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What are the most overrated tourist attractions in France?

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
What are the most overrated tourist attractions in France?
The Eiffel Tower - overrated say readers of The Local. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

France has quite a few very famous tourist sites - but which are worth visiting and which are just overrated? We asked readers of The Local for their tips on places to avoid.

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France is the world’s most popular tourist destination, the World Travel & Tourism Council says, while the UN's World Tourism Organisation says that France's tourist numbers rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with 99 percent of the visitor numbers seen in 2019. 

France was first named the world's most-visited destination in 2014 and held that crown until 2019. After the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, tourism began rebounding across the world in 2022, with 2023 recording pre-pandemic tourism levels in most places, according to the WTO. 

READ ALSO 21 things you should do in France at least once

We all know where the travel influencers would have you go in France – they offer variations on the theme of the usual suspects, including but not limited to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Versailles, more World Heritage sites than you can shake a stick at, the usual gamut of theme parks, and the natural wonders of the Alps, Pyrenees and Massif Central.

You can listen to the team at The Local talking about overrated tourist sites - and their recommendations for off-the-beaten-track sites - in the Talking France podcast? Download here or listen on the link below

 

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Concerned about over-crowing at certain sites, French tourism chiefs have begun a campaign suggesting that tourists widen their horizons rather than sticking to the same few sites, and pointing out that there is more to France than just Paris.

READ ALSO Six reasons why France is so popular with tourists

Nevertheless, for many tourists the 'must-see sights' remain the same. But are they actually worth it?

We asked readers of The Local what they consider the most over-rated tourist site in France.

Eiffel Tower

Winner of our survey was Gustave Eiffel's famous Paris monument, which around 7 million people per year visit.

“It's just an engineering project, a structure,” wrote Rebecca Brite, who believes it’s more interesting to look at from a distance than look out from. “Other monuments tell much more about France's people and history.”

Robert Brink, meanwhile, insisted that the Parisian landmark was, “crowded, expensive, and … not the best view of Paris.”

Several people also mentioned that Trocadéro - the area immediately around the Tower - is also crowded, noisy, not especially nice and filled with street sellers, scam artists and pickpockets.

There are plans to redevelop this area, although at present much of it is closed due to Olympic preparations.

What to do instead

So what are the alternatives to the tower?

Robert Brink said that he preferred going up the Arc de Triomphe, which he said offered, “a more interesting view”.

And Miriam Moore said that she preferred the Montparnasse Tower which, she said, has: “The same views, not as crowded, and you can also see the Eiffel Tower.”

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Likewise the Sacre-Coeur hill in Montmartre also offers spectacular views over Paris, but is free and has no queues - and there is a funicular running for those who prefer not to make the climb.

If you do want to climb the Tower, there's also the option to do it in the evening and have dinner up there - there are two restaurants the fancy one-Michelin starred Jules Verne and the less fancy but still nice Madame Brasserie. Neither of these are cheap and they must be booked in advance, but the advantage is that there are fewer crowds in the evening and you get to enjoy the spectacular views while also having a very nice dinner and a glass or two of wine.

Mona Lisa

The most famous painting in Paris - perhaps in the world - Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece also came in for some criticism, as does the Louvre museum which houses it.

The Louvre holds the title of most-visited museum in the world, attracting around 9 million visitors per year - although with approximately 500,000 exhibits it's fair to say that not all of those visitors are going to see Mona Lisa.

“It's always surrounded by large crowds,” one commentator, who preferred to remain anonymous, wrote. There were, they added, “Plenty of other paintings of equal or superior quality in the Louvre.

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The Louvre is aware of the criticism that the room housing the painting - which measures just 77cm by 53cm - is often so crowded that it's hard to even see the artwork, never mind truly appreciate it. There are plans afoot to house the painting in its own room to try and moderate the crowds.

What to do instead?

If you want to appreciate artwork, it's not like there is a shortage of that in Paris.

Ronald Kirchem suggested that the “Medieval Museum [Musée de Cluny] especially the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn,” while S Reckas recommends the Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, and Rodin gardens as offering a better experience than the Louvre.

At The Local we also like the Musée de l'Orangerie in the Tuileries (perfect size for a museum, not too big and with a good café) and the Musée Marmottan which has a superb collection of Monet paintings.

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It's worth noting that the Louvre displays mainly artworks made before around 1840, while the Musée d'Orsay houses works created between 1840 and 1914 - so if you love the Impressionists and Van Gogh, you're better off going to the Musée d'Orsay than the Louvre.

If you're a fan of more contemporary and experimental art, then the Pompidou Centre will be more up your street.

If you do want to visit the Louvre you will need to book in advance, and avoiding the summer, school holidays and weekends will likely help you to avoid the crowds.

Versailles

Situated a short distance outside Paris - easily accessible on the region's public transport network - is the former royal palace of Versailles.

These days the property of the French state it's used to host banquets for important guests and for some government-run events, but it's main function is as a tourist site, attracting around 15 million visitors per year.

While Geoff Lavender agrees that the gardens at Versailles are “beautiful” and well worth spending a few hours in, he’s less impressed by the palace of the Sun King itself, which he says is, “far too crowded to provide a worthwhile experience.”

READ ALSO Five UNESCO recognised sites in France you should visit

While the inside of the palace is truly beautiful, it is indeed often very crowded especially in the summer and at weekends.

The gardens - and the 'peasant village' created in the grounds by queen Marie Antoinette - offer a more relaxed visitor experience. The gardens are also accessible by bike with a cycle path running directly from Paris.

You might also consider going to one of the evening events hosted in the palace gardens which include concerts and fireworks events during the summer - to experience the gardens as French royals once did.

What to do instead

France is not short of beautiful château, from the well-known names of the Loire Valley (Amboise, Blois, Chenonceau) to the smaller but still beautiful sites such as Azay-le-Rideau in Centre-Val-de-Loire.

If you're based in Paris you can also explore the Chateau de Vincennes and the surrounding Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of the city.

Other 'disappointments'

Disneyland Paris was too much of an “American theme park” for Sally Bostley, who said she was happier visiting either Parc Asterix or Puy de Fou. “Both are a real French theme park experience,” she explained.

Further afield, the ancient dolmens in Carnac were “much less impressive than described before we went,” said Stephen Woodhead, who preferred to visit the wide open spaces of Baie de Somme.

But James Patterson said that he had never been disappointed visiting a popular tourist site in France. And he recommended one a little off the beaten track – even in Paris. 

He invited people to visit: “The Paris Sewer Museum (Musée des gouts de Paris) because it is offbeat, interesting, and perfect for a rainy day. It's underground and you can see the rainwater flowing in.”

READ ALSO Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

If you're looking to beat the crowds, here are The Local's 19 suggestions for off-the-beaten-track tourist sites

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