You Asked – How Can I See Paris Like A Local, Not Like A Tourist?

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I will be traveling to Paris for my first-ever trip, and I'd like to know what suggestions you might have for things to do. I don't want to be a typical tourist. Instead I'd like to explore the areas a local would, and perhaps do things that a tourist wouldn't think of. Any ideas?"
– Kathie, Canada

We Answer – 11 Tips for Visiting Paris Like a Local

Bridges of Paris

Dear Kathie,
That's a really good question. There are a few important things to keep in mind when you're visiting Paris. Let's look at ten or so points —

1. Paris Is a Very Old City

With 2,000 years behind it, the history of Paris is marinaded into every rue, place, park, statue, museum, and monument. Meaning, it's very easy to get overwhelmed in such an amazing historical city. Our first tip is to make sure to sign up to get our six free Paris Planning guides, before you leave.

2. It's Not Disneyland

Cafe life in the 15th Arrondissement, photo by Mark Craft Cafe life in the 15th Arrondissement, photo by Mark Craft

Paris is a living, breathing city and its citizens love it. Parisians visit, use, and frequent many of the same places as tourists. They adore the museums, they lounge in the parks, they linger in cafes, they shop in the markets and grand magasins (department stores) and small boutiques. Want to act like a local? That's what you should do, too. Have a look at this article —

3. Tourists Just Show Up – Travellers Plan

Skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower

Meaning, for instance, if you want to visit the Eiffel Tower, don't just show up to wait in an impossibly long line. Make a plan by booking a small-group tour that tells you the story of Gustave Eiffel and his amazing tower and then whisks you to the top. (You don't think the French wait in line for hours, do you?) Plan an activity for each day of your visit, allowing downtime to just explore the area you're in that day.

4. Paris Is a Busy Place

Louvrw Everybody loves Mona, photo by Mark Craft

Paris is an incredibly busy city. For instance, nearly ten million people visit the Louvre each year — many of them are Parisians. For us, it just makes sense to book a skip-the-line tour that takes you to the front of the long lineups, gets you inside quickly, and heads right over the the museum's highlights.

It's the only way to do it. On your own you'd get to the museum, stand in line for an hour or more, and by the time you get in, ready to explore, museum fatigue kicks in as you wander around the incredibly huge space. A guided tour is focused, faster, and you learn much, much more.

5. There Are a Few Tourist Zones

Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower in spring, photo by Mark Craft Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower in spring, photo by Mark Craft

Yes, there are a few tourist zones, as you'd expect in any city the sees so many visitors — a few streets around St-Michel in the Latin Quarter, the plaza outside Notre Dame, the area around Sacre-Coeur, etc.

But, walk a block or two outside those zones and you'll be among living, breathing Parisians going about their everyday lives. It's surprising that even the Champ de Mars next to the Eiffel Tower (which itself is heaving with long lines) is a relatively relaxed area. It's also a lovely stroll to Trocadero, across the river, to see the tower from the other side.

6. Make a Plan

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours

Make sure to plan a few activities in advance, especially if this is your first time in Paris. If it's your first time, why not take a hop-on hop-off bus tour to get an overview of the city? Plan to dine at a few local bistros. Take a guided tour to Versailles. Visit Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Take a chocolate walking tour of St-Germain. Trust our experience — these activities will give you a much deeper appreciation of Paris than if you were simply to wander the streets on your own.

7. The Confession

We admit it. We used to do a lot of that — that is, wandering the streets of Paris on our own. But, it's important to note that we've been visiting Paris for more than twenty years. If we could give advice to our younger selves, it would be this, "There's no shame in booking a tour. You're there to have a good time, so see as much as you can, as easily as you can."

During the past decade or we find ourselves signing up for more guided activities than ever before, and we can tell you this — we love not standing in lines!

8. Hidden & Small Museums

Musée Bourdelle, 15th Arrondissement, photo by Mark Craft Musée Bourdelle, 15th Arrondissement, photo by Mark Craft

Forget the Louvre for a moment. There are lots of other museums in Paris, including small, out-of-the-way museums that tourists rarely get to. We've written guides to some of these museums, to give you a glimpse into what they have to offer. And don't forget one of our faves (though it's not hidden or small), Musée d'Orsay. Who could possibly come to Paris and miss all the wonderful Impressionist painters housed in the lovely restored historic train station?

9. Best Place to Avoid in Paris

Champs-Elysées

If we had to mention one famous area to avoid it would be Champs-Elysées. Gone are the glory days, it's now a collection of chain stores and other outlets mostly geared to tourists. In fact, in a Paris Insiders Guide readers poll from a few years ago, Avenue des Champs-Elysées was definitely the undefeated champion for the most overrated Paris attraction.

Nonetheless, we still always recommend a visit to the Arc de Triomphe at the upper end of Avenue des Champs-Elysées to climb to the tippy top of l'arc. It affords one of our favorite overviews of Paris. You can get there by taking Metro lines 1, 2, or 6 to station Charles de Gaulle-Étoile and avoid Champs-Elysées entirely.

10. Shocking (to Us) Travelers Tales

Food on Paris hotel bed

We admit it — we're sensitive, and perhaps too easily shocked. But, over years of helping others to plan their trips to Paris we've occasionally been horrified by certain travelers' tales. For instance, there was one group of six that wouldn't catch a private shuttle, or even a taxi, from the airport, and ended up struggling with all their luggage through the gates and barriers of the RER trains and the connecting Metro stations to get to their hotel. (As it turned out, the cost of all the RER tickets from CDG to central Paris was just about what it would have taken to hire a private shuttle van! They could have ridden to Paris in comfort.)

In what we consider a culinary sin, another couple wouldn't dare eat in any Paris restaurants; they would buy a few groceries and eat on their hotel bed, night after night. They were missing out on one of the greatest experiences of Paris. Don't be one of those!

11. Research, Prioritize, Spend Wisely

Night Bike Tour

Do your research in advance, target sights and activities that interest you, and then don't be afraid to spend some Euros on activities that you'll enjoy. Two of the most popular tours are a Paris nighttime cycling tour (complete with Seine River cruise) and a chocolate and pastry tour. Neither is expensive, but the experiences and memories are invaluable.

In the End… Have Fun !

We hope these tips help you to navigate your trip to Paris. Let us know if you have any other questions about Paris. As you can see from our lengthy answers, we never tire of writing about the city that we love.

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