What to Expect: Paris
Paris is one of my favorite cities. I was never a big fan of cities until my husband and I moved to Europe, and they grew on me . . . and I'm pretty sure Paris is my soul city. It's not a perfect place by any means, but there are a lot of things to love: the food, the architecture, the art, the culture . . . I could go on for days. There's so many reasons why Paris is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world!
It makes me so sad when I hear people say that they dislike Paris for [fill in the blank reason], because I think much of that disappointment is rooted in not having realistic expectations of Paris before visiting. Often we think of Paris like a magical fairy land from the way it's portrayed in movies, books, and TV shows. I had incredibly high expectations on my first trip to Paris, and yes, I was one of those people who left disappointed.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel back multiple times since, and each subsequent trip I learned to fall more in love with the real Paris. But hey, not everyone gets more than one chance to visit Paris, so how can one avoid getting disappointed from the get-go?
Do your research--know what to expect before you go! Here's 10 things to expect in Paris that I've picked up from my past visits to the City of Light:
LET'S BE REAL: PARIS
- Smell. As with any big city with a dense population, there are certain accompanying smells that are defintely not pleasant. Just know that for every unpleasant odor you might find in the metro, parking garages, or out on the street, there's also the wonderful scents of baked goods, flowers, food, and coffee lingering somewhere nearby.
- Smoke. This one is sometimes the hardest for traveling Americans who aren't used to European smoking habits. Be prepared for a bit of secondhand cigarette smoke while you're out and about in Paris.
- Bathrooms aren't always free. This is an important tip for traveling anywhere in Europe! Get into the habit of keeping a few euro in your pocket just in case. Most public restrooms charge somewhere between €0.50-€1.50 for entry.
- Pickpockets. If you've been doing your research on Paris, this is not new information. But it's still worth saying: be aware of your surroundings and keep valuables well-hidden. Wear a cross-body purse with a zipper and watch out for scams.
- It's expensive. Paris is not a cheap place to visit. There are a lot of great ways to stay under budget (which I'll highlight in a future post) so know that it IS possible to have a great time without breaking the bank! But just know before you go that restaurants, tourist attractions, and accommodations are rather pricey.
- The food. This is one of my favorite parts about visiting Paris. I would be totally content spending all my time in Paris eating as many pastries, baguettes, crêpes, and macarons I can get my hands on. But then my husband would have to roll me onto a semi truck to get me back home. There are an overwhelming amount of food options in Paris, and if you're interested in indulging in classic Parisian food, just know it's a lot of carbs, pork, cheese, and sugar. My sister-in-law doesn't eat pork, and we quickly discovered it's surprisingly difficult to find classic food that doesn't include ham or bacon.
- The metro. It's not exactly glamorous but it's the biggest way to save your feet while wandering Paris. Seriously, it's worth shelling out the euro for extra metro passes; Paris is such a massive city, it's really not practical to walk the entire way when sightseeing all day.
- Free water does exist! Restaurants are required to serve a carafe of tap water free of charge, should you ask for it. But be clear when you ask, since some waiters will bring you a pricey bottled water if you don't specify you want tap. Plus, Parisian tap water is pretty good.
- It's okay to speak English. If, like me, you try to speak what little French you might remember from high school, don't get too offended if a Parisian abruptly switches to English upon hearing your accent. It's often just more practical for English-speaking Parisians than trying to stumble through on broken French. It's such a tourism-driven city that most people are quite used to English-speaking tourists. But DO learn a few basic French phrases to keep in your back pocket in case you run into someone who doesn't know English at all; that will be appreciated.
- Enjoy the little things. Some of my favorite memories from Paris are simple moments: people watching while drinking coffee at a sidewalk café, getting up at sunrise to get the freshest croissants from a bakery, walking along the Seine, watching the sunset in Montmartre with a glass of wine. Don't stress about planning every moment out; remember to enjoy the little things, and you'll have a memorable time no matter what.
Paris didn't live up to my expectations when I visited for the first time because I didn't have a realistic view of the city. But once I recognized the real Paris, not the movie version, I learned to love the less glamorous things as well as the upsides. It's not a perfect place but it IS worth visiting, without question. There are so many wonderful things to love about the City of Light!
I hope you find these tips helpful in preparing to visit Paris. Bonne journée!