Paris may be one of the world’s top destinations, but that doesn’t mean side-stepping Paris tourist traps is easy.
Communicating in a new language and understanding French cultural norms is only part of the process. In evaluating the best plan for your trip to the City of Light, it’s necessary to look past the clichés and see what’s actually right for your trip and your specific interests.
Luckily, falling into Paris tourist traps is easy to avoid if you’re in the know. Avoid these five cringeworthy misses and see how to spend your time instead.
1. Strolling the Champs-Élysées
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées may have once been considered the most beautiful street in the world, but there’s little reason to recommend it to travelers today.
Sure, the Arc de Triomphe still strikes a majestic mood from the top of the avenue, but the Champs-Élysées itself is more about chain stores than charm. Overpriced cafés, luxury brands, and commonplace chains make up the atmosphere—one worth skipping entirely.
Opt for a walk along rue des Martyrs instead. Snaking up the hill towards the butte Montmartre, rue des Martyrs is a perfect slice of Parisian life. Specialty shops, cafés, and independent businesses line the sidewalks, and another monument—Montmartre’s Basilique du Sacre Coeur—takes center stage.
2. Taking a Seine Dinner Cruise
A Seine dinner cruise is probably one of the cheesiest Paris tourist traps there is. Overpriced and inauthentic, these cruises are not the way to learn more about the city’s relationship to its central river.
Skip the organized cruises, and hit the banks of the Seine instead. Parisians and tourists alike gather for impromptu picnics along the cobbled banks of the river once the weather turns summery and bright. Bring along a bottle or two of your favorite French wine and watch the sunset paint a vivid backdrop for the elegant buildings on Ile-Saint-Louis.
3. Prioritizing the Mona Lisa
The Louvre is touted as the must-see at the top of every tourist’s bucket list. However, with all the hype, this world-class museum quickly turns into a zoo as everyone rushes straight for Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. With all the pushing and shoving—not to mention the glass barrier designed to keep overzealous photographers back—hanging with Mona is one Paris tourist trap to miss.
Still interested in the Louvre? Skip the herd mentality and wander through the near-deserted Egyptian wing or the Napoleon III Apartments instead.
4. Shopping at Tacky Souvenir Stands
Looking to bring back a piece of Paris in your suitcase? Shops selling cheap tchotchkes are a dime a dozen. While Eiffel tower keychains and tacky aprons come cheap, why fill your suitcase with items destined for the landfill?
Choose meaningful souvenirs from La Super Marquette instead. Just around the corner from Centre Pompidou, this colorful shop curates handmade products such as Breton striped shirts, needlepoint handbags, and scented soaps from small producers all over France, including one-of-a-kind vintage pieces like deadstock postcards from the 1950s.
5. Spending Too Much Time in the Latin Quarter
Guidebook writers praise the 5th arrondissement’s Latin Quarter for its authentic charm. But have they ever actually walked along rue de la Huchette?
Skip the greasy kebab shops and flag-festooned restaurants here in favor of a wander through the back streets of Odéon. Just a stone’s throw away from the maze of streets considered the Latin Quarter, this area of the Left Bank is known for its independent bookshops, charming boulangeries, and stately campuses of the Sorbonne.
You might not be able to peek inside the iconic university itself, but if you’re looking for a taste of Paris’s student life, grab a table at one of the many cafés on the Place de la Sorbonne for some excellent people watching.
Lauren Sarazen is a Paris-based writer and graduate student in literature at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. Falling in love with the French capital during her semester abroad, she has called Paris her home since 2014. She contributes to publications such as The Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Shondaland, and intermittently blogs at her website.