Since I was a little girl, I thought I would visit Paris, fall in love with it and spend the rest of my life in Paris. Writing an epic novel, while sipping my cappuccino at a wrought iron table on a tiny balcony overlooking Paris with views of the Eiffel Tower. I’d be traipsing between the Louvre, the Champs Elysee and Montmartre for inspiration.
The truth is, with that much distraction, I cannot write. And that cute wrought iron table is wonky as f*ck. And why does my big grown women sized ass don’t fit on that tiny chair and the whole ensemble doesn’t even fit on that post-stamp-sized balcony. Don’t even get me started about the view, because my view will be a blind wall, with garbage smells wafting up towards my balcony. At night, the nightclub downstairs spills out drunk, rowdy people who try to compete in volume with the neighborhood’s cats in heat. Avoiding the crowds and the summer heat, I have no energy to explore the Champs Elysee and Montmartre is overrun by hippies and beggars.
Travel to Paris: 10 Signs you’re doing it wrong,
and what you should do instead!
Welcome to Paris
Regardless of all of the above, I visited Paris over 15 times and keep coming back. Why? Because it is Paris. And Paris is the most romantic city in the world and has so many amazing things to see and do. But Paris is often not what people imagined. Or they are disappointed after their visit and thought Paris would be more….
Travel to Paris France
Does Paris appeal also to you? Do you have the idea to explore the most romantic city of lights, indulge in croissants, walk around town with a baguette underneath your arm, rocking that tilted barret on your head and taking a million Instagram pictures? Because that is probably what Paris looks like in your head.
Needless to say, that is absolutely not what everyday Paris looks like in real life. At least not all the time and without any effort to find it or create it. Recently, I’ve been to Paris for my 15th time and I used the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris. Riding back home, I overheard a conversation between two American young ladies, who were utterly disappointed with Paris. And I know where they went wrong. And I know how to do it right.
As I’m not in the habit of jumping into other people’s conversation and dishing out unwanted advice, I’m sharing it here with you. Because you’re probably wondering if Paris is as magical as you imagined. Or you want to visit Paris and make sure you’ll have a dream-like time. Here are my 10 signs you’re doing things wrong when you visit Paris and I have some tips to do it right.
Visiting Paris: 10 signs you’re doing it wrong
One of my top favorite activities, when I’m traveling, is observing other people. The top favorite is observing locals, but in a tourist hot spot like Paris, there are so many tourists, it is hard to ignore them. And I hear many people complain about Europe and Paris in particular. But that is because those people are doing it wrong! Luckily for you, you want to visit Paris the right way and here are things you should avoid when you travel to Paris.
1. Standing in line in Paris
If you find yourself standing in line for a museum, attraction or anything touristy (besides waiting for a table or some food) then you’re doing it wrong. I’m sorry this comes across as snobby or condescending, but as I walked past the long line of people waiting for the Louvre and Sainte-Chapelle cathedral, I was just thinking: you’re doing it wrong!!
This is the 21st century! There is absolutely no need to be waiting in line in the blistering sun for more than an hour in Paris. Especially not in Paris. Paris is filled with interesting, and popular attractions, but almost all of them have a skip-the-line ticket system.
How to avoid waiting in line in Paris?
On the Metro on my way to Sainte-Chapelle, I bought a skip-the-line ticket online. Why, you ask me?
- It is just as expensive as a regular ticket
- You get the ticket on your phone immediately
- No hassle with foreign currency or money
- And most importantly: no waiting in line!
As I walked up to this precious little church, I saw a woman in a red coat at the end of the line. When I got out 45 minutes later, she was still in the queue and she wasn’t near the ticket booth yet! I hope that proves my point.
TIP: Don’t wait in line but look for skip-the-line tickets for the top attractions in Paris.
To help you, here are some excellent options
2. Only see the highlights in Paris
If you’re only seeing the highlights in Paris then you’re doing it wrong. Paris is a vibrant, cultural mixed city and the beauty, and appeal doesn’t lie around the Eiffel Tower.
When I ask people, “what is Paris?” or “what are must-sees in Paris?” then the answer usually includes the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and maybe the Louvre museum or a boat cruise on the Seine. And of course the Notre-Dame cathedral, that you can’t visit at the moment.
Although these are iconic features of Paris and should definitely be included in any Parisian itinerary, they are not what makes Paris.
That romantic idea of Paris, sipping a cappuccino on a wonky wrought iron table at the side of the Seine River, journaling in your diary and feeling all ‘french’ cannot be found around the major highlights of Paris.
There is more to Paris than just must-see sites
That romantic idea of Paris, that je-ne-sais-quoi-feeling of roaming around a new town on your own, that is to be found away from the Disney-like attractions like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum.
You will find it in the little streets, the unknown neighborhoods that are right in the center of Paris. You can find it in lovely rooftop views of Paris (and the Eiffel Tower) and in little side streets, not on the Champs Elysse.
TIP: Don’t focus too much on the highlights of Paris. Roam around, look up other things to see and do in Paris, like little museums, smaller parks and walk around.
Lesser-known amazing Parisian sites to see
To help you, here are some of my favorites:
- Parc du Luxembourg
- Visit a farmers market, for example, the one at Batignolles organic market on Saturday, market near the Bastille on Rue de Beaumarchais or the oldest market in Paris at the market of “les enfants rouge” near Rue de Bretagne
- Explore the Marais, located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement it is full of fancy shops, big buildings, and small and gritty old ones.
3. Only eat at international restaurants in Paris
I get it, the French cuisine can be a bit intimidating with the hand-written daily menu on the window and their love of intestines and odd things. You don’t want to be caught eating out in Paris and sucking on eyeballs or other balls in your soup. But you’re doing it wrong when you only choose the safe option for eating out in Paris.
Basically, if you find yourself at a restaurant and the waiter offers you a laminated menu in English, German, Russian and maybe even Japanese, that should be the first sign. But I get it, not everyone speaks French, and even when you do, it can be hard to decipher and have full knowledge of the culinary vocabulary.
But, if that laminated translated menu has a wide variety from hamburgers, steak, to spaghetti Bolognese and sushi, then you know you’re in the wrong place.
I’m not saying you can only dine-in establishments that serve livers, frogs and all kinds of balls, but Paris has plenty of small bistros and little eateries that serve some type of food to your liking. I love how Paris has so many hamburger restaurants. And I’m not talking about those with a clown or king. I’m talking about artisanal places, with french bread and actual minced meat (or vegan option) for your patty. And because it is Paris, they have like 20 varieties of the cheeseburger, so I’m golden.
TIP: Steer away from the big international restaurants that serve 10 different cuisines and have a menu in 5 different languages. Eat locally at small establishments where you might share a table with your Parisian neighbors.
Don’t know where to eat in Paris? Consider joining a food tour to sample all the delicious Parisian foods in one evening. Oh. And there is wine too! (YUMMMYYY) Check for prices and options here.
Amazing food from Paris
Ok, but where to find them? Here are some pointers:
- Breakfast included at your hotel is awesome, but make sure to go at least once to the small bakery on the corner of the street and stuff your face with their baguettes and pastries. You’re welcome.
- The old Jewish corner of Paris is full of small eateries and amazing falafel places. Arguably, L’as du Fallafel serves the best falafel outside the Middle-East. After my recent trips to Jordan and Lebanon, I can say: I agree.
- Join a food tour! They bring you to the best local shops and bistro-style restaurants. I can advise a food tour of the Marais, as it is an interesting neighborhood for food and somewhat off the beaten track in well-trotted Paris.
4. Staying in a cheaper hotel outside the main ring
If you’re looking for a hotel in Paris and you’re after that romantic glow of Paris, then book a hotel in the main center of Paris. I once made the mistake to book a (way) cheaper hotel near La Defense, the business center of Paris. Only chain hotels, only businessmen in boring suits and gritty standard hotel rooms. This is not Paris!
Don’t make the same mistake as I did, and dish out a little bit more money and stay in the heart of Paris. It will cut down on your transport time and allows you to roam the streets of Paris late at night or early mornings. If you’re after that ultimate Paris view of tiny balconies, views of the Eiffel Tower and Haussmann boulevards, expect to pay top dollar. But there are also more affordable alternatives that bring you to the heart of Paris without making you go broke.
TIP: Choose your hotel wisely. If you’re staying for a couple of nights in Paris, the choice of your hotel can play an important factor on your Paris trip.
But where to stay in Paris for that ultimate romantic feeling? Here are some options for you:
- The hotel with the amazing view
- The hotel close to the Louvre for that 8 am time slot.
- or the hotel surrounded by the cutest little side streets.
5. Visit Paris in August
For the 2nd time in a row, I visited Paris in August. And I had a great time. But August is absolutely not the best month to visit Paris. It feels like Disneyland and you’re visiting on that one day when all your favorite rides are closed and all the staff has their day-off.
Paris in August is an odd experience. It doesn’t really feel like the Paris I know from other visits in other months. A lot of the smaller shops, restaurants, and bookstores are closed. And not closed like “I can still look through your cute windows and see what you have on display with a sign on the door”- kinda closed.
No. Closed as in ugly-ass graffiti stained and rusty shutters down kinda closed. And a homeless person has set up residence on the doorstep, style closed. That doesn’t feel like the Paris you have in your head, right?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t visit Paris if it is August. I did it too and still loved the city. But I know what to expect. And be prepared for it. Paris in August is drained from local life that makes it so uniquely Parisian and it is overrun by hordes of (other) tourists, all wanting to do the same thing. This can cause some stress-inducing situations when everyone wants the same selfie picture for their Instagram. But mostly, it causes for some pretty irritable locals that did stay in Paris.
Paris in the summer
TIP: If you can, reschedule to avoid Paris in August. If that is not an option, just mentally prepare yourself for more tourists and fewer locals in Paris. That is all. Manage your expectations.
Paris in August (and July) can be extremely hot too. And smelly. And hot. A day trip away to the countryside can be a great idea:
- Take the TGV down to Nice for some sea-side fun
- Go to the heart of the Champagne region in Epernay and Reims
6. Be afraid to get lost in Paris
You’re doing it wrong when you visit Paris and you’re afraid to get lost. It is a big city and although the streets were designed along a grid and broad boulevards, some areas are made to get lost.
Some areas of Paris are entwined with windy site streets, blind alleys and illogical layouts.
And that is ok.
Certain neighborhoods in Paris are made to get lost in. That is when you’ll find the best views, unexpected shops, and cute little cafes. That is Paris.
So, step out in the sun and go explore Paris. Don’t be afraid to get lost. Getting lost is half the fun. And the next metro stop is never far away.
TIP: Explore Paris on foot. Ditch the map and wander around the different neighborhoods and explore. Don’t be afraid to get lost. It happens, you’ll always find your way again.
How not to get lost in Paris?
But how? Go to your google maps on your phone and mark main places of interest on the maps as a favorite. Like your hotel, a recommended restaurant or an amazing view. Load the map before you leave the Wi-Fi zone and when you get lost, it will still load those places in the app. Just walk to the nearest main street or boulevard and take it from there.
7. Not using the local transport system in Paris
I’m a strong advocate of exploring a city on foot, but if you’re not using the local Metro system in Paris, then you’re doing it wrong. Paris is not a big city but distances can become quite large as the sights of Paris are spread-out across town. I once walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, I couldn’t walk anymore the next day.
Explore neighborhoods on foot, but also use the Paris Metro system. Sometimes it takes some switching trains but overall, you can get from anywhere in Paris to another place by Metro. Go to Montmartre by Metro, or visit the Pere Lachaise cemetery by Metro. Paris has an elaborate metro network, combined by local city trains.
TIP: Use the metro system in Paris. You’ll save time getting from one place to the next or to get home to your hotel at the end of a day of walking. They have 1-time metro tickets that you can buy in a booklet of 10 tickets. Roughly €1,50 for 1 ride (1 hour, including switching trains- as long as you stay underground).
- Download the Paris metro map for your phone or tablet here (Apple) or here (Android). If works off-line or you can get 4G in France here.
8. Be an easy prey to pickpockets in Paris
Any trip where you get robbed totally sucks balls. Big time. There is no fun in parting with your valuables or personal possessions involuntarily. But it is a real thing in Paris. People with ill-intent are not stupid. They see a city full of travelers who have never been to Paris, don’t speak the language, are jetlagged and sometimes just plain stupid. Don’t make it easy for pickpockets in Paris, and watch your belongings. How? Easy:
- Zip up your bag! On my last trip to Paris, in 5 minutes walking around the Notre Dame, I saw at least 10 purses for the taking. Just an off-shoulder bag, open and with the corner of the purse or phone sticking out slightly. I get it, you just used it to pay for a croissant or macaron or to take a selfie. But put that shit away. ASAP. No, not asap. Immediately. Unless you want to enable a pickpocket and make his life so much easier.
- Don’t put your stuff down. Not on the floor, not on a chair and not on the table. Those streetside cafes are charming and it is nice to sit outside in the sun, but don’t think that poor young boy won’t snatch your bag from that empty chair when you’re not looking. He will even do it when you are looking, so keep it on your lap and keep your phone in your bag or hand.
- Slide your backpack or purse or shoulder bag to the front when riding the bus or metro. Or walking busy streets. I always wear a cross body bag and in crowded areas slide it slightly to the front and cover it with my hand. I’m not clutching it to keep it safe, just an extra barrier and a signal to people: don’t even try it.
TIP: Paris is crowded and an excellent breeding ground for pickpockets and scammers. Watch your belongings and alter your behavior slightly, to make things harder for pickpockets. Wear a cross-body bag with zippers and always put your valuables away after you have used them.
9. Visit Paris on a day trip
Do not visit Paris on a day trip. Well, you can, but don’t expect to experience Paris and get to the heart of Paris in just one day. Odds are, you’ll arrive around 11 am with the rest of the crowds and tour buses and you’ll leave at 5 pm or 9 pm, without the opportunity to experience Paris by night or roam around Paris in the evenings.
If a one day visit is all you have, then you’ll see the highlights of Paris, but you won’t experience what it is that makes Paris so unique. The soft light reflecting on the off-white buildings in the morning. The harsh glare on the grey slate rooftops. The baker that opening his shop with the brusk load noise of the shutters rolling up, releasing an intoxicating smell of fresh honey-glazed pastries. That mind-boggling view at dawn from the Louvre, across the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. It is not the monuments of Paris, but all that space in between and the things and people that fill it.
On a day trip or tour, you’ll see the monuments. But with so little time, you don’t get the chance to explore the empty space and time in between.
TIP: Don’t do a day trip to Paris. If you do, choose one with loads of free time and don’t try to fill it with ticking of sites to see, but spend it roaming around an odd neighborhood or spend it in a park eating your croissant or crêpes.
10. Have too high expectations of Paris
If you’ll travel to Paris with too high expectations, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I know, you’re dreaming of coming to Paris for all your life. You’ve spent hours scouted Instagram and the internet for pretty pictures of Paris, then you want to see that. But don’t forget that Paris is a city where people live and work, bring their children to school and people try to solve the problems at hand.
Paris is an insanely interesting mixture of cultures and religions, covered by a sauce of history and amazing sites to see. But it also has its problems. Like poverty, over-tourism, and inequality. It is everywhere. So don’t be angry or disappointed in Paris when these things ruin your trip to Paris. Don’t blame the homeless man for ruining your Sacre-Cour picture. And don’t get agitated when you can only see Mona Lisa smile from a distance. Don’t be disappointed that you couldn’t find Paris when you ran around the city, trying to tick off Instagram spots and sites to see.
Manage your expectations
If that is what you’ll do, you’re doing it wrong. Paris is not a curated set for Instagram selfies with pink balloons and cherry blossoms everywhere. Paris is a city filled with people, smells and sounds. It is up to you to appreciate them and explore them to get a full picture of Paris. One that is edged in your mind, not your Instagram.
TIP: Explore Paris with an open mind. Manage your expectations and be open to look beyond the tourist attractions of Paris.
How to visit Paris the right way
I hope I was able to show you how to visit Paris the right way. Each visit, I see thousands of tourists in Paris and they all seem to do the same things and make the same mistakes. But for every mistake, there are easy solutions. So if you’ll visit Paris, then don’t make the same mistakes and be a smart traveler. Save time, money and disappointments with my 10 tips for Paris and I’m sure you’ll have an epic time!
Are you planning a trip to Paris? What is your idea of what the city will be like? Have you been to Paris? What do you think other people do wrong? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. I”d love to hear it. Or share this with your friends on social media.