Confession: I never expected to like Paris. My mom went years ago when she was in her twenties and had nothing good to say about it. That, paired with the fact that it’s known to be such a romantic destination, kind of threw me off. Of course, then I heard that Paris had some of the best European Christmas markets, I found a cheap flight, and somehow I fell in love with Paris. So much so that I’ve now been four times and would go back again in a second.
However, I know many don’t feel the same. While I have since convinced my mom that Paris is a magical destination lined with beautiful buildings and full of drool-inducing food, I know that her original perception of the City of Lights is actually kind of common. A lot of people end up hating Paris, calling it an overpriced tourist trap and warning others against visiting.
As much as that opinion breaks my macaron-loving heart, I kind of get it. Paris absolutely is magical, but that magic doesn’t come in the form of a fairy godmother who, with a flick of her wand, grants you a fairytale vacation. You have to work for it or, as some of my points will highlight, maybe not work so hard for it.
So if you are a first time visitor to Paris or a return visitor who maybe didn’t love it so much the first time, then this article is for you. Here is my list of things not to do in Paris to help ensure that you too get to experience the magical Paris that I have come to know and love.
1.Don’t Try to do Too Much
I think trying to cram too much in too little time is the biggest mistake people make when visiting Paris. For that reason, it’s number one on my list of things not to do in Paris. Paris has so much to see and do and I think people get too caught up in seeing it all that it ends up just being exhausting and overwhelming. My advice would be to pick a couple of sites or attractions on the top of your list and leave yourself some free time. Personally, my best memories of Paris are not the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, but things like exploring the streets and grabbing a relaxing dinner at a courtyard café.
Tip: For those planning on staying a few days, the Paris Pass is a great deal for visitors who are interested in museums and attractions. They have 2-6 day options and might be a good deal depending on what you are most interested in seeing. Order your Paris Pass here.
2. Don’t Just Stay in the Tourist Parts
Paris is big. Really big. While most of the main attractions and tourist sites are all concentrated in the heart of the city, it’s worth exploring the further arrondissements as well. On my third visit to Paris, I decided to take this advice and see a more local side of the city. I partnered with St. Christopher’s Canal Hostel where I discovered the most beautiful park, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, and had some delicious and very affordable meals at local restaurants. I also joined a Paris food market tour with a local chef in a different local neighbourhood where I not only got an inside look at the Paris food scene, but again got to experience a great part of the city with great food markets, bakeries, and even a flea market.
3. Don’t Be Too Cheap
Paris isn’t exactly a cheap destination. Sure, you can visit the city on a budget however you may not want to. Your Paris experience will be better if you are willing to spend a little more money. I’m not saying you need thousands of dollars, but let’s be honest; do you really want to come to one of the top foodie destinations of the world and only eat boxed noodles? I don’t think so!
Paris is also home to some once-in-a-lifetime experiences as well. Seeing the Mona Lisa, or going to the Moulin Rouge (which is totally worth it!). If you are coming all the way to Paris, do yourself a favour and budget a little extra to make sure that you have the real Paris experience.
4. Don’t Obsess over the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful building, and yes it is a must-see. However, it’s not the best part of Paris. In fact, during my four visits, I’ve never once climbed the Eiffel Tower, I’ve only gone to the base which, thanks to terrorism threats, is now mostly gated off and not exactly picturesque. I’d argue that the Eiffel Tower is best enjoyed from a distance and there are a number of great viewpoints (many of which are free) to enjoy the view from. My favourites include the view from the Sacre Couer Basilica in Montmartre and from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This also means you don’t need a hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower either; you can find much nicer and cheaper accommodation and still be in a great location (I love Montmartre and the Latin Quarter).
5. Don’t Avoid Using the Metro
As I mentioned earlier, Paris is a pretty big city and while I am a big believer in walking as much as possible to see everything you can, you can’t walk everywhere all the time. Paris has a bunch of taxis and Uber is available, but the best way to get around is by the metro. It’s easy to use, affordable, and a great way to get around the entire city (including to and from the airports). Keep in mind that buying metro cards that are valid for a period of a couple of days is a better deal than buying individual tickets.
6. Don’t Visit During High Season
I hate crowds and long lineups, so I rarely travel anywhere in high season, especially big cities like Paris. Paris can be visited year round so don’t expect to have the city to yourself, but by avoiding travelling during the peak summer months, you can escape the worst of the crowds. Shoulder seasons and offseason also have the added perks of coming with cooler temperatures and lower price tags. I’ve been twice now during the month of November which may seem weird but I really enjoyed it both times.
7. Don’t Get Caught up in the Clichés
Is there a city with more clichés attached to it than Paris? I honestly can’t think of one. Bicycles, striped shirts, berets, baguettes, French accents, picnics along the Seine… I could go on and on and on. I’m not saying don’t partake in any; Parisian baguettes are delicious and I’m always down for a picnic. But don’t expect it to be just like the movies. While I definitely think that Paris is a romantic city I think it is overly romanticized by media and can sometimes end up being a bit disappointing. Remember: Paris is a big city like any other. This means nice people and not so nice people, some garbage in the streets (sometimes paired with funky smells), and lots of traffic.
8. Don’t Assume That You Have ‘Done’ France After Seeing Paris
Paris is great, and yes I’ve been three times. But Paris is not France so whether you spend three days in Paris or three weeks in Paris, don’t assume that you’ve seen it all. France is a large country with very different regions that are still worth exploring. If you have time during your visit to Paris, I highly recommend taking a day trip from Paris to somewhere nearby; Versailles, Mont St. Michel, the Champagne region etc. France is a beautiful country so if you have the opportunity, see as much of it as you can.
Paris really is magical, you just need to give it a chance.