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.
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 nine 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.
One of Paris’s oldest restaurants, for example, offers lunch options for 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.
Do… find yourself a sweet city view.
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.
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 is very close.
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.
Photo: Alex Erde