How to Experience Paris Like a Local

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Paris, France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, drawing over 23 million visitors in 2017. People come from all over the world to enjoy world-class museums, eat delicious food, and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. In a city so overrun by tourists, having an authentic experience can be a challenge. Thankfully, you can still experience the “real Paris” by taking a break from the tourist sites and enjoying a slower-paced Parisian experience.

When you look at a map of Paris, you’ll notice that the city is broken into 20 little sections. These sections are the 20 arrondissements, or districts, of Paris. The arrondissements start in the center of the city with number 1 (near the Louvre) and curl out like a spiral around the city, with higher numbered arrondissesments on the outer border. A lot of the major attractions are close to the center of the city, in the 1st through the 8th arrondissements, including the Eiffel Tower, the d’Orsay Museum, and the Tuileries Garden. Popular attractions include Montmarte in the 18th arrondissement and the catacombs in the 14th arrondissement. If you’re not sure where you are in the city, most major street signs will tell you the location’s arrondissement at the top of the sign above the name of the road. The city is also split into two halves: the Left Bank (south of the Seine) and the Right Bank (to the north).

LocalParis1.jpgWalking is the preferred mode of transportation in Paris because so many attractions are within walking distance of each other. Paris is a very walk-able city, but it also has a fantastic public transportation system that is relatively cheap, with a one-way metro ticket costing 1.80 euros.

Now that you know how to get around the City of Lights like a local, you probably want to know where the locals go. Although the attractions in the touristy areas of town are certainly worth visiting, it can be nice to enjoy a more relaxed experience in Paris. Want to see famous artwork without standing behind a crowd of 50+ people? Visit one of the less popular (but equally impressive) museums like the Rodin Museum or the Palais de Tokyo. Buy your tickets online ahead of time to bypass the long lines!

If you want to shop, but you want to avoid the hoards of tourists at the famous Galeries Lafayette, check out Le Bon Marche on the Left Bank. This department store has all the high fashion and beauty brands that you associate with Paris, and it has one of the best food departments in the city. Looking for a relaxed walk in the city? Visit the Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arrondissment. This massive cemetery is the resting place of several significant figures including Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

LocalParis6.jpgParis has some of the best food in the world, and its restaurants are well known for their haute cuisine and Michelin stars. Unfortunately, many tourists come to Paris and have mediocre food experiences because they go to touristy restaurants that are overpriced and unexceptional. If you venture beyond the main streets, you can find amazing food for a very reasonable price. In fact, you can get Michelin-recognized food for under $40 per person if you know the right places and make reservations ahead of time! Au Bon Accueil and Le Bistrotd’Henri are two great options for exceptional French food at very reasonable price points. If you’re dining in a restaurant, be sure to check out their daily menus. Most restaurants offer 3 courses for a sensible price so you can try more of the cuisine. 

If fine dining isn’t your thing, have a picnic along the Seine or in one of the many beautiful parks in Paris. You’ll notice tons of Parisians with their baguettes and wine doing the same. There are also several markets throughout Paris where you can find local produce, meats, and cheeses along with some street food. The Sunday market near the Bastille is a very large market that runs until the early afternoon.

LocalParis7.jpgParis also has a great nightlife scene. If you want to experience interesting bars with a more authentically Parisian atmosphere, head towards the Republique and Bastille neighborhoods. There are several bars in these areas (and around the Canal Saint Martin) with interesting themes that you cant find anywhere else. Le Comptoir General is very popular for its exotic theme and unique art space.

Paris is an incredible city, but if you only stay in the tourist areas, you may leave feeling like you didn’t experience the “real Paris. Go explore the city and see what Paris has in store for you.


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Article and photos by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and her website. For more on Paris, check out her guide to the city’s must visit art destinations.