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Photo: stevenvanwel

Matador’s destination expert on Paris lays out avoidable attractions in the City of Lights…and what to do instead.
1. Don’t… see the Mona Lisa

More than 25,000 people visit the Louvre every day, and it seems like the majority of them head straight for this painting.

The Mona Lisa is much smaller than most people think and is easily blocked by just a single head in front of you — it’s nearly impossible to ever get a clear view.

Photo: Lynt

Do… beat the crowds at the Louvre

Head in the opposite direction of the masses and discover some of the other 35,000 masterpieces on show, such as Napoleon III’s apartments, the incredible Egyptian gallery, and the ruins of the original Louvre constructions, built as a 12th-century fortress.

Thanks to Da Vinci, the vast majority of these can be viewed in complete solitude.

2. Don’t… take a Seine dinner cruise

River cruises themselves aren’t a bad deal. They only run about eight euros and offer a great perspective from which to take in the city’s architecture and sights.

But when you add dinner, the cost soars to over 100 euros a head, and all you get for it is sub-standard food served in a crowded, noisy dining area.

Do… find the best in Parisian cuisine

There’s no good reason to eat bad food in Paris, a city with some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world. And, contrary to what you might assume, not all of them are beyond the budget of the average traveler.

Paris’s oldest restaurant, for example, serves tasting menus that start from 45 euros. Check it out: Laperouse

3. Don’t… climb the Eiffel Tower

Checking out Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece — the world’s most-visited monument — is practically mandatory for every Paris visitor, but that doesn’t mean you have to go up.

If you do, you’ll stand in line…and not just one line. There are a total of seven, including one for each lift and the line for tickets.

Photo: tibchris

Do… find yourself a sweet city view

There are plenty of other places to get a photogenic panorama, like the Tour Montparnasse, or even the Arc de Triomphe.

The queues are short (if not nil), and you’ll have a city view that includes its most famous landmark — something which isn’t possible if you’re standing on it.

4. Don’t… visit the Bastille

Not so much you shouldn’t visit this, but that you can’t.

The entire Bastille complex was destroyed during the Revolution and many tourists hop off at the ‘Bastille’ metro stop only to be disappointingly confronted by a busy traffic intersection and nothing more.

Do… brush up on city history

Should the Revolution — or any other period in Paris’s past — be of particular interest, check out the free Musée Carnavalet for your history lessons.

5. Don’t… take a Da Vinci Code tour

These tours are among the most expensive in the city and take in relatively few sights.

Not only that, but if you’re a fan of the novel, be prepared to get off the bus wondering if Dan Brown has even been to Paris, let alone researched any of the sights he mentions in the book.

Do… pay for a real tour

Instead of bowing to pop culture, sign up for an outing that’ll fill you in on the real stories behind Paris, such as the Rive Gauche Tour, Montmartre, or the Paris Food Crawl. More info can be found here.

Photo: gillesklein

6. Don’t… sip coffee in a famous café

It can be tempting to hit up Café de Flore or les Deux Magots — favored spots of Sartre and Beauvoir — or Café des Deux Moulins, which took a starring role in the film Amélie.

However, while the clientele may once have been notable, the only thing you can expect now is bad service at double the price of any neighbouring café.

Do… stop in next door

Whether your thing is people watching or a caffeine fix, the best thing you can do is turn your back on the famous names and choose the café opposite (or next door) for a practically identical experience at a more reasonable price.

7. Don’t… escape to Nice

Many people looking to venture beyond Paris automatically think Nice, and I’m not exactly sure why. Nice is a busy city with terrible traffic, little history or culture, and an ugly pebble beach.

Put a pin anywhere in a map of France (except perhaps Marseille) and you’ll hit a place with more attractions and charm than this.

Do… consider other extra-urban destinations

For a beach break, Bordeaux is pretty nice, home to international windsurfing competitions and Europe’s largest sand dune, the Dune du Pyla.

Photo: geoftheref

But you don’t have to travel far from the city to explore more of what France has to offer. The Loire Valley is just an hour from Paris and features enough culture, history, castles, fine food, and “authentic” small towns to keep you busy for weeks (if not months).

8. Don’t… fly into (or out of) Beauvais

There are dozens of places close to Beauvais Airport, but Paris isn’t one of them. It’s a 90-minute ride into the city (longer during rush hour), and the one-way trip cost of 13 euros eats up a lot of the savings made on that budget flight.

Even worse is when you have an early morning departure. You’ll most likely need to take an expensive Parisian cab to the bus station, since the Paris metro doesn’t run before 5am and sleeping in the airport is not allowed.

Do… stick to the time-honored hubs

Use a search engine like Kayak to find the most competitive fares to Charles de Gaulle or Orly Airports, both of which have direct — and much quicker — links to the city.

Community Connection

For more advice from Matt, check out How to Save Money in Paris.

Other Matador resources on Paris:

Green Guide to Paris

Top 10 Free Things to Do in Paris

How to Move to Paris with No Money

What NOT to do


 

About The Author

Matt Scott

Having spent the majority of his adult life traveling and working abroad, Matt Scott has plenty to write about; his writing and photos have appeared in publications around the world, both on line and in print. Originally from the UK he currently lives in Paris, where he works as a trip leader for an active travel company.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/candicew86 Candice

    Glad I skipped the dinner cruise, then! I hope to get back to Paris someday, there’s so much left to see.

  • http://missexpatria.wordpress.com Miss Expatria

    I agree with many of your don’ts, particularly the dinner cruise and Beauvais. But, I have to confess that seeing the Mona Lisa – and specifically, the crowds jockeying for a photo op in front of it – was fascinating. It’s smaller than you’d think, and (at least when I saw it years ago) it’s on a wall with many other paintings as well. And yet this one painting was the one behind glass, the one books have been written about, the one everyone flocks to see because they “have” to. The experience of not only seeing the painting, but of watching people look at it, is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

    I also ascended the Eiffel Tower the first time I went to Paris, and if nothing else it made me realize how odd it is to see the panorama of the city without the iconic building in view. It made me fall in love with Paris even more, knowing that the city itself was beautiful even without the tower’s looming presence. It’s also a photographer’s dream up there.

    • Linda

      Yeah, I agree that seeing the Mona Lisa just once is cool. Although if time is limited and you know you’re coming back to Paris, skip it. Also, Paris has an active couchsurfing community, and the CSers would probably have great recommendations on things to see and do.

  • Sara

    The last time I went to Paris, I took my hubby for his first visit. We got an “evening” pass to the Louvre on a Friday and there was very little in the way of crowds and we walked right up to the Mona Lisa. We had a nice look and then went on our way to explore some of the other treasures before heading for a “late” dinner. Given all the time in the world, I would have taken a walking tour, but since we were time pressed (only there for a long weekend, specifically for a wedding), we took one of the hop on and off bus tours. We sat up top and had a great view of many of the spectaculor sites, even if we couldn’t have devoted the necessary time to each. Can’t wait to go back, again.

  • http://www.airtreks.com AirTreks Nico

    IMO, the best view of Paris is from the top of the Samaritaine department store. Right on the river bank, the store has a little-known rooftop deck with viewpoint and a small cafe. It’s accessible by a tiny spiral staircase that’s super hard to find. But if you do, you’re rewarded with an unexpectedly beautiful 360 deg panorama of Paris, right at the heart of the city.

    PS. Don’t tell anyone!

  • http://www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com Sylvie

    I’ve visited the Eiffel tower twice and walked up both times. There’s always a long line-up for the lift but I found less enthusiasts when it was time to scale this famous landmark. Agree with your other observations though. How would you rate going to the Moulin Rouge or the Lido? They are also among famous Paris ‘things to do’ and I resisted twice. Not sure if I should consider or not next time around.

  • Louise

    Brilliant post!! I’ve been to Paris many times and found all of these things to be true… so glad someone finally put pen to paper to tell the first-timers. Thanks!

  • http://www.joelrunyon.com Joel

    Agreed. Beauvais sucks.

  • http://milesofabbie.com Abbie

    This article was perfect – I bookmarked it for when I (hopefully) take my mom to Paris within the next few years!!!

  • http://katherinebobo.wordpress.com/ katherine stone

    You are forgetting the most beautiful city view of all: The hill of Montemartre at the Sacre coeur, in the 18th arrodissment of Paris. Just be prepared to climb PLENTY of stairs to get there. It is worth it. (Also, make sure it is a sunny/clear day, you wont see the full view when its cloudy) Don’t get caught up in the tourist traps however. There usually aren’t too many people there towards the evening and into the night. You can usually find a well-hidden restaurant in the surrounding area.

  • http://www.motherofalltrips.com Mara

    Your post makes me feel the need to out myself. Do you know that I lived in Paris for nine months and never went to see the Mona Lisa? Then I had had an opportunity to do so when I was there with my two kids last summer and also passed.

    Boy it feels good to get that off my chest :)

    I think these are super recommendations, although we did go up in the Eiffel Tower because my kids really wanted to. And they were so in love with it and I got such magical pictures of them watching through the glass as the elevator went up that it made waiting in line worth it.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Excellen postt! :D Must-sees in Paris don’t deserve the hype. So much more available!

  • Matt Scott

    I agree with Nico, the view from the Samaratain was beautiul, sadly it’s since been closed. Hopefully it will open again some time in the future.

    • http://news.airtreks.com AirTreks Nico

      Oh rats, that’s too bad! Well, things change. It has been 6 or 7 years since I was up there.

      In that case, I’ll change my nomination for best city view to the one from the escalators of the Pompidou Center Museum. Only 180 degrees though.

  • http://carlo-alcos.com Carlo

    I’ve now been to Paris a handful of times, but I remember the first time, back in 2004, and trying to find the Bastille…it was marked on my map and I was at that busy roundabout looking around and around…I finally figured all you get is a monument. I was expecting…well, I don’t know what I was expecting, a building of some sort I suppose.

  • Matt Scott

    Absolutely, there are great views from up there. The Printemps department store is also a pretty good place for a free view.

  • will

    I would disagree with the eiffel tower comment. if you are in any sort of reasonable shape and show up early the line to take the stairs up to the main platform is really short. not worth the wait for the lifts, but definitely worth a climb up-or maybe im just an architecture student

  • http://AmateurTraveler.com Chris (Amateur WTraveler)

    I agreed with everything except the part about not going to Nice. Sure I would not go to Nice for the beach, those aren’t even pebbles they are stones. But the old part of Nice, especially at night is terrific. And how can you dislike a city with both good French food and good Italian food. We stayed in a flat in Nice and loved it.

  • Chase

    I couldn’t agree more about the Mona Lisa! I went to the Louvre on Bastille Day (when it’s free) and you could tell where Mona Lisa was just by the direction everybody was running in. I sat in front of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People for ten minutes reflecting while only a couple other people meandered through (on Bastille Day!!).

    I disagree about the Eiffel Tower. It’s an incredible view from the top and, seriously, could you ever go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower? Two tips to make the trip up faster:
    1) Walk up. You can’t walk all the way, but you can walk to the second platform. Additionally, the ticket line for the walk-up tickets is a lot shorter than the ticket line for the elevator.
    2) Go early. Go right when it opens. Much fewer people.

  • http://www.ruemeynadier.com Evan Bench

    Nice list and article. Just a few details to add/change please:

    Mona Lisa: Yes, I’d agree. I’ve been in that area many times and it’s a bit disappointing BUT, just across the hallway from the entrance to where the Mona Lisa is displayed are 2 works by Leonardo da Vinci that are even better (and more interesting) and just a couple people even notice they’re there (and no 3 inch thick glass).

    But seriously, I still like going to see the Mona Lisa simply for the amusement of hundreds of people straining to take a photo of it.

    les Deux Magots: this cafe (famous in the Amelie movie) was updated this year and is actually a fun place to go. Of course popular with the 20-30 something tourtists but surprisingly a lot of French young people go there (maybe to try to meet 22 year old film buffs!).

    Laperouse: Have to disagree but only about the price… This is a strange place to go and is very unique (and dates back to the 17th century). The small reception rooms were once a secret meeting place when one wanted to do out with ones mistress. But, the prices are very high. Dinner for 2 was well over 200 euros.

    I actually like Café de Flore. Especially upstairs in the winter. The chocolate is good (not as good as Angelina’s but it’s good). sure, it can be touristy but it’s still a fun experience. For an alternative, check out La Rotonde in Montparnasse (the big 1920′s and 30′s hangout for ex-pats). It can be touristy but also has a sizable French crowd. The faux-art and service are really a unique experience.

    Eifel Tower: in the winter it’s more manageable to get in. they also have a small skating rink that is open in January. And the lines can be shorter if you use the stairs. But, during the peak season it’s really tough to get into (go early – real early is best way). Alternative view (and free): Go to the rooftop of Gallery Lafayette. It’s a popular place at lunch time. You’ll see all sorts just having lunch up there enjoying the marvelous view. Great place to catch some sun (weather permitting).

    • http://www.ruemeynadier.com Evan Bench

      One more thing to add: Alternative to Nice: Cassis or Bandol. Cassis is in the middle of the Calanques (enormous and beautiful cliffs along the sea). The beaches accessible only by boat are breathtaking. There is almost no sand – instead smooth rock surfaces and pebbles. The village itself is very charming and while quite touristy it’s still a great experience for a few days. If you must have real sand, drive a bit further east to Bandol – not as charming as Cassis but nice beaches (and not as crowded as Nice).

    • Matt Scott

      Evan,
      Thanks for your comments and thoughts. About Laperouse, you’re right it’s a very expensive restaurant, but every lunch their tasting menu is just 45 E. They also have a few evenings every month where you can sample their dinner selection for the same price.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/egypt/nickrowlands/travel-blog Nick

    I’ve not been to Paris since I was a teenager, but this sounds like solid advice!

    Wasn’t there some story about a French artist that hated the Eiffel Tower so much that he ate there every day, saying it was the only place in the city he couldn’t see it! Dunno if this is true, but I like to believe it.

    I’ve been up that sand dune in Bordeaux. My brother stepped in dog poo (barefoot) and then got bitten by a spider! Fun times.

    What’s wrong with Marseille, though? I thought it was great!

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Haha…what a great comment Nick. It had elements of everything.

  • http://www.minimatt.com Matt

    I agree with most of what was said about the do’s and dont’s. However, I think Nice is a city with breath taking views and is a must for travelers going to France. As mentioned before, the food is amazing there and of course you have Monaco which is a short train ride away. All in all, seeing as the article’s title is, “What NOT to do in Paris.” I would have to side with the author but for a different reason. If you visit Paris, visit Paris. Don’t try to trek too far because you’ll lose out on all the amazing things to do there.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      I absolutely love France and have traveled around it pretty extensively. I don’t like Nice though.

      But very good point about sticking to Paris and really seeing what it has to offer. I would also venture into the surrounding suburbs of Paris. We camped twice, once to the north west and once to the southeast. We biked into Paris once (and had to bike back to our campground at 1:30 AM as we just missed the last train), really cool experience…so get out there.

    • Matt Scott

      My argument is not strickly against Nice per se, while it’ not my favourite city it does have it’s charms. I put it on this list as it seems that practically anyone who goes beyond Paris has Nice on their list, yet there is SO much more to France than simply Paris and Nice.
      I think every country suffers from a problem of a tourist route, where much of the country is forgotten, I find it a shame that Nice is far from the country’s most charming nor interesting city.

  • http://discover-paris.blogspot.com Discover Paris

    Your list will come in handy for me as i’m going to Paris at the end of December so thanks.
    And about Tour Montparnasse, you are absolutely right, an amazing view without having to wait an eternity.

    When i’ll be back i’ll post lots of photos from Paris on my blog, and probably some nice articles too, maybe you can take a look at it.

  • Zack

    Hello,

    I believe people can get mixed ideas from your article, Being a well traveled person anybody who has not been to Paris will definitely be wanted advice. By reading Do’s and Dont’s they will most likely take your advice. Skipping the Mona Lisa? Yes I do know that its an extremely overcrowded attraction, but I believe giving advice to not see a piece of history is not in the best interest of traveling spirit.

    I do like how you put alternatives to all major attractions. Ingenious, and a time saver. Although I have not been to Paris I look forward to going next week. I’ll try some of your tips.

    Thankyou for the writing. Keep it up.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Not bad points Zack. My suggestion would be to temper your expectations of the Mona Lisa. Most people walk away disappointed because they get all hyped up about it. If you’re an art and history buff, you’ll go see it no matter what anyone says. But I don’t think you should just go see it because it’s the “thing to do” while in Paris. Travel is not about ticking things off a list.

  • http://www.minimatt.com Matt

    I don’t think Zack’s comments make it sound like seeing the Mona Lisa is part of “ticking off a list.” It’s like he said, in “the spirit of traveling.” To be able to do what you have always dreamed of doing and seeing. I have seen the Mona Lisa several times myself, but I was never disappointed because I expected what I saw. We should never discourage some one’s heart to travel there and see the things they always dreamed of.

    Zack: Paris is a beautiful place to visit during the holiday season. Usually the city is well decorated and great to walk through even though it can get quite cold. I hope your trip is a fantastic one! In regards to the Mona Lisa and the Louvre, do be sure to see the many other amazing exhibits they have like the article points out. I was a personal fan of the Egyptian one, I had never seen a real mummy until I went there!

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Yeah, I know, and that comment wasn’t a direct response to his comment. It kind of just tailed off into that.

  • Zack

    Then I stand corrected on the purpose of the article. Thank you all for the help

  • http://girlnearthebay.tumblr.com Jessica

    Unfortunately, I have done most of these things more than once. Climbing the Eiffel Tower was a fun experience, the Mona Lisa is absolutely NOT incredible (unlike the Egyptian rooms) and Nice… IS AMAZING!!

  • Keith

    Much simpler way to avoid the crowds for Mona Lisa – Check which night the Louvre stays open late (until 8), and show up at 5.

  • http://www.viajandoblog.es david

    just reading that la dune de pile is in bordeaux… the article loses all the credibility it could have

    • http://theworldistoobig.wordpress.com Matt Scott

      Thanks for pointing that out David, it should have indeed read close to Bordeaux.

    • Toto

       it’s close enough though ;-)

  • Juan antonio

    Hi i just recently get divorce and i have a week Tour to france Paris i read All Tour advice of what dó not to dó In paris!

    Can you tell me what chances i have to meet cool girls and have a good memory og Paris??
    Thanks!!

  • Vincent

    Honestly I would not avoid Bastille is a great district, it is overly touristy and fake like Montmartre or Saint Germains des Près.
    Now we can ask what want to see the tourists, the touristy Paris with the hollywood steroetypes or the real Paris, a multicultural city 12 million inhabitants ?

  • Gwan

    I lived in Nice for 7 months, and while I agree it’s not the most cultured or attractive city in all of France, I feel you’re selling it a bit short. I know your point was more “don’t just blindly go to Nice without thinking it through”, but it actually has some great free museums & cheap and easy access to some of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes you’ll find anywhere. While I was there, I walked the whole way along the coast from Nice to Ventimiglia in Italy, doing a few hours at a time then taking the bus back (1 euro) when I got tired, then picking up where I left off the next time I had free time and fine weather. That’s not practical if you’re only there for a few days, of course, but that doesn’t mean that anyone couldn’t enjoy an amazing walk (I would recommend walking from Nice over Mt Boron to Villefranche if you pick just one walk) and bus trips to other beautiful spots like Antibes or Beaulieu/Cap Ferrat. Monaco is ugly, boring and overrated (feel free to disagree of course) but most people still want to see it.

  • Peachcake187187

    What a dumb article.

  • Sam Murray

    Disagree about Beauvais. I know, I hate it as much as anybody but I’ve lived in Paris for 7 months and I’m sorry, even with the extra 30 euros for roundtrip to Beauvais, you still can’t beat Ryanair’s prices for travel. 18€ roundtrip to Pisa? Besides, you also have to pay to get to DeGaulle and Orly..

  • Lynn Chou

    Brilliant! Sometimes I feel a lot of these “don’t do” posts are not relevant or far away from the truth. Although we definitely did some of the “don’ts” that are on your list while in Paris, I have to agree with you.

    1. Mona Lisa – I still have pictures of the little Mona Lisa painting with hundreds of people’s heads in the pictures. lol
    6. Can’t agree with you more! The chance is that the most famous cafes have let their reputation get around and become really touristy. There are so many hidden gems in Paris to explore!
    7. Haha I laughed when I saw this one. Nice is nothing more than an ugly, crowded pebble beach! And after living in Southern France for some time, I realized there are so many gorgeous places to visit on the French Riviera (and totally agreed – Marseille is not one of them!). Some of my personal favorites include Sete, Six Fours, Hyeres (Porquerolles), etc.

    Thanks again for the post! :)

  • Sam Mercadante

    Some of these are great, but I completely disagree with a couple of others…

    1. DO climb the Eiffel Tower! In fact, climb all of the climbable things in Paris, including the Centre Pompidou, the towers of Notre Dame, and Printemps (the department store). Just always take the stairs, and get there a little earlier than you think you should.

    2. DO see the Mona Lisa…just go on a Wednesday or Friday night, when the Louvre is open until almost 10 pm and the crowds have majorly dissipated.

    3. I haven’t been to Nice, but Marseilles is a wonderful city to spend a couple of days in, plus the countryside around it makes for some incredible hiking. Look up the G.R.s – hiking trails all over France that are maintained by the government, and that vary in difficulty.

  • Swarnamala Arjun

    Nice is actually a beautiful city.. I lived there for 2 yrs and still think its a wonderful place to live.

  • Lisa

    My husband and I went to the Louvre with museum passes and skipped the line when it opened. We saw the Mona Lisa before the crowds were there. Unfortunately we did not see Liberty leading the People because it was on loan. But you can do things in Paris with planning.

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