Paris Like a Local; tips on getting the most out of the city of love
If you’ve never been to Paris or have your first (or maybe even second) trip booked there, I have quite a few helpful tips that will make your experience so much better! The city is huge and can be really hard to navigate, especially because the layout is similar to that of a circle shaped maze … or as its officially called; a spiral. This means that the numbered ‘Arrondissementes’ (ARR), the Parisian version of post codes, are not ordered in a nice grid-like formation and it’s easy to be walking in the 3rdARR and suddenly find yourself in the 11th. Not to worry though, it’s not as confusing as it sounds! After living there for 5 months I definitely have a few recommendations!
1. Take your time
The biggest mistake people make when visiting Paris is treating it like all other tourist hotspots in Europe, meaning they only book their stay for a few days. This is not enough time! I repeat, you need MORE THAN 3 DAYS. A week is the minimum, so that you aren’t needing to get up at the crack of dawn and run yourself into the ground trying to see everything there is to see in this unique city. It can take up to 45 minutes in walking and public transport time to get between some of the main attractions, plus you’ll definitely want to have time to enjoy your wanderings so you can properly appreciate the cute streets and all of the iconic boutiques and cafes along the way. I highly recommend seeing Paris via walking, you’ll give yourself the chance to see all the hidden gems and wander around in less touristy areas. This also means you’ll want to wear shoes you know you can comfortably walk in …Parisians don’t really wear stilettos and it’s for a good reason.
A note on Museums
I’m not going to tell you not to go just because they’re touristy, just take in to account the waiting time to get into places like the Louvre and Musee de Orsay when planning your itinerary. And give yourself a break between museums so you can properly appreciate them. The Louvre in particular is huge! The Mona Lisa is about a 20-minute walk from the main entrance, and that’s if you’re not stopping along the way to look at things (which you should). Most tickets can be pre-purchased online which will save you standing in the longer line. On Friday evenings the Louvre stays open late which means you can have an evening stroll through with less craziness. A lot of art students can be seen in the sculpture section sketching at this time as well, so bring a pad and pencil if you are artistically inclined and join them! Also don’t overlook the smaller museums; Musee Rodin is a favourite of mine and much quieter.
Hot Tip: Group the places you want to go to by the ARR they are found in so you’re not ping-ponging around the entire city. Walking from the Invalides metro station across Pont Alexander and then on to the Champs Elysées in the late afternoon gives you some beautiful views of the Eiffel Tower and all the luxury accommodation is made even more lovely by the pink and golden light.
2. Navigation/Public Transport
When you arrive, you’ll want to get yourself the metro map from any of the underground stations … or you can find it online and familiarise yourself with how you’ll be getting from the airport into the city before you get there. I highly recommend the ‘Here We go’ app for all travellers; you don’t need wifi or data to load walking directions, and the public transport directions are so easy to follow (just preload when you have wifi). Also, if you are staying for a week you may want to get yourself a Navigo ‘week’ pass for the transport, otherwise just purchase a booklet of 10 tickets from a machine and save yourself a few euros. In terms of signage, make sure you know the number, colour and name of the metro line you need to get to as these are the symbols used.
Last but not least, when riding the metro don’t stand in the doorway if it’s not your stop. You will get pushed and caught in the outbound and inbound flow of people. Which reminds me, keep all your belongings in a bag that can be properly closed and keep a hand on the zipper/flap while in transit … pick-pockets are opportunistic and clueless, distracted tourists are a favourite.
A note on Chateau de Versailles:
This is definitely a must-do, however it is not located in Paris but about an hour train ride outside of it so dedicate at least half a day for this activity. It’s also notoriously busy so get there half an hour before opening so you can be one of the first ones inside and not have your view (and photos) of each room blocked by hundreds of people. The gardens are ridiculously beautiful (and about 2kms long) and many locals go there to picnic when the weather is nice. On that note, pack a picnic for lunch because the food options in the grounds are limited and pricey plus you’ll be able to enjoy more of the grounds by finding a perfect place to inhale your baguette and cheese.
My favourite topic! For breakfast you definitely need to go with the Paris classic: a pastry, orange juice and espresso combination [plus or minus the cigarette]. If you head away from pricey tourist areas you should be able to get a petit dejeuner for around 8-10 euros, the La Royale is great spot for this. If you’re more of a ‘proper breakfast person’ check out Café Fou Fou on Rue de Oberkampf. Actually, this whole street is a café and boutique goldmine. If you want to get a real local experience and grow your appetite beforehand, the Farmers Markets at Marche Popincourt is held every Tuesday and Friday morning from 8, and its in the neighbourhood. You’ll witness vendors advertising their produce in loud French and you can pick up affordable and great quality fruit to snack on [way fresher than the supermarkets].
Wondering if there is such thing as ‘the best croissant’ in Paris? There sure is; La Maison d’Isabelle in St Germain have won multiple awards for their croissants. This unsuspecting boulangerie indeed supplies you with a perfectly flaky, and huge, croissant for only one euro.
For lunch or dinner you absolutely HAVE to visit the historic Bouillon Chartier at least once [they have two locations]. It can’t get more traditional than this French dining room that’s been loved by Parisians for over 100 years. Best part about it? It’s not crazily expensive! Just be sure to head there early because reservations are not possible and you will be waiting in line, just like any good establishment in Paris. If you’re in Montmartre checking out the Sacre-Coeur towards dinnertime you could also head to the infamous Pink Mama restaurant, which serves up real Italian food in a lively atmosphere. The top floor of the restaurant’s staircase also gives some lovely views over the city.
If shopping at the Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores on the Champs-Elysées isn’t in your price range, or you simply don’t want to wait in the lines with hundreds of people, there are some other beautiful spots in the city if you are in the mood for some retail therapy. My go-to place would definitely be the Le Marais. Taking up much of the 4thARR this little network of streets is full of stunning boutiques and trendy cafes serving up delicious eats and constant coffee. If you’re into finding some vintage gems, definitely head to Rue de la Verrerie where you’ll find the Kilo Shop; a vintage store where most of the items go by weight. Not to worry though, if preloved items aren’t your jam check out Rue de Francs Bourgeois for the busiest and longest street of retail stores in the area. My personal favourite boutique here is Claudie Pierlot; they have to-die for pieces that will truly get you into a Parisian spirit. Also, while you’re walking around the Le Marais be sure to check out Hotel De Ville for some impressive, and beautiful, architecture. The perfect backdrop for an Instagram photo.
Even though there are so many more little details I could share about this crazy amazing city I didn’t want to overload you. These are the main things I think will give you at least a small taste of the authentic Paris. Hope you enjoyed and be sure to let us know if you’ve been to Paris and have any other special tips to share.
Written by Saskia Geraghty