Ah Paris! The city of love and lights, the city of romance and dreams… or that is what most people think. I am not going to disagree with that as I love Paris with all my heart, but the fact that it is so romanticized also means people make a lot of mistakes when visiting the French capital. There are so many mistakes to make in Paris!
Most tourists are too scared to veer off the beaten path, they want to see too much in too little time, or don’t see anything at all as they get conned out of their money or robbed on the street.
Just like any other amazing and great capital city, there are some things you need to keep in mind when travelling to Paris. Here are 10 mistakes you should avoid making when travelling to Paris!
To me one of the biggest mistakes people make is staying near monuments. Sure, it is nice to have the Eiffel tower in walking distance or staying in a side street of the Champs Elysees, but it honestly is not the be all and end all of your trip to Paris.
In fact: most people who have been to Paris a lot will stay near metro stations rather than monuments. Why? Because tourists stay near famous tourist hotspots and they are easy prey for less than honest hoteliers or businesspeople offering dirty rooms and a godawful breakfast.
Paris has a great metro and bus network which makes it easy to travel painlessly around the city. That is why a lot of savvy travellers will stay away from famous tourist attractions, but rather go for value for money a at a 15-minute tube ride from the centre of the city.
Both hotels and Airbnbs can get pretty cheap and good once you walk away from Montmartre or Ile de la Cite. In fact, the average price of an 8/10 hotel in the centre of the city is three times as high as that of hotels within a 10 to 15-minute tube ride!
When booking hotels in Paris it is a good idea to open Google Maps and keep a tube map close by.
Don't buy stuff in souvenir shops
There is absolutely nothing wrong with visiting souvenir shops that are geared towards 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 wonderful stay in Paris, do not focus solely on those places alone. Remember that they are often overpriced, and you can also find interesting and iconic Parisian things by browsing stalls at flea markets or buy them from the (illegal) stalls near tourist attractions.
Illegal stalls near tourist attractions? Yep! There will be people trying to sell you little keychains or mini Eiffel Towers near all kinds of tourist attractions. These people will mostly run at the first sign of police as they often won’t have a permit to sell…
When buying from these peddlers it is important to haggle down the price. If you are desperate for an Eiffel Tower Keychain you can pay €1 for 3 but €1 for 5 is more of a fair price (although they often won’t go that low).
You can also try the big supermarkets like Carrefour for souvenirs or walk into discount stores such as:
- Halle Aux Affaires 4 rue de Clignancourt Montmartre
- Tout à Mini Euro 114 bd de Belleville Colonel Fabien/Goncourt
- Paris Affaires 1 rue Campagne Première Montparnasse
Look up local discount stores as there are literally SO many around. They just won’t be on the main streets.
Also: when going for food/drinks/snacks/wine, just walk into a supermarket as they charge fair prices rather than the 200% mark-up a little souvenir store will take!
Tip: Want to buy one of those amazing original paintings in Montmartre?
Not only are those paintings NOT original, they are massively overpriced. Most paintings are machine painted (yes that’s a thing – it’s how for instance IKEA makes its paintings) in Eastern Europe or hand-painted in Asia at a VERY low cost. Most of them won’t have cost the salesperson more than €10 – maybe €15 if it’s a big one.
If you really want to buy a painting in Paris, you can visit Place du Tertre. If you are lucky you will find a talented artist working among the painters.
Do not eat in restaurants and food stalls in tourist traps areas
The food in Paris is horrible! I laughed when I heard one of my best friends say this. I have never ever had a bad experience eating in Paris. Ever.
Well, I try to ignore tourist hotspots and tourist trap areas. The thing is: restaurants in areas where a lot of tourists gather don’t have to make a lot of effort to attract customers. Just whack a pasta and a burger on the menu, price it below €15, look more or less modern or half-decent… and you get a shitton of tourists eating in your restaurant.
Because tourists will probably only visit you/your street/your city only once in their life, you don’t have to create repeat customers, you don’t have to serve quality food.
So, if you only eat at restaurants near tourist attractions, the chance you will get a truly good meal is pretty slender.
Look up great restaurants in your area or in the area where you will want to spend the day. Use sites such as Tripadvisor and Zomato to make a choice, maybe even have Google Travel recommend you a few places or ask reddit for their favourite Parisian restaurants.
I don’t want to pay for bad food and neither do you. Just look up a list of restaurants you might want to go to and read reviews before you walk into somewhere!
Tip: In France restaurants have to give you free tap water when asked. Most do it out of their own accord but don’t be afraid to ask for tap water if they don’t. Tap water in French is “eau du robinet”.
Do not book a tour without checking out the company first
I love tours. Seriously. They are a great way to make the most out of your visit and you just learn so much! Whether you take a tour on a boat or by food, on segways or bikes, you see such different and interesting parts of the city!
But when booking a tour – and this counts for almost every city heaving with tourists, you need to research the tour company first.
It happens a lot: people are walking down the quays of the Seine, they see a little ticket booth and decide to go for a boat ride. Oh yes! They have room for 2 more at only €25 a ticket for a 10-minute boat ride!
Such a great deal. They get on the little boat with a few other dishevelled looking tourists for a 10-minute boat ride up and down the Seine not even showing you the sites – it is just that: a boat ride. You have been royally conned.
When booking tours off the street you need to know what you are doing, you need to research the company first. What do they offer? What are the reviews like? Can you maybe find something cheaper?
I remember reading this article where Alec Baldwin and his family got ripped off. They bought $20 tickets for a Statue of Liberty boat tour, only to be shipped off New Jersey to take the FREE ferry back to New York, passing the Statue of Liberty. Look it up. It’s actually quite funny.
No, if you want to go on a tour, I would recommend booking tickets on sites like Tiqets or Viator. This way you can read about the experiences of people who went on that same tour previously AND you can research the best tour at the best price.
Don't try to see everything at once
Especially when visiting Paris for the very first time, tourists tend to walk around like headless chickens – do not do that. You will get so much more out of your trip if you focus on a maximum of two or three attractions or activities per day.
Believe me, when I say that running around without a specific goal can be quite liberating. In fact, that’s how I like to explore Paris. It just offers this magical experience and you really feel like you can get to know the city. You will notice more if you take the time to just relax and not think about your visit as a competition.
Take to Parisians: they are not very goal-oriented when it comes to most things. They live, experience and eat with quality and exploration in mind rather than quantity.
Don't succumb to Paris syndrome
Have you aver heard about Paris Syndrome? Yes? No?
Well, Paris Syndrome is where busloads of tourists get to Pairs just to find out that the city is actually not as they imagined it. We all known Paris is this truly magical and romantic place from the movies – like Amelie Poulin, but we also forget that Paris is a living, growing city.
Paris leads from the same gruesome urban diseases as any other massive city in Europe: overcrowding, never-ending traffic jams, pollution, garbage in the streets – Paris is not all moonlight and rose petals.
So, when you head to Paris you need to see her – Paris – for what she is: a city. You probably won’t find the man of your dreams wandering into the little coffeeshop you’re having a glass of wine in (although if you do please let me know because I’m a hopeless romantic), you won’t be whisked back in time like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (my favourite movie).
But that’s okay.
Because it’s actually all the imperfections that make Perfect. If you dig deeper into the city, if you veer off the beaten path and make an effort to get to know the ‘real’ Paris, you will see that Paris is actually so much better than what the movies and books tell you.
From the folk band giving a concert in the last metro home to the romantic picnics with panoramic views over the city… the little talks with the people setting up their stalls at the flee markets and the small family run museums where the owner of the museum comes out to give you a private tour… the romance and the magic you are yearning for runs through the veins of Paris! You just won’t find it where the tourists are.
Watch out for scams and pickpockets in paris
Paris is relatively safe.
This, however, does not mean you should not be careful. There are loads of pickpockets and tourist scams you can fall prey to.
Invest in a theft proof backpack and be very vigilant in big crowds and on the subway.
There are also some tourist scams going around in Paris – especially where there are a lot of tourists huddled together. At the foot of Montmartre, in the park by the steps of the Sacre Coeur, you will be hounded by men trying to sell you bracelets.
They grab your arm, quickly make a little bracelet around it while asking questions, then charging ridiculous prices when they are done – playing on your guilt. “It’s already around my wrist, I’ll have to pay now” that’s what thousands of tourists think each year. However, if you decline, they pull one string and the little strings come lose in their hand, they are gone as soon as they came, looking for another victim.
Another scam to look out for is the cup game. By the Eiffel Tower, gypsies – mostly from Eastern Europe, will run rigged cup games. People are betting loads of money and seemingly win hundreds of euros on a game of cups. These people, however, are working together, scamming tourists out of – often – hundreds of euros.
Steer away from them.
There are also banlieus – suburban areas, that are not so safe. As a rule, everything within the Perepherique and La Defense is safe. If you would like to stay outside of the large ringroad you should at least look up the area.
Don't leave massive tips
In Europe, we like to pay our waiters and staff a reasonable wage. This means they don’t have to make most of their money off tips.
Although I love tipping, in Europe we only do this when service was exceptional. And when we tip, its €2 – maybe €5 if the service was exceptional.
I am not saying you shouldn’t tip, I am saying that you don’t have to.
Don't think the best view of Paris is from the Eiffel Tower
Let’s be real for a second guys. The best view of Paris is with the Eiffel Tower in it. Sure, it’s nice to go up the Eiffel Tower – but it is not the be all and end all.
A lot of tourists pay loads of money to go up the Eiffel Tower – just for the view. And in the end they are disappointed because they expected this amazing Parisian panorama… but there’s no Eiffel Tower. Because they are ON the Eiffel Tower.
There are so many other amazing places from where you can have a great panoramic view over the city – Tour Montparnasse for instance, that will leave you breathless.
Save your money and don’t go on the Eiffel Tower, but rather look for amazing views OF the Eiffel tower.
Don't buy your entrance tickets on the day
Queues in Paris can be excruciatingly long. 2 hours for the Catacombes, 3 hours for The Louvre, at least an Hour for the Orangerie… and that is just what I experienced during non-peak seasons.
I now always book my entrance tickets beforehand. It is just not worth it standing in line for hours! When booking online you pay the exact same amount as you would at the ticket counter – sometimes even less.
I would recommend using Tiqets to book your tickets online as you will be buying from the tourist attraction directly rather than through a tour or tourist company. Via the Tiqets app you have all your entrance tickets in your pocket – even offline.