If you’ve never been to Paris and you’ve decided to take that dream-come-true first trip to Paris, you are probably bursting with excitement. Maybe even a bit of fear because perhaps you don’t even speak French, but you dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower in person, taking in the Louvre, and strolling the streets nibbling on a bagguette. I know when we booked our flights and then decided on renting an apartment, my heart was racing and my mind was completely overwhelmed with what I wanted to see and do and eat and experience. Planning your first trip to Paris is all of those things, and it’s totally fine to be overwhelmed, but there are some things you can do before you leave to prepare and get ready for a trip of a lifetime!
When you book your flight, figure out your ground transportation that will get you from the airport to your hotel or apartment. We hired a driver (and he totally had a little sign with our names and helped with our luggage, something I always dreamed of!) who took us directly to the front door of our apartment. Along the way, he pointed a few things to us and it was in that car, just like in the movie “French Kiss” , that I saw my very first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It was worth it!
You have other options, like taking a taxi, the train, or a bus. Depending on how much luggage you have, a car service or taxi may be your best option. A bus will take close to an hour, with average traffic a car/taxi can make the trip in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.
Be sure that you check the weather before you leave for the airport for any last-minute additions to your luggage. Since we went in January, we had to bring coats, scarves, gloves, and other warm clothes. If you are planning to travel in the off-season and go when the temperatures are cooler, pack a “packable” coat. Mine actually folded up and into its own pocket, taking up a lot less room in our suitcase! I packed it and wore layers for the actual travel parts of the trip, so I could take a layer off if needed and keep it in my carry on.
If you are being budget-conscious and considering eating out less while in Paris, do a bit of research before you arrive. The little grocery stores are everywhere and really convenient. Our apartment had a wheeled grocery bag/cart that we could have used, so if you are renting an apartment, see if yours does. It makes grocery trips easier and its what all the Parisians do! We were lucky and had a grocery just around the corner, but use Google Maps to see where the closest ones are to your accommodations.
We actually really enjoyed coming back to our apartment after a long day and having options in our kitchen. I am not kidding, the frozen dinners in Paris are AMAZING and I have no shame in saying we ate them for two of our dinners there. Cozy and warm on the sofa, with our Eiffel Tower view out the window, shoes off and feet up, it was perfect.
Other than your transportation and your accommodations, what you plan to see and do are the next most important things to start planning well before your trip.
Consider purchasing a pass that gives you multiple benefits. The Paris Passlib’ is amazing and well worth the cost. Go through and make a list of the museums you want to see (and mark them in some way to show the absolute MUSTS and the ‘like to see’). Go through and do the same for monuments and any parks/gardens you want to visit.
Our list was pretty straight-forward.
Château de Versailles
I also really wanted to eat a baguette (check!) and try a pain au chocolate (multiple times!). Oh and a crepe with Nutella (check, on our way to Notre-Dame!). List these things out, even if it seems super silly, because when you are there, you can easily pull up that note on your phone or pull out that little notebook and check them off.
So back to those things you want to see and do – make that list, then check what hours they are open. Check the ticket prices and if you plan to get a city pass of some kind, see if it’s included or not. Disneyland is expensive (obviously), and needs a full day if you want to do as much as possible there, so you won’t be able to see much more that same day. Are there places on your list that are close to each other, either by walking (free!) or a quick train ride? See if you can plan out your days based on your list and locations.
Learn some French. Even if it’s just some basics, practice it at home before landing in France. We went to a cute little patisserie and the owner made us speak in French, so I’m very happy that I had practiced exactly what I wanted to order and she was nice about it, too! She knew we were American, she smiled at us which totally gave it away, but it’s her country and her business, she can make the rules! Use a translator app on your phone, a pocket language guide, anything you want so as long as you at least try a few phrases in French.
I recommend this pocket guide for all things Paris, it was great to bookmark before we left and reference throughout the trip. Rick Steves’ French will help you with learning some of the language, and check out various YouTube videos for additional help!
Planning a trip to Paris, whether going solo, as a couple, or with a group, can be so much fun! With some preparation beforehand, you can enjoy each and every day regardless of the weather or where you are staying. With so many places within walking distance of each other, you’ll find yourself just walking the sidewalks of Paris and people watching and pausing to take photos. It’s a magical place!
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