Paris Guide: Planning Your Trip

••• Michel Setboun/Getty Images

Planning a trip to Paris? Congrats. Before you go, it's essential to learn a bit about when to visit, what to see and do, where to stay and eat out, and how to get around. Whether you're embarking on a first-time visit or already know the city well, this at-a-glance guide will help you take the necessary steps to plan your trip with ease-- and enjoy the capital fully once you're there.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Generally, the best time to visit Paris is between late spring and late summer, when outdoor activities, lively events, and nearby day trips allow you to experience the city to the fullest. The winter holiday season is also a festive and cheerful time to go, but cold weather may detract some.
  • Language: French is the official language in Paris. Many speak English fluently or somewhat fluently, but make sure to use polite greetings in French (see more below).
  • Currency: The Euro (€) is the official currency.
  • Getting Around: Paris is easy to navigate by metro (subway), bus, and commuter-line trains (RER lines). it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the capital's efficient public transportation system before you go. Many will want to know whether to take a taxi to and from the airport. Read more on the pros and cons, and tips for avoiding common scams.
  • Travel Tip: If you do choose to visit Paris in high season (roughly April to early October), try getting up early to visit museums and other attractions, and if possible, avoid big-ticket attractions like the Eiffel Tower on weekends.

Things to Do

Paris is home to many of the world's most-visited attractions, including the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and Notre-Dame Cathedral. It's impossible to see and do it all during a single trip, but we recommend experiencing at least a few of the city's most iconic sights and museums, especially during a first visit. You should also make time to get a taste of France's world-famous cuisine, explore local culture by attending an annual festival or gallery opening, and explore the city at night, when it's arguably at its most enchanting.

What to Eat and Drink

As the capital of France, Paris is globally renowned for its excellent and creative cuisine-- not to mention its abundance of bars and restaurants serving fine French wines. From Michelin-starred tables helmed by celebrity chefs to intimate bistros and classic brasseries, bakeries and patisseries displaying mouth-watering bread and pastries, open-air markets where both delicious food and authentic cultural experiences await, and freshly prepared, budget-friendly street food, there are so many delicious ways to "eat your way" through the capital.

Meanwhile, even though Paris itself doesn't produce much wine of note these days, it's still a great place to learn about, and taste, some of the finest French bottles. Spend an evening at one of the city's best wine bars, and learn more about the history and production of wine at the Musée du Vin. Care for a creative and beautiful cocktail in an intimate setting? These secret bars in Paris offer a stimulating and intriguing evening out on the town. And if beer is more your speed, head to the best craft breweries in the capital.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Parisian restaurants and eateries serve fantastic food. To home in on the best places to eat out, see our complete guide to dining in Paris, as well as features on the most romantic restaurants in the capital, dining out while vegetarian or vegan, and the best budget-friendly French restaurants to try.

Where to Stay

There are hundreds of hotels in Paris, which can make it a pretty daunting task to choose the "right" one. The best approach might be to first get an overview of the different Parisian districts and neighborhoods (arrondissements in French) and decide which one/s might be best suited to your tastes, budget, and travel requirements. Then, narrow your hotel search by price, desired, amenities, and arrondissement by using search engines such as TripAdvisor or other travel comparison sites.

Aside from considering location and budget, you'll also want to decide whether you value design and boutique-style charm over the reliable, predictable comforts offered by international hotel chains such as Marriott and Sofitel. Some travelers would happily forego creature comforts such as large elevators, bathtubs, and spas in favor of more design-focused boutique establishments offering rooms at the same price points, but perhaps with fewer amenities. Finally, rental apartments equipped with small kitchens can offer a more local experience and potentially save you money, since you'll be able to cook at home some of the time.

Read our full guide to choosing the right accommodations in the capital, then browse recommendations on the best hotels in Paris in 2020 and the best boutique hotels in Paris in 2020.

Getting There

Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world, which makes it relatively easy to access by air and rail. It is a major hub for most international airlines, and a great starting point or stopover during a European vacation. Since it is such a popular destination, you should be able to find competitive deals on airfare, lodging, or vacation packages-- provided you compare prices and book several months ahead of your trip.

Paris is served by three major airports:

  • Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport is the largest, and is Europe's busiest international hub. Located roughly an hour outside the city to the northeast, Roissy-CDG can be easily accessed via the RER B commuter line train from central Paris, as well as by coach or taxi.
  • Orly International Airport is located just eight miles south of central Paris and is a secondary hub for Air France. It's an excellent option for connecting to or from Paris and other European destinations, and can feel degrees less stressful than CDG. The RER line B train connects from Orly to central Paris.
  • Paris-Beauvais/Tillé is located around 50 miles northwest of Paris and is served by numerous budget airlines, including Ryanair, Air Moldova, Blue Air. This can be a good option if you're after ultra-low fares for flights from within Europe; on the downside, it will take extra time and expense to get to central Paris.
  • See more about the major airports of Paris in our full guide, including details on transportation, eating and drinking, and passenger services.

Culture and Customs

  • While most locals in Paris speak some English-- some fluently-- it's always recommended to learn some basic French travel expressions ahead of your trip. Polite greetings, questions, and expressions of gratitude will enrich your experience and smooth communication with Parisians, who often value efforts made by travelers to use a few words in French.
  • It's customary to tip in Paris, but the practices are likely different from the ones you're familiar with in your home country. See our complete guide to tipping in Paris for some useful advice.
  • The city is generally quite safe for travellers, although pickpocketing and scams targeting tourists remain a significant problem. See our full guide to staying safe in the French capital here.

Money Saving Tips

  • Make sure to book flights and hotels well in advance to get the best deals, especially if you plan to go in late spring or summer when prices are at their highest.
  • To save on getting around the city by public transport, consider buying the Paris Visite Pass. The pass, which can cover one or several days in the capital, offers unlimited use of metro, bus, trams, and RER trains, as well as discounts on select attractions and restaurants.
  • Take advantage of the city's more than dozen free museums, including the Petit Palais, Musée Carnavalet (Museum of Paris History) and the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris.
  • Free annual events such as Paris Museum Night and Nuit Blanche open many of the city's top museums and art collections to the public for free.
  • In the summer, free public events such as Seine-side beaches (Paris Plages) and open-air cinema can help to moderate the high cost of airfares and hotels. They're also a lot of fun. Meanwhile, many other summer festivals, such as the Jazz Festival at the Parc Floral, are inexpensive ways to enjoy a day of live music or other performances.
  • If you choose to take a taxi to or from the airport or elsewhere within Paris, make sure the taxi has a visible meter and an illuminated "Taxi Parisien" sign on the rooftop. Otherwise, you may become an unwitting victim of "unofficial" taxis that inflate fares for tourists.
  • Instead of eating out in restaurants for every meal, consider staging a Parisian-style picnic instead. Stock up on French bread, pastries, quiches and cakes at a neighborhood bakery, and other items at markets or supermarkets around the city.
  • Learn more about how to make the most of a trip to the capital on a tight budget by exploring the best free things to do in Paris.
Was this page helpful?