11 things I wish I’d known before visiting Paris

Welcome to Cheapflights

The simple way to find cheap flights and hotels from all your favorite travel companies

Paris is one of the top visited cities in the world, and for good reason – the food is impeccable, the art breathtaking and the fashion iconic. We’ve all seen the glittering streets of Paris in movies and pictured ourselves atop a picnic blanket with a bottle of bubbly overlooking the Louvre. It’s hard to have anything but a fantastic time in this stunning city, but it’s easy to get stuck in long lines and tourist traps. So, before you head to Cheapflights.com to find that amazing Paris flight deal, read on for a few handy tips I wish I’d had in my back pocket the first time I visited the City of Light.

Search for flights to Paris

1. Museum passes are a must

Don’t spend your entire vacay in line. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

While spontaneity is a must on your adventures anywhere in the world, it’s always a good idea to do some basic planning. The Paris Museum Pass is your ticket to more than 50 museums and monuments throughout Paris including the Louvre (where you’ll find the famed Mona Lisa); the Musee d’Orsay, home to a wide collection of Vincent Van Gogh; Musee de l’Orangerie which houses Monet’s masterpieces; and so many other must-see (read: busy) attractions. You’ll save time standing in line for tickets and all the passersby will be jealous they aren’t as savvy as you when you flash your pass like you’re the real MVP of Pari’.

2. Don’t expect everyone to speak English

A few words can go a long way. (Vincent Anderlucci, Sunset in Paris via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

It might seem obvious since you’re going to a foreign country, but it’s always good to reiterate. Getting around a lot of European countries with just your American tongue may work in some destinations, but Paris is a particular city where it’s helpful to know a bit of French. Grab a handy pocket guide or download an app, and keep it on deck for ordering at restaurants, taking taxis or chatting it up with the locals. At the very least, they’ll really appreciate that you’re trying to speak their language, even if you can’t roll your Rs.

3. Heading to Versailles? Skip the palace and hike the gardens

This isn’t your average garden. (Bob Hall, Palace of Versailles via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the palace of Versailles is stunning, the line isn’t, especially during the peak summer season. It’s not surprising to see it winding up and down the palace courtyard. If it’s not worth the 3-hour wait, head to the gardens where you’ll find a shorter line and cheaper ticket. This isn’t your typical bed of flowers and bubbling brook. The gardens of Versailles boast a whopping 1,976 acres of land which is roughly 16 kilometers of jaw-dropping landscapes, statues and archways. You could spend an entire day getting lost among over 200,000 exotic trees and exploring Marie Antoinette’s many side houses where she played house instead of princess.

4. Don’t bypass an open market

You can’t go wrong with something sweet. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

Souvenirs can be a bit cliché and overpriced. Honestly, how many Eiffel Tower key chains does a person really need? If you stumble upon an open market (and you most likely will), it’s the perfect place to pick up gifts for your loved ones (and yourself!), like unique jewelery, sweets and treats.

5. Eiffel Tower group tours are a beautiful thing

The Eiffel Tower tour is a must. (Stig Nygaard, Paris via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

When we say group tour here, we promise there will be no ice breakers. We just want to save you some time. Waiting in line can take hours out of your precious day(s) in Paris. Multiple travel providers offer group tours where you can skip the line and even get the historic background or fun facts. Like, who knew that an Australian woman climbed all 1,700 steps of the Eiffel Tower in less than 10 minutes? I do, now. Apparently, being a professional tower runner is a thing.

6. Pick your Parisian vantage point wisely

Don’t miss this view. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

Visiting a new place can come down to making choices when you’re in a crunch for time. While tower running might not be your forte, we recommend getting one great view of Paris before you leave. I recommend the Arc De Triomphe. You’ll have a stunning 360-degree view of the entire city, Eiffel Tower included, without being completely winded when you get to the top.

7. Skip the vineyard tour

Wine tasting is best done with dinner. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

A vineyard tour sounds amazing in theory but, since wine country is a fair distance from the city, it could take up an entire day (and paycheck). Instead, find a local chateau downtown like O Chateau with professional wine tastings and meal pairings. Check out the wine tasting dinner, which offers 3 decadent courses with a special wine paired for each, or go on a champagne cruise down the Seine River at sunset.

8. Pre-book your ticket to the catacombs

You’ll be lost without a catacombs tour. (Alexander Parsalidis, Catacombs of Paris via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Avoid another daunting line by prepping ahead of time for this popular Paris must. If you want to go in the Catacombs, book a tour before you go. Your guide will show you through the entangled maze that lies beneath the city, and that’s probably for the best because it’d be easy to get lost down there.

9. The metro system is so simple

Public transportation is easy to use. (Fabio Sola Penna, Metro Paris via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Europe has it together when it comes to public transportation even with some of the most complex and dense systems you can imagine. Paris has the largest metro system in the world, which makes their methodology that much more impressive. The system is organized by color and numbers. Orient yourself around a major station and head off on your next venture around the city.

10. When in doubt, follow the river

Let the river be your guide. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

The beauty of being in a major city with a river running through the heart of it is it’s nearly impossible to get lost. And all of your major sightseeing is lined up right along the river banks of the Seine. Whenever you’re in doubt, take a deep breath, find the river and orient yourself.

11. Don’t be afraid to walk in every open archway

Exploration is key. (Photo: Brooke Parker)

When you’re traveling in a new place, it’s always best to take a step back and see how the locals live. The French are known for their architectural composition. If you see a marble archway without a gate closed, you might want to walk through it. Parisians are the best at hiding gems tucked away throughout the city. You might stumble upon a hip speakeasy, a traditional French brassiere or a bakery with the best baguette of your life.

Do you have any insider tips for visiting Paris? Let us know in the comments below. And when you’re ready to book your flight, let Cheapflights.com help you find a flight that fits your budget.

11 things I wish I’d known before visiting Paris was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Brooke Parker
Author: Brooke Parker (8 posts)

Brooke is a Boston-based writer and member of the Cheapflights newsletter content team. She has studied the food and wines of Italy, surfed the waves off Costa Rica and hiked the trails of Yosemite National Park.