A Guide to Paris' Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them

Crowd photographing the Mona Lisa │
Crowd photographing the Mona Lisa │ | © tomarthur / Wikimedia Commons
Paul McQueen

Paris has more than its fair share of tourist traps. In the high season, whole neighborhoods become so crowded that locals avoid them at all costs. As a visitor, you might not want to miss out these famous quarters entirely, so instead use our guide to avoid the worst and see the best of them.

Montmartre and Pigalle

This should go without saying: do not—literally—get on the Montmartre tourist train, the white and gold vehicle that charges €6 for 40 minutes of discomfort and obscured views. As always, discover the neighborhood on foot.

Sacré-Coeur → Église Saint-Jean de Montmartre

The Sacré-Coeur is always beautiful from afar but not so much up close in the summer. Its steps become an unofficial open-air bar, and inside, a constant battle rages between the tourists who ignore signs asking them not to take pictures and the guards who fruitlessly remonstrate with them. The Église Saint-Jean de Montmartre at Abbesses metro station is a stunning church finished a decade before the basilica, with all the charm but none of the crowds.

Crowd on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur │

Cafés of Place du Tertre → Musée de Montmartre and SoPi

Next on the Montmartre blacklist is the Place du Tertre, once the center of a bohemian community where artists and musicians came to do the requisite drinking to get the creative juices flowing, now a market for caricaturists and painters hawking grossly sentimentalized depictions of Paris. The cafés around its perimeter are pricey and manned by curbside promoters.

Thankfully, the Musée de Montmartre still offers a vital insight into the neighborhood’s artistic history. The museum, formerly the residence of artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Suzanne Valadon, is away from the hubbub, just a few moments from the local vineyard.

Locals stick to restaurants to the west of the neighborhood—those along streets like the rue Caulaincourt or rue Lepic. The best drinking, however, is done in South Pigalle, what someone somewhere wants us to call SoPi, where bars like Dirty Dick capture the seedy brilliance of this part of town. Two streets with a disproportionately high number of excellent eateries are the rue des Martyrs and the rue Henry Monnier. Look out especially for Buvette and Les Affranchis.

Moulin Rouge → Le Trianon and La Cigale

Moulin Rouge was the nightclub at the center of Parisian society until it burned down in 1915. However, not only does the current cabaret bear no resemblance to Baz Luhrmann’s, it’s also not even a genuine relic of the Belle Époque. Take a quick selfie in front of the windmill (if you can see it for all the tour buses) and save yourself several hours and hundreds of euros by skipping the cancan and seeing a gig at La Cigale and Le Trianon, which also have their own lively restaurants and bars.

Inside the ballroom of Le Trianon │ Courtesy of Le Trianon

Champs-Élysées and Louvre-Tuileries

Louvre → Les Arts Décoratifs

The Louvre contains too many fascinating and valuable objects to suggest forever striking it off your to-do list. But do seriously consider your reasons for visiting it—especially during the high season. Is it to see the Mona Lisa? If so, forget it. The crowds around it are going to be way too big and brash for you to appreciate it. Is there another specific part of the museum’s vast collection that you want to see? If not, is it really worth lining up for hours in the baking heat of the Cour Napoléon to get in?

Crowd at the Mona Lisa │

Instead, why not head to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a separate museum within the Palais du Louvre. It specializes in fashion, advertising, and graphic art and its gift shop is one of the best design-oriented concept stores in the city. It’s restaurant, LOULOU, is also a cut above the typical museum café.

Jardin des Tuileries → Palais Royal or Carré Louvois

Similarly, while the Jardin des Tuileries is a tranquil spot for a stroll in spring or fall, the summer brings with it heaving masses of tourists, who have no qualms about cooling their blistered feet in the fountains. (This scene also plays itself out in the equally famous Jardin du Luxembourg on the Left Bank.) For a bit of shade and greenery, try first the Palais Royal, which most visitors bypass, or the Carré Louvois.

Square Louvois │

Stores on the Champs-Élysées → avenue Montaigne and avenue George V

How shopping on the Champs-Élysées ever became known as a famous activity is a mystery; it’s frustrating that an avenue so wide is so difficult to walk down for all the slow-moving shoppers. If you want to shop sans the crowds, try the Saint-Lazare or Montparnasse districts, where you’ll find all the same brands but fewer people. And if it’s a feel of the Parisian fashion world you’re after, take a stroll past the luxury boutiques on avenue George V, avenue Montaigne, or the rue Saint-Honoré.

Shops on Avenue Montaigne │

Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower

Trocadéro selfie → Pont de Bir-Hakeim selfie

The Eiffel Tower selfie has become an essential part of the Parisian holiday experience. For most people, this means awkwardly posing among a sea of similarly awkward posers at the Trocadéro or on the Champs de Mars. For a superior view and a photograph that isn’t ruined by stranger-elbow, head to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim on the Île aux Cygnes.

Crowd at the Trocadéro │

Going up the Eiffel Tower → Seeing the Eiffel Tower from the Tour Montparnasse

Waiting to go up the Eiffel Tower during the high season will potentially rob you of valuable time that could otherwise be spent exploring other parts of the city. At least until the planned renovation works are finished and the wait time is reduced, think about going up the Tour Montparnasse. This tower block is almost as tall and offers amazing panoramic views of Paris that, helpfully, include its most famous monument. There are numerous other viewpoints to consider but the department store rooftops on Boulevard Haussmann are free and the Tour Saint-Jacques, open during the summer, is relatively unknown.

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Musée d’Orsay and other expensive museums → City of Paris museums

Between October and March, the Musée d’Orsay and the other big museums offer free entry to all on the first Sunday of the month. On every other day of the year, the €15 entry fee is pretty steep if you’re not a student. However, the City of Paris museums are numerous and entry to their permanent collections, which are just as good but attract far fewer tourists, is free.

Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris │

Île de la Cité and Saint-Michel

Restaurants of rue de la Huchette → Eateries in the Marais

Saint-Michel, and particularly the rue de la Huchette, has become one of the most touristy parts of the capital. Its garish gift shops, poor-quality crêpe restaurants, and gyro houses are nothing special, so for a more Parisian experience push further into the Left Bank, past the Boulevard Saint-Germain, or head to the Marais on the Right Bank. One of the oldest and most cramped parts of the city, it can also get crowded but at least it’s locals doing the shuffling and shoving. Food-wise, you’ll find the best falafel and pastrami sandwiches in France in the alleyways of this neighborhood.

Crowds on rue de la Huchette │

Île de la Cité → Île Saint-Louis

The islands of the Seine are also crazy popular with tourists. Our advice would be to do a whistle-stop tour of the Île de la Cité, taking in at a safe distance the big sights like the Conciergerie and Notre-Dame, and then head over to the Île Saint-Louis for a more relaxing stroll and some lunch. Even less frequented is the Île Louviers (which is actually no longer an island), where you can enjoy a hassle-free afternoon at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, the city’s museum of architecture.

Île de la Cité (left) and Île Saint-Louis (right)│

Notre-Dame → Musée de Cluny

As for Notre-Dame, it really is only worth waiting to get inside if you happen to be there on a quiet day (which are extremely rare). The gothic architecture can be enjoyed from the outside and the nearby Musée de Cluny contains many more medieval treasures than the cathedral and its crypt. The museum is also to receive a multi-million euro redevelopment in the near future.

The Seine

Bateaux Mouches and Co. → Batobus (or a self-directed cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin)

The last of Paris’ tourist traps is the Seine, or at least the boats that operate on it. An hour-long cruise on the Bateaux Mouches or one of its competitors will cost you around €13.50 and, depending on the season, result in either sunstroke or frostbite. There’s also nothing that can be seen from the water that you can’t get a better view of from the riverbanks. If it’s the thrill of a boat ride you’re after, consider splashing out a few more euros on a Batobus pass that at least allows you to hop on and off a shuttle as many times as you like on a route that runs between Beaugrenelle shopping center and Les Docks. Alternatively, take yourself on a cruise on the Paris canals with the Marin d’eau douce. Prices start at €40 for a five-person boat.

Marin d’eau douce │

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