‘More theme park than city’: How 50 million tourists are changing the face of Paris

With 50 million tourists a year Paris bosses have been forced to ponder the question - are there simply too many visitors to the City of Lights?

'More theme park than city': How 50 million tourists are changing the face of Paris
Tourists in the Louvre. All photo: AFP

Anyone who has lived in Paris will know the annoyance of a dithering tourist blocking your way on the Metro, or shoving a selfie stick in your face when you're just trying to buy your baguette. But the constant flow of visitors provides a vitally important income stream for the city – so how to balance the competing demands?

The Paris Mayor's office recently hosted a symposium for city businesses with the title 'Are there too many tourists in Paris?'.

Organisers stressed that: “Although these tourist flows contribute to the economic and cultural development of the city, rapid and poorly regulated growth can disrupt the daily lives of residents with noise pollution, pressure on rents, transformation of the commercial fabric, transport congestion.”


But people involved in the industry, particularly tour guides, complained that the city of Paris should do more to help tourists – in particular doing more to crack down on pickpockets and bag-snatchers and providing more public toilets.

It's certainly true that the most popular tourists sites, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, can become choked with tourists.

In fact last month staff at the Louvre went on strike, complaining that the museum was 'suffocating' under the sheer number of people who visit every day.

The Local asked Paris residents and tourists whether they thought the current situation was sustainable.

Among The Local's readers, opinion was divided over whether there are too many people, but one thing everyone agreed on was that tourists should be encouraged away from the 'hotspots' like the Eiffel Tower.

Anthony Scott, who lives in the 17th arrondissement, said: “I don't how many is too many, but the concentration of groups inundating obvious sites clearly impacts everyone. Residents, for example, cannot easily enjoy major art museums or historic sites in and around Paris as they are constantly besieged by hoards of selfie obsessed tourists.”

Another reader suggested that authorities could do more to steer tourists away from the most obvious sites. 

Rajan Lad, who lives in Vitry sur Seine, also called on the Paris authorities to “promote different places around Paris apart from Tour Effiel, Louvre etc.”

While others pointed out that the number of visitors means that it can feel less like a real, functioning city. 

Jaquelynn Goessling, who visits regularly from Minneapolis for her business, said: “There are definitely too many people, especially in the central areas along the Seine. It makes the city feel more like a theme park than a living urban environment. The more people flock there, the more they change the balance from living urban environment to theme park.”

Several people pointed out that tourism brings vital revenue to the city, but Philip F. Wizenick from Chicago, who visits the city every year, suggested that Airbnb apartment rentals were making the situation worse and needed more regulation.

Anthony Scott also suggested that there should be 'fast track' queues at cultural sites for Paris residents.

But among tourists themselves, people were generally happy with things as they are, despite the long queues that can build up at the major sites.

Lyu, who had travelled from China, said: “It's good that there are lots of people, it means that the place is popular. I only want to go to places that are popular.”

While Lawrence, from the Netherlands said: “It's my first time in Paris and while there are a lot of tourists I don't find it too many.”

Grace, from Yorkshire in the UK, said: “I think there are too many people at some sites, but I think good marketing would help spread the tourists better around the attractions in Paris and France.

“So for instance there are fewer in Montmartre, then let’s say, the Eiffel Tower.

“You know, some people would go and see the Eiffel Tower, but they could go to Belleville with just as nice a view.

“We have the same problem in London, it’s the only place in the UK where many tourists go but they get a false impression of the UK. Well, most of France is not Paris. I mean, it’s wonderful, but they are very different.”

But American tourists Shelby and Amanda, from Washington and Maryland, said that Paris has nothing on New York when it comes to tourist numbers.

They said: “There really isn’t a problem. Diversity is good. And tourism is really good for the economy. Locals actually get a lot of money because of tourists.”

Paris's deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire, interviewed by Le Parisien, took a measured approach.

He said: “We have not reached the levels of Venice or Barcelona, but there is a concern among Parisians that the reception of tourists should not cause too much inconvenience.

“In addition to the hypertourism sites, tourist gatherings are developing in some districts of eastern Paris, in the 11th century, around Bastille, République and Oberkampf, which are near tourist sites.”

He suggested greater regulation of Airbnb, which is already being worked on by the city, and wants to bring in stricter regulations on tourists buses in the city centre.

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The 9 best festivals and events in France in autumn 2021

From herring to mushrooms, running to zombies, here are some of our favourite festivals and events through the autumn and winter in France.

The 9 best festivals and events in France in autumn 2021
Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP

After 18 months in which virtually all large events were cancelled, France’s calendar of festivals, events and markets is slowly getting back to normal.

Because of the health situation, we advise anyone planning to attend these to check the festival’s website in advance to ensure that the event is going ahead as planned.

Also bear in mind that extra health measures are likely to be in place, from restricted ticket numbers to mask rules or a requirement for a health passport to enter.

READ ALSO The 6 best destinations to visit in France this autumn

Drummers stand in a row during the Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre. Photo by FLORIAN DAVID / AFP


Les Toqués du cèpe

Fall is of course mushroom season and lots of French towns hold fêtes des champignons or mushroom markets but probably the most famous is the one in Mende, in the Lozère département. Les Toqués du cèpe runs on October 1st and 2nd and has a calendar of entertainments as well as lots of stalls and the chance to taste all of the many different things you can do with a mushroom.

If your tastes are more rarefied, you could wait for the truffle festivals in December and January.

Nuit Blanche

On October 2nd, Paris will stay up all night with its 20th Nuit Blanche (sleepless night) event. Venues such as museums and galleries stay open all night, there’s a programme of concerts and entertainment and the périphérique ringroad will be closed to traffic in some parts to allow a mass night-time bike ride. Public transport will also run all night to allow revellers to get home. 

Fête des Vendanges, Montmartre

September and October mark the crucial days of the wine harvest across France. But while you might think of Bordeaux and Burgundy as the wine-producing areas, Paris also produces its own wine. Well, a small harvest comes from the vineyard in Montmartre to the north of the city. While they don’t quite produce enough to quench the thirsty Parisians, the quarter is proud of its wine-producing heritage and holds a wine harvest festival every year to celebrate. This year it runs from October 6th to 10th – details here

Paris Marathon

Back in February 2020, the Paris marathon was one of the first big events to be cancelled due to a new virus known as the coronavirus. Rescheduled several times since then, the 2021 race will take place on October 17th. The half marathon passed off successfully on September 5th, so organisers will be hoping the marathon can go ahead too. All runners will need a health passport.

In bad news for athletes who like to drink wine while they run, the Médoc marathon has been cancelled, but will be back in September 2022.

Enthusiasts take part in the Zombie Walk event in Paris. Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP


Dieppe Herring festival

The Normandy town of Dieppe is proud of its fishing tradition and holds the Fête du Hareng on November 13th and 14th. As well as eating lots of delicious herring (and the scallops which the town is also famous for) there is also a parade and music.

It’s not just Dieppe that gets into fish-based celebrations in November, neighbouring coastal towns in the Seine-Maritime département hold their own festivals celebrating herring throughout November – full list here.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Every third Thursday in November (Thursday,18th this year) the new bottles of beaujolais hit the shelves in France.

The special day is the first of the year that wine-makers are allowed to sell their primeurs (the young wines that are produced quickly and are ready to drink six to eight weeks after the harvest).

The day itself started out life as just a marketing gimmick, but towns around the Burgundy region have their own festivals to mark the start of Beaujolais Nouveau sales, the largest of which is in Lyon where the barrels of wine are rolled through the city centre before being opened.

READ ALSO 13 things to know about Beaujolais Nouveau (and why it’s less imbuvable than it used to be)

Zombie walks

Until fairly recently, Halloween wasn’t really a big deal in France (although All Saints Day on November 1st is a public holiday) but zombie walks are becoming increasingly popular in cities including Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Reims, Caen and Avignon. Either go and watch the frightful sight or if you want to get involved, there are zombie orientation days lined up to get you in the mood.

This year health passports will be required for all officially organised walks, because even the undead need to make sure they are Covid-safe.

Traditional Alsacian houses decorated and illuminated for Christmas, in Colmar, eastern France. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP


Lyon fête des lumières

Undoubtedly one of France’s most beautiful and magical festivals, the Lyon festival of lights is back this year, from December 8th to 11th. Over three days, the city is draped in spectacular illuminations, installments and light shows, which turn it into a place of wonder as soon as it gets dark. Many of Lyon’s famous restaurants also run special offers for festival-goers once they have had their fill of the lights. 

Christmas markets

Most towns and cities in France hold their own Christmas markets, but for the best ones you need to head east.

The German influence in the Alsace-Lorraine regions of France makes Christmas a big deal there and the markets are very special. The most famous is Strasbourg (starting from November 26th in 2021) but there are numerous smaller markets in nearby towns including Colmar and Mulhouse.