Hi Frugalistas! Did you catch up on my post about the 10 things you must do on your first trip to Paris? Or are you planning your first trip to Paris at the moment? Or maybe you just like Paris and like reading about Paris. Regardless of where you are up in planning a trip to Paris there are some things to avoid when you first travel to Paris. It’s not that they are necessarily “wrong” – after all, it’s your holiday and you should do whatever suits you and makes you happy. They are just the things that I believe either represent poor value for money, will waste your time or not deliver an authentic Paris travel experience. Of course, there are more than 10 things to avoid on your first trip to Paris, but here are my top 10 choices.
Staying outside Central Paris
When you visit Paris you should stay in central Paris. That is, within the Peripherique, the road that encircles the inner city. When you book your hotel or apartment check that the address or the description of the hotel mentions the arrondissement, then you are looking at somewhere in central Paris. While there are no Paris arrondissements to avoid, generally speaking, the lower the number of the arrondissement, the closer you are to central Paris. Staying in Central Paris will definitely add to your first class Paris travel experience.
If you looking for a particular location in Paris, the fourth and some of the third arrondissements are the Marais, the Latin Quarter is the fifth, and the Eiffel Tower area is the seventh.Compare Paris hotel prices NOW!
2. Queuing 10 things to avoid first trip to Paris
Queuing is never cool and is never fun regardless of where you travel. In very popular destinations like Paris, queuing is somewhat inevitable, but there are things you can do to minimise your need to queue in Paris.
Firstly plan your day so that you go to the very popular places early before everyone else gets there. I like to arrive about 10-15minutes after opening time, so that the real earlybirds who’ve been waiting for opening have cleared.Secondly, book a Museum Pass or the skip the queue pass where you can. Even the Eiffel Tower has got with the program on this one, so really you have no excuse. You will still need to queue for the security checks, but once through those, head straight in!
3. Falling for a Paris tourist scam
Whether it’s the ring scam, the petition scam, a plain old mugging, or the American teacher, read up on the most common Paris tourist scams. While I thought I knew most of the Paris scams, my readers came up with a whole list all of their own. Also check your Paris guide book – a recently updated guide book should have all the news on the “latest” scams to avoid. Do your research, make sure you have appropriate insurance via global medical plans and avoid having your trip, your health and potentially your memories of Paris, spoiled. Scams are one of the easiest things to avoid in Paris if you know what you are looking for.
Are you planning a trip to Paris? Click here to join my France Travel Planning group on Facebook.
4. Eating in tourist restaurants
You know the restaurants and cafes I mean. Unfortunately they are everywhere in Europe’s big cities. Firstly, they will be clustered around the major tourist sites (although the Eiffel Tower is an exception). Then they have pictures of the food outside. And a “menu touristique” or tourist menu will be prominently displayed – but don’t confuse this with the daily specials board you will see outside any café or brasserie. There may be a spruiker out the front to entice you inside. If you see red check table clothes in addition to all of these be alarmed and walk away now!
These types of restaurants are very common around Notre Dame, in the Latin Quarter and are almost everywhere in Montmartre.
Instead, head a few blocks away from tourist locations. Walk down smaller, quieter streets rather than staying on the big main streets. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or other travelers. Consult your guidebook.
Yes, you may pay slightly more. But you will eat better food, in a better atmosphere, and you should enjoy it more.
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5. Going to the Moulin Rouge
I’ve been to Paris 10 times. I’ve never been to the Moulin Rouge. And indeed I’ve only ever walked past it once.
As far as I am concerned, the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, and all other “famous” cabarets are tourist traps and are definitely places to avoid in Paris . You will eat expensive, mass produced food in the company of hundreds of other tourists. You will drink expensive, but cheap champagne. You will watch Anglophone girls dance – yes, the famous French cabarets visit Anglophone countries regularly in search of the very tall, leggy girls that fill the chorus.
If you do want to have a special night out and try the Paris nightlife, might I suggest consulting Paris Time Out (there is an English version) for the latest cool bar or night spot? Or trying a fancy restaurant such as Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower, or Atelier, Joel Robuchon’s restaurant in the 6th arrondisement (EUR150 per person plus drinks).
But realistically, I know some of you will want to visit the best shows in Paris regardless of what I, or anyone says, and that’s perfectly OK. It’s your holiday and you should do what YOU want to do.
6. Thinking you need to see everything in the Louvre
Unless you absolutely adore art, do not plan on seeing everything at the Louvre on your first trip to Paris. The Louvre is just too vast, with just too much on show. Instead, work out what you want to see, then leave.
They don’t hand out medals for those who see everything, and I am sure there are so many other things you want to do and see. Do those instead, and have a great time.
7. Catching a taxi everywhere
Catching a taxi can be a good option if you are traveling in a small group from Charles de Gaulle now that there is a fixed price fare to and from central Paris. But don’t assume that you need to catch a taxi everywhere.
Using the metro is much, much cheaper and is a quintessential Paris experience. It’s also easy to use. You can buy your tickets from the vending machines in English and the lines are coloured coded to make it easy to navigate. You can read my guide to using European trains here.
Of course, you also indulge in that other quintessential Paris experience – walking. Then you can enjoy more of that lovely food without feeling guilty.
8. Using the hop on, hop off bus
It’s terribly convenient to use the hop on, hop off buses. But in Paris you don’t need to. The number 69 bus will take you from the Eiffel Tower up to the Pere Lachaise area, passing almost the same sites, at a fraction of the cost. The Paris traffic is the same, so why pay more?
And if you buy a “carnet” (10 Metro tickets at once) you can use your ticket on the bus!
9. Thinking the Champs Elysees is the “real Paris”
If you’ve never been to Paris, I’m sure you have a vision of strolling along a grand tree lined boulevard, for a spot of lecher la vitrine (window shopping), or people watching.
And yes, it’s a lovely thing to do. It’s just that the Champs Elysees is not necessarily the best place to do it. The section of the Champs Elysees between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe is not so bad. There are pretty gardens, and there may be an interesting exhibition you can drop into at the Grand and Petit Palais. But there are also thousands of tourists. All doing the same thing as you.
Beyond the Arc de Triomphe the Champs Elysees turns into car show rooms and bewildered tourists looking for their bit of Paris.
Instead, for a pretty walk, wander the pricy Ave Montaigne (just near the Arc de Triomphe), back over to the Left Bank to the Eiffel Tower, then head east along the river to the Louvre and the Tuileries. You’ll walk past the Georges V and the Plaza Athenee Hotels (where you can stop for a very expensive, but atmospheric coffee), as well as a who’s who of the top European designers for your window shopping. Then, there’s the prettiest part of the Seine – tree lined and relatively quiet.
10. Not getting lost
While you may not want to literally get lost, wandering away from the tourist areas, and exploring the tiny streets is something you should do.
Depending on how much time you have, consider my walk to Butte Chaumont to find your own part of the real Paris.
It’s easy to have a first class trip to Paris if you take my advice on these 10 things not to do in Paris.
Plan your trip to Paris:
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- Comprehensive coverage
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- Top sites and hidden gems
- How to connect with culture
- Seven day long walking tours
- Charmingly illustrated
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- All the big Paris attractions
- From planning & packing to returning home
- Your kids get to play tour guide
Not drowning is currently on my list! We leave for ten days in London in one week, then we have two weeks in Paris. Any packing tips would be great…I am almost tempted to pack gum boots! Mild to warm weather in almond on, plus torrential rain in Bruges and Paris, is a packing challenge for a heat loving Melbournite!
Hi Miss Frugalista!
I don’t say “Thank You” enough for your generous experience, valuable insights, kind thoughts and plain good common- sense travel advice. Just to let you know… once… of all the times i have read your articles previously. Thank You!
Lady Light Travel says
The two things I’m glad I did:
* Hire a guide for the Louvre. Not only did he know where everything was at, but it is always fun to hear the French take on all the artwork.
* I installed the MetrO app on my phone and downloaded all the Paris bus and train schedules. The app works off line and is so very easy to use. By the 2nd time I rode the metro I was cruising around like a local!
Great tips Cindy. I’ve never used a Metro app, but that looks like a great one to try.
Thank you so much Deb. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and I’m so pleased to read you find my work of value.
The packing is easy. Go for layers rather than thick jumpers. For destinations like London and Northern Europe where it can certainly be quite chilly in summer I like the idea of packing a thermal top for those cold days. This will mean you don’t need thick heavy coats.
The Musee D’Orsay is open late on Thursday night and the Louvre on Friday night. I went after 7pm to both and almost had them to myself.
Musee L’Orangerie at Place de la Concord in the Tuilleries is a very intimate museum well worth a visit.
Yes, going to the Musee d’Orsay or the Louvre late is another great way to avoid the crowds
No offense, but this is a weak post 🙁
1. Staying outside Central Paris – is this really worth a bullet?
3. Eating in tourist restaurants – tourists will be in touristic areas! why not advise people to check http://www.lafourchette.com/Paris before going into the restaurant?
5. Going to the Moulin Rouge – really? I’ve lived here 7 years, been to moulin rouge twice, and lido once. if visitors have a chance to visit & dine at moulin rouge they should! “go to Jules Verne instead?” be sure to reserve! bookings are done well in advance.
7.Thinking the Champs Elysees is the “real Paris” – do you really think people will take your advice “10 things not to do” , EVERY tourist will go to the Champs
Hi John, I’m sorry you didn’t appreciate my post. I honestly don’t mind whether people take my advice or not – it’s their holiday and their trip, not mine and they have every right to do as they wish. The purpose of these types of posts is to stimulate thinking, and challenge assumptions, not to dictate what the “right way” to have a holiday is. And of course every tourist will go to the Champs Elysees – I do myself, but it’s important to understand that there are far more interesting streets just off the Champs
Good tips! I’d add that if you see a line, walk on by. Unless said line is outside a fab confectioners or bakery. Or a food stall in an open air marche! In that case, happily queue up & ask fellow waiters what they recommend. Also, the evening river cruise on the Seine is great, but opt for the “wine only” and not the dinner cruise. The food is mediocre at best and not worth the stiff tariff.
Avoid gypsy cabs. Call Uber instead. To know if it is a gypsy cab, look for the prominently displayed license. If you don’t see, don’t get in. It can be a nightmarish experience or even worse.
Do go shopping in the outer arrondisements. I found a fab yarn shop with a huge selection of designer yarns at a fraction of the price at home. DO compliment the shop keeper/owner. I nipped into a minuscule art supplies shop just off Fbg St Honore. The owner wouldn’t give me the time of day until I said in my hackneyed French, “I’m SO glad I ducked in for a look. You have a marvelous selection!” Which she did, at very reasonable prices. Then she became a fountain of encyclopedic knowledge, and steered me towards brushes I’m still using 25 years later! Plus, she gifted me with 10 or so sample pads (postcard sized) of various papers & a little tiny watercolor palette. Likewise, in the snotty, snooty, hideously expensive boutiques and designer enclaves, NEVER be intimidated. In Hermes flagship store, I saw nothing but ugly, army green scarves out on the counter. I asked where the pretty scarves were, and the arrogant shopgirl melted, and rather apologetically told me the displayed scarves were for the tourists who came on the tour buses! She then spent TWO hours helping me pick out six lovely scarves. YES ask a shopkeeper where to eat.
Parisiennes do want to show you their private Paris. By all means ask their opinions.
There are so many fabric and craft stores in the Northern outer arrondisements. I’ve found the same thing with staff in small shops. If you can strike up a conversation, or just make a tiny purchase their whole attitude changes.
I can’t wait to start planning my trip to Paris and will definitely be taking these into consideration! I, too, think it’s important to see more than just what every other tourists sees. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Manda, that’s very kind of you.
We say “lèche vitrine” and not “lecher la vitrine” which means literally “to lick the window” 😉
Otherwise, good advice !
Thank you Estelle! My French is still not perfect…….
My sister, granddaughter and I are going on our first trip to Paris, London, Barcelona, and Rome in June 2017. I have been reading up on tips and found yours very informative. I write things down that I want to remember and will be taking these tips with us. Thank you for your post!!
I was at the Lourve from 9am-3pm and still didn’t see everything but again I do enjoy the art. I suggest going there at night for a glass of wine to see everything lit up and you can see the Eiffel Tower from there!
Champs elysees I would say go up the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower but avoid the restaurants around there because they are just overpriced. Plus shopping around Champs Elysees you can basically do the same shopping in the US and same with the famous malls it’s high end shopping not a real experience.
I highly recommend staying at an apartment instead of a hotel
I agree 100% with the metro! It’s so convient and fast! You can get passes for longer stays
Yes, Kristen, I’ve written before about the Louvre courtyard at night, it really is lovely.
Thanks for your kind words Sherri. Have a wonderful trip
We need you! Let visitors know that hanging a lock on the historic monuments and public spaces is vandalism that damages the city and hurts the people of France—culturally, economically and emotionally. It’s time for tourists to act responsibly, and that means showing their respect and empathy by not destroying the beauty and heritage of their city. Paris is a romantic place with so much to offer lovers—beyond destructive padlocks that say anything but love. NoLoveLocks.com
Oh, AvenueFoch, I am soooo with you on this. I despise lovelocks. Yes, they are definitely to be avoided on EVERY trip to Paris…………..
The one thing I like about using a metro app on my phone is that it doesn’t make you as easily identifiable as a tourist as does pulling out a handheld map… One more level of precaution against being targeted by scammers/pickpockets.
Agreed!! In my book, I advise people to take the money they would otherwise have spent on puchasing a lovelock and, instead, give it to the accordion player who is often on the Pont des Arts… Ask him to play “Sous les Ponts de Paris” maybe do a little waltz and then ask for a selfie with him… GREAT memory!
Excellent advice Mike – much better memory than those eye sores!
We will be in Paris for only two days. We plan on doing a lot of walking to see the sites. What is the best side of the Seine to walk down when walking from the Eiffel Tower to the Louve?
Excellent question Cathy. Personally I prefer to stay on the left bank, and then cross over at one of the bridges closer to the Louvre. It is far less touristy (and no scammers), and you can take in the view of the right bank, which has more to admire from a distance.
Which APP is that (specifically)? I looked on my GooglePlay but there are so many with that name 🙁
I am traveling to Paris soon and would love to have that App on my phone!!
I’m not sure what app Cindi was referring to I’m afraid.
I have Paris Metro by Mapway installed on my iPhone.my husband and I had great success in using it in conjunction with Apple maps app. You type in the location for transit and it allows you to open the Metro app from there. Easy peasy. There is also a London Tube Map that works similarly.
Viviane Feeney says
I haven’t been to moulin rouge (how do you spell) either! Another tip for avoiding tourist traps is if someone pops their head out the door trying to sell their restaurant, turn & run the other way. I got roped into one of those and the food was yuck. (Sounds bratty of me, I know.)
This article looks so well thought out, you’ve really done some research by immersing in the best city on earth!
Thanks very much for your kind words Viviane and for your wise advice. Any restaurant with a spruiker out the front touting for business needs to be avoided – regardless of where they are!
Thanks very much Jeanne – this is a great tip for everyone
Kayla Matheney says
Hi! This is a pretty good list, but I would like to add that when I went to Paris last year, I did go to the Moulin Rouge. I even paid for the VIP tickets (sans dinner). While the VIP price was NOT worth it, especially as a disabled person, the Moulin Rouge Feerie show was the absolute highlight of my entire month in Europe. It is a legitimately good show, and worth the non-VIP price. In fact, when I go back to Paris this year with my father, I’m going again and I’m taking him! It’s definitely not for everyone, but I highly, highly, highly recommend it!
I also recommend shopping at a supermarket at least once! It’s cheaper than a restaurant and it’s also fun to see what foods are available in a different country! I usually kept some ingredients in my hotel room for quick non-cook meals. I saved quite a bit of money that way!
I must congratulate you on this site which is full of excellent advice. I have lived in France for ten years now, of which six were in central Paris. For those who might like to walk off the beaten track I would strongly recommend La Promenade des Plantes which can be found just behind the opera house at Bastille. It’s an ancient railway track on arches which has been converted to a long green park from which one can see some great architecture and fascinating sites. It’s about 3km long but there are many exit points. The return trip at street level shouldn’t be missed as under the arches there are delightful small shops and artisans’ workshops where unusual and attractive gifts can be bought. I’d also recommend Le Canal de Saint Martin which passes through the streets of Paris close to La Gare de l’Est. On summer evenings you will find that many people take picnics to eat and drink with friends – a truly delightful Parisian experience! You can take a cruise boat from Le Basin de La Villette that passes through the canal (and the tunnel at Bastille) then onto the Seine, terminating at Le Musee d’Orsay. One word of warning to those who prefer coffee other than espresso – French cafes know nothing about cappuccinos and their interpretation of these, also cafe latte (don’t just ask for a latte or you might just end up with tea!) can be quite disappointing, to say the least.
Thanks so much for your feedback Kelland. I actually feature the walk you mentioned in a post on the 12th arrondissement recently!
Hi Kayla, if you went to the Moulin Rouge and loved it, then of course you should go again. The purpose of these types of posts, is not to dictate how anyone should spend their holiday – it’s your time and your money and you should definitely spend it the way you want to. The purpose is rather to offer a perspective that readers can choose to pay attention to or not, to get them to think about their trip, rather than just mindlessly do things and spend (a lot of) money on things that they just don’t have too.
I am so with you on the supermarket or market – aren’t they fun?
Joe Cronin says
My best memory of Paris is stopping at one of the many cafes, eating crepes, sipping coffee while listening to streets performers play music for me. Paris is so expensive – this was one activity that was relaxing, enjoyable, and cheap.
Yes, the coffee and a crepe are always a great budget choice
Chris Bloomfield says
Avoiding the tourist restaurants is great advice, no matter what big city your in. We made that mistake a few times and quickly learned to find out where the locals eat because the food is not only better, but it is less expensive too.
Yes, I agree. It’s the same in any city isn’t it?
Taxis are inexpensive pleasures in Paris just remember to write down the address with arrondissement number to show driver if your French is poor Also get a free map of the excellent bus transportation (carte de bus) free of charge at every metro station cashier as you buy your card for free rides. The bus is the most pleasant way to see Paris and to mix with the Parisians.
The reason I like the hop on hop off buses is because I get a narrated history of the city and buildings that you don’t get otherwise. I do use public transportation, but the metro driver doesn’t give a history lesson 🙂
I disagree with the Champs comments… go view it at midnight/1am, get the last tour bus at midnight and it heads down the champs you see a whole other side to Paris at night. The lights are just insanely magical. If you’re getting a tour bus, do it at night for sure! You spot things you wouldn’t see walking around and it’s either a good way to start your trip or to end your trip so you can either spot things you want to go and look at or spot things you missed! Sit on the top deck, it’s fab!
I agree 100% with you – that is definitely the best way to see the Champs Elysees. Unfortunately it’s not how most people think to see it
True. If getting a narrated history is important for you, then taking the hop on hop off is one way to do it. You can also get free audioguides in podcasts that serve the same purpose