How to Experience Paris Like a Local
By Sadra Sumner
If you’re digging through your undies (read lingerie) drawer to find the spare euros from your last trip to Paris and your guidebook is dogeared with a few red wine stains on it, then keep reading. You’re no longer a Paris novice. You’ve tackled the Louvre, waited in line at the Eiffel Tower, and sorted out the metro maps to get to Versailles. You’ve told all of your friends how stunning the city is in the evening and how everything just ‘tasted better’ there. You’ve ogled at the skinny French women and the classy French men, and you’ve done apéro au bord de la Seine. You, ma belle, are ready for the Step by Step approach; Paris, the second time around.
For those of you looking for something beyond the ‘must-do’s of Paris first-timers’, check out our list of the 9 things to enjoy beyond what the guidebooks suggest.
1. Buttes you didn’t know about me
Green spaces are important to Parisians. We bet you’ve head of the Luxembourg and the Tuileries gardens, but have you discovered the down-side of those places? Gravel. Yes, the green metal chairs scattered about make for a quaint photo or a perfect spot for a cat-nap (if you snag a lean-back one), but green spaces where you can really lounge are few and far between. Instead, head north to the Buttes-Chaumont park and bask in the grass. Walk all the way to the top of the park, checking out the superb waterfall in the middle, to have an amazing view out over the city. You can even come back for a drink or dancing in the evening at the parks’ outdoor bar, the Pavillon Puebla, run by the good people behind Le Perchoir.
Buttes-Chaumont park,1 Rue Botzaris, 75019 Paris, France
Metro: Buttes Chaumont, 7bis
Open 7am-9pm, except to access the Pavillon Puebla, enter through the gate across the street from 43 ave Simon-Bolivar
2. Mickey’s Roman cousins
The infamous ‘Adventures of Asterix’ comics are immortalized in Frances’ own Parc Asterix, located just north of the city. This theme park rivals the oh-so-popular Disneyland Paris which attracts visitors from all over. Although both parks are great for thrill-seekers, those who have been to Disneyland/World, or own at least one set of ears can take comfort in a different strand of fun. Complete with an old wooden roller-coaster, water rides like river rafting and a flume, and a modern multi-loop steel coaster, Parc Asterix is the perfect getaway for the family or an adventurous couple.
To get there: the park is 35 kilometers north of Paris; check out their website to see about your preferred travel option.
3. Cruising in Style
Have you already seen Paris from one of the many river boat cruises? Don’t get us wrong, this is a great way to take in the city, especially since most major monuments are visible from the riverbanks. But no matter the company you choose, the cruise is the same. Want to do some next level cruising? Check out the permit-less electric boats along the canal with Marin d’Eau Douce. You can pilot your own boat for 5, 7, or 11 guests on cruises from 1-6 hours. Bring your own food and drink and make a day of it!
Of course, boating is only a good option for the summer travelers. If you find yourself in the winter wonderland of Paris, resist the urge to hop on the ferris wheel and opt for the giant ice skating rink inside of the Grand Palais (more information available online in autumn). Although the iconic white ferris wheel is dressed up for the winter holidays, we promise you’ll have more fun going round with your feet on the ground.
Marin d’Eau Douce, 37 Quai de la Seine, 75019 Paris
Grand Palais ice skating rink, see their website in the fall of 2018
4. Shop like a Parisian
Paris is famous for markets; les Enfants Rouge, Bastille; there are markets nearly every day of the week in every district! If you’re adventurous enough to venture into the northern suburb of Saint-Ouen, you will find a little trash and a lot of treasure. The Marché aux Puces is a great alternative for those familiar with Paris markets. You can find priceless antiques at one stall and a box of 80’s McDonalds’ toys at a stand just a few steps away. Buyers’ need not be serious to experience the magic of the market; live music and food are all around to make the experience feel like a night out on the town.
Marché aux Puces: Saturday, 9am-6pm; Sunday, 10am-6pm; Monday 10am-5pm
Hint: if you take the metro, get beyond the ‘fell-off-the-back-of-the-truck’ stands to experience the true market. Check out a here for more details.
5. Strut your Stuff
Did your last trip here dip a little too far into the piggy bank? Well instead of restricting yourself to window shopping along rue St. Honoré, take in a real, live, and accessible fashion show! Galeries Lafayette, the iconic shopping center in the heart of Paris’ 8th district, offers guests the opportunity to see the catwalk every Friday at 3pm for only 12€. Sign up in advance here, head to the 4th floor of the store where you’ll find the ‘Salon Opera’ and get ready to see the latest fashions worn by real models. Bonus, all of the clothes can be purchased in the store, and not at designer prices.
Bonus: Check out Galeries Lafayette’s other activities like beauty masterclasses, sports sessions on their beautiful rooftop with a view of the Opera, or a a guided tour of the iconic store, all here.
6. Eat with your hands
Yes, France is known for their high level of gastronomy, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret; it’s also the land of picnics! And when it’s oyster season in the capitol, you can get your delicious dose of iodine just about anywhere. Keep an eye out for corner cafés advertising ‘huitres à emporter’ and order right on the street. We recommend 18-24/person depending on the size (let us know if you want a list of great oyster places in Paris, and we’ll put together the latest and greatest for next autumn!) These cafés will shuck the oysters for you and provide you with plenty of lemon, bread, and mignonette. Take them back to your apt, hotel, or find a cosy spot to slurp them down. Our favorite location? The courtyard of the Louvre, duh. Cos we’re extra like that.
Oysters are best from September-April so if you’re here in the late spring or summer, take our advice and apply it to a good ol’ fashioned picnic along the Seine! Parisians flock to the riverbanks as soon as the temperature makes it to t-shirt appropriate. And they bring with them cheese, charcuterie, and plenty of rosé to share. Skip out on the pricey restaurant scene for one night and take in the sunset while you dangle your feet over the river. Be sure to bring a bottle opener, knives, and a blanket of some sort. You’ll be the envy of all of the youngsters who will be paying 40€/bottle at the riverside bars.
Best spots to picnic along the Seine: Anywhere on the left-bank between Alexandre III bridge and Concorde bridge, or around the western tip of Ile de la Cité, or anywhere on the right-bank between Pont Neuf & the Sully-Morland metro stop.
7. While we’re on the subject of food…..
Everyone thinks of snails and frogs legs in Paris, but there is so much more than that! Yes, snails are garlicky and delicious, but you’ve already done that, right? RIGHT?! And frogs’ legs are surprisingly hard to find. But you know what’s in abundance? All of the leftover pieces of animals that are traditionally ‘gross’ like the heart, ears, liver, tongue…even the feet! Check out modern bistrot-style restaurants like Martin, Au Passage, or Le Grand Bain who use every bit of the animal, leaving nothing to waste. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not knocking the steak-frites. But every now and then you need a good ris de veau to really tickle your pickle. And why don’t take advantage of the perfect preparation of all those daunting dishes. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find a substitution for your weekly chicken casserole.
And for those vegetarians/vegans out there, what a time to be alive! Paris is boasting a new veggie-friendly restaurant nearly every month. Check out Wild & the Moon, So Nat, or H.O.P.E for the latest in green juices, buddha bowls, or gluten-free & lactose-free treats.
8. Mona who?
The Louvre is a wonderful place for appreciating world-renowned art, seeing larger-than-life piece, and having endless arguments with your traveling companion because you’ve run of our time or you’re hungry or you’re tired or the worst, all of the above. Save your relationship and skip it this time. We know that there’s a whole wing that you haven’t seen yet, but there are also plenty of other museums that you haven’t set foot in! One of our favorite b-list museums is the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, which displays animals, guns, and everything related to hunting and nature. If you opted for the vegetarian-friendly restaurants above, then maybe you’d prefer the Musée des Arts et Métiers which focuses on different industries throughout history and cultures. There are over 130 museums in and around Paris; don’t be a snob and only spend time at the biggest of them. These little guys have to try hard to be liked, so their offerings are usually better than expected. Remember when you gave the quiet guy a chance and realized he had a great personality? Just go for it.
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature: open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am-6pm, open late on Wednesdays until 9:30pm
Musée des Arts et Métiers: Tuesday & Wednesday, 10am-6pm; Thursday, 10am-9:30pm; Friday & Sunday, 10am-6pm
Check out the list of culture sites organized by their opening days here.
9. Be a king among kings
Versailles. It’s the number one day-trip for tourists in Paris and rightly so. This close suburb is packed with French history and beautifully displayed through a precedent-setting palace, the most well-known gardens in the world, and a town that reminds you of Beauty & the Beast. Now this is going to seem crazy, so take a big bite of that baguette and start chewing: dedicate two days to this place! If it’s your first time, definitely join us for a tour so that we can explain the ins and outs. But if you’ve already basked in the golden shadows of Louis XIV’s iconic palace, then put aside more time to take it in as he did, in style.
Day 1: Get yourself to Versailles via the Saint-Lazare train station. Look for line L going to Versailles Rive Droit or potentially a station beyond that, in which case Versailles will not be the last stop on the line. Trains usually run at least twice an hour in the morning and last about 35 minutes. When you arrive in Versailles, hang a left out of the train station and walk the short 5 minutes down rue Maréchel Foch to the market and let the shopping spree begin! You can find everything you need to put together a delicious meal fit for a king. Take your trappings and walk down rue de la Paroisse towards the park to enter the gardens at the Neptune fountain or through the Queen’s gate where you can picnic anywhere in the long stretch of grass separating the entrance from the Hameau. When you’re satiated, you can make the short walk over to the Hameau (which opens at noon), and the Petit and Grand Trianons. One ticket for 12€ that you can purchase there gets you into all of them, or you can invest in a 2-day passport that will also give you access to the chateau by clicking here. When you’re done visiting these satellite palaces, you’ll probably be ready for your supper. Head into town and check out La Table du 11 for a fancier meal, Reminisens for dinner & a show, or Le Phare St Louis for excellent crepes in a laid-back atmosphere with plenty of drinking options along the nearby pedestrian street.
Day 2: Start out by taking advantage of one of the local offerings, like a cooking class with Patricia or a visit to the King’s royal vegetable garden and the students that maintain it. Enjoy a leisurely morning before tackling the palace after lunch, when crowds’ are the thinnest. We know, it’s hard to put off the famous Chateau de Versailles until the last minute, but post-lunch is when everyone else is worn out. We’re not guaranteeing no photo-bombs in the Hall of Mirrors, but you should be able to walk while swinging your arms by your sides in the afternoons.
If you’re visiting Paris between mid June and mid September, you must take advantage of the Grandes Eaux Nocturnes. Plan your two days across a weekend and spend your Saturday evening in the gardens of the palace drinking champagne, seeing nearly all of the fountains in full service, and walking through bubbles. Bubbles, I say!
The Grandes Eaux Nocturnes as they’re called happen every Saturday in the summer from 8:30pm-11:05pm. If you choose to do this on an evening that you’re staying in Paris, you can still make it to the RER C for the last train just before midnight. Or you can catch a taxi for around 30€ but these may be in high demand so it’s good to reserve early.
That’s it for our 9 must-do’s for your second, or third, time in Paris.
Let us know which is your favorite in the comments below, or if there are other great activities that you’ve discovered on your trips to Paris.