Women consulting a map by Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
Stuart Bak

Tourist Traps in Paris to Watch Out for

Yes, we know you’re going to want to see the Eiffel Tower and Louvre while visiting Paris, and we wouldn’t dream of trying to stop you. But a good rule of thumb with tourist traps is that, the closer you get to a major landmark, the more likely you are to fall into one. Fear not though: there are many ways to enjoy Paris without being caught out by a bad meal, an overpriced souvenir store, a three-hour attraction queue or a street scam. We’ve got your back, so read on for our guide to the tourist traps to watch out for in Paris, how to avoid them, and what to do instead.

Tourist Traps at Major Paris Attractions

Woman taking a selfie at the Eiffel Tower

So here’s the deal. Most tourists arriving in Paris have two or three must-dos in mind. And that dream trio usually includes at least one of the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa. With somewhere in the region of 20 million tourists visiting Paris every year and 365 days in a year, well, you do the math. Of course we understand that ascending to the top of the Iron Lady or getting up close(ish) to the most famous work of art on the planet are non-negotiable bucket-listers for many. All we’re saying is you should be prepared to spend a lot of precious time queuing, or to mortgage a kidney to get your hands on some of those pricey skip-the-line tickets. Note that you’ll likely still end up viewing da Vinci’s masterpiece over a sea of heads and camera phones.

The petit train de Montmartre in Paris

But what’s the alternative? Well, there are great views of the Eiffel Tower and indeed the rest of Paris from atop the likes of the Montparnasse Tower and Arc de Triomphe. Or take the cute mini train up to Montmartre. Yes, practically this entire district could be considered a tourist trap, but the train is cheap and the panoramic views from up top, on the steps of the glorious Sacré-Cœur Basilica, are absolutely gratis. You could also opt for one of the smaller (but no less interesting) Paris galleries and museums, including those dedicated to the work of maestros Rodin and Picasso.

What else? Squirrel out the city’s more interesting walking tours – Belleville street art, the secrets of Montparnasse, scandal and gossip at the epic Père Lachaise Cemetery (final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison and other great entertainers and artists of yore) – rent a Vélibe bicycle to explore at your own pace, explore the excellent foodie markets, and spend time strolling still-authentic neighborhoods like the Marais and trendy Canal Saint-Martin rather than, say, the tourist-trap theme park Montmartre has sadly become.

Traps for Hungry Tourists

Classic French escargots

It really shouldn’t be possible to have a bad meal in Paris but alas, the City of Love may have a higher percentage of tourist-trap restaurants than any other on the planet, all eager to lure unsuspecting punters in for lackluster lunches and disappointing dinners. But how do you spot these wanton betrayers of French foodie culture? There are a few telltale signs that should make you run a mile, and these usually include one or more of the following:

  • Waiters or touts on the street trying to persuade passers-by to come in. Red alert! After all, if they have to beg for your custom…
  • Signs (in English) that aggressively lay claim to ‘the best steak-frites/escargots/frog legs in town’. They’re probably not the best, and could well be the worst.
  • In fact, any menu in English. Or indeed any menu offering frogs’ legs. Or with pictures. It’s a trap, and that trap is for you the tourist, my friend.
  • Any board or placard that in any way trades on French stereotypes – stripy jumpers, baguettes, garlic – you know the sort of thing.
French stereotypes with striped shirts, berets and croissants

Check Tripadvisor and local guides for recommendations. You also get what you pay for here, so an ‘authentic French three-course meal’ costing just €20 is likely to be a bum deal. Likewise a €20 burger on a menu should set alarm bells ringing. Again, it’s worth remembering the rule of thumb that the further you are from a major tourist attraction, the better and more authentic the restaurants will probably be. Note that one exception to this rule is in Paris’s excellent fresh food and produce markets, where vendors proudly bellowing about the juiciest tomatoes and freshest regional cheeses are almost certainly telling you the truth. So let your guard down here and dig in!

Paris Tourist Traps: Souvenir Shopping

Colorful souvenir Eiffel Tower keyrings

While the temptation to pick up replica Eiffel Towers and Arc de Triomphes at the shops closest to these attractions may prove as difficult to resist as an overpriced Ladurée macaron, once again, this is likely to be where – still giddy from your experience with the real thing – you’re most likely to be hoodwinked into paying top dollar. Frankly, if it smells like tacky tourist tat, it probably is. You’ll encounter dozens of stores hawking this kind of (dare we say it) overpriced garbage on your Paris travels – on Rue de la Huchette in the Latin Quarter; on Rue de Rivoli by the Louvre; just about everywhere in Montmartre – but if it’s Mona Lisa fridge magnets or ‘I ❤ Sacré-Cœur’ mugs you’re after, you’ll find them at much more palatable prices in the airport duty-free at the end of your trip.

A traditional covered shopping arcade in Paris

But better alternative souvenir options also exist. Check out shops at the smaller art galleries such as the Picasso Museum’s Marais boutique, where cool totes, Cubist cushions and Picasso prints are the order the day. Or shop the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Seine’s Left Bank for a beautiful vintage novel with the shop’s famous logo stamped on its flyleaf. Hit up Paris’s ornate 19th-century covered shopping galleries for beautiful antiques, vintage fashions, artisan chocolate and fine French wines, and check out the rest of our souvenir-shopping recommendations here.

Paris Tourist Traps: Common Scams

'Beware of pickpockets' warning sign in Paris

Paris is a very safe city for vacationers but, as with any tourist city, it’s worth being wise to common scams. It should come as no surprise that most crimes against tourists take place in the immediate vicinity of landmark attractions like the Louvre, Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Why? Well, large crowds make for easier targets and smoother getaways for pickpocketing gangs, who will likely have melted away into the hubbub long before you even notice your wallet, purse or phone has gone. Watch out too for anyone who approaches you for directions, ‘accidentally’ bumps into you and spills their drink down you, or approaches you in the street with shiny trinkets to sell. In other words, allowing a stranger to get too close around major Paris attractions probably means kissing goodbye to your holiday money. Sure, it may occasionally be entirely genuine and innocent, but it pays to remain vigilant to avoid falling into what are near-legendary Paris tourist traps. Read our full guide to staying safe in Paris.

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