With limited time in a destination like Paris, and so many world-class attractions to fill your days, it can often be tricky for visitors to get a true sense of life as a local. Paris-based writer Ruby Boukabou checks in with a list of ten simple ways for visitors to tap into the real Parisian vibe…
Visiting major monuments, waiting in line for museums and taking out a second mortgage for a Michelin-starred dining experience may be fine for a few days — but once that’s out of your system, step off the tourist bus and into the real Paris.
Here are ten ways to experience Paris like a local and see a different side of this incredible city.
Since the Lumière brothers screened their first short films in 1895 in the basement of the Grand Café, Parisians have been up to speed on all genres of cinema and open to experimental, independent and foreign films. Boutique cinemas can be found in many pretty corners of Paris.
Inaugurated in Montmartre in 1928 as the first cinema of the avant-garde, Cinema Studio 28 is a delight. Catch films from directors such as François Ozon, Xavier Dolan and Pedro Almodovar. The cinema has a community feel; there are kids’ birthday parties on Wednesdays and the public votes for the next month’s classic.10 Rue Tholozé, 75018
From the sophisticated to the surreal, plunge into some serious celluloid at Accattone, an old cabaret turned cinema in the Latin Quarter. Catch reruns of Pasolini films and improbable festivals and events such as The Syrian Mobile Film Festival. 20 Rue Cujas, 75005
And finally, situated near Bercy in a large cubist building, Cinemathèque Française has a museum, library, book shop and restaurant. Enjoy retrospectives and classics, and marvel at the old cameras on display. 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012
2. Hit the pool
Sadly, Parisians don’t have the option of plunging into a natural body of water to de-stress. They do, however, have some pretty neat swimming pools. Do laps, take an aqua gym workout or strip off for a nude night swim!
While one can’t swim in the Seine due to the pollution, the next best thing is swimming on the Seine. The Piscine Josephine Baker floating swimming pool near Bibliothèque François Mitterrand is open air during the warmer months and has a clear cover in winter for your swimming pleasure. Quai François Mauriac, 75013
Piscine Pontoise is a gorgeous 33m pool in the Latin Quarter with an art deco design, two mezzanine levels, mosaic frescoes and a glass ceiling. For those who loved the Three Colours trilogy by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, this was the pool Juliette Binoche frequented in Three Colours: Blue. 17 Rue de Pontoise, 75005
In Parisian pools swimming caps are a must (you can buy them sur place if you don’t have one) and Speedo-style swimwear is mandatory for men (no shorts). Alternatively, you can dispense with your costume altogether. Mais oui. Piscine Roger Le Gall welcomes nude swimmers from 9pm-11pm on Monday and Wednesday and 9.30pm-11.30pm on Fridays. 34 Boulevard Carnot, 75012
3. Shop at a street market
For things to do in Paris that are truly local, head out to a street market. It’s a key part of Parisian life. As well as often being cheaper and fresher than the supermarkets, there’ll be a lively ambience, street food to snack on, flowers to brighten your day and gigantic cheeses to gawk at. And the vociferous sellers always seem to be in such a good mood, despite having been up since dawn. For a list of daily markets, visit www.paris.fr/marches.
4. Take to the floor for a stretch or dance class
French ladies may look like they need to make very little effort to stay slim and gorgeous, but all is not what it seems. There are a few tricks and a grueling barre au sol class (floor work/stretch class) is one of them. It will leave you sore-but-happy the next day. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the lingo, just follow along.
There are also multiple dance classes for all levels. Try these options:
While it may not be on the official weekend agenda as such, Parisians will often take time out to explore a temporary vide grenier — an ‘attic clearance’ or collective garage sale. While it looks like junk from afar, you might pick up a great retro jacket for a few bucks, a unique candle holder or a prehistoric mobile phone charger. OK, so a lot of it is junk, but who knows, a unique piece of Parisian ‘object d’art’ may come your way.
6. Be a wine buff
Contrary to what you may think, not all bars in Paris serve terrific wine. However, at a bar à vin, you’d be unlucky to go wrong. They’ve been popping up around town and are popular with groups of friends who want to catch up — but not necessarily stay for dinner. However, if the wine is good, the tapas snacks may well become dinner!
Try La Cave de Belleville, sandwiched between Asian restaurants and boutiques in Belleville. This wine cave has a wide selection of bottles, and cheeses and hams to match. It’s not dark and dingy, but rather spacious and inviting. 51 Rue de Belleville, 75019
The original idea at Freddy’s was to have a place where people could wait with a drink and tapas snack for their table at popular Semilla next door (same owners). The bar is now a destination in its own right. It gets busy, so swing by early. 54 Rue de Seine, 75006
7. Do cheap international eats
Parisians don’t eat snails and frogs’ legs at every meal. Non. They embrace the cultural culinary melting pot of their city and are down with a good couscous, curry and pho.
Couscous is practically French due to the large North African communities that call Paris home. It’s a top five favourite meal for most Parisians. Try Les Hommes Bleu, Chez Hamadi or Les 4 Frères.
For great Indian, head to the 10th arrondissement, just behind Stalingrad station, or near Gare de Nord to Little India. There are many choices, including Krishna Bhava.
For Vietnamese, it’s all happening in Belleville at Viet Siam, Dong Huong, and anywhere along Rue Louis Bonnet.
8. Tap along to a free concert
Sure you can shell out for the crème de la crème of musical acts at legendary venues such as L’Olympia, La Cigale or Bercy, but there are dozens of excellent free concerts every night in bars across the capital. It’s a very Parisian way of spending an evening: sipping a beer or Perrier and catching up with friends between sets.
The musicians will pass around the hat, so if you’ve enjoyed the music, be generous. Check out what’s on where at www.lylo.fr.
9. Pound the pavement
If you plan on enjoying all the wine, cheese, croissants and curries Paris has on offer, it’s best to keep in shape with a daily jog. Here are three places Parisians love to work up a sweat working off last night’s dinner.
Jog around lakes, over bridges, under waterfalls and through caves in Buttes Chaumont. This fantastic park in the 19th was once a quarry.
Enjoy a civilised jog along Canal de l’Ourcq from Jaurès metro station down to the Parc de la Villette, the third largest park in Paris.
Parc Monceau is much smaller than the Buttes, but romantic, beautiful — and flat (for those who like to avoid hills!).
10. Get arty at free galleries and exhibition openings
When it comes to cultural things to do in Paris, the locals love their art and there are some great low cost ways to indulge that don’t include lining up at the Louvre with the tourist masses.
Watch artists in residence at the iconic 59 Rivoli art collective, housed in a funky ex-squat in the centre of town. Say hi and pick up a print from American painter Linda McCluskey, with her dreamy, poetic Paris landscapes and good humour.
There are hundreds of small galleries across Paris, with a large concentration in the Marais. Every week there are exhibition openings where cool types drink complimentary champagne and mingle. Check www.slash-paris.com/vernissages for options during your stay.
Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.
Do you have anything to add to our list of ten ways to experience Paris like a local? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food reporter based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.