Welcome back to my ask a local series, where I ask interesting locals to tell us about the best their cities have to offer.
Today, I’m sharing another excerpt from my full guide, Paris: 10 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, & How to Fit In.
Without further ado, then, allow me to introduce you to Danielle Perrin: expat, foodie, and wanderer:
My name is Danielle Tellez Perrin and I am an American in Paris married to a charming Frenchman. Before being whisked off to the land of baguettes and wine, I was a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse. Due to complications of transferring my nursing license, I am a Business English Teacher in Paris.
During my free time, I enjoy people watching while sipping a glass of wine (when I am not planning our next adventure around the world, that is).
“My allegiance is to my country, but my heart belongs to Paris” – Anonymous
What To Do In Paris (The Basics)
The first thing you should do when you land on French soil is rush to the local boulangerie (bakery) for a fresh baguette and/or croissant! It is only then that you are properly nourished and energized to see the famous and infamous sites this city has to offer.
Not to sound cliché, but on your first trip you really must see the basic tourist spots: the Eiffel Tower (especially by night), the Louvre (Mona Lisa), Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées (the big shopping street), the Palais Garnier (Paris Opera House), Tuilerie Gardens, Notre Dame, the Sacré Coeur basilica, Moulin Rouge, and the Palace of Versailles. You cannot go to Paris and not see these sights.
After conquering the Paris tourist sights, I recommend switching modes from tourist to world traveler. Lose the map and forget the itinerary. Paris is a café culture renowned for people watching while enjoying a cup of coffee or sipping a glass of wine. It is not the quantity but the quality of life that defines the Parisian lifestyle.
Hidden Gems for Seasoned Travelers
“A walk around Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” Or so says Thomas Jefferson.
Once you’ve seen the main sights, take the road less travelled. Escape the tourist traps and crowds to wander the local neighborhoods (arrondissements). Each arrondissement has its own ambience and character, offering something different for everyone.
Some of my favorite places to wander include:
In and around the Montmartre neighborhood: past the Sacré Coeur basilica, around the Abbesses metro stop, past the Wall of Love (where love is written in hundreds of languages), by the Moulin Rouge, past the Café de Deux Moulin (from the movie Amélie), Place de Tertre (a beautiful square near the Sacré Coeur), Bateaux Lavoir (the former residence and meeting place of some of the great early-twentieth-century artists and writers), Montmartre Vineyard, Pigalle (famous for its sex shops), Montmartre Cemetery, and the Dali Museum.
In the Latin Quarter: Jardin Luxembourg, Sorbonne (the historical house of the former University of Paris), Panthéon (a church-turned-mausoleum), Boulevard Saint-Germain, Café de Flore (one of the oldest, most prestigious cafés in the city), Les Deux Magots (a café made famous by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir), Saint-Germain-des-Prés (a former Benedictine abbey), Cours du Commerce Saint-André (one of Paris’ glass-roofed pedestrian shopping streets), Saint Michel (a pretty square with a famous fountain), Shakespeare & Co. (the famous bookstore), Notre Dame, and Île Saint-Louis (a pretty, natural island in the Seine).
In the Marais neighborhood: Place des Vosges (the oldest planned square in Paris), the Picasso Museum, Bastille (the famous fortress), Centre Pompidou (a unique museum), Les Halles (a fresh market), and Hotel de Ville (the administration building).
In the Bercy area: Parc de Bercy (a public park along the Seine), Bercy Village (a cobbled, lovely pedestrian shopping area), and Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (the area around the National Library of France).
I also love pensive strolls around Père Lachaise—a haunting, beautiful cemetery where you’ll find Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, Georges Bizet, Jim Morrison, and Moliere, among others.
Marché des Enfants Rouges is a historical market, perfect for people watching.
Parc des Buttes Chaurmont is the perfect spot for a picnic and escaping the city life with a bottle of wine or two. This is also the ideal location for a run or yoga.
Marche aux Puces is a famous antique market and wonderful to wander through.
Finally, the passages couverts (hidden passages with glass ceilings filled with boutiques and restaurants) are wonderful to stroll through. Full list: Passage Jouffroy, Passage des Panoramas, Galerie Vivienne, Galerie Véro Dodat, Galerie Colbert, Passage du Caire, and Passage Brady.
Where to Stay
I suggest renting an apartment for the true Parisian experience. There is something intimate and quaint about embracing a new culture when you live in a local’s home. As far as neighborhoods, I recommend the Latin Quarter, Montmartre, or the Marais. Each arrondissement has its charms, so decide based on which neighborhood reflects your preference.
A few of my favorites are Reims (about 45 minutes from Paris in the Champagne region), Chartres (capital of the Eure-et-Loir area), Mont Saint Michel (the famous island community of Normandy), Saint Malo (the walled port city in Brittany), and the D-Day beaches of Normandy.
What to Eat
“For Paris is a movable feast.” – Hemingway
When it comes to Paris, you must taste her to know her. From the fresh baguette and croissant to the foie gras (goose liver) to the crack of your first crème brûlée, food is the heart of the Parisian culture. If you don’t believe me, note that there are over 350 cheeses in France…that’s a different cheese for every day of the year.
Here is a list of my personal favorite French dishes:
Starters: escargot (snails), foie gras poêlé or pâté (goose or duck liver fried or served as a pâté), and charcuterie (meat products).
Main dishes: magret de canard (duck breast with honey), bouillabaisse (seafood stew from Marseilles), confit canard (duck confit), coq au vin (chicken braised with wine, garlic, and mushrooms), moulets et frites (mussels and fries), galette (a type of crepes), boeuf bourguignon (a well-known beef stew from Burgundy), and raclette (melted cheese and sometimes meat cooked on a special grill).
Cheeses: St. Felicien, St. Marcellin, chevre, tommette d’espelette, and truffle brie.
Desserts: crème brûlée, soufflé (chocolate, Grand Marnier, amaretto), îles flottantes (meringue on crème anglaise), macaroons, mille feuilles (layered pastries), and profiteroles (cream puffs).
Where to Eat (Favorite Bars & Restaurants)
I highly recommend using the website Paris by Mouth (parisbymouth.com). They suggest restaurants, bars, cafés, etc. based on arrondissement, which I find helpful.
Some of my personal favorite restaurants include Le Galopin (with their exciting seven-course mystery dinner) at 34 Rue Sainte-Marthe, Frenchies (for fine French cuisine) at 5-6 Rue du Nil, Guilo Guilo (for sushi with French flair) at 8 Rue Garreau, L’Office (for more French cuisine) at 3 Rue Richer, Une Dimanche a Paris (for chocolate-inspired cuisine) at 4 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, and Mariage Frères (for high tea), whose multiple locations can be found at mariagefreres.com.
For reservations, phone Le Galopin at +33 1 42 06 05 03, Frenchies at +33 1 40 39 96 19, Guilo Guilo at +33 1 42 54 23 92, L’Office at +33 1 47 70 67 31, or Une Dimanche a Paris at +33 1 56 81 18 18.
I also love L’Avant Comptoir at 9 Carrefour de l’Odeon for French tapas and wine and La Compagnie de Bretagne (a gastronomic creperie) at 9 Rue De L’ecole de Medicine.
As for bars, my favorites are Experimental Cocktail Club at 37 Rue Saint-Sauveur, Le Silencio at 142 Rue Montmartre, Frenchie’s Bar a Vin at 5-6 Rue du Nil, and La Bascule at 24 Rue Durantin.
How to Fit In
The most common complaint French people make about tourists is how loud they are when they speak.
In addition to toning down our voices, it’s also always a good thing to try to adapt to the French culture. For example, my in-laws were offended when American tourists (whom they met in a beautiful Burgundy vineyard) asked them where the closest McDonalds was.
It’s important to understand that French people take pride in their cuisine and one of the easiest ways to earn their respect is by tasting and respecting said cuisine.
How to Meet Locals & Make Friends
Like most international cities, Paris can be a difficult place to meet locals and make friends. And since there are many tourists or French people from different parts of France, it is difficult to meet true Parisians.
I suggest that you do what you love and be open to starting discussions. I have had interesting conversations with strangers while people watching at a café (granted, most of the people I met were tourists).
Love what you read?
I wrote a whole book full of these interviews for you.