Thanks to its wide open boulevards, cafes spilling out onto the streets, and of course, the Eiffel Tower, Paris is known around the world for its many clichés. And while you’ll likely want to see the tourist attractions (who doesn’t?), there’s a second, less spoken of, and locally based side of the city to uncover, if only you let the French Capital reveal itself to you. Here’s your complete guide on how to experience the best of Paris like a local!
Walk, walk, and walk some more!
Paris is a city that’s best explored on foot, and this does not become more apparent than when strolling around the city. Whether it be a romantic meander down the Seine with a partner in tow, or a brisk trot to the stores to stock up on supplies (read: wine and cheese!), allocate time within your days in Paris to getting to know the city on your own two feet.
Get a little lost…
While you’re partaking in all of these walks around the city that you’ve made time in your Paris itinerary for, be sure to ‘get a little lost’. Turn down that little cobbled lane and take a peek around that corner. After all, when it comes to the City of Light, you can never be quite sure what you’ll stumble upon next! An abandoned church? A village frozen in time? Take the time to lose yourself and you just might surprise yourself…
Experience an offbeat side of the city
After you’ve seen the Sacre Coeur, where do you go? Post Eiffel Tower visit, what’s next? Well, there’s a secret and less touristic side of the city that’s much more accessible than you might think. Think hidden villages within the folds of Paris, and leafy vineyards in the very heart of where you least expect.
Top tip: Want to see a quirky side and truly experience Paris like a local? Here’s my guide to the best of non-touristic things to do in Paris. Within this guide, you’ll find 57 truly unusual activities and destinations, all tried and tested by yours truly! Personal favourites include seeing Paris’ abandoned railway and sunbathing along the Seine (yes, for real!)
Try and speak French as much as possible (and always say ‘Bonjour’ when walking into a store)
Parisians, and the French in general, regard it as rude should you walk into a store and not say ‘Bonjour’ (hello) upon entering. So next time you head into the shops, instead of immediately saying something in English, make an effort to truly engage in the local language. And, don’t worry- everyone makes mistakes!
People will always be happy to correct you and will be more than happy that you’ve taken the time to make the effort. Need some friendly pointers? Here’s a guide to easy and useful French phrases. And if you’re worried that you don’t know any French at all, then it’s likely that you already know a little vocabulary without even realising it. After all, here’s a list of French words we use in English all the time!
Ditch the main supermarket chains (as much as possible)
French produce is best consumed when it’s fresh and as few a steps as possible have been taken for it to reach from field to plate. As such, consider paying a trip to weekly food stall markets which are held in each arrondissement, or visiting speciality stores.
When it comes to purchasing fashion items, head to Le Marais where you’ll find a huge array of independent boutiques. Elsewhere in the city, no visit to Paris like a local would be complete without a venture into a flea market or two. Curious to know more? Here’s what it’s like to go vintage shopping in l’Objet Qui Parle (the talking object) in Montmartre.
Enjoy picnics in the city’s green spaces
Rather than heading out to a new bistro each night of your stay, gather up some friends, plenty of French food, and head to one of Paris’ many parks. And while Paris is often accused of lacking in green spaces in comparison with other European capitals, there are still several great spots to choose from.
Some personal favourites include Parc des Buttes Chaumont (home to follies, waterfalls, and even a secret grotto) and Square Rene Viviani (a park which is near to Shakespeare and Co and is alleged to be home to the oldest tree in Paris).
Skip the Seine and spend your evening along Canal Saint Martin
If parks don’t really interest you, then skip the River Seine and instead head to where all the locals hang out: Canal Saint Martin. Fans of French cinema may well already recognise this area of Paris thanks to the 10th arrondissement being used as a backdrop for Classics such as Amelie and Hotel du Nord. Elsewhere in this lively district, cafes are open into the early hours while street art is abundant.
Buy your baguette directly from the boulangerie
Forget supermarket bought baguettes. They’re often dry and unexciting. Instead, head to the closest boulangerie from your accommodation and try ordering like a local, As in, place your order in French! While at the boulangerie, I highly recommend picking up a freshly baked pastry or two (or even some macarons!)
Top tip for visiting Paris like a local: visit the bakery earlier in the day and you may well find that your goodies are still warm from emerging freshly from the oven!
Take the time to enjoy your coffee
The art of enjoying your coffee in Paris has become something of a French institution. And not one to be taken lightly, either. Head to any bar, bistro, or coffee shop, and you can expect to find espressos served straight up, left, right, and centre.
Parisians aren’t afraid to head to a cafe alone. Book in one hand, curiosity in the other, taking the time to enjoy their shot of caffeine. So take the time to see Paris like a local, order your espresso (with a glass of water on the side), and, who knows? You may just fall in love with the city that little bit more.
Top tip for experiencing Paris like a local: A complete coffee guide to the art of ordering in a Parisian cafe.