Paris is NOT a Touristy Destination

By Nomadic Matt | Published February 19th, 2013

Tourists walking underneath the outside the Eiffel Tower in ParisAs winter continues and the days get colder, I find people begin to think of travel: warmer places, tropical beaches, and spring trips. My inbox fills up more than normal with questions on where to escape to, what to see, and things to do. And lately there has been a common theme to these emails: people want to get off the beaten trail and avoid the “touristy” stuff.

”I don’t want to go to Paris. It’s too touristy. Where else can I go that is like it?”

I cringe when I see statements like this. I understand the desire to get off the beaten track, to explore places and find hidden gems. We want a glimpse at the local life. We want to be Indiana Jones and feel like we‘re discovering and experiencing something new, not simply joining a horde of other tourists and buying into mass consumption.

It’s good to see something different and explore what hasn’t been Disneyfied for tourists. But this idea that simply because a place is popular, it’s become “too touristy” and thus ruined is crap.

Paris is not touristy.

Neither is New York City.

Or Bangkok.

Or Cairns.

Or any other city in the world.

The problem isn‘t the destination—the problem is where you’re going. The only thing that’s touristy are the spots you choose to see. The beaten path is beaten because it’s popular and everyone wants to see it. Why do the crowds clutter around the Eiffel Tower? Because it’s amazing. Why do people flock to Times Square? Because it’s iconic.

But if you’re sick of tourists and want a “local feel,” avoid those spots. Venture away from the crowds. Odds are good that you won’t find them a few blocks over. 90% never stray off the path. To say a city of millions of people is “touristy” is to focus on the tourist spots and then say that the whole city/country/region is like that.

And that’s just not true.

I live in New York City. Every day thousands of tourists wander its streets. I don’t notice them. I rarely see them. Why? Because I’m not walking around Times Square, clamoring to see the Wall Street bull, or fighting my way around the Met.

Instead, I hang out in local neighborhoods and shops that most tourists won’t ever find or go to.

If you‘re only visiting the most famous sights, you’ll find any place touristy. Walk away from that area and head down a back alley and into a new neighborhood, and suddenly you’re surrounded by locals and experiencing local life.

Next time you cringe at all the tourists, look at your surroundings. Are you in a famous, highly popular area? Then change where you are. Don’t skip the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and make sure to walk the Champs-Élysées. But then keep walking—you’ll leave behind the crowds who will never venture past that one block, and you’ll be free to explore new, untouristy areas all by yourself.

And once you start doing that, you’ll never call any city touristy ever again.

 

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comments 58 Comments

Well said, but I have to disagree with one of your examples. I live in NYC also, and the Met is one of my favorite spots. My grandmother started taking me to the Met as a kid, and I’ve been going regularly since. It does get crowded in the summer, but I’m always surprised how few tourists visit the Met. I talk to a lot of tourists in NYC, and I’ve yet to hear someone mention they’re going to the Met… or any other museum. Times Square, Broadway, the M and M store, Central Park, 30 Rock – those places seem high on the list for a lot of tourists. Museums seem to be a niche tourist attraction in New York. I think that’s a shame, because NYC museums are world-class and cheap (most have free nights or suggested donation admission policies).

Very well put. I would add that if you make an effort to speak to the local people and ask them for some advice (and that doesn’t include the staff at your hotel), you will end up nowhere near the rest of the tourists!

“keep walking” – good advice! I love visiting the very touristic places and then finding where tourists aren’t going. Reading local blogs is a great way to start getting off the path…

Just send them all to Albania. That’ll shut them up for a while..

Sam

This is good information. However, if it’s your first time visiting Paris I think it’s important to be a tourist. See what everyone else wants to see and then return to see a deeper and more personal side of the city. Good post.

I agree with Sam about being a tourist the first time around. But after that definitely try to go your own way, meet some locals, really get to know a place and culture.

I feel sorry for tourists, they have no idea what great locations these giant statues and man-made structures are pulling them away from.

The world needs educating about what else is out there!

This is all good to know. I haven’t really traveled yet but hope to soon!

I think you hit upon a travel truth that seems to have been deliberately forgotten by the travel opinion writing community. Too often the clichéd advice to “get off the beaten path” is treated as an exclusive objective of travel rather than just one part of a well-rounded itinerary. As travel wisdom goes, it’s been raised to a status far higher than it deserves. It also has had the pernicious effect of demoting the world’s best places simply for being well known and well loved. It’s no wonder people are thinking of skipping Paris.

The simple truth about the beaten path is that it is beaten for a reason; and that’s because it leads to amazing places. Miss it, and you miss the best the world has to offer.

Truer things could not be said. It does get annoying when you are in a great destination and people all around are just complaining because of all the “tourists” even though they themselves are one. Like the time I was in Hawaii, in Honolulu, it was tourist craziness all around Waikiki, but if you take a 10 minute bus ride out of town, you were thrown in with the locals. This is where you got to see the true Hawaiian culture. Even though that was such a major tourist hot spot, it is always possible to escape and see the world as it truly is.

Eileen

My stepdad is close to visiting 80 countries and territories around the world and most of his trips were on this packages tours, as part of a hoard if “tourists” he goes to pre approved restaurants and a tour bus for transport.

He has “danced” in the sambodrime during carnival. He visited the Maldives, he drank vodka in the middle of the red square. He hiked up machu pichu. Should all his travels be discredited just because he was part of a “packaged tour”?

What about all the people he met and kept in contact with bec they all happen to live here? What about the drivers and the guides he talked to, do those not count?

He has never strayed bec he doesn’t want to. He likes the *highlights*. Thats his style He is also 76 years old. And although not my style myself, I am not ashamed to say that we are visiting Japan next month via a packaged tour.

Whether you are traveling as a “tourist” or a “traveler” – I think what matters is you actually GO

Eileen

Karen

I totally agree with you! The first time I ever went to Paris, I just spent 4 days randomly walking around random neighborhoods, eating croissants, and it was awesome. After 4 days, knowing that I was leaving soon, I decided to finally go to the Champs Elysees, and the Louvre and other tourist areas, but I’m glad I started off in non-tourist areas.

That was a great post. Next time i will just keep walking. Who knows what great adventure I will have.

Couldn’t agree more about Paris. I was surprised how much I still loved it when I went back last year. It does not feel touristy at all once you’re out of the touristy spots. Paris is one of my favorite cities to get lost in.

Tracy

I’m so glad I saw this today! I will be in Paris in just less than a month; I do intend to take in the major stuff, but I also want to make a concerted effort to be off the normal path, to just wander the streets and see what I see, find what I find. I did this in Dublin last year and found it to be one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had.

I agree. Living in another popular tourist city, San Francisco, I am constantly asked where the locals go. Which I am happy to share, but…I also send people to Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and for a ride on a Cable Car because there is no place else in the world that these places and experiences exist. Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower (at least the first time?) Never!

Thank you! I completely agree. A first-time NYC visitor told me this summer that the Statue of Liberty “is not worth a visit.” Really!?!? I’ve lived here for years, and been to the Statue of Liberty at least 5 times, and I’m planning on going back. It’s the Statue of Liber

ty! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I guess I’m not as cool as the average tourist.

So true! We always found the popular places were quite first thing in the morning and late in the evening … in the middle of the day when the tour groups, buses etc emerged we turned around and headed in the opposite direction. Saw, ate and experienced some great things as well as seeing the popular stuff – let’s face it most of it is popular for a reason and well worth seeing, just preferably without crowds.

I like losing myself down some street to see where it leads me – usually to the best experiences! Then sometimes I need a GPS to get out to where I’m staying!

NomadicMatt

Second that!

Fact: If in Europe, any popular spot = touristy. Either deal with it (I try – it’s hard though) or try to find the more interesting “city within a city”. In Paris, that means eating at the brasseries the locals frequent, visit alternative art museums, parks and galleries at the Marais, offbeat stores and so on. I’m of a very independent nature and prefer to find my own path rather than being told where to go – which often has led to interesting discoveries I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

Great advice. My strategy is to walk in the opposite direction from where all the tourists are headed. Usually you only have to go a couple of streets away to find a local neighborhood. I do of course do the touristy things too but also try to explore other areas.

Too true! I love going to Paris…and the people watching outside of the base of the Eiffel Tower is a mix of locals and tourists. Head out and onto a street 2 or 3 away from the Seine and all of a sudden, the crowds change. But if people want to get away from the touristy stuff, enjoy a day or two in Paris and hop on the train….so much more to France than the Eiffel Tower! And so incredibly accessible! Love it.

There is nothing better than just wandering around a city and finding something a little different to what the masses are seeing. It always ends up being the highlight, the story that you most recount to your friends back home.
Although I will be in Paris this July and I am most looking forward to watching the riders in the 100th Tour de France pedal down the Champs-Elysees. I’ll be squished in with all of the other tourists and loving it.

Word! No need to add anything!

Well put. It’s easy to get turned off by places because you hear everyone talk about them… but I dig your advice: check out those popular sights and then keep walking. MUCH better than stopping at a place like the Eiffel Tower and then asking… “now what?” Now you wander! Ha! Nice one dude.

Amanda

Well said Matt – I would also recommend not going to Paris during July… althought the weather is beautiful this time of year, most Parisians do a disappearing act and head for the country to escape the hoards of tourists and many local businesses close down. Also if anyone is looking for a great bike tour that covers the back streets of Paris, check out http://www.bikeabouttours.com. This place is run by expats who live in Paris and speak fluent French, and they focus on ‘local’ spots, avoiding most of the big touristy attractions.

I agree 100%! When we travel to a city, we spend the first couple days in the touristy areas (great for adjusting to time zone differences). After that we move away from the touristy places and discover the “residential” areas, which usually have better restaurants!

lactmama

What amazes me these days is how many people do not want to go to museums. The Met is a world treasure, perhaps it is too big for someone who does not have a lot of time. I think it is one of the most important sites to visit in NY.

I think you just talked yourself into giving Vietnam another chance!

NomadicMatt

It wasn’t the tourists that bothered me!

Couldn’t agree with you more. Aside from traveling a lot, we live in New Orleans. I tell everyone who visits us to get out of The French Quarter and explore the city. We are so much more than the beery, boozy Bourbon Street.

Riley

My wife and I will be visiting Paris for the first time in April. We will be traveling with good friends who have spent a lot of time in this city. They have said the exact same thing. See the main sights but then walk a few blocks either way to experience the real city. We are looking forward to exploring Paris with our own private guides who speak the language.

Great post Matt and sage advice. Everyone has a list of things they *have* to see but so many people think they’re done once that list is checked. Some of my favourite experiences in Paris this past November were when we were walking through a typical neighbourhood, buying food from a store where the only people in the queue were locals. One of my best experiences in Bangkok was navigating the back alleys hunting down a tiny restaurant that was recommended by Mark from Migrationology. You really can go all Indiana Jones in these cities if you just have the courage to step of the path.

NomadicMatt

Mark is a the expert on food in Bangkok. Bet it was good!

Very interesting perspective on Paris. If you go there, you must definitely go to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. But the thing is most people go there because they have to. Its like going to (Agra) India and not seeing the Taj Mahal.

NomadicMatt

You don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to.

Marilyn

I would agree with the consensus that seems to prevail in the article and comments – both the well known sights and the places and experiences known to the locals have value. I am writing from Malaga on Spain’s Costa del Sol which one guidebook has virtually written off due to an excess of tourists. However, I am here off season staying with a local family and taking Spanish classes while also exploring the culture and natural beauty of the area.

Jo

It’s all about how you travel – if all you do is read the guide books then you’ll stick close to the major sights, and always be where all the tourists are. But if you get some local’s advice you’ll find yourself experiencing a new place in a totally different way.

A great way to experience a new destination like a local is through a home exchange – you stay in a real home and find out from your hosts where the best places to go around them are. That way you experience a whole different side of your destination. Couchsurfing and apartment rentals by an owner are also great ways of making sure you are a traveller and not a tourist. Happy travels!

Vincent

Some facts.
Most parisians have never been to the Eiffel tower or the Louvre
The banking/financial sector is a much bigger part of Paris economy than the tourism.

The autor is right, Paris is a large real and working city that happen to have many visitors but it is not a city made for tourists.
By only visiting the main monuments, you miss 90% of the reality of the city.

Also don’t assume that Paris life is like in the Hollywood movie stereotypes.
The huge gap by living Paris and tourist vision of Paris may explain why some inhabitants can be seen as rude by the visitors. Most of time they are not but they are just busy or stressed.

William

Or go early / late in the day and avoid the crush. When I went to Kyoto a couple of years back everywhere was heaving (especially Ryoanji), but I went around the middle of the day. It kind of ruins the feel of the place when it is a Zen temple with lts of kids running around and people taking shots all over the place. Getting there as soon as the gate opens may have allowed a more peaceful experience.

ashreew

That is so true! It’s really important to explore more spots than any spots people usually to see. I used to call some cities are too touristy, but then again you are right! It’s not the city, it’s me who don’t want to explore more spots. Nice post!

I didn’t really like Paris when I was first there – I went with my parents and we ended doing all the toursity things which included: being haressed by beggers, shoved along by other tourists whilst trying to look over the side of the Eiffel Tower and paying way too much for a baguette. The beauty of cities is that they are big and have many streets to explore, whenever I am in a new city I mix seeing the famous attractions that I feel cannot be missed and wandering aimlessly around. Some of my favourite buildings have been found by getting lost in a area of a city that is devoid of famous attractions. I’ve done it in Brugge, Vienna and Dublin now and everytime its been very rewarding – even if I do then have to consult the iPad to get back.

Most of our travel these days is done through house sitting so the home owners often can tell us about places to visit only the locals know.

Kathryn Hough

I agree. It’s important to hit some of the historical spots but then wander further into the local spots. I’ve lived in NYC and I only went to Times Square twice – when visitors came into town and begged me to bring them there. One traditional tourist place that I really want to hit when my husband and I go to Paris is Père Lachaise. I’m a history junkie and I love to do research, so I’m reading up on it here before we go next year: http://www.perelachaisecemetery.com/

Well, given that Paris is the world’s number one destination for tourism and has one of the highest population densities in the world, a good case could be made that Paris *is* touristy no? Especially in the summer, when to quote Amanda; “most Parisians do a disappearing act and head for the country to escape the hoards of tourists and many local businesses close down”

The more you’re on the beaten path, the less you will enjoy travel, because #1 the prices of everything is hiked up and up and up, and #2 the crowds reduce the fun and character of a place… it’s not fun waiting for hours in lines being subjected to beggars and scammers.

Don’t get me wrong, big cities like Paris and London are really exciting and fun places to visit, IF you go at the right time. For instance, visit Paris in the Spring or Autumn, not the summer, and catch the big attractions such as the Eiffel Tower at off-peak times such as the evenings. But if you do what everyone else is doing, you will get what everyone else is getting (exorbitant prices and long long lines).

The big, most popular cities for travel, are, in general NOT good places to live or stay for extended periods, because of the crowds and expenses. Paris and London, for instance, are among the most expensive cities in the world, prices will be hiked x2 in general where-ever you are, and up to x5 close to the big tourist attractions!

So getting off the beaten path, is, in general, a good idea. For instance, in Thailand, you can find (if you know where to look), the same quality goods and services for only 20% of the price of these same services in the western world. As an example, you can get almost the same quality dental work for only 20% of the price in the West. In general, getting off the beaten place means saving of 80% or more!

I so agree. I’m in Paris, have been here almost 2 weeks, and have seen almost no tourists because I haven’t made it to any museums or monuments yet. Eventually, before my time is up, I’ll visit a few sites that attract visitors, but for now, I’m enjoying neighborhood life and the company of friends. Paris is a pretty big place. Room for all kinds.

For once, I wholeheartedly agree with you on this: “The problem is not the destination — the problem is where you are going.”

That’s what I always tell my clients. Of course Midtown and the Eiffel Tower will feel touristy. But there are SO many other places to visit if one bothers to read and plan ahead. And also, I would add that touristy places are touristy for a reason – either striking beauty, historical heritage, architecture prowess, etc. Don’t skip these places simply because there are going to be other people there.

The key here is balance – see some of the main sights, and add in some more local experiences like finding a coffeeshop, a bakery, a bistro. That is the recipe for a succesful trip to Paris.

When visiting a new city, I usually dedicate the first day to get all the touristy things I want to see out of the way. After that I try to stay away and really attempt to really get to know the city.

Love New York City.

Excellent! This is the style of travel we promote, see the known attractions if that’s something you desire than hit the path less traveled, you will be rewarded for sure! I often wonder when someone tells me that they have visited somewhere if they have really seen the true destination or just the few well know places that everyone else sees.

I love being a tourist. I mean come on when I see people vacationing I want to live vicariously through them! Paris is exactly that like the above comments had mentioned, I want to see all the sights, eat the wonderful food and shop till I drop. I have never been to Paris but I can venture to say I would look like a tourist and be proud of it! Great insight on your thoughts I love to look at everything with a different point of view as well.

Edd

Love your blog! I’m traveller myself, coming from the Philippines, travelled most of the southeast Asian countries. I live in Long Beach, CA now but I do travel 8 times a year everywhere. Been to all parts of Canada, going to London, Paris and Rome this summer.

My objective as a traveller is to go to all US’s 50 states. I’m set to travel next month to Minneapolis-Chicago-Milwaukee-Indianapolis (this will be my 19th state). Exciting times.

Thanks for the blog!!

Worney Brito

My favorites when in a new place are to “get lost” in any charming neighborhood I find, of course, by chance, or to get back to the hints which are given by locals. Do agree with you!

Marcos

I kind of agree and disagree. Ive lived in Soho for 18 yrs. and it wasnt a touristy hot spot, landmark, etc. like time square, eiffel tower, etc. Until recently has it become an outdoor mall. So how would one deal with that? Move? Also, it boggles my mind, how/why somone would travel to nyc, with all its options for amazing shopping, and wait hours in line for abercrombie…. Isnt that in pretty every mall in the world?

NomadicMatt

It sure is! Plus, they make crappy clothes!

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