Navigating Paris: Essential Tips for American Travelers

Embarking on a journey to Paris? You should read this first.

We recently ventured to the City of Light, so we understand the excitement and challenges that come with exploring this enchanting destination. Along the way, we discovered some invaluable tips that would have made our trip all the easier if we had known them beforehand.

Allow us to share our insights and experiences to help make your visit to Paris a seamless and memorable one.

See why you should get travel protection when visitin France

Maximize Your Shopping Experience

If you plan on indulging in some retail therapy, consider purchasing items made in France while you’re there, rather than back home. Taxes can cause the same items to cost more in the U.S.

When you shop, make sure you get a receipt with a designated VAT tax barcode, head to the kiosk at the airport, and you can get a certain amount of tax reimbursed for certain items. Opt for cashback for a 10% return or choose a credit card refund to get even more back. This tax refund system isn't exclusive to France; similar schemes exist in other countries. Remember, there's a cap of $800 in spending per person before you need to declare the items at US Customs and pay some extra taxes. Additionally, keep an eye out for boutique shops offering tax-free shopping directly, bypassing the need for refunds altogether.

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Deciphering Street Signs

In many cases, street signs are affixed to buildings rather than being freestanding, as they usually are in the U.S. If you’re having trouble finding signage, search the architecture around you and look for signs with a blue background, white text and a green border.

Adjusting to Siesta Culture

Embrace the Parisian way of life by understanding that restaurants may close midday for a traditional siesta. Plan your meals accordingly to avoid disappointment. If you find yourself hungry during the midday closure, explore local markets or grab a quick bite from a bakery or café that remains open.

Knowing Standard Phrases

Familiarize yourself with basic French phrases for ordering food, locating restrooms, and other common situations to enhance your experience and communication with locals. Don't worry about perfect pronunciation—effort and a smile go a long way in bridging language barriers.

Bonjour (bohn-zhoor): This is the universal greeting in French, meaning "hello" or "good morning." Use it to greet people throughout the day.

Merci (mehr-see): When expressing gratitude or saying "thank you," use this word to show appreciation to those who assist you during your travels.

S'il vous plaît (seel voo pleh): This phrase translates to "please" and is essential for polite requests or when ordering food or drinks.

Où sont les toilettes? (oo sohn lay twa-let): When you need to locate restrooms, use this phrase to ask "Where are the toilets?" in French. It's a handy phrase to know, especially when exploring the city.

L'addition, s'il vous plaît (la-dee-see-ohn, seel voo pleh): When you're ready to pay the bill at a restaurant or café, use this phrase to request "The check, please."

Remember, making an effort to speak French, no matter how imperfectly, demonstrates respect for the local language and culture. Locals appreciate the gesture and will likely be more receptive to assisting you.

Choosing Transportation Wisely

Uber and Bolt are common transportation options, but rides may take longer than the metro due to the city's traffic. Bolt is a taxi service, and with some drivers potentially offering both services, this can lead to potential confusion. When we booked an Uber, the driver arrived with Bolt signs on the car, and at first we did not realize it was our ride.

Consider using public transportation, such as buses or the metro, to navigate the city efficiently while soaking in the sights and sounds of Parisian life.

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Navigating the Metro

  • Paris's metro system utilizes color-coded lines for easy navigation.

  • Beware of pickpockets! Signs are everywhere warning about this.

  • Ensure you retain your ticket, as it's required for exiting stations.

  • For added convenience, consider purchasing a multi-day metro pass to save money and hassle during your stay in Paris.

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Understanding Airport Procedures

  • Be prepared for multiple airline check-in areas that may not necessarily be adjacent to each other.

  • Don't be caught off guard by the presence of two security checkpoints that you need to pass through. After the first checkpoint we decided to rest in a lounge for a bit and almost missed our flight when we encountered a second checkpoint with a long line. Arrive at the airport with ample time to spare, especially during peak travel seasons, to avoid any last-minute rushes or delays.

  • Unlike many airports, Paris doesn't heavily rely on loudspeaker announcements. Instead, a staff member stationed near the gate verbally calls out boarding information. To ensure you don't miss any crucial updates, consider positioning yourself closer to the gate area. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the layout of the airport terminals in advance to minimize confusion and stress.

Know before you go: The Worst Airports for Flight Delays

Hotel Check-Out Protocols

If you need to check out of your hotel early, communicate your departure time to the hotel staff in advance. Keep in mind that some hotels may not have staff available early in the morning, so plan accordingly. Take advantage of luggage storage services offered by many hotels if you have time to explore the city before departing.

Utilizing the MPC App

Expedite your customs process by downloading the Mobile Passport Control (MPC) app, which grants access to a dedicated and often much quicker line. This simple step can save you valuable time and spare you from enduring longer lines.

By incorporating these practical tips into your Parisian adventure, you'll be better equipped to navigate the city with confidence, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in its rich culture and vibrant atmosphere. Bon voyage!

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