Paris, like any other city, has a mode d’emploi—a sort of unwritten user manual for making the most of it.
If you don’t know the basics, it can be as frustrating as trying to put IKEA furniture together without the instructions. And nobody likes sticking out as a tourist, especially in an impossibly chic city like Paris.
To avoid that, keep these Paris travel tips in mind as you explore. From social norms to navigating public transportation, these are the little things that can take you from “unaware tourist” to “in-the-know traveler.”
1. Know how to use public transportation
Getting around Paris is a breeze once you’ve got your carnet (a book of Metro/tram tickets, which is significantly cheaper than buying them separately) or Navigo card (which is easily rechargeable at station ticket machines). You can buy either of the above at any train station and most metro stations.
Public transport is the best as well as the cheapest way around central Paris (other than your own two feet!). Plus, the metro is open late, so it won’t cramp your style if you want to enjoy the theater or some nightlife.
2. Eat when the locals eat
Eat your lunch at lunchtime and your dinner at dinnertime. Sounds simple, but remember that the French don’t do all-day dining.
Lunch is generally from 12–2 p.m., and dinner from 7:30–10 p.m., though some places will keep going till midnight, particularly on weekends. If you’re hungry in between meals, head for a boulangerie which will often sell snacks such as fougasse, tiny pizzas or quiches.
3. Mind your manners
Always err on the side of formality. We can be pretty formal here in France, so remember to always say “bonjour madame/monsieur” before asking for whatever you need (directions, a beer, or a metro ticket). In fact, it’s polite to greet the other customers as well as the shopkeeper, and even to everyone in the hotel lift. Even if your French is practically non-existent, this will win your way into our hearts!
4. Love thy baker
Boulangeries are a terrific resource. Find a good one and cherish it if you’re staying here a while, and know the difference between an artisan boulanger (who makes bread on the premises) and a mere boulanger. As well as the baguette and your breakfast croissant or pain au chocolat, you might also find savory snacks.
5. Find a view
6. Explore Paris’ beautiful parks
When you get frazzled and need to hit the reboot button, Paris is full of beautiful parks, lush gardens and melancholy cemeteries where you can sit and relax.
Pere Lachaise cemetery is famous for its celebrity tombs, but another great alternative is Montparnasse with its windmill and flowerbeds. In terms of parks, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a lovely place with its classical statues—but also hides a little colony of beehives—while the Promenade Plantée gives you several kilometers of linear garden on an old railway route. Most Instagrammable? For us, it would be Parc Monceau.
7. See France, not just Paris
Don’t get so focused on Paris that you miss the many fascinating places you can go as a day trip.
Head off to Chartres Cathedral, the palatial Chateau de Fontainebleau, or the fascinating city of Reims, capital of the Champagne region, using the SNCF railway services. You could even go to Vaux-le-Vicomte, a “mini Versailles” accessible by shuttle bus from Verneuil l’Etang station. Another option is to find a tour of Impressionist painter Monet’s lovely garden at Giverny. The possibilities are endless!
8. Know where to find a bathroom
You will find Paris lacking in public bathrooms compared to many other cities. But as long as there’s a bar open, it’s not a problem. Just be prepared to pay for a coffee as your “ticket price.” Plus, it’s another excuse to indulge in a Parisian café!
You may find that in smaller cafes, the toilets are unisex. That’s perfectly normal, though you may need to look the other way occasionally! Major department stores and large hotels will also have public restrooms.
9. Connect to free wifi
Currently, 15 metro and RER stations in Paris have free wifi for 20 minutes. Simply select the “RATP gratuit” network and agree to the terms and conditions. Many also have bike-powered chargers—where you have to keep pedaling if you want your device to continue charging—and a limited number of power points if you’re running out of juice.
10. Go beyond the big sights
Paris is one city where forgoing the big sights in favor of two or three smaller, less visited places can pay off big time. Some of our personal favorites include the tiny ancient church of Saint Julien le Pauvre (best on Sundays when there’s a Maronite mass) and the concrete Gothic basilica of Saint Pierre de Chaillot.
Another great option is to skip the Louvre and head to a smaller museum instead. We love the Musée Jacquemart-André with its collection of works by the Italian old masters and its belle époque style, as well as the Musée Nissim de Camondo, an elegant private home turned into a museum of the decorative arts.
Bonus Tip: Get more bang for your buck at lunch
If you want to maximize your dining dollars, take advantage of the fixed price lunch menus available in many restaurants. You’ll get to sample the same cuisine as at dinnertime for much less money!