Paris is a glorious, photogenic city that has gorgeous archiecture and delicious food. BUT before you head to the city of love, read up on what not to do in Paris.
Before heading off to Paris, a colleague of mine sternly told me that “It’s a very bad idea to go up the Eiffel Tower, just look at it from the gardens”. Man, was she wrong! Heading up the Eiffel Tower was one of the best things we did in Paris and I will always find the time to do it again on our future visits to the city of love.
This isn’t a list of rules or some stern words of advice but instead, these are just a few things you may wish to avoid, learning from my mistakes as a first time visitor in Paris. There are also some top things to do in Paris that you shouldn’t miss!
Rely on your English language
In my narrow-headed mind, I just presumed that every major city in Europe would speak English. My childhood holidays to Benidorm (yes we are one of those families) taught me that Europe was just a hotter version of England.
Yeah… I have grown away from that viewpoint in recent years. Anyway, I digress, apart from Bonjour and Merci, my French speaking skills were minimal; making drink and food orders, direction asking and figuring out that metro system, a little harder than necessary. Paris is full of tourists and restaurants and bars that cater to tourists but as people who like to avoid those places and “eat where the locals eat”, learning some of the basic terms would have been a good idea!
Ignore the cliches!
During our stay, we made friends with another couple visiting the city who told us to avoid eating the croissants and baguettes and to avoid the typical attractions that are crowded.
But actually, some of the best memories I have of Paris is sitting in a local restaurant, sipping on wine, eating cheese platters followed by numerous macaroons and watching the city go by. There is nothing wrong about being a tourist! Get yourself a mini Eiffel Tower or Arc De Triomphe magnet, queue for ages to see the postcard-sized Mona Lisa and eat as many croissants as you can!
Forget to dress well
A three-piece suit isn’t necessary but when visiting high-end restaurants, make some effort with your attire as it is expected in Paris.
Shop at the Champs Elysees
Head to this famous fashion street and do some window shopping on you way to the Arc De Triomphe but unless you want to spend more than you would back home on the same kind of things you can buy at home, don’t bother with actual shopping. Most stores are international brands and packed!
Eat near the big attractions
Restaurants overlooking the Eiffel Tower or found on the Champs Elysee may seem perfect but check TripAdvisor reviews and the restaurants website for online prices before visiting. Often these restaurants serve mediocre food for triple the price of the nice Parisian restaurant around the corner.
Water from the tap is perfectly fine so don’t spend a fortune on bottled water during your stay, instead request tap water when in a restaurant or use one of the many Wallace Fountains around the city.
Board a train without a ticket
Paris are hot on train tickets, make sure your ticket is valid for your journey to avoid a hefty fine.
Over schedule your trip
One of the best things about Paris is the experience of getting lost and wandering around this beautiful city. Allow yourself time to do just that, to really appreciate the city of love. Don’t over plan and over schedule your day with millions of activities.
Avoid renting a car or getting taxis
Paris is a lot bigger than most people give it credit for. Taxis or renting a car may seem like a logical step but the traffic and car parking prices means these can be expensive luxuries. The Metro system is extensive and relatively inexpensive, so stick with that or catch the Batobus (boat along the river) for a cheaper alternative during the summer months.
Stick to restaurants
Some of the best food in Paris can be found in expensive, book-in-advance restaurants and if you can afford it then great, knock yourself out. But there is something charming about the boutique cafes, patisseries and food stalls dotted around the city.
One evening we bought a mini bottle of Champagne from a convenience store, picked up a crepe from a food stall and sat on the stairs of Trocadero, watching the sunset over the Eiffel Tower; possibly the most romantic and lovely evening we had there.
Avoid the local cuisine
I always kick myself when I think of all the unusual french food I passed on because I was too darn squeamish! On our next visit, I WILL try snails, I WILL try rabbit and I will try mussels in that garlicky sauce!
Wait in line a the Eiffel Tower
I am NOT saying that you should skip it but there are ways you can avoid waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower. We arrived about half an hour before it opened in the morning and there was already a pretty long queue but it wasn’t half as long as it was by the time we came back down a few hours later.
At least by queuing at 9am, we weren’t wasting time during the day but just had to get up a little earlier and eat breakfast in the line. If that’s not for you, book yourself on an Easy Pass ‘skip the line’ tour or splurge on a reservation at Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the second floor, where you get a dedicated elevator taking you up. Or try the stairs, the queue is often a lot shorter!
Avoid the Latin Quarter
Some people may suggest you avoid the Latin Quarter but actually this area depicts what Paris looks like in my head! It is a touch of “Old Paris” although yes, crowded with tourists.
Take a Seine Dinner Cruise
As romantic as these may sound, most dinner cruises in Paris costs €100 and have a bad reputation for poor food and overcrowded dining areas.
Stay outside of the city
A common tip for saving money when travelling is to stay on the outskirts of a city and head into the city via local transport. Hotels and Hostels in Paris are expensive but great deals can still be found around the city. Use Agoda, hostelworld or HotelFriend to search for where to stay in Paris and try to stay near a metro station for easy transport around the city.
Buy tickets on the door
Avoid long lines at attractions by purchasing your tickets in advance online. Most hotels and hostels will print these off for you and you can save a lot of time and money!
Take a Da Vinci Code tour
A friend mentioned doing one of these tours recently but was bitterly disappointed as she saw very few landmarks of Paris nor did anything actually look like the description and scenes from the book/film.
Pay for entry at the Louvre
If you are an EU citizen and aged between 18-25 or if you are under 18, you don’t need to pay for entry into this popular art museum. If you are in neither of these brackets, then head to the Louvre on the first Sunday of every month for free entrance!
Walk to but not in the Arc De Triomphe
It amazes me how many friends have visited Paris but never been in the Arc De Triomphe. OK, I did manage to make myself incredibly dizzy walking up the spiralled staircase but the view from the top (even on the rainy October evening we visited) is worth it. Maybe it’s me, but there is something amazing about being high up above a crowded city.
Avoid asking for help
The french have a pretty raw deal, with many travellers and tourists telling the world they are impolite and short tempered. I completely disagree. During our stay, the locals were incredibly friendly and helped us with directions and translations without us even having to ask in some cases. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Non-touristy things to do in Paris
Whilst in Paris, make sure you check out some of the non-touristy, hidden gems in Paris and don’t just stick to the busy and crowded attractions.
- Parc des Buttes-Chaumont – There are some fantastic parks in Paris and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a quieter, more local park in Northeast Paris.
- Musée Rodin – For art lovers, head to Musee Rodin for works from the French sculptor, includinging the famous piece; The Thinker.
- Shakespeare and Co – Head to this well-known bookstore and favourite haunt for the likes of Hemingway and James Joyce. La Régulière is also a wonderful little bookstore with all sorts of treasures inside and a lot less tourists.
- Marchés aux Puces – As the tourists all head to Champs Elysees, why not visit Marchés aux Puces for better shops, less crowds and a more local vibe.
I hope that helps you prepare for your next trip! Have you got any other tips and advice for myself and fellow readers? Share them in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out what to do in 24 hours in Paris.