I feel like I’m still on a high from our trip to Paris, which ended up being my favorite city Adam and I have ever visited. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, all I have to say is you are going to absolutely fall in love with the magic of the city! With any new place you visit, knowing a few things before you go is always helpful. We did a ton of research (yes, full itinerary and all) before our trip, but there were still a few things we learned while in Paris. So in true fashion, I’ve put together eight things to know before you head to the city of lights.
Parisians Can & Do Speak English
I honestly had anxiety going to France because of the whole language thing. For whatever reason, I had this idea in my head that the French weren’t going to speak English and that it was going to be difficult for us to navigate around the country. I had Adam create a document of French phrases to assist us once we were on foreign turf. I honestly probably looked at it once while we were in France. We had memorized the standard phrases to greet and bid adieu to the French, which is what I recommend to do out of respect. But in general, we’d ask in French if they were able to speak English. All the Parisians we came across were extremely pleasant and accommodating and spoke to us then in English. I was surprised to even see many of the menus of the restaurants we went to had items translated from French to English!
Make an Effort to Speak French
It’s common and expected to say “bonjour” upon arrival into a shop or restaurant and “au revoir” when exiting. Make an effort and say please and thank you in French too. The French will be gracious and admire that you’re at least trying to speak their language. And honestly, they will pretty much know right away if you’re foreign and will instantly speak in English (which always was a bit of a relief).
Dress Like the Locals
Knowing how fashionable Parisians are, I knew I didn’t want to stand out like a sore thumb as a tourist. I made an effort to research intensely the type of clothes to bring, which ended up being a mixture of black…and black. Which, actually ended up being perfect for me since I wear a lot of black clothes. I stuck to mainly muted colors. Adam and I also avoided shorts since we read Parisians don’t tend to wear shorts. Also, definitely don’t wear athleisure or gym shoes, unless you don’t care about looking like a tourist 🙂 Because we followed a few of these fashion rules, we blended right in. We had Parisians greet us in restaurants and even on the streets and begin speaking to us in French. That made me feel pretty good!
Beware of Pickpockets
The upside to dressing like a local? You’re not a target for pickpockets. Pickpockets are unfortunately seeking out tourists that look like tourists and who are oblivious to what’s going on around them. Sadly, Adam and I witnessed a pickpocket situation on our way back to Paris from Versailles.
We were on the train waiting for it to leave the station and noticed three older teenager girls standing near one of the train doors. They asked to see our tickets and Adam and I thought that was a little weird, considering we had to have tickets to enter the train platform. We looked at them in confusion and just walked past them. Unfortunately, they targeted an older Asian family and stole a wallet out of one woman’s purse and took out the cash without her knowing. The odd part about it was that they acted like the woman dropped her wallet and then handed the wallet back to her. By the time the woman opened her wallet and realized all her cash was gone, the girls had run off the train. They ended up taking €800 and $100.
The whole experience was extremely eye-opening and I held my purse even tighter after that. I recommend only wearing a satchel or crossbody so you can always have your purse in front of you. And please, don’t ever carry that much cash – ever.
Ditch the Hotel
When Adam and I were planning our trip, we first looked at hotels out of habit. We immediately got sticker shock. Paris hotels are not cheap, especially if you want to stay in the city center. We began looking at AirBnBs and researching other accommodation options. Adam found a gem in Cobblestone Paris. We nabbed their second to last apartment available in the Le Marais neighborhood, which was one of the areas we were looking to stay. It was less than a five-minute walk to the metro and central to many of the main tourist attractions. We ended up paying less than $200 a night and had the charm of really feeling like a local with our own apartment and a view of an adorable courtyard. It was beyond Parisian. We had the best experience with Cobblestone and highly recommend.
Master the Metro
I realize that taking public transportation can be intimidating, especially in a foreign country. But let me just say, Paris has one of the, if not the best, public transit systems I’ve ever taken. It honestly was so much quicker and cheaper than taking an Uber or taxi anywhere. What Adam and I did was purchased carnets (a 10-ride pass pack) since it’s more cost-effective to purchase those than a bunch of single-ride tickets. We couldn’t believe how frequent the metro trains came and how quickly we were able to get from point A to point B. Now…when can Chicago get a transit system like that!?
Purchase the Paris Museum Pass
The Paris Museum Pass was one of the best decisions we made while in Paris. The pass covers over 50 museums in and around Paris so you don’t have to pay entry fees. You can also skip the lines (minus those lines related to security measures)! You can choose to do a consecutive two, four, or six days pass with unlimited visits within those time frames. We chose to do the four consecutive days because we had at least three days planned where we’d be going to some of the popular landmarks – Arc de Triomphe, Palace de Versailles, Notre Dame, Musée d’Orsay, Sainte-Chapelle, and Conciergerie. We saved a lot of time and money by purchasing the museum pass and recommend it if you’re planning to see a lot of the tourist sites.
My best piece of advice is to buy the pass at the airport once you land so you don’t have to worry about waiting in line to buy it at one of the museums or monuments. Another thing to be mindful of is museum closures. Some attractions are closed on certain days of the week. The big ones to keep in mind is that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays and the Palace de Versailles is closed on Mondays.
Be Aware of Dining Cultural Differences
One thing that took some getting used to is that Parisians don’t tend to eat dinner until after 8pm. Because of this, most restaurants don’t even open until 7pm. We had done some research and read that it’s best to make reservations at the restaurants, but we honestly never did. Instead, we just happened to get to the restaurants we wanted to go to right at 7pm and never had to wait for a table. The best part is that the cafes are open all day so you can enjoy a glass of wine with bread and cheese to tie you over until it’s dinner time (which we happened to do quite a lot – and it was glorious). And while we’re on the topic of cheese, PLEASE go to Pain Vin Fromage for dinner. It was the most amazing fondue I’ve ever had in my life.
Also, in regards to dining out, don’t ever plan to be in a hurry. The French don’t believe in rushing through your meal the way we do here in the States. I actually appreciated the slowness. We got to enjoy our food and our dining experience much more, without having the nagging feeling that we needed to eat quickly so the restaurant could get new customers in. It was refreshing and appreciated. Downside, it did take a bit of time to get the check every time we dined out – so plan accordingly!
If you haven’t been to Paris, let me know if you have questions on any of these points or anything additional. If you have been to Paris, leave your thoughts in the comments as to whether or not you agree and what else would be useful for first-timers to Paris!
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.