You've already read countless lists on the most popular tourist attractions in Paris. But have you considered that there are some things that would be best to either avoid during your trip or spend minimal time on? Let's face it: Paris is the single-most popular metropolitan tourist center in the world, and as such, it's full of tourist traps and snares that can keep even intrepid and adventurous visitors from experiencing the city in meaningful and memorable ways.
Don't Spend All Your Time Near the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysées
The biggest mistake tourists make is staying on the boring and beaten track, sometimes out of fear of the unknown. While a first trip to Paris probably does warrant a stroll down the regal Champs-Elysees and an exhilarating (if claustrophobic) trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, make sure not to pick an area that caters primarily to tourists and then fail to venture outside of it.
If you're going to experience Paris in an even halfway-authentic way, you'll need to explore its fascinating neighborhoods, interact with some locals, and allow yourself to stumble on unusual places and things without direction from a guidebook. If you're someone who's anxious about things that feel unfamiliar, reading up ahead of your trip can help immensely.
Don't Just Shop in Souvenir Shops
There's absolutely nothing wrong with perusing souvenir shops aimed specifically at tourists, whether for convenience or because you want to find a perfectly recognizable piece of Parisian memorabilia. But if you're looking for gifts or items to help you remember your marvelous sojourn in Paris, don't focus all of your energy on these shops. Remember that they're often overpriced, and you can just as easily find interesting and iconic Parisian things by browsing flea markets, bookstores, perfumeries, and more.
Don't Get Sucked Into Restaurants and Food Stands in Tourist-Trap Areas
Many visitors come to Paris assuming it's a food and dining paradise. How, with their stellar and worldwide reputation for producing some of the finest food and wine, could Parisians possibly serve up bad food? Wrong! Plenty of street vendors and restaurants serve sub-par, stale, or flavorless fare, and they more often than not overcharge for such unpalatable stuff in areas that target tourists.
Try to avoid eating out in random restaurants or ordering from any old food stand when in tourist-heavy neighborhoods such as St-Michel and the area around Notre-Dame Cathedral, Montmartre, or the areas around the Eiffel Tower, to name just a few. Instead, do some research and make a reservation, whether you want a casual Parisian cafe or a Michelin-star experience.
Don't Eat at Chains You Know...Just Because They're Familiar
Because familiarity can be comforting when abroad, some tourists fool themselves into thinking that eating at McDonald's every day in Paris is actually a cultural experience of sorts—after all, the Quarter-Pounder burger's called "Le Royal Cheese" here, to slightly misquote a famous line from Pulp Fiction. It's not that you shouldn't indulge once or twice if you feel like it, but make sure to focus your trip on adventures and experiencing new things, too. If you're looking for something fast and delicious, there are plenty of ways to try something new and local. For example, check out some French bakeries, fresh food markets, or patisseries.
Don't Book a Tour Without Vetting the Company First
Thinking about taking a guided tour of the city, whether by foot, boat, bus, or coach? There are plenty of reputable and trustworthy tour operators in the city.
Some favorites include Bateaux-Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens (for boat tours of the Seine), Context Travel and Discover Paris for thematic and historically rich walking tours, L'Open Tour for hop-on, hop-off bus tours, and Fat Tire for bike tours. For a great and authentic food tour of some of the city's best gourmet shops and bakeries, try the Paris Tasting Passport.
If you want a guided tour of museums such as the Louvre, or of popular monuments like Notre-Dame, stick with these institutions' on-site guides and docents, rather than relying on outside tour guides.
Don't Try to See Too Much
Especially on a first trip to the city, visitors run around like chickens with their heads cut off—don't do this. You'll get so much more out of your trip if you pace yourself, and focus on only two or three attractions or activities per day, maximum.
Some of the best experiences are stumbled upon instead of sought out. Take an afternoon to wander around, and pop in some charming shops or stop for a glass of wine at a bistro. This leisurely time will be much more relaxing (and authentic) than trying to cram in every monument or museum. For the Parisians, living, experiencing, and tasting comes before simply doing for the sake of doing.
Don't Expect Paris to Be Like in the Movies—It's Better
Yes, Paris is an idyllic sort of place. There are times when you can feel like you're on a film set. But don't expect Paris to always live up to this glossy image. It's also a gritty and imperfect, with thousands of years of bloody, tumultuous history.
And guess what? That's a big part of what makes it interesting. So don't ask it to adhere to some cardboard Hollywood version of itself, a la An American in Paris or Midnight in Paris. The city's reality is so much more complex and so much more beautiful, than the ones depicted in these films, however beloved.
Don't Be Casual About Safety
Statistically speaking, Paris is a pretty safe city—especially when its crime levels are compared to those in an average American metropolis. However, this doesn't mean you should be any less vigilant. Pickpocketing is a major problem, particularly in the Paris metro and other crowded areas, and women or solo travelers should always be extra cautious when walking around at night or in quiet areas.
Don't Assume French People and Parisians Live up to Stereotypes
Many people automatically brace themselves for the stereotypically rude treatment from locals when visiting Paris, but while this is not entirely unheard of (it's a big metropolis, people!), just as many, if not more, locals are friendly, open, and willing to help. Don't assume you've got Parisians pegged. Doing so will only keep you from having rewarding encounters with them and you may inadvertently come off as snooty yourself if you think you already know everything there is to know about Parisian personalities and customs. Remain open, cultivate a sense of humor and a bit of humility, learn a few polite words and phrases in French, and get ready for an interesting cultural experience. You'll no doubt learn something new about yourself, and about the world.
Don't Get Lazy About Doing Your Culture Homework
Last but definitely not least: Don't get lazy about reading up about Parisian history and culture before you go. You'll get so much more out of your trip if you have at least a basic understanding of the city's rich past and its present. Plus, it's important to get some background info on some of the city's institutions and monuments. You can also sign up for a history tour, a literary walking tour, a gardens tour, and more.
You'll be so much more relaxed and ready for true adventure if you come feeling like you have a sense of how the city works and what lies beyond the Eiffel Tower and Laduree macarons!