The French capital city of Paris is one of those cities that you can return to again and again. It’s known as ‘the city of love’ making it great for couples, but also known as the ‘city of light’ making it great for solo travel! I’ve been to Paris three times – twice with someone I was in a relationship with and once alone. Let me tell you this – Paris can be romantic, but it’s honestly not all it’s cut up to be in terms of romance. The city is busy and there’s a lot to see, making it difficult to have a relaxing smooch! With a city that offers so much in the way of sightseeing, culture and history I have to admit that I honestly prefer solo travel in Paris to visiting with a partner! (Shush, don’t tell my husband!!!)
In today’s blog I will give you the best tips on solo travel Paris and help you to make the most out of a trip to the French capital.
When to go to Paris
The best months to visit Paris are from April through to September when the weather is warm and mild. Visiting in the spring and summer will make it pleasant to walk around and you will be able to enjoy the outdoor cafe culture as Parisians do. It can be busy particularly in July and August – but remember that it’s a big city and Paris will be busy no matter what time of year you go. Make sure that you consider the French school holidays when booking your trip.
If you are looking for cheap flights you might find that you can pick up a cheaper flight by going from October to March and travelling on a Tuesday or a Wednesday rather than on a weekend.
How to get to Paris
Paris is extremely accessible both by plane to Charles de Gaulle airport and also by Eurostar from London St Pancras to Gar du Nord. I’ve travelled both ways and enjoyed it.
Eurostar to Gar du Nord
It takes just two and a half hours to get to Paris Gar du Nord from London. If you are considering going first class on the Eurostar please note that they have cut back a lot of the complimentary alcohol and some of the food options due to budget cuts. Although it used to be worth it, it’s not really worth it now. However, the basic tickets are good value and it’s a pleasant journey. Be prepared for the massive scramble at St. Pancras before boarding – in my experience it was generally not the most well organised boarding. If you arrive in Paris at Gar du Nord then be conscious that it’s not the best area of Paris – be aware of pickpockets and have an onward travel plan or know which way you are going.
Flying into Paris
Charles de Gaulle is a large international airport and has plenty of flights to Europe and the USA. You can fly direct to Paris from New York with KLM. Swiss Airlines easyJet and Air France all go fly direct from Manchester and London to Paris Charles de Gaulle.
If you are flying into Paris with Ryanair be aware that this airline flies into Beauvais-Tillé Airportor BVA, which is around 80 km or 53 miles from Paris. It’s not actually IN Paris itself.
How long should I spend in Paris?
Although a long weekend (two or three days in Paris) is sufficient to see the main sites including the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Notre Dame and the Louvre, I would recommend that you spend at least 5 nights in Paris. There is so much to see and do there you don’t want to be disappointed. Alternatively, if you only have weekends to spare, consider doing more than one trip of course – I once met someone who went to Paris three times in one year!
Solo female travel in Paris – Is it safe?
Like anywhere in the world, there is always a small risk with travelling alone. However, I have been to Paris as a solo traveller and enjoyed it and not had any problems. Be aware of pick pockets around Gar du Nord and on the Paris Metro – always keep your money and valuables safe and secure. As with any big city, plan your routes and avoid walking around alone at night if you can help it. Pigalle and Monmartre are both very safe although Pigalle is the area where you will find all the sex shops so be prepared! Avoid drawing attention to yourself as a tourist – don’t flash your camera or speak loudly in your own language – these are the things that will attract unwanted attention.
Getting around Paris
There are several ways to get around Paris including the buses and the Paris Metro.
Walking in Paris
There will be a lot of walking involved in your visit to Paris so make sure that you wear very comfortable shoes, trainers or walking boots. Leave the high heels as an evening alternative! Although some parts of Paris are walkable (such as Monmartre), you won’t be able to walk the whole city – it’s just too big. Paris is split up into ‘arrondissements’ which are different districts of the city, for example, Monmartre is the 18th arrondissement. You will also be totally knackered if you try to walk everywhere – even just walking up Montmartre is a feat in itself!
The Paris Metro is quite easy to use and you can buy a book of 10 tickets (un carnet) which works out cheaper. Keep your belonging close to you on the Paris metro as some pickpocketing has been reported. Also, what I found quite amusing is that you get buskers on the Metro in Paris. Once I was sitting on the metro as a solo traveller and a guy boarded with a ghetto blaster and then started to go down all the rows with a cap for tips! He was really awful as well and so it was a bizarre experience! Prepare yourself for situations like that!
Buses in Paris
Buses in central Paris are easy to use and you can pay by cash or credit card. Bear in mind that they can get very busy especially in rush hour. If you need to get to the exit you can just say “excusez-moi” (a simple way to say excuse me in French). If someone is not moving from the door they may say to you ‘je le sortie’ which means ‘I am getting off’.
Solo Travel Paris – Travel Challenges of Paris
Although Paris is an amazing and safe city for solo travellers, there are always travel challenged. Here are the most challenging difficulties:
- The expense of Paris – wow, Paris is not cheap. If you are looking to do Paris on a budget then stay in a youth hostel and consider doing a supermarket shop and making sandwiches – if you eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner you will spend a small fortune! You can read more on this article: Is Paris expensive?
- We don’t speak English! – Although Paris is an international city, it’s not always easy to find English speakers. People in the museums and tourist attractions will speak English of course, but in smaller restaurants they may not. OR they may say that they don’t speak English even if they do! The French firmly believe that visitors to France should attempt to speak French, and fair play to them ! Maybe it’s time to get practicing??
- Tiny hotel rooms – Bear in mind that hotel rooms in Paris can be TINY because of the scramble for space. I kid you not, I have had a hotel room with a bathroom where there was barely enough space to sit on the loo! Always read the reviews before you book a Paris hotel!
- Paris Syndrome – Paris is a city that is so hyped up, for many people, it often fails to meet people’s expectations. This can lead to a negative type of culture shock which is referred to as ‘Paris Syndrome!’
- Pickpocketing – Paris is actually one of the top 5 cities for pickpocketing. Keep your phone and wallet close especially in crowded tourist areas and on the Paris Metro.
- Cleanliness – Let’s be frank – Paris is not the cleanest of capital cities and sometimes the rubbish on the streets or overflowing bins in local areas may surprise you. The air quality is not the best either – not great if you are an asthma sufferer (take your inhalers!)
- Risk of Terrorism – Paris has been victim of many terror attacks over the years and sadly there is a risk of shootings, knife attacks and bombings (albeit small at the moment). Keep up to date with the local news and follow the recommendations by the foreign office or your embassy.
- Overcrowded – Sadly you should expect most popular tourist attractions in Paris to be PACKED at most times of the year! Expect massive queues particularly at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. You can limit the stress of this by booking timed entrance tickets at some attractions and looking for the lesser known alternative entrances (you might find this article on the Louvre helpful).
- Dressiness – Paris is less casual than UK and USA fashion. So make sure that you pack a nice pair of shoes and the odd blouse or dress if you want to go out for a nice meal. You don;’t want to feel out of place (what I really wanted to say – don’t be a scruffy bugger!)
Backpack or Suitcase for Paris?
A suitcase is probably the best option considering that you will be doing one main destination and will want to keep the odd few nice clothes flat. If you take a wheeled suitcase you will be OK walking from the station to your hotel but be prepared to wheel it over a few cobbles in some districts!
I would say that it’s not really worth taking a backpack to Paris unless you intend to travel around France to several different destinations. Reims, Amiens and Poitiers are all good other towns to explore if you are looking for onward overland travel from Paris.
What to pack for your Solo Trip to Paris
- Comfortable shoes – There is a lot of walking in Paris and so I would recommend walking boots or comfortable trainers.
- Raincoat – A wind and rainproof jacket is essential for travelling in Paris no matter what the season! Weather in Paris can be changeable so carry your coat and umbrella with you.
- Jeans, T-shirts and jumpers – Pack comfortable and casual clothing for walking around Paris in the daytime – jeans or walking trousers with a T-shirt or Jumper are perfect.
- Hat, scarf and gloves – if you are in Paris in the winter (November to February) you will probably need these.
- Some dressy shoes, skirts and tops – As I’ve mentioned it is a lot dressier in Paris than in UK or USA so pack yourself a couple of nice pieces! Comfortable blouses and skirts and a smart but comfortable pair of flats would go down a treat.
- Paris Lonely Planet – As a solo traveller, I love to have a hard copy of a decent guide book available. The Lonely Planet Paris will help you out with up to date with the best sites, hotels and restaurants. It also contains some good pull out Maps of the city.
- French Phrasebook – As English is not so widely spoken and French is the national language then you will need to make the effort to learn a few phrases. I’d also recommend downloading Duolingo as it’s a fantastic app for learning French.
- Travel Adapter – Check if you need a travel adapter for England, three pin plug sockets are used.
- Sandwich box and water bottle – As Paris is an expensive city, using a water bottle and packing your own sandwiches can help you to keep the cost down.
Reasons to travel alone to Paris
- There is A LOT to see! And it’s great to be on your own schedule in a city like Paris. One of the most annoying thing when I travelled to Paris with someone else was waiting for them to get ready and trying to motivate them when I wanted to be out early everyday to see the city. Do yourself a favour and go solo to enjoy Paris on your own clock!
- Paris is a very diverse and cultural destination – it has numerous large museums (such as the Louvre) and it’s nice to be able to visit those at your own pace. Some people spend a couple of hours in museums like the Louvre and others spend a couple of days!
- Many Parisians eat alone – in fact they have fine tuned the skill to an art! You won’t feel out of place dining alone in Paris, especially at lunch time.
- Free Walking Tours – They do free walking tours of Paris (Civitatis is a good company for this) which mean that you can pay a tip as to whatever you think that the tour is worth. Walking tours are also a great way to meet people.
- A Great Place to meet other travellers – Paris attracts backpackers and expats from all over the world. It’s international vibe means that it will never be difficult to meet people! Generator Paris is a great hostel to stay in if you are looking to meet people.
Solo Travel Paris – Where to go and What to see
Some of my favourite areas to explore in Paris include Monmartre, Ice de la Cite, Pigalle and Champs Elysee. Paris is world famous for it’s sightseeing, restaurants and shopping so whatever you are into, Paris will not disappoint. There are also numerous museums which could take you days (if not weeks!) to get around so it is important that you plan your time carefully.
Be prepared to do a bit of uphill walking for this destination, but the views from Monmartre will be well worth it when you get to the top. Enjoy visiting the beautiful Churches including Sacre Coeur, Eglise Saint-Jean de Monmartre and Eglise Saint-Pierre de Monmartre. Also take a stroll around the bohemian streets where you will find artists and craftsmen selling their wares.
Ile de la Cite
Ile de la Cite is an island in the middle of the seine river which is the heart of Medieval Paris. Jump on the metro to ‘Saint-Michel Notre-Dame’. Don’t miss Pont Neuf, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie. Saint Chapelle has some of the most stunning stained glass windows that I’ve ever seen in my life!
Shopping at Galeries Lafayette
If you want to experience the highlights of Parisian fashion then head to Galeries Lafayette which is one of the best shopping malls in the world. Take the Metro to Chaussée d’Antin — La Fayette. The mall boasts some famous designer names including Burberry, Armani, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton, all beautifully displayed under Lafayette’s famous glass Coupole (the great glass dome).
Moulin Rouge and Pigalle Quarter
Head to ‘Pigalle’ metro station to find the Parisian version of London’s Soho! Although Pigalle district is home to numerous sex shops, it’s not really seedy and it’s certainly not unsafe. Take your instagram pictures outside the Moulin Rouge, the legendary belle epoque cabaret where girls did the can-can and flashed their bloomers! It is possible to go inside the Moulin Rouge although tickets are extremely pricey. You might do better finding another local cabaret or bar in the area.
Arc de Triumph and Champs-Élysées
Head to the massive and jaw dropping Arc de Triomphe which is at the centre of Paris’s largest ring road. It’s building commenced in 1806, on the orders of Napoleon I to honour the victories of his Army (le grande Armée). From there, walk down the Champs-Élysées which is famous for its designer shops, restaurants and luxury cafes. Be sure to stop for a French Crepe -I love them with chocolate sauce or crème de marrons (chestnut spread)!
Champ de Mars
Head to the Champ de Mars to visit the Eiffel Tower. It’s recommended that you book a ‘skip the queue ticket’ to avoid waiting in extremely long lines. This can be really unpleasant when it is high up queues and you are in the heat of the summer months (or the cold of the winter for that matter). Personally, my favourite way to see the Eiffel Tower is from a Seine River Cruise when it is all lit up at night.
Museums of Paris
There are so many amazing Museums in Paris including the Louvre, Picasso Museum and the Musée d’Orsay.
LeMusée du Louvre
The most popular is undoubtedly the LeMusée du Louvre. It hosts one of the most impressive art collections in history. The building that houses the Louvre was originally built as a fortress. Most people spend just 2-3 hours in the Louvre, but in my opinion that is nowhere near enough time to explore the extensive exhibitions. If you are interested in archaeology and history I would blank out a full day for it!
The Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is another top choice. Housed in the former railway station Gare d’Orsay, it boasts numerous 19th and 20th Century paintings, sculptures and photographs.
The Musée Picasso
If you love modern art, head to The Musée Picasso – an art gallery located in the Hôtel Salé that is dedicated to the works of Pablo Picasso himself.
What to Eat in Paris
There are certain delicacies in Paris that you should be aware of – in my experience you will either love them or hate them! Let me tell you that Paris is a very challenging place to be a vegetarian as they love their meat and poultry so much.
- Croissants – This is my favourite thing to have for breakfast in Paris – go to a local patisserie (bakery) and they are usually served slightly warm.
- French Cheese – Do yourself a favour, one lunch time head to a French cheese shop and grab some soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert or Roquefort and have it with a baguette. Unbeatable!
- Macarons – Macarons are a lovely sweet treat that you should try in Paris. They also will last a few days so they are a good thing to bring back home to share with friends or family.
- Foie Gras – Tasty as it is, this pate dish is not very ethical. Foie gras is made from goose or duck liver that has been fattened by force feeding.
- Escargot – Usually served as an appetiser, this dish contains cooked snails!
- Steak Tartare or Bleu – ‘Bleu’ is a steak that has been seared on the outside but is still red and uncooked on the inside
- Cuisses de Grenouilles – Yep, that’s the frogs legs right there! Literally translated it mean ‘frog thighs’ and this is considered a French delicacy.
Tips for solo travel in Paris
And finally, a summary of my top tips for travelling solo in Paris….
- Remember that comfortable shoes are a must!
- Plan your time carefully – it’s such a big city that it’s really important that you plan your time out in advance. Oh, and don’t pack too much in – you will be seriously knackered!
- Travelling by Metro? Get a Carnet – a book of 10 tickets that works out cheaper.
- Watch out for those pick pockets!
- French like their beef steak very undercooked, so whatever you usually eat up it to the next level! For example if you like a rare steak usually order a medium steak in France. If you usually eat medium then ask for well done!
- Some restaurants offer ‘plat du jour’ which is the dish of the day. This usually works out better value than ‘a la carte’
- Avoid the budget hotels – the rooms are often tiny and the walls are not soundproof! Either splash out on something nice or just go for a hostel in Paris. There is no in-between!
Further Reading on Solo Travel Paris
- Paris in 3 Days
- Visiting Montmartre and the Pigalle District
- Exploring Ile de la Cite
- Sacre Coeur and the Churches of Monmartre
- Best Churches in Paris