At a Glance
When to Go
Whether you’re coming from within Europe or from farther afield, when you arrive at either of the city’s two airports—Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle or Orly—you’re a short train, bus, or cab ride away from the beating heart of Paris. The RER B, a regional rail line, is the swiftest way to reach the city center. The Roissy and Orly buses also drop off passengers in prime locations in the city for about $10 to $12. Taxis are convenient, but they can be costly. Plan ahead and try WeCab, a shared-car option that offers flat rates to and from the airport, and guarantees to get you there on time.
There are few international cities as eminently walkable as Paris. When your feet can no longer support your museum- and restaurant-hopping, the public transportation system offers an efficient and user-friendly way to link the city's many neighborhoods. Buses offer the best view, but le métro is the quickest and most reliable means to get to and from your destinations. If you own a smartphone, be sure to download the “Paris By Métro” app, which is accessible offline. If taxis aren’t viable for your budget, consider day or week passes to tour the city on two wheels with Vélib, the city’s successful bike-share program (reserve online).
Food and Drink
Every international city has its iconic landmarks and cultural institutions. In Paris, most travelers would cite the Louvre as the must-visit art stop, but curious visitors should look beyond the usual suspects and explore the less-familiar names. The Musée de la Vie Romantique, the Jewish Art and History Museum, the Cinémathèque Française, and the Fondation Cartier are all distinct cultural highlights worth adding to your itinerary.
Given the Parisians’ well-documented penchant for celebrating art, culture, and design in all its forms, you can count on a schedule of festivals and events that is packed year-round. From neighborhood street parades to larger-scale happenings like Paris Plage or Nuit Blanche, it’s worth planning your vacation around the city’s celebratory timetable.
What the Locals Know
Following these tips can mean the difference between a perfect trip and one marred by disagreements with locals, surly salespeople, and unmet expectations:
- Always greet shop owners and restaurant staff with “bonjour” when entering and before asking a question or making a request.
- Avoid restaurants that have English translations printed on the menu or that display multiple flags. Similarly, avoid restaurants with multi-page menus, as the authenticity of the meal may be questionable.
- When metro train cars are crowded, give up your folding seat and stand.
- A baguette is always better with cheese—the older the cheese, the better.
- Do not overlook the city’s farmers’ markets as potential lunch spots.
- The Champs-Élysées has few redeeming qualities and is considered the Times Square of Paris by locals. Skip it and opt for a bird’s-eye view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
- Macaron loyalties teeter between Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, so try both and decide for yourself.
France uses type E an C plugs (as well as F, if it has an extra pin), so visitors from the U.S. will need an adaptor. Since the standard electrical voltage in France is 230 V, you'll also need a voltage converter (U.S. standard voltage is 110) to ensure you don't fry your appliances.
France's official currency is the euro; check conversion rates here, but keep in mind that the rates you'll pay to convert dollars to euros will be slightly more. And consider using a credit card that doesn't charge a fee for international transactions.
Paris' official is French, bien sûr. Yet Paris is an international city, and as such, you're likely to hear many languages spoken, depending on where you are. Parisians appreciate it when you make an effort to speak a little French, so it's definitely worthwhile – and highly recommended – to learn at least the basics before you arrive.