I had an amazing time in Paris this past March. This was my second time in the city of lights and love, and I really got to soak in and learn the city over the nine days I was there. C’était magnifique!
Like any popular travel destination, some of the sites in Paris provide a better experience than others. I shaped my itinerary around what I liked and didn’t on my previous trip. The result was seeing more, waiting less, and generally avoiding big crowds: all travel wins!
I hope you can use these tips to make your next Parisian vacation magical. Here’s my list of five activities to skip in and around Paris, France, particularly if your time is limited to a few days, and what you should check out instead.
Skip the Louvre, Go to the Centre Pompidou instead
Look, there’s no doubt that you should visit the Louvre in your lifetime. It’s the largest art museum in the world, after all.
But that’s the exact problem with the Louvre: it’s just too big to do in one day. Between the massive crowds and how big the building is, it’s impossible to make a dent without a multi-day trip.
You should not visit the Louvre if your time in Paris is short. I went on my first trip and the hours wasted were not worth catching a glimpse at the Mona Lisa. Skipping the line with a special pass didn’t even make a difference. I would love nothing more than to go and see it over a few days time in the future, but it just isn’t practical to go if you’re trying to take in the city as a whole.
Get your Paris art fix at one of the many other museums the city has to offer. I suggest checking out Centre Georges Pompidou, a complex that houses the largest museum for modern art in Europe. It’s big enough that you’ll get a true diversity of modern works, but you won’t have to sacrifice too much of your time to enjoy it. I spent about four hours there and left very satisfied. The building alone is a fantastic, multi-level maze.
Other museums I enjoyed on my recent trip were the Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, and Musée du Parfum. Paris has so many museums to offer besides the Louvre: take advantage of them for a less stressful and less touristy experience!
Skip Going Up the Eiffel Tower, Find Another Viewing Spot instead
Sure, the city of Paris is gorgeous from the Eiffel Tower, but you know what is missing in your photographs of the vast cityscape? The Eiffel Tower.
It wasn’t that exciting to go up the tower on my first trip, and the price of admission and dinner just wasn’t worth it. I personally prefer looking at the city from other high points and seeing the iconic structure glittering in the sky. Take a picture in front of the tower, of course, just don’t waste your time and money for a ride up the elevator.
One such place to get a great view of the city is the roof of the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. I had originally gone to this famous department store just to check out the famous stained glass domes but was happily surprised by the view. Best part? There were far less people on the roof than on the viewing decks of the Eiffel.
Skip Bus Tours, Take a River Cruise on the Seine instead
Bus tours are a staple for many travel destinations. On my recent trip, I saw plenty of buses driving around the city, pointing out buildings as tourists would try to quickly snap photos. Bus tours can be a good solution if you’re trying to see a lot of sites quickly, but I generally find them to be quite passive and at the mercy of city traffic. No thanks!
Instead, you should consider taking a river cruise down the Seine. You’ll get spectacular views of the many sites that line the river, including the Eiffel Tower, the bridges, and the Grand and Petit Palais. The river is fairly calm, so your photos are likely to be clearer than if you were shooting from a bus, and you’re generally able to roam around the boat unlike a bus where you must stay seated.
Make your river cruise extra special by booking one that serves lunch or dinner. Who wouldn’t want to take in the spectacular sites while sipping on champagne on a boat? Few experiences are quite as luxurious.
My friend who was living in Paris at the time I visited told me to take an evening cruise with Bateaux Mouches, and I’m so glad I did! I was easily able to buy a ticket for a cruise on the same evening and the whole experience was great. Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower reflecting in the Seine is a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Skip the Palace of Versailles, Tour the Palais Garnier instead
This is another item on the list that may be controversial. Of course you should see the Palace of Versailles at some point, but you need to understand that going is a huge commitment. A lot of people visiting Paris for the first time do not consider that.
Versailles is well outside the city limits of Paris and enjoying the vast grounds fully will take a least a day. It will also be an unpleasant experience if you happen to go during tourist season in the late spring and summer: the crowds can be incredibly dense and you could be stuck in lines for hours.
If you want to experience the decadent vibes of Versailles without leaving the city, visit the Palais Garnier instead. It is the most famous opera house in the world and the architecture and design are simply breathtaking. I felt incredibly elegant descending the grand staircase.
While you could purchase tickets to see a performance there, it is not required to view many parts of the building. Simply visit it during the day and walk around for a few hours – just be sure to check for random closures on the opera website. It is an operating performance space, after all.
If you feel like you’re missing out on a royal gardens at Versailles, check out the Parc de Buttes-Chaumont or the Jardin du Luxembourg. Both of these parks are free and have exquisite grounds.
Skip Taxi Cabs, Take the Metro instead
I’ll admit it: it’s convenient to hail a cab and just go straight to a destination without any hassle.
The problem is that taxi drivers like to take advantage of foreign tourists and charge them incredibly high prices for riding. This is true in Paris and other cities around the world. I’ve fallen for it myself.
Do all you can to avoid taxi cabs and give the Paris Metro a try instead. It’s accessible in many parts of the city and the cost difference is huge. It only took me a day or two to get the hang of it.
Sure, there is always a chance of getting pick-pocketed on public transportation, but the Paris Metro did not seem less safe to me than my native New York subway or other underground trains in Europe. Be aware of your belongings and do what you can to blend in with the general population to be safe.
You’ll love discovering the lovely entrances to the different Metro shops. Everything in Paris is just so damn pretty, even the public transportation!
In a situation where the Metro just isn’t feasible? Take a Lyft ride instead of hailing a regular taxi. The prices are far better because they are controlled by Lyft rather than the drivers, so you are less likely to get ripped off (just be aware of peak traffic times that could increase the price of your ride.)
Thanks for reading! Do you agree with my skip that, do this instead suggestions for Paris, France? Leave a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear your opinion.