What can we say about Paris that hasn’t already been said? Yes, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Of course, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées are spectacular. Sure, some people really dress like they’re walking down a high-fashion runway (have you seen Emily in Paris?). But what about the hidden gems in the well-trodden French capital? Equally important, how should you behave to not stick out like a sore American thumb? We’re giving you the inside scoop on the under-the-radar activities, curious sights and secret spots that you won’t find in the guidebooks, plus some touristy taboos to avoid.
Here’s What You Need to Know to Avoid Being *That Tourist* in Paris
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1. Learn a Few Key Phrases in French
Ok, so there’s long been a nasty rumor that Parisians will rudely cut off foreigners who attempt to speak in French. Sure, that does happen every now and again. But the reality is that people in France—that includes Paris—actually really appreciate it when tourists at least make an effort in the language department. It sounds simple but just learning how to say hi (bonjour), thanks (merci) and bye (au revoir) could really change the course of your trip in a super positive way.
2. The Most Breathtaking Vistas Aren’t from The Eiffel Tower
The best vantage point is from the top of the Eiffel Tower, right? Ce n'est pas correct. Montparnasse Tower boasts unparalleled panoramas of Paris. You can gaze for 25 miles on a clear day. Come sunset, a warm glow washes over the city skyline. In the evening, this low-key landmark gives visitors a front-row seat to the dazzling lights. In addition to an observation deck, there’s also a champagne bar.
3. Book Your Tickets to the Louvre in Advance
This seems so obvious and yet every day countless tourists waltz up to the entrance of the Louvre expecting to just walk right into and say what’s up to the Mona Lisa without any fanfare or waiting. The reality is that there’s typically a long line to get inside one of the world’s most famous and popular museums. The way to bypass the queue? Book tickets ahead of time and actually show up at the assigned time.
4. There’s an Under-The-Radar Greenway
The Highline is to New York City as Promenade Plantée is to Paris—except the latter made its debut back in 1998 and strangely isn’t in every guidebook. This pedestrian-friendly greenbelt, which occupies the abandoned railway viaduct, holds the title of the world's first elevated park. Hovering three stories above the ground, it’s lined with fragrant cherry trees, roses and lavender. Simply put: It’s the perfect spot for a romantic midday stroll with your sweetheart or bestie.
5. Meals Are Meant to Be Savored
Parisians—particularly those in the hospitality industry—would like to request that American please leave our fast-paced dining mindset in the states. In France (and that goes for most of Europe, too), meals are meant to be savored. The expectation is not to skim the menu, throw in a food and drink order at the same time and then hurry to pay the bill the moment you put down the fork, but rather to cherish the entire experience…slowly.
6. Paris Has Two Rivers
No doubt you’re familiar with the Seine. But here’s a flabbergasting and little-known fact: It’s not the only river in Paris. Another waterway, la Bièvre, runs through—or, more accurately, under—France’s capital. The reason so few people are aware of it? You can’t actually see it...at least not anymore. It was at one time a source of drinking water. However, during the Industrial Revolution, la Bièvre became so polluted that it was filled with concrete. Today, it flows into sewage drains underneath the city.
7. Don’t Skip Montmartre
Admittedly, Montmartre is a ways from some of the major sites—and a slog up the large hill—but this cinematic corner of the 18th arrondissement gives off picture-perfect village vibes with cobbled lanes, pastel-hued facades, sidewalk cafes and Sacré-Cœur. It’s a more local, authentic part of the city that’s well worth the trek.
8. Keep an Eye Out for the Angels Adorning the City
From the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris is renowned for its awe-inspiring architecture. Most people are so fixated on the big stuff that they fail to notice all the beautiful little angels. These winged protectors adorn churches, are carved into the stone facades of apartments (the giant, three-story guardian of 57 rue de Turbigo is particularly impressive), perch atop roofs such as the Théâtre du Châtelet and float above fountains.
9. The Champs-Élysées Isn’t the Only Shopping Street
While the Champs-Élysées needs no introduction, Paris’s most famous promenade is far from the only attractive shopping avenue in the city. Once you’ve clocked steps, snapped pics and spent some euros, it’s time to seek out some of the other store-lined streets such as Montaigne Avenue, Rue Saint-Honoré and Haussmann Boulevard.
10. You Don’t Have to Break the Bank for a Hotel
Paris is expensive. Some of the most famous five-star hotels fetch upwards of $1,500 a night. However, it’s reassuring to know you don’t have to blow your entire vacation budget on a stay thanks to some boutique gems like Hôtel Adèle & Jules, Hôtel Pulitzer Paris and Hôtel Wallace that will leave ample funds left over to shop, eat and just generally enjoy the city.