I have traveled to Paris dozens of times and am always amazed at how much I learn about this wonderful city on each visit. Whether you stay just for the weekend (then take a look at this 2-day Paris itinerary), or for longer, Paris is always an exciting experience. Here are just a few Paris insider tips I have learned through the years. By sharing these Paris travel tips with our readers, I hope to positively contribute to our readers over all Paris travel experiences.
Paris Insider Tips
Upon arriving at the your Paris airport, you will need to exchange dollars for euros, just to pay for tips, taxis and other transfer expences. For the best exchange rate, I suggest you look for an ATM machine before leaving the airport. While there are currency exchange machines and ‘for profit’ currency exchange desks that take dollars in exchange for euros, they may look official but charge an exorbitant fee to change your money …. so don’t go there. During the course of our travels, we also use bank associated ATMs to replenish our pocket cash at banks to get cash (they have directions in English) Currency Exchange shops are the most expensive. Here is more information on using credit cards in Europe
Where to Stay in Paris
Each Arrondissement in Paris has a unique atmosphere and feel to it. Depending on your preference and itinerary, it makes sense to look for accommodation in the most suitable location in Paris. Here is a great overview of the most popular Arrondissements in Paris, so take a look, before you book your hotel.
Don’t be intimidated by the language differences. In Paris, most people speak English, so you can simply say “Parle Anglais?” (par-lay On-glay) to ask if they do. They will usually say “a little” but they are generally pretty fluent, or will find someone who can speak in English if needed.
Be sure to say Bonjour Madame (or Monsieur) when entering a store or restaurant and Merci, Au Revoir when leaving. The French are polite and appreciate visitors to their country to be polite as well.
Eating and Shopping
I suggest that you ask your Hotel Concierge for near-by Paris restaurants or shopping recommendations. They hold a wealth of knowledge and can provide directions, timely event information for concerts, local festivals, and museums. They may even be in a position to help obtain event tickets. A tip is a nice (and expected) way to say thanks. For my personal restaurant recommendations for each arrondissement, take a look at my Paris Restaurant Guide.
While there are many restaurants in the Latin Quarter, I would avoid most of them. When you see hawkers along the street trying to get you to enter their restaurant, keep walking. The food is usually terrible and you really don’t get what they say you will. Look for places that are not geared toward tourists and you will have a great meal (this is the voice of experience).
INSIDER TIP: Reservations are highly recommended, not just on the weekend. If you are not fluent in French, I recommend using this website to make your reservations. They not only show you some photos of the restaurants and approximate prices for a meal, but some even offer up to a 50% discount. Make your reservation here.
The best dining deals in France are the Menus, Prix Fixe or the Plat du Jour. (In France, what we call a Menu is called a Carte. In France, a Menu is a fixed price dinner, usually three courses for a discounted price, with some choices as to the courses.) Lunch (dejuner) is usually much less expensive than dinner in better restaurants; so if you are looking for a gourmet meal without breaking the bank, lunch is an economical option. All French restaurants have their cartes posted at the door, so you can see in advance what is available and what it will cost.
Petit dejuner (breakfast) is usually a croissant, cafe and jus. If you want more, you might want an American breakfast that might be offered at your hotel.
Confused about tipping? In France, all prices shown include tax and service (the latter is around 15% of the total price). However, if the service has been particularly good, you may wish to leave a small tip in order to show your appreciation. As a general rule, you can just round up the bill or add 5% of the total bill.
One of my favorite things to do in Paris is visit the Luxembourg Gardens. This is Paris’s playground. Parisiens of all ages enjoy this vast, beautiful, park. There are donkey rides, a boat racing pond for children, tennis and boules courts, small cafes and food carts, flower gardens and much natural beauty.
The newly opened Fondation Louis Vuitton is architect Frank Gehry’s latest feat. There is a low cost, special bus service you can get from the Arc de Triumph to the Fondation, located in the Bois de Boulogne. The building itself houses a contemporary art collection with changing exhibits as well as a venue for multidisciplinary events. The restaurant, Le Frank, is a work of art in itself. The beautiful Bois de Boulogne park offers boat rides on its little canal.
The Paris Museum Pass is an excellent deal, especially when you are traveling to Paris during high season. You can purchase the pass for two, four or six consecutive day increments. It allows unlimited entrance to more than 60 museums and landmarks in Paris and vicinity.
But the best part is that you do not need to stand in line to enter. When you see the entry lines wrap around the buildings, you will appreciate this convenience. The passes can be purchased at the participating museums themselves and at the Paris Tourist Office, 25 rue de Pyramide and the Espace du Tourism-Ile de France, 99 Rue de Rivoli. Not every museum is covered, but The Louvre, Versailles and D’Orsay are, and they tend to have the longest lines. Note that in many museums, admission is free for children under 18-years-old.
Paris Safety and Pickpockets
You need not worry about walking the streets at night as there are lots of people out and about at all hours of the evening. Paris is not a dangerous city, yes even despite recent terrorist attacks. The main risk you face is to your property. Leave your expensive jewelry at home and be sure to use the hotel safe for your cash, passport, and credit cards that you are not using. Having your money, jewelry, credit card or passport stolen can ruin a great vacation, so be careful and you will have a great time. Obtain a money belt that can be worn under your shirt and dress like a local. This is the best way to avoid becoming a victim during your Paris vacation.
Bring two different credit cards and keep one in the hotel safe or have each person in your group can carry a different card. We make photocopies of our passports and credit cards and keep them in a carry-on just in case. After checking into your hotel, put your valuables in your hotel safe. Fanny packs and some backpacks are not recommended as they can serve as an invitation to pick-pockets. Do not keep your wallet in your back pocket. If you carry a wallet, keep it in your front pocket with your hand wrapped around it.
The Metro stations and the Gare du Nord, in particular, are also prime pickpocket places. While you are generally not in physical danger (petty criminals usually don’t use knives or guns but, they tend to be quick and clever.
Keep as few valuable items in places that other people can not get to, and keep most of your money, credit cards and ID securely tucked away out of harm’s reach in a money belt. When sitting at a restaurant table, or on a seat on the subway or bus, don’t put your bag down on the ground unattended. Hold it in your lap if possible. If not, loop the strap around your chair leg, or your chair. A slash-proof purse or bag is also a good idea. Don’t put anything of value in a back pack; it is easily stolen. Don’t wear a camera on a strap around your neck; it can be easily grabbed, cut and stolen.
When you see people that look suspicious, — particularly when they’re accompanied by babies or youngsters for distraction purposes, avoid them. They’re usually easily walked away from if ignored.
If you treat others as you wish to be treated, try to eat like a Parisian, stay aware of pickpockets, and follow these Paris insider tips, you’ll have a great trip to Paris!
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com