How to see Paris like a Local

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Answered by: Andrea, An Expert in the Paris - Special Interest Travel Category
Already done the Paris 'thing'? Visited all the typical tourist spots like the Louvre, the Musée D'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the riverboats, the Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens? Tired of line-ups, tacky souvenirs and tourist-trap cafes with overpriced set menus? Don’t despair, there’s much to see in Paris beyond the typical tourist spots.

There are many ways to see Paris like a local and fall in love with the city all over again.

First, consider staying in an apartment rather than a hotel. Providing you are self-sufficient and have no need of a concierge, you can live like a local by walking, eating and shopping in your neighborhood. Take the metro (check out the Citymapper app) and use Uber.

Historically, the left bank was more working class (though nowhere in central Paris could now be called ‘working class’) and you’ll find narrow streets surrounded by quaint buildings. The right bank is more bourgeois with grander architecture and large boulevards thanks to the city planner and architect Baron Haussmann. Within central Paris--if you can afford a splurge—try the 5th near the Sorbonne, the 6th in the St. Germain area or the newly trendy Marais in the 4th. Heading out of central Paris, in the east look at Saint-Mandé or Vincennes and heading west, try Saint-Cloud, Boulogne-Billancourt, Ile de la Jatte to experience how an upscale French family lives.

Secondly, in your quest to see the ‘real’ Paris like a local, go places where Parisians go in their daily life. Check out the library, the park or a local gym. One of my favourite Parisian memories is when I visited a swimming pool during an early summer heat wave that was actually located on a barge floating on the Seine. Poolside, the women were fully made-up and accessorized with hats, matching shawls and high heels.There were cabanas for rent. There were waiters in tuxedos serving drinks. You had to rent a towel and a lounge chair. The only people in the pools were children. It was fascinating.

Next, another one of my favourite places to go is the French department stores—from the low-end Tati, FNAC and Monoprix to the stunning Printemps and Galeries Lafayette which is an architectural marvel housing an enormous Art Deco stained glass atrium. Don’t forget BHV right across from the Hotel de Ville which is a luxury bazar filled with home décor goods, hardware and craft supplies. Think of visiting department stores like a sociological quest to see how locals live in Paris. Pay special attention to the children’s wear (Dior baby rompers); lingerie (everything is pretty); linens (beautiful cotton and stunning design); and the food hall (spices, salt, cheese, soap, olive oil….). Even in the lower-end stores like Monoprix—a supermarket with clothing, housewares and cosmetics—everything has a style that is not only different from North America, but superior in terms of design and materials/ingredients.

From department stores, the next step is visiting a drugstore. The French take their skin care and health very seriously. If you are unwell in Paris, you can consult with a pharmacist and they will often find something to help whether it be pharmaceutical, a vitamin or mineral supplement or a homeopathic remedy. The array of products is wide, the prices are fair and it’s a real snapshot into the French psyche and how locals live in Paris.

Lastly, if you’re not into shopping, there are a vast number of museums off the beaten track that are worth visiting both because they have amazing work but also because there are fewer crowds. The Museum of Modern Art (Musée Art Moderne) is in the Palais de Tokyo and is a state museum and is therefore free. The Musée Galliera (fashion) is right across the street. The Musée Marmottan in the 16th arronndissement has the largest collection of works by Monet in the world as well as a decent collection of other Impressionists. The Musée L’Orangerie in the Tuileries has two enormous circular murals (Nymphéas) painted by Monet in the later years of his life as well as the private collection of Impressionist paintings of art dealer Paul Guillaume. Often these museums are filled with French schoolchildren on field trips.

This is just a small sample of unusual tourist adventures in Paris. Do your research and talk to friends and fellow travelers. Check out the Paris Tourism website, explore special interest blogs, check out travel books dedicated to finding unusual sites and activities (Michelin, Off The Beaten Track, Rick Steeves). Read a few Parisian newspapers and magazines (Time Out Paris) as well as checking out the local expatriate community for event listings in English. A little effort, planning and research beforehand will lead to a rewarding experience that far exceeds the typical Parisian experience and will help you to see Paris like a local.

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