Paris never disappoints, even if you only follow the well-worn path from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to Notre Dame... But is there a way to feel a little less like a tourist and more like a local?
Karen Creed used to live in Paris and she joined Sean this morning.
PARIS LIKE A LOCAL
However well you think you know Paris, there’s always something new to discover. Districts change, old ones get restored, there is always a new bar or restaurant to check out, maybe a new award winning baker, a new gallery. In the autumn the city reawakes, reinvigorated for la rentrée (the return to school!). Despite it being one of the most visited cities in the world it is also very much lived-in. With its playgrounds, food markets and cafés, there is no empty part to this city centre and it is very easy to fit in and pretend you are living there - even if it's just for the weekend.
Most people will typically presume the best view or photograph opportunity is from the Eiffel Tower or from the heights of Montmartre. But there is a far better view from the Tour Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement. The building is one of the highest in the city and has devoted its top floor to the breathtaking view it has over the city. The big advantage over the Eiffel tower is that the capacity is much bigger, so you don't have to queue for hours before you can go up. The advantage over Montmartre is that you also have a view of Montmartre. You will notice that Paris has a very strict policy on high rise buildings and that almost all buildings have about the same rooftop level. In fact the Tour Montparnasse, is a prime example of how things could get if no such limitations were in place. While in Montparnasse you should take a visit to the crepe mile, a street known locally as that because of its variety of creperies where you can drink cider and eat the city's best priced crepes and galettes (savoury crepes).
STAY IN THE VIBRANT MARAIS
Instead of staying in a hotel, choose to live among the locals in Paris by staying in an apartment. Plenty of choice on airbnb, housetrip and other well known websites. Not only will you have to chance to pick a neighborhood to stay in among locals, but you’ll also have a real apartment to live in, complete with kitchen. This will come in handy when you want to prepare a French meal with fresh ingredients that you can pick up at local food markets (which can be found in every part of the city without effort). Cooking dinner with friends and family in your own apartment will be both a money-saving and truly French experience.
The district known as the Marais (sandwiched between St-Paul and République) is one of the trendiest areas in the city, packed with vintage boutiques and bars. It has for a long time been popular with the gay community and and also prime territory for art lovers, with a huge concentration of art galleries and museums. In the marais restaurants and bars spill out onto the streets. Most hotels in this area are pricey but there are some stunning apartments and homes to rent here.
GARDENS AND PARKS
The Jardin du Luxembourg are my favourite gardens in Paris in summer with its fountains, lawns, flower displays,table tennis tables and bandstand that regularly hosts musical events. But come autumn, the park Buttes Chaumont in the less touristy 19th arrondissement is a haven with lovely cafes and restaurants and a beautiful place to run or have a glass of wine or coffee in a relaxed setting.
GO TO THE OPERA
After perusing the website of Paris’ second opera house, Bastille, choose your preferred opera performance and note the date. On the day of the show, take a book to read in the queue, and get to the main doors of the opera house for around 4pm. At 6pm the doors open and 30 tickets are available for €5 each (maximum two tickets per person). At the beginning of the performance you’ll be directed to the standing seats in the gods. Keep an eye out for spare seats though, noting carefully their position, and you should be able to sneak down during the second half.
EATING OUT LATE OR ANYTIME
Food doesn't need to be expensive to be good in Paris. Even very ordinary looking brasseries on street corners do great simple dishes like steak frites (steak and chips) and crème brûlée. Think bijoux dining and be wary of anywhere with a plasma screen. One of my favourite aspects of Paris dining is the number of places that serve food late into the night. Le Tambour is known for its bizarre pening hours. If you fancy a steak or an onion soup at 4am this is probably the place for you. The food is traditional French: various cuts of meat, cheese boards and a good selection of wines. The place fills up with post-show/theatre goers, hungry post-bar students and all types. It's always busy and while there is no definite obligation to eat, ordering a plate of cheese will probably land you a table a bit quicker. Characteristic of old bistro culture, you'll be packed on to tiny tables next to strangers, so be prepared for a bit of inter-table banter. They also maintain that dangerous tactic of leaving a huge bottle of wine on your table for you to drink (and pay for) as much as you consume. Rue Montorgueil is definitely worth a visit during the day - its the only pedestrian street where shops and stalls sell only food. It's also the home of La Maison Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris and birthplace of the Rum Baba, a liquor-drenched yeast cake.
SCENIC BIKE AND BOAT RIDES
Cycling in Paris is standard practice for many locals and the velib (municipal bike hire scheme) allows visitors to easily get going on their own bike tour of the city. There is no doubt that the route along the Seine is a beautiful route to take going from left to right bank. But my recommendation for a short journey would be heading along the canal from Jaures all the way down towards Rue Viaigriers and stop off there for a nice coffee in Ten Bells cafe or lunch in one of the outdoor cafes. Instead of a boat tour on the Seine, hop on a barge along the charming Canal St-Martin. And if you fancy wearing the captain's hat, you can rent a rowboat at the Bois de Vincennes.
SOME THINGS ARE FREE
If you’re walking around and get a thirsty, don’t immediately buy water. Instead, look for water fountains you can find all around the city. This water is completely safe to drink, and you can even get sparkling water at some fountains (in the 12th arrondissement at the park near Nation)
BOUTIQUE IS BEST
Most parisians are not impressed by sprawling stores, but rather individual boutiques and stores that specialise in items. Montmartre and the Marais are my two favourite places to roam about for their second hand stores (often selling designer items at really reasonable prices) and for their people watching.
Paris never lets you down in terms of finding new places. I’m always discovering a new café, bakery, bar, square or museum. Head to an area that takes your fancy: the Latin Quarter or rue Oberkampf for a laidback student vibe where you can find drinks priced a little cheaper than most other parts of the city , Invalides for its imposing architecture, Monmartre for an artistic vibe, Belleville for a grittier experience. The metro is an efficient way to get around Paris but walk if you can as you will fall upon interesting places this way. I always found getting lost resulted in me finding some of my favourite places.
MINGLE WITH THE LOCALS
Contrary to popular belief, many Parisians will be more than willing to help you with finding your way around the city. Another assumption that many tourists share is that French people don’t speak English. Although French people do appreciate that you make the effort to learn a few words in French, most Parisians are actually very proficient in English. Living in such a cosmopolitan city, Parisians will be more than happy to practice their English with you.
For more advice on exploring Paris like a local:
A great site to direct you to the best restaurants, cafes and other attractions is www.likealocalguide.com/paris