15 mistakes you should not make when visiting Paris
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Updated: October 2020
Even though sightseeing is fairly easy in Paris, the city holds still quite a few flaws and pitfalls. Honestly, nothing is crucial when it comes to “what not to do in Paris” and it’s quite unlikely that you accidentally insult someone’s mother. (if you actually managed to do so, please share your story in the comments. I am interested!) However, there are a few mistakes you easily can make in Paris – mistakes that either cost you money, time, or comfort. But I am here to help you out. No matter if you spend one day in Paris or one week, read on and know how not to do those mistakes!!
If you have further questions, want to meet other Paris travelers, or locals, feel free to join our Salut from Paris Facebook community! (it’s free!)
Enough of talking, here are my absolute best tips:
Mistake #1 – Buy your tickets for the Louvre & Co. NOT in advance
→Click here to see all available tickets for Paris’ landmarks
I totally get that you wanna stay flexible and not to stress out about schedules while being on vacation. But when it comes to admission tickets for sights and activities in Paris, you have to make an exception. Especially at the Catacombs – you simply risk not being able to enter if you did not buy your billet in advance.
Edit: The same applies to the Eiffel Tower! It even happened to me just recently; I wanted to organize a spontaneous and mom-and-son day and there were absolutely no tickets available for the 10 days to come! (you can purchase them online in advance here)
Covid-19 Info: Due to safety measurements, tickets are not sold on-site anymore for most of the Parisian sights. You only can buy them in advance – for example here or click on the landmarks below)
Good to know: most activities booked with Get your Guide (click here to know more) can be canceled free of charge (!) up to 24h before!
You also need to plan ahead and pre-purchase your tickets if you plan to get “skip the line” or “fast pass” tickets – most sights are not selling them on-site and you have to book them in advance with a tour operator. But there is still room for flexibility if your plans change, many tickets can be canceled up to 24h before, free of charge! Check here for tickets for the most popular sights
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit multiple sights, check if the Paris City Pass is valuable for you. It grants free skip-the-line admission to more than 60 sights (amongst other the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe), attractions and tours and includes also a boat ride on the Seine.
Mistake #2 – Bring big luggage
Paris is known to be the fashion capital and it’s just very tempting to bring a lot of outfits. But you should not do the mistake and travel with an oversized suitcase – especially if you plan to use public transportation. (Don’t miss our Paris packing guide for traveling light!) First, most Metro and train stations are not barrier-free. This means: you have to carry your luggage up and down the stairs and you can really trust me here: there are LOADS of stairs. 2nd, public transportation is very often very packed, especially around rush hour. You likely will run into difficulties actually fit yourself AND your luggage into a train. Save yourself from stress and travel light.
Don’t miss: The best Airport to Paris guide
I personally think that wheeled backpacks or duffle bags are a perfect fit for any travel situation in Paris. Check out the bags below to get an idea .. also, check our Paris packing list to know what to pack in order to be prepared for every occasion![amazon_link asins=’B019TQOQ2I,B07JZFSCFJ,B008HY6K96,B06Y1P4BWT’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’fouronaworl0f-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1e4e300f-c46d-4b40-8a61-57a56fbc4749′]
Mistake #3 – Avoid public transportation
→Click here to buy a Paris Pass
Public transportation can be very intimidating when having the option and/or the funds of taking a cab or an Uber. But you really miss out on something, especially if you want to see a bit of the non-touristic Paris. Check our guide on public transportation if you need more info.
In a nutshell: the ticket machines are multilingual and you just need the base ticket if you stay inside Paris – if you don’t opt-in for a Paris Visit or Navigo Semaine pass (More info here)
If you plan to move around a lot and visit a lot of sights and landmarks, the Paris City Pass might be a great option for you – aside from granting you free admission to Paris’ most popular sights and tours, it also includes free admission for public transportation in Paris.
Mistake #4 – Book a hotel in the suburbs
Even though there is nothing really wrong with staying outside the city limits, it’s just not as if you’d be staying in Paris. If you see yourself in a typical Parisian setting with little cafés, iconic streetscapes, and the cosmopolitan flair – then you better take a hotel in Paris. I promise you won’t regret it!
I know it can be a bit overwhelming though to find the perfect hotel in Paris. There are more than 2000 hotels, after all, not to mention countless Airbnb!
I put together a few posts to help you through this jungle and offer you some guidance:
- Find the best district to stay in: Paris’ neighborhood guide
- Paris on a budget: The 5 best Ibis Hotels in Paris
- Family Hotels in Paris: Were to stay in Paris with kids
- Romantic budget trip to Paris: Hotels for couples
If you’re unsure regarding safety – on the bottom line, there is no really bad area in Paris, but if you can pick, I’d skip the areas in the very north and northeast of Paris.
Looking for good deals? Check out the offers below and get some nice reductions:
Mistake #5 – Throw away your Metro or train ticket
I read often something along the line of “I bought a ticket but got fined anyway, they ripped us off knowing we’re tourists!”
A horrible feeling, isn’t it? But what happened?
Visitors experience this when they either bought the wrong ticket or lost/trashed it.
Even though buying the wrong ticket can be seen as an honest mistake, you’ll still be fined when controlled. But there are some simple guidelines on how to avoid it:
- purchase an adult ticket for everyone from the age of 10 (means: if your child is 10 years old, they need an adult ticket)
- purchase a child ticket for every kid from the age of 4 (means: if your child is 4 years old, you need a child ticket, you won’t get fined if you purchase an adult ticket, but starting from 4, kids don’t ride free)
- only buy tickets from official vending machines and NOT from vendors offering you a cheaper price (those tickets are often child tickets and you guessed right: you’ll be fined). It’s a popular tourist scam by the way – read more about Paris tourist scams!
- Keep in mind that the base tickets are only valid in Paris and direct suburbs.
And the No.1 rule: do not throw away your Metro ticket!
Just do not throw it away. Not after you passed the turnstile, not when being in the Metro or RER, and not before you left the station at your destination. As a passenger, you are obliged to carry the proof of purchase aka ticket at all times with you while using the service. Depending on the station, you might even need it for leaving the station. If you get caught without a ticket, you’ll be fined. No exception made.
For more information on how to use the Parisian public transport system, check our guide
Mistake #6 – Believe you can’t get scammed
You know the drill: if you arrive somewhere beautiful, you can be sure that scammers and thieves have been there before you. Paris is, unfortunately, no exception to this vexatious matter. The basic rule is to be wary – in public transports and generally in crowds. But also if someone approaches you for whatever random reason, wants to sell tickets on the streets, or tries to knot a friendship bracelets around your wrist.
But don’t get paranoid; I am sure that you’ll be all fine if you just take care of your things. I am living in Paris for more than 15 years and in all those years I had my wallet stolen once: When I stupidly placed my wallet carelessly ON my bag when trying to navigate a stroller through the metro’s turnstile. Learned a life lesson there.
I asked other travelers recently about scams that they have witnessed or experienced and we could assemble a decent list of Scams in Paris that I really think you should know about. Click here to see the entire list!
Mistake #7 – Visit only the top sights
Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre, the Champs Élysées… those are the sights you absolutely MUST see when visiting Paris – But don’t do the mistake to stop there. Absolutely plan in some time to discover Paris off the beaten paths.
You don’t need to find Paris’ most hidden street or Paris’ smallest Café to discover the unusual. It is already enough to sit down in a café that is NOT located in a tourist area and do some people watching. Soak up the atmosphere. I’ll promise you to see more of the real Paris in this short time, than a walk up the tower could ever grant you.
Mistake #8 – Skip the audio guide at the Louvre
→Click here to buy tickets for the Louvre!
Really. Unless you are an art and Louvre expert or a tourist guide, don’t miss out on this wonderful tool. I know that reflex to immediately back off and say “thanks, I am good” if someone tries to sell you a little extra. Most of the time it’s indeed just the extra that pulls the bucks off your pocket. But this does NOT apply for the official (!)Audioguide of the Louvre.
I have been to the Louvre a few months ago and I am by far not passionate about art – rather the opposite. The Audio Guide of the Louvre made me enjoy this museum so so much, that I am planning to go there even a 2nd time. The Audioguide comes as a Nintendo DS and guides you through the Louvre, tells you where to look, and what not to miss. It provides you with interesting facts about the masterpieces and if you want, you can get extra info on whatever exhibit you’re looking at (well, most of the pieces). It was really engaging and transformed art from something abstract to something interesting and fun.
Up for a sneak preview of the most beautiful paintings in the Louvre?
Mistake #9 – Pack high heels
→Click here to see our guide of best walking shoes for Paris!
Paris is THE fashion metropolis and if you’re following just a wee bit what’s going on on catwalks and fashion week, you know there are heels all around. However, what’s happening during fashion week, stays in fashion week. As soon as it’s over, Parisians slipping back into their comfy shoes: sneakers and flats.
Here’s a selection of sneakers that I see frequently in Paris. Trust me, you can’t do anything wrong by going comfy. However, stick to fashion sneakers – running shoes are for running.
(Tip: Stan Smith sneakers are the classics and will probably remain all-time favorites of the Parisians – Click here to see all models)[amazon_link asins=’B0763RCB53,B00I7HCL00,B078WGDYJ1′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’fouronaworl0f-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’64afbb36-ef1b-4757-8763-82eaa396a712′]
You might also like: What to wear in Paris? Pack for a trip in style!
Mistake #10 – Eat close to the St. Michel fountain
There are a trillion restaurants in Paris, choose one that is not close to St.Michel. I am talking especially about this:
The little street Rue de la Harpe looks cozy and Parisian, the food is cheap (a 3-course dinner for 12€!!) and the menu is written in English, German, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi…. it might sound like a pretty good deal. But just do not go there, trust me. There is no place more touristic than this one in Paris and none where you can be as sure as hell to get the worst food for the price.
If you want to eat out are on a budget, have lunch in a traditional Brasserie. Lunch menus are usually cheaper than dinners if this matters. For 12€ you get at least a Starter/Main or Main/Dessert. Furthermore, you can be sure that you get better food at any average Brasserie than at St.Michel. If you are unsure which place is good, take the number of people that are obviously on lunch break as a reference for the quality. If the food was bad, people would have their break elsewhere 🙂
Mistake #11 – Don’t take a cruise on the Seine
→Click here for Seine cruise schedules and bookings!
This stands probably in big contrast to all those attempts of discovering Paris off the beaten path and to pretend not to be a tourist. But well… sometimes it’s worth to throw those principals overboard and just do what’s good.
Taking a Cruise on the Seine is one of those things that’s worth it. It is, of course, touristic and maybe even cheesy. But let me tell you that you can’t have a nicer view of Paris than from a boat. It completely changes the perspective on everything you explored already by feet and shows you more than you have not seen, yet. Plus: it’s even a quite inexpensive activity to do! Click here to read our full review!
Mistake #12 – Pay for water in restaurants – or anywhere!
“Can you drink tap water in Paris?” It is one of the most frequently asked questions from people from all over the world that are coming to Paris? In short: Yes, you can drink the water in Paris and most Parisians (if not to say all) are doing it every day.
If you go out for dinner, do it like the locals and ask for a “carafe d’eau” (pronounced: “karaff doh”) instead of buying expensive bottled water. The waiter will bring you a pitcher of tap water that is free of charge, and absolutely safe to drink. Maybe you’ll notice a faint chloral smell or taste but don’t worry about it, it is really clean and safe! To get more information on drinking water in Paris to take a look at the paper given out by the town hall.
I advise that you bring your own bottle and use the publicly accessible water resources: Paris has a huge amount of fountains that provide free potable water and is a paradise in this regard for everyone that tries to avoid plastic waste – and that is traveling on a budget!
Talking about zero waste… it’s luckily becoming a thing and there are tons of products out there, that help you to reduce plastic waste. Wanna know more? check here for sustainable travel products From my personal experience, bamboo toothbrushes are great!
You might be also interested in our Vegan Paris post! – Don’t miss our restaurant guide for vegans and vegetarians!
Mistake #13 – Board the Metro before everyone gets out…
…unless you want everyone to hate you. Honestly, there are many Parisians that do not follow this rule; like everywhere else.. but just don’t be one of those people. (Oh, and if there happen to be musicians in your train, don’t clap unless you want everyone roll their eyes on you 😉 )
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Mistake #14 – Don’t speak a little French
→Click here for tips on how to brush up your French in no time!
The French are owning the reputation of not speaking any other language than French and if they do, they refuse to use it. For no apparent reason.
While I have to admit that some Frenchies might be a little special in this regard, there are tons of people who are happy to speak English with you and won’t even make a fuss about it. But either way, you will certainly have a better Paris experience if you bother to speak a little french. People might likely even change their attitude completely towards you – and with it, their willingness to help you, serve you, speak English, or simply be friends with you – if they hear as much as a “Bonjour”. It can be a real magical door opener.
Don’t think you need to be fluent – often a “Bonjour” (Hello) and a friendly “Merci” (Thank you) paired with a smile can work wonders. If you’re too ambitious for the low hanging fruit, there are plenty of ways to brush up your French skills! Check here for a few of them!
Mistake #15 – Don’t book a table if you want to eat somewhere special
If you are interested in food or looking to celebrate a special occasion in Paris, you surely checked already which restaurant would suit the occasion and your taste. If I can give you one advice: Reserve a table, grab it while it’s available. Even if it’s just a normal restaurant and not a Michelin Star place – chances are they are booked out either way and they’ll turn you down. If you know your place, book! You can book a lot of restaurants at La Fourchette – the french version of The Fork – ONLINE – WITHOUT SPEAKING FRENCH and if you’re lucky, you get a nice reduction as the cherry on the cake.
That’s it, you know all my pro tips now. Browse a bit around my page to get more insider information on where to eat, where to stay and what to see and if you have more insider tips, I’d love to hear them! Just leave a comment below 🙂 À bientôt!
If you have any questions about Paris or need some advice and how to plan your trip, don’t hesitate to reach out! I created a Facebook group for this matter and I am available to help you out! Click here to join the Salut from Paris Facebook group!
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