So it’s your first trip to Paris – how exciting! But it can also be daunting; there’s a restaurant on every corner, a new art exhibition every week and 20 districts to explore. So where do you even begin?
Here are ten things you should try to tick off on your first Paris trip, in our hopes of giving you a decent cultural overview, but also the chance to say “of course” when friends ask if you saw the Mona Lisa.
P.S Need help planning your trip? Click the contact button at the top of the page to send us an email and learn how we can help you with your itinerary.
But first: Where to stay?
The best bet is to stay central, even if it means shifting your budget around to make it happen. Central Paris is perfect for a first-time tourist. Even though it will be more expensive, aim for accommodation in arrondissements from 1-6 which will leave you walking distance from everything.
Next best is districts from 7-11, which are still fairly central. Anything from 12-20 are the bigger districts, which all reach the city ring road, and which risk leaving you far from the action. Here’s a map to help you visualize where to stay in Paris.
Tip: All Paris addresses contain the district number in the postcode. If something is in 75007, it’s the seventh. If it’s 75012, it’s the 12th (and so on).
Getting in to the city from the airport
Airport taxi transfers are set at a flat rate. To and from Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport is 53 euros for the right bank and 58 euros for the left bank. For Orly airport, it’s 37 euros for the right bank and 32 euros for the left bank. Alternatively, if you prefer to take public transport it will cost €10,30 to get into the city via the RER B (you can change to a metro line once in Paris). Uber and G7 taxis are also available, though they can be harder to locate at the airport.
Extra tip: Be safe and street smart
Paris is a big city and that means there are big-city dangers. But they are easy to avoid.
Never give anyone cash on the street, especially those playing cup-and-ball type gambling games. It’s a scam. Similarly, say a quick no to all petitions, cotton bracelets, padlock salesmen, and so on. Say no and move on, you don’t need to explain yourself.
In busy areas, think about your valuables. Don’t walk around with your wallet hanging out of your pockets. Don’t mindlessly play on your phone when the Metro doors are closing. And don’t leave your handbag out of eyesight at a busy terrace.
The podcast episode
This podcast explains all the tips above (and a few more) in greater detail. Subscribe to The Earful Tower for more from Paris every week.
The Checklist: Your first trip to Paris
OK, now we’ve ensured you’re staying somewhere practical and you’re being safe, let’s tick off some checklist items. How many have you done? (Remember, the second trip to Paris will be on the blog next week).
The interactive map
First, here’s an interactive map of everything we are about to recommend, to help you find it all easily.
1. Climb the Eiffel Tower
OK let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. You’re visiting Paris for the first time, go ahead and climb the tower. Try to arrive early to avoid waiting for a long time, or purchase a ticket online and skip the queue. But no matter how you swing it, this will take up a couple of hours at least. And if it’s the middle of the day in the middle of summer, you will not be alone. Plan accordingly. Address: Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007
2. Behold the Mona Lisa
Since it’s your first trip to Paris, there’s no problem going to the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa. The Louvre is impossibly incredible and impossibly big, so you’ll see plenty of other artworks on your way to it, like the beautiful Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Philippe Auguste fortifications. You can either admire the Mona Lisa from afar or line up to get a closer look.
We offer “Gist of the Louvre” tours, where an expert can show you everything you need to see and more. Get in touch via the contact form at the top of this page. Click here for our in-depth blog about the Louvre and how to visit it. @museelouvre Address: Rue de Rivoli, 75001
3. Admire the Notre Dame
Check in on Notre Dame, but remember: it’s currently closed to the public due to the 2019 fire. You won’t be able to get too close, but you’ll be able to inspect how the restorations are coming along. When you’re done, take a look around the islands. Notre Dame is on Île de la Cité – and just across the bridge is the stunning Île Saint Louis. If you’re in a rush, you can get the gist in half an hour. Or, you could easily spend a few hours on the Ile Saint Louis. We offer a walking tour of these islands too! Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
4. Devour a croissant
Grab a croissant, find a park bench, and enjoy this baked delight. That croissant will likely be the story you tell your family compared to climbing the Eiffel Tower. How do you know which bakery sells good croissants? Just look in the window and if they look delicious, they will be. This is a part of the French culture, so don’t settle for a hotel croissant, or a supermarket croissant. Find a good bakery, you won’t regret it.
5. Stroll the Avenue des Champs-Élysées
One million people (at New Year’s Eve) can’t be wrong. The Champ-Élysées is tremendous. It’s also gigantic. It’s also kinda daunting and overcrowded. If you’re not a shopper, tick it off sensibly: Find a way to get halfway down this grand avenue (taxi, Metro, bike) and start walking towards the Arc de Triomphe.
If you need some retail therapy, there’s everything from high street to high end. You can find many big brands’ flagship stores and some of them are in incredible buildings (hello Apple, Dior, Louis Vuitton).
Tip: If you can swing it, visit the the Champs-Élysées on the first Sunday of the month and you’ll be able to enjoy the entire avenue car free.
6. See the Arc de Triomphe
It’s enormous, it’s beautiful, and it’s on an exceptionally busy intersection. You can climb to the top and watch the mad roundabout below, but you can also admire it from a distance, take a photo, and move on. This 200-year-old monument honours France’s soldiers from the Napoleonic and the French Revolutionary Wars. And a word of warning: It’s so big that you’ll feel like you’re approaching it forever as you walk on the Champs-Elysées. Prepare for a long walk. Address: Pl. Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France
7. Relax on a cafe terrace
Find a cafe with an outdoor-seating terrace, order a coffee, and watch Paris go by. (Disclaimer: there’s a good chance a regular cafe won’t have outstanding coffee – but this one is all about the experience). It doesn’t matter which cafe you choose or what the coffee tastes like, just look for that classic Paris terrace and drink it all in.
If you’re really hankering for a good coffee and you’ve already done a terrace, here is for our list of our favourite cafes in Paris.
8. Explore the Luxembourg Gardens
It doesn’t get much better than this. The Luxembourg Gardens is a Paris highlight, and it’s a safe bet that many visitors don’t realize just how huge it is. Save a few hours for this place, watch the chess players on the west side (or dare to play!), sail a boat in the pond, find the beehives, the Statue of Liberty replica, the pétanque fields, the tennis courts… This place goes on and on and all of it is lovely.
9. Boat on the Seine River
This is a great way to see the city and all of its sights. For 15 euros or so, at pretty much all of the cruise companies, you’ll float along the Seine while passing the Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee D’orsay and the Eiffel Tower. It’s especially charming at dusk when all the city’s light are on – if you can time your cruise to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle, you’ve hit the jackpot.
10. Wander the Marais district
Ah, the Marais. Ancient buildings meet modern culture. A buzzing Jewish district, a lively gay quarter, and fascinating relics from an 800-year-old wall… What’s not to love?
Find the Marais sprawled over the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If you have the time, aimlessly wander about in this area and you can’t go wrong. If time is important, or if you don’t want to miss the best bits (or the secrets), check out a private Earful Tower walking tour (Click here for more info).
Now you’re all set! Come back next week to the website to find out everything you should do on your second trip to Paris.
If you liked this blog post, check out our 2023 PDF guide to Paris, which features hundreds of tips just like these ones. You can buy it via the icon below and we’ll email it directly, or you get it free on signup to The Earful Tower’s Patreon member page.
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Photos: Augusta Sagnelli