Sunday, July 13, 2014

My guide for the first time traveler to Paris

So you have decided to go to Paris! Good for you :) 
Here is a list of some things you need to know 


Make sure you have a valid and current passport (it could take up to 6 months to get one).

Make sure to do diligent research on when it is the best time to go. You do not want to hit any holidays where things are closed or it is too crowded. Also check to see how the weather is because that is important. I like to travel in September because school is open so there are less tourists (less lines) and the weather is usually perfect. 

Do as much research as possible before going or making any reservations (sights to see, weather, money, language, etc.). Good sites are, I always buy travel books (i.e. Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, etc.) and read before I go and take them with me. They have good information.

I recommend 5 days for Paris, which includes going to the Palace of Versaille (which is out of town).


Check tickets on the cheap sights (i.e.,, etc.), but go and compare prices with the actual airline site. If it is the same, buy from the airline. Try not to have any stops (they are a pain), but if there is a layover, make sure that you have enough time between flights. I usually get my tickets from and I prefer to arrive at my destination in the morning. 


I have had great experiences booking my hotels through First, chose your area, how many stars you want the hotel to have and price range, then search. Read all the reviews from other people, they are usually right on! I usually chose 4 star hotels (Europe’s standards are a bit lower than the US) and the area is my most important category. Rooms will be very small so do not be shocked. They are very simple hotels, but clean and nice. I recommend staying in the area around the Louvre museum, it is very centralized and walking distance to a lot of sights.

Before you go 

Call your credit card company and bank and let them know where you are going and when you will be there. They will make a note of it and when they see you spending $ there, they will not put a hold on anything due to suspicious activity. I recommend taking your debit card and one credit card. The money exchange stations are usually a rip off. I recommend taking cash out of cash machines when you get there. Use credit card when possible because the rates are usually the best.

Call your cell phone company and let them know you will be traveling. If you’d like to use your cell phone there, then ask them about the different international packages they have. If you do not want to use your phone, I recommend not shutting everything off and still having it with you in case of emergency. But I usually tell them to shut off the ability to receive or send text (it is very expensive and you can’t control other people texting you) as well as data.

You do not want to have any concerns about your comfort when you are sightseeing. So take comfortable shoes and comfortable clothes (you will need layers for September in Paris). Take a comfortable and light bag or back pack (I like small ones that go across the shoulder) for everyday use. Take one or two nice outfits for a couple night outs too ;). Do not over pack.

Take a good camera for pictures. Paris is the most beautiful city in the world so you will want to capture many moments. Make sure that you have extra batteries, chargers, room in the memory card, etc. The last thing you want is problems with your camera while you are faced with a breathtaking image. I care about the quality of my pictures so I lug around a large and heavy camera, but if you’d like to stay comfortable, take a light small one.

Take an electric converter (you can buy them at Best Buy) with you in order to be able to use the European outlets to charge your electronics (and use your flat iron!). If you do not have one, they may have some extra ones at your hotel, ask the front desk.

Make sure you have the address for your hotel printed with you to give to the cab driver at the airport.

When you get there 

Jet lag is a big bummer. Adjust your time to the local time as soon as you get on the plane. For example, if it is night time in Paris at the time, sleep on the plane or if it is day time in Paris, stay up on the plane. What works for me is a couple hours of nap in the afternoon on the first day (sometimes for the first couple days). Make sure you get enough sleep at nights to have energy to sight see during the days.

Make friends with your hotel concierge (you will have a good one if you have a 4 star hotel), they can be a very useful resource to have. You can ask them for maps, suggestions, ideas, information, etc. They can even book tickets for you.

Take little snacks (i.e. bars) with you when you go sightseeing. You do not want any annoying distractions such as hunger to dampen your time.

Some Sights 

I recommend using the Double Decker Hop on Hop off Tour bus for sightseeing. It takes you to all the major sights and they tell you interesting information about what you are seeing (either a live guide person or through headphones). The bus stops at each site where you can hop off, go see the sight for as long as you want and come back to the stop and catch another bus which goes through the same rout. Usually a bus comes through every 20 minutes. Even though they may be different buses, but the rout and the explanations are exactly the same. Buy tickets (you can buy them at the hotel) for two or three days so you don’t feel rushed and can hop off at any stop you want any time. My husband likes to sit in the bus for the entire rout once and see all the sights first and then decide which one we’d hop off next time. Usually an entire rout is about 2 hours.

The Louvre is very large, you could spend days in there if you want to see everything. Study the guide before and decide which parts you want to see and go straight to those, depending on how much time (or energy) you have. Note: If you are there on a Sunday, know that most things are closed except for the Louvre.

The Eiffel Tower is located next to a grassy field where you can lounge around and take in the sight. If you like to go to the top, be prepared for a long line and wind. I prefer to see the city from above from the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur where it is prettier and free and no lines.

Basilica de Sacre-Coeur is a beautiful gothic style church sitting on top of a hill in Paris. You climb up on stairs and you get to the basilica and turn around and you will see the city of Paris before you. The basilica is located in the Montmarte area in Paris which is the area of the artists. You will find lots of little shops and cafes and many many tourists in that area. Go behind the church and take a walk around the old neighborhood, less tourists find their way there and you will feel like you are in an old French movie.

The Opera house in Paris is beautiful. If you are a fan of Opera or even “Phantom of the Opera” it is worth checking it out (there really was a body of water under the building!). September is off season for Opera but you can always get a tour of the historic building and see the famous chandelier!

If you are interested to see where the French kings were crowned or if you have read the book “Hunch back of Notre Dame”, then you can go see the Notre Dame. It is a beautiful gothic style church.

I definitely recommend spending one evening at the Moulon Rouge! You can make reservations and buy tickets through your concierge. It is a two hour fantastic dance show accompanied by dinner (one of the best dinners I have ever had in my life!). Don’t be taken back by the topless dancers, that is how it has been done for years, it’s art :)  The place gets packed so you will be sharing your table with strangers. Be friendly and make friends :)

Palace of Versaille is a must see. It is located just outside of town and there are some tours that will charge you a bundle to take you there. But you can also take the public train on your own, it’s super easy, just ask your concierge. I recommend scheduling at least ½ a day for it. I also recommend reading up on the history of the place before going, it makes it more enjoyable.

Recommended walk 

Start from the grand arch outside of the Louvre and go through the beautiful and romantic Jardin de Tuileries park all the way until it ends (stop and marvel at the sculptures throughout the park). You will then be at the most magnificent and historic intersection (consult your travel guide to know about the history). Continue down on Chaps-Elisees Boulevard through the famous shops and restaurants. At the end of the boulevard you will come to Arc de Triomph. Stand under the arch and not only will you be in the center of the largest roundabout in the world, but you will be on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city around you.


Paris has some of the best food in the world. Make sure to ask your concierge or use your guidebook to find good restaurants to eat at. I recommend having a good breakfast (in Paris it is always French bread with butter and jam, croissant, orange juice and coffee). Have a light lunch at a casual café or the street food stands between sightseeing and then have a great dinner at a nice restaurant at night. I usually like to come back to my hotel room after sightseeing, shower and change and go out to dinner. Remember that eating is a process for the French, they sit and enjoy many courses for hours while drinking and smoking and talking and laughing. Try to get out of your rush rush American mentality and join the relaxed Parisians in this experience.

Try snails, they are not that bad!

The French drink Cafes, which is like espresso.  If you would like a latte, then you have to ask for a café latte. If you just say Latte, they will bring you milk.

French Onion Soup is just called “Onion Soup” in France! :)

Other hints 

Customer service is very different everywhere outside of America, so bring down your expectations. The waiters will not be checking on you every 5 minutes with a fake smile on their face. Call them over to your table if you need them.

Consult your guide book about tipping in restaurants and cabs.

Most people in the service business speak fluent English and all menus and guides have English translations. So you probably will not need a dictionary to be able to communicate with others, but take a small one if it makes you feel safer :)

American tourists are known to be loud and obnoxious. Let’s help end that stereotype!

The Euro’s value is much higher than the Dollar so shopping will be expensive, but I recommend buying at least one nice thing to keep as a momentum of Paris. High end designer items will be less expensive in Europe than in the US because you do not pay taxes. Also it is good to know that they are from the latest collection and have not made it to the US yet!

Final thought

Lastly but definitely not least (and my favorite part of Paris), the best sight in Paris is her streets, buildings, cafes, people, etc. Just walk around the city through her narrow coble stone alleys and you never know what will come your way (a small antique shop, a cute boutique, a local bakery, etc.). Just look up and enjoy the elegant balconies on all the buildings and the lamps in the streets. Sit at a café and people watch! The people of Paris are cool and elegant and you can watch them for hours. Just accept that there will be cigarette smoke everywhere you go, so don’t let it bother you. Maybe even join in and have a cigarette with your wine or café! Why not? You are in Paris!

 I hope that this guide is helpful to you. Enjoy your time in the city of lights! ~ Shabnam ~