Paris’s seductive charms are legendary; inviting sidewalk cafes, gleaming boutiques, world-class museums, lots things to do, and its fabled food and restaurant scene make Paris the model of cities, beautiful, fashionable, confident, and inspiring envy at every turn. But to enjoy it you must learn how to avoid the Top 10 mistakes 1st-timers make in the City of Light. So, here is my list of the things not to do in Paris and what to do instead, as follows:
Don’t: Shop exclusively on the Champs-Elysées
The Champs-Elysées may once have been the most beautiful avenue in the world, but its fortunes have risen and fallen many times over the years, and it’s currently overrun with global chain stores, auto dealerships, and movie multiplexes. If you do find yourself nearby, stop to browse at the most original shopping destination on the avenue: Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées, the family-run department store’s very own concept store, featuring emerging and international designers. In a space spanning nearly 70,000 sqf and 4 floors, the shop eschews the usual boundaries in the retail experience, mixing goods from multiple categories for men and women rather than partitioning things into dedicated corners. The experience is meant to be fluid, encouraging shoppers to weave seamlessly from fashion to food to accessories. And if you are going to eat in the neighborhood, take your meal in the store’s well-appointed food court or at Citron, a casual café on the premises dreamed up by Jacquemus designer Simon Porte.
Do: Follow in the Footsteps of Locals
To really shop in Paris these days means to think beyond couture-lined boulevards and packed high streets. The good stuff will be in emerging shopping neighborhoods like the North Marais, where you can shop brands or crafters like Kitsune, Officine Générale, Sessun, or Papier Tigre; rue du Château d’Eau in the 10th arrondissement for accessories and home goods at Atelier Couronnes, Jamini, or La Trésorerie; and right in the center of town at Les Halles for Parisian-designed goods from Sept Cinq or emerging French designers at L’Exception. Even the department stores like Galeries Lafayette Champs Elysées and Printemps are in the business of diversifying their offerings. At Printemps Hommes, the menswear store, you can buy limited-edition collections from the hottest designers of the moment that you won’t find anywhere else.
For old-fashioned ambience, look to Paris’s covered passages. Dating to the 19th Century, these were the city’s 1st malls, and beneath their vaulted ceilings of glass and wrought iron, you will find more unusual wares: antique book dealers, art galleries, quirky toy shops, and more. Galerie Vivienne, just north of the Palais Royal, in the 2nd Arrondissement, is the most elegant of all.
Don’t: Bust the Budget on a Michelin-Starred Dinner
Parisian dining may have gotten decidedly more casual in the last few years, but upscale and formal dining still reigns, and most of it can set you back $400 to $500 a meal. If that does not deter you, book a table for lunch. Many Michelin-starred spots, from Le Clarence to Dame de and Restaurant Sylvestre at Hotel Thoumieux, have reasonably priced lunch menus for less than $150.
Do: Go for Evening Meals at Laid-Back Modern Bistros
Recently, several Michelin-starred chefs have abandoned the rigid confines of haute-cuisine restaurants to open bistros that serve up simpler, outstanding meals. At Yves Camdeborde’s pioneering Le Comptoir du Relais in the 6th Arrondissement, tables are frequently booked months in advance. But once you are sampling Camdeborde’s famous foie gras terrine you will understand why it’s so tough to get a table. If you cannot get in at dinner, try arriving by 11:45a for lunch, reservations are not accepted, so it’s 1st come, 1st served. Michelin-starred chef Jean-Francois Piège is behind 2 popular, lower-priced establishments that play up the best of French terroir, from sustainable produce and a diversity of greens at Clover Green, to masterfully grilled or smoked beef at his modern steakhouse, Clover Grill.
Don’t: Expect to See Everything at the Louvre
It is massive, it is overwhelming, and as travelers, people have a tendency to put pressure on themselves to try to see it all. But Le Louvre is not set up that way. Manage your expectations and make a plan in advance. Rather than trying to achieve the impossible, research the works or wings you absolutely want to visit and aim to spend quality time there, saving the rest for return visits.
Do: Split Your Time Between the Louvre and Smaller Museums
Many of Paris’s smaller museums contain equally important and beautiful art and are often more pleasant. You will find Monet’s famous Nymphéas murals in the Musée de l’Orangerie, at the far end of the Tuileries Gardens; the Musée Marmottan is home to the world’s largest collection of Monets; and the Musée Rodin, housed in a luminous villa with a lovely garden, is one of the most romantic places in all of Paris. Also, there are lots of museums that focus on lighter stuff, including fashion, wine, and money.
Don’t: Commit a Fashion Faux Pas
If you are concerned about sticking out like a tourist thumb, you will want to avoid a few sartorial missteps. Shorts and trendy sneakers are not necessarily off limits anymore, but Parisians will be onto you if those shorts are excessively baggy and have cargo pockets. But above all, avoid the selfie stick altogether, it will secure you the wrath of locals and attract unwanted attention from pickpockets and scam artists.
Do: Dress as the Locals Do
Parisian style is not about dressing to the 9’s. In fact, the French are quite casual these days and have mastered the art of the clean, coordinated look. Here are a few tips to keep your attire simple, tidy, and thoughtfully assembled: neutral colors are always a safe bet; accessorize with a single bold scarf, hat, or jewels; and make sure things fit properly. Complete your outfit with a fitted jacket and the best shoes in your closet. The final effect should look effortless and send a message of confidence.
Don’t: Get Around Town in a Cab or Electric Scooter
Taxis can be hard to come by and cannot be flagged down on the street. Cabbing around town also leaves you vulnerable to Paris’s famously snarled traffic. Coming to a halt on a narrow one-way street, then watching the meter tick ever upward while you are trapped behind a double-parked car. While free-floating electric scooters from companies such as Lime and Bird might look fun and efficient, their proliferation in the city has been the source of much controversy and scores of accidents. Avoiding them means preventing the ire from a majority of locals who want to see them banned from the streets entirely.
Do: Take to Heart the French Word Flâner
While flâner technically means “to stroll,” it more generally suggests “to walk the city in order to experience it“words to live by in the City of Light. The center of Paris is only a couple of miles wide, maps are ubiquitous, and the rewards for taking to the streets on foot include world-class window shopping, observing flirtatious exchanges in sidewalk cafés, and walking off that extra croissant. When going longer distances, take the Métro. From any given spot in Paris, you are never more than 500 yards from the nearest station. The Metro cheaper than a cab and often faster, too.
Don’t: Seek Out Bohemian Ambience on the Left Bank
Sartre and de Beauvoir may have loved Les Deux Magots on the Boulevard St. Germain, but these days, the 1-time hangout of intellectuals has all the authenticity of Times Square. You will not find yourself eavesdropping on any famous philosophers, but you may find yourself focused on the immorality of charging $16 for buttered toast and orange juice.
Do: Find the “Real” Paris on the Canal St. Martin
Bobo, aka bourgeois bohemian, hipsters have laid claim to the area around the Canal St. Martin, a once-derelict part of the 10th Arrondissement that now buzzes with cafés and hip boutiques, particularly along the Rue Beaurepaire. Settle onto the veranda of the Paname Brewing Company up on the Bassin de la Villette. It overlooks the water and ranks high for ambiance, location, and craft beer inspired by the neighborhood.
Don’t: Spend Hours at the Eiffel Tower
For extra protection, Paris has installed heavy security check points around the Eiffel Tower following a string of terror attacks in the city a few years ago. Whereas anyone could previously walk straight underneath the monument to gaze upwards or take pictures, visitors must now endure a winding security line on both wings of the tower. And while it adds far more time to the experience, there is another reason to forgo climbing to the Top: It is not the best view in the city.
Do: Find a View and Shorter Lines
If you want an incredible panorama that includes the Eiffel Tower, you should head instead to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the Top of the viewing deck at the Montparnasse Tower, or book tickets to climb the Tour Saint Jacques, only open to visitors from June to September.
Don’t: Book the Cheapest Hotel
Finding a decent hotel for a reasonable price in Paris can bring even the savviest travelers to despair. You might find a good deal at a big chain hotel and think you have got it made, but once you are sitting in a beige I-could-be-anywhere cube on the outskirts of town, you will realize that you’re missing out on the Parisian atmosphere in the city center.
Do: Book a Boutique Hotel or Furnished Apartment
In Y 2018, foreign travelers to Paris spent an average of 2.48 nights in the city, the perfect amount of time to experience one of the city’s 469 4-Star hotels, many of which are beautifully designed and intimate in scale. On Top of that, its restaurants and bars are increasingly big draws for locals, so you can further experience the Parisian lifestyle. The Hoxton has a glass-canopied lounge with plush sofas and a spacious courtyard, both made for lingering over drinks; the Hotel National des Arts et Métiersserves up custom cocktails from expert mixologists in its sexy lounge-bar; and the Hotel des Grands Boulevards is a popular spot to drink and snack, in part for its most compelling asset: The Shed, a rooftop bar with a view over Paris.
The Big Q: Staying longer?
Furnished apartments can be found to suit every budget and taste. You will be amazed at how much living space you get for your money and you do not have to eat out for every meal. When in doubt, opt for an apartment in a single-digit arrondissement and check how close the nearest Métro station is. If the price seems too good to be true, try to find out what they may be hiding. Do-it-yourself services abound, like Airbnb and VRBO, but if you want to leave it to the experts, try a rental agency. Paris Perfect Guest Apartment Services and Haven in Paris are reputable options. Once you are in your private pied-à-terre, glass of wine in hand, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood through the open windows, you will feel like you have truly arrived in Paris.
Don’t: Fill Up on Croissants
We all like over those flaky golden crescents. But it would be a big mistake to limit yourself to Paris’s best-known pastries and miss out on deluxe confections that are not as well known, or as easily accessible, at home.
Do: Save Room for a Variety of Sweet Treats
There is much more to Parisian pastries than croissants and macarons. Take your sweet tooth to Fou de Patisserie, Jacques Genin, Yann Couvreur in the 10th Arrondissement, Bontemps Patisseries for sablés or Hugo & Victor for a complete sampling of the city’s best treats from some of the country’s most talented chefs.
Don’t: Buy Into Stereotypes
We have heard about Parisians’ legendary rudeness: It is true that Parisians are more reserved than most Americans and less apt to break into grins every time they meet someone new. Theirs is not a culture of instant “Hi, how can I help you today?” extroversion. But you will be doing yourself any favors by assuming that the locals do not like you, and then being rude in return.
Do: Be Mindful of Your Manners
Try to understand and imitate the local customs and you’ll no doubt be amply rewarded for your efforts. Do learn a few French words and phrases. Even if it is just a crash course on the flight over, and your delivery is less than perfect, the fact that you are trying will win points. Salespeople in smaller boutiques greet customers and expect to be greeted in return: A simple “Bonjour, Madame” upon entering a shop will do wonders for your status there. And note that French people usually talk softly, their voices never carry in the streets, on the Métro, or even when they are sitting at the next table. Keep your voice low, too, and some of your neighbors might even venture a smile, and always be polite.
Enjoy your travels