Going to Paris is one of the nicest things you can treat yourself to. All the clichés about this city are true, but that doesn’t change the fact that it really does have something magic about it. It’s a big city but in a kind of bohemian, romantic, laid-back way that you’ll only find in mainland Europe. Paris has something unique about it. Something different from even Rome or Barcelona.
To really get a feeling of the real City of Lights and Romance you want to avoid the usual tourist hot spots, as they will literally ruin the experience for you. Obviously that’s easy for us to say as we have been to Paris several times and have already seen the Eiffel Tower, The Mona Lisa, Champs Elysee, Sacre Coeur, and Arc de Triomphe many years ago. However, we would strongly recommend that you are picky and chose only a few selected sights from the long list of tourist “must-see’s” that you REALLY want to go visit. It will make your trip so much more authentic and less haunted by the millions of other people who are in town at the same time as you, with their selfie sticks, umbrellas, guides, tour busses, maps, backpacks, and socks in sandals.
So here is a list of 10 ideas that will take you out to see bit more of local Paris and give you a feel of the city.
1. Cycle your way through Paris! The city has an amazing cycle scheme called velib’ with access to more than 20.000 cycles around town. You simply turn up at a docking station or book a code online. It’s the cheapest way of getting around at only €1,70 a day or €8,00 for a 7 day ticket, and you see much more than you would have in the Metro system. It’s super easy to use, you just get your ticket code and every time you need a cycle you enter your code and take out a cycle from the many docking stations around the city. Only annoyance is when a docking station is full or empty and you need to cycle around a bit for the next station, but that rarely happens. We are verliebt in velib’. Best way of seeing the city!
2. Visit the book stalls along the Seine and get tempted into buying antiquarian books, a small vintage picture of plants, or small vintage bric a brac. You can even buy a poster of the”Je Suis Charlie” cover from the now tragically famous satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The former President of France, Francoise Mitterand, is known to have said “Human beings will lose touch with reality if they are not surrounded by their books”. If this is true, the Parisians must be very much in touch with reality as you’ll find lovely antiquarian book stores and small book stalls all over the city.
3. Lie on the grass in the stunning garden of Jardin du Luxembourg. Lots of local people will come here, either in their lunch break to just sit and be for a while or with friends to relax in the sun. It’s a beautiful 23 hectares garden from the 17th century with trees planted in patterns and statues on pedestals. A really nice place to observe the Parisians and breathe in a bit of serenity, before you venture out in for example the area of Saint Germain. Opening hours is every day from 7.30-21.30 or 8.15-17.00 depending on the length of the day.
4. Get a feel of Saint Germain by just wandering the small streets of this area. Dominated by a community of the intellectuals of Paris, you’ll find small traditional bistros, antiquity shops, book and art shops, pricey art galleries, and well-kept buildings and architecture. This area is definitely for the wealthier and older inhabitants of Paris, but nonetheless still really lovely, charming, and quiet to explore and has a proper local feel.
5. Have lunch at one of the many traditional local bistros. Try to avoid the restaurants in the touristy areas. Firstly you’ll save a whole lot of money, secondly there are so many lovely little places who serve traditional French bistro cuisine. I can recommend Le Comptoir du Relais, which is a busy bistro by day come sophisticated restaurant by night. It has white table-clothed seating in the sun and a really nice art deco interior inside. Great food, amazing wines, very French service (not saying rude, just slightly indifferent and arrogant; very authentic for Paris). It’s a brilliant place to enjoy food and the view of passing by locals. Address is number 9 Carrefour de l’Odéon. Don’t book for lunch, it’s a first-come first-serve place but worth the wait.
6. Visit the Saint Sulpice church. Obviously it’s difficult to beat the Notre Dame Cathedral, which really is spectacular and arguably one of the touristy things you shouldn’t avoid. However, Saint Sulpice is quite amazing as well and you will have it more or less to yourself which is always a plus. Saint Sulpice’s most recent claim to fame is that it was the church where the albino monk was looking for the Rose Line in the filmatised book Da Vinci Code. The Saint Sulpice church does have a meridian line, but apparently the Rose Line is fiction.
7. Check out the street art. Paris is known to have some of the best street art in the world. One of the best areas should be around the Canal St. Martin which is quite an upcoming, trendy area with creative shops and funky restaurants. The area for the in-the-know Parisians and boho-chic if you will. You can either explore yourself or get in touch with www.localers.com who does tailor-made tours, arranged specifically after your interests.
8. Browse the BULY perfume shop, which is out of this world. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, it’s worth your time going to see this shop. The original boutique was opened in 1803 by Jean-Vincent Bully, and apparently his perfumes were the “Chanel no. 5″of his time. Fairly recently a French couple opened in the same premises more than 200 years later, cleverly adopting the name Buly – but with only one “L” – sticking with the authentic vinegar/perfume-making principles and ingredients as the original Jean-Vincent Bully. The interior of the shop takes you right back in time and is probably one of the most spectacular shops in the world. You’ll find it in 6 rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement.
9. Visit the historic area of Le Marais. This is a super fashionable area and a LGBT hotspot with brilliant shops, cutting edge art galleries, Parisian boulangeries, great historical architecture, and trendy restaurants. You can clearly see that this used to be a Jewish area by the number of Jewish restaurants and shops displaying menorahs in their windows (candle holder which is used on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah). Main thing here today though is the very hip atmosphere and the shops ability to tempt you to empty your bank account, if you’re that way inclined.
10. Have an evening picnic in Champ de Mars. This park is the one that surrounds the Eiffel Tower and it’s the perfect spot for you to share a bottle of wine and eat a shop bought baguette after a lovely day of Paris. Arrive around dusk and stay in the park area, avoiding the tourists masses underneath the Eiffel Tower. This should give you a nice and more private and romantic evening, not fighting the hordes of selfie sticks and annoying flash photography.
Visited April 2015