Europe Guides Travel Writing

The Don’ts of Paris

Hand selected advice for a successful first trip.

Visiting Paris is one of those dream-come-true moments that will live on in your heart for the rest of your life. From the fanciful architecture and historic landmarks to the decadent crepes and sidewalk cafes, there’s something for everyone in La Ville Lumière.

In light of some rookie mistakes made on our recent trip, I’ve put together some do’s and don’ts for all of my future travelers.

1. Don’t fly into the wrong airport.

I feel like this line should blatantly read don’t trust Ryan Air. The ticket you booked to Paris might actually be an airport in the easily overlooked town of Beauvais two hours north of the city. Never heard of it? Yeah, we hadn’t either.

Budget airlines have made agreements with smaller airports to cut down the costs of maintaining flights from the major hubs. It saves them money and battling red tape, but at the expense of the customer. There’s also no public transit serving the later flights. It’s an infuriating lesson to learn and could cost you a $200 taxi ride if you don’t plan ahead.

Do pay the extra to fly to CDG.

With the $200 you’ve now had to pay for a midnight taxi ride, you could have just flown straight to Charles de Gaulle! With a greater selection of flight times and direct trains (RER B) into the city center every 15 minutes, your travel is guaranteed to be a smoother experience.

Simply put: Please use our grave mistake to your benefit. Avoid the headache of traveling to and from Beauvais. It’s not worth the loss of time, money and physical energy.

For $30 more, you can get a direct flight to CDG on a significantly better airline. (At the time of writing this article, flights were researched for the month of November, traveling between Dublin, Ireland and Paris, France. Please note flight times, cost, and availability will change depending on your departure hub.)

2. Don’t go where the guidebooks tell you to.

Following a Rick Steves or Lonely Planet guide blindly is one of the worst things you can do as a traveler; especially in cities like Paris. They are excellent resources, but you’ll be sharing the experience with a couple hundred other guidebook toting tourists.

If guidebooks are your thing, I always pick up a model from three or four years ago. They cost half the price, contain over 80% of the same information, and can be ripped to shreds if you’re a cut and paste person like me. While the restaurants may change, the maps, historical facts, and cultural insights do not.

Bottom line: I read guidebooks for the wealth of well-researched knowledge they provide; not for where I should eat on a Friday night.

Do see things from a different perspective.

See that giant crowd gathering excitedly around the same vantage point holding their guidebooks to the their chests and selfie sticks in hand? Don’t just walk the other direction, run.

Just kidding! Your response doesn’t need to be so extreme, but I highly suggest you turn and walk the other way. Not only are large groups visual magnets for pick-pockets, but there’s a certain feeling of suffocation when hordes of iPad aiming travel pods push past you (and each other) to take the same exact photo.

My advice? Take a lap around the Sacré-Cœur instead of taking a selfie on the steps. Skip the Trocadéro and watch the Eiffel Tower glitter from any of the surrounding bridges. Head away from Notre Dame and look over your shoulder when you do. There are so many other ways to see the wonders of Paris.

Taking the few extra minutes sometimes means having the view all to yourself. And if you’re a photographer, like me, this means capturing a unique vantage point that will surely drop the jaws of your thirsty-for-more followers.

3. Don’t be afraid to speak the language.

If French wasn’t your choice of foreign language in college, you’re not alone. Even if you’ve successfully completed four years, falling out of practice can make you feel like a total newb. The “Use It or Lose It” struggle is real, but it’s not a total deal breaker.

What really matters is that you try. Locals are far more willing to help in their shoddy English when you greet them and thank them in your shoddy French. It’s a sign of respect for the language, the people, and the culture.

Do pick up a few useful phrases.

You’re not going to be dreaming in French after your first day, but being able to read a lunch menu or order a delicious crepe in the local tongue is a personal feat. You don’t need to know everything to get by in Paris. A few key phrases will take you farther than you would expect.

I do recommend listening to some pronunciations before you go so your ear gets used to the accent. Innovative French has a series of great, digestible Youtube videos available to practice pronunciation.

4. Don’t waste your valuable travel time standing in dizzying lines.

The worst part of any major city is the thousands of people queuing at the same time to see the same thing. Though it’s not 100% avoidable, I can certainly offer some tips and tricks:

  • Travel during the week days, early opening hours, or during the “last entry” times. There is alot less foot traffic and overall shorter queues.
  • The Paris Museum Pass gives you access to over 50 museums and monuments as well as skip the line privileges and unlimited entry. These are offered in 2, 4, and 6 consecutive day packages and are the biggest bang for your museum-geek bucks.
  • Check Google Maps for the “Popular Times” feature. This can give you a glimpse of the best days and times to visit the sights you’re determined to see.

Do hike the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

The best advice I ever received: Take the stairs to the second floor. The views are just as good, if not better, as the views from the tippy top. It’s not nearly as crowded, less chilly, $10 cheaper, and significantly less time is wasted in the queue.

Physical fitness is highly recommended, but taking the stairs is the only way I will ever see the tower again. There’s something seriously satisfying about reaching that 669th step and earning those sweeping views of the sprawling city. Consider it a badge of honor and wear the moment proudly

5. Don’t forget to slow down!

There is SO much to see and do in Paris. It’s overwhelming, really. Being such a walkable city, it feels like a constant hustle to get from one place of interest to the next. Not to mention, the cobble stone streets and endless flights of stairs can be really hard on the body. You can benefit wildly by making a mental note to s l o w d o w n.

Stop by the market and have yourself a smorgasbord of meat and cheeses while drinking wine in any of the parks. Pull up a chair in the Jadin des Plantes or Jardin des Tuileries and have yourself a power nap (after properly securing your belongings of course). Linger along the Seine River, enjoying the wild flowers in bloom. Be present in these moments as it will foster a deeper respect, awareness, and appreciation for the beautiful memories you are creating.

Do sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch the world pass by.

If there’s one thing I love the most about Paris, it’s the abundance of sidewalk cafes consistently filled with travelers and locals, alike. You can enter any plaza and hear the clanking of plates coinciding with the murmur of locals engaged in deep conversation. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Taking a moment to pause will allow your body to rest and your mind to recollect. If you send postcards like I do, sipping slowly on a cappuccino is an easy way to pen your thoughts to your precious loved ones back home. Either way, lingering for a moment as the world continues to move around you is a must for having a true Parisian experience.

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