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Last updated: March 27, 2023
Traveling to Paris for the first time? Want some tips for what tourists should keep in mind in order to have an authentic experience in the City of Light? Avoid these common mistakes to have your best, hassle-free trip to Paris.
1. Overplanning Your Itinerary
There is so much to see and do in Paris, but if your plans don’t include some downtime, you’ll be too rundown and exhausted to actually enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Be selective and choose your activities wisely. In keeping to a few activities per day, you’ll have time to experience a very important French word: flâner—strolling aimlessly around with no goal or endpoint in mind. Who knows what you’ll stumble upon!
2. Taking Public Transportation Everywhere
Paris is relatively small, and many of the touristy sights are centrally located. Something that surprised me when I first came to Paris was the fact that walking can sometimes get you to your destination faster than taking the subway. Strike a balance between walking and taking public transportation. The metro is fast and easy to navigate, but be sure to take the bus as well so you can admire the architecture in between stops!
3. Choosing Fashion Over Comfort
Take your cue from Emily in Paris and basically wear the exact opposite of her outfits. I know you’ve heard that you need to up your style game in Paris, but for the love of croissants, please bring a comfortable pair of shoes that you can walk around in all day. Between museum visits, standing in lines, and strolling the cobblestone sidewalks, your feet will thank you for choosing something practical. In addition, keep in mind that the weather can change very quickly in Paris, so be prepared with appropriate clothing and a compact umbrella.
4. Booking a Hotel in the Suburbs
It’s true that accommodations in Paris can be expensive. Many people try to save money by staying outside of Paris proper. This results in a major loss of time when you might already be on a limited schedule. Surely you won’t want to waste your precious time in Paris with a daily commute into the city!
You certainly don’t have to stay in a hotel right in the city center, but make sure that you are near a good metro stop that will get you where you need to go. Keep in mind that public transportation doesn’t run all night, so you’ll need to factor in time to get back after your long day (unless you want to spend money on a taxi!).
5. Staying in the Wrong Arrondissement
Every arrondissement (neighborhood) in Paris has its own personality. I can’t tell you where you should stay because I don’t know what kind of trip you are expecting. Do you want to be steps away from the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement or do you want to be right in the middle of foodie central in the 10th and 11th arrondissements? Maybe you like the charm of the Marais in the 3rd and 4th or you want to go all out on a luxury trip and stay on the Champs-Élysées in the 8th. Pick your own adventure!
6. Falling for Tourist Scams
Surrounded by such charm and beauty, it’s easy to forget that the City of Light is also full of scammers and pickpockets. As is the case in most big cities, remain vigilant and keep your valuables in a safe spot. On a more specific note, stay away from the women who ask you to sign a petition, and avoid the guys trying to tie bracelets on your wrists without your permission. You’ll probably want to keep clear of any gambling you see around a game of three cups and a ball. There’s not a chance you’ll win that game!
7. Making No Effort With the Language
It’s ok if you do not speak French fluently or even anywhere close to that. You should, however, make an effort with some basic words. Say Bonjour when you enter a store and Au revoir on your way out. Learn some words and phrases so you can be polite. French people will appreciate the effort, and the service you receive will reflect that.
8. Eating in Touristy Areas
France is well-known for its delicious cuisine, but you’re unlikely to find a good and reasonably-priced meal if you’re within sight of the Arc de Triomphe. Before sitting down at the nearest brasserie, walk 10 minutes away from whichever important landmark you just visited, and you should be able to find something more authentic. As a general rule of thumb, restaurants and cafés near museums and monuments are not going to give you the real experience you’re hoping for.
9. Paying for Water
The water in Paris is safe to drink straight from the tap. There are water fountains all around the city where you can get a cool drink of water for free. In the summer, you can even find temporary sparkling water fountains! I always carry a small reusable water bottle on me so that I can easily stay hydrated.
At any restaurant, water also has to be provided for free if you ask for it. In some touristy areas, waiters might try to take advantage and serve you bottled water which would obviously need to be paid for. To avoid this happening, simply ask for une carafe d’eau, and they’ll bring out a pitcher of free tap water.
10. Stopping Abruptly on the Sidewalk
The presence of tourists might annoy the average Parisian, but I don’t mind seeing people loving on my favorite city. I mean, it’s not on my ‘pros’ list when considering life in Paris, but I don’t hate tourists. What does irritate me about tourists though is when they stop abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk to check their maps or gawk at some building. Take all the photos you want—but step over to the side first!
11. Using Your Regular Mobile Phone Plan
When traveling to France, you’ll definitely need phone service for navigation and staying in touch with your loved ones. International roaming can quickly add up if you don’t research the options and subsequent charges beforehand. I can’t imagine traveling abroad without a reliable cell phone data plan, but I also don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it.
Many mobile providers offer an international plan, and while activating this type of service is easy, it can be relatively expensive and not as dependable. Get yourself a local SIM card ahead of time with a trustworthy network.
12. Ignoring Upcoming Strikes & Protests
Strikes and protests are an inevitable part of the culture in France. It’s very likely that some kind of demonstration or rally will be taking place during your visit to the capital. There’s no reason to panic, but it is important to plan ahead so that your itinerary doesn’t get unexpectedly derailed by cordoned-off areas or metro closures. Navigating Paris during a strike or protest can be chalked up to an important “cultural experience” if you will!
13. Spending Your Entire Trip in Paris
There is more to France than Paris. Travel outside of the capital to expand your view and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer. With Paris as your starting point, you can quickly and easily get to many other points of interest by train. Granted, this advice only applies if you will be in Paris for a longer period of time. Otherwise, refer back to mistake number one about overscheduling 😉
What do you think about this list of mistakes that tourists typically make in Paris? Have you made any of these mistakes? Share you story in the comments and give some advice!