Paris is the world’s fifth most visited city. Needless to say, then, that many travel guides have already been written about it in every language, and we can assume that the subject has been thrashed out. However, it appears that the same advice is given again and again, and you can have a hard time finding quirky or unique tours, or escaping the tourist hordes visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. That is why we are giving you tips in this article to avoid tourist traps and visit places off the beaten track in Paris.
Tourist Trap Monuments To Avoid Or Visit In A Different Way
1. Place du Tertre
Oh, Montmartre! The cafes, the painters! Amélie Poulain’s, Manet’s, Cézanne’s, and Van Gogh’s Paris! Montmartre is definitely one of Paris’ most beautiful districts, but the Place du Tertre has unfortunately become no more than a caricature of itself. Painters made way for portraitists, the only musicians left are accordionists, and genuine Montmartre’s inhabitants have deserted the place, escaping from the tourist hordes going there every day. There is nothing quaint about the Tertre anymore (unless you think that a twelve-euro croque-monsieur is quaint).
You would better off going to Place des Abbesses and have a walk on the nearby streets. This square is quite touristy too, but has not lost Montmartre’s unrivalled charm.
2. The “Bateaux-Mouches” (Tourist River Boats)
The famous bateaux-mouches, although they are a distinctive feature of Paris, are not so much typical: you will only find tourists in abundance, a rather disagreeable background noise, and guides shouting themselves hoarse into a microphone. Those boats mostly take tourists for cash cows (minimum €14 for a one-hour tour).
But do not give up on a boat river tour! Take a look at marins d’eau douce for a river cruise on the Ourcq Canal or on the Saint Martin Canal, which are less popular than the river Seine, but as pretty – and much more peaceful and quiet.
3. The Eiffel Tower
What’s that? Are we advising you to avoid the most emblematic of Paris’ monuments? Not quite, so you can be reassured! We do advise you to go and see the Eiffel Tower; what we do not advise you is to go all the way up. First, because it is already very impressive seen from the ground (if not more than when seen from its top), and because you might spend too much of your time queuing – up to 3 hours , even if you have booked your ticket in advance on the Internet – only to be squeezed in an elevator and not see much because of the crowd surrounding you. The final decision is yours of course, but we do not think that it is worth the €25 due for the ascent (€19 if you take the stairs up to the third floor before taking the elevator).
Gaining heights in Paris is not a difficult matter, but instead of choosing the Eiffel Tower, have a ride on the hot-air balloon of the André Citroën park, take a walk on the Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop, climb the Montparnasse Tower or one of Notre-Dame Cathedral towers. Besides, you might have a glimpse at the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
4. Île De La Cité
L’Île de la Cité is often considered as Paris’ cradle; that is, where the ancient city of Lutetia was born. The island has therefore naturally become one of the numerous emblematic places of the capital city. And emblematic place and (way too) ‘touristy’ place are words that go together! Take the Pont Saint-Louis, the bridge joining the island with its neighbour: l’Île Saint-Louis. You will be more at ease there and have less risk of being trampled on by a crowd of tourists. This island has been mostly preserved by the work of Haussmann in the mid-19th century, and the facades of the private mansions have kept the charm of bygone days.
Restaurants In Paris – Unravelling Tourist Traps
After visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral, you can be tempted to stop for lunch in one of the rue de la Huchette’s restaurants, in the heart of the district of Saint-Michel. However, we advise you to make one more effort and walk to the “Marais” (3rd district), where much better, cheaper, less ‘touristy’ and lovely restaurants are expecting you. Here are two of them: the Sybaris (webpage only in French) (86 rue des Archives) – the decor is simple, but the cooking is great. There is something for every palate and every budget: French traditional cuisine, European cuisine, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices, between €8 and €35. The second one is the BDJ café (5 rue de la Jarente): a typical Parisian pub serving traditional French cuisine as well as European dishes with vegetarian options (average price between €20 and €26).
In a more general way, here are a few tips to help you avoid “tourist” restaurants and find good local ones:
Avoid ‘Touristy’ Places
A general rule is that the restaurants you can find near ‘touristy’ places are quite expensive, but their cooking is also quite bad, and they often serve industrial food.
Have a Look At The Menu
Besides the practical aspect of this piece of advice consisting of looking if what is on the menu pleases you, this will allow you to judge the quality of the food in just a glimpse! A rather short menu with only few choices often signifies fresh products and a (real) homemade meal.
At lunch or dinner time, we can often see waiters and waitresses on the streets trying to lure you into their restaurants. They are touts and you need to avoid them like the plague! They generally represent tourist trap restaurants (as in ‘touristy’ places, they are expensive but not so good). Think about it: a restaurant that is renowned and enjoyed by locals does not need to go customer-fishing!
To confirm your choice, do not hesitate to go have a look at what is said about the restaurant you chose on the Internet on websites such as Tripadvisor or the French website La Fourchette. If everyone says that it is a nice place, there is no doubt then that it actually is a nice place!
Paris’ Villages – Visiting Paris In A Bucolic Way
Paris is not just a series of grey buildings and skyscrapers. If you search for them, you can find little quaint and picturesque streets that look so much like small villages that they will make you forget that you are in a great European capital city.
Go for a walk on rue de Mouzaïa (19th district), on the colorful rue Crémieux (12th district), in the Village d’Auteuil (16th district), or on the Butte Bergeyre or the Butte aux Cailles.
Marché Raspail – A Parisian Organic Market
The Boulevard Raspail organic market takes place every Sunday from 9am to 3pm. It has been open since 1989, and about fifty producers, retail traders, and craftspeople sell their products here every week. According to the city council of Paris (webpage in French), it is the classiest market of the city, and we are willing to believe it! Even if you do not plan on buying anything, go for a walk between the colourful stalls full of fruits, vegetables, flowers, pastries, and other mouthwatering products. You will not be disappointed!
Seeing Paris With Parisian Eyes
Is there anything better than visiting Paris with a real Parisian if you want to visit off the beaten track? I do not think so! Then quickly put on your walking shoes and book a themed walk on Widetrip, an online platform connecting locals and visitors. Each “district buddy” (a local offering a tour) sets the price for their own walk.
If you wish to be more surprised, you can book a tour with a Greeter. Enthusiastic volunteers will show you their favourite places of the city. There is no predefined tour, and each Greeter has their own tour.
Quirky Guided Tour
For a quirky walk, book a tour with Paris ZigZag (webpage in French). Fascinating people will guide you across Paris according to the theme you chose. An average visit lasts about 1hr 45 minutes and costs €13.50.
For more ideas to discover Paris off the beaten track, read one (or more) of our articles on the subject: