Traveling to a foreign country can be intimidating!
When I scheduled my very first trip to this stunning city – well over twenty years ago – I immediately immersed myself in a tutorial of learning everything I could in French. The thought of navigating Paris without concept of how to speak the language was exciting, but daunting.
I had nothing much to fear, as it turns out. The French are welcoming, despite contrary belief, and they are incredibly proud of their amazing city. That said, the task at hand should have been to focus on learning the layout of the city before I landed on French soil.
I've Landed - Where Am I??
Whether you are flying in or taking a train from another European location, you will probably come into the north side of the city. If you are arriving via a flight to Charles de Gaulle airport, you can catch an RER train from the airport which will get you to the city center for about 10 Euros. The train ride takes approximately 20 minutes to Gare du Nord, which is one of the northernmost train stations on the city perimeter. From there, you can catch the Metro and be on your way!
Note that you can actually take the Metro from some of the terminals straight into the city, but the fastest way to travel in is via the RER.
If your flight arrives into Orly Airport, you will be coming into the south side of the city, but the RER trains run just the same and the fares & times are comparable.
Don’t worry too much about trying to decipher the language. France, like most of Europe, is well-automated and just about every website or app has an English version, so the translation concern is minimal.
Getting your bearings!
I have learned a trick that works perfectly every time I explore a new and exciting location. When I’m traveling, I like to focus on “location by association”.
Being in a strange place can be intimidating, but I combat that fear by associating the new location with something that I’m well-familiar with. For me, I associate the layout of Paris with London.
Both of these magnificent cities are historic, built around a meandering river, and surrounded by a ring road. The Eiffel Tower is located similarly to the London Eye, Notre Dame to Tower Bridge, Arc de Triomphe to the British Museum, and The Paris Opera House to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Like the M25 surrounding London, Paris’s ring road is The Boulevard Périphérique. While I have never bothered to drive in France, (the public transport is so good), I do use the ring road as a border with which to get my bearings.
Paris actually has a few ring roads, but if you are touring the city center for a week, you probably won’t venture too far outside of The Boulevard Périphérique. Please check out my Week in Paris Itinerary. I have added one cathedral on Day 7 which is just outside of this & worth the visit if you have time, but other than that I have included many great sites for an entire week in Paris & Versailles!
Navigating Paris Arrondissements
What is good to know is that Paris is divided up into individually governed neighborhoods called arrondissements (say aaron di simone). Each has a very different feel and livelihood. On my first visit to Paris, I didn’t pay attention to these unique areas at all and I really missed out on so much. I was just a bewildered tourist snapping photos of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame without really getting to know the city.
My itinerary is separated into specific arrondissements on different days which I find to be really helpful in getting to know this magnificent city. If you visit Paris and just start jumping from site to site without any cohesion, you will miss the local feeling of each area.
Using Bridges As Your Landmarks
Similar to the River Thames (say Tems), Paris has the mighty River Siene (pronounced Sen and sometimes Sane) which is approximately twice the size of the Thames. There are more than 35 Parisian bridges that allow for ease of access to the opposite sides of the river.
Photo from Ellen Phillips travel archive
Pont Alexandre III, (shown in the header photo of this blog post), is by far the most elaborate bridge, and a favorite of many tourists and locals alike. This bridge can be found almost directly at the mid-point between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
Finally, is Pont de l’Alma which is now most closely related to Diana, Princess of Wales as the bridge overlooks the tunnel, (shown in the photo above), where she lost her life in that fateful crash in the summer of 1997.
So now that you’re here and have a general overview,… what to see & do? Check out my 7-day itinerary with some ideas of what you may like to experience on your trip. You may not be able to fit everything into each day, but I like options when I travel, so here we go!