Tourism is officially back in Paris! Every time I walk through the Latin Quarter or the Marais, I hear dozens of languages being spoken all around me. The cafes and museums are packed, and tour groups once again dot the streets. Visitors are back, and they are back in droves. Which means they are also back to making some pretty common mistakes. Therefore, if you’re visiting Paris in the near future, here are my top 10 mistakes to avoid while you’re here.
Always start with Bonjour
It is very important in French culture to always formally greet others. Whether it’s your friends or perfect strangers, you always have to start with Bonjour. Even if the only French you know is Bonjour, start every interaction with this greeting and you’ll get a lot farther with the locals. This is especially true in shops. Always look the shopkeeper in the eye when you enter and say, “Bonjour.” You’ll get much better service if you do.
Comfort over style when it comes to shoes
However much you think you’re going to walk in Paris, double or triple it. Paris is a walking city, and I’ve easily surpassed 20km in a day when friends or family are visiting. Of all the things you have to pack, comfortable shoes should be at the top of that list.
Don’t expect to do it all
While you will walk a lot in Paris, don’t overbook yourself or expect to see everything. Paris is a massive city with dozens of beautiful neighbourhoods, hundreds of museums, and literally thousands of restaurants. It is simply not possible to see everything in just one trip. I’ve lived here for over seven years and I’m still discovering new things all the time. So limit your schedule to just one or two big sites a day, and spend the rest of your time wandering the streets or enjoying a glass of wine on a terrace. You’ll be a local in no time.
Book in advance
If you do decide to visit a museum or a historical site, be sure to book your tickets in advance. Most cultural sites implemented timed entry reservations to control visitor numbers during COVID, and many places no longer allow on-site ticketing. Therefore, in order to avoid disappointment, be sure to book all your tickets in advance.
Avoid staying near the Eiffel Tower
Yes the Eiffel Tower is iconic, and yes it’s the most visited site in Paris. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay right next to it. The area around the Eiffel Tower is full of tourist traps and overpriced restaurants and hotels, and it is generally avoided by most locals. Trying staying in the Latin Quarter or the Marais for a more authentic Parisian experience.
Breakfast like a local
Speaking of hotels, most will offer an outrageously priced breakfast that will consist of little more than coffee, juice, and some pastries. Which is to be expected, as a Parisian breakfast does indeed consist of a coffee, juice, and a croissant. But you’ll easily spend three times as much for it at your hotel. My advice? Skip the hotel breakfast and enjoy a “petit-dejeuner” at the cafe around the corner to start your day off right.
Enjoy your food
Food is meant to be savoured in France and meals are not to be rushed. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time when dining out, because everything moves at a slower pace. Especially if you’re used to the turnover hustle of North America. You should also know that your server will not automatically bring you your bill at the end of your meal. You have to specifically request, “l’addition, s’il vous plait.”
Don’t pay for water
If you want to buy bottled water at a restaurant, you’re certainly welcome to do so. But you don’t have to. Unfortunately, however, some restaurants will take advantage of tourists and bring overpriced bottles of water when all you want is tap water. To avoid this, simply ask for, “une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait.” This is the magical phrase that lets servers know you’re on to their scam and you just want tap water for the table.
Time to brave the Metro
The Paris Metro is by far the best way to get around the city. There are over 300 stations and 16 different lines, so you can get anywhere you need both easily and efficiently. Taxis and Ubers will inevitably get stuck in Paris’ legendary traffic jams, and biking in Paris requires a level of courage that is sometimes beyond even me. Do as the locals do and head for the Metro.
Lower your voice
In general, French people tend to speak at a lower volume than anglophone speakers. Especially in public spaces like restaurants and public transit. If you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist, lower your voice when you’re out in public. This is one mistake that I continue to make, even all these years later.
Enjoy your time in Paris
It may seem like there are a lot of mistakes to avoid while you’re visiting Paris. Like any new city, there definitely is a learning curve to life in the city of light. But don’t worry. A smile and a Bonjour goes a long way, so just enjoy your time here. And if you do make a mistake, you can always console yourself with the fact that no matter what you do, you’ll never make a mistake as big as the one pictured above. Yes, that is a real photo of a train derailment at the Gare Montparnasse in 1895. Forgetting to book your Louvre tickets doesn’t seem so bad now, right?
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.