Perhaps when you visit Paris, you’ll have a list of things to do that looks something like this: Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower; see the Champs Elysees lit up by night; climb the Arc de Triomphe, admire the architecture at Notre Dame, eat Steak Frites in a traditional French bistro and trawl through the Louvre to arrive at the Mona Lisa and take a photo like a trillion others in albums around the world. If you do, there are a ton of travel books to guide you and I’m not about to compete with them. I’m here to tell you about a different Paris- the Paris I know. The Paris I am sort of in love with.
In every new city, it’s always nice to start with a map.
Get yourself a metro map (here). These babies mean you don’t need to know exactly where you are at all times. You just need to find the nearest metro and route your way home. Get a map and then get lost.
Do you want to hear something dirty? Holding onto the bars on the metro. Forget the red light district- that is the dirtiest activity you can engage in in all of Paris. Stay clean- keep yo hands in yo pockets.
An alternative to the metro is Vélib, the public biking system in Paris. It works just as it should- there are stations doted throughout the entire city and you scan your pass to pick up and drop off a bike everywhere you go. What a dream it is! I’d recommend buying a Navigo pass at a Metro station (costs €5), then a Vélib pass online (here) (costs €8 for a week) which you can then activate at a Vélib station. The benefit of the Navigo pass is that you can just scan and go, rather than having to key in a bunch of numbers at each station.
Le Tour Eiffel is (understandably) Paris’ biggest tourist attraction. It is beautiful but instead of queuing with the masses, you can always picnic at the bottom and appreciate it from there. Gusto Italia do some legendary pizzas- get the veggie one to take away, cross the road and you can eat it in the park right by the Eiffel Tower. (Metro: Ecole Militaire)
Forget the Louvre. Le 104 is the most underrated art museum in all of Paris. The coolest part is that most of the art installations are interactive- they have things like a conveyor belt where everyone lies down and gets carried across a room or a huge plastic box that you sit in while balls are blown all around you. Every time you visit, you’re in for a different experience - the installations and exhibits change all the time. It is also home to an amazing carousel- you ride on giant metal bugs and you can control the parts of their body. It sounds kind of strange, but its insanely awesome! (Metro: Riquet)
Tourists in Paris usually end up walking along the Seine en route to somewhere else, to some other event, but I like to schedule time and make this an event in itself. If you walk along the right bank from Pont Marie, you can browse for old-editions of books and magazines in les bouquinistes (outdoor book stalls). The last time I was there, I picked up some vintage Playboy and Penthouse as entertaining souvenirs. Look out in nearby cafés and shops for Berthillon ice-cream- the salted caramel is to. die. for.
Colette boutique has become a fashion institution. If you told me you were only going to shop in one store during your stay, I’d direct you here (213 Rue Saint-Honoré). This is how hip Parisians shop. Check it. And because I’m always thinking of your tummy (and mine), grab lunch at Le Water-bar de Colette in the basement.
More treats: Hot chocolate from Angelina, Ladurée macaroons and baked goodies from The Rose Bakery cafe (I did a review here).
Ferris-wheeling is about as far away from work and everyday life as you can get. This is totally a thing to do on holiday. In Winter, there is one at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. In Summer, there is one in the Tuileries (pictured above).
If you are visiting Paris with someone to whom you wish to proclaim your undying love, then go together to le Pont des Arts (or lovers’ bridge). The tradition goes that you carve your names into a lock, affix it to the bridge and toss the key into the Seine as a symbol of your eternal love. Sweet. (Metro: Louvre-Rivoli)
When it comes to Paris nightlife, if you are up for a challenge (always!), Le Baron is the hardest club to get into in all of Paris. Its red velour interior hasn’t changed since its brothel days but the clientele certainly has- it has become the stomping grounds for the Parisian elite in their designer threads. (Metro: Georges V)
For a more chilled out vibe, I have a couple of suggestions (these are my favourites and where you’ll actually find me drinking a questionable amount of vodka in a couple of weeks time…)
Oberkampf: This area is not as trendy as it was in the 1990s (or so I’m told), but you’ll still find a friendly buzz about the place. Café Charbon is an oldie but a goodie. If (like me) you like your bars like you like your men, then head to the nearby arty-scruffy bar L'Alimentation Générale to see performances from never-heard-of-before music acts (mostly free) on their tiny stage.
The Latin Quarter: There is something very liberating about dancing to live jazz and the place to do it is in Caveau des Oubliettes. The bar was converted from medieval prison cells and still maintains all the original features including a guillotine! For a more grungy vibe, Le Piano Vache has cheap beer and rock music. A good combination. Their website makes not-so-subtle claims about the possibility of bumping into Johnny Depp behind its doors. Sold.
Phew, that was a long post. In case you haven’t had enough of me yet, read my guide to dressing like a local here!