Don't think you have to master the French language to see the city through a local's eyes. By following these key points, some given to us by a born-and-bred Parisian, you can see the city through the eyes of those who are lucky enough to call it home every single day.
If you've never gone to Paris, we highly recommend using a travel agent. Many travel companies have experts who know the city in and out. On our recent trip to Paris, we teamed up with American Express Travel and Maureen Johnson, one of their travel insiders. Maureen, who is an expert on France and Paris booked all of our tours, gave us a thorough booklet of local recommendations for food and entertainment and helped book restaurants off the tourist strip. Working with Maureen was easy and took the stress out of finding eateries in our budget and booking highly rated tours. Having an insider put together an itinerary will not only save you the stress and hassle of planning a trip, but will give you a local perspective on where to eat and visit.
If you're going for longer than a few days, renting an apartment in the city is the best bet. Not only can it save you hundreds of euros on lodging, but it will also make you feel more a part of the community. This is the best way to quickly get acclimated to the Paris culture. Many websites, like Paris Perfect, offer great deals on weeklong rentals in many of the most popular neighborhoods. Here's a list of our favorite Paris rental guides:
If there's one thing Paris is not, it's cheap. Even if you just dine in one of the many street side bistros, you can expect to spend close to 50 euros a day on food, and that's if you don't order wine! Save your money for big meals and Champagne and buy your breakfast and lunch from a street cart or a Marche (market). One of the main markets, Marche Biologique Raspail, is open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and has everything from fresh produce to charcuterie and fresh fish to fresh chevre. There's another large market on Rue Montorgueil, which is where many top chefs pick up their produce. If you're renting an apartment, stock up on chips, baguettes and cheeses from local food markets and groceries. If you can, buy your wine at a street market. We found incredible bottles of Cote de Rhone for less than 5 euro in one food market near the Louvre.
There are sights that you must see if you've never been to Paris, like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. Since these places will be the most touristy, visit on weekdays in the morning or right before closing time to avoid some of the crowds. Once you've seen the big sights, visit lesser-known (but equally as amazing) museums and sights. The Decorative Arts Museum, for one, is not often found on tourist guides, so you'll have more time to stroll through. Pere Lachaise, which is a cemetery near the 20th arrondissement, is also less touristy than many sights and is home to the graves of Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin. One of our favorite spots was the incredible Place de Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. Because it's harder to find, fewer tourists visit there so the park will be very peaceful.
David, a tour guide with City Rama who was born in Paris, says the quickest way to get swindled out of your money is to take cabs everywhere. Not only this, but many of the cab drivers (like many in other cities) don't speak English so you may get stuck by the language barrier. David, who lives outside of the city, urges tourists to take the metro around the city. When on the metro, be very aware of your surroundings as many gypsies and pickpockets rob tourists. If you're careful, the metro is the quickiest and cheapest way to get around the city and explore the lesser known neighborhoods. If you'd prefer to stay above ground, take a bus. You may get stuck in traffic, but you'll get the chance to see some of the sights.
A rule of thumb we learned from David, one of our tour guides, is this: If the menu is in English, don't eat there. Another rule of thumb is to avoid bistros and restaurants in heavy tourist areas, like right next to the Eiffel Tower or next to the Arc. Instead, explore a few blocks away to find the real hidden gems. If you know a little French, ask your neighbors, a worker at a store or market or a concierge where they like to eat. Chances are, they'll point you in the direction of a local favorite. Another way is to go on a small gourmet food tour of the city. We went on a gourmet walking tour with Meeting the French, a Paris-based tour company. Our guide Roberto, a Parisian, took us along the hip Latin Quarter and into smaller cafes, patisseries, bistros and food marches which were filled with locals. Parisians also frequent fromageries and patisseries, or cheese shops and bakeries, daily to pick up fresh fromage and baguettes for their meals. Laurent Dubois Fromagerie in the Latin Quarter is a local hot spot and is known for their unique cheese creations.
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