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Ultimate guide to explore Paris like a local: highlights and special tips

Special sunrise in Paris over the Seine river

Paris, the so called City of Lights (La Ville Lumière), is a special city that slowly conquers you for its majestic architecture, the rich cultural and historical heritage, the artistic streets, the elegant Haussaman style buildings and the smell of fresh croissants early in the morning.

If Paris would be a person, I'd imagine it as an elegant woman, beautiful but very demanding. It's a city which goes fast, sometimes too fast, were people are always in a hurry and don't look you in the eyes. But Paris is also a vibrant capital where there's always something to discover: a new expo, an original restaurant, handcraft shops or interesting workshops.

During my two years an a half living in Paris, I've learnt a lot about the city and its inhabitants, so the aim of this ultimate guide is to make you discover a different Paris, not just the one of the romantic streets and luxury shops as in the series ''Emily in Paris'', but the kind of Paris that locals know!

In the article we'll see :

  1. Practical info: accommodation and transports in Paris

  2. Must visit places in Paris for your first visit of the City of Lights

  3. Try a speakeasy bar in Paris

  4. Green areas in Paris

  5. Where to eat in Paris: local and exotic suggestions

  6. Visit less known museums and sights in Paris

  7. Street art and urban galleries in Paris

  8. Paris like a local: most unique things to do

  9. Strolling in the cutest streets of Paris

  10. Nightlife in Paris: best bars & disco clubs

Practical info: accommodation and transports in Paris
Spring in Paris - Eiffel Tower

If you're looking for a place to stay in Paris, don't get surprised about prices, hotels and apartments are quite expensive! To give you an idea the medium price per night in hotels is around 110euro. The most important thing is to choose a place close to transports (subway or buses) in order to reach the main attractions easily.

Suggested neighbourhoods: I arrondissement (Louvre), IV (Marais), V (Quartier Latin), VI (Saint-Germain-des-Prés), VII (Tour Eiffel & Invalides), VIII (Champs Elysées), IX - X (Opéra et Grands Boulevards), XI (Bastille et Nation), XIV - XV (Convention & Montparnasse, residential neighbourhoods), XVIII (Montmartre).

Suggested suburbs: La Défense, Montrouge, Vincennes.

Areas to avoid: Gare du Nord, Stalingrad, Jaures, La Chapelle, Porte de la Chapelle, Porte de la Villette, and Porte de Clignancourt can be dangerous, especially at night.

As for transports, I suggest you to buy a ticket in a train/subway station upon arrival, in fact there are 2-3-4-5 day passes that allow you to do unlimited rides on subways, buses and trams.

Other possibilities, especially when the weather is great:

  • Bikes: Velib are normal or electric bikes that you can rent from a station and leave in another one according to your needs. The cost for visitors is 5euro/day and can be paid directly at Velib stations;

  • Scooters and electric kick scoots: there are many brands as City scoot for scooter and Lime or Dott for kick scoots, you just have to download the app and add your credit card. Usually they have a cost per minute;

  • Ferry: when visiting Paris, you can't miss a ferry ride along the Seine on board of the so called ''Bateaux mouches''. I suggest you to do it late in the afternoon to enjoy the sunset colours and a different perspective of the city;

  • Taxi: I strongly recommend you to use apps in order to book taxis such as Uber, Bolt or Marcel (environmentally-friendly);

  • And of course, enjoy as much as possible walking in Parisian streets to catch its true atmosphere and discover the most authentic spots!

Must visit places in Paris for your first visit of the City of Lights

Paris is a city that can easily be visited more than once in a lifetime for the incredibly high number of attractions and its cool vibe.

Here some must visit places for a first visit of the City of Lights!

P.s. Remember that in France, public museums are free for people under 25!

  • The unique Eiffel Tower, a stroll in Champs de Mars gardens and the view from Trocadero terrace at night;

  • Montmartre and Sacre Coeur basilique, the romantic Mur des je t'aime (Love wall) and the artistic Place du Tertre with the characteristic Parisian painters. Make sure to stop at La maison rose, a picturesque pink house that inspired various artists as Picasso and Modigliani, and Moulin de la galette windmill that will remind you of the artwork of Renoir ''Bal du moulin de la Galette'';

  • Pigalle neighbourhood with its sexy shops, cabaret shows, the Moulin Rouge and the colourful basketball field of rue Duperre;

  • Notre Dame and the vibrant student neighbourhood of Quartier Latin with Panthéon, the University of Sorbonne and Luxembourg gardens. Have a look at Shakespeare and co library for a jump in the past in an historical meeting point for writers as Hamingway and James Joyce;

  • Louvre Museum (click here to book) with the beautiful Tuileries gardens and the Orangerie;

  • Place de la Concorde and the Obélisque coming from Luxor in Egypt and aged 3 300 years old;

  • Arc de Triomphe and the most famous street of Paris, the Champs Elysées, where to find many luxury brands;

  • The charming Place Vendome and Palais Garnier, the oldest theatre in Paris founded by Luis XIV;

  • Musée d'Orsay and its famous clock overlooking the Seine River;

  • Hotel des Invalides hosting the army museum;

  • Tour Montparnasse for its incredible view over the city;

  • Palais Royal and its monumental gardens;

  • A walk along the Seine river to meet the Bouquinistes of Paris, traditional booksellers part of the French immaterial cultural heritage;

  • The royal palace of Versailles and its gardens (click here to book) that I suggest you to visit during spring or summer. Don't forget that you need to buy a special train ticket to Versailles, the journey lasts about 45 min;

  • For a bit of shopping or just to admire its architecture, visit La Fayette galleries and the panoramic terrace on the last floor.

Try a speakeasy bar in Paris
Mobster - Hidden bars Paris

For a unique experience in an original place, try one of the hidden bars in Paris inspired by the Prohibition era in the United States that went into effect in 1920. In fact, when law enforcement agents began closing bars and clubs, speakeasies started to appear across the country. It is said that the term comes from people having to whisper (so speak ''easily'') when entering the hidden bar.

These hidden bars are not so easy to access, so be ready to ask, to find the right answer to a question or to discover how to open a curious door. And of course, enjoy a savoury cocktail (or more!)!

Here a selection of my favourite speakeasies in Paris: La Mezcaleria, l'Epicier, Lavomatic, Le Mobster, No entry

Green areas in Paris

If you're looking for a bit of nature in Paris, you won't be upset!

Apart from the most famous gardens of Luxembourg, Champs de Mars and Tuileries, there are less popular areas often frequented by locals as Buttes de Chaumont garden, Montsouris park, Jardin des plantes, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes which are literally two green lungs of Paris just at its suburb. I strongly recommend you La Coulée Verte, a green trail of about 5km built on ancient railways thats starts in Bastille and ends in the Vincennes wood, and the Cité florale (floral city), a very special micro-neighbourhood in the XII arrondissement where streets are named after flowers and plants.

In this article you'll find more details and other ideas of green spots in the city where to relax and feel a totally different atmosphere.

Where to eat in Paris: local and exotic suggestions

Gastronomy in Paris is a rich mixture of French typical flavours, exotic dishes, street food and high-end Michelin starred restaurants. You just have to avoid the most touristic traps!

Here some of my favourite places where to eat in Paris, also you can follow me on the app Mapstr by clicking here to find bars and restaurants on a map, very useful!

Paris best local restaurants in Paris:

  • Bouillon are traditional restaurants originally created at the beginning of the XIX century to prepare quick dishes for the workers of the surrounding companies at a low price. Today, bouillons are the place where to find familiar French dishes (onion soup, leeks, beef bourguignon, escargot, ile flottante...) at affordable prices. Very often, they're decorated in Art Nouveau style! I suggest you Bouillon Pigalle, Bouillon Racine, Petit Bouillon Pharamond & Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse;

  • Brasseries are restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere serving French dishes and often proposing a daily menu. My suggestion: La fourmie ailée, La Brasserie Lipp, La Coupole & La Closerie des Lilas;

  • You can't visit Paris without trying a typical crepe or galette (this is the name of salty crepes)! Personal suggestion: Breizh Café, a chain from Britanny where the true crepes come from, Au petit grec, La cuillère en bois, La crêperie qui fait angle;

  • The delicious French bakeries, boulangeries, are perfect for a quick lunch or a salty/sweet snack!

  • If you like open air spaces with many food choices, I recommend you Ground control, an original food concept in an ancient factory with dishes from many different countries (Italy, Greece, Lebanon...) and great artisanal beers!

Best exotic restaurants in Paris:

Best Italian restaurants in Paris:

  • La Felicità, a food concept organised in different Italian propositions: pizza, antipasti, pasta, burgers, desserts and so on. You just have to take a table and everyone will chose whatever he/her wants!

  • Gioco, Pietro, Norma & Picchetto: definitely my Italian references in Paris!

Brunch suggestion in Paris: Chez Prout, Tikino, Maison sauvage

Original eating experiences: Ephemera, to have dinner under the sea and Victoria Station to eat in a train looking like the Orient Express.

Recommended gourmet restaurants in Paris:

  • At Lido & Moulin Rouge you have the option of enjoying the worldwide famous shows while having dinner (or even just champagne), definitely a unique experience!;

  • Many ferry companies offer a dinner on board during the Seine river tour as Bateaux Parisiens. Even the famous chef Ducasse has its own restaurant on a boat!;

  • La Dame des piques, an excellent Michelin starred restaurant owned by Anne Sophie Pic;

  • Les trois bornées, gourmet at reasonable prices.

Visit less known museums and sights in Paris

Here a list of interesting, but less popular museums in Paris perfect if you've visited the city before or if you just moved here:

Musée Rodin, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Centre Pompidou, Atelier des lumières, l'Orangerie, Sainte Chapelle, Musée de la Marine (a taste of Versailles overlooking Concorde square), Grand Palais and Petit Palais through Pont Alexandre III Bridge, Quai Branly Museum (one of my favourite ones in the capital!), Musée d'Art Moderne, Museum of natural history.

Other ideas for original sights in Paris:

Street art and urban galleries in Paris

If you're passionate about street art, all you need is a good pair of shoes and a great dose of curiosity in order to catch the subculture arts scene of Paris. Most of the times, this kind of artworks are ephemeral, but this contributes to give them a special touch.

Here a list of areas where to admire street art in Paris and of interesting urban galleries:

  • Ourcq canal and Saint Denis canal

  • Rue de l'Ourcq

  • Le Mur Oberkampf

  • Chinatown in XIII neighbourhood

  • Buttes de Chaumont neighbourhood

  • 59 Rivoli hosts 30 artist studios in a beautiful building of the I arrondissement, you'll love it!

  • Other urban galleries: Le lavo matik & Galerie le cabinet d’amateur

  • La Recyclerie is a place focused on sustainability built in an ancient train station. It has a restaurant serving local seasonal ingredients and a urban garden along the railways. Many workshops are organised about recycling, gardening and art.

Paris like a local: most unique things to do

If you really want to live Paris as a local, this section of the article is for you. You'll find many spots and activities that Parisians generally love!

  • Enjoy the happy hour on the Seine river along the canals for a real ''apéro'' : just grab some beers and salty snacks then find your spot at Canal Sant Martin, Eiffel Tower canals or Square du Vert-Galant next to Pont Neuf;

  • Explore Paris by bike using a Velib;

  • Have a drink before dinner in the ephemeral bars along the Seine, the so called ''ganguettes'' during summer. Opt for the heated terraces during winter;

  • Have breakfast in the small local bakeries, ''boulangeries'';

  • Enjoy the open air cinema at La Villette park during summer;

  • Do ice-skating in the beautiful Patinoire of Grand Palais during winter

  • Organise a picnic in a park and bring with you board games (French people love playing ''pétanque''!);

  • Book a ticket for a stand-up comedy club as Paname Art Café (if you understand French, of course!);

  • Admire the ceremony of Christmas lights on Champs Elysées at the beginning of December and the fascinating Christmas tree at Galerie Lafayette;

  • A special evening at the theatre: Palais Garnier or Opéra comique

  • Admire a cabaret show in Pigalle, a great representation of feminism! I suggest you Les trois baudets;

  • Do an escape game indoor or outdoor to discover a neighbourhood in a funny way! I suggest you these agencies: Le Donjon, The one escape, Cluez Paris (outdoor).

Strolling in the cutest streets of Paris

Especially when the weather is great, walking in the streets of Paris is the best way to catch its most authentic soul. Here a selection of quaint picturesque streets and areas that I particularly like:

  • The colourful Rue Cremieux;

  • Le Marais, the Jewish neighbourhood, and the quiet Place des Vosges;

  • Père Lachaise cemetery;

  • Cité florale neighbourhood (XIII arrondissement);

  • Panthéon and Luxembourg gardens;

  • Strolling in Passages couverts (covered passages), a Parisian invention of the XIX century that redefined the architecture of the urban space. The most famous ones are Galerie Vivienne, Passage des panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, Passage Choiseul;

  • Rue Mouffetard (V arrondissement) & Rue Montorgueil (I arrondissement), two vibrant streets full of bars and restaurants!

Nightlife in Paris: best bars & disco clubs

And of course, after all these visits and discoveries during the day, it's time to have a taste of the Parisian nightlife! Here a list of dynamic streets with cool bars and original disco clubs among my favourite ones:

  • Rue de Lappe in Bastille, dynamic and crowded every night of the week;

  • Rue Princesse with a great variety of bars where to dance;

  • Pachamama, a 4-floor disco club in a beautiful building built by Gustave Eiffel;

  • Café Oz, three adresses in Paris to dance until your feet will hurt!;

  • Favela Chic for a latino atmosphere in a great deco!;

  • L'aQuarium Club for an innovative experience. Ready to dance feeling like being under the sea?!;

  • Le comptoir général: bar, restaurant and disco club on Saint Martin canal;

  • Studio l'Ermitage that often organises latino concerts;

  • Yoyo, a disco club in the monumental Palais de Tokyo.


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