The Paris Handbook: Explore, Thrive, Indulge

Party à Paris

I hopped off the plane at CDG

With a dream and my cardigan

Bienvenue à the land of baguettes

Are you gonna fit in?

Indulge at the Louvre


There are only two places in the world where we can live happy—at home and in Paris.”

— Ernest Hemingway

First, I would like to preface this article by saying that I will not be taking a specific budget into consideration. Obviously, no one can go to Paris without setting some money aside and creating a budget, so it will likely be unrealistic to do everything in this article. The point is to give you many different ways to enjoy a Parisian lifestyle, so you will have to pick and choose what to do while keeping your budget and time in mind. 

You may be wondering: what are my credentials? Being raised in a Francophile family has given me the privilege of being able to frequent the South of France since I was a little kid. Last summer was my largest escapade in France when I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in July. I had only been in Paris briefly many years before this, so I was pretty inexperienced with the city. However, I did have an in-depth knowledge of the language and the culture that I hope to share with you, the reader, so you can fully enjoy your own trip. I will also be including some perspectives from other AMHS students who have had the opportunity to extend their Raptor wings to Paris.  

The City of Love has its fair share of world renowned tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, it would not be a complete trip to Paris without visiting these destinations. That being said, I will attempt to provide some more niche and specific ways to enjoy Paris—even adding a twist to some of the conventional tourist attractions—instead of just telling you to take a trip up the Eiffel Tour (which may not even be worth it). Furthermore, I will provide some insight into different ways to study abroad in Paris in order to enhance your knowledge of the language and culture. Knowing at least the basics of the French language will greatly enhance your trip and interactions with locals, so you should definitely get started on duolingo before your trip. I will also tell you about some unspoken travel tips, airport hacks, fashion tips (if you want to fit in), how to be polite (so they are polite back), and the things to avoid (that may or may not come from personal experience). Commençons! J’espère que vous apprécierez.

Explore a market

Arrival and Departure

Let’s arrive in style. For the smoothest trip to Paris, it’s probably obvious that Air France is the best way to go. However, this is also the most expensive option. It is also possible to do a combination of Air France and another airline, which is what I did last summer. One major tip I have is to fly in with Air France (so you are already in the French mindset upon arrival), and then return to the United States with Aer Lingus. Flying with Air France also gives you the opportunity to practice your French without the fear of being judged. One of the worst aspects of traveling is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but it is something none of can escape…unless you go to Dublin. Upon your return to the States, I suggest flying from Paris to Dublin and getting on a connecting flight there. Dublin Airport is one of only a few airports outside North America that offers a US Preclearance facility. The benefit is that having cleared USCBP, you can arrive in the US being treated as a domestic arrival, allowing you to avoid immigration queues and pick up your bags and go. This is quite the relief after a long day of traveling. Aer Lingus also offers cheaper fares than Air France. Granted, my Aer Lingus experience was worse, but it was worth the saved money and the preclearance facility which took about 2 minutes.

While being able to enjoy your voyage is nice, it is not the be-all and end-all of traveling. Only go with the options above if your budget can handle it, otherwise you will be just fine going with a budget airline and saving more money for what’s actually important: your time in Paris. No matter what, make sure to reserve your seat as early as possible so you are not stuck next to the bathrooms. 

Departing from Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) is a struggle. Specifically, the EU border patrol is chaotic and time consuming. You will probably have to wait in lines for hours, and you should be prepared to be ripped apart from your loved ones as the border patrol arbitrarily herds people into different lines and rooms. Therefore, arrive at the airport many hours (3+) in advance, and I would suggest taking an Uber to the airport to avoid being late or any other complications. Going to and from the airport is one of the only times I would really suggest taking an Uber because there are usually much cheaper options. More of this later.

Study Abroad in Paris: Schooling and Housing

For those of you who are looking to study abroad in Paris, meaning enrolling in classes at a university, this section is for you. 

Last summer, I took a short French class each morning from Monday-Friday throughout July at the Institut Catholique de Paris. If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of the language, I would recommend this university to anyone. They offer beginner, intermediate, and advanced French courses that allow you to engage with people from around the world. You can either directly enroll this school and deal with housing on your own, which I will talk about later, or you can go to Paris with a program, such as Academic Programs International (API) that will enroll you in the school and deal with your housing, either at student dorms, only if you are above 18, or with a host family. Through this program, I was able to live with a retired woman who occasionally cooked me great meals, gave me breakfast each morning, and did my laundry. She was a source of comfort in a big and busy city. However, I still enjoyed unlimited freedom…and no curfew. In fact, every host family under API is guaranteed to provide you with independence and freedom. 

While going through a study abroad program such as API was great, especially for my first time going to Paris, I will not be using any program this year. Instead, I directly enrolled in a class at the Institut Catholique de Paris and have decided to take housing into my own hands. Furthermore, a program such as API is very expensive, so, if you think you can handle it, you may be better off not using any program. Ultimately, if you decide to go through a program, they will provide support systems throughout your stay, enrollment in a school, housing, and other basic necessities, such as a metro pass, which I will talk about later. This year, I will be going with AirBNB for my housing. The laws of Paris make it so long-term AirBNB rentals have great discounts due to something called a mobility lease. Mobility leases are available in Paris AirBNBs for stays of 1 month or more, and they cut the price in half. However, not everyone qualifies for a mobility lease. In order to get this, you would need to be a student, employee, etc. That is all the more reason to enroll in a school like the Institut Catholique de Paris. All you need to do is send your AirBNB host proof of your schooling intention, such as the certificate you get when you enroll, and you will qualify for the mobility lease and get half off on your month-long rental. 

From staying with a host family, utilizing student apartments, or taking advantage of Paris’ AirBNB deals, there are many ways to enjoy Paris for a month while learning about its culture and language, both in the streets and in authentic French classes with vivacious Parisian professors. 

Thrive at a university such as the Institut Catholique de Paris


Coming from Charleston, you may not have much experience with public transportation, but you will get the hang of it pretty quickly. The metro was by far my most used means of transportation because it is easy, efficient, cheap, and rarely has delays. While the buses offer a pleasant experience and great way to get to know the city, they are often late and inconsistent. 

I would suggest downloading the app Citymapper. It provides you with the best combinations of public transportation to get to where you want to go. It also gives you step by step instructions about how to navigate the area. It is very simple and easy.

Furthermore, if you are staying in Paris for an extended period of time (like if you study abroad), then you should buy a Navigo pass. This is the cheapest way to get around Paris. You can get a Navigo pass for a month for all of Paris that gives you unlimited access to all public transportation for 84.10€. A weekly one would be 30€.  You can purchase one of these passes on, at a ticket desk in the metro, at a vending machine in the metro, or in one of the 1,500 local retailers authorized by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). ATTENTION: Make sure you attach a picture of yourself to your Metro pass or you can be fined. On my first day in Paris, I was stopped by security to see if I had my face on my pass, so it is not a rumor. 

Weekdays, the metro operates from 5:30 a.m. to about 1:15 a.m. On Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as on the eve of bank holidays, trains run until about 2:15 a.m. Only take an Uber if you feel unsafe, the metro is closed because you were out too late, you are feeling lazy, or you are going to and from the airport with a lot of luggage. Ubers will be expensive. 

Explore the famous Arts et Métiers metro station

Paris Fashion

Don’t be afraid to dress how you want in Paris. As long as it is not lazy athletic wear or your pajamas, you should pretty much be fine. However, I will share some tips on how to dress like a true Parisian. It all starts with jeans. The Parisians love themselves some jeans, and they will wear them throughout the summer, even during the worst heat waves. As a matter of fact, shorts are rare in Paris and are an easy indicator of a tourist. Parisians tend to dress pretty simply, maybe a little business casual. A lot of times you will see a simple outfit with one creative, fancier garment that completes the look, such as a light scarf, for example. Nevertheless, Paris is a pretty open and accepting place. If you are creative or standing out, do not be ashamed…but also please do not embarrass yourself or the people (Americans) who you will find yourself representing. No red berets. No athletic attire like sweatpants and athletic shorts. Try to avoid “athleisure” in general. 

Casual Outings

There will never be a shortage of things to do in Paris. From the major attractions such as the Eiffel Tour to the myriad of world renowned museums, Paris is filled to the brim. However, sometimes you just want to relax and not have to worry about fulfilling the expectations of going to Paris. For that reason, this section may be more for people who plan on going to Paris for a longer period of time and will have an abundance of leisure time. Here is a broad view of the best casual outings in Paris:

  • Go to a café. The cafés of Paris are iconic, and it’s all because of the culture. The slow moving aspect of cafés provides an escape from the busy city. I don’t mean slow in terms of service, I just mean that you will never be rushed at a café. You can sit there for hours with a croissant and a café (un café will always get you a shot of espresso in Paris). This is the most popular drink for the French at cafés. If you want a more American style drink that is bigger and matches the American sense of a coffee, you should order a café crème (coffee with milk). Paris cafés serve food as well, from croissants and tartines at breakfast through soups, croque monsieur and other light meals at lunch, to even more elaborate dishes for dinner. However, you should not go to a café for a big meal if you are starving; rather, go to a “brasserie” or a classic restaurant. A brasserie is a type of French restaurant with a relaxed setting, which serves single dishes and other meals. From people watching to reading a good book, there is no better place than a Parisian café. How do you find the best cafés? If you search up the best cafés in Paris on google, places like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore (which appears in Emily in Paris) will come up. I went to Café de Flore and I can honestly say that the food was nothing special. However, the presentation made it worth the experience. Not only are these places expensive, but they do not offer a true Parisian experience because they are filled with tourists. Instead, I suggest taking a walk through the beautiful cobblestone allies of the 2nd Arrondissement or the streets of the 6th. In fact, any street in Paris will offer an abundance of amazing cafés. Walk up to one and sit yourself. Remember, tipping is not a requirement and is not common in Paris because the workers are paid much better than in the United States. Enjoy! 

Pullquote Photo

​​Try not to eat at just touristy places. You’ll find that the best food is at small out of the way cafes and restaurants.”

— Francesca Venturini

  • Take a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens (and feel free to expand to the other beautiful parks of Paris). The Luxembourg Gardens, located in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris, are particularly special and iconic. My biggest suggestion is to take a trip to a nearby bakery (such as LA PARISIENNE Madame, my favorite award winning bakery, pictured below) before visiting the park. Grab a ham sandwich, or another sandwich, and maybe a pastry, such as an éclair, brioche, profiteroles, beignets, or pain au chocolat (this is my most suggested, simple treat in Paris, and it is unreal). After this, make your way to the park down the street and take a seat on one of the benches. It is a truly romantic, peaceful, and beautiful place. 
Explore the Luxembourg Gardens
  • Sit on the bank of the Seine. After taking a stroll along the beautiful Seine, take a seat and let your feet dangle off the side. Perhaps you should bring a drink with you, and maybe a baguette (by the way: the price of baguettes and other products are capped in Paris, providing consistency across bakeries and a cheap price). One of my favorite places in Paris is Square du Vert Galant at the west end of Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine with the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. There is a beautiful tree at the end of the square that you can sit under while your feet dangle above the river. How peaceful and scenic.
Thrive at Square du Vert Galant
  • Have a picnic on Square Louise Michel, a leafy square and garden with city views, including the Eiffel Tour. This spot offers some of the best views of Paris because it sits on Montmartre, the famous hill in the 18th Arrondissement with Sacré-Cœur on the top. In fact, the park is located on the foreground of Sacré-Cœur, making it perfect for pictures. 
Indulge at Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Last Minute Tips and Tricks

  • If it’s raining, take shelter under the bridges of the Seine at your own risk (it may actually smell like pee and a rat may run right next to you).
  • Avoid the trashcans of Montmartre at night (rat territory).
  • Make sure to start all conversations with “Bonjour!”. Do not assume that everyone speaks English. Learn how to ask if they speak English in French: “Parlez-vous anglais?”
  • Be prepared for the lack of air conditioning. Most hotels tend to have AC, however. 
  • Do not overpack. You will want to buy a lot of things in Paris, and you may find yourself having to buy another suitcase at the end of your trip to fit anything (perhaps this happened to me).
  • Go to Monop. It is a great and cheap grocery store with good pre-made meals. If your phone is ever dead, you can borrow a portable charger and return it to one of the stores within 48 hours! This is very helpful and a game-changer if you ever find yourself with a dead phone and no portable charger.
  • Find as many Happy Hours as you can because you can save a lot of money.
  • Cinemas inside of Paris are air conditioned and the movies are always in English.
  • Try Escargot! Please! It is amazing. Do not judge. This picture of Escargot is provided by senior Maya Thompson, who also had the privilege of going to France last summer:

Pullquote Photo

Despite contracting the COVID-19 virus while in Paris, I loved the city! My favorite part was the food on every corner. Surprisingly, the escargot was my favorite meal that I had, but I also loved the endless amount of pastries, specifically les pains au chocolat. My only complaint was the lack of air conditioning during the heat wave.”

— Maya Thompson

Thrive at the iconic Sainte-Chapelle on Île de la Cité