8 things to know before your first trip to Paris
So you have finally booked your dream trip to Paris and are probably counting the days before you fly to the City of Light. The next thing you need to understand is how to prepare for your maiden voyage – what to bring, what not to bring, what to know in advance, what to know during that you are there, if you should have euros in advance, and a whole host of other things.
I moved from New York to Paris permanently in 2005 and made at least a dozen trips before settling here. Since living here I have given thousands of walking tours to US and international clients and now know the essentials you need to bring before you arrive.
I’ve prepared a comprehensive list of things you need to know and do before your trip to make your dream vacation as smooth as possible.
1. Passport requirements
If you are a US citizen, you must have a US passport that does not expire for at least nine months after arrival, otherwise you will not be able to board your flight. It happened to one of my tour clients. She had booked a week of sightseeing with me and when she was trying to board her flight her husband’s passport was due to expire in three months so he couldn’t get on the flight and they had to cancel their trip.
2. What to pack
First of all: take at least two pairs of your most comfortable shoes because Paris is primarily a walking city and you don’t want to miss a thing if your feet are sore. Sneakers or shoes with thick rubber soles work best, and make sure they are broken before you go. Packing a pair of dress shoes is also a good idea.
Put Paris in your weather app on your mobile phone and check it a few days before your departure so you can pack your bags accordingly. Always bring an umbrella and a light raincoat. If you are coming in March, April, May, September or October, it is best to pack and wear diapers as the temperature can vary widely between morning and afternoon. On a typical April morning, it could be 38 degrees F by 9 a.m. and the temperature could rise to as high as 60 degrees F by 2 p.m. A light nylon or fleece vest or zip-up cardigan under a coat or jacket. Mid-weight jacket is perfect so that you can take it off when it’s hot, then fold it up and put it in your bag or backpack.
If you are a jogger or runner, pack your shorts or sweatshirts as running is a fantastic way to soak up Parisian sights such as the Seine, the Tuileries Park and the Luxembourg Gardens.
Pro tip: If you forget something, don’t worry. Paris has more stores than almost any city in the world, so you’ll easily replace what you forgot and have a cool memory of Paris as well.
3. Mobile phones and other electronic devices
There are two choices for mobile phone service when you are in Paris. You can purchase a plan from your local service provider that includes international service. It will be a daily or flat rate for an extended period.
The other option is to buy a local SIM card and install it in your phone if you have an unlocked phone.
If you use the first option, be sure to turn off your data roaming service or you’ll be faced with a shocking phone bill when you get home.
As for laptops, tablets, Kindles, and the like, they’ll work well here, and almost all hotels and apartment rentals have free Wi-Fi.
France uses 220 – 240V but USA uses 120V, so the outlets are different, buy at least two electronic plug converters, and more if necessary, to be able to charge your phone, computer, camera, etc. Some updated and recently opened hotels may already have the plug converted so you can use your US plug. If you forget to pack your converter plugs, you can ask the hotel if they have one that you can borrow and you can easily buy one at most electronics stores. You can buy a single converter plug for as little as $ 7 or you can buy a set that includes plugs for China and UK.
4. Tickets for museums and attractions
A good idea is to book your tickets for museums and attractions in advance, which will save you time and sometimes money. While it takes longer to book your tickets individually at each site, it’s cheaper than buying a museum pass, unless you plan to visit two or more museums per day. Also, be sure to book your tickets directly through the museum or attraction site, rather than through a third-party site such as Get Your Guide or Viator, as these sites charge more than museum sites. This is particularly the case with the Eiffel Tower, so buy your tickets directly here.
It is also best to print a copy of the tickets, as some sites only accept physical tickets.
5. Restaurant reservations
A number of Parisian restaurants have online reservation systems, so it’s easy to book in advance. If the restaurant does not have an online reservation system, call your hotel concierge prior to arrival and ask them to make the reservation.
Most restaurants start their dinner service at 7:30 p.m., so don’t plan on dining earlier, unless you’re heading to a cafe and don’t need a reservation. As a precaution, you or your concierge should call the restaurant the day before your reservation to confirm.
6. Money and credit cards
Almost all restaurants, cafes, stores, hotels and other establishments accept credit and debit cards. Bring at least two credit cards, preferably a Visa or Mastercard, as many small establishments do not accept American Express or Discover.
The euro is the currency used in France. Buy a minimum amount of 50-100 euros from home just to have it when you arrive, but no more than that as the exchange rate is much better when you exchange your money here. The easiest and safest way to reach the euro in Paris is to use an ATM, as they have the best exchange rates. However, be aware that at some ATMs, when you enter the amount you want, it will then ask you if you want it in euros or in USD, make sure you choose the euro option. For example, I have a Chase Bank account in the US that I still use occasionally, and last week I withdrew $ 100. The ATM asked me if I wanted $ 128 USD withdrawn from my account or if I wanted to withdraw it directly in euros. I chose the second option, and it was $ 121 instead of $ 128 – a substantial difference. There may be an ATM fee of $ 3 to $ 5 from your home bank, depending on the type of account you have, but it’s always worth it.
The only place you might need large sums of money is the Paris Antique Flea Market, where some vendors don’t accept credit cards.
7. Travel and medical insurance
It is a good idea to purchase travel insurance, especially when traveling to a foreign country. When it comes to medical services, France has one of the best medical systems in the world, and is still in the top five, even ahead of the United States, at a fraction of the cost. Almost all general practitioners charge less than $ 50 for a visit. If it is something more serious like a hospital visit or emergency surgery, you may only be charged a small amount as the government will sometimes forgive most of the costs. . The American Hospital, in a suburb just outside of Paris, is known for its excellent service and highly trained doctors who all speak English. (Note that you may be billed full price at the American Hospital). I had serious surgery five years ago in a French hospital and received the best care I have ever received in a hospital.
8. Safety tips
Paris, for the most part, is a safe city, with very little violent crime. The only thing is that you have to beware of pickpockets, which are prevalent in most major tourist spots, such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs-Élysées, and Montmartre. To protect yourself, keep your money and credit cards in a safe place, such as an inside pocket, or for added security, a wallet belt under your shirt. Do not put valuables in a backpack, and women, do not put valuables in your purse.
Be alert if a stranger comes up to you and asks if you speak English. Most of the time it will either be a pickpocket or someone trying to rip you off by giving them money. Ignore them.
Editor’s note: on the way to Paris? Don’t miss Richard’s 9 ways to Avoid looking like a tourist in France.