Tips For Your First Visit To Paris


First visit to Paris

I’ll never forget our first visit to Paris. Although we’d travelled extensively within Australia, Scott and I had never left our home country together. And our joint international travel experience amounted to me visiting Singapore with my parents when I was 16 years old.

We honestly had no idea what we doing. We didn’t understand how anything worked and I’d packed disastrously. Everything was new and sometimes, a little confronting.

Which is why I’m always compassionate to the concerns that first time visitors to Paris have. I receive many queries via email, and I also see the questions that are asked in the various forums I’m a part of.

I thought I’d take a little time to address many of the common queries I see regarding a first visit to Paris. Yes, this is a long post, but I wanted share all of these answers in one, easy to find place. I hope you find it helpful.

Money

If there’s an area that might raise anxiety in a first time traveller, it’s money. But with a little preparation, you can make your financial management a stress free part of your trip.

  • First up, the answer to the question I see regularly. Both credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Paris. Aussie travellers should note that PayPass is not used as broadly it is in Australia, so make sure you know your PIN before you leave home, as sometimes you’ll be asked to provide both your PIN and your signature. It pays to do some research into which cards are best for you – some cards are cheaper than others.
  • Travel with more than one card. We travel with a combination of Pre-Paid travel cards and a credit card and a debit card. This strategy is helpful for a number of reasons. One – we have backup funds if a card is lost, stolen or unexpectedly stopped. And two – it allows you to use one card for hotel authorisations without the funds being held eating into your holiday spending.
  • Have some cash on hand too. It’s handy for small purchases, ticket machines and for any Parisian market shopping you might do. It can make better financial sense to take small amounts of cash out of ATMs rather than risk lugging a stack of cash from home. So take the time to do that homework on debit cards.
  • It is worth letting your bank know where and when you are travelling. Then they won’t assume the worst and put holds on your cards due to unexpected foreign transactions.
  • Finally, I’m not sure if this tip applies to my friends in other countries, but Australian travellers can save on bank fees by always choosing to pay in Euros rather than Australian dollars.

Safety And Valuables

Whether I was travelling to Paris as part of a team or on my own, I’ve always felt safe in Paris. But as you do when travelling to any major city, you need to think about your surroundings.

  • Unfortunately we live in a world where theft is a thing. And sometimes the attempts to separate you from your belongings can be quite brazen. Travel day-to-day with limited cash and belongings. Paying for the ATM fees is a better option that losing all your spending money. And ladies, consider carrying a small cross body bag rather than a shoulder bag or backpack. It is the one thing that I always travel with. You can hold it close to the front of you, And in cooler weather it can fit under your coat. Remember too that pickpockets frequent the major tourist haunts, so take care when you’re in crowded areas.
  • Know that scams are regular happenings in Paris and the larger French cities. Scammers are always coming up with new ways to separate unsuspecting travellers from their money. One ommon scam sees a group of young people asking you to sign a petition (where you could be pickpocketed while you are distracted or asked to handover money as part of signing the form). Another is the ring scam where you’re asked if you dropped a ring and while distracted looking at the ring, will have your valuables removed.
  • There are always lots of questions on what to do with your passport. For me, this is a matter of personal choice, as there are pros and cons to both options. As for me, I’m a keep your passport with you kind of traveller. While carrying your passport at all times does put it at risk loss, there have been many times that I’ve needed to produce it as a form of identification. And I’ve heard way too many horror stories of passports being left in hotel safes.
  • We all know that when we visit Paris from anywhere else in the world, we are technically tourists. However it pays not draw attention to that fact if you can help it. Avoid standing on the street with a map wide open. And try to dress in clothes that blend in (the amount of travellers I see sporting high visibility gear makes me shake my head).

Eating

  • I’ve heard many travellers share their concern that ‘menu du jour’ pricing is a way to trap tourists into eating poor quality food. If you like what’s on offer, let this concern go and instead enjoy the value that will most likely follow.
  • Dining out at lunch time is a great option for travellers who might be on a tighter budget or if you’d like to experience a Michelin starred experience at a bargain price. Lunch time menu prices are often far lower for food that is coming out of exactly the same kitchen.

Packing

I try to provide regular packing advice on DF so I won’t overdo it here.

  • My best tips include packing light, choosing layers rather than bulky pieces, building outfits around your (comfortable) shoes and opting for a complementary colour palette. You can get more packing advice via my Ultimate Packing Toolkit. It’s free, and you can access it here.

Transport

Arriving in a new country can be daunting. You may not speak the language. You could be feeling the effects of jet-lag. And you have no idea which way you should be heading. It makes sense to have your ‘how to get out of the terminal or station plan’ ready to go before you arrive.

  • On our first visit to Paris we caught the train into the city from the airport. Today I recommend the fixed rate taxis or the many car services available. And I always have the address written out on a slip of paper so I can pass it to the cab driver. This saves me worrying about my French or trying to show where I want to go on my phone.
  • If you happen to be catching a taxi from a train station with your luggage, watch out for entrepreneurial types who will hang out at the taxi rank to help you lift your bags into the cab. They are in no way related to the taxi itself, but will expect you to tip them for their trouble. A polite no and a thank you are your friends if you happen to find yourself in this situation.
  • While walking is the best way to take in the beauty of Paris, once you’ve settled into your accommodation and are ready to explore, don’t be afraid to take public transport. This is especially true if you get footsore, or need to get somewhere more quickly. I shared my best tips for making the most of very convenient Paris Metro here. And buses are a great way to get around – cheaper than taxis but with a similar view.

One Final Thought For Your First Visit To Paris

Apart from reading the Distant Francophile website (you can subscribe here so you never miss a post) I recommend joining Jo Karnaghan’s France Travel Planning Facebook Group. It is full of great discussion and really helpful tips. If you haven’t met Jo, she was a guest on The Franco-Files recently – you can learn more about Jo here.

I’d love to know if regular visitors have any tips for first time travellers to Paris? Please feel free share your thoughts in the comments section below. And for those of you yet to undertake your first visit to Paris, if you have a question that I haven’t covered here, please don’t hesitate to yell out.

And until next time – au revoir.


About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.


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6 thoughts on “Tips For Your First Visit To Paris

  • Denise Linkson

    Great tips Janelle ! I would also add learn a little French as it is very much appreciated. Even if it’s just enough to say hello, goodby & thankyou . The French are extremely polite

    • Janelle Post author

      Such an excellent point Denise – thank you for pointing it out. It really is important to at least try – whether it is your first visit or your fourteenth. Thanks again x

  • Taste of France

    Excellent advice!
    I have had the “blague” where my bank detected foreign activity and blocked my card. Luckily, I knew my bank’s phone number by heart. It’s good to know it to report if your card is stolen, too. I learned my lesson and alert my bank when I travel.
    Sometimes foreign cards don’t work at gas stations. You might have to find a different one, so don’t get too low on gas.
    The exchange rate using a debit card at an ATM (NEVER use a credit card to get cash–you will be charged a ton of interest) tends to be better than exchanging cash. If you do exchange cash, your best bet is at the post office rather than an exchange office.
    I’m of the don’t carry the passport school, but I always have another ID, usually a driver’s license. Leave a photocopy of your passport with someone back home who can scan it or fax it if yours is stolen so you can have it replaced faster. With electronic keys, hotels know who entered your room and when, so your passport is probably safest in your luggage in your room, so you won’t forget it when you leave.
    As for the menu du jour, it can be an excellent choice because in good restaurants it’s based on some particularly good ingredients the chef got his/her hands on. To avoid disappointment, avoid touristy restaurants. Run from any restaurant with a laminated menu with tons of choices, all written in two or three languages. Opt for the restaurant with a chalkboard menu that’s all in French, and where you hear the diners en terrace speaking French. If the locals like a place, it must be good. And if they can survive as a business without tourist traffic, it will be good. And authentic.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thank you Catherine for so many ‘insider’ tips. I love your restaurant advice and will be using it when we visit France next time – although I’ve always avoided those restaurants with the laminated menus, and even more so if they have pictures!!

  • Dianne Knapp

    My husband and I are planning our first trip to France in Aug./Sept this year. I love your suggestions and contacts with additional info.

    • Janelle Post author

      Hi Dianne, Trip planning is always so exciting. I’m sure you will have a wonderful trip. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any specific queries that I can help you with. Warmest, Janelle.