Smart Tips for Your First Time in Paris

EUROPE, SERIES, STAFF, TRAVEL PREP — By on October 31, 2011 at 01:31

By staff writer Estrella Azul. Photos Copyright © Estrella Azul & Ian Fraser.

IF YOU EVER visit a city of which you don’t know the language, I advise you to do proper research before leaving. It may or may not be that mild case of OCD I suspect myself of having, but nonetheless I think it’s a good idea to imagine any scenario in which you might get lost. Come up with solutions to solve any problems which might occur, make a list of train/Metro/bus stops so you’ll know where to switch lines, and look up museum/attractions’ schedules/fees/parking.

Cheap flights are possible, so that’s another aspect worth researching. And, of course, carrying a good guide book and a phrasebook is essential.

Imagining any scenario was what helped me to not simply land in France and have the surprise of not being where I thought I should be. I seem to have drawn the short straw regarding airlines and landed in Beauvais-Tillé Airport. This airport is located outside of Paris, an 80-minute bus ride away from Porte Maillot, Paris. I was so glad I took the time to research the airport a bit and not simply assume, as I did at first, that it was in Paris.

View from the bus window

One moment captured during my bus ride to Paris


That said, since I love traveling so much, having to take the bus wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought it would be. I had fun during the bus ride looking out the window while listening to music, enjoying the picturesque scenery. From Porte Maillot I took the metro and switched lines once to reach the hotel.

Paris traffic

Paris traffic. Notice some traffic lights not working?


One of the most important things for survival there is keeping in mind those overly protective warnings your mother and grandmother have instilled in you and beware of traffic. It’s a nightmare, or at least to me it was. I said this in a previous article (Walking Through Paris), but it’s worth emphasizing: you know how sometimes you wish you could just pull over at the corner? Well, people in Paris actually do it. You need to watch out for cars when crossing the road—you might not see the oncoming traffic on account of the awkwardly-parked cars on street corners.

Corner parking

Taken in my home city of Cluj-Napoca with the cell phone camera,
but I saw the exact same thing in Paris


Public transit is a bit difficult to understand, but if you’re attentive enough and manage to figure out which way you’re supposed to be heading and then stand on the right platform, everything else falls into place.

You only need one ticket to use the metro and you can switch lines as many times as necessary. Just be sure not to go through the wrong door while trying to get from one platform to the other, even if it looks more accessible, or you’ll get too close to the exit and will need to purchase another ticket. Yes, I learned that one the hard way.

By law, all prices in Paris include tax and tips—everything from restaurants to taxis—so don’t feel obliged to leave a tip as you would back home.

Although my friend and I didn’t plan the trip around it, it just so happened that we visited Paris on the first weekend of March. The neat thing about this is that on the first Sunday of the month many attractions have free admission (we visited the Louvre that way on Sunday). Be sure to get there early if possible.

Sunday crowds at the Louvre

Free admission also means lines are especially long on 1st Sundays


I found a very helpful list of attractions and their free admission schedules on the Paris Convention and Visitors’ Bureau website (see Related Topics below). When you visit, be sure to click on the links provided for further hidden treasures. For example, if you’re a European Union citizen and under the age of 25 you can benefit from free admission on special schedules or some percentage off the regular fees. I was able to use this twice in Paris (and once before, while in Sicily, which is the only reason I knew to look for it).

I found a thorough article by Katie Knorovsky (see Related Topics below) that also helped me a lot as I was building the list of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to try.

Feeding the pigeons in Paris

Maybe if you were the one feeding them. . . .


P.S. The pigeons are scarier than they look, especially if you happen to be standing between them and food. They will fly directly at you, so think fast and duck!

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RELATED TOPICS

Free admission and good deals in Paris museums and monuments

Free Things to Do in Paris by Katie Knorovsky

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Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins,
Taormina, Sicily


Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©.

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    17 Comments

  • Ann
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    Good, common sense information! I think it’s wonderful that you were able to get to the museums without paying the entry fee…..lucky break!

    I am a firm believer in traveling with a guide book and phrase book – ESPECIALLY when I don’t speak the language. Like you – it’s saved my bacon more than once!

    Thanks for another great post!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Ann, thank you so much for your comment!
      Glad you enjoyed the my tips and I hear you on the guide and phrase book. I was lucky I speak English so I could get along just fine without the phrasebook, but there were times when it did come in handy.
      Judging by that simple fact, I can see how much more essential it is for someone who doesn’t speak English for example.

  • Lisa Carter
    Twitter: intralingo
    says:

    Estrella,
    Great advice and tips all around. It’s a great idea to find out if large cities have free admission to certain sites on any particular day or time, as many of them do offer this and it can save you a bundle on admission fees. Though you’re right that the lines are usually loooooong. 😉

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Yes, I find that it’s a good thing to know, as you said, you can save quite a bit.
      I noticed the EU citizens under 25 thing in Sicily, and started searching for something similar for Paris when I noticed the special schedules for free admission.

      The lines were long of course, but overall we got in pretty quickly. I don’t think we waited longer than 20-30 minutes on that Sunday.

  • Janel
    Twitter: JanelGr
    says:

    When I travel with my family here in the states we also stop at welcome centers as we enter a different state. There are booklets full of coupons for discounts on everything from hotels to food. We’ve saved a lot of money by taking a few minutes to stop for the brochures.

    You have some great advice for being prepared!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Oh yes, that’s great info as well, thanks for reminding me, Janel. I actually used that and walked up to some info centers when I was visiting Hungary and was so happy to find all the info I needed for free.

      Thanks for dropping by, I’m glad you liked the article!

  • Tammy
    Twitter: earthprayergmail.com
    says:

    Love these Parisian tips and I never knew or perhaps I’ve for gotten about the law requiring tips to be included.

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Thank you, Tammy, glad this looked helpful to you too.
      I never knew about the law requiring tips to be included either, it was interesting to find out.

  • JM Merchant
    Twitter: JMMerchant86
    says:

    Nice to know that pigeon attitude isn’t just in London then! 🙂

    Good tips Estrella, I’ll bare them in mind next time I get to travelling, which I think I need to do by Easter to make use of that discount 😉

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Yes, definitely seems like an attitude pigeons share all over the world (or Europe at least).
      Thanks!
      And how nice, wish I could get to travelling before Easter as well. Here’s hoping I will – I’ll trust the Universe to provide 😉

  • j says:

    You inspired me to check and there are certain days when admisstion to museums in the SF Bay Area are free too. Not weekends, of course, but still. How cool is that? LOVE your pictures!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Glad to have inspired you to check that, and even if not on weekends, it’s still a great thing to know, I’m sure.
      I wasn’t at all disappointed to save some Euros 🙂
      And thanks, I’m glad you liked the pictures, j!

  • Alyosha says:

    Wonderful tips.I hope someday I could go there in Paris.Thank you for sharing your great experiences.

  • kay says:

    I get to travelling, which I think I need to do by Easter to make use of that discount..Thanks for sharing the wonderful tips..

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      If you’re referring to the discounts and free admission I talked about in the article above, then no worries, they’re available throughout the year!
      We traveled there in March, but it just as easily could’ve been May, July or October 🙂

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