What not to do in Paris as a tourist

Slow Paris

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me for advice on what to do in Paris as a tourist. Truth is, there is no perfect answer. It depends! There are people who like to hit all the tourist spots and call it a day. On the other end, are those people who like to try and recreate what a local’s experience of the city could be. Between these two ends of the spectrum, there is a whole host of possibilities and many ways to discover Paris. So, do take my notes on what not to do in Paris as a tourist, with a pinch of salt.

If you are only looking to climb the Eiffel Tower, or follow a bucket list, this list might be pretty useless for you. But if you have some time on your hand, or if you are curious about what life in Paris is like beyond its famous landmarks, you might find some point to jump-off from for your Paris plans.

By the way, if Paris’ sanitation situation is of any interest to you, read my thoughts on whether Paris is as dirty as some people seem to think. Now, on to the things you should not do.

Do not be shy to say Bonjour!

Bonjour is not just a greeting, but starting point for all social interactions in France. For the French, politeness dictates that every social exchange should begin with a bonjour. According to Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau in the best-selling book “The Bonjour Effect” (2016), for French people, “Saying bonjour is so automatic, the French hardly notice when you say it. But they notice when you don’t.”

So, whether it be to a server at a restaurant or a stranger in the street you ask directions from, always begin with bonjour. This will win you many points even if you do not speak another word of French. 

Do no stick only to the famous attractions

I have heard many people reducing the breadth of things to see in Paris to the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. But one of the largest cities in Europe, Paris offers a rich diversity of experiences from one Parisienne arrondissement (Parisian district) to another.

The French capital has many noteworthy gems tucked away in different parts of the city. These include places like Canal Saint Martin in the bohemian 11th district of Paris, urban village like Butte-aux-Cailles, with its incredible street art, and iconic flea markets like Les Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen for the vintage lovers. For nature lovers, these are plenty of gardens and urban green spaces to explore too.

So, do not stick only to the places around the main Parisian attractions, because believe-it-or-not, Paris has even more to offer in terms of art, culture and its joie de vivre.

Paris cafe terrace in Montmartre with tourists and locals enjoying the sun
Take your time to enjoy the café culture. This particular spot is in Montmartre, in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur.

Do not leave your best outfits at home

People in Paris are some of the best-dressed in Europe. Indeed, it has been the fashion capital of the world for centuries. So, do pack all your best outfits. Parisians in general tend to veer towards understated but impeccable classic styles rather than loud fashion trends.

On another note, when it comes to shoes, you definitely need to put comfort ahead of style. In Paris, you would be walking a lot, even inside metro stations as well as to get from point A to point B near the main attractions (such as Eiffel Tower and Jardin des Tuileries). So comfortable shoes have to be a priority.

Do not miss dining in the many Michelin star restaurants in Paris

The Michelin Guide, which is used to rate the excellence and quality of restaurants worldwide, was developed and introduced by France. That’s another indicator among many, as to how important fine dining and gastronomy is to the French.  Paris has some of the best Michelin star restaurants in the world and the good news is that, there are many price points at which one could enjoy them here. Just remember to make reservations ahead of times since tables at these places are always in-demand here.

One tip to save money while enjoying fine dining, is to visit restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. Many Micheline restaurants serve superb lunch menus for way cheaper than dinner menus. Michelin even compiled a list of the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. Prices for lunch menu at one of these Paris restaurants start for as little as €45!

Do not rely only on cabs

The Paris public transport systems is one of the oldest and most well-connected in the world. With a simple Navigo pass, you can travel across Paris and its suburbs. So, when it comes to moving around Paris, do not depend only on cabs. Depending on the neighborhood and distance to be covered, cabs could sometimes be a longer and slower alternative to the Paris metro.

In fact, in recent times, Paris has been providing more space to pedestrians and bicycle-lanes by barring cars and other automobiles from many areas in the city.

A Parisian woman in a bike with a basked full of flowers
Paris is slowly transforming into one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe

Do not shop for food and groceries only at super-markets

If you need to buy food or groceries during your stay here, do not stick only to the supermarkets. The culture of les petits commerçants or small businesses, is still alive and thriving in France.

Even in Paris, you would find a lot of people shopping in their neighborhood fromagerie (cheese shop), bouchère (butcher) or épicerie (grocery shop) instead of going to the supermarkets. The shopkeepers are usually very happy to help you choose the best ingredients and products. For example, at the caviste (wine seller), its normal to share what food you want to be eating with your wine, or your preference. They can then advise you on what wine pairs best with your meal.

To get a flavour of Parisian life, you can also visit one of the many farmers’ markets in Paris. Here, you can find delicious food and drinks, along with many kinds of locally made French snacks.

Do not forget to factor in French opening hours

The randomness of opening hours for businesses and services in France, can really take some time to wrap your head around. It’s difficult even for the locals! Different shops and restaurants in Paris (and generally in France), operate according to their own timings. Thus, you can have vastly different opening and closing hours from one place to the next.

Additionally, its very common for many shops to take lunch breaks, and there is no standard timings for these as well. The above is usually not the case in big departmental stores.

Again, many restaurants close on certain days of the week. The chosen days differ as per the preference of the establishment. So, always check timings for restaurants, cafes and shops you want to visit, ahead of time. You can access this info easily on Google or on the business’ website. Also note, many small businesses might not update their information online.

A woman shopping for vegetables at a farmer's market in Paris
Shopping at a farmer’s market will give you a chance to experience Paris the way locals do

Do not stick only to baguettes and croissants!

Baguettes and croissants have by now become Paris icons in their own right. Of course, you will be eating a lot of these in Paris, because they are absolutely delicious. Trust me, I know! I wrote a whole article on what makes croissants so delicious!

But do not make the mistake of not trying other things. There is a staggering variety of breads and pastry in France, and you must not miss out on them! 

Also, just like the French do, always buy your bread only from a boulangerie. It is a term reserved for bakeries that specialising in making their bread in-house, from scratch. A place selling bread without the term ‘boulangerie’ in their shop-front window implies they get their dough from somewhere else.

Again, do not limit yourself only to Paris

Paris is very centrally located in France. It is also very well-connected to the rest of the country via trains and roads. This means that there are many ideal day-trip destinations around the city. While Paris is amazing, its worth getting out of busy Paris and checking out smaller cities and regions. This will provide a facet of French life which is marked different from a Parisian experience.

Some of the must-visit day-trip destinations from Paris are Versailles, Giverny, Loire Valley, Champagne and Mont San Michel. Some other lesser known but equally worthy ones are Chartres, Chevreuse and Auvers-sur-Oise.

The choice of day-trips from Paris is endless! So, if you have some time, do not miss out on experiencing a slice of France outside of Paris.

Do not be in a hurry

Lastly, do not be in a hurry to do everything possible in the shortest amount of time. Being in Paris and having a million things to see and do, can be a lot of pressure. But do not forget to take it slow and really enjoy your stay here.

Do not eat or drink on the go because of the pressure of hitting a certain number of monuments or places. Do not pass up on experiences like having a simple picnic by the Seine with a bottle of wine, or spending a whole afternoon reading while sunning yourself at Buttes Chaumont.

Parisian life is also about going back to basics, like taking the time to appreciate the many beautiful things here, enjoying a delicious meal or just taking a long aimless walk in the city.

Take the time to enjoy yourself, for being in Paris will definitely be a memory you will cherish for a lifetime.

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