Common Mistakes: 10 Things Not to do in Paris


As a young girl Paris was always the city I dreamed of visiting – with the romantic tree-lined streets, picnic goers people watching along the Seine, the Eiffel Tower glistening in a blanket of night sky, cabaret shows in the late evenings… you name it, I envisioned it.

Having now visited Paris a handful of times (I can recall six times to be exact), I have learned first hand that it is not always the easiest city to get a grip on, however strongly believe that if you know what to expect before you arrive, you can only have the best experience in the city of lights. To ensure you have a great time on your first visit to Paris, here are a few hand hints: the most common mistakes of what not to do in Paris!

Emma in Paris - Photographed by: Brooke Saward

What Not to Do in Paris

1. Not learning a few key words/phrases in French

The French are fairly tolerant when you consider the amount of visitors who flock to Paris each year, speaking a foreign language with various accents, often sounding like gibberish to the untrained ear. Imagine it like this: if you had a guest from a foreign country enter your restaurant, hotel or shopfront and welcomed them in your native tongue, only to have them respond in a stream of foreign words, you too would feel quite confronted or at least feel comforted by the question of “Do you speak English?” or “Parlez vous Anglais” before you begin your rant. A few simple words like Hello (Bonjour), Sir/Madam (Monsieur/Madame) and Thank you (Merci) will go a long way in Paris – if at the very least to show your respect for the language and location you’re in.

2. Getting around in a cab or renting a car

Before arriving in Paris at a young seventeen years of age, I had absolutely no idea or comprehension of the sprawling metropolis that would lay ahead of me. One thing is for sure: Paris is huge. I suppose in my teenage naivety I expected everything to be small and walkable, with the Eiffel Tower a stones’ throw away from the Louvre and the artist neighbourhood of Montmartre just around the corner. How wrong I was! While the best way to see Paris is on foot, you will need to utilise the Metro to get around town. I would not recommend taxis or car rental as the streets are crazy and often jammed with traffic, making your journey a much more stressful and time consuming one.

3. Staying out of the city to save a few Euros

Sure, Paris is expensive… but not as expensive as it once was and certainly not so expensive that you can’t warrant a good hotel or apartment in a central location. If you really want to experience Paris for all that it is, you really must stay central and allow yourself to wander out onto the streets in the early morning before the city wakes up and well into the evening when the city comes to life.

paris food france

4. Believe everything in Paris is Expensive

On that note, it is important to know before you arrive in Paris that not everything is expensive. Sure, a visit to Paris doesn’t come cheap – but most capital cities in the world bring hiked prices and if you know where to go to avoid these, you’ll be able to afford more than you anticipated. Many of the attractions are free – such as the museums on the first Sunday of each month and oodles of public gardens to explore.

5. Not embracing the cliches 

It wouldn’t be a visit to Paris without croissants, baguettes and bottles of champagne at the Eiffel Tower. It also wouldn’t be Paris without queuing for hours to access the best views over the city, from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe. And it certainly wouldn’t be Paris without the purchase of at least one kitsch souvenir – be it an Eiffel Tower keyring or a miniature French flag.

6. Not visiting the Palace of Versailles on a 1/2 day trip from Paris

So long as you have more than two full days in Paris, I would entirely recommend making a half day trip from Paris to the Palace of Versailles, just a short train journey outside of Paris. Much of Paris feels like a timewarp – the gorgeous tree-lined avenues, the chic bars and people watching cafes… but nowhere allows you to step back so far in time with such preservation as Versailles Palace & Gardens.

What not to do in Paris - 10 mistakes first time visitors make

7. Eating only in restaurants

Its true: often the best food in Paris will be found at the swanky restaurants you need to book weeks or months in advance. But just as often some of the best food in Paris will be found at street food stalls, hole-in-the-wall cafes, French patisseries… you name it. Here are the 20 Best Cheap Eats in Paris.

8. Shopping or Dining on the Champs Elysées

I’m sorry to burst your bubble here, but the Champs Elysées is good for nothing more than crowd nudging to make your way through to the Arc de Triomphe. The shops here are all international brands you can find at home and the restaurants are either overpriced or underserving on quality… usually a combination of both!

9. Dressing like anything but a Parisian

Leave your bumbags, sneakers and visor caps at home… Paris is best enjoyed when you blend in and by Paris terms, that means dressing up! As soon as you are scouted out as looking like a tourist you can rest assured you will be hassled in touristy areas by scammers or pick pockets, so be sure to do your best to blend in. Read more: How to Dress like a Parisian.

10. Paying for Water

It took me a few 10 euro bottles of water to realise, but my loss is your gain. Parisian tap water is absolutely fine to drink and absolutely free upon request. All you have to do is ask for a carafe d’eau, et voila!

Shangri-La Paris

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    July 6, 2016 at 2:03 am

    All great tips. While Paris is on my bucket list, I have a bunch I would love to do first. I will first be making use of your Austria tips when my wife and I go for our 25th anniversary. You have great info and places to see. My blog deals with the most cost efficient ways to make these dream vacations a reality. I would love your opinion.

    June 29, 2016 at 3:13 am

    Last time I was in Paris was sadly just for a long layover, mostly in the airport, because my flight to Valencia had been cancelled. I had to go around looking for help to get hotel, food and a new flight. I started all my conversations with “Bonjour”, and then switched to English (since it’s safe to assume that they speak English at the airport!) and always ended with “Mercy”. Everyone was so nice! I remember one of the ladies even thanking me for my patience and understanding. Airports can be crazy places, specially when strikes are going on, but manners and a smile can get you long ways 🙂

    Ananya Shah
    June 25, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    I love your posts! They are really amazing and few tips are worth-noting! Look forward to read all your posts!

    Ananya Shah
    June 25, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    I love your blogs! They are amazing and some tips are absolutely worth noting!

    June 24, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    From my experience, knowing the language does not seem to matter. I made the effort to speak in clear French and was answered continuously in English. I don’t know what the issue with those people were, so unless someone genuinely does not know English I would attempt a few phrases of the local language.

    Wonder Discovery
    June 24, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Great tips! thank you!!

    June 21, 2016 at 5:42 am

    I’m so glad I read this! I’m thinking of visiting Paris this summer and hopefully I remember plenty of these tips!

    Rachael at

    June 19, 2016 at 5:49 am

    all good to know! thank you!! hoping to get back this year

    Betsy Ickes
    June 17, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I agree with using manners. I’d always heard about how rude the Parisians are, and we even ate dinner at the place that was supposed to have the rudest waiters in Paris. Even though I don’t speak French, I learned the key phrases and good manners are a MUST! Using my manners, I never encountered one rude person over there. Saw a lot of rude Americans though..

    Jennifer @ This Off Script Life
    June 16, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    You’re so right about #1. Greeting shopkeepers with a simple “Bonjour” goes a long way in Paris and France, as saying nothing at all might be construed as impolite. And I agree that its best to avoid dining on the Champs Elysees (it’s good for a walk and a view of the Arc de Triumph but that’s about it).

    the adventurer
    June 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

    This made my remember of my time living in Paris while I studied abroad during university =o) I learned to dress like a Parisian =o)

    June 15, 2016 at 10:08 am

    The tap water!! I finally had to Google it when I was there. I kept seeing all these French families with their carafes and was like why the heck do they keep giving us bottled water, tap water is just fine! So yeah, they love giving foreigners the bottled stuff unless you ask. So I finally looked it up and started using ‘ une carafe d’eau’. Luckily I figured it out by the second day or so. I also took like seven years of French! Can’t believe that was never covered haha.

    June 15, 2016 at 6:46 am

    I made the stupid mistake of falling for the street games/betting along the river! (Which cup is the ball under game) believe me no matter how easy it looks, it IS a scam. We lost quite a lot of money 🙁

    June 15, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Nice tips! Paris is very beautiful!

    June 15, 2016 at 2:30 am

    As a frequent visitor in Paris I recognise these things so well! 😉 Also I find it quite common that, when taking a cab, they try to trick you into paying more than what it says on the fare meter… 🙂 x
    Helena – Swedish girl in Tokyo

    • Brooke Saward
      June 15, 2016 at 7:20 am

      Have found that too, Helena! I really try to avoid cabs in Paris and always take the subway! xx

    June 15, 2016 at 1:54 am

    This is such a cute list! I love the part about dressing up Parisian chic and embracing the champagne & pastries, so yum!

    June 15, 2016 at 1:10 am

    It was such a relief to get to Paris and be able to have free water. I felt like in Italy we spent a fortune on bottled water!

    June 14, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Nice post. But spending time in Paris over the last 11 + years, I would like to add. Don’t try to do everything in a few days. My article for FrenchEntree:
    Paris is a city to be savored. It is a place to enjoy everything while doing nothing. Don’t be a tourist. Be a “flaneur”!
    While cabbing may be expensive after a while, if you do have the use of a car through family, drive it. Driving through Paris late at night into the early morning hours is spectacular. You give yourself an evening tour that is both magnificent and romantic. The City of Lights becomes more intimate.
    The only thing I would slightly find a bit daunting is dressing like a Parisienne. Most of the City’s inhabitants dress like anyone else. If you’ve ever seen the commuters out and about on their way to and from work, you would realize there is absolutely no need to be intimidated. Just dress nicely and not in cargo shorts, heavy white socks, ill-fitting t-shirts. Use common sense, Be well-mannered. Lower the voice an octave or two. Take your time and you’ll enjoy!

    • Brooke Saward
      June 15, 2016 at 7:21 am

      GREAT tips thank you so much Cathe! Really appreciate it 🙂

    sara mcavoy
    June 14, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Great post as always, super helpful for future trips to Paris!

    Taste of France
    June 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    It’s great to have a passion for something and then to seek it out. I was into Argentine tango, which took me to all kinds of interesting corners and untouristy neighborhoods of Paris. A friend collected knives, and I set off in search of a specialty store in another off-the-beaten track quartier to pick up a gift.
    Although I love Paris, it isn’t representative of all of France. There’s so much to see when you venture out, and if you’re on a budget, your money will go SO much farther.

    the travelogue (by Anna & Vanessa)
    June 14, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Great tips Brooke! We’ll keep them in mind, espacially the hint with the tap water! Didn’t know that at all.
    And we totally agree: the best way to get around Paris is with the metro or walking.
    xx Anna & Vanessa

    June 14, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    My Italian hubby took me several times there, introduced me to warm Grand Marnier as it was in April but still quite chilli – at one of the Restaurant right on the street of Champs Elysees. Went to Maxim’s and had a lot of oysters and crawfish but we loved the tartar steak a lot! We also had the best German food there of sausage and saurkraut in Rue des italiens Went up the tower where I quipped feels like sardines as we were packed into this elevator going up sideways which was strange and some laughed.

    Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
    June 14, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    good list!I loved Paris when I visited it:)

    Liz @ Poulet s’il vous plaît
    June 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    I actually found the tap water in some parts of Paris to cause all kinds of problems with my stomach. My airbnb host provided bottled water and told me not to drink from the taps. But perhaps it depends on the area you’re in. In some restaurants the water seemed fine (maybe they have a filter?)

    • Brooke Saward
      June 15, 2016 at 7:23 am

      Oh really!? Maybe I found it drinkable as I usually go for tap water overseas and my body is fairly accustomed to it!? Though I also think it could be due to filters as well! xx

    June 14, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Wholeheartedly agree with this entire list. I ate my way through Paris and found some great little cafes and places that weren’t too pricy, yet completely delicious!

    June 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

    We spent about 4 days in Paris. To avoid crowds we always got a very early start which meant we were pooped by 8 or 9pm. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night! So my advice might be to sleep in one day and stay up late! Oh well, I guess I will have to return! 🙂

    June 14, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Yeah, I definitely had a love hate relationship with Paris. I need to go bad and do it differently, hopefully that will make it better!!

    June 14, 2016 at 8:59 am

    ahahaha love this post

    June 14, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Remember you can pack a picnic and a bottle of champagne ( it is not illegal to drink in the park) and have dinner underneath the Eiffel Tower – on the hour the tower lights up and sparkles – put your music on and have a dance with your loved one. We did it and it was magical. If you do want that special moment – go to the top level of the Eiffel Tower and have a glass of champagne at the top!

    • Brooke Saward
      June 15, 2016 at 7:23 am

      Amazing tips – picnicking in Paris is a must!! x

    June 14, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Great selection! Didn’t know about tap water neither.

    ani from ani hearts

    June 14, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Very good tips ! But don’t forget to check real maps when taking the metro because sometimes, you can go faster by foot than taking all the tunnels to change lines or waiting for the train. (: it’s a metro map where the walking time is written between the stations)

    June 14, 2016 at 6:54 am

    The Champs Elysees might not be so great for shopping, but it is lovely to walk down in the early evening. The last time I went to Paris, I loved drinking in the view walking down the road after the shops had closed.

    June 14, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Great tips! Chiches are definitely a must, they’re cliches for a reason 😉
    However, I have to disagree with the water one. I might be spoiled with the absolute best water where I live, but the glass of water I got with my coffee in Paris tasted so bad I could only have a sip.

    June 14, 2016 at 6:35 am

    I ate during my Paris trip a few years ago, I ate the BEST croissants in my life… I miss them so much 😀

    June 14, 2016 at 5:46 am

    Oh great to know about the tap water. I go there next week (4th time!) and always buy bottled. Thanks Brooke!

    June 14, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Oh great you know about the tap water! I’m going there next week and always end up buying bottled! Thanks Brooke x