideas on where to picnic in Paris in this post.

seine picnic first time guide to Paris

 Visit a local boulangerie: First Time Guide to Paris.

Plan a visit to 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 escargot croissants 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. Larger groups should send one person to order, and the rest can grab a seat outside at a table.

the best croissants in paris

For the best croissant, check out this post. 

du pain et des idees Paris boulangerie to visit

 

Beware of pickpockets and scammers.

Paris is a big city, and you must always be aware of your belongings. A bag that zips is highly recommended when exploring Paris. Keep a small wallet with change, a credit card, and everything else safe at your apartment or hotel. Make a copy of your passport and send it to your family or a close friend, and email a copy to yourself so you can always have access to it.

Check out my safety tips for travelers here. 

Try A Classic French Bistro

Explore French cuisine. Steak Frites at Le Relais de l’ Entrecôte is a fun experience for your first time in Paris. They only serve steak frites and don’t take reservations. You will find a line here around dinner time. The line moves quickly, and it is worth the wait. If you have your heart set on trying this place and don’t want to wait in lines, try the restaurant at lunch right when it opens. I have had luck with getting in quickly. You will tell the server how you like your steak prepared and order anything to drink. The server will write your order on the white paper tablecloth, disappear briefly, and return with the salad starter and drinks.

Don’t skip out on dessert. You may have to save room as the waiter will return for a refill of steak and fries. The profiteroles are out of this world good and worth trying at least once.

le Relais de L'Entrecote Paris steak frites

Skip tourist streets with set menus mostly along the Champs Elysées and Latin Quarter.

Here is my list of favorite places to eat and drink in Paris

where to eat and drink in Paris

 

Visit the market in Paris.

French markets in Paris give you a taste of the local experience.

My five favorite ones are here. You can plan your visit based on your itinerary or hotel location.

I love the Bastille market. Arrive around 9 a.m. before it gets too busy. It is open on Thursdays and Sundays. You can pick up fruits, vegetables, bread, and cheese and make your picnic. To navigate a French market like a local, see this post.

Shop Paris Peonies Market Print Here

Always Pack an Umbrella Even When Rain isn’t In The Forecast

It can rain without warning, even if the weather doesn’t call for it. The covered passages of Paris make for my favorite rainy-day activity. This is one of my favorite memories from living in Montmartre. You can easily walk from the 9th at the end of Rue des Martyrs through Galerie Vivienne by only taking a few steps outside. The covered passages in Paris are filled with shops and restaurants to help pass the time on a rainy day.

Paris in the rain everyday parisian

Check out this post for ideas on what to do in Paris when it rains.

first time guide to Paris everyday parisian

Watch the sunset or sunrise.

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.

The sunrise in summer is extremely early, around 6 am, and sunset at 10 pm.

where to see the sunset in Paris

Leave the Activewear at Home/ Dress Like a Local

everyday parisian winter in paris

Comfortable shoes are a must in Paris. Vejas and other sneakers are very popular right now for men and women. A neutral-color capsule wardrobe is ideal when packing for Paris in any season. In this post, I recommend other walking shoes for different seasons.

Makeup is pretty neutral in Paris; just a few essentials, such as blush, mascara, and lipstick, are needed. Skincare is more of a focus for Parisians with a glowy, healthy look.

Visit a French Pharmacy in Paris

French pharmacie paris

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. They can explain your concerns (dryness/anti-aging, etc.) and recommend specific products for your skin type.

Take A Cooking Class

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! They also offer a market class that teaches you how to navigate a market, and you will return to the school to cook what you have shopped for.

Paris cooking class La Cuisine Paris

Please don’t feel pressured 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 helped you plan your trip to my favorite city.

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  1. I remember when you first started your posts and have enjoyed them ever since. Thank you, Rebecca, keep up the great work!

  2. Where is the size guide? How does one make a purchase if they do not know what size to purchase?

  3. Best neighborhood for a reasonable hotel and convenient access( walking) to great restaurants and sights

  4. Although it is not my first trip to Paris, I still found your tips rewarding. What do you recommend for seeing the area that artist Toulouse Latrec frequented?

  5. Thanks for this post! We are going for our first time this fall and I am trying to research a ton! Really enjoy all of your posts, thank you!

  6. Hi Rebecca! My husband and I are off to Paris for the first time in October. I kept putting off taking French lessons and missed the Alliance Françoise de Chicago sessions and the
    Lycee Francias classes butt into our trip (which is SUCH a bummer it’s a block away!) Do you have any suggestions to learn simple, fun, travel friendly French phrases on short notice? Thanks so much!

  7. I didn’t know about the carafe d’eau, neather the coffee at the bar, thanks! Maybe I was lucky but I didn’t wait that much in the line for the Eiffel Tower, and I think the view is incredible! How can you say is not?