Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Advice for a first time traveler to Paris.

Advice for a first time traveler to Paris.

Aug 23rd, 2000, 06:13 AM
Posts: n/a
Advice for a first time traveler to Paris.

I desperately need some advice. I'll be travelling to Paris and have never been there before. I have 8 full days. One day I will probably go to Versailles. Does anyone have tips for the other days for great things to do. For example: great sights, great restaurants, museums, areas, etc. I've been reading a guidebook but it gets a bit overwhelming with so much to do that I would like some personal advice.
Thanks in advance!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 06:49 AM
Posts: n/a
Hi Christina,
Wow, 8 days! Enjoy yourself. First of all relax. You have enough time to see the major sights and a lot of the not so major ones. Be prepared to be tired the morning you arrive. My advice is to take a Versailles tour with ParisVision or Cityrama (Have the person at the reception desk of the hotel make the arrangements for you.) It is reasonably priced and for a first timer it is perfect. Public transportation is terrific in Paris. The metro and buses are frequent, safe and cheap. Use em! I purchased a Paris Visite pass which was good for 3, 5 or 7 days good on all buses and trains. Now what to see, do not miss Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, take a night cruise on the Seine (You can also book through ParisVision and Cityrama), the Latin Quarter, Musee Orsay, And because it is your first visit The Lourve and Eiffel Tower. Be sure to take the time to relax and sit and people watch at at the many cafes. It is the center of life in Paris. I try to eat at little brassieres with a prix fixe menu. (3 courses very cheap) Soda is pretty expensive so stick to expresso or cafe au lait or wine. On the street across from Notre Dame is many souvenier shops be sure to stop in one to get something to remember your trip by. Pace yourself, when you are tired, take a rest, get your second wind than go. Dress comfortably. Bring an umbrella or a waterproof jacket. Take lots of photos! Bring an ATM card and your Credit Card, Try not to have to convert money when you get there. There are ATMS all over. Enjoy!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 06:57 AM
Posts: n/a
Our mistake on our first trip to Paris was trying to do too much. Of course, we wanted to in EVERYTHING! We ended up exhausted. On all subsequent trips (to Paris and anywhere else), we imposed a rule - we only plan on one or two things a day (one museum, one neighborhood, or one church, etc.) - maybe one in the a.m. and one after lunch - and leave the rest of the day free to whatever comes up. Spending an afternoon in a Paris cafe is a great way to see a lot - just watching people walk by is an experience in itself. Definitely take a bateau mouche ride on the Seine - at night if possible - it's a great way to see the beauty of the city. Use the metro or buses for inexpensive transportation. Stroll the bridges. Walk from the Arc de Triomphe through the Tuileries to the Louvre. We really enjoyed wandering through the Marais and seeing the Picasso Museum. Have a great trip!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 08:04 AM
Posts: n/a
There is so much to see in Paris, that to get the most sights in, you have to plan. First, make a list of the sights and the TIMES AND DAYS they are open (as in, don't go to Versailles on Monday); secondly, group by neighborhood (as in, les Invalides, Eiffel Tower and Rodin are fairly close together, so you'd want to visit them the same day). Some things you can do early in the morning (like visit Notre Dame) or at night (like going to the top of the Eiffel Tower). Start crossing off the stuff you really don't want to see (as in, if you hate Impressionists, don't go to the d'Orsay, even if everyone says you should).

On my first trip to Paris (right after the Reign of Terror), I didn't go to the Eiffel Tower, but I did go to Malmaison. Pick your places to see based on your own likes. The only must-see I recommend is the Louvre; even if you hate museums and art, you have to go.

If you plan your days based on neighborhoods, you'll have time to walk and wander; if you're zigzagging across Paris haphazardly, that time will be spent on the metro or bus.

In each neighborhood, make a note of a couple of restaurants as back-up. Then, just wing it. You'll come across dozens of eating places as you wander, just pick one whose menu appeals to you. If nothing strikes you, you've got the back-up restaurants.

And don't feel bad if you visit McDonald's (the bathrooms are a godsend); after 5 days of gourmet food, a gal just needs a BigMac. In other words, if you want pizza, eat it. If you are getting tired of French food, eat Chinese food. If you really don't drink coffee, order hot chocolate or tea.

Finally, buy a carte des musees; it is good for 3 days, 5 days or 7 days. It's available at metro stations and at every site it covers (the museum shop of the Musee d'Orsay is a separate entrance from the musuem, so you can buy the card there without waiting in line, then go right into the special entrance for pass holders).

And be spontaneous; if you're planning to visit the DeadExistentialist Museum, and you come across a puppet show that you'd rather see, s**tcan the DE Museum and enjoy the puppets.
Aug 23rd, 2000, 08:29 AM
Posts: n/a
All the advice is great. I have only two suggestions to add. First, try to get know at least one quartier well by walking it. My favorite is the area around the Place de Contrescarpe in the Latin Quarter; others will suggest the sections of the Marais or the 7th around rue Cler. Whichever you pick, getting to know it will give you a sense of rootedness that's hard to find in other cities. Second, Cheap Eats in Paris is a great source for interesting and charming restaurants, and it's available at most bookstores with good travel sections.
Aug 23rd, 2000, 08:38 AM
Posts: n/a
The first two responses are so true: first relax, and know that whatever you choose will be great, and secondly, don't stress about seeing EVERYTHING-- been there, done that, and it's exhausting.

Two additional items I might add-- get a map book broken up by arrondissements. You might be able to find one here, but they are at every news stand once you get to Paris. The advice about neighborhoods is good, and you'll feel more confident getting around if you get familar with a map.

The other half day trip I love is to Giverny. You can take an organized trip, or just take the train from the Gare du Nord to Vernon, and then a bus, taxi or bicycle to the gardens. It's so beautiful, and (of course) changes with the seasons.

I hope you've already done a search on this forum-- if not, there's a TON of good info on sights, restaurants, tips, etc.

Aug 23rd, 2000, 08:48 AM
Posts: n/a
You've already heard from some experts, but if you are interested in seeing my long Paris notes, email me and I'll forward them. It has sightseeing, restaurants, museums, websites, etc. I've gone both on my own and with companions.
Cityrama and parisvision tours are good, but they are relatively expensive, and of course your time is not entirely your own. It is very very easy to go to Versailles on your own, one train, no changing, and a pleasant walk from the Versailles Rive Gauche station.
If you wanted another daytrip, or even half-day, Chartres is also easy to get to and the cathedral is magnificent.
Giverny (Monet's home) is also wonderful as long as it's garden season.
Most guidebooks have suggested walking tours or itineraries. Consult more than one book before you go (if you don't want to buy, go to the library) and compare their advice. Sometimes one book offers a great suggestion that another doesn't mention. On this very website you can also design your own miniguide for Paris, and at another click you can learn a few basic phrases in French (if you don't already speak it).
Do as Elvira mentioned, and make what I call a "grid" on a sheet of paper. Across the top are columns for each day you will be in Paris; down the side are each of the major attractions.restaurants you want to visit: name, address, nearest metro stop(s). Organize the list of sites by areas/neighborhoods, rather than alpha. In each box you make a brief note for the day the hours of operation are. For example, if you make this grid, under Tuesday, you can note for the Louvre that it is closed, and under Wed you can note that the Louvre is open in the evening. This helps you plan your days, if you like planning your days, and saves thumbing through the guidebook if you want to make a spontaneous stop but can't remember if the museum, shop, or restaurant is open or closed.
good luck
Aug 23rd, 2000, 11:28 AM
Bob Brown
Posts: n/a
Hi Christina:
I think 8 days will give you time to see quite a few attractions in Paris without running your self silly.
Before you take off, study both the Metro routes and the bus routes. There is a website for the RATP - Paris transit --which has diagrams of the routes. I prefer the bus over the Metro because I can see where I am going on the bus. A bus is not quite as fast a Metro train on a long trip, but the bus does not require you to walk long tunnels and steps underground to find your train.

An earlier poster mentioned the train to Vernon for a visit to Giverny. However, I do not think that the train leaves from Gare du Nord.
When we went last year we took the train from Gare St. Lazare to Vernon.
In Vernon, we took a taxi to Giverny.
If you take a taxi, be sure to make arrangements to be picked up. It is too far to walk easily. We got in line for the bus, but the bus filled up before we could get on it; hence the taxi.
Because the SNCF schedule to Vernon is sort of screwy, one early train then not another one until about noon, I suggest a tour IF you want to go there.
I did NOT get a major bang out of the place. Pretty gardens can be found elsewhere that are not full of tourists.
Visiting Versailles on your own is much, much easier to accomplish. Take RER C to Versailles Rive Gauche, which you can take from Gare D'Austerlitz or Invalides, and you will get there easily. The Rive Gauche station is about 750 - 800 yards from the entrance to the palace. If you go on your own you can spend as much time as you like wandering about. But, be prepared for a mob! True, it is a mob that is a little more orderly than the ones of 1789, but much larger!
The biggest hurdle to clear satisfactorily is visiting the Louvre.
It is huge, rambling, and a bit overwhelming because there is so much in there. I thought I was prepared, but I needed to have done a few hours more homework to have really appreciated the place. I think there are two approaches: see the top attractions like Venus, the Winged Victory, and Mona and then follow Rick Steves' advice and hunt for the exit. The other approach is to come at it like an art historian and drink it in. But perhaps on two trips.
(Seeing Mona is a challenge. I did not bother last year because I have seen the eyebrowless wonder several times. My wife was able to get a good view because of her height and the fact that short people were ganged around the painting.)
The Musee d'Orsay is a bit smaller and can be done satisfactorily in about 3 to 4 hours. Besides the food at Musee d'Orsay is excellent. It is one of the few restaurants where you are inclined to look up after each bite because the ceiling is also a work of art. So by the time we got out of there we had been in the building for over 6 hours.
Musee Rodin is more friendly because it is smaller, as Musee Marmottan -- if you like Monet's works of art.
The most amazing place I visited was the upper room of Ste. Chapelle. Those stained glass walls are nothing short of amazing. I was there twice, once during the day, and once for a concert.
As for another out of town trip, consider Fontainebleau and/or Vaux-le-Vicomte. I am scheduled for a visit to those two attractions in about 10 days. So I will have to give my comments in about a month after I return.
Aug 23rd, 2000, 11:33 AM
Posts: n/a
just a few comments. when we were in paris we went to versailles on our own. you can get a guide there for the palace. so if it costs more to do an organized tour i would say it's not worth it. second, the seine river boat tours--you can buy tickets at the boat. don't know if buying them through a travel group adds to the cost or not, if so, don't do it.

i would just say that as you read your books decide what your priorities are and make sure you do them. for instance, someone says you must go to the louvre---it was near the bottom of my list and i didn't go there. i always assume i will go back and i hate being rushed. i'll probably have it at the top of my list next time i go.
Aug 23rd, 2000, 11:51 AM
Posts: n/a
Stay in the Rue Cler neighborhood -- near the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire -- Hotel Bourdinaise (sp?) is fantastic and cheap!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 12:17 PM
Posts: n/a
Go to Chartres!!!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 01:40 PM
Posts: n/a
Sorry Gare St. Lazare is right for Vernon and Giverny--- brain cramp!
Aug 23rd, 2000, 07:34 PM
Posts: n/a
Christina, you have gotten some excellent advice above. It may go without saying, but the orientation tours (in Paris: by boat plus by mini-bus at night) are excellent for any number of reasons. Usually I am a bit stubbornly independent, wanting to do things on my own, but on my first solo trip to Paris, I found these tours (a couple hours each, maybe, and not too exensive) to be invaluable. I could pick what I wanted to follow-up on later, and didn't feel guilty about skipping any "major" sites. I agree with previous posters, this is a vacation, after all. I've learned to build in a little nap time. Enjoy! It'll be great.
Aug 24th, 2000, 02:08 AM
Posts: n/a
Hi Christina,

Some suggestions to help you plan:

Get the Paris for Dummies book . . . it includes charts for scheduling your time & tools to help you prioritize what you'd really like to see and do.

Also buy your own chic copy of Paris Par Arrondissement, the complete mapbook that Parisians carry in their purses. It's a must for any Paris virgin - and looks great on a cafe table while you're waiting for your grand creme 8 )

Have fun & let us know what you get up to!
Aug 24th, 2000, 06:12 AM
Posts: n/a
Best advice I can give other than the great previous posts is to "Invest in a good guide book", afterall for the bucks you'll be spending on your trip a $20 investment in a good book is a godsend. Rick Steves' Paris 2000 is great, we had others but used his the most. We carried it everywhere with us on our 1st trip to Paris in May plus it's not large. What I liked about it was that it included self-guided tours of the major museums and explained what you were seeing. That helped to reduce the "I'm lost, confused and where do I start, it's all so Big feeling". Plus it lists day Trips from Paris(Versailles Self-guide tour). I sooned lost that "overwhelmed" feeling using this book and found Paris utterly charming. But a guidebook is a personal choice, so go to a Bookstore like Barnes and nobel and try them out. With a good guidebook, map and the advice from this forum you'll have a wonderful time
Aug 24th, 2000, 09:03 AM
Posts: n/a
Well done. 8 days on a first time trip. (the first trip is always the best)

My favourite Paris places:

1. Palais-Royale/Louvre (imagine the court without the pyramid)
2. Versailles when the fountains are on (Saturday/Sunday 3:30) Walk around the Grand Canal.
3. Parc de Sceaux (RER B)
4. Chantilly (train from Gare de Nord)
5. Walk along the Seine from the Eiffel Tower cross the river then to the Jardin de Tuileries
6. Luxembourg Gardens
7. Parc Butte Chaumont (nicest city park)
8. KFC at Les Halles
9. Place de Saint Sulpice (space in the heart of Paris)
10. Musee d'Orsay
Aug 24th, 2000, 09:47 AM
Posts: n/a

Agree with most of the advice here but must encourage you to see the Louvre even if you don't go inside. It is not just an art museum, it's part of France's history (having been built by several different rulers over time). The building itself is extraordinary...

Have a great time in Paris!
Aug 25th, 2000, 06:11 AM
christopher jones
Posts: n/a


Go to the "La Samaritaine" department store, by the Seine, next to the metro station at Pont Neuf. On the top floor there is a 360 degree viewpoint, from where you can see almost the whole city centre. It's completely free - I know how you Americans are always worried about being ripped off by us grasping Europeans .

If you WANT to spend some money, you can buy a drink (have a citron presse, if it's a warm day) from the adjacen bar-terasse and sit and look at the view for hours (once you've been there, I bet you'll make it your regular city-centre rendezvous).

The tourist office on the Champs Elysees (a hundred yards ? below the Arc de Triomphe) is very big and very efficient, they'll provide you with thousands of leaflets and sell you (on the spot, and in English) almost any tickets you want.

By the way - I'm not paranoid about being ripped off, but I probably wouldn't use a cafe on the Champs Elysees !! Oh, and the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is pretty good, too - but if you don't have a disability, you'll have to WALK up.

Bon voyage,
Aug 27th, 2000, 11:10 AM
Posts: n/a
Hey Christina,

I messed up . . . it's The Complete Idiot's Travel Guide to Paris, *not* the Dummies' Guide (duh). Don't be put off by the series title . . . excellent stuff!

Also, I'd bail on Versailles - it's never done anything for me - while Chartres is extremely moving, IMHO. Plus nicer restaurants for lunch
; )

Let us know how things go!
Have fun!
Aug 28th, 2000, 05:26 AM
Posts: n/a
Christina: A little more than two years ago, I was in your shoes -- and the advice gleaned from Fodorites not only was extremely helpful, but it was a vital part of overcoming our initial intimidation and actually helped propel us to Paris. (And we can't wait to go back!)

By far, the best advice I found here, IMHO, was to be sure to use some basic French. I was also reminded to mind my manners (of course we should do so everywhere, but in the casual give-and-take of American commerce, they sometimes are overlooked.) But the French are a tad more formal and you'll get a warmer reception when you observe daily niceties and show an effort to speak the language. So remember the "Bonjour, madame" on entering a shop and a "Merci" as you leave. The French really do appreciate the effort (even tho 95 percent of the time, they'll respond to you with English - and aren't we glad of that!) So "bon" up on a few basics from a pocket phrasebook, and you'll be rewarded with great mem'ries to take back home - not just of buildings, but of <<people>> Bon voyage!

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:56 PM.