When Humphrey Bogart says “We’ll always have Paris” to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, he probably didn’t anticipate a deadly global pandemic that would prevent most travel and seriously test his romantic logic.
With the majority of holidays cancelled, including my own holiday to Paris I was meant to go on back in June, we just have to dream (and seriously prep) for the time when we can buy expensive airport coffees again.
Sorry to be an obnoxious stereotype, but yes, I did spend a year abroad living in Paris, and yes, it was the best year of my life. I inform most people I meet of this fact within five minutes of meeting them, usually. Spending twelve months traversing the City of Love’s beautiful streets, by the end I feel I had a pretty solid grasp on the best pockets of the city, from tourist traps to hidden gems. So without further ado, here’s my guide to Paris—although, it’s worth mentioning that when I lived there I was an intern on a very meagre income, so if you’re looking for more upmarket recommendations, I can’t help you there.
Top Attractions & Hidden Gems
1. It might seem a tad morbid, but Paris’ cemeteries might just be the only spots where you’ll find peace and quiet. Père Lachaise Cemetery is particularly beautiful under a bed of crackling autumn leaves: you’ll find the resting places of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison and Proust. South of the river there’s Montparnasse Cemetery, home to Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Serge Gainsbourg and Charles Baudelaire.
2. Despite its relatively modest size compared to somewhere like sprawling London, Paris has plenty of green spaces. However, it’s best to avoid the obvious choice like the Tuileries, where you’re not actually allowed to sit on the grass (yes, really). Instead, take your picnic of baguette and boursin to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which is way more picturesque.
3. Paris is home to countless beautiful museums. Yes, the Louvre is great (although the Mona Lisa is very disappointing IRL), but you also have the gorgeous Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Museum of Modern Art, Musée de l’Orangerie and Picasso Museum. Good news: most are free.
4. Do not neglect the two ‘bois’! To the east and west, Paris is flanked by two gorgeous, enormous parks, the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes. There are zoos, botanical gardens, castles and lakes: you can even rent boats.
5. A true way to live like a local in Paris is to simply sit by the Seine with a bottle of vin rouge, dangling your legs on a warm summer evening and chatting away as the sun sets. My favourite spots to do this is by Pont de l’Archevêché, Pont de Sully and, of course, Pont Neuf.
6. Paris isn’t amazing for Christmassy vibes (the Champs-Élysées market is tacky, and the one out in La Défense isn’t much better). Your best bet is to go to Galeries Lafayette, a gorgeous department store that is decked out in top notch festive decorations in the winter months.
7. The Paris you’re expecting to see when you go to Paris—the Paris of literature and cinema—can be found in Montmartre. Make your way to Abbesses station and walk up the winding streets to Sacré-Cœur, which truly is as beautiful and quaint as everybody tells you it is. Marvel at the artists working at their easels, sip on overpriced espressos, stroll down cobbled streets, inhale second-hand smoke… voilà, bienvenue à Paris.
8. Le Marais is a gorgeous area in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements known for its cute streets, chic stores and gay bars. And falafels, but we’ll get to that later.
9. Depending on the length of your stay, you might want to go on day trips. There’s Fontainebleau, a commune with a huge forest and castle just 40 minutes from Gare de Lyon; Château de Vaux le Vicomte, which puts on amazing festive events throughout the year and is 1 hour from Gare de l’Est; and Provins, a picturesque town that’s like going back in time to the Medieval ages, about 1hr 20 from Gare de l’Est.
10. For the love of god, don’t go up the Eiffel Tower. Go to Trocadéro and look at it from there for the best views.
1. Pizza Julia is a takeaway pizza joint in Bastille (warning: it is amazing, and you may have to queue/wait).
2. Les Pâtes Vivantes is a delicious, authentic Chinese restaurant, where you can watch chefs prepare their home-made noodles in front of your very eyes.
3. For a proper French bistro try Café des Anges, which has a great cosy atmosphere and crowd-pleasing food.
4. The food at Bouillon Chartier isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s famed for a reason: it’s very French, very affordable and has stunning decor.
5. There’s a lovely little Korean restaurant called Hwarang in the more residential 13th arrondissement.
6. You may hear whispers about a street in Paris’ Le Marais district that is famous for its falafels. You may also hear that the most popular joint is L’As du Fallafel. My preferred choice, though, was Chez Hanna, with their giant slabs of fried aubergine and crunchy, herby falafels.
7. Popolare / Pink Mama / East Mama: The ‘Big Mamma‘ group was so successful in France that, since returning from my year in Paris, it’s spread to London, too. Their focus is on amazing Italian food with unique interiors and affordable prices; each of their restaurants that I visited were total hits.
8. Ground Control is lively space with outdoor and indoor street food stalls, bars and cosy seating areas.
9. Vegan? No problem. Yes, French food mostly features a slab of meat, but luckily Paris is finally getting with the times. Hank do delicious, affordable burgers, Tien Hiang is a great mid-budget Chinese vegan restaurant and Sense Eat is more of a ‘special occasion’ vegetarian restaurant.
10. If coffee and cake is more your bag, Paris has more cafes than it knows what to do with. Any terrace will probably be lovely, but I’ll highlight a couple. Le Pavillon des Canaux is a brilliantly weird cafe by the Canal Saint-Martin, which is designed like a house. Le Used Book Cafe is wonderfully cosy. And, although it’s perhaps passéto say so, Shakespeare & Co is truly the most magical place to while away an afternoon: both the beautiful bookshop and its adjoining cafe.
Drinks & Going Out
1. I spent a frankly shameful amount of nights very drunk at Supersonic, a club that puts on various different nights, from live bands to 90s throwback to indie rock.
2. My favourite place to go out dancing in Paris is Les Disquaires, where DJs spin records and live bands play funk, soul and disco into the early hours.
3. For cheap wine, pints and very decent plates of chips, you can’t go wrong with Le Nouvel Institut or 2bis Café, two studenty pubs/bars just south of the Seine in the Latin Quarter. I spent probably the most memorable day of my life at Le Nouvel Institut, watching France win the World Cup in 2018.
4. La Mutinerie is a warm, welcoming LGBTQ+ bar that puts on various events for Paris’ queer community. I spent a very raucous Halloween here, watching drag queens do Britney Spears lip-sync battles.
5. Le Comptoir Général is a cool cocktail bar with wacky decor and very random clientele.
6. Garage is your standard warehouse-y electro joint.
7. There are a few nice rooftop-style bars in Austerlitz, like Cafe Oz.
8. Djoon is a restaurant by day and club by night, playing a mixture of music across the remit of soul.
9. La Maroquinerie is great for gigs: after, head to their outdoor terrace for drinks with a lively, cosy atmosphere.
If you’re staying for a decent chunk of time then be sure to get yourself a ‘carte navigo’ for €70 a month, which is far more respectable than London’s £200-per-month average travel pass. Otherwise, single tickets on Paris’ metro will only set you back around €2 and a ticket from Charles de Gaulle airport is around €10. But to be honest, Paris isn’t all that big and arguably it’s easier to just walk around, depending on where you’re staying. The city is split into 20 ‘arrondissements’ (districts): for a holiday I’d perhaps avoid the 9th, 10th and 19th as they can be a bit rough, and 13th, 14th and 15th as they’re a bit residential.
Paris is the most magical place in the world, if you can deal with the withering stares from the locals. Don your stripes, uncork your bottle of red and away you go.
Words by Steph Green
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