Sure, there are a bunch of practical tips for Paris like which Metro ticket to buy and which neighbourhood to stay in, but that’s too boring and you can find it elsewhere anyway.
Here are my tips on how to enjoy this amazing city. Yes, after three years in Paris and two seasons of The Earful Tower podcast, I’m going to call myself a local.
PS: Season three coming in February, bonus off-season content here.
1. Look up
The street level of Paris isn’t the end of the story. Look up and you’ll get a lot more out of the experience. That’s how I found this enormous hidden angel, for example. Read all about her here.
2. Look down
This is for two reasons: 1: To avoid all the dog shit, and 2: To see all the interesting things at street level, like chasse-roues (see below), the things that once protected the walls from wagon wheels. There’s just so much going on beneath your very nose.
3. Say bonjour to everyone
Trust me on this, if you want to make a good impression, just say bonjour all the time, no matter how bad your pronunciation is. Even if you just say it like “Bon Jaw” it will still open doors. People have written whole books about the importance of this word, and they’re exactly right. Now, add a “ca va?” afterwards and the city is yours.
Recommended listening: Are Parisians polite?
4. Avoid the Metro if you can
Paris is small. It’s a village, even. You’d be surprised how easy it is to walk from A to B, and many of the subway stations are just a tiny distance apart. The added bonus is that walking means you don’t need to go descend into the stinky depths of the underground.
Having said this, the Metro itself is quite interesting. Here are 30 things about it that even the Parisians don’t know. (Did you know one station looks like a submarine?)
5. Eat your baguette on the go
There are very few pleasures in this life that beat taking a bite out of a warm, freshly-baked baguette while walking down the streets of Paris. And while Parisians will usually frown on eating on the go, it’s perfectly acceptable when it comes to baguettes.
6. Experiment with a tradition instead of a baguette
For a few extra centimes, you can get a better kind of baguette called a tradition. Ask for one of those instead of a baguette and thank me later.
7. Grab a coffee at a typical cafe terrace
The coffee will taste disgusting and may just be overpriced – but the rest of the experience will be just like you imagined. You’ll feel very Parisian and you’ll enjoy the best people-watching on the planet.
8. Grab a coffee at a good place
It’s no secret that I love a specialty coffee in Paris. Check out some of my favourites while you’re here. Try Cafe Mericourt, Le Peloton (pictured below), Coutume, Beans on Fire, or KB. Keep your eye out for me, I may just be there.
9. Go for an aimless walk
Do NOT fill every second of your itinerary with things to do. Specifically leave one whole morning or afternoon to just wander around. Leave the hotel, turn left, and just go. The French have a word for someone who does this: a flaneur.
10. Visit the trendy 10th and 11th arrondissements
While the Left Bank is amazing, and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are famous for a reason, come to the 10th and 11th districts to see where it’s all really happening. Hit up the top-rated cafes and restaurants, and wander through the streets to take it all in. And don’t miss the Canal Saint-Martin, but watch out for the crocodiles.
11. Don’t be afraid to go through doors
If a door is open in Paris – to a courtyard, a gallery, a garden… just go through it. If you get in trouble, explain that you’re a clueless tourist and you’ll be fine. Some of the most amazing parts of Paris are hidden behind doors, so when they’re open – don’t hesitate to explore. Here’s one of my favourites:
12. Listen to The Earful Tower podcast
And lastly, if you’re reading this website for the first time, you probably didn’t know that it’s the right arm to a podcast about Paris called The Earful Tower. We’ve interviewed loads of experts about this city who’ve come up with some awesome tips – not to mention interesting people who are doing interesting things in Paris. Why not start with our Top 20 guides, where we’ve asked specialists to name the best of in each of the 20 arrondissements of Paris?
You could try the top restaurants of the right bank, according to food writer Lindsey Tramuta…
… the top bars of the whole city, according to cocktail queen Forest Collins…
… or the must-sees according to tour guide Corey Frye.
And lastly, if you made it this far, and if you’re American, then chances are you’d like this episode of the podcast: How not to be an American in Paris. Happy travelling.