Travel Confessions: Paris without the Louvre

Posted in: Essays


Paris backstreet

This travel lark takes quite a bit of courage. Heavens, just browsing through the new edition of the Rough Guide to Paris, we see the text kicks off with Notre Dame (and a handful of other sights stranded on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the River Seine), and then dives straight into a weighty essay on the Louvre. No holds barred, the text—extremely well written, to be sure—takes us on a guided romp from Egyptian wall tiles via Renaissance crucifixions (lots of those) to 19th-century lithographs.

Defy the travel canon

If we had a month to spare in Paris, we would surely hit the Louvre, but it is not compulsory for a first-time visit. We must confess to having skipped the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, the Kremlin in Moscow and the Tower in London.

Of course, it does take a bit of courage to miss those big sights, the multi-starred attractions that have acquired legendary status as keystones in the travel canon. The art of being away from home does not come easily, but after years of practice, we think we have it sussed. It is, essentially, to live as the locals do. Parisians do not spend their weekends in long lines waiting to see the Mona Lisa, and nor should you.

Opt for an alternative

This strategy takes a bit of nerve to begin with. We returned home and confessed to elderly relatives that we went to the Vatican, but skipped the Raphaels and Michelangelos, preferring instead to go and see the Vatican railway station (yes, there is one!).

But slowly we grew into the role, realizing that it was possible to travel through Bavaria without including Neuschwanstein Castle in our itinerary. We became ever bolder with every journey. We missed the Edinburgh Festival, slept by accident through Tuscany, and said “No, thanks” when offered free tickets to the Alhambra.

“What barbarians,” we hear you say. “How can they visit Athens and skip the Acropolis?” Our retort will always be, “Because there are too many more interesting things to do instead.” In Paris, there are cafés to linger in, parks to savor, backstreets to explore. And, in truth, once you have traveled through Europe as much as we have, one Renaissance crucifixion begins to look much like another.

Tell us what you think

Do you agree that your travel experience can be enriched by skipping the big-name draws? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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11 thoughts on “Travel Confessions: Paris without the Louvre”

  1. Skip the Louvre and just see the Musee Carnavalet instead; so much better. Free and fascinating. I hated the crowds of the Louvre and only went because my college-age son insisted. The place gave me a sinus infection.

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  3. I have been to Paris 3 times in the last year..I love it, I have good friends there too. Great to go and see the wonderful parcs.. truly amazing… or in the back streets off the tourist track.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts. I am spending a week in Paris in September (my second trip) and have seen all the major biggies. This time I hope to spend time sitting, sipping, and seeing life on the streets. Some small museums are on my list as is Giverney. Last time I spent a few days in Normandy and on Mont St. Michel. Of course I am older this time around and may just take a tour bus to revisit – in passing – some of the highlights. I am staying in a small hotel near the Eiffel Tower – Hotel Muguet. Anyone been there?
    On the other hand, after Paris I am headed for a first-time visit to Florence. I don’t know what I will do there. Some of this and some of that. How many angels can one see in one week?

  5. Having spent a year of college in Rouen, I am inclined to go along with the approach to experience a country as the locals might. I would not skip the biggies, necessarily, but I wouldn’t give them 100% of my time, either. For example, you can go see the Eiffel tower, wander around at every angle while eating a ‘jambon beurre’ without waiting for 3 hours to go up and eat in the restaurant . . . Some years ago, we spent a week in a little hotel in St. Tropez (1/2 mile off the water, but close to anything we might want to see/experience, did a ferw day trips. e.g., to Grasse to tour the parfumerie, etc., then headed over to Aix, then took the Avignon tour (of the old Pope’s house :-), then up to Beaune to the Hospice, etc., . . . much more comfortable than fighting Paris, Nice, Cannes, etc. However, both my wife and I had already seen the main sights, so we had no regrets about missing tehm a second time — the best thing is to ENJOY yourself, whether you want to drive the countryside or be pampered . . . I do think you can be pampered in the US, but the French countryside and chateaux, etc. are a once in a lifetime experience!!

  6. What makes you think that spending all your time inside a museum or other attractions is the greatest way to experience a city like locals? People are different everywhere – watching people of your own certainly isn’t as fun as watching foreigners in their own culture, their own ways.

    Maybe it’s an individual question but I would much rather have a coffee in a Parisian bistro (mingle) than spend hours in the Louvre looking at Greek statues.

    Your travel idea is not necessarly the same for everyone.

  7. People watcing can be done anywhere in the world…seeing a unique attraction can’t…They are starred attractions for a reason. I can people watch at the mall, right now…not spend 1000’s and travel halfway across the world, watching people and missing world history that is a heart beat away.

    This is by far one of the worst articles on travel I’ve read.

  8. I think you can really say you visited a city when you’ve spent time strolling around – not when you spent all your time inside museums. Sure, art is interesting but visiting museums only because it’s a must-see can quickly get one arted-out with over information and not much histories to tell.

    Lingering in a cafe is very underrated – people watching is one of the best activity when exploring a city.

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  10. I know what you’re saying; I don’t like to do the whole touristy thing when I travel. But for my first visit to a place, I do want to see the major attractions. Then I try to blend in with the locals. I avoid the lines. I don’t eat at McDonalds when in Venice, etc. I’m not religious, but I’m glad I saw the Vatican. Afterwards, we went and sat in a plaza and relaxed.

  11. Sure there’s plenty more to Paris than the Louvre, and the same goes for the other big landmarks you mentioned, but is ‘lingering in a cafe’ really the better way to spend your time?! Granted the Parisian cafe culture is a spectacle to be enjoyed, but what with the trend for quick weekend city breaks tourists will always try and fit in the headline attractions.

    Then again, I guess that’s the difference between travel and a holiday…

    p.s You may have skipped the Sistine Chapel, the Kremlin etc once but you must have been before or since right?!


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