11 Important Things to Know Before You Visit Paris

gracerankin photography

That I Learned the Hard Way

Paris is well known for its beauty and romance. But that beauty and romance was almost completely lost on my sister and I after we wandered its beautiful and romantic streets lost, hungry, and exhausted for a day. Almost.

Thankfully, we still got a picture with Mona Lisa and made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, so the day was far from a total failure.

However, we learned some important lessons from our mistakes that I thought I’d share to help others avoid them.

  1. Plan Your Flight so it Doesn’t Arrive at 5:30a.m. Local Time

I should have foreseen this as being a problem. Our flight reached Charles De Gaulle at, yes, the corrupt hour of 5:30a.m.

By the way, our bodies were still on Indiana time, which was 11:30p.m. the previous night.

After finding out the airline lost our luggage, spending a considerable amount of time with the French agent, and filling out the numerous forms regarding said luggage, we made our way to the train around 7:30a.m.

Already exhausted and our day had barely begun.

Luggage-less and feeling the jet lag, but still optimistic…

2. Bring an Accurate and Reliable Street Map

Thankfully we did have a map, which included a chart of the Paris metro system. This turned out to be an invaluable feature. You can purchase the same one we used here!

Although you could use a phone or tablet for maps, there is always the *very likely* possibility that it will die when you need it most.

Just throwing that out there.

3. Know Your Easts and Wests

The previous tip is really no good if you don’t know your easts and wests.

Yes, I was that stupid.

We got off the train in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The sun had just risen behind it. So, beyond the Notre Dame Cathedral is east. I made this assumption, proud of myself that I could use the sun to figure out where we needed to go to find the Louvre and eventually the Eiffel Tower. Logical, right?

Well, I overlooked something very important.

The Eiffel Tower is on the west side of Paris.

I thought the Eiffel Tower was on the east side of Paris. I also thought east is left on a map and west is right. I really don’t know why.

So we began to walk southeast, very puzzled because we hadn’t even glimpsed the Tower yet, and none of the streets we were passing was on our map.

View of the Seine River and back of the Notre Dame Cathedral. There is another iconic structure in this picture…you can see it in the blown up version below. gracerankin photography
And there it is…the Eiffel Tower, right where it’s always been. Right behind us. It wouldn’t be until later that I looked back over our pictures from the day and realized we had already seen it — and taken a picture of it!

Muttering about how stupid the map was, we blindly plunged onward, down to the Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter.

4. The Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter are Lovely; They are also Opposite the Important Stuff

I’m just going to say that these areas are beautiful, but when you’re lost and on edge, they can be stressful. There were tons of Gendarmes everywhere.

Also the sirens sound different in Europe — just like in the Bourne movies.

We didn’t realize where we were. I was convinced the Louvre was just ahead, just past the next building, just around the corner, just across the next street…

5. People Urinate on the Streets in Paris, so just be Mentally Prepared for That

I really don’t need to expound on this one…just wanted to warn you. It was during the height of our confusion and panic that we walked past a man who…you know…did it right in the street, off the curb. It didn’t help our moods.

6. Train & Metro Stations and Their Entrances are Extremely Difficult to Find

We were finally able to get directions from a sympathetic woman who showed us that we had almost walked off the east side of our map.

She pointed us to Gare de Lyon, one of the major train stations, and told us to get on the metro there.

It was at this point that the crushing weight of my stupidity began to fully sink in.

It took us forever to find the entrance, which you’d think would be easy, but it wasn’t.

When there actually is a sign signifying a station nearby, it is nearly impossible to find exactly what you are looking for. And just because you get into the station does not mean you are in the right section or even near it!

By the time we got inside, it was 10:30a.m. Paris time. We were fried.

But the woman had told us if we got on the metro there, we could reach the Louvre easily.

Easily, that is, if we could buy tickets.

7. Have Money — Actual European Money

This, also, should be a given. But I assumed we could find a bank and get cash if we needed it, and a credit card would suffice in the meantime.

Never assume. Just be prepared for anything.

The ticket machine would not take my credit card, the woman at the desk did not speak English, a tramp approached Charity wanting something from her in French, and the people we were told to get help from were not at their desks.

We had no money. We had no one who could understand us. We had no working phone or wifi.

Exhausted, crushed, and frustrated, we decided to walk — retracing all of our steps back to Notre Dame, and eventually the Louvre.

We did find it and got to see Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo before heading on to the Eiffel Tower — a lot longer of a walk than we thought.

8. Hold it or Pay for it — If You can Find One

By this point in the day, my sister was starting to sympathize with the man who urinated in the street.

Public bathrooms in Paris are even harder to find than metro station entrances. They are almost nonexistent. And if you do find one, you may very well have to pay for it.

There isn’t really a solution for this one. Just be aware of it, and when you see a restroom, use it.

9. Don’t Ever, Ever Get Separated on the Metro; the Doors WILL NOT Wait for You

Shadow of the Eiffel Tower over Paris. gracerankin photography

By the time we ran down all 600+ steps of the Eiffel Tower trying to beat the sunset and not be out on the town in the dark, the sun was well on its way to bed, and we had yet to successfully purchase metro tickets and even use the Paris metro system.

But we finally bought tickets.

And then we got separated.

While trying to transfer to another line, I gambled, thinking we could make it before the doors closed. I did, but Charity didn’t. The doors slammed shut on both of our hands as we fought to hold them open. Thankfully Charity was able to rip her hand out before the train zipped off, carrying me away and leaving her in the underground station alone.

That was by far the worst part of the day.

Thankfully, she was on the next train, and when she disembarked, we hugged. And for the record, I did not cry.

So just don’t get separated.

10. Always Have Copies of Important Addresses

Here’s another tip we actually followed.

When we emerged from the station, it was 7:30p.m., fully dark, and we hadn’t had sleep since around 4:30a.m.

We also had never seen the Hotel du Printemps, which we had to check into by 8:00p.m. We went into a department store to get directions. Ironically, the store’s name was Printemps.

If I hadn’t had a full copy of the address with me, we would have been toast; none of the employees in the store had ever heard of the hotel! Thankfully, when they saw the address, they gave us oral directions to the street.

11. Hotels in Paris are Teeny, Tiny, and Tremendously Hard to Find (Especially in the Dark)

We set out, now nervous about finding our lodging, being out on the unfamiliar streets at night, and getting there on time! There didn’t seem to be many other hotels nearby…

After going up and down the street and not finding it anywhere, we asked a woman for directions. She had never heard of the hotel, didn’t speak much English, and couldn’t help.

We kept walking, reading signs, and growing increasingly frustrated.

Utterly desperate, we asked another woman. Although eager to help us, she had also never heard of the hotel. When I showed her the address, she looked up and down the street, told us the general area, and wished us luck.

Eventually, at the end of our sanity, we found it: tucked within a street-long row of connected buildings, decorated with a small, dark awning and a tiny, unlit sign. Virtually invisible in the dark.

When we walked inside, the clock read 8:00p.m.

So just be aware; Paris hotels don’t stand tall and broadcast that they exist. They like to hide.

gracerankin photography

Now, since Paris really is a beautiful, incredible, and awesome place to see, my next travel-related post will cover some of the amazing things about Paris, and what you should see if you get the chance to visit!

If you liked this post, check out my blog Writing Life to see other adventures, tips, inspirations, and more! I’d love to hear from you!

Do you have any points to add to this list?

Or moments of stupidity that almost ruined one of your trips?

Share your experiences, advice, or wishes below!