Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Paris

Bateaux-Mouches, Notre Dame, Paris, France

My first trip to Paris was eighteen years ago and while I have returned many times since, that first visit is an experience I will never forget. Here are just a few of the tips I wish I knew before that first great visit to the City of Lights.

1. Parisians are awesome – Like most Americans, I was always brought up thinking that the French were, well for lack of a better word, jerks. Perhaps it’s our beginnings as a British colony, but we are constantly poking fun at the French for everything from personal hygiene to a general rotten temperament. Imagine then my shock when arriving in Paris for the first time, I found that the French are actually awesome. Sure, some people are jerks, but you’ll find that everywhere in the world. But on the whole, the French, Parisians as well, are kind and helpful. I’m generally of the belief that stereotypes exist for a reason, but in this case I think it’s completely unjustified. So when you arrive in Paris, make a point to engage as many people as possible.

2. Public transportation is amazing – Granted I wasn’t exactly a big city pro prior to my first visit to Paris, but even on subsequent visits I am still amazed at the Parisian metro system. It satisfies its primary mission of being efficient and extensive and through a system of subway and light rail, you can travel to anywhere in Paris and the surrounding suburbs without hassle or expense. It’s also a beautiful system and in the true French spirit has incorporated unique art and architecture throughout the system. The first thing you notice are the beautiful, art nouveau Metro signs at most entrances. Within many of the stations are exquisite and endlessly fascinating murals and even sculptures. My favorite is the Arts et Métiers station which was inspired by Jules Verne with its rivets, portholes and steam pipes.

Jardins de Luxembourg

3. Be cheesy – I’m all for traveling outside of the travel bubble, but Paris is a great city in which to revel in the touristy and cheesy. There are so many, wonderful experiences that are also very popular and they would be a shame to miss. The Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and walking alongside the Seine with Notre Dame ahead are all classic, but wonderful, Parisian experiences. One of my favorites is one of the most simple, a picnic. Stop by a local shop for a pre-made sandwich, or visit a grocery to make your own. My favorite is saucisson with brie on a fresh baguette. Grab some wine to go with, and head to the Jardins du Luxembourg. Located in the swanky 6th arrondissement, the park is the largest in Paris and a personal favorite. Sit back with your sandwich, enjoy the scenery and some great people watching. Beret optional.

4. Simple food is some of the best – Yes, I know the foodies may have a problem with this one, but I think some of the best food in Paris is its most simple. Paris is home to some of the best restaurants in the world and for decades have been known as trend-setters in the realm of the culinary arts. That’s fine, I’m sure it’s all very nice, but I would much rather enjoy some street food or, even better, plant myself at a bistro for the evening. Parisian street food is fairly varied, but my absolute favorite is the crepe. At first it may seem like a tourist food, but it is a true art form. I have never wavered from getting a Nutella crepe, but I’m sure that the other fillings as fine too, but you should really get the Nutella. For a more hearty meal, I love to wander around some of my favorite neighborhoods, like the Marais, and find a nice bistro where I can sit and watch the world walk by. Paris is home to some of the best people watching in the world, and why not enjoy a meal while indulging in travel voyeurism.

Nutella Crepe

5. Get out of town – Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris – a lot. But there are a lot of great day trips outside of the city that are easy to do and give you a better feel for the area. One of the most random and fun things I have ever done on my travels is mountain biking in the national forest of Fontainebleau. I am definitely not a mountain biker, so if I can do this and enjoy it anyone can. Formally the royal hunting grounds, the forest itself is gorgeous and huge, encompassing nearly 65 square miles.  There are numerous outdoor activities to do besides biking, including some great rock climbing.  So rent a bike in Paris and take the 45 minute train ride out to the country for fresh air and a day of communing with nature.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

39 thoughts on “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Paris”

  1. Eating a crepe in Paris, that’s like me saying I had a philly cheese steak in San Francisco!
    Get some in Bretagne, Nantes, Quimper, Rennes, Lorient, Brest… thoses are the places where you’d get good crepes :)

    Glad you liked it thought :)

  2. It’s amazing. I live in Paris since 10 years now (I’m from Brussels) and all I see here, like the most of parisians, are the bad sides. What’s around us is so usual, we generally only focus on bad weather when it is, or ugly and noisy people in street, in subway, everywhere. We just look the clouds around the sun…

    Thank you for this description.

  3. I think Paris if fab .been quite a few times now , think the people are so friendly and helpful. Yes I agree, grab your fav food, and head for the parc ,, Brilliant,

  4. Like most people, I had heard the stereotypes about the temperament of Parisians and didn’t find anyone to be any different than any other major city in the world.

  5. Oh, I think any true foodie would absolutely agree with number 4! Simple, flavorful food is where it’s at. Excellent article. We haven’t done France yet, but it will take it’s place at the top of the travel list within a couple years. I’ll be taking every bit of this advice once we get there.

  6. I love Paris and I agree with you when you say : Get out of Town! One of my favorite day trips was Château de Versailles. I’ll make sure to try mountain biking in the national forest of Fontainebleau next time I go to Paris thanks for the tip :-)

    1. I was thinking Versailles as well when I wrote this, a great day trip no doubt. I don’t generally enjoy touring palaces, but that’s one everyone should see at least once.

  7. For all my travelling I’ve NEVER been to Paris! I think I used to have some snooty idea that “London is better, why bother.” But now I’d really like to go! Unfortunatly Europe is way out of my budget right now. Eventually I will get there and eat the HELL out of that crepe you just pictured!

    1. Paris is my favorite city in the world and I think it always will be. I haven’t explored the rest of the country, but I really want to. It’s a very special place.

  8. Paris is one of my dream destinations … looking forward to visiting this marvelous city in the near future…

  9. Love this list. I just moved to Paris about a month ago and numbers 1 and 3 are my favourite. Like you, I had an idea that I would have to deal with a lot of attitude when I moved here, but have been so pleasantly surprised. People have really gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. As for number 3 – Yes, yes, yes, be cheesy! You are in Paris, take the silly shot of the Eiffel Tour coming out of your head, buy a J’aime Paris T-shirt and wear it, put a baguette and bottle of wine in the basket of your velib (public bike hire) and head for the park or the Seine. Everyone else is doing it and loving it, so should you! My top Paris picnic tip: along the Canal St Martin.

  10. Those are some really great suggestions for people who have never been to Paris! I love that you included “be cheesy”. I travel a lot. Really a lot! And I don’t understand why some people shy away from seeming too touristy at time. Granted, you don’t want to be the annoying person that fits all bad traveller-stereotypes. But being a tourist in Paris includes seeing all the cheesy sights and taking pictures with and off them :)

    1. Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. Popular attractions are popular for a reason and everyone should see them at least once!

  11. rafael tavares

    Paris is beautiful indeed. French people and their “panache” are certainly part of it. I was planning to visit it and stay longer, say a fortnight. Looks like short time flat rentals are no longer allowed in the city. I was thinking whether there are places in the banlieue that could do instead, since you have such an efficient métro.

    1. Well I don’t live there, but there are great things to do in the banlieue. One of my favorites is exploring the Fontainebleau forest just outside of town.

  12. Great post. I love Paris!

    As travelers, we visit famous landmarks because we want to experience places that we’ve read about. We take photos because we admire these places and because we want to take a piece of it with us to share with our family and friends.
    I think being a “cheesy” traveler is such an American non-sense. It is your holiday, it is your money, and you can do whatever you wish as long as you are not bothering anyone.

    1. I love your open and honest post. It is so sad when these snobs seem to criticize others for wanting to see the popular tourist sites.

  13. Can you believe I haven’t been to Paris since I was an exchange student in 5th grade? I’m dying to go back. I still remember how awesome the Nutella crepes were…

    Also, I totally agree with your “be cheesy” tip. If you can’t be cheesy in Paris, where can you be? If you don’t do the “touristy” stuff there, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of the city.

    PS If you haven’t seen the new Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris,” you simply have to, just for the scenery.

  14. This really resonates with me, having visited France (other than the airport, that is) for the first time last summer. We spent a month mainly walking through Bretagne (Julian’s right about the crepes/galettes), Provence, Marseille and Paris. The people were always warm and friendly.

    One quality I noticed, particularly in Paris, is those people work HARD. You’ll rarely see waiters in restaurants and cafes standing around — they are always on the run.

    One other perception I found to be a myth: the French don’t wear jeans, the French don’t where baseball caps, the French don’t wear shorts, etc. Bull. While it’s a good idea not to perpetually look like a lazy slob, they constantly emulate Americans. So relax.

  15. Great insight on Paris. However, I do think the French can be a little more rude and stand offish than you think. I don’t blame them for it. I just think trying to understand helps when you encounter those that might be rude.

    A great tip on getting outside of the city though. I wish I had done more of that and gotten to see some of the beautiful countryside. Many people go to Versailles which is outside of the city and it’s a reminder of how beautiful the area can be!

    1. Thanks for the comments Jeremy. I think it depends on who you interact with and where. Also, and I may get in trouble for this, but there is a difference between Parisians and the rest of the country, which is to be expected. :)

  16. Great points, I especially agree with #4. Paris is a food lover’s city, but the simple food is so delicious. I was happy just grabbing a baguette and enjoying it on the street, but sitting at a cafe is even better because you’re right the people watching is excellent.

  17. THANK YOU so much for addressing the fact that most Americans have stereotyped the French in less than savory ways. I have only ever met one man who is everything the terrible stereotype signifies and more, everyone else was lovely. And I can never pass up seeing some of the organic street markets early in the morning while walking through Paris.

    I am now craving a batch of fresh pains aux chocolat. Thankfully, Korea has “Paris Baguette” stores everywhere. ;)

  18. Ooh! I found the Parisians to be terribly helpful! I speak very rusty French (studied it 3 years in high school, and am now a college grad) and I found that if you ask in French and can’t exactly understand their response, and ask them to repeat it, sometime they’ll just tell you in English (with no eye-rolling.). They helped me find my hotel when it was dark and rainy and were very kind with me asking for directions. I adore Paris and its residents.

  19. My husband and I are heading for Europe (Italy, France, England) the end of May. I’ve never been overseas & I’m really excited!! In Paris we are staying at Hotel Banke & have heard it’s lovely. Are you familiar with it? Can you tell me about any great places to visit or eat in the area of Banke?

    1. I hadn’t heard of it but I just checked and it looks really nice! My advice for food in Paris is always to just wing it. :) I know it’s not helpful, but you’ll find so many great places by just walking around. Your entire trip sounds great, I hope you and your husband have a great time!

  20. Hi Matt,

    Where do I get onto this mountain biking in the national forest of Fontainebleau? And how far is it from Paris? It all sounds amazing! Im heading there in 12 weeks. :-)

  21. This a lovely post!

    I adore Paris, i try to go every year! You are right about the metro it is so easy and efficient for an affordable price. Besides all the amazing touristy spots the shopping is awesome too!

    I have never thought about venturing outside of Paris though – i will try that next time.

    Thanks for sharing.

  22. Hi !

    I’ve read many articles from your website before to go in Paris and it has been very helpful!
    I’m writing to you to let you know about a new concept very practical in Paris called City-Locker, did you heard about this?
    I used this service when I was in Paris and I recommended to my friends: you should write something about that : it is luggage storage spots in the center area of Paris : you book a locker on their website, you go to the city-locker spot and you leave your luggage: a hundred time more easy than luggage storage in train station (so far, most of the time full..) and you are certain to have an available locker (contrary to train station’s ones) because of the booking.
    If only they could launch this storage concept in all big cities!

    Have a nice day ;)

    Adrien from Porto

  23. My daughter (19) and I will be visiting Paris for 4 days for the first time and are really excited. We would like to see as much as possible with the least fuss and bother. I took note of the Paris Pass and it looks like a good idea to invest in one prior to our departure from South Africa but would like your advise on this.

  24. Out of the top most popular and uber touristy European destinations, Paris is one of my favorites. Tops Rome and Athens for sure. There’s a lot to do and it’s just so charming.

  25. Spot on! Well said. I’ve bee helped by SO many Parisians on the street. They even find people who speak English to help when they cannot (my French is limited to food:). I’ve been helped by old and young. They are beautiful people. Fully agree on points 2-5, but I’m glad this was no. 1.

  26. I agree. Parisians are awesome and I am one of them. Sometimes, we are so whiny and complains about a lot and we also love to strike but we are awesome. We love life and we enjoy life. Crepes are awesome.

  27. Hi Matt/ you nailed it about the French being …. nicer … than we are. Sad to say. I have always been struck by the cheerful “Bonjour Mssr!” as you enter a little bakery. In the US there would rarely be a peep of welcome. And in NYC? Fuggettaboutit. And I have to say your entire 5 points were spot on. My most memorable meals in Paris are sitting along the Seine or in a park just as you did. Lastly: I lived as a child on the edge of Fontainebleu Forest so thank you for the shout out. Mike

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