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The Ultimate Paris Travel Guide

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Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Thoughts of Paris often bring to mind images of the Eiffel Tower or the glass pyramid sitting outside The Louvre. But the city is so much more. When you look past its breathtaking collection of monuments and buildings you see that Paris is really the beating pulse of France — the nation’s capital and home to 20 percent of the country’s population. For those who want to experience French culture firsthand, Paris is the city to visit.

Paris Travel Guide Quick Links

5 Quick Tips for First-Time Paris Visitors

  • Buy a carnet of metro tickets. A carnet is essentially a pack of 10 metro tickets you can purchase at a discount — it turns out to be less than €1.50 per ride, as of March 2019.
  • Buy tickets to the Eiffel Tower in advance. When you advance purchase tickets, you get to select the date and time you want to visit — and you avoid wasting time waiting in the snake-line ticket lines.
  • Save money on admission to some of the most-popular Paris tourist attractions by using Paris Pass. You can save even more money by waiting for a sale to purchase your Paris Pass. You have an entire year to activate it, so don’t be afraid to purchase in advance.
  • Don’t waste money on bottled water. It’s important to conserve water in Paris, but that often results in pricey bottled water — especially in high-tourist areas. Save money (and the planet) by saying, “non” to bottled water in restaurants. Instead, say “un carafe d’eau s’il vous plaît” to order tap water.
  • Check opening and closing times for shops, restaurants, and attractions. It’s common for shops to close for lunch hours, restaurants to close between lunch and dinner, and many museums on either Monday or Tuesday. For example, The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays and the Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays.՜

Before reading through the rest of The Ultimate Paris Travel Guide, check out this video to learn more places we love in the City of Lights.

Paris Travel Guide: Trip Planning 101

Most of the Paris travel guides you find online give you important details about major tourist attractions and accommodations. Some go a step further and supply you with a list of tips created to make your next Paris vacay a success.

But around here, we aim to go beyond the boring. In The Ultimate Paris Travel Guide, we explore the not-so-obvious. You’ll learn how to not look like a tourist, which Paris neighborhood has the right vibe for you, and what tourist hot spots Paris has to offer those who have “been there, done that.”

Why?

Because we want to inspire seasoned travelers to explore their favorite cities in a different way and teach first-timers how to plan their trip like the pros.  

What Is the Best Time to Visit Paris?

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Overall, the best time to visit Paris is from April to June, and from October to early November. During these times, the weather is mild and tourist crowds are thinner than they are in the summer months. But choosing the best time for your trip may be a little more complicated than that because there are several factors you should consider.

Best Time to Visit Paris For Shopping

Photo by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash

Photo by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash

In France, sales are state-regulated. Shops are only legally allowed to give retail discounts twice per year. These six-week periods are known simply as Les Soldes — the sales.

Annual winter sales run from early January through the middle of February, and sales in the summer run from late June until the end of July. So if you’re looking for discounted goods, plan your trip during these times.

It’s important to note that because retail discounts are really rare in Parisian shops, it will be crowded. Shops in Paris are closed on Sundays, and they tend to get busiest on Fridays and Saturdays.

Of course, shops are the busiest at the beginning of Les Soldes, because people are excited to shop at a discount. So you could wait until the later part of the sale period, but if you do, you’ll find a lower stock of items at discounted prices.

Paris Weather and Crowd Level Considerations

Photo by Stacy Wyss on Unsplash

Photo by Stacy Wyss on Unsplash

Chilly and damp is the best way to describe Paris between January and March, so it’s not surprising these months see a decrease in tourism. However, if you can stand a bit of a chill, traveling to Paris in the winter means smaller crowds at your favorite tourist spots and lower rates for airfare and accommodations.

During the spring, weather in Paris is mild and comfortable, so consider planning your trip between April and June if possible. Paris is a year-round tourist destination, so you’ll still encounter crowds of tourists, but they aren’t as heavy as they are during the summer. You can expect similar weather and crowds in October and early November, but you won’t find amazing flower displays throughout the city during this time. Also, if you want to visit the breathtaking gardens of Versailles, spring is a better option. Once the weather gets cold, the statues in Versailles are covered and the fountains are turned off.

Most tourists flock to Paris during the summer. Even though the weather is hot and muggy, August marks the height of the tourist season. But it’s also a time when Parisians flee to the coast to enjoy the final days of summer with their families, so you shouldn’t travel in August if you want to experience a lot of local culture. Crowds are also really dense at Versailles in the summer, but they are less dense in the morning.

December is also a busy month for Paris tourism too, because people look forward to the rush of seasonal activities. But you can enjoy the city’s seasonal displays and avoid massive crowds by visiting in November instead. Champ Elysees is decked out by the end of the month, and most of the department stores unveil their holiday window displays and have trees up by mid-November. However, if you want to experience the marches de noel (Christmas markets), you’ll have to plan your trip so it extends into the beginning of December.

Annual Events in Paris

Photo by Pierre Herman on Unsplash

Photo by Pierre Herman on Unsplash

Paris hosts an array of events throughout the year — like other cities. Bastille Day falls on July 14th. It’s the French national holiday that celebrates July 14, 1789, which was a major turning point in the French Revolution. In the evening of the 13th, expect to see spectacular fireworks displays and celebrations happening throughout the city.

You can catch Paris Fashion Week twice per year in the spring/summer and autumn/winter. But be sure to check the dates before your trip. They are set each year by the French Fashion Federation to coincide with Les Soldes.

The city also celebrates the Christmas holiday in December, Valentine’s Day on February 14th, and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. But if you’re looking for a more unique event, you might want to check out one of these options.

Circus of Tomorrow

Photo by Darrell Miller on Flickr

Circus of Tomorrow Fair — January

Before talented young acrobats and circus performers go on to perform Cirque du Soleil, they compete at the Circus of Tomorrow Festival (Cirque de Demain) in Paris. During the event young performers from all over the world face off against their peers to see who will be named the most prominent stars of tomorrow. The event, which is held at Pelouse de Reuilly, spans four days and attract thousands of spectators each year.

La fête de la musique 2008

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Flickr

Fête de la Musique — June

If a night full of music, mayhem, and debauchery appeals to you, you won’t want to miss Fête de la Musique. The music festival celebrates the summer solstice. So if you’re in Paris on the longest night of the year, expect more than 200,000 people to take to the streets for the event. You’ll find a variety of bands and groups performing in bars and on the street corners — it’s like the whole city turns into one big party.

Foire du Trône

Photo by Jori Avlis on Flickr

Foire du Trône — End of March until May

Located on the Reuilly field in the 12th arrondissement, Foire du Trône is a massive funfair filled with rows of carnival games, a Ferris wheel, thrill rides, and evening fireworks displays.

It’s the oldest traditional in France, dating back to 957 — shortly before famine spread throughout Europe. At the time, King Lothair granted monk bakers at the Saint-Antoine Abbey Church the exclusive rights to sell gingerbread — an accomplishment they continue to celebrate each year.

By 1355, the event took on a festive vibe and was attracting acrobats and other entertainers. In 1805, it officially became a small commercial funfair. Since then, it’s grown to include 350 attractions, food stalls filled with sweet treats, and an impressive fireworks display that takes place on May 1st in celebration of Labour Day.

Arrivée du Tour de France

Photo by Jon Phillipo on Flickr

Arrivée du Tour de France — July

While this multiple-stage bicycle race sometimes passes through small portions of neighboring countries, it’s primarily held in France. Since 1975, the race has ended on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. So if you’re traveling in July, see if your travel dates coincide with the event and make plans to watch cyclists cross the finish line.

Best Paris Neighborhoods For Tourists

Paris

Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash

If you want to make the most of your Parisian vacation, it’s important to stay in a neighborhood that matches your personality and itinerary. If you want to do touristy things while you’re there, it’s best to choose a neighborhood with easy access to major attractions. But you’ll need to stay in a completely different area if you want to experience a good amount of local culture.

Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), all numbered in a spiral winding its way around the city. In the center of the spiral is Ile de la Cité — the island in the river Seine that’s home to Notre Dame. The lower numbered arrondissements sit closer to the center of the spiral and the outer neighborhoods (the 12th-20th arrondissements) sit along the outer edge of the city. While some of the neighborhoods also have names, Parisians always refer to their neighborhood by number.

Top 5 Paris Neighborhoods For Tourists

The Louvre Paris Ashley Whitlatch

Photo by Ashley Whitlatch on Instagram

1. The 1st Arrondissement

If you’re doing a lot of sightseeing during your trip, it’s a good idea to stay in the 1st arrondissement. Many of the city’s most famous attractions sit in this district, including The Louvre and Tuileries Gardens.

In this district, you can sip a glass of wine at one of the quaint cafes lining the garden of the Palais Royale, have a drink at the Hemingway Bar inside the Ritz Carlton, and take in the beautiful stained-glass of Sainte-Chapelle.

This neighborhood also puts you within walking distance of the Centre Pompidou, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Champs-Élysées. You’ll have to take the metro to the Eiffel Tower from here, but the station Chatelet, one of the biggest hubs in Paris, serves the 1st arrondissement.

Keep in mind though, the 1st arrondissement is kind of like Paris’s Times Square. It’s very touristy. So while it’s a great place for first-timers, it’s probably not the place to stay if you’re looking for local culture.

Île Saint-Louis, Paris

Photo by tiongtiong on Flickr

2. Ile Saint-Louis — the 4th Arrondissement

The 4th arrondissement is a great option for anyone who wants accommodations that are centrally located without staying in a neighborhood reminiscent of Disneyland Paris. It sits right next to Ile de la Cité, but the neighborhood’s vibe doesn’t show it. While you’re only a short distance from the massive crowds of people touring Notre Dame, the 4th arrondissement feels kind of like its own small town.

Le Marais

Photo by GothPhil on Flickr

3. Le Marais —  the 3rd Arrondissement

Le Marais is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Paris. It’s a neighborhood filled with a lot of wonderful restaurants and cafes, amazing architecture, and a good mix of locally owned boutiques, markets, and luxury shops. The diverse neighborhood does tend to draw a younger crowd, but that’s not surprising since it’s also known for having a vibrant nightlife.

Pont Alexander III bridge

Photo by Ashley Whitlatch on Instagram

4. The 7th Arrondissement

The Eiffel Tower sits in the 7th arrondissement, but it’s not the only thing the neighborhood has to offer. After touring the Musee d’Orsay, you can stroll along the Berges de Seine for beautiful views of the river and famous Parisian architecture.

Strolling along the Pont Alexander III bridge in the evening gives you an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. And for a small slice of Parisian life, explore Rue Cler, a charming street market with a village-like feel.

Place de la République

Photo by Paris-Sharing on Flickr

5. The 11th Arrondissement

The 11th arrondissement is a neighborhood filled with up-and-coming chefs and relaxed eateries that normally cater to a local crowd. It sits just outside of the city’s central neighborhoods, which makes it easy to find an affordable AirBnB and excellent food sans the inflated prices you find in many touristy areas of the city.

This neighborhood also really captures the spirit of how the locals live. It’s filled with hip boutiques and galleries, a variety of local nightlife, and a nice blend of young Parisians, artists, and families.

How to Not Look Like a Tourist in Paris

Paris Tourist

Photo by Juan Di Nella on Unsplash

Blending in with the locals in Paris is less about standing out like a sore thumb and more about really enjoying your trip. Because let’s face it, slowly sipping coffee in a quaint outdoor cafe is much better than rushing around with to-go cup in hand. And who doesn’t need to learn how to relax and enjoy a long lunch? (Parisians, that’s who.)

1. Skip the handshakes — unless you’re a man greeting a man.

When you’re introduced to locals, go for the air kiss instead — one on each cheek, without actual lip contact. This is the customary greeting between women and women and men. But when men greet other men, a handshake is standard.

The number of customary air kisses varies depending on where you are though. So if you’re nervous, it’s best to lean in slightly and let them take care of the rest. Most likely, they will without any hesitation at all.

2. Level up your attire — at least slightly.

Parisians have a slightly dressier version of casual dress than many people. To fit in, dress up a pair of jeans with a blazer or leather jacket and the nicest shows in your closet.

Consider dark slim pants, a plain shirt without a logo, and a nice pair of leather shoes instead of a T-shirt, baggy jeans, and a Yankees cap. At the very least, stick to neutral colors and garments without any visible branding or tags. Also, trade in your large colorful backpack and/or fanny pack for a smaller, sleeker version — and don’t strap it to the front of your body.

3. Brush up on your table manners.

Good table manners are really important in France, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because it’s a place where extended lunches and long coffee breaks are common. If possible, avoid making adjustments to your order — it’s considered rude to the chef. Also, asking for a doggy bag is considered cheap/rude and should be avoided at all costs.

4. Don’t leave huge tips.

In Paris, gratuity is included by default — and servers are paid a decent salary. So there’s no need to leave a large tip on top of that. However, it’s common for patrons to leave pocket change behind when paying in a cafe or restaurant.

5. Use your indoor voice.

French people tend to speak a bit quieter than most Europeans, so if you’re talking loudly, you’ll definitely stand out. When speaking to your friends or family members in public, try to use the indoor voice you typically reserve for touring museums at home.

Unusual Places to Visit In Paris

Photo by Willian West on Unsplash

Photo by Willian West on Unsplash

While Paris has a plethora of must-see sites, but you probably already have them on your sightseeing list. These places are a bit more unique, making them ideal for people who want to see the city from a completely new angle.

Nicholas Flammel House

Photo by Monceau on Flickr

1. Tour the House of Nicolas Flamel

Nicolas Flamel is more than a made-up character from Harry Potter who made an elixir that lets you live forever. He was a real person who lived in Paris in the 1300s. He and his wife Parnelle were well known throughout the city for their philanthropic endeavors.

Two roads in Paris are named after Flamel and his wife — Rue Nicolas Flamel and Rue Parnelle. But that’s not the only reminder that remains of this prominent couple.

At 51 Rue Montmorency, you’ll find Nicolas Flamel’s house, which many consider the oldest stone house in Paris. Unfortunately, you won’t find the sorcerer’s stone there. While the legend suggests Flamel had such powerful alchemist skills he was able to create the elixir of eternal life, he actually ran a couple of shops in the city. It wasn’t until hundreds of years after his death that he earned a reputation as an alchemist — likely because he lived well into his 80s, which was practically unheard of in the 1300s.

Printemps

Photo by brigitte_martin_saintonge on Instagram

2. Head to the top floor of Printemps for amazing 360-degree views of the city.

Oddly enough, if you visit Printemps, you’ll find one of the best panoramic views in the city.  On the department store’s top floor is an outdoor cafe called Deli-Cieux. It has indoor and outdoor seating, but the outdoor terrace tends to be rather windy. So when you’re done snapping a few Instagram-worthy photos, head indoors to sip your coffee.

Brasserie Printemps

Photo by Nathan Rupert on Flickr

You might not want to enjoy a full Deli-Cieux though, because a couple floors down you’ll find a super chic restaurant that sits directly under the door’s iconic stained-glass dome. Brasserie is open a bit later than Deli-Cieux is, making it a good place to grab a semi-early dinner.

Hot Air Balloon Paris

Photo by Math Puente on Flickr

3. View the city from a hot air balloon.

If you’re looking for a more unique way to see the city in all its glory, consider taking it all in from a hot air balloon that hovers around 150 meters in the air. At Parc André Citroën you’ll find the largest hot air balloon in the world. It’s tethered to the ground, so you won’t float throughout the city during your ride. But as you rise above the rooftops, you get a view of Paris unlike any other.

CAtacombs

Photo by Bert Kaufmann at Flickr

4. Explore the Catacombs of Paris

A small portion of Paris’s underbelly is open to the public and is known as the Catacombs de Paris. This underground space houses the skeletal remains of between six and seven million former Parisians. The bones are arranged in decorative displays, the most iconic of which is known as the Barrel. It’s a large pillar surrounded by tibiae and skulls — and it acts as a support for the roof area in which it’s housed.

Paris Metro Station

Photo by patrick janicek on Flickr

5. Visit some of the city’s metro stations.

Some of the metro stations in Paris are works of art. Consider taking time to visit a few of them. At Pont Neuf, the station closest to the Gravestone Courtyard, you’ll find massive 3D reproductions of coins used in France throughout the years. And the metro station at Concorde has a platform tiled in letter mosaics. But the most beautiful metro station artwork is found the Palais Royal metro station. The entrance to the station is a contemporary sculpture made from hand-blown Murano glass from Italy. French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel created the installation, which is titled, La Kiosque des Noctambuleś — kiosk of the nightwalkers.

Paris is a place the exudes luxury and elegance. When touring the city, take your time and relax — and of course, always look your best. Consider taking the carry-on-closet with you to ensure your clothes remain pristine while traveling.

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