Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Paris for the first time

The Eiffel Tower is amazing, it’s true. And the Louvre and L’Arc de Triomphe are massive and impressive. All the things you’ve heard about Paris, in fact, are true. It’s a city of immense beauty and wonder and rarely does anything disappoint.

But still, many of its charms are in the small nooks and lesser-known areas. If you wander off the beaten path, you’ll be rewarded with small delights like hidden courtyards, homemade ice cream and cute old-timers shuffling down cobblestone streets with their baguettes in one hand and French bulldogs in the other. Here are a few small ways to guarantee you’ll fall in love with the city.

• Walk around the residential neighborhoods. Get away from the first and sixth arrondisements (not that there’s anything wrong with them) that, head for head, probably have more foreigners than locals. When you stumble into Parc de Monceau, on the border of the eighth and seventeenth, or climb the hills of the thirteenth instead of the tourist-clogged eighteenth, you’ll get a true sense of Paris’ charms.

• Stroll through the flower market on Ile de la Citie.

• When it comes to art, think small: museums (l’Orangerie), fondations (Cartier) and galleries. Going to a vernissage (gallery opening) gives you the bonus of great people-watching, too.

• Take a Velib for a spin.

Markets, markets, markets. The produce, the cheese, the flowers, the soap, the honey, the rabbits getting skinned right in front of you! It’s an orgy of sights and smells, and it’s one of the best things in the world.

• Get dolled up and visit a salon de thé like Fauchon or Maxim’s.

• Picnic: pick a prime spot along the Seine. Or settle on a hill in Buttes Chaumont. Pull up a chair and watch the mini sailboats racing at the Luxembourg Gardens. Any excuse to pack some bread, cheese, chocolate, wine and fruit and sit and watch the world go by.

• Pick a public bus route and ride it from end to end. In this city, chances are you’ll see at least one gorgeous monument, plus all the cafes, boutiques, parks, markets and restaurants you’d never know otherwise existed.

• Bonjour, chocolate tour! Pick a neighborhood and follow a trail from one chocolatier to another, sampling just a bonbon or two from each. Go from Jean-Charles Rochoux to Pierre Hermé to Pierre Marcolini in the sixth. In the first, start with Jean-Paul Hevin, to Michel Cluizel, followed by cocoa at Angelina. In the eighth, a Maison du Chocolat, Patrick Roger and Neuhaus all peacefully coexist on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

• Linger on a café terrace. Have a single café crème or coup de champagne. Or get a chevre chaud salad or poulet roti with frites. Imagine yourself in a Bresson photograph. Paris. Perfect.


  1. Big sigh! Sounds like the perfect tour of the real Paris. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

  2. with you all the way. I always stay in the 9th - love wandering through faubourg montmartre, rue des martyrs, the market near Sacre Couer on a Friday, rue des abbesses, rue lepic - all close to the tourist bits but so far removed!

    And the bird market on a Sunday with the little rabbits to pet.

    Almost unknown tourist bits - the Conciergere, Saint-Denis with the basilica, Chateau des vincennes.

    Rue moufettard, the mosque, Chartiers etc

    Paris is so much more than the traditional tourist areas. For many years I stuck to the 'must sees' but now I hop on and off buses, set off on a walk with no idea where I am going! Its a great city to just walk and look without ever being too far from a metro or bus stop (I watch buses going by and read the routes then head to a bus stop to wait for the next one!)

  3. There's an ungodly amount of tourist scum in the 18th but I live on the north side of Montmartre and it's as down home as it gets... Really great neighborhood if you skip Pigalle and Sacre-Cœur...

  4. Yay! Glad you guys enjoyed that little time out. I've been such a wuss in the colder weather that I've spent less time out wandering the city. You inspire me, though. I'm going to get back to it! xo