Merci means “thank you” and it should be used bountifully because manners are fashionable and you’re in Paris, my dear.
After spending five weeks in the city of light, I’ve written this and other tips for those who are traveling to Paris for their first time.
It’s both wonderfully exciting and scary to visit a new place. The French language spoken by natives–even if you took classes–will come at you fast. The air pollution may catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it and you may spend more time on the Metro than you ever wanted. But if you can get a handle on her, Paris is incredible.
Charles du Gaulle
Most of you are probably arriving by plane. Charles du Gaulle is one of the busiest and biggest airports in Europe. It can take a long time to get in and out of it at any time of the day (several hours) and transferring between connecting flights can also take longer at Charles du Gaulle than at smaller airports.
Allow for a respectable amount of time upon arrival and departure, and between connections. When in doubt, never underestimate CDG.
Getting to Paris from CDG
So you’ve landed at CDG. You’re almost to Paris, but not quite. The airport is a bit far from the city, about 25km northeast. To avoid traffic and a regrettably high cab fare, swing for public transportation–the RER, which interconnects with the Metro.
You can catch the RER B line directly from the airport and that’ll take you into Paris where you can switch lines to the Metro. Plan to spend about 45 minutes on RER B.
To locate the RER, look for signs in the airport pointing you in the right direction. Or ask someone. They’ll speak English, but you can also say, “Où est le RER?” which means, “Where is the RER?” You’ll see self-help ticket stations where you can buy your pass. Pretty straightforward.
Gare du Nord Train Station
If you’re traveling from within Europe and have the option to take the train, I’d recommend that. The train ride may take you a bit longer than a flight, but it’ll be easier to disembark upon arrival and board when it’s time for your departure.
Plus, the Gare du Nord train station is located in the center of Paris, which will save you loads of time over arriving from CDG. From Gare du Nord, I took trains to and from Amsterdam and Rome, along with the Eurostar to London.
What’s the Best Way to Get Around the City?
The Metro, hands down. Don’t mess with Paris traffic. Plus, cabs are expensive. Ask your hotel if they sell Metro tickets. Sometimes they have bundles at a discounted price.
It’s also more convenient to buy them at your hotel, in my opinion. The Metro lines interconnect with the RER lines. The same tickets work for both.
Unlike the Subway in New York, you need your Metro ticket to enter and exit the station. So hold onto it or you won’t get out. You’ll see most people tapping their cards, but those are pass holders. You’ll have tickets that need to be inserted into the machine.
I’m telling you this because it took us thirty minutes (and all of our dignity) to enter the Metro after we kept trying to tap our tickets.
Nous sommes Américains. That means “we are Americans” which in french often unofficially translates to, “help us.”
Where Should I Stay?
Hotel du Cadran was recommended to me by a close childhood friend and I cannot say enough great things about my stay there.
The location is excellent. It’s in the 7th arrondissement, only a 10-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. Even better, it’s situated on a charming pedestrian only street, Rue Cler, which is lined with cafés, flowers shops, a macaroon shop and markets.
We sat at the café across the street from the hotel with wine and a cheese plate one afternoon while schoolchildren walked home with their parents and au pairs.
On top of the ideal location, the rooms are updated a modern, and the service is excellent. Our stay included breakfast and Metro tickets were conveniently available for purchase at the front desk. Here’s a link to Hotel du Cadran.
To note, I stayed at this hotel during my last visit. When I spent five weeks in Paris I stayed in a dorm room for my study abroad program at Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris in the 14th Arrondissement. The campus is beautiful and features a park, so if you’re in the area stop by for a quick break.
How Should I Plan my Days?
The short answer is however you want based on your needs and interests. The shorter answer is: Strategically.
Seriously, plan ahead.
Paris is big and it takes a while to get around. If you zig-zag you’ll lose a ton of time. The city is divided by arrondissements, which are districts.
Try to group together actives in the same or neighboring arrondissements. Also consider the Metro map when planning.
Look up how far it’ll take you to get from point A to point B by walking or taking the Metro. You can do this easily ahead of time using your Google search bar.
Can I use my Cell Phone?
If you don’t have an international data plan, keep your phone on airplane mode. Every minute you’re not on airplane mode will cost you. With this option, you can use texting and internet on your phone for free when connected to WiFi®. In Paris, this will likely only be at your hotel or Airbnb.
If you need to use your phone while exploring the city, you can purchase an international data plan through your provider. My provider is AT&T and they offer international data plans for $10 per day.
Should I use Cash or Card?
American Express can be used anywhere in the world without advanced notice. Most other cards (debit and credit) will require you to set a travel itinerary ahead of time or it will be blocked. You can do this by calling or simply by going online.
Also be sure to check the international fees on your cards. If they are high, you might want to use cash for a majority of your purchases.
Even if you use your credit cards, I recommend having some Euros on you at all times. You can exchange money at the airport, but the fees will be high.
If you live in America, you can get Euros from most local banks. This option comes with lower exchange fees and you’ll arrive in Paris with peace of mind and one less thing to do when you land.
Is Paris Safe?
Within reason. When I was in Paris, three of my friends were mislead on the Metro when they asked for directions. They ended up in a suburb late at night with the men who mislead them and who then tried to take advantage of them.
Luckily, they escaped. But it was traumatic for them. Be mindful of who you receive information from. Always be aware of your surroundings.
And carry a purse that has a zipper and can be seen by you at all times to avoid pickpockets–they are everywhere in Paris. No backpacks.
What Should I Wear?
Wear comfortable shoes! I never write with exclamation marks, so that tells you how much I value this piece of advice.
As you can see in my photo, I’m wearing heels. That was on my most recent trip to Paris. I went for one night and I knew that I was only walking 10 minutes in them.
When I spent five weeks there, it was a different story. I packed high heels, but I didn’t wear them once. My feet were so swollen after just a few days of walking that I didn’t even want to attempt to put them on. I didn’t even want to look at them.
The sandals I brought were high-ish quality and by the end of the five weeks they were almost ruined. You will be walking a lot. It doesn’t matter what else you wear–just check the weather and dress accordingly to your style. But wear comfortable shoes.
Do Toilets Really Cost Money?
Yes, most of them do. Free public restrooms are not a European thing. After just a few weeks in Paris my body got used to it and I wouldn’t have to use the restroom until I returned to my room. But if you get the chance, like when you’re at a restaurant, take it.
Do You Need to Speak French?
Not really. Paris, like most prominent cities and tourist destinations, features bilingual French and English speakers. At hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants around the hot spots, you’ll be fine with English. It never hurts to learn a few key phrases, though:
Où est ________? means “where is ______?”
Parlez-vous Anglais? That means, “Do you speak English?”
Je voudrais means “I would like” and I usually finish this sentence with, “a glass of wine, please.” You do you, though.
What Should We Do?
Now the fun part. I spent a summer in Paris, so I’ve had time a plenty at the Eiffel Tower but I’ve also explored lesser known museums and parks that are just as wonderful–if not more wonderful. I’ll post two more blog posts in the near future with different options.
In the meantime, check out my favorite restaurant (for the incredible views of the Eiffel Towre): Les Ombres. It’s linked below. And follow me on Instagram @megstraightup.
Related post: The Most Instagrammable Restaurant in Paris, Les Ombres.