A Beginner’s Guide to Paris: How To Not Be A Useless Tourist (+Photos)

Ah, Paris! The city of love, lights, and – in my experience – torrential downpours. But even when it’s raining ropes (as the French so poetically put it), this place is still pure magic. Let me share my hard-earned wisdom from multiple trips, so you can survive (and thrive) in the City of Lights.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Paris?

Forget those picture-perfect postcards – Paris weather has a mind of its own. Spring can be a delightful gamble, with sunshine and showers battling for dominance. May, in particular, seems to have a vendetta against me, with each visit bringing enough rain to drown a baguette. In May, you can expect it to ‘pleut des cordes’ or ‘rain ropes’ as the French say.


Summer brings the warmth, the tourists, and the occasional heatwave. If you’re brave enough to face the crowds, pack light clothes and a portable fan for the non-air-conditioned metro.


Fall is my personal favorite season – the air turns crisp, the leaves paint the city gold, and the crowds thin out. You might even snag a few sunny days for café hopping and strolls through the Luxembourg Gardens. Winter is chilly, but undeniably charming. Picture twinkling lights, cozy cafés overflowing with hot chocolate, and a certain je ne sais quoi in the air.

Eating Your Way Through The Capital


Let’s be honest, the French are culinary geniuses. But forget the stereotypes about snails and frog legs. Your taste buds are in for a treat, even if you stick to the basics.

Happy hour in the Latin Quarter is an absolute must. Imagine tiny tables spilling onto the sidewalks, laughter echoing through the streets, and the clinking of glasses filled with the most delicious cheap drinks you’ll ever taste. Trust me, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.


For a taste of authentic home cooking, skip the fancy restaurants and head straight to a traiteur (take-out food shop). They sell heavenly pre-made meals like gratin (a cheesy potato masterpiece) that taste like they were lovingly prepared by a French grandma.

And of course, no trip to Paris is complete without the holy trinity of breakfast: a buttery croissant, a tiny (but mighty) coffee, and – if you’re feeling adventurous – a lungful of cigarette smoke from the neighboring table.

Navigating Parisian Neighborhoods: A Quick Guide


Paris is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own personality. The 1st Arrondissement is the heart of the city, home to the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens, and high-end boutiques. It’s your classic Parisian postcard shot, but be warned, your wallet might not survive the experience.


For a more bohemian vibe, head to Châtelet – Les Halles. Here, you’ll find cool vintage shops, quirky bars, and the occasional questionable bathroom graffiti. It’s the perfect spot for a fun night out.


The 7th Arrondissement boasts the Eiffel Tower, but it also comes with hordes of tourists and overpriced souvenir shops. It’s worth a visit, but don’t expect an authentic local experience. The same goes for the 8th Arrondissement, home to the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

For a truly charming escape, venture up to Montmartre in the 18th Arrondissement. With its cobblestone streets, quaint cafés, and stunning views from Sacré-Cœur Basilica, it’s well worth the trek.

Mastering Parisian Public Transportation


If you’re flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport, do yourself a favor and buy your train ticket online in advance. You can buy multi-use train tickets, like a tourist pass that includes your RER transfer. If you are a sap like me and forget to do this, you’ll have to queue up. The ticket machines at the airport are notoriously confusing, and you’ll need a map (and a PhD in cryptography) to decipher them.

Once you’re in the city, get yourself a rechargeable Navigo Easy pass. It’s a lifesaver, especially after a few glasses of champagne when walking around becomes a little hazardous. The Bonjour RATP app is also essential – use it to check your balance and refill your pass with ease.

Parisian Sights: What to See and What to Skip


Paris is overflowing with iconic landmarks and hidden gems, but not everything deserves your precious vacation time. The Louvre is massive, overwhelming, and home to the Mona Lisa (who’s smaller than you’d expect, by the way).

If you go, have a plan and prioritize the exhibits that interest you most. Otherwise, you’ll end up wandering aimlessly for hours. Save some time to walk in the gardens across from the Louvre after your visit.


Musée de l’Orangerie is my favorite. It houses Monet’s breathtaking Water Lilies paintings in a serene, light-filled space. It’s a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Musée d’Orsay, housed in a stunning former train station, is another winner. This museum is a treasure trove of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. Don’t miss Renoir’s dance scenes and Van Gogh’s vibrant self-portraits.


Architecture lovers will be very familiar with The Pantheon. This neoclassical monument is awe-inspiring, both inside and out. The sheer scale of the dome and the Foucault pendulum swinging beneath it are unforgettable. This is where great French heroes like Marie Curie and Victor Hugo lie resting. Speaking of the dead, The Catacombs are a bit creepy, but undeniably cool.

Just remember, you’re only seeing a small section of this vast underground network of tunnels and bones. If you’re claustrophobic or easily spooked, this one might not be for you.

Iconic Sights

Eiffel Tower

It doesn’t get more iconic than The Eiffel Tower though. You can’t miss it, but you don’t have to climb it. The view from the Champ de Mars is just as stunning, and you’ll save yourself the long lines and hefty ticket price. My favorite spot is a little boat dock across the river that gives you the most precious view with no one around.


The Champs-Élysées is worth a stroll for the sheer spectacle of it all, but be prepared for overpriced cafés and souvenir shops. Head to a side street for a more authentic (and affordable) Parisian experience.

The view from the top of Montmartre at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is spectacular, but the basilica itself can be underwhelming. Unless you’re deeply religious or have a penchant for ornate interiors, you can admire it from afar.


Remember, Paris is best experienced at your own pace. Don’t feel pressured to see everything – focus on the sights that spark your curiosity and leave room for serendipitous discoveries along the way.

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