“To know Paris is to know a great deal.” ~ Henry Miller.
If only I had learnt some Paris travel tips before my first visit to France, the experience would have been quite different.
As a young girl, I always dreamt of visiting Paris someday. The allure of her elegant architecture lining cobbled streets; the kilometres of masterpieces held within the Louvre to satisfy my soul; strolling along the banks of the Seine with its Eiffel Tower backdrop at sundown to warm my heart; the rich history to be uncovered around every corner to pique my curiosity.
But what didn’t feature in my dreams were pickpockets, rude locals and insane crowds. This is the reality when visiting Paris for the first time… Or is it? I can assure you it doesn’t have to be just by knowing some Paris tips and the best month to visit Paris to help you not look like a tourist.
If you’re a fan of the hit TV show Emily in Paris, you’re likely familiar with a few faux pas visitors make in France. On arriving in the French capital, Emily unknowingly does several stereotypical touristy things straight off the bat, causing locals to turn their nose up at her. And while the show is comedic fiction, there is some truth to this! Don’t be like Emily, s’il vous plaît.
I’ve often been mistaken as a local by fellow tourists in Paris, and have therefore dedicated this entire website to helping you learn how to not look like a tourist anywhere. I’m a firm believer that people who think Paris is overrated just haven’t done it The Invisible Tourist Way I’m about to reveal below (or they didn’t read my super informative Paris 4 day itinerary).
So if you’re hoping to blend in in Paris to avoid potential issues and to make the most of your experience, read on for more!
This guide to crucial Paris travel tips will cover…
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19 Crucial Paris Travel Tips to Not Look Like a Tourist
In my #1 Amazon New Release book, I divulge how I was treated when visiting Paris for the first time (before I knew exactly how to avoid looking like a tourist) versus my second, and subsequent visits thereafter.
In short, the first time was not good. And every time from the second visit onwards? A dream!
What changed? It wasn’t Paris, it was all me. I quickly learnt Paris is just like a mirror. She will reflect back what you present to her. Here’s what I learnt so you don’t make the same mistakes I did at first.
Do learn some handy French phrases to get by
Yeah, yeah, I know this may seem obvious and even tedious if you don’t enjoy language learning. But honestly, knowing a little bit of French will take you such a long way.
It can mean the difference between locals sniggering behind your back or being invited into a “lock in” in a Parisian sports bar for unlimited free drinks and endless laughs with them. Yes, both these experiences happened to me!
Take a read of my detailed guide to learning language for travel fast where I reveal some simple tricks, free and paid resources to help you achieve results quickly. It’s very important to listen to native speakers within these resources to learn to pronounce words with the correct accent. French words sound very different to how they are written.
You don’t need to become fluent, just know some basic phrases to use daily (and possible responses). Speaking in the native language is a show of respect to locals, rather than assuming everyone will speak English. Master the below phrases and you’ll always be well received by locals.
Some essential French phrases you should learn
TIP: Start off by greeting the person in French before asking a question. I will always begin a question with “Excusez-moi, bonjour madame/monsieur…” then my question. It’s likely your accent won’t be perfect right away (the main thing is you’re trying!), but this allows locals to decide if they want to continue conversing in French or will switch over to English to make things easier. Then you’ll be off the hook!
Don’t allow random people to pick you up from the airport
On collecting your suitcase from the baggage carousel at Charles de Gaulle or Orly airports in Paris, you may think it’s super kind of the approaching stranger insisting you use his taxi service. Wow, he’s even wanting to carry your bag, how thoughtful!
Taxi drivers soliciting unsuspecting tourists inside the airport is actually illegal in Paris. These unlicensed taxi drivers can end up scamming you to pay hundreds of euros for the fare! Ignore these sneaky folks.
If using a taxi from the airports to central Paris, always remember to head to the authorised taxi stand outside, Taxi Officiel Aéroport, and catch one from there. They’re available from 5am – 11pm daily.
TIP: Uber is legal in France, so this may also be an option for you if preferred.
Do be organised by booking accommodation & attractions in advance (this includes knowing what you want to see at the Louvre!)
As we’ve already established, Paris is a very popular tourist destination, which in turn means it pays off being organised to make the most of your visit. Just winging it is likely to result in missing out on activities you looked forward to – and we don’t want that.
It’s possible to avoid disappointment with a little pre-planning!
If visiting Paris during the summer months, try and book accommodation around 6 months in advance where possible. Around 3 months in advance is fine for the shoulder seasons (March – May and September – November). In my opinion, these shoulder seasons are the best time to visit Paris.
TIP: Book a hotel in a central location nearby a Metro station to make it a breeze to navigate around Paris. This allows you to easily visit popular spots before tourist crowds arrive and after they leave.
For museums, specifically the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, know what artworks you wish to see and research their whereabouts in the museums before your arrival. That way you can maximise your time enjoying them instead of aimlessly wandering and hoping to stumble across each.
TIP: After viewing the mysterious Mona Lisa at the Louvre, don’t forget to turn behind you to admire another grand masterpiece, The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese. Most people overlook it due to their frantic fascination with photographing Da Vinci’s more famous work!
Paris tourist attractions to book in advance
Do always greet people in stores & restaurants with bonjour first
This is probably one of the most common Paris tourist mistakes. It may even be the reason why the French have a reputation for being rude – but are they really?
In France, as the customer, it is polite etiquette to greet the store people as you enter their premises. Think of it from their perspective: A new customer has entered my store and just completely ignored me.
The French may assume you’re the one being rude if you don’t greet them first. While it’s not what we may be used to at home, just remember it’s a little different, and use your best bonjour (good day) or bonsoir (good evening) to be a polite visitor.
Don’t plan on rushing around to see everything in one or two days
Dear old Paris deserves so much more of your time! A day or even weekend in Paris just isn’t going to cut for a first-time visit, and can leave you with a skewed interpretation of the city and its people. There is so much fascinating history and culture to uncover if you care to dedicate time to find it.
The Musée du Louvre (Louvre Museum) itself is home to kilometres worth of hallways, which would require multiple visits over a long period of time to see them all.
For first-timers, I’d highly recommend creating a 4-5 days in Paris itinerary to cover the main sights, allow time to explore hidden wonders and to just flâner – the French word meaning to wonder and explore for the pleasure of wandering, with no set destination.
Do ignore people who approach you on the street speaking English
Unfortunately from my experiences, the fact of the matter is anyone that approaches you speaking English (in a city where French is spoken very proudly), is usually out to scam you in some way.
Whether it be trying to distract you whilst an accomplice tries to steal your valuables or they use a sleight of hand on their own, these people speak English because they know that’s the language of most foreign tourists in France. It’s best to ignore and not fall for it.
The only exception to this is if it’s obviously a fellow tourist and they’re asking you for directions.
TIP: Take a read of these Paris scams so you know what to expect.
Do know the differences between the rail lines (& how to use them)
This one of the most necessary Paris travel tips. There are two kinds of rail lines sprawling the length of Paris and beyond in a spider web-like formation: The Métro (underground subway) and the RER (Réseau Express Régional), both run by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens).
- With 244 stations across five lines, the Métro is one of the most populated rail networks in the world!
- Their coloured lines are marked with numbers to differentiate each (eg 1, 2, 3).
- I never found I had to walk very far to find a Métro station in Paris, there are so many.
- There are 33 RER stations within Paris, with a total of 257 that extend beyond the French capital’s boundaries.
- Their coloured lines use letters to differentiate each (eg A, B, C).
- It’s easy to remember that the RER can be used for regional, long distances, as well as getting from one side of Paris to another.
- Tickets for the RER are priced by zone (there are 5).
TIP: To use the trains, you can purchase RER or Metro tickets from machines (it can be translated to English) at any station, or in a set of 10 to save money. Validate each ticket by placing it through the ticket gates when heading to the platform.
NOTE: A rechargeable card called Passe Navigo is an alternative to paper tickets that can be used on the Métro, buses and trams. It can be purchased from RATP approved stores and at each station counter. More info here.
Don’t show off your valuables (or let your guard down)
Paris is easily one of the most popular tourist destinations and Instagram capitals in the world, and for good reason. However people who dress up in their Insta-best clothing sporting designer handbags and shoes make it very obvious they’re visiting Paris, and therefore a target for pickpockets. They know these types of visitors will be distracted when taking photos.
Popular, crowded places are the perfect opportunity for pickpockets to quickly steal valuables like watches, wallets, phones, and cameras before sneaking off and becoming camouflaged in a sea of people.
Tone it down a little with smart-casual clothing and don’t wear things that will really draw attention to you in crowds like bright colours. Be mindful of your handbag each time you take a photo. In my guide to travel resources, crossbody bags that can be worn at the front are my personal favourite.
TIP: Don’t leave home with anything you couldn’t bear to part with, either.
Don’t wear sweat pants or activewear
Wondering what to wear in Paris? Parisians are generally stylish. Leave the overly casual clothing at home such as sweatpants, hoodies and activewear. These are dead giveaways of a tourist.
Switch it up for smart casual attire such as jeans, long skirts, tailored shorts or trousers. Try to avoid bright patterns and stick to a neutral colour palette when packing.
But ladies, this doesn’t mean you need to wear heels everywhere, either! In fact, although not my personal favourite, locals wear white sneakers to walk from train stations to their place of work. You’ll do a lot of walking in Paris!
Don’t apply too much make-up
A French lady won’t go overboard with bold false eyelashes clashing with bright coloured lipstick day-to-day. Her make-up is subtle and strikes a balance between accentuating the eyes or lips, not both.
To blend into the crowd, a French make-up look is typically a neutral eye complemented by a red lipstick (or similar colour tones). Less is more.
TIP: This YouTube video sums up the French makeup style perfectly!
Do always look like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t
Looking like a lost tourist is a sure-fire way to attract the unwanted attention of pickpockets in Paris. Forget walking around with a paper map (does anyone still do that? I used to love paper maps, haha) or even using directions on your phone if you’re not completely confident.
As an example, imagine you’re trying to find your hotel amongst the maze of Parisian streets that all look similar. When you know you’re nearby but just can’t quite find it, politely ask a local in French if they know where it is. Usually if they are in the area, they should be able to give you the final directions for how to find it.
Don’t leave love locks behind (one of the unpopular Paris travel tips)
While it seems to be the romantic thing to do in Paris with a loved one, I’ve personally always held an unpopular opinion on this subject. For all the details and alternatives, read my full article about why it’s wise to never leave love locks in Paris and beyond.
Leaving padlocks on centuries-old infrastructure has caused immense damage, can be an eye-sore and results in authorities coming along to remove them with bolt cutters.
Don’t speak too loudly on public transport or in restaurants
Whether with company or talking on the phone, no one enjoys being forced to hear the details of someone else’s loud conversation. Sometimes people just don’t realise how far their voices can be carried!
Speaking overly loudly, whether intentional or not, can draw unwanted attention. To not seem like an annoying tourist in Paris (or anywhere really), be mindful of your voice’s volume.
Do remember to sit down to slowly enjoy a meal
It may take a little while to accept that fast food is harder to come by in Paris (and France in general) than it is in other cities. This is because the French embrace café culture – being able to really sit and savour their meals, rather than hurriedly gobble something down.
While you don’t need to do this everyday, try and get into the French mindset by allowing time to enjoy a long lunch. Take notice of the flavours, textures and aromas of your dish. Accompany it with a glass of delicious French wine and savour it without having to rush off.
It’s a relaxing experience and a nice perspective on life!
Don’t leave a huge tip
Unlike our friends in the United States, tipping is not usually expected in Paris as service is included in the bill.
However if you truly enjoyed your meal and the service, it’s acceptable to tip your waiter or waitress 5% – 10%. No need to go overboard with the euros!
Do indulge in the bakeries and patisseries
These are one of the many things Paris is famous for! Maybe you’ll be surprised as I was to learn there are over 30,000 boulangeries (bakeries) in Paris.
It was the French that brought the art of bread-making to Vietnam during Napoleon I’s reign in 1858. Baking pain (the French word for bread) expanded throughout Asia and is why the Japanese word for bread today is パン pan.
Perfect for breakfast, lunch or a quick snack throughout the day, did you even visit Paris if you didn’t encounter a boulangerie?
What to try at a boulangerie or patisserie:
There’s just something different about French boulangeries (bakeries). Pastries are so fresh, crispy and buttery, while the desserts resemble miniature artworks – go try for yourself to see what I mean!
TIP: Learn where to try the best pastries in Paris here.
Do pick up some locally made souvenirs
I’m all about purchasing souvenirs made by local artisans during my travels! Look for unique items such as paintings from Montmartre (mine are pictured below) or the vendors along the Seine, delicious local macarons (Ladurée is popular for gifts), French perfumes, conserves, leather goods, scarves, cheeses, kitchenware, even mini Eiffel Tower ornaments.
Some of the best souvenirs from Paris can even be found in thrift stores or from museum gift shops.
Souvenir shopping is a great opportunity to flâner by exploring off the beaten path and stumbling across some hidden gems!
TIP: Support local businesses by purchasing souvenirs from brick-and-mortar stores, rather than people who approach you on the streets trying to sell trinkets for cheap.
Do take a cooking class with locals
Want to know the perfect souvenir you can use at home whenever you like? Learning how to create an authentic French dish or dessert from a local is where it’s at! Have fun on your trip and impress your friends back home by taking a small group cooking class in Paris.
I’ve taken cooking classes in Japan and these kinds of experiences are always really fun end enjoyable, even if like me you’re not a whizz in the kitchen! Cooking classes with fresh local ingredients also help us appreciate the connection between cuisine and the local culture, too.
Paris tips for cooking classes
Do reconsider using services such as Airbnb
Did you know in 2015, 44% of advertised properties in Paris were permanently available for short-term rental, despite laws stating holiday rentals should be capped to only being available 120 days of the year?
I penned an article in March 2018 sharing another unpopular opinion about troubling issues with homestay accommodation services such as Airbnb. After my research then and what issues arose when tourists stopped visiting popular destinations with high Airbnb listings during 2020, I discourage my readers from using such services.
Unregulated homestay accommodation has proven to drive up rental prices for locals, pushing them out of their own cities. Do we really want residential neighbourhoods turned into shells of their former selves? It’s certainly food for thought.
TIP: My guide to ethical alternatives to Airbnb ensures we can still travel whilst minimising issues from tourism.
NOTE: Hotel rooms in Paris are notoriously small, so please don’t be alarmed if there isn’t much space. Most buildings in Paris are centuries old, and many are absent of elevators, too! On the bright side, this adds to the charm and you’ll get a good workout carrying your bags up the stairs.
BONUS: Do what makes you happy
And finally for the most often overlooked of these Paris travel tips: Remember to travel for yourself, not for validation from others. If you don’t end up with the same photos as everyone else, is it a really a big deal?
If museums aren’t your thing, don’t bother wasting your precious travel time exploring them for the sake of it. Every Paris travel guide will tell you to visit the Louvre, it is famous for many reasons. But there’s absolutely no point dredging through if it’s going to feel like a chore to you. We all like different things and that’s okay!
Experience things that truly interest you and spark happiness within your soul. That’s what travel is all about, after all.
Concluding these Paris tips for first timers
From learning some of the language and cultural differences to knowing how to avoid crowds and lengthy queues, I hope these Paris travel tips help make your first visit memorable for the right reasons. I promise being prepared really does make all the difference!
How many of these travel tips for Paris did you already know? Did you learn something new in this Paris travel blog? Is there anything you would add to this? Let me know in the comments below.
While you’re here, why not check out more of my travel guides and itineraries for Europe, or for advice and more tips on how to be an invisible tourist, check out my complete “Be Invisible” archive here.
Until next time,
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Featured image: Unsplash
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