For starters, leisurely meals are a national pastime.
And you don’t need to be fluent in French.
Ah, Paris. The city of light. The home of great wines, the finest art, and the most pungent cheeses in the world. It truly is the jewel of the European crown (just don’t tell the English). If you’re planning a trip to the French capital, there are a few things that you should know in advance. That’s where we come in. Here are 10 tips for first-time visitors to Paris that we wish we’d known earlier.
Oh, and did you know that if you fly Etihad Airways to Paris (or any of the 65 destinations they service around the globe), that you can earn Velocity Points and Status Credits along the way? That’s trés magnifique, if you ask us.
Pack your comfiest walking shoes
Paris is approachable on foot. To cross it end to end walking takes about two hours. There’s a certain ‘je n'ais se quoi’ to the streets of Paris that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and it’s hard to experience through a taxi window. It’s this intangible quality that’s inspired so many artists and writers over the centuries who’ve wandered the same city streets. Amble along the three-kilometre car-free zone that hugs the right side of the River Seine, or head to Rue Montorgueil – the open-air market that’s home to the city’s oldest bakery.
If you can’t walk, train
Do as the locals do and take to the metro for trips that are beyond walking distance. Taxis are expensive, and while rideshare services exist – they’re the subject of some controversy and a source of protest. By contrast, the Parisian train network is reliable, quick, and cheap.
When you arrive in Paris, head to the closest station and request the metro map, plaire. They’re free to take and will help you plot your movements. Once you know where you’re going, you can decide what kind of ticket you’ll need. There are unlimited travel passes for 1, 2, 3, or 5 days available – or a multizone book of 10 single trips that equates to a couple of dollars per trip.
Budget enough time to queue
Paris hosts 83 million visitors per year, and there’s a good chance that they’re going to want to see a lot of the same sites that you do. That means that, inevitably, you’re going to end up waiting in line somewhere, so you should budget time accordingly. For example, if you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower (you do) then plan at least two and a half hours for the experience.
Resist the urge to jampack your itinerary, take things slow, and lean into the experience. Trust us, Paris is worth the wait.
Visit the Louvre Museum at night
No visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the Louvre, home to masterpieces by Raphael, Delacroix, and – of course – Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’. The museum is open 9am–6pm most days (it’s closed Monday) except for Wednesday and Friday, when it’s open until 10pm. A lot of tourists overlook these extended evening hours and, as a result, it tends to be quieter on these days. For an even smoother visit, book your tickets in advance online and select the time you’d like to arrive – you’ll be admitted to the museum within 30 minutes of your nominated time.
Alternatively, visit the Louvre (and other museums) for free
The cost of admission to multiple cultural sites can quickly add up. But here’s an insider tip if you’re visiting Paris between October and March: on the first Sunday of every month during this period, a lot of museums – including the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, and the Musée d’Orsay – hold open doors (meaning free entry). The only challenge is seeing how many you can squeeze into one day.
Running late is the right time
If you’re meeting with locals, then to be on time is to be early. That is to say, if a French person suggests dinner at their place at 7pm – they actually mean closer to 20-past. If you arrive at the nominated time, there’s a good chance you’ll catch your host mid-preparation, so err on the side of late. Parisians, of course, are impossibly stylish – so it would follow suit that they’re always fashionably late.
Ditch the buffet
If you are in need of some quick eats before a day of sight-seeing, then skip the hotel breakfast and opt to grab something on the run. Nothing beats a café au lait and croissant in a local boulangerie to start the day. If you don’t have a second to spare, just head to a baguette vending machine (yes really).
Later, you might want to create your own picnic to enjoy in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Keep your eyes peeled for the fromagerie and charcuterie shops that dot the city and assemble a DIY meal (don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine, as well). If you’re still hungry, swing by a patisserie for something sweet.
Paris is a gastronomique paradise, but to make the most of the dining scene you’ll need to think ahead. Eating out is a way of life for the French – and many restaurants and cafes have limited seating – so make sure that you call in advance. If your preferred location is popular, it wouldn’t be uncommon for it to be booked out a week in advance.
Many restaurants will be open for two sittings, lunch between 12pm–2:30pm and dinner from 8pm to late – they close in-between – so plan accordingly.
You should invest in a French phrasebook
There’s a misconception that the French don’t like those who speak other languages. That isn’t true. It’s just that French cultural norms differ from English-speaking ones, and sometimes things can get a little lost in translation. For example, when greeting a local with ‘Bonjour’, it’s considered rude to continue talking until the other person has acknowledged your greeting – whereas in English many of us would do so without a second thought (“Hello, can I please have…”).
So grab a French phrasebook, or download a language app, and invest a little bit of time and effort to learn a few key sentences – you’ll be rewarded accordingly.
Prepare to dine at escargot’s pace
When sitting down at a restaurant (you remembered to make reservations, right?), don’t expect to dine and dash. The French eating experience is defined by multiple courses served at a leisurely pace – often taking around three hours. If you’re in a hurry, a restaurant probably isn’t the best option.
Expect entrees, mains, dessert, and possibly a cheese course to be the standard operating procedure. So slow down, settle in, and enjoy. Also, tipping isn’t the norm in Paris – but it’s not unheard of, either. Don’t feel obliged, but feel free to round up the bill if the service was exceptional.
Ready to make the trip to Paris? Of course you are. Earn Velocity Points and Status Credits when you book a flight through Etihad.com. Don’t forget to show your Velocity membership card at check-in to earn Velocity Points and Status Credits.