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The 9 Most Overrated Places To Go In Paris If You Are A Tourist

Oh, we do love Paris in the springtime.

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1. The Moulin Rouge

© Paris Tourist Office/José Serur Yedid

Why not? This cabaret where the can-can was supposedly invented was no doubt once risqué but now feels obscene – mainly because of the euros it screws out of the coach-fulls of tourists that visit.

Tickets to the show alone start at a barely believable €100, which makes the bovine-like tourist-herding feel all the richer. Then there are the seedy surrounds of the Boulevard de Clichy, where the club is located.

Go here instead: Just a few doors down from the Moulin Rouge, on the same boulevard, the Museum of Eroticism offers a far franker investigation of human sexuality.

Not that the 2,000 sex aids, fetish objects and erotic works of art spanning cultures and history really appear as high-minded as the museum pretends, but they’re sure to broaden the mind.

2. The Mona Lisa

Flickr: commpilot23 / Via Creative Commons

Why not? Poor Mona, eyeballed more times than there are stars in the galaxy. The Louvre doesn’t help by encasing the famed portrait in a kind of reinforced-glass coffin to guard against damage and theft.

Sure, the (surprisingly small) portrait of a 16th-century Florentine idlewoman occupies an important place in art history but it’s hard to tell peering at it over the rock-concert-like throngs in front of you – most of whom, you included, are really only gawping at it because of how much it’s worth.

Go here instead: Paris is one of the world’s great museum cities, so it feels a little unimaginative to plump for the museum everyone knows about. For real, jaw-dropping, wow-now-I’ve-seen-it-in-the-flesh reactions, try the Musée d’Orsay. Its collection is stuffed with Impressionist works by Monet, Manet and Cézanne so luminous they’ve gotta be saving on the lighting bill.

In the still-stylish Marais quarter, the Picasso Museum, recently reopened after a five-year renovation, compellingly traces the little Spaniard’s wild, abundant genius. And in the otherwise rather snoozy 16th district, all the cool kids gather at the zany modern art space the Palais de Tokyo.

3. The Eiffel Tower

© Paris Tourist Office/Marc Bertrand

Why not? One drawback of the Eiffel tower, once you've braved the hours-long queues, swallowed the €15.50 (£11.50) ticket price and crammed yourselves into what feel like freight elevators to get to the top is that you can’t actually see the Eiffel Tower from the top. Which is the whole point of Paris, right?

Oh, and – unsurprisingly – once you’ve reached the top of this Paris landmark, there are equally long queues to get down, only now you’ve swapped your sense of thrilled expectation for vertigo mixed with misanthropy. The Eiffel Tower’s other main drawback? So many aggressive street vendors and pickpockets they should form their own guild.

Go here instead: For a less predictable view, climb the Tour Montparnasse – a very tall (for Paris) skyscraper that’s ugly enough you won’t be missing anything from the peak.

(None of which is to deny the Eiffel Tower’s status as an aesthetic and engineering marvel and symbol of modernity but just to point out that there are way better vantage points in Paris to appreciate those qualities .)


4. The Champs-Elysées

http://ttps://Flickr: / Via Creative Commons

Why not? Gazing up at the leafy plane trees that still line this major avenue running from Place de la Concorde to the Arc De Triomphe, you can just about imagine the days when boater-hatted idle heirs, parasol-twirling ladies who lunched and peripatetic poets wandered up and down what was reputed to be the most beautiful thoroughfare on Earth.

But it would help if you were very shortsighted: that name, which actually means “heavenly”, is harder to justify now. The haute couture emporiums of Dior and Louis Vuitton may recall the street’s elitist past, but the international chains such as Gap and McDonald’s now jostling with cut-price clothing outlets and characterless cafes make this one of the least atmospheric parts of the city.

Go here instead: For the best shopping in Paris, go niche. You’ll find some of the city’s most distinctive and up-and-coming designers along Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and its offshoots in the Marais. For a more old-world experience, try the 19th-century covered passageways, such as Galerie Vivienne, in the second arrondissement.

In the eighth, Chanel, Valentino and Fendi are among the couture houses hustling genteelly along Avenue Montaigne, plus there’s Bulgari jewels to go with them.

5. Saint-Ouen flea market

© Paris Tourist Office/Marc Bertrand

Why not? It’s a pretty high class of flea that now hangs out at St-Ouen, by Porte de Clignancourt, on the periphery of Paris. Much of Saint-Ouen – generally reckoned the largest “flea” market in the world – is like an endless antiques bazaar, with prices to suit. An exemplary piece of merchandise on a recent visit was a mint condition revolutionary street poster from 1968… now yours for €600.

Where to go instead? Never fear: the flea-bitten flea market tradition lives on, even within pockets at St-Ouen itself. Head for Marché Lecuyer (one of the mini-markets within the market) for the dusty trash and treasure of house clearances.

But you’ll find more bargains at two of Paris’s less-celebrated flea markets, like St-Ouen located by old gates in Paris’s vanished city walls. At Les Puces de Montreuils, you can rifle through aged cutlery, family photos and bedside lights to find odd items of interest and value; Porte de Vanves is good for vintage clothing, vinyl and even perfume.

6. The Latin Quarter

Flickr: danacvoss / Via Creative Commons

Why not? This former intellectual and artistic hotbed has ceded much of its territory to cineplexes, fast-food joints and ersatz brasseries. It’s about as bohemian now as an Eiffel Tower fridge magnet (one of the few things you can still buy here relatively cheaply).

One wonders what the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would have made of the tourists crowding this Seine-side quarter from his former perch at the nearby Deux Magots café.

Go here instead: The venerable new and secondhand bookshop Shakespeare and Co is a striking exception to its generally neutered surrounds. You can easily spend an afternoon browsing among the well-chosen volumes in this former hangout of Henry Miller and the Beats. Your server will possibly be one of the young writers the shop has long let board here in exchange for work.

Otherwise, the bohemian spirit seems to have upped and moved further away from the river to the neighbourhood of Butte-aux-Cailles. Here the student bars and cafes are lively and affordable and there’s even an insurrectionary heritage: the residents were among the toughest fighters of the doomed Paris Commune.

7. Père Lachaise Cemetery

Flickr: tusca / Via Creative Commons

Why not? Speaking of rebellion, there must be some people who think the Doors’ Jim Morrison remains the last word in anti-establishment cool. Actually, there appears to be a hell of a lot of them, judging by the endless parade of black-clad pilgrims to the grave of the lead singer, who died in Paris and was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

His undying fans leave graffiti and joint roaches on their hero’s tomb, not to mention on those of his neighbours, who include the playwright Molière and the writers Colette and Oscar Wilde.

Sounds an impressive lineup but the French, great cemetery visitors, tend to regard Père Lachaise as a bit flashy – especially as its most famous inhabitant is an American.

Go here instead: Montmartre Cemetery impresses with its classical grace and highbrow late lineup including the painter Degas, the composer Delibes and the avant-garde filmmaker François Truffaut.

At Montparnasse Cemetery, you can barely move for name-droppable dead, including the actress Jean Seberg, the playwright Samuel Beckett and – him again – Jean-Paul Sartre and his long-suffering writer lover Simone de Beauvoir.

8. Sacré-Coeur

© Paris Tourist Office/Daniel Thierry

Why not? It may feature in 1,000 Paris postcards and afford a nice view of the city, but you’d actually be hard put to find a place that feels less French in the whole of Paris than this Montmartre monument – and this is in a list containing the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge!

With a higher than average concentration of innocents abroad, Sacré-Coeur attracts con artists like bees to honey. Beware in particular the notorious “string scam”, whereby some apparently genial hawker ties a “friendship bracelet” to your wrist unasked and then aggressively demands extortionate payment.

Go here instead: Montmartre is best discovered rather than planned, following your nez past hidey-hole galleries and scrawled resto blackboards trumpeting some delicious-sounding animal part drenched in sauce.

Wander a block away from the pickpockets and tat merchants of this tourist trap and you really are in one of the most distinctively Parisian parts of the city. Stroll down to Rue des Trois-Frères and find the Marché de la Butte grocery store that starred in Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s filmic hymn to Paris.

9. Disneyland Paris

Flickr: hernanpc / Via Creative Commons

Why not? Paris? And Disneyland? Not obvious bedfellows. At least Disney had the decency to create a little distance and mount its theme park 20 miles outside the capital.

Look, kids love Disneyland, no one’s denying it, but they hopefully haven’t discovered cynicism yet. You’ll be harder to please, especially with the queues and a single decent adult ticket costing just shy of £50 – you could probably get a budget flight to Neverland for that.

Go here instead: For an indigenous theme park, with more wit – and lower prices – choose Park Astérix, about the same distance from Paris as Disneyland. But for grandiose displays of fantasy and excess, there’s no better Parisian day trip than Versailles

“Let them eat cake!” supposedly declared Queen Marie Antoinette imperiously. I’d suggest instead a freshly baked baguette, perhaps some Roquefort and saucisson from a street market, a decent Côtes du Rhône and a picnic blanket. Parfait!

@SimonDBusch is a travel editor