Paris City Guide: Facts & Practical Information For Planning Your Trip

Get Oriented Before You Go

Paris from Notre Dame
castigatioxes / Pixabay

Planning a trip to Paris? If so, getting familiar with the basics of what the city has to offer can greatly enhance your trip. Paris is the political, cultural, and intellectual capital of France, and is also the single-most visited city in the world. It has drawn waves of immigrants, expatriate artists and intellectuals, and global traders for centuries. It boasts a vibrant economy and local culture, rich political and artistic history, an unusual number of fascinating tourist sites and outstanding architecture. Situated at the crossroads of Europe and in close range of the English channel and other strategic places for military and trade, Paris is a true powerhouse in continental Europe.

Read on for a useful overview of the city before you go, with tips on planning your trip, highlights to focus on, eating out and more. From there, you can explore the in-depth guides and articles in our full travel guide to the French capital.

Planning Your Trip

The Vedettes du Pont Neuf
Courtesy of Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf  
  • Best Time to Visit: While our perspective is that Paris has its charms in every season, most people will find the city at its best during the spring and summer months, roughly between April to October. In April and May, spring blossoms emerge, and outdoor activities such as strolls through parks, day trips and picnics are more pleasant. In the summer, outdoor festivals and free events turn the city into a mid-year resort that's both fun and budget-friendly.
  • Language: French is the official language in Paris and the rest of France. While many locals do speak some English, especially in the tourism industry, it's always a good idea to learn a few polite words and expressions in French for your trip.
  • Currency: The official currency in Paris and the rest of France is the Euro (see this Universal Currency Converter).
  • Getting Around: The easiest way to get around in Paris is by using the underground Metro system. Buses can also be easy to use once you get familiar with which lines go where, and can be ideal for visitors with limited mobility. Some lines even go through areas dense with popular tourist attractions and famous monuments: a budget-friendly way to sightsee on your own. See our complete guide to using public transportation in the French capital for tons of useful tips.
  • Travel Tip: If you do choose to visit Paris during peak tourist season, make sure to schedule your visits to popular tourist attractions during the weekdays and early mornings. You'll be more likely to beat the crowds and make the most of your visit.

Things to Do

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Martin Child/Photobucket/Getty Images

Paris has so much to offer visitors, whether it's your first time or your fourth. Visit its richly endowed museums to see permanent and temporary exhibits, taste French delicacies in its bakeries and world-acclaimed restaurants, and take long strolls through the varied, fascinating streets and neighborhoods of the French capital.

For even more tips on what to see and do during your stay, check out our guide to the top 30 tourist attractions in Paris. On a budget? Find out what to do in Paris for less than 10 Euros a day. Visiting with younger family members? Learn how to enjoy the French capital with the kids.

What to Eat and Drink

The Baron Rouge wine bar is located in the midst of Paris' most lively market streets.
Courtesy of Le Baron Rouge

If you've got a curious gourmet palate or just want to know what all the fuss around French food is about, Paris is an ideal culinary playground. It boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than most cities combined, famous for its star chefs. But eating well here doesn't have to break the bank-- you can sample a delicious French pastry at a local bakery with some pocket change, or tuck into fabulous Parisian street food-- from crepes to falafels.

If nightlife and fine wine is your scene, there's plenty to enjoy on that front, too. The city's numerous wine bars can be elegant, rustic and fun, or both. Some of the most creative new cocktail bars in Paris are designed like glamorous old speakeasies, and the craft beer and brewery scene, while more recent, is thriving.

For even more on the best places to eat and drink in the city of light, see our full guide to eating out in Paris, with suggestions for all budgets and tastes. You may also want to see our tips on the most family-friendly restaurants in the city.

Where to Stay

Junior suite at the Hotel St Regis in Paris
Courtesy of the Hotel St Regis

While you might imagine that finding a place to stay in Paris is simple-- after all, it's the most-visited city in the world and it caters to tourists-- we recommend that you do some careful research before booking. There are, first of all, hundreds of hotels to choose from, but quality can vary quite a bit. It's always best to choose a room in a hotel that's received consistently high ratings from travellers on booking sites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

If you prefer self-catered stays, we recommend that you avoid Air B & B in Paris. Quality tends to be hit and miss. Instead, consider apartment rental sites. Many offer bookings through TripAdvisor.

As to where to stay in the city, that's a matter of personal preference, and you'll find hotels and lodging options in all of the city's main neighborhoods. If you're after a classic, romantic stay, you can try booking in the Latin Quarter or nearby the Opera Garnier, but expect prices to be steeper in these areas. For a quieter and more authentic stay, there are many excellent hotels in areas preferred by locals, including the Gare de Lyon area, the Rue Montorgueil district and the areas around Metro Montparnasse.

Need more help making some intelligent choices? Explore the different Parisian neighborhoods you can stay in, and our recommendations on the best mid-range hotels.

Getting There

The Roissybus line headed for CDG airport departs from the American Express office in Paris, across from the Opera Garnier.
bus-bild.de

Paris is served by three international airports, including Charles de Gaulle and Orly. The easiest way to get from the airport to the city is by public transportation (the RER commuter train system or the Roissybus airport shuttle), but some travelers will prefer airline coach services or taxis.

  • Charles de Gaulle is the largest airport offering international and overseas flights, and it's about an hour away from the city by train (RER Line A) or taxi. Public transportation is easy to access, but it's still not especially close to the city center.
  • Orly Airport is closer to the city center, roughly 30 minutes from the southern city hub of Montparnasse by RER commuter train line B.
  • Beauvais Airport is a smaller airport served mostly by low-cost European airlines, and situated around 50 miles from the city center. If you're traveling to Paris from another European city, you can save money by flying to Beauvais, but you'll have to budget more time to get to your hotel.

For full information on getting there and getting around, see our full guide to the airports of Paris. Also read up on whether to take a taxi to or from the airport, and our tips on driving in the French capital.

Accessibility Issues

Certain areas around Paris, such as the La Defense business district, are more accessible.
Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Creative Commons

On average, Paris rates rather poorly for accessibility. While major efforts are underway to improve accessibility in the city, travelers with limited mobility may find the city difficult to get around in.

The Paris tourist office website has a helpful page on how to get around in the city, offering tips on transport and specialist services. 

In addition, the following Paris Metro and bus lines are accessible to people with limited mobility or disabilities:

Metro line 14, RER Line A

Bus lines 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 38, 39, 43, 53, 60, 62, 63, 80, 81, 88, 91, 92, 94, 95, 96.

Taxis are required by law to accept passengers with wheelchairs.

For more information on accessibility, visit and bookmark this page: How accessible is Paris to visitors with limited mobility?

Money-Saving Tips

Jardin du Luxembourg in spring, Paris
Angelita Niedziejko/Getty Images

If you're on a limited budget, fear not. Paris is actually remarkably friendly for tighter budgets, even though it's a center of the luxury industry and gets associated with glamour and "high-end" activities.

Before You Go: Learn Some Key Facts About the City

The panoramic views from Printemps in Paris
Guilhem Vellut/ Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

It's always a good idea to get acquainted with the city by learning some basic facts before you go.

Population: Approximately 2.24 million people, according to the 2010 census (around 3.6% of France's total population

Average yearly high temperature: 16 degrees C (60.8 degrees F)

Average yearly low temperature: 9 degrees C (48.2 degrees F)

Average visitors per year: Over 25 million

High tourist season: Approximately March through September, with peaks in the summer. The Christmas season is also especially popular among visitors.

Time zone: Paris is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 9 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

Geography and Orientation

Elevation: 27 meters (90 feet above sea level)

Surface Area: 105 square km. (41 square miles)

Geographical Situation: Paris is located in Central Northern France, at the heart of a region (departement) called Ile de France. The city does not border any major body of water and is relatively flat.

Bodies of water: The famous Seine river cuts through the city center East to West. The Marne river flows through many of the suburbs east of Paris.

The City's Layout: Getting Oriented 

Pont Neuf and the buildings along River Seine, Paris, France
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Paris is divided into sections North and South of the Seine, more commonly known as the Rive Droite (Right Bank) and Rive Gauche (Left Bank), respectively.

The city, often described as being shaped like a snail shell, is broken into 20 districts or arrondissements. The first arrondissement is at the center of the city, near the Seine river. Subsequent arrondissements spiral out clockwise. You can easily find out what arrondissement you're in by looking for street plaques on corner buildings.

The Boulevard Périphérique, Paris' beltway, generally marks the boundary between Paris and its near suburbs.

Our Advice: Take a Tour to Get Oriented

Paris boat or bus tours can help you get oriented on a first trip, and also offer a relaxed and pleasant first encounter with some of the city's most important monuments and places.

For boat tours, you can book basic tours & dinner cruise packages online (via Isango). We recommend reading up on popular tour operators, including Bateaux Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens, to find the right Seine river cruise or tour packages.

Tourist Welcome Centers in Paris

The Paris Tourist Office has welcome centers around the city, providing free documentation and advice to visitors. You can find maps and pocket-sized guides to Paris sights and attractions at one of the welcome centers.

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