Planning your first trip to Paris is SO exciting! You may feel a bit like you are a kid in a candy shop. Paris offers so much in the way of iconic landmarks, distinctive architecture, castles, a winding river, historic sights, and sidewalk cafes lining the streets. These 12 tips will help you sort through all the options and figure out what’s important to you and your fellow travelers.
Paris is my favorite European city. I’ve stayed in Paris six times, which isn’t a lot but it’s enough to give me a comfort level when I’m there. I feel like the city is a home away from home, and I’m content to wander without a map at times. These tips come from my view as a visitor and go out to fellow travelers to help you with a few basics I wish I had understood better on my first foray. If you’re planning your first trip (or a return trip) to the City of Light, use these tips to make the most of your time.
Some of these tips focus on sights to see and some are more practical. I’m mixing up the fun with the factual, because Paris is not at all a stodgy place of do’s and don’ts, but it is vibrant, enjoyable city. I hope you’ll fall in love with Paris, as I have.
The question of where to base yourself in Paris is major. People who have a trip already booked have looked at me completely puzzled when I ask which arrondissement their hotel is in. Paris is the only city I’ve visited that is divided into these sectors. And the numbering starts from the center of the city (the island where Notre Dame is located) and spirals around, with the Seine river flowing through the middle. So arrondissement 7 is next to 15, and 3 is next to 11, which doesn’t make logical sense.
You also hear the terms “left bank” and “right bank.” Picture moving west on the Seine toward the English Channel and you’ll know which banks are left and right. All this can be confusing.
My preference is to stay near the Seine to be central. And my favorite arrondissement is the 5th, which is also known as the Latin Quarter. From here, you have a choice of more than one Metro station, and you can walk to the Seine and across it to Notre Dame and the Louvre and on through to the other bank of Paris. If in doubt, choose the Latin Quarter.
Consider Whether You Want to Go Up in the Eiffel Tower
This is the symbol of Paris. You will be seeing the Eiffel Tower from all around central Paris. You can’t miss it!
But if you want to see the Iron Lady up close and actually go up, it helps to plan ahead. The lift takes you up to two levels. Lines for walk-ups who want to take the lift can be very long, and you are out in the weather (hot or cold).
You can book your tickets on the official site before you arrive in Paris. Or you can book a private tour company if you’re willing to pay the extra charge. Another way to go up is to take the stairs. The line for this was only about 10 minutes when I did this on one trip, and it was an awesome experience. We stopped whenever we wanted to look down at the view (or when we were out of breath). We could look around at the iron structure. It’s 700 steps, so just be sure your knees are up to it.
On Arrival Be Careful with Taxis
When you arrive at the airport, you can take a public transportation into the city. While I have done that several times, I’ve found the trains crowded and slow due to so many stops. Juggling your luggage can make it more difficult. I opted for a taxi on my last trip, paying a bit more but getting to the hotel much faster. Taxis are also at the four train stations. Here’s the important tip: Be sure to take an OFFICIAL taxi. Taxis charge a set rate to go from the airport to either the Left Bank or Right Bank. Check this website before your trip to make sure you don’t get scammed. The airport and some of the train stations have a line for the official taxis. Ignore anyone who approaches you directly to try to talk you into riding with them.
Drivers will come up to you and insist that their cars are taxis. Look for a lighted sign on the roof, and if you get inside the car, make sure there is a meter. If not, risk being impolite and get back out of the car. I learned my lesson by caving to an insistent young man who ushered us into his car. Once inside, I asked where the meter was. He suddenly spoke no English. Then he charged about three times the going rate to deliver us to our hotel. I never felt that we were unsafe, but we lost a lot of Euros before we even started seeing the sights.
Visit the Louvre and Also at Least One Smaller Museum
Yes, you should visit the Louvre. It’s a world-class museum, and Mona Lisa lives there. Plan to go before it opens to jockey for a good position in line. Spend the morning, then move on. You would need weeks to see all the art in the Louvre. So, get a taste and plan to come back.
Also, plan to go to a smaller museum that will be less crowded and more intimate and just lovely. The D’Orsay is in an old train station and is a beautiful building as well as home to a fantastic Impressionist collection.
The Orangerie houses some of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and was built just for these. The outsize paintings curve around display rooms. You can spend an hour here and feel like you’ve seen the entire museum.
The Cluny Museum is a charmer that offers art of the Middle Ages, including the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. And speaking of museums . . .
Figure Out if You Want the Paris Museum Pass
If you go to a few museums, the Paris Museum Pass can save you money. Even better, you can skip the line at the more crowded museums. Some people avoid all museums, and some love nothing better. So, before you arrive in Paris, check out the pass and see if you want to purchase it. I bought mine in the airport on arrival.
Stroll through the Tuileries
The name is a bit odd, and I wasn’t sure what this was when I first went to Paris. Now I plan to walk through this garden on every visit. Catherine de Medici created this as the “front yard” of the palace (now the Louvre) in the 1500s. The Tuileries became a public park after the French Revolution. For hundreds of years now, it’s been a place where Parisians meet and mingle outdoors. Join them and enjoy the fountains, the gardens, and the view of the Louvre. You’ll come out at the Place de la Concord, site of Marie Antoinette’s execution but today a peaceful circle with fountains and monuments.
Relax in Luxembourg Gardens
This is another place I put off going to, and then I was amazed at how enjoyable it is. If the weather is good for outdoor activities, head here. Luxembourg Gardens is where locals hang out, especially on weekends. I loved being with joggers, skateboarders, families with kids, and people sitting on benches munching on picnic lunches. Children laugh as they steer bright-colored wooden sailboats on the pond. This is a wonderful place to take in Paris life.
Download a Metro Map
You may be taking the Metro often. Download the official app before your first trip to Paris so you’ll have a map handy. Even if you walk to your chosen sights in the morning, you may be tired later in the day and want to take public transportation back to your hotel. Paris metro tickets are individual tiny stubs. You can buy a book (carnet) of 10 to save money. Hang on to your tickets, as some stations require you to put your ticket into the turnstile to leave. I have seen people stuck because they lost their ticket. This has never happened to me, only because my husband is the designated ticket holder so I can’t lose mine. On some trips, I’ve had books of tickets, and on one trip we ended up walking everywhere. You can also take Uber. It’s good to have the options in mind.
If you are not familiar with public transportation in your everyday life (as I was not), know to look at the end point of the line that has your destination. It’s easy to go the opposite direction otherwise. (Yes, I have done that more than once!). If that happens, just get off, follow signs to the tracks for the other way, and you’ll soon be on your way.
Climb to the Top of the Arc de Triomphe for a View of the Eiffel Tower
You’ve seen photos and video of the Arc de Triomphe. It is a symbol of freedom and pays tribute to those who fought and gave their lives for France. With its eternal flame and names lining the arches, it’s a moving place to visit.
And you can climb to the top for a spectacular view of the city, from the Champ Elysees to the Eiffel Tower. While the view from the Eiffel Tower is breathtaking, it does not have itself in the view. So, include the Arc de Triomphe for an amazing panorama of Paris.
Remember That the Front Desk Person Is Your Friend
I’ve met so many friendly folks in Paris. I’ve also run across some who didn’t want to interact. But in all my trips to Paris, I’ve found those at the hotel front desks extremely helpful. Some provide guidebooks, some give excellent suggestions for dinner close by, and some will chat and tell you stories. One tried to teach me some French, and I am so poor with languages that we ended up having a good laugh at my expense. In my travels, I’ve encountered places that are more friendly than others. Paris is not one of the friendliest, at least in my times there. But the front desk people have never failed to engage and leave me smiling.
Go to Saint-Chapelle for Stained-Glass Wonder
Notre Dame in Paris was the cathedral that most visitors headed to – until the terrible fire of spring, 2019. At this time, it’s closed as it’s being restored. You can still stand in the presence of an awesome display of stained glass, though, by going down the street from Notre Dame to Saint-Chapelle. The second floor of this chapel has tall, colorful windows in a semi-circle. These are astounding. This was originally the personal chapel of the king who lived in the palace next door, and it is exquisite.
The Gold Dome Is More than a Pretty Sight
The gold dome of the Invalides stands out as you travel around Paris. It’s easy to pick out from the Eiffel Tower views as it glitters in the sunlight. It’s more than just a pretty decoration, though. It’s a fascinating place where you can take in France’s military history going back about 200 years. The Invalides is a chapel, an army museum, a hospital, and the final resting place of Napoleon I. I’ve spent as little as an hour here and as much as an entire afternoon. You are sure to find something intriguing inside.
Planning your first trip to Paris can give you so much pleasure. Then go and soak it all in. And plan to go back. Because, as they say, Paris is always a good idea.
PLANNING TO GO TO PARIS? THESE GUIDEBOOKS CAN OFFER LOTS OF HELP!
Have you been to Paris? What would you advise someone planning a first trip? Let us know in the comments!
FOR MORE OF PARIS, HEAD TO THESE POSTS!
Reasons to Visit the Eiffel Tower
Climbing Up Into the Eiffel Tower
5 Reasons to Visit Luxembourg Gardens
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So many amazing sites to see! That stained glass is amazing!
This is a wonderful post about Paris, Sharon! Me thinks the success of Paris is because it has always something that appeals to a visitor. Indeed it it takes a long time you get to know all the special places of a big city! Many thanks for sharing this one with All Seasons. Have a happy week:)
Oh I haven’t been to Paris since high school (and as part of a school trip not much was planned by me) but this post really makes me want to get back there!
We enjoyed our visit to Paris though it was short. We did have an adventure as we got on the correct bus going the wrong direction from our hotel! Lesson learned. . .ask which side of the street you should catch the bus. It was a tale we’ll share for years to come!
Really nice job laying out Paris! This is my favorite European city as well. The great thing about Paris is there is something for everyone here whether you want to go to the opera, visit one of the many museums, wander one of its amazing parks or just explore the city on foot. No matter what you do, you can’t go wrong!
Good suggestions! I would love to see Paris someday.
Thanks for the wonderful tips – I will keep them in mind the next time we visit Paris.
Two trips to Paris however advise is spot on with taxis from airport. It’s a out 50min one way with traffic and non identified taxis can be as much as 250 euros scammed my wife and I. The Louvre museum is a wonderful tour however a private guide makes your visit smooth as melted butter. I did get a refund for my o line ticket purchase to one of the cathedral when it was free the day we arrived but I took a photo of my free stub and paid stub. However enjoy the food and chocolate shops.
Fabulous pictures of some really beautiful sites.
Thank you for the very helpful post Sharon! Paris has long been on my bucket list so these tips will be good to refer back to whenI eventually get around to visiting. How not to get scammed by taxis as a tourist is always good to know 🙂
Fantastic suggestions for visiting Paris! I’m actually about to return for my fourth time there and yet I still haven’t seen everything in your post! It’s always picking and choosing as to what you do; I think it is nearly impossible to see it all. It would take years if you were to try.
I would tell someone going to Paris for the first time to try to go with no expectations. I would want them to have their own experience. I’ve been twice and I think it’s a beautiful city. I especially loved Saint-Chapelle. I actually thought it was more beautiful than Notre-Dame.
Paris is one of my favorite cities too. And I love getting up there on the Eiffel Tower for the gorgeous views. These are some great tips for a first-timer. I especially like the bit about doing a smaller museum along with the Louvre. Will have to go back for that.
I think that your advice to download the metro map and to figure out your strategy for going up the Eiffel Tower are two very good ones. When we were there years ago with our four kids, we took the metro everywhere. It is such a good system and you can save a lot of money relying on it. However, you have to be in reasonably good shape and be able to walk alot. I couldn’t believe how far some of the transfers at just one stop could be from each other. As for the Eiffel Tower, we booked a tour direct on its website that allowed us to go under the Eiffel Tower. Then, we were able to skip the line to go up. It was awesome.
Fantastic photographs!! We went to Paris on our honeymoon (nearly 20 years ago!) and a post like this would have helped immensely with our planning! We loved the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe!
This is such a comprehensive post! Paris is one of my favorite cities to explore. The atmosphere is electric and I feel that there’s always something new to see!
These are all fantastic tips for a first trip to Paris! My first trip to Paris was actually my first trip to Europe (many years ago!) and I would have loved to have this back then. I loved how you mention to check out smaller museums in addition to the Louvre. While the Louvre is amazing, I actually found the smaller more intimate museums to be more enjoyable.
Amazing tips for first timers to Paris. As Paris is beautiful city and so much to do, it is always great to read some of your tips and follow them too. Staying central is my option too. Even catching the glimpse of Iron lady – Eiffel Tower from Notre De Triumph is a great idea. Also relaxing in beautiful Luxembourg gardens is my best thing to do here.
Great tips for first timers to Paris. I haven’t been yet, but maybe someday. I didn’t know you could go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. What great views indeed. Can you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or only up to levels? The stained glass at the Saint-Chapelle is really beautiful. I would go there for sure. Thanks for the tips.
Ah Paris!! Can’t wait to visit again and loved all your first timer tips! 🙂
I feel like this article was written for me! Visiting Paris is on the top of my bucket list! Thanks for the info!
Lovely photos! these are really great tips for a Paris first timer.
Should have read this before we went to Paris!
Omgoodness that stained glass at Saint-Chapelle is SPECTACULAR – definitely bookmarking it for if I ever pop by Paris!
I was so excited to go to Paris my first time. I always dreamed about going as a little kid. I’ve been a couple of times and I am going back in March! I’m definitely hitting Saint-Chapelle this time and I am curious to see what the Notre Dame is like since the fire.
Would love to visit again to indulge in their delicious food and pastries! Thank you for the tip about the taxis, wouldn’t have realised it cause I sadly just assume it will all be legit especially in Europe. And tuileries looks bwaytiful, never heard of it till now! Bookmarking your tips on pinterest, soo handy! Thank you
Paris is such a wonderful destination. I can’t wait to visit Paris, this is really helpful for planning a trip to Paris
Your post along with all its lovely photographs brought back so many fond memories of our trips to Paris and I couldn’t agree more with all the tips you’ve packed in this informative post. Definitely agree that staying central is important and the layout of the arrondissements can seem confusing at first to visitors. We love staying in 7th arr whenever we are in Paris as I find Rue Cler so charming and it’s also so close to the Eiffel.