Here’s what not to do in Paris as a tourist.
It’s impossible to see and do everything in a single visit to Paris, so why spend time doing anything that isn’t worthy of your hard-earned vacation hours? The next time you’re in the City of Light, don’t fight with crowds in tourist traps, eat at disappointing or tourist trap cafés or restaurants, or use your precious time waiting in line at museums or the Eiffel Tower. Making a plan of what you want to do and see beforehand is essential—and knowing what to avoid can be a part of that plan. Our expert advice will help you make the most of your visit to Paris and ensure that your vacation is one to remember.
Related: Best Things to Do in Paris
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Don't Skip Lesser-Known Brasseries for the Big Names
Full of history and charm, Paris’s legendary brasseries are definitely worth a visit and their unique all-day hours make them convenient for a quick bite anytime. But it’s an unfortunate fact that some of the city’s famous brasseries are now often run by chains cashing in on their fame, and the quality-to-price ratio varies drastically from one to the next. A beer or a chocolat chaud at La Coupole, Bofinger, Brasserie Lipp, for example, is a great idea. But for a truly French sit-down meal, don’t forget the under-the-radar brasseries and some exciting newcomers sprouting up around the city. With a Michelin star under its belt, Alain Ducasse’s Benoit, in the heart of the Marais, transports you back in time with its authentic décor and classics that are fast disappearing from French menus. A new chef and sommelier have transformed the legendary Chez Eugène (17th), on Montmartre’s oh-so-instagrammable Place du Tertre into one of the big exceptions and an excellent option around a visit to Sacré Coeur or the marvelous Musée de Montmartre. Newcomers Brasseries Dubillot and Bellanger (10th) bring a chic, contemporary flair to some downright delicious classics. And if you’re feeling flush, ultra-romantic Drouant delivers on every front and then some. For some over-the-top fun, Le Train Bleu, inside Gare de Lyon, is as spectacular as it gets.
Related: In Paris, You’ll Definitely Be Visiting These Museums. Don’t Get Stuck Eating at Tourist Traps
Don’t Limit Yourself to the Grands Magasins
You’ll find pretty much everything you could possibly need or want at Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, Paris’s historic (and giant) department stores—and they are must-sees at Christmastime. But you’ll have to contend with impersonal service and crowded spaces, especially during the big sales (last Wednesday in June; first Wednesday in January). Paris is known for its many fabulous shopping neighborhoods and enclaves, full of unique boutiques and Parisian treasures. The Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Golden Triangle (Avenues Montaigne, George V, Champs-Elysées), and the Rue Saint-Honoré are the city’s most famous and plentiful, but there are scores of streets ripe for discovery: rues Charonne and Keller, and Oberkampf; the wonderful old market streets Rue des Martyrs and Montorgueil, and Montmartre; the peerless Palais Royal; rue Vavin for kids clothing; and rue Beaurepaire at the Canal Saint-Martin. And don’t forget Paris’s smaller, jewel-like department stores, the Left Banks’s elegant Le Bon Marché, and the newly restored Art Nouveau gem La Samaritaine.
Don’t Leave Meals in Tourist Areas up to Chance
In general, the Champs-Élysées, the Latin Quarter, the area around Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre’s Place du Tertre, and other places where visitors are plentiful are rife with tourist traps and overpriced eateries. With so many good places to dine in Paris—plenty of them within easy walking distance of the main sites—it’s a shame to waste money on substandard dining. Do your homework ahead of time with a good Paris restaurant guide or website and be prepared to scout out eateries and cafés that cater to locals. Alternatively, visit one of Paris’s many wonderful épiceries (small specialty grocers), found in every arrondissement, or Le Bon Marché’s exceptional Grande Épicerie for all manner of delicacies and prepared foods on the go. Or simply grab a baguette and some cheese—et voilà! Instant picnic.
Don’t Miss the Smaller Museums
Chalking up the most museums in the world (at 297), Paris is a treasure trove for small, gem-like museums, many of them housed in one-time private mansions that remain almost as they were when the inhabitants, famous or not, lived there. The list is long: Jacquemart André, Gustave Moreau, Nissim de Camondo, Cernuschi, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Cognacq-Jay, Dapper, the Palais Galliera and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent for fashion, Musée de Montmartre and many more. And don’t forget the mid-size museums either, like the newly restored Musée Carnavalet (the museum of the City of Paris), where you’ll find Marcel Proust’s actual bedroom and a fascinating history of Paris past; and the excellent Musée Guimet and its little-known offshoot, exquisite Musée d’Ennery. Many of these museums are run by the City of Paris and therefore free to the public. And on the first Sunday of the month, admission is free at every museum. Be aware that many museums now require reservations, but a Paris Museum Pass can help you save money and avoid long lines at the more famous museums (2-day, €55; 4-day, €70; 6-day, €85).
Related: 15 Hidden Places We Bet You Didn’t Know Existed in Paris
Don’t Avoid the Metro
The Paris metro system is safe, clean, and one of the fastest, most convenient, and most economical ways to get around—and simple once you get the hang of it. Pick up a map at the yellow information booth at most metro stations (or download the RATP app in English) and a Paris Visite pass (1 day €13.55; 2 days, €22.05; 3-day, €30.10; 4-day, €43.30; single tickets are €2.10) and you’re good to go. Metros will take you within a few minutes walk of almost anywhere in Paris without having to contend with traffic or endure a potentially long wait for an Uber or other ride service at night. Paris’s metro stations are increasingly automated, and though some have staffed information booths, most do not so have a credit card on hand. Ticketing machines have an English option and will take a credit card with a chip, and you can buy tickets with a standard credit card at a staffed information booth. Be sure to hang on to your ticket or card since metros and stations are “controlled.” Metros run until 1:15 am on weekdays and 2:25 am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Don’t Prioritize the Champs-Elysees
Though this legendary street is still spectacular, especially when viewed from the Arc de Triomphe, its glamour has been tarnished by dealerships, megastores, and overpriced cafés. Though there are some notable exceptions (perfumer Guerlain‘s superb historic flagship, Dior’s new museum and flagship store, and Louis Vuitton’s megastore to name a few), you’ll find many chains and a fair share of American ones at that. If you’re dying to check out the Levis, Swatch, or Apple superstores, go for it! If it’s a truly Parisian walk you’re after, stroll along tree-lined Boulevard Saint-Germain; the Rue des Martyrs, from the heights of Montmartre; along the Canal Saint-Martin; or Les Rives de Seine, a 7-kilometer (4.3 mi) route along both banks of the river. With no car traffic to deal with, a stroll along the Seine offers great, up-close views of many of Paris’s best monuments and bridges.
Don’t Stay Inside the City Limits
When booking a trip to Paris, whether it’s your first or your 15th, keep in mind that some of France’s—and the world’s—greatest treasures lie within an hour from Paris. You’ll be well rewarded by adding an extra day or two to travel a little farther afield to explore some of these riches. An easy, hour-long train ride from Paris, Chartres cathedral is an absolute must-see, especially now, after an astonishing 10-year restoration (and to see the cathedral rising up in the distance over the flat countryside is an experience in itself). Besides Monet’s splendid Giverny, also an hour’s train ride away, consider the châteaux Vaux-le-Vicomte or Fontainebleau; the Château de Chantilly, with its world-class art collection, Le Nôtre gardens, and famous stables; and the charming medieval town of Senlis, a short taxi ride from Chantilly. If you’re short on time, a quick metro ride will take you to the Château de Vincennes, the best-preserved medieval castle keep in France, or Saint-Denis Basilica, a pinnacle of early gothic architecture and the necropolis of the kings of France (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are here, as well as the first king of France, Clovis I (465-511).
Related: This Paris Neighborhood Isn’t a Secret, But You Probably Haven’t Visited It
Don’t Wait in Line at the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower isn’t one of the world’s most visited monuments for nothing. While you won’t want to miss the thrilling ride up and its extraordinary views, waiting in long lines is not the ideal way to spend precious vacation time. And you don’t have to. Intrepid visitors can walk the 328 steps to the tower’s first level and take the lift from there. Many tour companies, like Fat Tire, offer “skip the line” tours (and you can stick with the tour or not). The time you’ll save skirting lines is worth a little extra cash. If money is no object, your very best bet is to book a table at Michelin-star Frédéric Anton’s swank Le Jules Verne restaurant on the tower’s second floor (lunch, €140; dinner, €215) or Thierry Marx’s Madame Brasserie (lunch, €95; dinner, €195 with Paris view) on the first floor. Along with stunning views, you’ll dine in splendor and arrive asap like a VIP on a dedicated lift.
Don’t Be Afraid to Eat Like a Parisian
Find out what the fuss is about from the source. From garlicky escargots to boudin noir (blood sausage) and tête de veau (calf’s brains), or mousse au chocolat, the list of French specialties and delicacies is long—and it needn’t involve slimy creatures or mysterious parts. Dishes like confit de canard (preserved duck leg) tender lapin à l’orange (rabbit) or langouste (spiny lobster from the coast of Brittany) are well worth a try. Vegetarians should look for white asparagus, fraises des bois, and any truffle dish they can afford. You might have heard a lot about unpasteurized cheeses being dangerous (and too fattening), but the French are the best argument to the contrary. With enough varieties to enjoy at least two different cheeses every day of the year—from cow (vache), goat (chèvre), or sheep (brebis) milk—ask the fromager to give some advice and grab a baguette!
Don’t Be Afraid to Go off the Beaten Path
Paris’s parks—both large and small—afford memorable experiences, fabulous views, and outdoor cultural activities galore. The city proper’s largest green space, La Villette is more than just a park. Home to Cité de la Musique, Cité des Enfants, and the world-class Philharmonie de Paris for a year-round roster of great musical events. It also borders on the fabulous art center Centquatre and has tons of summer activities for the whole family, including a summer outdoor film series. The Bois de Vincennes—and the next door Chateau de Vincennes, France’s best preserved medieval chateau—includes the fabulous Parc Floral (see their outdoor concert series), the Parc Zoologique de Paris, and so much more. Check out the glorious views from the lovely Parc de Belleville (20th), and the Buttes Chaumont (19th) is a perennial favorite. As weird as sounds, Paris’s cemeteries are wonderful for a historic stroll: Père Lachaise is tops, followed by Montparnasse and Montmartre. Across the Seine River in Suresnes, an easy 15-minute TER commuter train ride from Saint-Lazare train station, you can visit the moving American Cemetery, where nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers and nurses fell in WWI and WWII lie in beautifully manicured grounds with breathtaking views of Paris.
Don’t Rely on Taxis Late at Night
You can spend an hour looking and still not find a taxi; and even if you do, you may still get an attitude or a runaround from the driver. Unlike New York and other major cities, you can’t depend on flagging down a taxi in Paris, and the taxi stand system is maddening and hard to locate, even in the daytime. Smartphone app car services, like Uber, LeCab, FreeNow, Heetch, and Marcel operating in Paris, have become excellent alternatives. Increasingly popular (despite semi-successful attempts by taxi drivers to have them legally abolished), they provide fast, reliable service—in English—and are reliably courteous. And you won’t have to worry about the meter ticking away while you pass the same monument for the third time. Keep in mind that the Paris metro runs until 1:15 a.m. on weekdays and 2:15 a.m. on Fridays and Saturday, a fast, direct option when rides are scarce.
Don’t Think Tours Are Too Touristy
There are tons of excellent tours—on foot or by bicycle—that can show you sides of Paris you may not see on your own, offer insider tips and historical facts, get you through the lines and into VIP places, and enrich your entire experience. For 25 years, Paris Walks has offered a series of enticing strolls, led by friendly, knowledgeable experts that explore everything from fashion and chocolate to churches, street art, and cheese shops along with specific neighborhoods and historic themes. Underground Paris gives an insider’s initiation into Paris’s rich street art scene. Bike About has a great range of discovery bike tours, for groups, families, or private groups, in off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods, as well as Versailles and the Champagne region. Fat Tire offers day and nighttime bike (or electric scooter) tours in Paris and beyond that get you through the lines. For more about recommended tours, see Paris’s Best Insider Tours or the Paris Region tourist board’s site.
Don’t Skip Pre-Trip Planning
Paris is smaller than many major cities, but wandering around the capital on foot—an absolute must—can be frustrating if you don’t understand its layout and street plans. Familiarize yourself with the arrondissement system and have some idea of the neighborhoods before going, or cram on the plane ride over. Research a Paris app that lists every street, monument, and museum or one that targets your specific interests (or Paris’s history). Don’t neglect guidebooks or apps, including French apps in English, like the Paris metro app (RATP), which offers accurate metro schedules down to the minute and detailed itineraries. The apps can save a lot of time, money, and frustration. Guidebooks can be invaluable for getting the most out of a neighborhood too. And don’t forget apps for navigating specific museums—the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay apps can save a lot of time if you’re targeting a specific artwork.
Don’t Pass up Vélib’ Rides
Paris’s bike-for-hire system Velib’—for a standard or electric velo (bike)—is one of the best and cheapest in the world. All you need is a credit card with a chip and you’re off. Rentals are easy, stations are plentiful, bike lanes are wider and much more ubiquitous since the pandemic, and rentals are 24 hours a day, all year round. Here’s how it works: go to the terminal at any Vélib’ station; follow the on-screen prompts in English; select your subscription (1-day, €3, €5, €10 for various plans; 3-day, €20) and bike; wait for the green light and go. The fee covers a 45-minute or 60-minute ride depending on whether you choose a standard or electric bike. The Velib website and app offer several off-the-beaten-path tours you can take via Velib’, (like to Pantin’s new contemporary art centers) including helpful maps, history, and descriptions of the sites. Scooters are also popular in Paris and there are several scooter rental services, but because of widespread misuse and serious pedestrian-scooter accidents, Paris is considering banning them altogether. Stay tuned…
Don’t Leave Your Kids at Home
Paris is an amazingly kid-friendly city, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you follow basic rules, you and your kids will have a great time. For starters, every museum, foundation, arts center, and park in the city has a tantalizing list of activities for kids, some in English. Paris’s top hotels—including Le Bristol, Le Meurice, and most other Palace hotels—have added fabulous attractions for kids, including cooking classes and tours (and babysitting), leaving parents some free time to hit the spa. Paris also has two zoos—the wonderful Parc Zoologique de Paris, where animals roam free in five “biozones,” and the historic Menagérie, one of the oldest zoos in Europe set in the lovely Jardin des Plantes. From Guignol puppet theaters, historic merry-go-rounds, and playgrounds (the Luxembourg Gardens has all three, for example) to interactive museum exhibits (Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Cité des Enfants, Palais de la Découverte) and amusement parks (Jardin d’Acclimatation), your children will be well-entertained during a family visit. For all the most current information on what’s happening for kids in Paris, check out the Paris Visitors Bureau website in English. Fodor’s Around Paris with Kids offers 68 must-visit places, kid-friendly restaurants, and travel tips for your trip.
Don't Miss a Seine Boat Ride
Seeing Paris from a boat on the Seine is a vantage point not to miss. You’ll see most of Paris’s 37 bridges up close along with the city’s most famous landmarks on a relaxing 1- to the 3-hour boat ride. The bateaux mouches offer everything from a gourmet meal, a flute of champagne or simply sightseeing with commentary. Boats leave from several locations, including the Port de La Conférance at Pont de l’Alma and smaller boats from the Pont Neuf. Another option: the Batobus operates continuously from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. (9:30 p.m. at peak season, hours can vary in the off-season) every 20 minutes from nine stops around Paris. Travel times between sites range from 5 to 30 minutes. For 19€ adults, €9 kids (unlimited 24 hours; €21 adults, €11 kids unlimited 48 hours) you can hop on or off wherever and whenever you like all day long. Stops include the Musée d’Orsay, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Don't Limit Yourself to Famous Monuments for Great Views of the City
If it’s breathtaking panoramic views you’re after—and frankly who isn’t in Paris—there are plenty of off-the-tourist-radar places where you can get fabulous views without the crowds. Though the views from Sacré Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe are indeed splendid, there are so many other places where you can take in the views while relaxing in a park, enjoying a drink or a meal, or just hanging out in the comfort of your own hotel room. For a little nature with your panoramas, head to the Parc de Belleville, the highest park in Paris, complete with a working vineyard and miles of beautiful garden paths with limitless views. The Eiffel Tower views from the Palais de Tokyo‘s sprawling terrace (while dining al fresco at restaurants Forest, Bambini or Monsieur Bleu) or on the Bir-Hakeim bridge and metro stop. If you want your panoramic views 24/7, check into the fabulous new TOO Hotel, set on the top 10 floors of Jean Nouvel’s spanking new Duo Towers (the second highest hotel in Paris), with interiors by Philippe Starck and stunning views from every room and the mile-high restaurant and bar. For more up-close-and-personal-panoramas, you can’t beat the new SO/ Paris in the Marais and its stylish restaurant Bonnie smack dab in the heart of Paris overlooking the Île Saint-Louis.
Don't Forget to Walk
There is simply no better way to discover Paris than on your own two feet. To be a Paris flaneur is to see the city like a true Parisian to uncover firsthand all its magic and mystery. Each neighborhood in Paris’s 20 arrondissements has its own unique character and enticements: the Chinese restaurants and street art of Belleville in the 20th; the chic hotels, cocktail bars, and nightlife of Pigalle (9th); the charming cobbled streets of Montmartre and its vineyards (18th); the leafy lanes of Père Lachaise cemetery (11th) resting place of dozens of French luminaries; the charming neighborhoods of La Mouzaia (19th) or Les Epinettes (17th) or La Butte aux Cailles (13th); or the historic Jardin des Plantes with its zoo and splendid art nouveau greenhouses (5th). Don’t rule out a leafy inner-city hike on the wooded Paris Ceinture (the old belt railway) or the Coulée Vert René-Dumont (which stretches from Bastille all the way to the Bois de Vincennes), or along the nearly two miles of the Berges de Seine at the river’s edge. Even if you stay in the popular central neighborhoods, like Saint-Germain-des-Prés or the Marais, there are plenty of discoveries to be made while strolling and letting your senses take the lead.
Don't Be Too Stingy to Splurge on One Amazing Meal
Paris isn’t considered a world capital of cuisine for nothing. So if there’s one thing you don’t want to miss in Paris it’s the food. You don’t have to go out of your way for a great restaurant, nor do you have to break the bank to eat well in Paris. Consider a classic Parisian brasserie, like Drouant or Le Grand Colbert, Le Train Bleu or the Café de la Paix. Paris has nearly 120 Michelin-starred restaurants (there are one, two, and three-star dining rooms—with corresponding prices). Do a little research to find the kind of setting, cuisine, and price range that suits your budget and read up on the reviews. You can check out an English-language culinary website, like Alexander Lobrano or David Leibovitz, or a French site with reviews in English and French, like Le Fooding. A trusted guidebook can help you locate a restaurant according to neighborhood. Restaurants like the ever-popular Septime are booked pretty much year-round, so do some advance planning and be sure to reserve ahead. If you’re really feeling flush, you’ll dine like royalty at Le Jules Verne, on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, with all of Paris at your feet.
Don't Forget Your Manners
These few simple codes of behavior will go a long way toward smoothing your way with grumpy Parisians. Never enter a shop without saying “bonjour” or leave without saying “au revoir.” If you have a question to ask, always preface it with “bonjour madame/monsieur,” you’ll be much more likely to get a cheerful reception. If a clerk is busy with another customer politely wait your turn. Though more and more Parisians pride themselves on their English, don’t assume everyone understands you when you blurt out a question in your native tongue (and don’t ever assume they don’t if you’re talking behind their back!). You’ll get an A for effort if you go to the trouble of learning just a few key phrases in French and actually have the confidence to use them—even if you do mangle the accent!
Don't Rule out the Winter Months for a Visit
From just after the New Year until late May, and especially in mid-January through March, you can snag great deals on airfare from many places in the U.S. to Paris. Though Paris may not be the sunniest place in winter, it’s not the coldest either—temperatures rarely fall below freezing even in the dead of winter. These are the least touristed months and that means fewer lines, easier reservations at restaurants and hotels, great off-season deals and packages, and opportunities to visit museums and other cultural attractions blessedly crowd-free.
Don't Be Afraid to Be Spontaneous
There’s no substitute for a well-conceived schedule when visiting Paris, but even the best laid plans are prone to unexpected speed bumps, so being flexible can be just as important. Many a traveler has reported that their impromptu, unplanned moments were their very best moments, so put away those OCD tendencies and be ready to go with the flow. When you’re making your Paris agenda, set aside some time to just meander through charming cobbled streets or Paris’s delightful gardens, like the Luxembourg, Tuileries, or Buttes-Chaumont, explore a new neighborhood, or wander into a church concert (there are excellent programs in many historic churches) and be ready to answer the call of your own curiosity!
Don't Forget to Make Reservations (or Cancel Them)
Paris is consistently among the top tourist destinations in the world—and that’s not about to change. Tourist numbers post-pandemic have surged—with upwards of 20 million tourists expected this year—and new hotels continue to sprout up everywhere. With numbers like these it’s essential to book your plane tickets, hotel, and even restaurants well in advance. Most hotels will take reservations up to nine-months or more in advance, and many restaurants will now take online reservations six months or more in advance. If you’re coming at high season, remember that a great many restaurants close for the entire month or at least a part of August, so reservations are at a premium. You may also want to reserve restaurants with outdoor seating, though most hotels and restaurants now have air conditioning. If plans change after you’ve made reservations, be sure to cancel—which is easy to do, since all hotels and most restaurants are now bookable online.
Don't Think Museum Cafés Aren't Worth It
With nearly 300 museums, Paris is the number one museum city in the world. While you many not be in the habit of dining at a cultural institution, in Paris some of the museum restaurants and cafés are so good they’re destinations unto themselves. Standouts include Les Ombres at the Musée Quay Branly, with peerless views of the Eiffel Tower from its floor-to-ceiling windows and glass ceilings; Halle aux Graines in the Musée Bourse de Commerce, by the famous chefs Michel and Sébastien Bras, with an extraordinary wine list and rare views over Les Halles, the Centre Pompidou and Eglise Saint-Eustache; the gastronomic restaurant Mimosa, and ultra-romantic Café Lapérouse, both at the superb Musée de la Marine; Forest, Bambini, and Monsieur Bleu at the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne; and the gorgeous new Dar Mima on the top floor of the Institut du Monde Arabe, with a front-and-center-views of all Paris from the restaurant and its outdoor balcony. And don’t miss the charming hidden-garden cafés at the Petit Palais and the Musée de la Vie Romantique.
Great recap of "dont's" for Paris - but why oh why you do not provide the descriptions of the photos??