Visiting Paris for the first time: 8 rookie mistakes to avoid

Posted in: Paris Planning


Paris Cafe
Enjoy that outdoor seat at a classic cafe, but remember, you don't have to tip. Photo: francofantazia

Let’s face it, being a first-time visitor in Paris isn’t easy. Travelers have to deal with everything from jet lag and language barriers, to a new currency and figuring out the public transit system. Some of us save up our whole lives to visit the City of Light, so pricey mistakes aren’t something we want to keep as souvenirs.

While a few faux-pas here or there won’t ruin your experience, there are a few common mistakes to look out for that will make your first days a little smoother. Avoid these in order to keep within your budget and to save time to get the most out of your trip.

Paris water

Tap water is free at restaurants. Just ask for it with the magic words “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait.” Photo: photokitty07

1. Paying for water

Waiters will prey on innocent tourists who may be wondering if the tap water in Paris is drinkable. The days of the plague are mostly over, so don’t fear—French tap water is just fine. Don’t feel pressured into buying pricey bottled water unless you want sparkling or mineral varieties. Just ask for a carafe d’eau, and spend the euros on an extra dessert instead.

Paris musuem passes

You don’t have to go overboard with a mountain of passes. Photo: Eric Mills

2. Booking too many passes

Armed with a museum pass and a metro pass, you can avoid some lines and having to worry about purchasing tickets. But there will always be that pressure to use the passes. What if it’s a nice day and you want to walk, but you haven’t used the pass yet? What if you want to linger more in the gardens but you need to use the museum pass before it expires? If you want the security of the passes, just be sure to plan your route to make sure you don’t lose out in the end.


Sure, Versailles is stunning, but think about saving it for your second trip if you’re only in Paris for a few days. Photo: Wally G

3. Going to Versailles

Is it a mistake to go to Versailles? No. But with only a few precious days in Paris, is it necessary for a first-time visit? We’ll let you decide. If you’re going in the spring or summer, however, be prepared to surrender several hours of your vacation time to waiting in line at the majestic chateau before fighting crowds inside to catch a glimpse of Marie Antoinette’s bed. If you’re on the fence, don’t feel bad about skipping the trek out there, or even opting for a lesser-visited chateau like Chantilly.

4. Tipping when you don’t have to

With taxi drivers, hair dressers and tour guides, don’t feel bad about tipping. With anyone else, there is absolutely no need to, unless the service went above and beyond the norm. Just round the bill up and leave the change. Paris tipping rules are as simple as that.

Paris breakfast

A typical (and tasty) Paris breakfast at a local cafe will only cost you a handful of euros. Photo: joyoflife

5. Eating breakfast in the hotel

There’s no need to dig deep into your pockets for a bit of breakfast. Head to a café for a coffee and croissant under €5 euros or just get an assortment to go from your local bakery and leave the breakfast buffet for when all the bakers are on strike. Yes, it has happened before.

Hotel Henri IV

Hotel Henri IV is literally in the bulls-eye center of the city at the tip of the Ile de la Cité. Photo: EuroCheapo

6. Not staying central to save a few euros

That cheap hotel out by Disneyland seems great, because it’s just so gosh-darn cheap. But the commute into Paris isn’t much different from those who come from London (I exaggerate…kind of). We love cheap hotels, too, and that’s why we push our favorites in the heart of the city—because you didn’t fly all the way to Paris to spend hours on a train, did you?

Paris Lines

Be prepared to wait, because Paris lines for tourist attractions can be epic. Photo: Parisa

7. Being a slave to lines

Queue up in Paris—we all need to at some point. While you’re at the Eiffel Tower, I’m at the grocery store, and the lines are often comparable. But pick your battles. Lines at the Louvre are shorter on Wednesday and Friday nights, and the same goes for the Musée d’Orsay on Thursday evenings, while the Eiffel Tower is always pretty busy. Plan ahead so that if you have no bookings or pre-purchased tickets, you won’t hit all of the lines at all the wrong times.

8. Trying to do it all

You planned and planned, you thought you could do it all, but alas. It’s just impossible. Paris will be here for quite some time, so if you didn’t get to every major sight, there’s always tomorrow. The Mona Lisa isn’t going anywhere (hopefully), and the Eiffel Tower should still be standing, so try to enjoy what you do experience and make the to-do list for round two.

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog:

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16 thoughts on “Visiting Paris for the first time: 8 rookie mistakes to avoid”

  1. This is a great round-up. Many of these are things that would be at least minor annoyances – if not major headaches on your first visit to Paris. Hopefully you’ve just helped a bunch of people have a far more enjoyable Parisian trip as a result of this “insider” knowledge.

  2. Bonjour. Great travel tips. Will be sharing with my readers this weekend. I particularly agree with #6. When traveling, or when buying a home, think location, location, location! As as side note, just saw Tom’s photo in Italy on the Rick Steves’ blog. Looked like a good time. Keep up the good work, les amis. A bientôt. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  3. Go to chateau Vaux le Vicomte, a mini version of Versailles and the original to boot. Just 20 minutes to Melun from Gare de Lyon. Be sure to time your weekend visit to meet the chateau’s shuttle bus. lines are minimal and the gardens are just as phenomenal as Versailles and by the same landscape artist, LeNotre. The chateau is by Le Vaux same as Versailles.

  4. Don’t underestimate a picnic! On Sunday morning, I saw many groups having champagne brunch in front of the Eiffel Tower. My favorite is a picnic in the gardens at the Rodin museum.

  5. I visited Paris for the first time, arriving on May 8th for 5 days. I prepared myself by reading your tips first! Thanks so much! I didn’t try to see everything, the pain in my feet (tennis shoes and all) kept me from it, lol. Even then, I saw so much and have over 650 photos for memories everlasting!

  6. It used to be that insiders and those in the know would stand at the counter in a bar or brasserie to order/eat, marking those who took a table as tourists and therefore subject to lesser service, higher prices, etc. Is that still the case? Do seasoned tourists stand at the counter?

  7. I want to add one thing to the “Don’t eat b’fast in the hotel” — The whole b’fast area will be full of tourists. But if you go out into the City you’ll be surrounded by Parisians, N. American tourists and European tourists. During my last trip to Paris I found first a nice place in Rue Cler and kept going back (the waiter even corrected my Fr. grammar) but then forced myself to leave and find other places. Breakfast turned out to be my favorite part of the day.
    And about those museum passes: Have lunch at the Louvre or Orsay — good food, good service and wonderful ambiance.
    And it really does need to be repeated: No white sneakers. 😉

    1. Great tips Dorothy and thanks for reading. Wearing sneakers and shorts is certainly an easy way to stand out in Paris!

      1. If you can’t wear sneakers, how are you supposed to walk miles comfortably? Fashion is great but not if you wind up taking a header on those uneven streets.

        1. buy a great pair of walking shoes before you leave , your feet will thank you for it and if they are chic all the more so. No need for sneakers .

        2. Sneakers don’t give you the correct support for all the walking and cobblestones. Though not practical for hot summer traveling, I always wear knee high boots with a gel insole. I just walked over 72 miles in Paris in Europe the past 10 days and have no complaints. 4 years in the same boots whereas my traveling companion was in tennis shoes and couldn’t stand it.

      2. Well white running sneakers make you stand out, more specifically. I wouldn’t wear my running shoes to dinner, for sure. But the French wear their Chuck Taylors as much as anyone else, so don’t think you can’t be comfortable!


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