A trip to Paris is in most, if not all, girls’ hearts. Romantic and cultured, the image of this French capital is definitely enduring. If you’re going to France soon, read this Paris solo travel guide as contributed by Jill Bowdery, a fellow travel blogger, to my Solo Travel City Guide series.
Paris, France. The City of Light. More than perhaps any other city in the world, Paris captures the imagination — but what really makes it so special? Lots, as it turns out.
If you have always dreamed of discovering the magic of Paris for yourself, read on for everything you need to know for an enjoyable time traveling solo in Paris!
Arriving in Paris
Paris has three airports, but most international travelers arrive into Paris Charles de Gaulle, located some way out of the city to the northeast. CDG is a huge airport, but it’s easy to navigate if you know what to look for.
There are officially 3 terminals, 1, 2 and 3, but Terminal 2 is in fact divided into seven separate terminals numbered 2A to 2G. For a quick and cheap ride into town, head for the train station between 2C and 2D — look for the RER signs and you can’t go wrong.
Train RER B will take you to the city center in around 30 minutes and costs just under €12 per person. Taxis will cost a minimum of €50 per vehicle depending on your destination, so unless there are four of you with minimal luggage, the RER is normally the most cost-effective way to get downtown.
From the city center, the Paris Metro will take you to every corner of the capital. Download the free English-language RATP cellphone app to help you navigate. For travel within the city center, buying individual tickets in books (carnets) of 10 is often more cost-effective than a daily ticket; the book can be split between travelers.
Where to Stay in Paris
If you are new to the city you might naturally aim for the heart of the action (check out the rooms in Paris city center), but life in the French capital can be pricey. Better, then, to look for a hotel which is close to a metro station a little way out of the city center.
The 4-star Villa Lutèce Port-Royal is conveniently located close to the Jardin Botanique south of the river, between two metro stations.
For a no-frills hotel, consider the French-owned ibis brand which is located all over the city. The ibis Styles Paris Bercy (3-star) is modern and colorful, as well as being well-located close to Bercy railway station and links into the city center.
Things to Do in Paris
Go up the Eiffel Tower
What visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the iconic Eiffel Tower? Built for the World’s Fair of 1889, the tower stands 324m tall on the banks of the River Seine.
Visitors can climb the stairs to the first and second floors, or why not take a lift all the way to the very top of the tower for incredible views right across Paris? Queues at the Eiffel Tower can be long; to save time, buy tickets online. Metro Station: Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel or Bir Hakeim.
Visit Musée du Louvre and the Louvre Pyramid
My personal favorite spot in Paris is the courtyard of the Palais du Louvre. Home to the famous Louvre Museum, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, the Louvre is a former royal palace which is worth a visit in its own right.
In the center of the courtyard stands the Pyramide du Louvre, a huge glass structure built in the 1980s to create a new entrance to the museum, but which has become an icon in its own right. Metro station: Palais-Royal.
Check out the Jardin des Tuileries
The Jardin des Tuileries is a huge formal garden which stretches out from the Louvre all the way to the Place de la Concorde and the bottom of the Champs-Elysées. In the summer months it is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the sunshine, or dine alfresco in the outdoor cafés. Metro station: Palais-Royal or Concorde.
Take a pic of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées
The Arc de Triomphe, a huge triumphal arch located in the center of Paris’s most notorious roundabout (12 roads peel off from here in a star formation), is another of Paris’s most famous landmarks.
Begun by Emperor Napoléon in 1806 but finally opened by King Louis-Philippe 30 years later, the arch is the starting point of Paris’s most famous boulevard, the Champs-Elysées. This broad street, lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, is a place to see and be seen! Metro station: George V.
Head to Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur
Another district which always calls to me on a visit to Paris, Montmartre sits high on a hilltop to the north of the city center. Long famous as the haunt of artists, the Place du Tertre is still the place to find painters and sketchers waiting to sell their work or sketch a tourist or two. Place du Tertre is also an atmospheric place for lunch, although you will be paying for location over quality.
Montmartre is also home to the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, an enormous white stone cathedral perched at the very top of the hill overlooking the city. Comparatively new by Paris standards, the basilica was consecrated in 1919. Climb the steps up the hill to the entrance for stunning views over the capital, or ride the funicular railway for the cost of a metro ticket.
Montmartre’s final surprise is just down the hill to the north of the Place du Tertre. The heart of the French capital might not be the first place you’d expect to find a vineyard, but the Vignes du Clos Montmartre is just that. Take a wander down the pretty streets to find this “secret” vineyard yourself; tours are available by appointment only. Metro station: Anvers or Abbesses.
See the gargoyles at the Notre Dame Cathedral
If you’ve seen the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you will be familiar with this 12th century cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the center of the River Seine.
Admire the gruesome gargoyles or climb the bell tower yourself for your very own Quasimodo moment. Catholic mass is held regularly (in French) and all are welcome; check service times online. Metro station: Cité.
Take a bâteau-mouche on the River Seine
A pricey excursion, a cruise down the River Seine by bâteau-mouche is nonetheless the perfect way to see the heart of the city. These broad, low boats are designed to fit perfectly below the city’s many bridges, and offer a spectacular view as they pass by.
From the foot of the Eiffel Tower, glide upriver as you pass Les Invalides, the French National Assembly, the Académie Française and the Louvre, before making a loop past Notre Dame Cathedral, the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis. Pass under the famous Pont des Arts and the elaborate Pont Alexandre III as you glide back towards the Eiffel Tower and your starting point.
Tickets are easy to buy on the day and cost around €14 for adults and €6 for children at the time of writing. Metro station: Bir Hakeim.
Stroll around the trendy Marais district
A stroll through Paris’s atmospheric streets is always a good idea, and the Marais district is one of the best areas of the city to explore on foot. A former haunt of the city’s aristocrats, there are more pre-revolutionary buildings here than any other part of Paris, and a wander through the streets will reveal architectural treasures at every turn.
Le Marais is also home to several of Paris’s major museums, including the Musée Carnavalet and the Musée Picasso, while the more architecturally-challenged Centre Pompidou is just to the west of the Marais district. Metro station: Saint-Paul or Chemin Vert. Visit the museums.
Paris has more museums than you can possibly imagine, and you could spend a lifetime trying to see them all. Top picks for art lovers are the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie for Impressionist painters, including Monet’s Waterlilies. Or check out the Musée Rodin or the Musée Picasso for celebrated works from these artists.
One of my favorites, the Musée du Quai Branly, is located near the Eiffel Tower and has an extensive collection of indigenous art and culture from around the world, while the National Museum of Natural History has whole floors dedicated to dinosaur skeletons. And who could forget the world-famous Musée du Louvre? The options are endless.
Take a day trip to the Château de Versailles
For the ultimate day trip from the city center, take the RER out to Versailles to visit Louis XIV’s spectacular masterpiece. For decades, the French royal court had its home here, and famous residents included the Sun King himself in the 17th century, and ill-fated Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette in the 18th century.
Highlights include the fantastic Hall of Mirrors, as well as the extensive gardens and Marie Antoinette’s “cozy” retreat, Le Petit Trianon. There are a range of tickets starting at around €18 for adults; entry is free for those under 18 years of age (or under 26 and an EU resident).
Timed tickets are in operation for the palace itself, as Versailles can get crowded in peak season. RER: Versailles Château Rive Gauche.
Paris Solo Travel Tips
Paris, to be honest, is a GREAT destination for solo travelers. With a wealth of incredible museums, cathedrals and parks, it was made for exploring on your own, so take some time to yourself and just wander!
If you’re worried that the city’s reputation for romance will make you feel like a lonely heart, never fear. Smooching couples are actually no more common here than in any other city in Europe, so you won’t feel out of place.
In fact, soaking up the romantic atmosphere with some self-love is just as rewarding; nothing beats sitting in a cafe watching the world go by, or stretching out on the grass in one of the many parks with a good book, lost to the world.
Like any big city, it pays to know how to stay safe in Paris and avoid the annoyances and scams that can occur.
As a solo traveler, especially if you are female, you may find yourself the subject of some male attention. French men are raised to be charming to women, so smile and play along if you are chatted up by a waiter or barman — it is most likely friendliness rather than anything sinister. If you are uncomfortable, just say so — chances are they will leave you alone if you ask.
Out on the street, however, the attention may occasionally become a little too persistent, in which case politely ask the gentleman to leave you alone, and ignore him if he doesn’t get the message. If necessary, raise your voice and make a scene — in whatever language you’re most fluent! People around you will quickly get the message.
It stands to reason, in a big city, that travelers of all ages and genders should take care when out at night. Never walk alone after dark unless you are in a busy area; avoid using the metro late at night, and if you have to, never get into a carriage alone.
There have been reports of drink-spiking in Paris’s bars and nightclubs, so keep an eye on your glass at all times, and think carefully before encouraging attention from members of the opposite sex — you may find them hard to shake off later.
Pickpocketing is just as much of a problem in Paris as it is in most other major cities. In crowded areas, keep your bag close to you, preferably in front of your body, and with your hand covering the zip. Never leave valuables in exterior pockets and never, ever in a back pocket.
Avoiding Scams in Paris
Paris has, unfortunately, become renowned in recent years for the number of scams perpetrated on unsuspecting visitors. However, with a bit of caution you can avoid becoming a victim. The scams broadly fall into one of 4 categories:
You are approached by someone who tries to give you something — a gold ring which they have just “found” on the ground, or maybe a rose or a bracelet which they tie around your wrist. Of course, nothing ever comes for free, and the moment will quickly turn sour when they demand payment. Never accept anything from someone you don’t know on the street. Genuine souvenir sellers will wait for you to come to them.
You are invited to play a game of chance; for example, guessing which of 3 cups a coin is hidden under. Sleight of hand will ensure you never win, so don’t waste your money. These types of street performance are also fertile ground for pickpockets who prey on distracted participants and spectators. Don’t get involved; or if you do want to watch, keep a close hold on any valuables.
You are invited, often by a young woman, to sign a petition on one topic or another. Again, this is a ploy to distract you while your bag or pockets are picked. Never interact; it is highly unlikely you will want to sign a local petition anyway, so act disinterested and keep walking.
You are offered a ride by a local rickshaw driver or similar; at the end of your journey, the price they quoted for your trip turns out to be per person, or one way (of course you must pay for them to return to their starting point!). Always be very clear about the price in advance, or better still, just steer clear. Note that these scammers are often not French nationals, so even if you speak good French they can always claim a misunderstanding.
With all that said, don’t let scammers put you off visiting Paris. The city is brimming with history and culture, and that French je ne sais quoi (that little something; a quality that eludes description) that will bring a smile to your face every time you see a quaint cafe or a boulangerie selling baguettes and pains au chocolat.
Paris has its dark side, but it is not called the City of Light for nothing. Go there, and be dazzled. After all, Paris is always a good idea, isn’t it?
Have you been to Paris solo? Feel free to share your tips here!