Travel 3 minutes 27 February 2024

5 Expert Tips to Know Before You Travel to Paris

Here are a few essential recommendations to help you prepare for (and enjoy) your stay in Paris

Paris by The MICHELIN Guide

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Paris is a bucket list destination for many – its singular architecture, culinary indulgences and penchant for joie de vivre mean travellers often come with high expectations. But while visitors may demand much from Paris and its ethereal image, the city demands much back in the form of coded etiquette and a dogged fixation on the way things should be done, leaving hidden traps for the unassuming tourist. For those travelling to the City of Light for the first time, here is the essential guide to enjoying Paris as a foodie destination.

Tip 1: When to go

It’s safe to say that Paris is dreamy all year round – but each season offers a unique vignette.

Summer sees Paris at its most crowded, but it's when most festivals and events in the city take place, and when visitors can take full advantage of café terraces and sunbathing along the Seine. Keep in mind that in August, many small boutiques, restaurants and bakeries shut their doors, as their Parisian owners head to the seaside – but larger establishments remain open.

December and January see Paris at its quietest and cheapest, and often without sacrifice. The weather may not be at its peak – rainy, chilly and grey days are common – but ice-skating rinks, holiday markets, winter sales and raclette make it well worth it.

Spring and autumn often bring the best of both worlds – with the former seeing blossoming trees lining the city’s Haussmannian boulevards, and the latter offering an autumnal orange variation.

© The Tuileries Gardens in summer in Paris / possum1961/iStock
© The Tuileries Gardens in summer in Paris / possum1961/iStock
Tip 2: Know your pâtisserie from your café-brasserie

For those who do not speak French, or who are new to the city, the most important tip to learn ahead of travelling is distinguishing between the different kinds of French eateries. A café-brasserie is perhaps Paris’s most iconic style of restaurant – there's a wide variety, but it is typically an informal restaurant serving simple yet hearty food. Brasseries are often spacious, usually serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, including coffee and tea. Traditional and historic brasseries around Paris can be popular, so booking ahead is advised.

The bistrot, or bistro in English, is often smaller and more intimate than the brasserie, and familial in style. In contrast to brasseries, bistros are often only open during lunch and dinner hours. Reservations are essential, especially for well-known establishments. Similarly to brasseries, bistros range in style, with some more rustic, laid-back and intimate and others more contemporary and gourmet. In contrast, the restaurant gastronomique is a higher-end establishment, and often associated with luxury hotels or lauded chefs. Many are expensive, but they typically come with meticulous service standards and ambience. These restaurants often serve more affordable menus during lunch hours.

A table d’hôte – which means host’s table – is a restaurant, often attached to a hotel, that offers fixed-price menus ('menu prix fixe'). Vegetarians and vegans beware, as not all prix fixe menus offer plant-based options. Prices vary, as do styles, but the key is that the table d’hôte does not offer a variety of choice. The bar à vin, or wine bar, is the most laid-back of the bunch, offering places for guests to perch and enjoy glasses of wine and simple plates of charcuterie and fromage. Finally, at a glance: a boulangerie makes and sells bread; a pâtisserie offers sweet delicacies such as pastries and desserts; and a viennoiserie is something in between, serving sweet, flaky pastries.

© The Café de Flore terrace / Jerome LABOUYRIE/iStock
© The Café de Flore terrace / Jerome LABOUYRIE/iStock

Tip 3: When to eat
Parisian dining comes with many unspoken rules, which can yield devastating results for jet-lagged tourists looking for a hot meal in the mid-afternoon. A big one is that there are two service times – lunch is served typically from noon to 2pm, and dinner is from 7pm to 10pm. However, this depends on the restaurant, so check opening hours before visiting.

Brasseries are typically a visitor’s best bet, as they serve food continuously throughout the day and late into the evening, not just during typical French meal times – what they offer is known as 'service continu', which means all-day service. However, during peak mealtimes, brasseries may not accept customers who solely want something to drink. For those looking for 'le goûter', or afternoon snack, boulangeries and patisseries often remain open until late afternoon.

Tip 4: How to tip
Tipping is a formidable part of any new travel experience, but in France it offers a few particularities. Tipping expectations can vary depending on the restaurant style. For both café-brasseries and bistrots, tipping is not obligatory, but 5 percent to 10 percent is customary. For gastronomic restaurants, 5 percent to 15 percent is typical, weighted more towards the higher end if the service is excellent. At the table d’hôte, tips are often not expected, but a guest’s best bet is to take cues from what others are doing – without making it too obvious you’re peering at their bill.

© Aerial metro in Paris / Esperanza33/iStock
© Aerial metro in Paris / Esperanza33/iStock
Tip 5: How to get around

It may seem intimidating, but public transport in Paris is quite easy; the metro is cheap and efficient, and customers can buy day passes or 'billets' for single rides. While Uber may be appealing during less-than-ideal weather, keep in mind that Paris traffic can make your ride far longer than advertised. However, the best way to get around Paris and experience its many charms is to walk from arrondissement to arrondissement, traversing the city at your pace and exploring its many nooks and crannies. There is even a term for such a wanderer – flâneur, a Baudelarian word for a stroller, and keen observer of urban life. And what better city to be a flâneur in?

Hero Image: Lively street in the 5th arrondissement of Paris© Jerome LABOUYRIE/iStock


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