What Not to Do in Paris – and What to Do Instead

Boulevard Voltaire, Paris, in snow

Paris, je t'aime. Except when your queues are interminable, your croque-monsieurs the price of a Michelin-starred meal and your taxi drivers go the long way round.

Don’t go shopping on the Champs-Élysées. You won’t find effortlessly elegant French women with poodles going about their business on the Champs. It’s Paris’s best-known street – which is why big multinationals including McDonald’s have their shopfronts here and a million foreign tourists traipse down it on a daily basis. A local would not be caught mort in a Champs-Élysées chain café.

Instead, shop with the Parisians. If you have money to spend (or you just want to pretend you do), head south of the Champs-Élysées to the so-called Triangle D’or, the Golden Triangle, which comprises the area around Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V and Rue Francois 1er where high-end fashion labels such as Celine, Inès de la Fressange and Saint Laurent reside. For cool French fashion, try the Marais, where you’ll find Sessùn, Kitsuné and Officine Générale. The area also has Merci, a three-storey concept store that sells vintage and designer furniture, clothing, luxurious linens and homewares.

SEE ALSO: A Fashion Buyer’s Guide to Shopping in Milan

Don’t queue for the Eiffel Tower lifts. 

Instead, pre-book. Despite the fact that no real Parisian has ever deigned to ascend the famous tour, it’s a tourist must-do for the excellent views of the City of Light. It sees more than seven million visitors each year, which means there’s a permanent parade of screaming children, dodgy touts and pickpockets surrounding Gustave Eiffel’s creation. Go online and book a spot in the lift to avoid the unholy, hours-long queue or, failing that level of organisation, take a deep breath and ascend the 1710 steps. 

Don’t head to the Louvre only for the Mona Lisa. Go during high season and you’ll be disappointed. Every man and his dog is crammed into the room containing Leonardo Da Vinci’s smug gentlewoman – and the painting is far smaller than you imagine it will be. We all know what it looks like – it’s probably the only artwork in the world that’s been parodied by Marcel Duchamp, appeared in a Simpsons couch gag and been the subject of a 1911 heist. 

Instead, manage your expectations. The Louvre is 72,735 square metres containing hundreds of thousands of objects and pieces of art including Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, the Venus de Milo and the apartments of Napoleon III. Do some research, choose what you want to see ahead of time and don't ignore the Louvre’s lesser-known works. Be sure to make time for Paris’s smaller museums: The Musée de l’Orangerie at the Tuileries Gardens has works by Cézanne, Matisse and, of course, Monet, while the Musée Rodin is one of the most peaceful places in Paris with its 18th-century villa and extensive gardens. Other tiny museums – many of them the one-time homes of the artists whose names they bear – are equally fascinating and often free. Don’t miss Musée Carnavalet, the city’s first municipal museum, for a wonderfully eclectic look at the life and times of Paris.

Don’t catch cabs.

Instead, become a true flâneur and walk – or catch public transport. The Paris metro is among the cleanest, safest and most efficient public transport systems in the world and it’s easy to use. You can hop on and off, walking in between train rides, without having to deal with traffic, steep fares or grumpy taxi drivers.

SEE ALSO: How to Spend 15 Minutes Alone with Mona Lisa

Don’t seek out bohemian Paris in historical Lost Generation haunts such as Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Montparnasse and Montmartre. Les Deux Magots, the café once frequented by Hemingway, Stein et al, still exists – but now the only sound you’re likely to hear is tourists debating who’s paying for the exorbitant café au lait.

Instead, current-day bobo (short for bourgeois bohemian) congregate in the area around the Canal St Martin. It was once a down-at-heel locale but it’s now buzzing with bars, cafés and indie fashion boutiques.

Don’t expect an answer to a question asked in English. 

Instead, make the effort to learn a few words of French – the infamous Parisian rudeness is an unfair stereotype but if you don’t at least attempt to communicate in the native language, you might experience it.

Don’t eat at dining establishments situated around tourist hot spots such as the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Place du Tertre in Montmartre – the food is likely to be expensive and disappointing. If it’s close to a big Parisian landmark and there’s an English menu displayed outside, keep walking.

Instead, do a little research for great food in the areas in which you’re sightseeing. This is a city of fabulous dining and your best bets are the casual neighbourhood bistros where locals take their meals. Failing that, drop in to an épicerie (specialty grocer or deli) for a delicious prepared meal or any corner store, where you’ll find excellent brie and baguettes along with bottles of champagne: dinner is served. And don’t miss Le Marché des Enfants Rouge, the oldest covered food market in Paris where you can find pretty much anything you fancy, from patisserie to Turkish food.

Don’t go to the Moulin Rouge. That iconic neon windmill and those red velvet interiors were once a symbol of liberated Paris during the Belle Époque – but the nightclub burned down in 1915. The current incarnation is the epitome of a tourist trap, with a street-full of tourist buses parked out the front. A can-can show can cost €185 for a dinner show – for one person.

Instead, head to the Paradis Latin on the Left Bank. This family-run cabaret venue is the best place for a truly Parisian cabaret show. 

Don’t go to Place du Tertre looking for authentic art. The Montmartre area used to be a centre for a community of bohemian artists and thinkers but now it’s a market for caricaturists of questionable talent and sentimental depictions of Paris.

Instead, head to the nearby Musée de Montmartre. Formerly home to artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Suzanne Valadon, the museum’s buildings are three centuries old and the grounds have been landscaped according to Renoir’s paintings, complete with a working vineyard. The museum’s collection contains photos, artworks, posters and manuscripts that chronicle the history of the neighbourhood.

SEE ALSO: 8 Things Not to Do in Rome – and What to Do Instead

paris buildings and sky

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