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Unless You Want to Be Miserable or Bored, Follow These Tips
You've already read countless lists on the most popular tourist attractions in Paris (perhaps even my own). 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. What not to do? These are the things I would advise the most strongly against, as someone who's lived in Paris for years and knows its snares well.Continue to 2 of 11 below.
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#1 Don't spend all your time near the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysées.
The biggest mistake I see 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 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 (see tip #10).
How to do this? Read these related features for tons of ideas:Continue to 3 of 11 below.
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#2 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 rummaging through stands at flea markets, for instance: arguably a much more charming way to go about it.
Read These Shopping-Related Features:
Continue to 4 of 11 below.
- "Just say no" to Arc de Triomphe Snow Globes: How to Find Unique Gifts in Paris
- Perusing the "Puces de Paris" (Traditional Flea Markets)
- Traditional Parisian Department Stores: "Les Grands Magasins"
- Complete Guide to Shopping in Paris: Top Districts to Hit
- Traditional Seine-Side Booksellers in Paris: Another Souvenir Source
- Top Perfumers and Perfume Shops in Paris: For Less Commercial Scents
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#3 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! As I detail at length in my guide to street food in Paris, 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.
I usually advise friends and family against 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, consult our complete guide on decent places to eat out in Paris, from casual eateries to budget restaurants to Michelin-star addresses and primo fast food joints.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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#4 Don't eat out at chains you know...just because they're familiar.
This point is related to the last one. 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. I'm not saying you shouldn't indulge once or twice if you feel like it, but make sure to make your trip about adventure 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 (see #4).
Read related to find something quick and delicious:Continue to 6 of 11 below.
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#5 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? See my earlier point about tourist traps and rip-offs. There are plenty of reputable and trustworthy tour operators in the city.
Some of my favorites (that I've personally vetted) 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're thinking about taking a guided tour of museums such as the Louvre, or of popular monuments like Notre-Dame, I recommend sticking with these institutions' onsite guides and docents, rather than relying on outside tour guides.Continue to 7 of 11 below.
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#6 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.
Believe me when I say that walking around without any particular goal in mind can yield an equally wonderful-- if not even more magical-- experience than trying to cram in every monument listed in your guidebook. You notice more when you take the time to just relax and not think of your visit as a competition. Take after Parisians: they're not very goal-oriented when it comes to most things. Living, experiencing, and tasting comes before simply doing for the sake of doing.
Read related features:Continue to 8 of 11 below.
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#7 Don't expect Paris to be like in the movies. It's better.
Yes, Paris is an idyllic sort of place. Well, some of the time. There are times, living there, where, cinephile that I am, I'm suddenly flooded by the impression that I'm living on a film set. But don't expect Paris to always live up to this glossy image. It's also a gritty, imperfect, smelly place, 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.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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#8 Don't be casual about safety.
Statistically speaking, Paris is a pretty safe city-- incredibly so 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 especially cautious when walking around at night or in quiet areas. Relax, yes-- but don't let your guard down entirely.
Stay Safe on your trip by Reading More:Continue to 10 of 11 below.
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#9 Don't assume French people and Parisians live up to stereotypes.
Many people automatically brace themselves for rude, snooty 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 a people, their 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. Yes, French people are "special". But this is often a really delightful thing.
Read More:Continue to 11 of 11 below.
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# 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.
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!
Read and Learn More:
Check out our (very) short history of Paris to begin. Then read up on the 15 most important monuments and historic sites in the French capital, before exploring these niche features depending on what interests you most:
- 10 Strange and Disturbing Facts About Paris
- 6 Places Medieval History Buffs Should See in Paris
- Top Literary Haunts in Paris: A Self-Guided Walking Tour
- Black History Around Luxembourg Gardens Tour by Discover Paris