Short on Time? Avoiding Tourists? Tired of the Cliché Places?
Here’s what to skip in Paris and some great alternatives to explore instead.
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, as well as one of the most visited. Who doesn’t dream of walking down the Seine at sunset, having a sunny-day picnic on the Champs de Mars, or sitting at Parisian cafe sipping espresso, all the while watching the world go by? Most people have this fantasy of experiencing the iconic and idyllic Parisian way of life. If you are ever on your way to, or on the way back to, the “City of Lights”, here are some things to know, do, skip, and take advantage of that will keep crowds at bay!
1. The Louvre
Yes, I said it! Skip the Louvre. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Louvre. It is an experience. The Louvre is usually overcrowded and can be very overwhelming. You can buy a Paris Museum pass that lets you skip the lines of all the major museums, so if you buy that, I’d go in. If you’re set on seeing the Louvre, or you’re an art fanatic, then go to the Louvre. But if you want a great Parisian museum experience, there are plenty of FREE options that are much less crowded and just as worthwhile.
Where to go instead? Musee d’Orsay.
Musee d’Orsay is my favorite museum in Paris! The museum is inside what used to be a train station. It has no shortage of first-class art but is small enough to not feel overwhelming. You can easily hit this museum in an afternoon and still feel as though you got the full experience. Tourist crowds are much smaller here, and you won’t feel like you’re getting pushed around. Make sure to go upstairs!
2. Going all the way up the Eiffel Tower
Okay, the Eiffel is tricky. Not only is it the top tourist attraction in the WORLD, but lines can be long, and if it’s windy, it is cold up there. If you are at all afraid of heights, I’d suggest only going up to the first level. I’m not really afraid of heights, but at the tippy-top of the Eiffel, I was NOT feeling very secure, especially on a windy day. It is HIGH. However, the second level was divine. Not too high, incredible views, not as crowded. If you are willing to wait in line, then I’d say go to the first or second level of the Eiffel.
Where to go instead for a great view of Paris? The Arc de Triomphe.
The top of Arc de Triomphe, in my opinion, is one of the best views of Paris because you can see the Eiffel and it’s not too high up! You get a full 360 degree view. BUT, get ready to climb a dizzying amount of very tight, spiral stairs! Your legs will be hurting, but I promise the view is worth it! It’s also not nearly as crowded as the Eiffel usually is.
Another great view of Paris minus the huge tourist crowds? The top of the Galeries Lafayette.
Talk about a hidden treasure! Not many people know about the sweeping views you get of Paris by going to the top of Galeries Lafayette. You won’t find nearly as many tourists up here, and the expansive sight you will of get of Paris is fantastic. This is probably my favorite place to snap that perfect picture of the city.
3. Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges is beautiful and elegant; a true example of Parisian perfection. The only downside is how crowded it is- especially in nice weather! If you don’t mind the crowds, go to Place des Vosges and be sure to check out Victor Hugo’s apartment and the Picasso Museum nearby.
Where to go instead? Place Dauphine.
Place Dauphine is a hidden gem. Not many visitors to Paris know about it, so it is normally sparse of people, and very peaceful. Although off the crowded western end of Île de la Cité, it is a tranquil respite with a unique shape.
4. Luxembourg Gardens
The Luxembourg Gardens are beautiful, serene, and probably the most well-recognized gardens in the heart of Paris. Settled between Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Latin quarter, it can be hard to find a seat or a place to enjoy the serenity.
Where to go instead? Parc Monceau
Photo credit: https://www.dismoiparis.fr/parc-monceau/
Located in the 8th arrondissement, Parc Monceau feels just as Parisian as the Luxembourg Gardens or the Tuileries. It is full of real locals walking their dogs or meeting for a chat, who know to avoid the larger touristy spots on a warm day. There is also plenty of room to bask in the sun, or sit and enjoy your baguette.
5. Notre Dame
Okay, Notre Dame is probably one of those places in Paris you need to go. The flying buttresses, the rose windows, not to mention that Napoleon crowned himself here. The surrounding area is picturesque and charming, including the likes of Shakespeare and Company (one of my favorite spots). However, if you’re looking for an alternative, there are some incredible cathedrals that are often forgotten in Paris.
Where can I get a classic cathedral experience besides Notre Dame? Saint Sulpice.
Saint Sulpice is a baroque cathedral on the Left Bank, dating back to 1646. It houses Delacroix frescoes and one of the world’s largest organs. It also was featured in The Da Vinci Code, if you’re a fan, like me. It’s charming, classic, and a must-see that most people pass over to go to Notre Dame.
Laduree is a luxurious, French bakery full of sweets and the famous double-decker macaron. If you ask me, it’s fantastic but a bit overrated and overpriced. I prefer to find the charming family shoppes that make homemade macarons.
Go to Damyel instead.
Damyel was a recommendation from my favorite Parisian tour guide, Corey Frye. You can follow him on his blog, A French Frye in Paris. Located in Le Marais, Damyel is a family-run shoppe that started from a passion of chocolates. They make homemade macarons and sell delightful chocolates and sweets.
Versailles is about 30 minutes outside of central Paris. It is an endless playground of expansive gardens and the beautifully decorated palace within. However…I will say, I did not personally enjoy the inside tour of Versailles because it was uncomfortably crowded. I’m sure it’s not that crowded all the time, but I was in such a rush to get out that I didn’t get to fully enjoy it. For that reason, I suggest looking into other “day-trip” palaces outside of Paris that are just as impressive!
Check out Chateau de Chambord.
Built by Francois I as a hunting lodge (casual) and inspired by Da Vinci, Chateau de Chambord is a majestic French-Renaissance masterpiece. It has beautiful grounds and gardens, without the rush and clusters of people. It is located about two hours outside of Paris, but it is definitely worth a day trip!
That’s it for now! Of course, my opinions and experiences are not the end-all, be-all of other things to do in Paris. These are the places I have enjoyed myself, and there are endless options in this expansive city. I hope I’ve helped inspire you to explore some new places the next time you’re in Paris. As always, I hope you travel far and travel often. Au Revoir until next time!