Updated September 2018
Even though sightseeing is fairly easy in a landmarked packed city like Paris, there are quite a few errors that can be done while being around. Honestly, nothing is crucial and you probably won’t accidentally insult someones 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 have an easy solution, read on and just don’t do them!
#1 Bring big luggage
Paris is known to be the fashion capital and it’s just very tempting for bringing a lot of outfits. But you should not do the mistake and travel with an oversize luggage – especially if you plan to take public transportation. 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 are very often very packed – especially around rush hour. You might run into difficulties to fit into a train – even without an oversize bag. Save yourself from stress and travel light.
Check out the bags below to get an idea what I mean by travelling light – don’t miss our Paris packing list to know what to pack in order to be prepared for every occasion!
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#2 Pay for water in restaurants
“Can you drink tap water in Paris?” is a frequently asked question from people from all over the world that are visiting Paris. In short: Yes, you absolutely can and most (if not to say everyone) are doing it.
If you go out for dinner, do it like the Parisians and ask for a “caraffe d’eau” instead of buying expensive bottled water. The waiter will bring you a pitcher of tap water that is free, and absolutely safe to drink. Maybe you’ll notice a faint chloral smell but don’t worry about it, it is really clean and safe!
However, if you are not fond of the chlorine taste, I advise to buy a filter bottle, for example from LifeStraw. It prevents you from buying dozens of plastic water bottles (zero waste ftw!) as you simply can refill your bottle as you go. Paris has a huge amount of fountains that provides free potable water and is a paradise in this regard for everyone that tries to avoid plastic waste. Even if the 2 stage filter system of LifeStraw is a bit overkill for Paris, the carbon filter does reduce odours and bad tastes – also the faint chlorine smell that you find in Parisian tap water. (just note that the Parisian chlorine concentration in tap water is not the same than in a pool 🙂 Don’t use a LifeStraw to filter pool water! Ever!)
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Talking about restaurants! Don’t miss our restaurant guide for vegans and vegetarians!
#3 Buy your entrance tickets NOT in advance
I totally get that you wanna stay flexible and not 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 simple risk not to be able to enter if you did not buy your billet in advance.
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. Check here for your Paris tickets or click on the sights below:
#4 Avoid public transportation
Public transportation can be very intimidating when having the option and 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 but in a nutshell: the automates are multilingual and you just need the base ticket if you stay inside town – if you don’t opt in for a Paris Visit or Navigo Semaine pass (check our public transportation post for more info on ticketing)
#5 Take a hotel in the suburbs
Even though there is nothing really wrong with staying outside the city, but it’s just not like as if you’d be staying in Paris, as simply as this. 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; you won’t regret it.
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 north east of Paris.
Check out the Deals below and get some nice reductions. If you are traveling as a family, read also our Family Budget Hotel guide with the best hotels with family rooms under 100€
#6 Throw away your Metro or train 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.
For more information on how to use the Parisian public transport system, check our guide
#7 Be unaware of scams
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 equally if someone approaches you for whatever reason, wants to sell you 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 since more than 12 years and in all those years I had my wallet stolen once: When I stupidly laid my wallet carelessly ON my bag when trying to navigate a stroller through the metro’s turnstile. Learnt a life lesson.
If you’re worried about your belongings that you leave in your hotel room while exploring Paris, you really should look into getting a Pacsafe! You can read more about it here.
#8 Visit only the top sights
Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Montmartre, the Champs Élysées… that’s the sights you absolutely MUST see when visiting Paris – find out here which Parisian spots popular travel bloggers like the most! – But don’t do the mistake and forget to plan in some time to discover the secret Paris off the beaten paths. You don’t need to find Paris’ most hidden street or Paris’ smallest Café to be up to date with the unusual. It is enough to sit down for an hour in a bar that is NOT in a tourist area and do some people watching. Soak up the atmosphere. I’ll promise you see more of the real Paris in this short time than a walk up the tower could ever grant you.
#9 Skip the audio guide at 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 the 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 Audioguide of the Louvre.
I have been to the Louvre a few months ago and I am by far not passionate of 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 Audio guide comes as a Nintendo DS and guides you through the Louvre, tells you were to look and what not to miss. It provides you with interesting facts about the master pieces 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 that I just don’t get to something interesting and fun.
#10 Pack high heels
Paris is THE fashion metropolis and if you’re following just a wee bit what’s going on on cat walks and fashion week, you know there are heels all around. However, what’s happening during fashion week, stays at 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.
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You might also like: What to wear in Paris? Pack for a trip in style!
#11 Eat at Saint Michel
There are a trillion restaurants in Paris, choose one that is not at St.Michel. 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…. it might sound like pretty good arguments. 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 but you are low on funds, have lunch in a traditional Brasserie. Lunch menus are usually cheaper than dinners. For 12€ you get at least a Starter/Main or Main/Dessert and you can be sure that the food in any average Brasserie is better than what you get in St.Michel. If you are unsure which place is good, take the amount 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 🙂
#12 Don’t take a Cruise on the Seine
This stands probably in a 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 on Paris than from that boat. It completely changes the perspective on everything you explored already by feet, and shows you more that you have not seen, yet. Plus: it’s even a quite inexpensive activity to do!
#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)
#14 Don’t speak a little french
The French are owning the reputation of not speaking any other language then 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 regards, 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 even change completely their attitude towards you – and with it their willingness to help you, serve you, speak english or simply be friendly 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 ways to brush up your french skills! Check here for a few of them!
#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 a seat while they are 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 – and if you’re lucky, you get a nice reduction as the cherry on the cake – check it out here!
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