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  • Writer's pictureYllara Maia

What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Paris

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

There's no denying that Paris is a beautiful city and one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. But it’s not all croissants and macarons; there are some things that go unmentioned when it comes to visiting Paris. From getting around to navigating the language barrier, here is what they don’t tell you about visiting the city of love.

The Language Barrier

Parisians are notoriously proud of their language, so if you don't speak French, it can be difficult to communicate with locals. They may be polite and helpful sometimes- but they won't necessarily go out of their way to find an English speaker or help a non-French speaker with directions or orders. I love visiting Paris, but I haven't had the best experience with the locals the last few times that I've been there.

Although I studied the language for a few years, I was still met with indifference from the locals when I tried to speak French. Majority of Parisians do not like tourists - especially English-speaking ones - and they are not shy to remind you of that. English is widely spoken in Paris, but it's not very welcome so brush up on basic French phrases (like “hello” and “thank you”) before your trip! Below are a few basic phrases that you should know:

Hello/Good-morning: Bonjour!

Please: S'il vous plaît

Excuse me: Excusez-moi/Pardon

Sorry: Désolé (m)/Désolée (f)

How much does this cost?: ça coûte combien?

Where is the bathroom?: Où sont les toilettes?

I would like: Je voudrais

Thank you!: Merci!

The Costs

Paris isn’t cheap! In fact, prices for food and accommodation tend to be higher than most other cities around Europe. For budget travelers, this might mean staying slightly further away from the city center or eating at cheaper restaurants instead of fancy bistros each night.

For those looking for a bit more luxury during their trip, then splurging on one nice dinner or buying tickets for an exclusive event could be well worth it!

Cost of Accommodations

One major thing that typically scare first-time visitors to Paris is the cost of accommodations. Whether you like staying at hotels or Airbnb's, Paris ranks on the higher end of the "average cost per night" spectrum. Beautiful hotels with Eiffel Tower views typically start at €300/night.

Pricing for hotels usually depend on two factors: location and quality. The closer you are to the tourist attractions in the center of the city, the more you'll pay for a room.

The quality of the accommodation, such as cleanliness, amenities, and customer service, will also depend on pricing. Typically, expect to pay anywhere from €250-$400 per night for a decent hotel in Paris. When I say decent, I mean something that is rated 4 stars or greater.

You can always opt for a lower quality stay, but be prepared for these hotels to lack basic things such as air conditioning, an elevator (for multiple-level buildings), and a bathroom that doesn't smell like sewer.

If you're really adamant about traveling on a budget, I recommend that you stay at the Generator in Paris. The Generator is a chain of hostels - they offer stays in major cities all around Europe.

I've personally stayed at the one in Madrid, and was very impressed by the quality and cleanliness of their rooms and common areas. The only downside is that this specific in hostel in Paris is not centrally located, and you will have to rely on public transportation to get everywhere.

Cost of Food

Eating in Paris can either be costly or not, depending on your taste. Realistically, you can spend around $25-50 per day on meals. There are several cheap food options around the city if you know where to look. Typically, places that are further away from tourist attractions will offer cheaper food options.

Be mindful that the cost of food is higher in sit-down restaurants than street food stands or grab-and-go options. If you choose to have every meal throughout your day in a restaurant, you will end up spending way more. My rule of thumb is to eat simple items for breakfast and lunch - such as a croissant or a sandwich - and then have a sit-down meal for dinner.

Of course snacking here and there is optional and depends on your appetite and your wallet. If you're excited to visit a well-known food spot that you heard of or saw online, be prepared to spend some money. Famous spots like Ladurée or Angelina charge a high price for their world-renowned goodies.

I stood in line for 30 minutes and paid €19.50 for a box of 6 macarons just for the experience - and because I'm the most cliché tourist ever. The pastries were good and I would definitely go back, but for some, they may not be worth the hype and the cost.

During our latest visit to Paris we tried the famous hot chocolate from Angelina - which was delicious. If you're on a budget, however, skip this one. It cost about €8 just for the hot chocolate alone, and the pastries are also very expensive. If this spot has been on your bucket list for ages, however, I recommend that you go during breakfast or tea time.

Check their peak-hours on Google to avoid a long queue or make a reservation ahead of time - like months ahead of time. We tested our luck without a reservation and waited in line for about 30 minutes. However, this is very uncommon and I recommend planning ahead.

Although there are plenty of free attractions in Paris like parks and museums, there are also hidden costs that can add up quickly. Tipping is not mandatory in France but is expected for services such as cab rides and restaurant meals - usually 5-10%. Taxis charge extra fees for luggage or night rides. And let's not forget the infamous pickpockets! Be sure to keep your wallet close while exploring this romantic city!

Pickpocketing & Theft

Don't ever think that just because you're paying ridiculous amounts of money to stay at a nice hotel in the first arrondissement that you are immune from pick pocketers - Parisian thieves are professionals. It's no secret that Paris is notorious for petty theft, but I never thought that it would happen to us.

I focused so much on preventing my valuables from being stolen, that I didn't pay enough attention to my cousin and his naiveness to the issue. We were at a train station using the vending machine, when two locals attempted to chat him up and then proceeded to try to steal his necklace.

Our first mistake was using the vending machine - and looking like complete tourists. Our second mistake was not avoiding these guys and telling them to get lost. Thankfully, they failed at stealing my cousin's necklace and ran off afterwards. If you're taking the train in Paris, which you most likely will, always keep an eye on your valuables at all times.

Inside the train, at train stations, and around popular tourist attractions are the major locations where pick pocketers like to hang out. Be extra careful at Place du Trocadero, Sacrée Coeur, and anywhere around the Palace of Versailles. Below are some of my for useful tips for avoiding theft in Paris:

  1. If you're bringing a purse, use a cross - body bag and make sure it has a zipper

  2. Always carry your bags in front of you (not on your back) - especially inside trains

  3. Never leave your valuables unattended. Don't put anything on the ground while taking a picture or leave your phone on the table at a café - these are some of the biggest mistakes tourists make

  4. NEVER - and I mean never - keep wallets or phones in your pockets

  5. Don't carry a passport around with you. Keep it locked safely in your hotel room

  6. Invest in a money belt for credit cards, money, and ID's. I prefer the ones that can be hidden under your clothes

  7. If you're the type of person that's always misplacing your phone, consider getting a chain for you phone that you can attach to a purse or belt loop

  8. If you're bringing a wallet, make sure it has a clip that can attach to the inside of your bag. Even if a thief manages to open your purse zipper without you noticing, they'll have a harder time taking your wallet if it's securely attached to something else

The Crowds

No matter when you visit, chances are good that Paris will be crowded with tourists - especially around iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame Cathedral. It can be overwhelming for first-time visitors who aren’t used to crowds, so make sure you have a plan for where you want to go and how long it will take you (and don't forget to factor in waiting time). Here are some of the most crowded locations in Paris:

  • Eiffel Tower - all locations around the tower

  • Sacré Coeur - mostly on the front steps; if you go behind the church there's way less people

  • The Louvre - crowded all week at all times of the day

  • Champs Elyseés - typically busy with tourists closer to the Arc de Triomphe

If you're hoping to get those perfect photos for Instagram without people in the background, I'm sorry to tell you that it will be very hard. Your best chance at achieving that is by waking up very early - from 5 to 7 AM - and rushing towards that spot.

Above is a photo of me in Montmartre by the Sacré Coeur Basilica. It's one of the most packed locations in all of Paris. I gave up at avoiding photobombers in the background and just embraced the crowds in my photos. Realistically, all of Paris' famous tourist locations will be crowded all throughout the day.

The worst time to visit - due to an extreme spike in tourism - is during the summer months. If possible, try visiting during off-season (March/April or September/October) when tourist numbers tend to be lower. It may still be busy during the spring and fall, but it won't be as bad as May-August.

Some Parts Aren't Very Clean

There’s a truth about Paris that often gets overlooked – it can be quite dirty. Not kind of cluttered and messy, but actually not-so-clean. While certain areas are sparkling clean – like its iconic landmarks – other parts of Paris have questionable garbage situations and some areas can even smell pretty pungent (like piss).

Be mindful when taking a stroll around the Seine River Banks. You'll often see photos of people having picnics by the Seine on social media, and decide you'd like to do the same. However, not all areas around the river are super clean. Especially as you go under the bridges from Ile de la Cité all the way to the Eiffel Tower, you'll find yourself noticing the smell of urine quite often

In addition, you'll also find a lot of graffiti while taking the train, in side streets, and in non-touristy neighborhoods. So if you're planning a trip to Paris expecting everything to look like an Instagram filter – prepare yourself for the truth. Thankfully, once you look past the occasional messiness, there is an incredible beauty hiding beneath it all that makes this city magical no matter how much dirt you encounter along the way!

Unrealistic Expectations

It's easy to get caught up in all the stories and pictures we see online about Paris—beautiful sunsets over the Seine River or cozy cafes with perfect croissants—but it's important to keep in mind that these are just snapshots into someone else’s experience of Paris and may not reflect reality for everyone else.

You see photos of celebrities and influencers eating at expensive restaurants and staying at luxurious hotels—and then when it comes time to book your own trip, your bank account starts crying out in despair. Also, don't look at people's profiles and think that their experience was way better than yours.

That's why I'm always honest when people ask me about my photos, even if it may discourage them. This iconic spot right in front of the Arc de Triomphe for example, is not the easiest location to pose for a photo. For starters, it's in the middle of a massive avenue which meets the rotary that surrounds the arc.

I hired a professional photographer to do this, who was experienced enough to secure us a spot at the very end. This location is always crowded, but we lucked out because the weather was bad. I ended up getting sick with a cold for posing around Paris wearing a dress with open-toed heels, while it was raining, and in the middle of October - Oh the things we do for social media.

People often get upset when they arrive in the city and expect it to be like Netflix's Emily in Paris - but they're faced with hoards of crowds, unwelcoming locals, and pick-pocketers instead. The truth is that Paris has it's charm, and it's up to each traveler to decide for themselves whether the pros outweigh the cons.

For me, I'll keep coming back despite the snarky looks from the locals. I love the architecture and walking around Montmartre makes me feel like I'm in a fairytale. You also won't get croissants like Paris's in any other place in the world.

Traveling to Paris can be an amazing experience but it pays to know what you're getting into before your trip! While many people think the city is all about love stories and cheap wine, the reality is much more complex than Instagram would have us believe.

The language barrier, hidden costs, and crowds can all detract from an otherwise perfect vacation – but with a little knowledge beforehand, nothing can stand between you and a great time in Paris! Bon voyage!


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