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What You Need To Know

Paris, France’s capital, is a major European city and a global center for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture. Its picturesque 19th-century cityscape is crisscrossed by wide boulevards and the River Seine. Beyond such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and the 12th-century, Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral, the city is known for its cafe culture, and designer boutiques.

Area: 40.7 mi²
Population: 2,241,346 (2014)

Currency

  • The Euro is the official currency of France, and of most European Union member states, excluding the UK and the Czech Republic, among others. The Euro, symbolized by a “€,” has been in public circulation since January, 2002. The franc, the former official currency of France, is no longer accepted, however, you may see that some price tags in France give the price both in Euro and in francs, to help those who still think in terms of francs.
  • Denominations of Euro coins are €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c.
  • Euro banknotes are issued in €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, €5 notes.
  • Your best source of cash is an automated teller machine (ATM) or cashpoint. You’ll find ATMs on banks and post offices all over Paris, and most of them have step-by-step instructions in your choice of French, English, and other languages.Here’s our advice on using ATMs:Before leaving home, tell your bank that you’ll be visiting France. (In the U.S. especially, some banks–even large ones–disallow foreign transactions for security reasons unless they’ve been notified ahead of time.)Be prepared to use a four-digit numberic PIN. If your bank uses a six-digit PIN or a combination of letters and numbers, ask the bank to change your PIN or to provide instructions for using your ATM card overseas.You’ll nearly always pay a small transaction fee on cash withdrawals outside your bank’s ATM network. What you may not know is that many banks have foreign-exchange surcharges of up to 5 percent on overseas cash withdrawals. If your bank has such a policy, you may want to change banks.

    We advise carrying ATM cards for two different banks, just in case one of your cards doesn’t work. Also, look for an ATM before you run out of cash, because it can be frustrating to encounter a “network link down” error message when you’re wallet is empty.

  • Visa and MasterCard are accepted by most shops and restaurants, though smaller merchants, some neighborhood restaurants or bars, and street vendors may not take credit cards. (Also, restaurant tips are normally given in cash.) American Express is accepted at higher-end boutiques and restaurants that cater to tourists.Warnings:Many credit-card companies now impose surcharges on foreign transactions, and these surcharges can range from 2 to 4 percent or more. If you have several credit cards, learn which one has the lowest surcharge, and use that card for your trip.Some credit-card issuers decline foreign transactions unless you’ve notified the company of your travel plans ahead of time. It’s a good idea to call the toll-free number on the back of your card before leaving home, just to make sure that your card will be honored while you’re abroad.Many French ticket machines, card-operated gasoline pumps, and other vending devices require modern “smart cards” with embedded microchips. If you have an old-fashioned card with only a magnetic stripe (the kind used by most American credit-card companies), don’t be surprised if machines refuse your card. The good news is that you’ll still be able to use your card in hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Weather

The average temperatures in Paris generally range between 5°C (41°F) during winter and 20°C (68°F) in summer. July is the hottest month of the year, and January is the coldest.

As a rule, it is slightly warmer in Paris than in the suburbs. The effects of urbanisation result in significant differences of temperature between the city’s center and the outskirts, regularly recording one or two degrees higher at Paris Montsouris1 or at the Tour Saint-Jacques, as compared to Paris Le Bourget Airport which is 9 km outside the city.

Spring, from March to May, is the driest season. Rainfall is distributed fairly evenly throughout the other seasons. Average annual precipitation is 607-641 mm (24-25 inches). The most rainfall recorded in a single day was on 24 August 1987: 95.7 mm (3.77 in).

Paris is known for its frequent showers, which tend to pass just as quickly as they arrive. It is not unusual to witness bright sunshine one moment, then a quick shower followed by a return to sunshine — all within the course of a few minutes’ time.
The windiest months in Paris are generally from November through January, averaging 21-23 km/hr. (13-14 mph). During the rest of the year, the city enjoys pleasant breezes of 15-18 km/h (9-11 mph).

Language

French is the official language and English is not widely spoken. Nonetheless, some people speak some English and a crash course in French or a French phrase book will certainly come in handy.

Health and security

  • The French medical system is excellent and considered one of the best in the world. Most residents qualify for state health insurance and employed people are required to pay contributions to help fund it. However, as the burden on the contributor increases, patients are required to pay more and more towards the costs of consultations and hospitalisation, and levels of reimbursement for certain medicines are on the decrease.
  • The majority of crimes directed against foreign visitors, involve pick-pocketing, residential break-ins, bicycle theft, and other forms of theft with minimal violence. Nevertheless, robberies involving physical assault do occur in Paris and other major urban areas.
  • Paris is generally a safe destination for tourists, students, business travelers, and others. Nevertheless, street crime continues to be a concern, most notably in areas frequented by tourists.
  • Violent crime is relatively uncommon in Paris’ city center. Pickpockets are by far a most significant problem. In addition to purses and wallets, smart phones and small electronic devices are particular targets. Pickpockets can be any gender, race, or age but are commonly children (under 16) because they are difficult to prosecute. Pickpockets are very active on the rail link (RER B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center. In addition, passengers on the Metro line 1, which traverses the city center from east to west and services many tourist sites, are often targeted. A common method is for one thief to distract the tourist with questions or disturbances, while an accomplice picks a pocket, backpack, or purse. Schemes include asking if you would sign a petition or take a survey or presenting you with a gold ring and asking if you dropped it. Thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with Metro doors closing, leaving the victim on the departing train while the thief runs off into the station.

DON’T

  • There is no doubt that every visitor to Paris must do what most of the locals never get around to: ascend the Eiffel Tower. The views from Gustave Eiffel’s 1887 construction are always impressive – seven million visitors a year are unlikely to be wrong. And yet fools only attempt to make the ascent in the lifts without pre-booking: the queues can be hours long, and the area underneath the tower is full of touts, screaming children, and, potentially, pickpockets. Pre-book your ticket online in advance: although there may be bottlenecks here and there to enter the lifts, you won’t have to queue to purchase. Failing that, you could even walk. Stair tickets cannot be purchased online in advance, but most visitors find it too daunting a prospect, meaning the queues are much shorter.
  • River cruises themselves aren’t a bad deal. They only run about nine euros and offer a great perspective from which to take in the city’s architecture and sights.But when you add dinner, the cost soars to over 100 euros a head, and all you get for it is sub-standard food served in a crowded, noisy dining area.

DO

  • There’s no good reason to eat bad food in Paris, a city with some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world. And, contrary to what you might assume, not all of them are beyond the budget of the average traveler.
  • For a beach break, Bordeaux is pretty nice, home to international windsurfing competitions and Europe’s largest sand dune, the Dune du Pyla is very close.But you don’t have to travel far from the city to explore more of what France has to offer. The Loire Valley is just an hour from Paris and features enough culture, history, castles, fine food, and “authentic” small towns to keep you busy for weeks (if not months).