WHAT NOT TO DO IN PARIS – 20 Common mistakes of a first-time visitor

What not to do in Paris

Heading to Paris? It is a glorious, romantic city BUT there are things to know first, which is why we are sharing 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!

Reasons to visit Paris

What NOT to do in Paris

View of Paris from above

1. DO NOT...Rely on your English language

In most tourist areas, you will find people who speak English but do not rely on it. The best restaurants and off-the-beaten track attractions will likely have staff that do not speak English, so it is worth learning some basic French.

You could also download google translate or a voice to text translator app to help you communicate with locals. 

2. DO NOT...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!

The Eiffel Tower at night during local Fair and market

3. DO NOT...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. 

As one of the fashion captains of the world, there are plenty of places to find fashion and shop for fashion in Paris. For those interested in Fashion history, head to the Musée de la Mode et du Textile inside the Louvre. If you have extra time, head to Le Marais; a chic, expressive district that is full of locals with flair and thrifty, second-hand stores. 

4. DO NOT...Shop at the Champs Elysees

What Not to do in Paris

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!

5. DO NOT...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.

6. DO NOT...Buy water

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.

What not to do in Paris

7. DO NOT...Board a train without a ticket

Paris is hot on train tickets so make sure your ticket is valid for your journey to avoid a hefty fine. You can purchase tickets from a ticket machine or ticket agent at most stations and if you plan on taking a train in and out of Paris, book your ticket online to save some money.

8. DO NOT...Over plan 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.

COST OF TRAVEL IN PARIS

9. DO NOT...Rent a car or get a taxi

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.

10. DO NOT...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.

Paris food guide
Paris food guide

11. DO NOT...Avoid the local cuisine

There is some amazing food in France but it is unique to the country. You may not be use to these types of dishes but make sure to try local food at least once during your trip!

COST OF TRAVEL IN PARIS

12. DO NOT...Wait in line at the Eiffel Tower

I am NOT saying that you should skip it but there are ways you can avoid waiting in line by using our tips for visiting 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!

13. DO NOT...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.

14. DO NOT...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. Instead, stick to using the river boat taxis to see the city from the waterways.

15. DO NOT...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.

Girl sitting by River Seine

16. DO NOT...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!

The Louvre museum in Paris, France

17. DO NOT...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.

18. DO NOT...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!

19. DO NOT...Skip 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.

20. DO NOT...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!

What not to do in Paris

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.

Helpful Resources

PARIS F.A.Q

Along with the tips above, also never buy tickets for attractions and shows on the day of the event and never take the Paris’ Abbesses Metro Station stairs. Don’t take cases everywhere and don’t just see the famous sights.

Do eat where the locals eat in Paris and Don’t stick to chain restaurants. Do visit the tourist sights in Paris and do arrive early and book your tickets in advance. But don’t only see these sights, go off-the-beaten path and visit the quieter neighbourhoods in the city too. 

Things to think about whilst visiting France is to no speak louder than others, don’t wave vigorously at waiters to get their attention and don’t leave your cell phone out when you are having a meal or coffee with friends. 

Some non-touristy things to do in Paris include visiting the street art in Belleville, visiting the Vampire Museum, explore the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg, see the Roman ruins in the 5th arrondissement or is it the Musee Rodin; perfect for art lovers. 

Paris is a safe city and can be visited at night. You can use the Metro during the evening too and there are many attractions that stay open in the evening. As with most major cities in Europe and the world, make sure to keep your belongings on you closely as Paris does have pickpockets. 

The Cost of travel in Paris depends on how you travel but you will need at least €70 if you are travelling on a budget, sticking to hostels, local food and supermarkets whilst those looking to eat out and want a private room will need at least €120 per couple.

And remember to get out of Paris and see the beautiful towns and villages of France. Families and anyone who is a child at heart can also visit Disneyland Paris!
 
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.

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40 Comments

  1. Wow these are some excellent tips. I would have never thought about knowing these facts before visiting there 🙂

  2. Ha ha! Great tips actually. I’m reminded of my own trips… Esp in Italy, very few speak English! Its a common misconception that all major European cities know English!
    And yeah, Paris is the world’s Fashion capital. It definitely is worth the effort to dress well!
    There was a street food fest when I was in Paris and definitely had the best lunch there!

  3. French food is lovely! I especially recommend the rabbit and the mussels from those you mentioned:) Not a particular fan of snails but I think it’s just a personal thing of mine! I’ll definitely remember these for my next trip to Paris because I made a lot of these mistakes as a first-timer too:) Thanks for the great tips!

  4. haha not to buy water…. i know sometimes you need to recheck for tap water 🙂 thanks for tip

  5. Quite a well crafted article, full of interesting facts.

  6. I love the new angle to the post. I’ve heard so many people say ‘do not go to the Latin Quarter’, but I guess it’s worth a try. 🙂

  7. I liked Paris a lot and definitely agree with most your tips ! I didn’t get to go to the Louvre so I’ll keep the price thing in mind for next time !

  8. Wow these are some great tips. I agree to you about water and waiting in the cue. The cue gets horribly long and the whole charm of visiting the place goes.

  9. These are some great tips you have here, though I have visited Paris many times, we still rely on Metro/Subway. The last time we visited with a car it was catastrophic due to the traffic jam. All in all the city is expensive but, there are corners where you can find cheaper food, souvenirs, drinks, and restaurants 🙂

  10. Great tips – I too am determined to try more local foods when I travel, although not sure about the snails ha!

  11. These are some great tips. I hope to visit Paris soon and I will definitely reference back to this when planning the trip!

  12. I love this take on a Paris city guide. The second point hit me hard. These are cliches for a reason. And who’s going to tell you how you should experience a city/attraction. It is up to you to take advantage of those because it’s not all the time that you’re in Paris!

  13. Interesting tips on Paris and a different way of seeing it. I use to go to Paris all the time for work as I worked for a French bank and I was lucky because they would always help me out and recommend things for me to do in my spare time. Though I do know that they can be rude and not helpful especially if you do not speak French. I never knew about that tip about not having to pay for the Louvre if you an EU citizen and aged between 18-25 or if you are under 18 that definitely worth knowing.

  14. Oh, these are all so true and I learned some of them the hard way the first time we visited Paris. This will be so helpful for so many travelers!

  15. It is grea to see an article written like it, very refreshing! Your advice about the eating near big attraction is so true, and can be applied to many big cities that try to rip off tourists as well. We will be taking the Da Vinci tour next time we are back in town!

  16. Great tips. I also ran a half marathon in Paris. It was amazing

  17. I start to miss Paris when reading your post. Many things I can relate. Especially the Champs Elysees. Such a disappointment 🙂 And inside the arc de triumph is a great tip for the next time!

  18. Still not going try snails…lol…but awesome tips. I have dreamed of visiting Paris for many years and I think finally this is the year. I don’t care if it is only for a few days or a weekend I am starting to plan and will use your tips they are just what I needed to take away the unknown. Thanks.

  19. Going there tomorrow so love those tips!! Very excited to go (even though I’ve been before) but it’s always good to have some of these ideas about what not to do! Great post!

  20. I would probably say visit but it isn’t my favourite city lol! I think people should not assume this is representative of France! A bit like London Paris is a long way from the life I lived in the English countryside or French Alps – it’s the capital. See what you need then go see the rest of the country!!

  21. This post made me miss Paris though I only returned from my latest trip there two weeks ago 😀 Great tips – I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I always do number 6 and I kind of struggle with number 1 as I only speak very elementary French. I actually also just took a dinner cruise on the Seine as a conference I was attending kindly organised one for us – I really enjoyed it, mainly for the amazing views!

  22. Interesting tips on Paris sharing what not to do in Paris, I will keep the screenshot of this post and refer to you post when I visit Paris

  23. After having visited Paris many times, I totally agree with all of your points! Especially the cliché thing. Many backpackers nowadays try to do stuff differently – and that can be cool! – but sometimes you just gotta stick to the clichés. Especially in France. Damn, how can you NOT taste their croissants, cheese, wine etc *-*
    Very helpful post for everyone who’s going on (one of) their first trip(s) to Paris!

  24. Gosh I actually did some of these mistakes like not going to till top of Eiffel and can’t tell you he much I regret that. The only nice decision was to stay in the city near Eiffel!! Great post

  25. Went for my 15th birthday to Paris, I remember being so excited to have bought my ticket for the Louvre until I found I didn’t needed it. Bitter sweet. Great post! I’m planning another trip as an adult right now. Very excited!

    • Oh awesome have a great time in Paris! What sights are you seeing this time? We visited the Catacombs and they were actually fairly quiet but really interesting 🙂

  26. These are all so very true. Great advice for anyone who’s never been to Paris

  27. […] On my first trip, I was in Paris for just over 48 hours and my second trip just over 24 hours – so it is possible to fit a lot in with a short trip. In addition, to make the most of your time, you should also look at what not to do in Paris. […]

  28. […] top sites. If you are short on time, there are a few sites that you can skip as well as a few other things that you should not do when in Paris, including mistakes made by first-timers. Plan well and plan in advance and you can get it all done […]

  29. Agree with you about staying somewhere outside the city. cuz l really saved so much money with it!


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