Travel Snobbery and the Importance of Being a Corny Tourist in Paris

Paris Metro sign

You may have noticed that if I like something, I tend to write about it a lot. You only need search the site for posts on Jordan and New Zealand to see the results of my travel affection. Well my first, and still dearest, travel love hasn’t been well represented here, a fact that causes me some concern lest you think I have fallen out of love with what is arguably the best city in the world – Paris. We were last there again in December and as we left the city on the snazzy Thalys train, I began to think about what makes Paris so special not just for me, but for millions of people around the world.

Christmas Paris

I continued my Parisian pondering on the plane ride home as I watched the mostly forgettable film, “Midnight in Paris.” The movie was too annoying for me, but I came away with one big takeaway: most people romanticize about Paris. Through popular culture and mass media, Paris has been elevated to the top tier of stereotypes we desperately want to be true. And for the most part, Paris tends to live up to these expectations.

Except for the berets, most of our ideas of what Paris should be are true. People do walk around carrying fresh baguettes. Wine is cheaper than Coke. Yes, the Eiffel Tower really is that awesome. For all intents and purposes, Paris is a living, breathing travel stereotype, and that’s ok.

Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees in Paris

I was talking with a friend the other day about my favorite sights in Paris and I realized they were all the major, uber-touristy destinations. Instead of advising she go visit a hidden neighborhood, or secret cafe somewhere, I found myself rattling off the biggies: Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower at night and the Jardin du Luxembourg all made my top ten list of Paris must-sees. To further this, whenever I visit the city rather than try to find “the other” Paris, I instead find myself sitting contently on the steps of the Trocadero, watching the magic of the giant steel structure nestled on the Champs de Mars. Just as Paris is a stereotype, it’s ok to be a stereotypical tourist when visiting the City of Lights.

I’ve written about this before, but popular destinations and sights are popular for a reason, because they’re awesome. I get so tired of the well heeled and supposedly well traveled set of people who wrinkle their cranky noses at being a tourist. “I’m a traveler,” they say while sipping their cappuccino. No, you’re not, you’re a tourist. Unless you have taken up permanent residence somewhere, you are a visitor, a non-native, someone who doesn’t know as much as they think they do and that’s fine. That’s kind of what travel is.

Travel is about learning and exploring, and for most of us that’s visiting popular tourist sights. Sure, I could spend a day trying to find an “off-the-beaten path” spot in Paris, but in a city that’s 2,000 years old, that doesn’t exist. So instead of trying to play the one-up game, I’ve decided that whenever I travel I’m going to do what I want to do, and if that means having a croque-monsieur at an overpriced brasserie in full view of Notre Dame, then so be it. Travel is personal, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

44 thoughts on “Travel Snobbery and the Importance of Being a Corny Tourist in Paris”

  1. While I do think it’s important to explore the less touristy places once in a while, I do get your point that there is nothing wrong with wanting to see the famous sights over and over again. Like you said, they’re popular for a reason!

    When I really, really love a city (London, or Berlin, for exemple), I try to discover some uncharted tourist places just to get the feel of what it’s like to be a local. But seeing the major attractions is always on top of my list.

  2. I fully agree with both the sentiment here and the comment by Eurotrip Tips. Life is definitely too short to waste on pathetic tourist/traveller arguments and nobody should feel some kind of strange pressure to do/not to do certain things while visiting a different place. Having said that, I also like to find lesser-known sights to add to my itineraries; there is a kick to be had from finding something new if you have visited a destination many times before. One of the first things I say to people visiting the city where I grew up – London – is to take a bus tour. Many would flinch at the idea but if you pick the right company you will get the perfect introduction to an otherwise overwhelming city delivered with humour and insight.

  3. Well said…as much as I enjoy finding the spots that no one tends to visit, the ones that I remember the most are the big sites. I’ve learned it’s OK to be a tourist, because it’s my photo album that’s being created, not that of others…

  4. So true! Paris completely lives up to my oh-so-stereotypical expectations, and I love it. Nothing is more enjoyable than a walk along the Seine in full view of Notre Dame.

    Have to disagree with you on one point though: I *love* Midnight in Paris! :)

  5. Well said, Matt! People should do what they enjoy whilst they’re travelling! I like to tick off all the big touristy places, but maybe try something different, too. It’s all about the individual and what they like to do – it’s nobody else’s trip! :)

  6. It amazes me how this traveller / tourist non debate keeps rolling on. When your stereotypical traveller makes their “I’m a traveller” claim. So what? Do they ever stop to consider how they appear to the billions of other people who travel?
    Like you I prefer to be a tourist. That way I am free to do what I like. If I want to read guide books, consult maps or take photos of the Eiffel Tower, I am free to do so. Above all I can enjoy the experience without having to live up to “unworkable” traveller rules. Likewise I am also free to seek out places that are not included in travel guide books and are infrequently visited by anyone other than locals. The only constraints are those I impose on myself, like being respectful of locals, their culture and the environment.

  7. With Paris, I think there is so much to see and do in this city that it is OK to be a tourist. Maybe in other places, there is a need to get out and explore the ‘off the beaten’ path stuff. I think that is OK to do it in Paris as well. However, there are so many wonderful things in the city that either approach works.

  8. Hey Matt:
    Great posting…and I agree. A city is a city and a site is a site. If you like it…then go back…and again…and again….and if you don’t like it…then don’t go back. Pretty simple formula…even for life. To me, it is all about the mind-set of a “tourist” versus a “traveler.” It doesn’t matter what sites or activities you do…touring on a bus, eating at an over-priced sidewalk cafe or standing in line for something because that is what everyone told you to do. If you are engaged with the local community around you and are truly open and trying to experience and understand the culture you are in, then you are on a worthy journey…and it doesn’t matter what you call it or what you are called.

  9. Nice article. I’ve been visiting Paris on a regular basis since 1998 and for me, there’s no city anywhere that comes close to it.

    I never tire of it. When I lived in Paris, I would visit the Louvre once a week for just a couple of hours at a time. To me, the Louvre became a very private friend. I delved into all the small corner of the museum, delighted in the French 18th century painters, skipped all the big religious prints and came to love this most touristy of Paris museums.

    There is Big Paris like the Louvre, the Metro, the Eiffel Tower and along side is Small Paris; Place Dauphine, Rue Poncelet, the market street in the 17th used only by locals, pocket size parks, small museums. To have the complete Paris experience, you need to visit both Big Paris and Small Paris and together they make a whole.

    I also have to disagree on Midnight in Paris. It’s a classic Paris movie. It will go into my collection of Paris movies that also include Quai des Orfevres, Breathless, Avenue Montaigne, Cleo de 5 a 7. Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris captured a side of Paris that exists – romantic, golden and timeless.

  10. Love, love, love Paris. Especially the Eiffel Tower, for some bizarre reason. I plan on going to Paris in May – for one day – via the Chunnel. I plan on being a tourist, and yes, I am visiting the Eiffel Tower yet again! But I just want to roam, take photos and soak up the atmosphere! Love your posts on Paris!

  11. I LOOOOOVE Paris! I studied abroad there about 4 years ago, and have been dying to go back ever since! Hopefully I am making that happen this fall :)

  12. A really wonderful article Matt. Sometimes since we don’t want to be considered “tourists”, we miss out on the best travel experience.

  13. I have lived in Paris for a little over a year now and I guess with having grown up in a seasonal tourist town on Cape Cod, I have always had a strong distane for places where the most people will be….like at the base of the eiffel tower. Like many white people (from the book and site stuff white people like) I strive for the illusion of authentic travel. I’ve never even been up in the tower, or into the Notre Dame, and I’m too poor to eat at any bistro in Saint Michelle. I watched Midnight in Paris with somebody’s uncle and found it to be a pretty terrible movie. Extraordinarily predictable and all but cut and pasted from the pages of a moveable feast. When I ask myself why I moved to Paris, I still say for the working opportunities, the fact that my husband is an EU citizen, and because meh, why not. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t after a little bit of that fresh bread romance. My food politics got a whole lot simpler.
    I like your IDGAF approach to travel, though. It’s like, yeah I came to Amsterdam to get high, and?

  14. Some of my favorite travel moments have been those ultra touristy ones. I call them my “I am really here” moments. An example from Paris is the Eiffel tower. I’ve grown up seeing & hearing about the Eiffel Tower in movies and books and songs all my life. The moment when it first was actually visible for me was such an amazing moment, like all that past was racing up that day and in that moment I was completely present, like, completely present in ways that even when traveling I have not been. I had arrived in Paris – for real.

  15. Hi Matt –

    Many public spaces in Europe where tourists go happen to be where locals hang out too – look at market squares. Without famous buildings and places destinations would not get on our bucket lists. It’s hard to visit Paris and not go see the Eiffel Tower… But I still like to go to lesser-known spots and discover quiet corners, small shops etc. or restaurants where menus are not in English. Sometimes I’ll check out the famous spots when not too many people are around. Just the way I like it…

    I do believe there are off-the-beaten path places in Paris, my blisters are there to prove, but we’ll have to agree to disagree. ;)

    I like your Paris photos in this post, especially the one of the metro sign. :)

  16. ” I get so tired of the well heeled and supposedly well traveled set of people who wrinkle their cranky noses at being a tourist. “I’m a traveler,” they say while sipping their cappuccino.”

    Amen to that. I hate people who are visitors to a city thinking they are any better than other visitors, we are all tourists. Just because you stay in a dirt cheap hostel doesn’t make you any wiser or smarter then someone staying in a 5 star hotel.

    I recently received a piece from a travel writer about how tourism is ruining travel…………!? That article really p*ssed me off. I’m going to send said writing your piece.

    Good work man!

  17. “I’m a traveler,” they say while sipping their cappuccino. No, you’re not, you’re a tourist.”

    three words:

    anyway, totally agree with this. Paris is definitely a living stereotype. It’s part of it’s charm and character I think. Nothing more exciting than walking towards the Tour Eiffel or the Champs-Elysees and thinking ‘holy cow, i saw this in the movies when i was 7, and now i get to do it tooo!’

    cheesy but true ;)

    Still one of my favorite cities :)

  18. “popular destinations and sights are popular for a reason, because they’re awesome”

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I love to chill, but even for a lazy ass like me, I have seen the Grand Palace and Wat Arun in Bangkok, and I have been to every Church and Museum in Florence.

    As for the “traveler” set — they are pretty funny. I see them in Thailand a lot on the beaches…sitting with other travelers, not able to speak the local language, but all quite happy to blast the “rich guys” who spend all their time in the hotel and never “experiencing” the country. The good news is that of those self-proclaimed “travelers,” some really ARE travelers, and make living and experiencing life abroad a part of their normal life. They will eventually see the travel equation from the other side and know that being a traveler is not about your activities or lodging — it’s about your mindset. Good post!

  19. Completely agree with the sentiment (i.e. do what you want when travelling and the idea that we shouldn’t be too snobbish about tourism). I disagree about Paris though… I think it’s the world’s most overrated city. We’re all entitled to our opinions though.

  20. I whole-heartedly agree with your post Matt. I have no shame in being a tourist. I think it’s a shame to visit somewhere and not see the big sights but of course each to their own. When I was in Paris I was only there for 5 days so wanted to see as much as possible. This meant Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, etc. I also spent some time just walking around without any particular destination as like Marie above I think that’s a great way to explore and soak up the surroundings. I was staying at a hostel in the 19th so I was way off the tourist map!

  21. Great post dear! Actually, I am planning to enjoy the best tourist places in Paris. And I want to visit this places which are my favorite: 1. The Eiffel tower
    2. Louvre museum
    3. Catacombs of Paris and more
    Could you tell me what is the best month to visit Paris?

    1. The best month is the one in which you’re there. :) The city has something for everyone throughout the year, so it’s very much a matter of personal taste.

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