You’re visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world; one full of incredible culture, remarkable history, and breathtaking architecture. So obviously you want to make the most of it and have the least possible chance of ending up looking like a nooby tourist.
To help you out with that, here is my list of the five things not to do while in the City of Lights.
Unfortunately, these are all from personal experience.
- Don’t forget the importance of the relevant weather protection.
This first one is an oldie but a goodie. Apologies for sounding like a concerned mother telling you to remember to take a jacket when you leave the house even though there is not a cloud in the sky BUT, in these scenarios, 7/10 times it will rain… and you’ll return home sheepish and soaked.
Whether it’s summer or winter, it’s always good to have sunscreen/or an umbrella on hand. Being sunburned or damp can lessen the excitement of experiencing Paris. And for those unlucky enough to experience the rain – wet dog is definitely not one of those coveted Parisian looks.
My friend Megan learned this the hard way when we were making our way from the winter market on the Champs-Élysées to The Louvre when the heavens decided to open. Luckily for me my mom had watched to make sure I packed an sturdy umbrella before I left South Africa (thanks mom). Unfortunately Megs had yet to buy one during the trip because the weather had been so nice to us. We were left huddled under one brolly, darting across streets to the dry safety of the covered pavements as if we were in some weird, wet version of a three legged race.
- Don’t forgo the elevators at Montmartre Abbessess metro station. SRSLY.
This can be applied to any underground train station across the globe but I can not emphasise just how vital it is to this one – unless you are a mountaineer/ triathlete.
Montmartre is a beautiful section of Paris. It sits on a hill in the north of the city and is home to the incredible Sacré-Cœur (the Sacred Heart church) which provides spectacular views over the city.
Abbessess is one of the closest stops if you are looking to visit the Sacré-Cœur. It also happens to be one of the deepest metro stations in the city sitting 34 meters underground.
Evidently, my friends and I did not know this. I raised my eyebrows at the large group of people waiting to catch the elevator up from the platform. “Pfft,” I thought to myself, “Not waiting in that crowd when we can just take a quick walk up the stairs.” A few steps in, I was wondering why no one else was on the staircase. About a third of the way into our 90-step journey to the street above, it dawned on me why there was no one else walking with is. 90 stairs does not sound like a lot but, trust me, it is. Especially in 3 degrees celsius when you are wrapped in four layers of clothes and can’t stop to de-robe for fear of losing momentum and toppling backwards down to the platform.
My emergence at the top was in no way graceful or ladylike. I huffed and puffed, let out a string of expletives, and was bright pink in the face. But I was happy to have made it – until I realised we still had to walk to the church which was up hundreds of more stairs.
So I don’t exhaust you with even more harrowing tales of our ascent, we made it and the view was spectacular. Afterwards, we pretty much rolled back down the hill and into a cafe for some much needed lunch.
Extra tip (and another thing we didn’t know about until we got to the top): there is a furnicular that will take you from the bottom of the hill up to the Sacré-Cœur and back down. It costs the same as a metro ticket and, if you’re embarrassingly unfit like me, it will save you the unnecessary physical exhaustion.
- Don’t give yourself one hour to look around The Louvre.
The Louvre Museum is set in a sprawling former royal palace on the bank of the Seine River. The building itself is as beautiful as the artwork it holds and I’m guessing it would take a good few days to explore all of the exhibitions.
Making a huge rookie error, my friends and I lost track of time at the winter market along the Champs-Élysées leaving ourselves with just over an hour to explore The Louvre before it closed. We thought we had more time but the Museum, which closes at 6pm in January when we were there, begins closing the exhibition wings half an hour beforehand. After marvelling at the Apollo Gallery, strolling past the Winged Victory of Somothrace and fighting our way through the crowd to see the Mona Lisa, the Museum announced that it was closing. Disappointed at only having seen the first floor of the Denon Wing, we shuffled back out into the rain.
Extra tip: in addition to giving yourself hella time to look around, do some research beforehand on the exhibitions and artwork you really want to see so you can check them off of your to-do list and avoid disappointment.
- Don’t underestimate how easy it is to get lost in an unfamiliar city.
No matter how good you think your map-reading skills or sense of direction are, chances are you are going to take a wrong turn at some point.
After making use of a McDonald’s free wifi and cheap tea and coffee, my friends and I consulted google maps and cross checked this with our physical maps, and were confident that we could make it from the Louvre to Notre Dame – where we were due to meet our Topdeck tour group – with time to spare.
I don’t know how but we managed to get ourselves spectacularly lost. A walk that should have taken 25 minutes took us 45. The sun had set, it was dark, it was nearly time to meet the group and we were stressing about being left behind on the first night. After circling round to the same stop street twice, we asked some policemen for help and were pointed in the direction we had just come from. I blame my night-blindness and the stress of the situation, but I realised that if we hadn’t been distracted by what we thought was a Notre Dame spire we would have walked a few more steps and seen a huge sign pointing to the building (which was just around the corner).
We made it, panting and pink in the face once again, and weren’t left behind to fend for ourselves on the mean streets of Paris.
Moral of the story: keep your eyes peeled, ask for directions as soon as you feel you are getting lost (someone nice will eventually help out) and always give yourself extra time. Additionally, you can always stop, grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee at the many cafes to recombobulate. Take a minute and breathe. Panic in Paris is not a great time. Remember, you can’t be that stressed with a croissant stuffed in your mouth.
- Don’t be to cool to do touristy things.
Paris is one of the worlds top destinations. Its full of incredible thing to do, see and experience. Because it’s so popular, there are bound to be tons of tourists (32.3 million visited in 2013) hanging around spots like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc du Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the Louvre.
Some visitors may be put off by the large crowds and are more keen to “feel like a traveller and look less like a tourist”. I say pish-posh to these people and say dive right in to experience all of Paris that you can.
Take a trip up the Eiffel Tower, go on a boat cruise down the Seine and wave at all the people on the banks, pose for one of those cringey photos where you look like you’re touching the top of The Louvre’s glass pyramid, climb the Arc du Triomphe, and buy a beret (jokes don’t do that – you’ll look like Gwyneth Paltrow in View from the Top. Gross).
Balance this alongside strolling down some streets, speaking with locals, and nibbling pastries in little cafes off the beaten track. Get a feel for Paris – don’t let ‘looking cool’ make you lose out on getting the most of your visit. Even if it does mean looking like a bit of a weirdo, have as much fun as you can.
Extra tip: if you want to skip the crowds, January is a great time to visit. It’s cold but its quieter and Paris is just as beautiful in the crisp, chilly winter months as it is in the summer.
Also, eat as many croissants, baguettes and macaroons as you can. AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. It’s the City of Lights not the City of Healthy Eating.