Wondering if Paris is overrated? Keep reading for my honest thoughts!
When I went to Europe for the first time when I was about 24, I balked at the idea of visiting Paris. In my mind, Paris was too perfect, too posh, and too touristy for me. I was the sort of traveler whose first trip out of the country was to Guatemala and who adored Istanbul and had lived in Jordan.
I wanted adventure and intrigue, not to visit some storybook land in France. Still, my boyfriend insisted that we go and, because we had a free place to stay, I agreed. I was probably in Paris for a full (jetlagged) day before I decided I was in love.
This post is a compilation of my honest opinions about Paris, as well as my tips to avoid some of the less glamorous aspects of the city. Whether you’ve traveled the world or are planning your first trip abroad, Paris is a wonderful place to visit and, in my view, is definitely not overrated.
So, is Paris Overrated? My Honest Opinion
I truthfully do not think that Paris is overrated, but I do think that it can sometimes have a reputation that would be hard for any city to live up to in the minds of tourists. Paris, like New York, is a real city where millions of people actually live. Both Paris and New York have world class cuisine, fabulous architecture, plenty of things to do, and attract millions of tourists each year.
The difference, in my opinion, is that New York also has a reputation for being dirty, crowded, and unruly (which it undoubtedly is!), while Paris is idyllic and romantic. I actually think that Paris is idyllic and romantic, but it also has its issues – many of which are reminiscent of the issues you’ll find in other big cities like New York or Rome.
It has wonderful aspects and regrettable aspects, but overall it’s still beautiful, historic, and well worth visiting.
What I did differently when I visited Paris
I want to point out that I had a few advantages when I first visited Paris and fell in love with it. First, I had almost no expectations – I was fully ready to hate the city when I arrived. Second, I got to see the city with a friend my age who had been living there for many years – he ushered us away from the tourist centers and towards the younger, hipper parts of the city.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I skipped most of the major Parisian landmarks on my first trip. I walked along the Seine, cycled near Canal Saint-Martin, and tried foods from my friend’s favorite spots. If I’d just walked the streets covered in “I visited Paris!” merch, I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed it at all.
I included many of my favorite activities in my weekend in Paris guide and my list of relaxing things to do. Whenever possible, I’ve included my favorite restaurants and spots that I think are worth a stop while you’re in Paris.
Why Do People Love Paris?
Everyone who has visited Paris probably has their own reason for loving it, along with some aspects they probably didn’t love as much. In my view, there’s so much to love about the city as a tourist. There’s wonderful food, incredible landmarks, expansive parks, and history everywhere you look.
As a visitor, I think it’s easy to fall in love with the pure aesthetic of Paris. The buildings are grand and uniformly beautiful. The Seine is crossed by uniquely decorated and expansive bridges, and you can sit next to it for a relaxing afternoon near Pont Neuf.
Visitors also love to explore the city’s remarkable museums, like the Louvre Museum (the most popular museum in the world) or its smaller museums like the d’Orsay or the Rodin Museum. Truthfully, the list of fabulous places that you can visit goes on and on!
I once visited Paris with a family friend who was so awestruck by the city that he spent a few days photographing nearly everything he saw. He even photographed a few pigeons at one point, if I remember correctly. To be clear, this is one of my top memories from all of my trips to Paris – the city just has that effect on travelers!
5 Top Reasons that People Think Paris is Overrated
There are some legitimate reasons that people typically give for thinking that Paris is overrated. I’ve included the truth, as I see it, and my tips for managing these downfalls as someone who has visited many times.
1. It’s dirty
I don’t think there are two ways about it, Paris is a fairly dirty city. It’s common to see trash, cigarette butts, and other litter on the sidewalks and city streets. People sometimes pee in the streets, and some areas have a decidedly bad smell.
It’s not quite as dirty as New York, but it’s nowhere near as clean as some other European cities. I consider London to be a much cleaner city than Paris.
My advice is that you try to take the good with the bad in Paris, instead of avoiding the dirtier parts. The city is a little rough around the edges, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying all of the beautiful, wondrous parts.
Cleaner areas in Paris
Although Paris on the whole can be dirty, there are a few neighborhoods that are cleaner and sometimes more pulled together. Even though I’d classify the following areas as cleaner, you still may find trash and other junk on the sidewalks. No city or neighborhood is perfect!
✅ The 7th Arrondissement near Invalides
✅ Le Marais
✅ Saint-Germain des Prés
2. Pickpockets and phone thefts are common
Technically, you could get pickpocketed anywhere in the world. However, it’s certainly more common in Paris than in many other European cities. Adding to the problem, pickpockets often target tourists in busy areas, when you’re less likely to be paying attention to your valuables.
Often, pickpockets and thieves in Paris will work in pairs or groups, so there are usually several people involved in the scam. As a general rule, average Parisians won’t approach you to ask for help or offer you things. They can tell by your clothes that you’re a tourist, and if they really need help they’ll probably ask another Parisian.
Of course, if you see blood or someone is asking for you to call an ambulance – call it! But this is certainly very rare.
Tips to avoid being a victim of petty theft
The best way to deal with petty theft is to do your best to avoid being a target. You can do that by practicing all of the personal safety tips that are usually recommended to travelers. Additionally, I like to keep a low profile and avoid obviously expensive accessories, wear neutral colors, and generally avoid standing out.
Thieves in Paris generally look for travelers who are easy targets. Be aware of your surroundings, keep valuables out of easy reach, and tuck your phone into a hard to reach pocket.
I once had a friend who was wearing a dress and looked down to see a man’s hand in her pocket when he was trying to steal her phone – she swatted his hand away and thwarted the thief. Personally, I like to keep my phone tucked into the waistband of my leggings or zipped into an inside pocket in my coat, when possible.
✅ Be aware of your surroundings at all times
✅ Use a money belt or keep valuables in a zipped pocket
✅ Hide your phone when taking the metro, especially at night
3. It can be hard to find great food
Truthfully, it can be hard to find wonderful food in Paris, especially if you try to eat near the main tourist landmarks. Restaurants that cater to tourists are not popular with Parisians, and therefore can be low quality or simply expensive.
There is plenty of terrible food in Paris, but also some of the most favorite restaurants in the world are located in the city.
The key, in my opinion anyway, is to try to eat where the Parisians eat. Restaurants that cater to repeat customers are more likely to have fresh, quality food at reasonable prices. When you can, always opt for busy spots with high turnover.
Tips to find better food in Paris
My golden rule for finding great food in Paris is to try to eat in restaurants where I hear a lot of French being spoken. I don’t speak French and I can’t tell French accents apart, but if I walk into a restaurant and hear that conversations are overwhelmingly taking place in French, I relax a bit.
In order to find restaurants frequented by French speakers, I almost always travel outside of tourist areas to eat. You might find an acceptable restaurant near the Louvre, but it probably won’t be good. Always skip the restaurants offering menus in 6 languages near the major landmarks – they only cater to tourists and they’re probably not any good.
You could also look for budget restaurants in the “affordable restaurants” section of the Michelin Guide. There are a handful of options that aren’t cheap, per se, but budget-friendly and probably very tasty.
✅ Eat where the French eat
✅ Travel outside of tourist areas
✅ Avoid restaurants where menus are only in English (or they’re in 6 languages)
4. Locals are Rude
Parisians are often accused of being rude and unkind towards tourists, often seeming less friendly than the locals in other European cities. In my opinion, this trope is a little overblown. I rarely find Parisians to be ruder than people I casually encounter in the US.
I do, however, try my best to be agreeable and conscious that I’m in a new country and cultural context when I’m in Paris.
Truthfully, there are rude people everywhere. I’ve met rude locals around the world, including in Ireland, which is known for being friendly. Don’t let a rude interaction ruin your trip; part of being a world traveler is knowing when to act and when you simply need to shake it off.
Tips to have a better experience with the locals
Some of the time, Parisians seem rude simply because they aren’t comfortable communicating in English. Even speaking a few words in French when you start speaking can help them to feel more at ease.
Remember, it’s OK to travel to Paris without speaking French! Even small attempts to speak the language are usually appreciated, though people are typically quick to switch to English if they speak it.
✅ Greet everyone in French – a simple “bonjour” can go a long way towards starting a conversation off on the right foot
✅ Try not to assume everyone speaks English. When you can, try to say “Parlez-vous anglais?” (do you speak English?)
✅ Don’t take everything personally! Practice letting it go if you have a terse interaction.
5. It doesn’t have Air Conditioning
If you’ve visited Paris in the summer, you’re probably well aware that air conditioning is not universal in the French capital. Between the summer temperatures, the lack of indoor cooling, and the humidity, it’s easy to feel like you’re sweltering during the daytime heat.
Visitors from the United States are usually accustomed to having ice and air conditioning nearly everywhere they go during the summer. This is simply not the case in Paris, where restaurants, bars, hotels, and other establishments often do not have air conditioning of any sort. Sometimes, they don’t even have fans blowing.
So, it’s good to be prepared to be more exposed to the elements during your summer trip to Paris.
Tips to stay cool if you visit during the summer
If you’re worried about overheating during the summer in Paris, there are some easy things that you can do to prepare for the weather. The first and most important is to choose a hotel that has air conditioning, since this will give you a cool place to return to if you start to get too warm in the city.
Be sure to pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothes, preferably in light colors. I also like to carry an insulated water bottle, which I fill with ice whenever I have the opportunity. This serves the double purpose of helping to ensure that I stay hydrated, as Europeans seem to drink a lot less water than those of us who grew up in the United States.
✅ Choose a hotel with air conditioning
✅ Carry an insulated water bottle and fill it with ice when you have the opportunity
✅ Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
Where to Stay in Paris
There are plenty of wonderful places to stay in Paris on a budget throughout the city. I’d recommend that you choose a hotel that receives high marks for its location, but still be prepared to take the metro and travel around the city.
Several central areas of Paris are full of hotels, but if they’re too close to the central monuments (think: the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc), you probably won’t be able to find any decent food nearby. Instead, I’d opt for a trendier area that’s full of lively bars and restaurants to enjoy at night, then venture out towards the central areas during the day.
📍 Paris budget hotel: The People – Paris Marais This hostel is a trendy accommodation in the sought-after Le Marais neighborhood. There are a variety of types of rooms to choose from, including some family rooms, dormitories, and twin rooms for different types of travelers.
📍 Paris midrange hotel: Hotel Joyce – Astotel Hotel Joyce is a beautiful hotel in Paris, with trendy decor and uncommon amenities like free snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is fabulous – near Montmartre and several metro stops.
📍 Paris luxury hotel: Hôtel des Arts Montmartre For those with a little more room in their budgets, the Hôtel des Arts Montmartre is a fabulous choice. This beautiful and art-filled hotel has wonderful staff, all of the amenities you could need, and is located in the iconic Montmartre neighborhood.
FAQS: Is Paris Overrated?
Still wondering if Paris is overrated? Considering a trip and have some more questions? Here are my answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by those considering a visit to the City of Light.
Is Paris a dirty city?
People are sometimes surprised to learn that Paris is not, in fact, sparkling clean and perfect. Paris can be grimey, dirty, trash-laden, and, yes, I’ve seen a rat or two scamper across the city. Truthfully, the city isn’t filthy, but I definitely wouldn’t consider it “clean.”
What is Paris syndrome?
Paris syndrome is the term for the extreme disappointment that people can experience when visiting Paris for the first time. Some travelers suffer from a severe feeling of culture shock because Paris doesn’t meet their expectations. The city is dirtier, less safe, more crowded, and overall less perfect than the city they’d expected to find when they visited.
Is the food in Paris overrated?
No, the food in Paris is wonderful and worth trying. The problem is that there are lots of mediocre or just plain bad restaurants in Paris, and many of them are able to stay open because they set up shop near the city’s main monuments and attractions. London is a similar story – if you want to find great food, you’ll have to travel around for it.
Is Paris worth the hype?
Yes, I really think that Paris is worth the hype and worth visiting. From the incredible landmarks to the renowned cuisine to art museums like the one dedicated to Auguste Rodin, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Paris. Whether you visit for a few days or a full week, you can easily fill an itinerary with unforgettable activities.
Is Paris a safe city?
Paris is a relatively safe city, but it is not one of the safest cities in Europe. Violent crime isn’t terribly common, but petty theft is rampant, especially in tourist areas. So, avoid being a target by remaining vigilant, hiding your phone or tucking it out of sight, and be wary of strangers who approach you in Paris.
For some comparisons, I’d say the following cities are safer than Paris: Helsinki, Dublin, London, Stockholm. Meanwhile, I’d consider Paris to be safer than: Denver, Colorado; Naples, Italy; and New York, New York. I’m not afraid to walk around Denver, New York, or Naples but I’m a little more cautious when I’m there.
Conclusion: Is Paris Overrated?
So by now you know that I don’t think that Paris is overrated. In my view, Paris is a beautiful (if imperfect) European city that has earned its hype. I will, however, concede that Paris is not necessarily the easiest city to navigate if you’re new to traveling. It’s also not perfect!
Many people are disappointed by the food in Paris because they try to eat near the major landmarks. Most Parisians don’t eat near the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, instead traveling towards neighborhoods that are trendier with locals. Some of my favorite restaurants in Paris are Breizh Café, Le Florimond, Au P’tit Grec, and L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer.
A common complaint among travelers to Paris is that the locals are rude and the city is dirty. Although you may, indeed, encounter rude locals and dirty streets, I hope you don’t let them deter you! There are also friendly people in Paris and beautifully manicured areas, just keep traveling and seeking them out.
I’ve included some of my top tips for visiting Paris, the City of Light. I hope that you visit with a realistic view, one that acknowledges that it can be hard to live up to the level of hype that Paris has achieved.