10 Essential Tips for Visiting Paris (+ Helpful French Phrases)

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Tips for visiting Paris - sidewalk cafe
Nothing is more Parisian – or European – than the sidewalk café. They are everywhere. One tip, just pick one with a good crowd and have a good meal at a reasonable price – as long as you avoid the ones in tourist areas. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll.

Paris is a global tourist destination, the heart of Europe. People arrive worldwide, so prime visiting time in the summer means crowds, premium prices, and lines. Bookmark Visit Paris for great information.

You want to stay in Île de France, the city center, which is historic Paris. You’ll be close to many places you’d like to visit. Staying in the Ninth Arrondissement was convenient for all the major sights to see. I prepared a detailed 7-day itinerary for touring Paris from this hub. And, following, are my top tips for visiting.

Customs and Immigration

If you’re not already a Trusted Traveler, you should be in TSA PreCheck ($78) for all your domestic flights. The international program, Global Entry ($100), is worth enrollment.

However, in 2023, delays in processing result in needing a year lead time to enter either of the programs.

Why do I recommend it? With a U.S. passport, no visa is required for entry into France. Entering the country was simply standing in line at passport control. The French are very efficient.

Returning to the U.S. with Global Entry, there was no waiting in line, luggage was scanned, not inspected, and I was through U.S. immigration in minutes. It took longer to walk from the plane to Customs and Immigration than it took to go through the process.

If Paris is on the agenda for next year, apply right now.

Tips for visiting Paris - passport and euro bills and coins.
Always keep your passport under your control. Unlike the movies, in Paris, hotels do not collect your passports. Before arriving in Paris, use your personal bank to purchase around $200 worth of Euros as walking around money. Also, when arriving, use an ATM to make a withdrawal to ensure your cards are working in Europe. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll.


Remember to let your bank and credit card companies know you’re going to Europe to avoid declined payments when using your cards. Even though there will be fees, upon arriving, find a bank ATM and use your debit card to ensure it’s working. U.S. cash is not welcome in France.

Before leaving the US, I purchased about €200 from my bank to ensure I had some ready cash. The exchange rate at the time only cost me $193, but by the time I was in Paris, €1 was about US$1.15, so my $193 Forex investment was worth $230, a 19 percent gain.

Most places, particularly cafés bring WiFi-enabled card readers to your table, so you never have to surrender possession of your credit card. Virtually every store I shopped had “tap” readers, so my phone was my primary credit card and my wallet rarely left my zipper-closed pocket.

Tips for visiting Paris - crowd of people waiting to cross a street in Paris.
Popular places like Versailles (pictured), Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Musée du Louvre, are target destinations with long lines for the unprepared. Obtain “skip-the-line” timed entry tickets and spend more time enjoying the locale than time spent in line. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll.

Reserve ‘Skip-the-Line’ Tickets

Decide in advance what sights to see and get timed entry skip-the-line tickets. You can buy them from ticket sites, but check the venue’s official website; the tickets may be more accessible and cheaper than through a broker.

You’ll pay a premium for line-skipping tickets, so the choice is to spend more to see more or stand in line. In May, there was a three-hour wait to take elevators up the Eiffel Tower and a five-minute hold with a timed entry ticket.

The line was an hour long at Arc de Triomphe and no wait at all with a timed entry ticket.

You may want to take sightseeing tours or a Seine River cruise, but self-guided lets you move at your own pace. Tours can be helpful for a day trip, such as Monet’s Giverny Gardens or the Palace of Versailles.

Tips for visiting Paris - tour guide explaining things to tour group.
Many major sites, like the Musée du Louvre and Opéra Garnier, offer guided tours–in multiple languages–that unveil many of the most popular aspects of the attraction. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Judiciously Choose Guided Tours

At other sites, such as Opera Garnier, you’ll want to take a guided tour and learn its history and the meaning behind the paintings and carvings. Guided tours in Musée du Louvre, the Louvre museum will rapidly get you to the most famous masterpieces, such as the Mona Lisa.

Bus tours are okay, and some are better than others.

Jake and Sarah from Savannah, Georgia, sat beside us at the Paris Auber outdoor café table. Learning it was a first-time Paris trip, we started sharing experiences.

“We took a bus tour that promised to hit several places we wanted to see,” Sarah said. “We saw them, but that’s about it. We were rushed through or around, then dropped at souvenir shops for a long time. It was not a good time.”

Wandering at one’s own pace allows much more time for a complete Paris experience, including talking with people at the ubiquitous outdoor cafes.

Sitting on the other side of Jake, Jean-Paul joined in, speaking English in a thick French accent.

“Those tours just want to take you to the shops because they get, how do you say it? Kickers.”

“Kickbacks,” corrected Jake.

“Oui,” Jean-Paul said. “Kickbacks.”

You’re an American in Paris, dance down the street, sing out loud while walking Champs-Élysée, and skip Disneyland Paris—you can do Disneyland in Florida or California.

Tips for visiting Paris - cobblestone street with people and cars.
There are many alleys and narrow cobblestone streets in Paris. Know where you’re going using a mapping app with “bread crumbs,” a feature that tracks where you’ve been as well as where you’re going. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll.

Know Where You’re Going

I recommend adding a GPS tracking app to your phone to record your movements. AllTrails, GaiaGPS, or Strava are popular apps that have that feature. Recording where you’re going will also help you return to the hotel. It also records where you’ve been to match with photos taken on the trip.

Tips for visiting Paris - people sitting outside or waiting in line to enter Les Deux Magots cafe.
The signs may be in French, but most servers of cafés speak fluent English. Knowing a few French phrases makes the experience so much more adventuresome. Parisians appreciate it when you try to speak their language–and many will want to practice their English with you. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll


Most shopkeepers and Parisians speak some English but experience the culture and learn key phrases in French.

Online language programs have short “visit-oriented” courses. At the end of this article, learn the key phrases that help make your visit more fun. If you had French in high school or college, you’d be amazed at how fast your memory brings it back.

By my fourth day in Paris, I spoke and listened in French about half the time. By the end of the trip, I was up to more than 80 percent of the time.

“Pardon ma français, il est terrible. Allez-nous à l’Hôtel Saint Petersbourg.” Virtully the first French words spoken in Paris after debarking in Gare Nord (North Train Station), I said to my taxi driver.

“Oh you mean ‘emmène-moi à l’Hôtel Saint Petersbourg,” he replied in English. “Vous sont dans Étas-Unis?” (You are from the United States).

He turned in his seat and said, “I practice my English with you; you practice your French with me.”

And we did for the 20-minute drive.

“You are in the middle of everything,” he told me while pointing and navigating insane traffic. “There’s Opéra Garnier, you must see it. Musée du Louvre is a 15-minute walk that way.”

It adds to the experience of being in a foreign country. You won’t be mistaken for a Parisian, but locals will appreciate your making an effort—and as I learned, many will want to practice their English with you.

Tips for visiting Paris - view of the front of Hotel Saint Petersbourg.
Sometimes an old exterior hides a very comfortable hotel interior. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Where to Stay

Paris has an extraordinary variety of hotels, pensions, AirBnBs, and resorts. Check reviews carefully and understand that French hotel rooms may differ from those found in the U.S. Location is very important.

Staying near Opéra Garnier, within one block of each of three Metro stations, was so convenient for subway or walking. The most straightforward transportation in Paris is by foot or the Metro.

We were less than 15 minutes from nearly all the significant Paris places we wanted to visit. For anything further or far from a Metro station, we used Uber.

Many European hotels have twin or double beds instead of queens or kings. In addition, ensure the hotel offers a private, in-room bathroom.

Jumping Jet Lag

It’s a real thing. There are many ways to combat it, but what worked for me was the advice of Jim Hamel, the leader of our photography group in Paris.

“I like to take overnight flights,” he said. “After dinner, I’ll take a sleeping pill, pull on some blinders and earplugs, and let myself fall asleep.”

Since you’ll arrive in Paris in the morning, after clearing immigration, it’s daylight to be enjoyed. Take a nap after checking into the hotel, but keep yourself going while the sky is bright.

Tips for visiting Paris - outside of Le Rive Gauche cafe with scooters parked at the curb and people seated at outdoor tables.
Food in Paris is exceptional everywhere. Find a sidewalk cafe that shows strong patronage and just take a table. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Changing Eating Habits

Parisians eat on a different schedule than Americans. Meals are later in the day. In the Ninth Arrondissement, finding an early-opening coffee shop was impossible. Even Starbucks didn’t open until 7:30, and most others, 8:00.

The hotel served breakfast at 7:00, and I was the only person in the dining room until 7:30.

Lunch is after 13:00; France uses a 24-hour clock. 1:00 p.m. is 13;00, 6:00 p.m. is 18:00, and dinner is generally after 20:00, 8:00 p.m. Join the Parisians and eat later than expected.

Pickpockets in Paris

The song goes, “Werewolves in London,” and perhaps it could be parodied as “Pickpockets in Paris.” They are so common it’s almost a romantic occupation in Paris. Pickpockets are everywhere and very sophisticated.

The State Department has a website with recommendations to avoid being a victim. In any situation where you find yourself being forced into distraction, bully your way through quickly or raise your voice, “Police.”

Number one on the list is to maintain absolute control and possession of your driver’s license and passport. I kept mine in a zippered inner pocket of my Clothing Arts pickpocket-proof pants. I learned about these pants while doing pre-trip research and decided to purchase several pairs. In the one situation where I was being swarmed, they protected me from sticky fingers.

Ignore distractions, ignore swarms, and move quickly from the areas. There are many tips on being prepared and responsive from sources like our partner, Trip Advisor.

Essential French Words and Phrases

My personal experience is that Parisians appreciate you trying to speak their language.

When entering a shop, it’s expected you will greet the proprietor and clerks. “Bonjour monsieur” and “Bonjour madame” are the minimum.

To be extra polite, ask how they are feeling. A typical entrée greeting could be “Bonjour, madame. Comment vas-tu?” That’s, “Hello, madame. How are you?” They’ll usually reply, “C’est va, et vous?” which means, “Fine, how are you.” Your response is “C’est va.”

I almost always started my conversations after the greeting with, “Pardon, ma français est terrible,” which means, “Pardon me, my French is terrible.” It always got a laugh, sympathy, and assistance. Babbel offers a “vacation” version of its language learning program.

Basic French Words

You can use the audio feature in Google Translate to hear the pronunciations.

  • Hello: Bonjour
  • Goodbye: Au revoir
  • Goodnight: Bonne soir, or bonne nuit
  • Please: S’il vous plaît
  • Thank you: Merci
  • You’re welcome: De rien
  • Yes: Oui
  • No: Non
  • Good: Bon
  • Very pretty: Très jolie
  • Beautiful: Beau (masculine), belle (feminine)

Common French Phrases

  • How are you?:  Comment vas-tu?
  • I am well, and you?: Ça va, et vous?
  • What is your name?: Comment vous appelez-vous?
  • My name is…: Je m’appelle…
  • Excuse me: Pardon
  • I don’t know: Je ne sais pas
  • I don’t understand: Je ne comprends pas

Basic French Phrases for Travelers

  • Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais?
  • I’m lost: Je suis perdu
  • Where is the bathroom?: Où sont les toilettes?
  • I’m sorry: Je suis désolé
  • Where is…: Où est… (For example, “Where is the Opera Garnier?” translates to “Où est l’Opéra Garnier?”)
  • How much is…: Combien… (“Combien cette robe?” means “How much is this dress?”)
  • I would like…: Je voudrais…
  • A beer: Une bière
  • A glass of wine: Un verre de vin
  • A coffee: Un café
  • Water: Eau
A travel writer and photographer in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., Eric Jay Toll has been writing for She Buys Travel from its earliest days. Specializing in the American West and outdoor adventures, Eric also treks in Mexico and Canada, and forays into Europe. He lives with his dog, Chaco, who occasionally joins road trips and camp outs, but tends to be a Downtown Diva.
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