Insiders guide to Paris

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After our Top Paris Blogs blogpost we decided to contact some of the bloggers we mentioned and we sent them a small questionnaire about Paris. Our goal? To create a small “insiders guide” to Paris and to give to all our readers the possibility to get some useful info about Paris.

As I said, we sent 10 questions to the Parisian bloggers to get a better idea of what to do, what to see and how to enjoy the capital of France. The bloggers that kindly replied to us are the following:

And now let’s see the questions we sent them and how the bloggers replied!

Let’s start with an easy question, the first thing everyone thinks about when planning a holiday: what do you consider an ideal length of stay to see all the essential attractions of Paris?

Eric: I think a week is perfect if you come for the first time. It gives you enough time to visit the main landmarks, spend some time wandering in the streets of Paris and get to know the Paris lifestyle. If you’ve already been in Paris before, I suggest you take two weeks and prepare your stay ahead of time. Paris has a lot to offer if you take the time to go off the beaten tracks – which is worth it!

Jean-Claude: 4 or 5 days at least, but a week is better.

Amy: One of the wonderful things about Paris is you can see and do so much in just a long weekend. The city is so concentrated and enchanting. Every moment brings inspiration, beauty, history and great eating opportunities. But ideally, a visit should be 10 days to enjoy the city at a local’s pace.”

Adam: Probably around 1 month. I’ve been living in the city for over 15 years, and it still feels like there’s a lot to discover!

Rachele: At least 4-5 days.

Richard: I think a week at least is best. But you could never have too much time in Paris!

Doni: A minimum of one week, but a year is much better!

Kathrin: When people travel to Paris the first time, most of them only stay for two or three days. This is enough to get an first impression, but never enough time to see all important attractions. I have been to Paris many times and I am sure that there are still some attractions for me to discover. I would recommend to stay a full week  in this great city, so you can also experience the lovely parks and more hidden attractions.

Marie Simon: I advise to stay a week at least. Your journey can be like this:
visit the main touristic sites (Eiffel Tower,  Louvre museum, Notre-Dame, Montmartre, Pantheon, Petit et Grand Palais, etc.) during the week. The rest of the time you can go for a walk in some quarters (Marais, Butte aux cailles, Latin quarters, etc.), in parks (Père Lachaise, Montsouris, Buttes Chaumont, Concorde, Tuileries, etc) and, of course, inevitably enjoy going for a walk along the banks of the Seine – do not miss secondhand booksellers! Spend at least an evening in a theater or a concert, according to the programming of the week, and take a French brunch on Sunday. Don’t forget that in France a lot of museums and shows are closed on Monday.

Everyone agrees on at least 4-5 days; of course, Paris is a city where the more time you spend the more you see and want to see!

Another never-ending discussion is also the one about how to get around in a city. This is why our second question is: what is the best way to get around in Paris?

Jean-Claude: That depends if you like walking in the streets…otherwise the metro or bus are the easiest forms of transport as long as you avoid the rush hours.

Adam: Paris is the city of the ‘flaneur’. It has to be discovered on foot.

Kathrin: I wouldn’t recommend to travel to Paris by car, because there’s a lot of traffic in the city and it isn’t easy to drive through the metropolis. I would get to Paris by plane or by train. To discover the town, it is recommended to use the metro, because it will take you wherever you want. If you stay for several days you can buy a ticket for one, three, five or seven days and use the metro as often as you like.

Rachele: Metro is the faster and easiest way. Bus is good too but it is slower and a bit more complicated to understand for strangers.

Marie Simon: If you want to move quickly I recommend taking the underground. If you want to avoid the ‘tunnel effect’ and stay outside to see all neighborhoods, I  recommend the bus, but watch out for traffic! Bike lovers will appreciate the Velib system and cycle into town. Regarding touristic buses or little touristic trains, you can take them if you want to have a first overview of the city before you go by yourself; why not? Do not be afraid to ‘lose’ yourself, you will always find a bus or a subway within 300 meters around you. Moreover, to be lost, it’s part of the game!

Eric: Paris has an excellent public transportation system, very affordable, safe and pretty clean. Buy one of these ‘tourist’ passes that allow you to go around the city in the metro, bus or tram. Don’t ever choose to rent a car; it’s impossible to park. If you’re into bikes, you can try the ‘Velibs’, that are rental bikes that you can borrow for 30 minutes for a Euro and that you can drop virtually everywhere.

Doni: The Velib bike is easy and funny and I highly recommend it. But you need a chip or a card that you obtain at the tourist office (see here). If the weather isn’t great, then I would opt for the subway and/or the bus. For most folks taxis are just too expensive.

Richard: For speed and convenience the metro is best. It runs very efficiently and trains come every 2 to 3 minutes. Buses are a great way to see the city, too, if you can figure out the routes.

Amy: By foot and Velib. Walking allows you to stumble into hidden side streets, gardens and courtyards. Getting lost in Paris is wonderful. And so are the Velibs — there is something so fun and exciting about being part of the city’s energy and rhythms. Lastly, riding the public buses is a really pleasant way to see the city.

Velib - Paris
Velib – Paris

Paris is a big city and there are plenty of hotels, so we asked our city experts: in which neighborhood do you recommend visitors to stay?

Jean-Claude: If you are young I will advise you stay in the Latin district. If you have enough money you can stay close to Opera. In any case, Paris Intra Muros is my favourite place.

Marie Simon: Do not try to be next to a monument, but rather try to find a strategic location close to subway or buses, like a central and well served place, maybe around Place de la Republique for example. Châtelet is more central but it would be more expensive.

Eric: Paris is divided in 20 arrondissements. The most central ones are the 1st to the 6th.  If you can afford to stay in one of them that’s the best, because the most beautiful parts of the city will be within easy reach. If you’re on a budget try the 9th and the 10th. The other arrondissements are also fine of course, but less central.

Amy: It’s very subjective, but Saint Germaine is lovely. There are lots of great boutique hotels, and so many cafes, boutiques and markets outside your front door.

Richard: That’s a tricky question. Every neighborhood offers something different and interesting. If you want something that’s smack in the heart of the city and close to everything, I would say either the 1st or 8th arrondissements. If you want more of a neighborhood feel that’s still close to everything, I suggest the Marais or St. Germain areas.

Doni: That’s a tough one as there are so many arrondissements and areas that I like. But, for first timers, staying in central Paris is important; this way you can walk to many of the sights. That would be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th or 6th arrondissements.

Adam: An impossible question to answer. I think Paris is small enough and easy enough to get around, so the neighbourhood you stay in will have little importance.

Kathrin: Hotels in the centre of Paris are mostly very expensive, so if you are looking for a low priced hotel, you should look a little distance outside the centre. There are a lot of metro stations, so that it isn’t a problem to get to the centre of Paris within a few minutes.

Rachele: Simply inside Paris; that is, from 1st to 20th arrondissement. Avoid accommodation outside Paris even if near airports, because you will spend a lot of time and money in transport.

The language and temperament issue is often raised on travel forums – what can tourists do to avoid communication problems?

Adam: Stay out of places where tourists are seen as a cash cow, and go out and meet the locals. Talk to people and show an interest in what they do.

Rachele: To say in any case first of all “bonjour” is really very appreciated in France; often tourists are not known to do this.

Richard: I think that people should try and know a few basic words in French and know how to read a menu. The cardinal rule is to always say, “bonjour” when you walk into any establishment and always say, “merci” when you leave.”

Doni: Speak some words in French. Failing that, be polite and patient. Always say, “bonjour, Madame” or, “bonjour, Monsieur” before asking a question.

Eric: More and more Parisians speak English now, so it should not be a problem asking your way in the street. People may seem a little rude from time to time, but it’s not against foreigners; it’s just in the culture. French people don’t smile as much as the Americans for example, they tend to be more straightforward than the English and they are not used to good customer service. So if you’re poorly helped in a café or a shop it’s not you, it’s just the same for everyone!

Jean-Claude: I think it would be very helpful for tourists, if they already know some words in French, like ‘hello’ (bonjour), ‘please’ (s’il vous plait), and ‘can you help me?’ (Pouvez-vous m’aider?). Parisian people would be happy to help you if you are polite.”

Amy: Always approach a French person at least trying to speak the language. Even just an, “excuse me, do you speak English?” (Excusez-moi? Parlez-vous Anglais?). The French people would love to hear that you try to speak their language! Otherwise, follow and use body language. The French are master gesticulators and so much can be picked up and telegraphed this way.

Marie Simon: The Parisian is like an animal that is pressed and feels quickly attacked. To save time, I recommend you write on a piece of paper the destination where you want to go, because more often they don’t want to lose time in trying to understand you. The irritation comes from the fact that we do not understand where tourists want to visit. Once that is clarified, it would be easier to ask some help. I will advise you against asking some help from someone who is entering or leaving the subway, because they are even more pressed than the average Parisian. However, in bus stops, the Parisian is often more relaxed and you’ll even get a card pointing where you want to go. What could be better?

Kathrin: If you travel to Paris, you should be aware of the fact that a lot of Parisians just speak their own language. In case you don’t speak French, you may try to communicate in English, but I can say that even this may be difficult. Therefore I would recommend you always have a French dictionary in your bag to avoid problems.

We got the hotel, we got the Parisians, now it is time to have fun! Which factors constitute a typical Parisian cafe?

Doni: Hmm. Well, a lot of people might say something that resembles the Café de Flore or Deux Magots, but for me those two are too famous and too expensive. I much prefer a neighborhood place that you discover where you are staying. Something historic or at least old that has that I’ve been here for some time look. A place that has a terrace outside and small tables to sit facing the street and serves hearty basic French dishes. It’s important that the staff is courteous and kind. Often the best examples tend to be away from the main squares. I just went to one yesterday called Chez Margot in the Marais.

Eric: The food, probably: you will always find ‘steak frites’ (steak and French fries), ‘Salade Niçoise’ (salad with olives, anchovies, and tuna) and ‘Croque-Monsieur’ (sort of Welsh rarebits). The bad service (yes!) and the decor.

Jean-Claude: A zinc bar, coffees, locals, the decoration of bars, restaurants and cafés.

Adam: The real Parisian café should sell cigarettes, stamps and Metro tickets, and have a section dedicated to gambling – PMU horse racing, scratch cards and lottery tickets. They should serve ham baguettes and beer to workers at lunchtime, and not care in the slightest if the décor is fashionable or not!

Rachele: Classic and quiet, old-fashioned décor, and too many tables in very little space. People eating on the counter is a positive sign.

Richard: They usually serve mostly drinks including coffee, wine, and beer and a light menu that includes sandwiches, salads, desserts, and appetizers, which is always available. Most cafes open early and close late. Most have outdoor seating.

Amy: Brusque waiters, outdoor tables, no matter what the season; a blend of neighborhood regulars and tourists.

Marie Simon: In my opinion, this is not necessarily an element, or object, but a person: the server of a coffee! Admittedly, he/she looks like to avoid the eyes of the consumer, but he has to look everywhere. In his/her black and white uniform, it is from another time, sometimes using words obsolete and moan about everything, normal he/she is Parisian!

It really looks like only if you get ‘bad service’ and ‘brusque waiters’ you are in a 100% Parisian cafe :-)

Your favorite French Restaurant in Paris?

Amy: It’s impossible for me to pick just one. From Le Grand Velour to Café Constant to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon to Le Vieux Comptoir. There are so many magical places. If I had to recommend only one, it would be La Regelade Saint-Honoré. Delicious food and the 33 Euro menu just can’t be beat.

Doni: My current three places for very unique dining experiences are: 1 – Le Chateaubriand, 2 – Guilo Guilo, 3 – Saturne.

Adam: With two small children, I rarely seem to go anywhere but “Flunch” these days. The food is terrible, but you see all life there!

Kathrin: A lot of restaurants in Paris are very expensive, so it isn’t easy to find one with reasonable prices. If it isn’t a question of money, you will find a great variety of restaurants to choose from. There are also many international restaurants which can be recommended. I don’t have a favorite restaurant in the French capital, the choice depends on prices and my current mood.

Rachele: La poule au pot at 9, rue Vauvilliers.

Eric: It’s a small chain, called Bistrot et compagnie. Excellent food, excellent prices, nice locations.

Jean-Claude: There are a lot! Maybe La Bonne Franquette at Montmartre.

Marie Simon: La Bonne Franquette, which is situated at the top of rue des Saules in Montmartre. A house full of history where we could meet many artist from the last 400 years. I discovered it during an evening organized by bloggers in June, then I went back there several times. The menu suggests some classic meals which are very tasty, and the quality and quantity are assured. No, you won’t be in a restaurant where two mushrooms will fight a duel in a big plate. Trust me, you will eat well, drink as well and the wine is excellent! The price is not very soft, but it won’t be very soft either if you eat a bad croque-monsieur near the Place du Tertre in a tourist trap.

Richard: If you want to splurge but not break the bank, Joel Robuchon Atelier is my pick. Exquisite and inventive food artfully presented.

This list is definitely going to be my ‘to do’ for my next trip in Paris… Even if I’m a bit skeptical about French food (I’m still Italian!), I’m always up for trying new culinary experiences… And for sure I’m not going to miss La Bonne Franquette; if two of our experts mentioned this place it’s definitely worth a try!

Your favourite pub/bar?

Eric: It’s  a fancy café called Le Café Brébant. (Near Les Grands Boulevards metro station). A bit noisy, but cool.

Marie Simon: Le Vieux Léon near the Etienne Marcel subway, for its blind-tests on Monday night and its friendly welcome. Concerts are organized throughout the year – go to the website for taking a look to the program. To go dancing you can go to Belleville street, at the Café Chéri, you can not miss it, everything is red inside! To have a cheap beer go to le Syphax, at Notre-Dame de Lorette.

Amy: Experimental, without any doubt. Hotel Particuleur is lovely, too.

Doni: I’m not much of a pub-goer, but I like to have a glass of champagne every now and then at the George V just to see the flowers.

Adam: I still subscribe to the English ‘local’ pub mentality, so I would say either the Baron Samedi or Le Rubis. Both also have staff that you can talk to and who remember your name.

Richard: I like Le Fumoir across from the Louvre. It’s lively but not too noisy, is sophisticated, and has a smart Parisian crowd.

Rachele: Le zebre de Belleville at 63 Boulevard Belleville.

Which food/drink it’s a “must try” in Paris?

Kathrin: Each restaurant or bar has it’s own specialities; it depends on one’s flavour.

Amy: Everything. Eat as much as you can! Croissants and baguettes, a gazillion different varieties of cheese, the fresh produce, rotisserie chicken, chèvre chaud salads, sole menuiere, succulent duck breasts, Nutella crepes, hot chocolate, and all the amazing pastries and cakes!

Doni: If you’ve never liked oysters, try them again in France – they are briny and delicious. It is served at many of the finer restos in Paris.

Adam: Paris has very few specialities of its own. It’s both an international city and a city of all the regions of France. There is almost nothing that you can eat or drink in Paris that you can’t elsewhere.

Rachele: Fresh wine, royal kir, chèvre chaud salads, steak tartare, tatin pie and chocolate smooth.

Marie Simon: Snails, frog legs, oysters, onion soup … All this is not obligatory because many Parisians don’t eat that but it’s Parisian food. Choose a plate of cooked pork meats and cheeses offered in some bars, like this you will not ask for something that you may not like you won’t have any regret. If you don’t understand what a meal is, do not hesitate to ask to the waiter to explain what it is. And take a glass of wine that the waiter will advise you and will marry best with. Enjoy!

Eric: I would recommend any brasserie – my favorite one is Le Général Lafayette – where you can have seafood, Jaret de porc, SauerKrout (Choucroute), or, if you like to try something different, pork feet (Pieds de Porc) and tripes.

Jean-Claude: Entrecote steak, croissant, good wine, cheese and baguette.

Richard: There are so many: macaroons. Croque Monsieur sandwiches, crepes, soufflés, onion soup and for drinks a Kir Royal and Calvados liqueur.

Your soundtrack for Paris?

Amy: Edith Piaf, bien sur!

Doni: I love Paris in the springtime by Ella Fitzgerald.

Rachele: J’adore by Philippe Catherine and Lift to the Scaffold by Miles Davis.”

Eric: Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour of course!

Jean-Claude: Les Grands Boulevards by Yves Montand.

Kathrin: At the moment, my favourite soundtrack for Paris is the latest album from ZAZ, as for me it represents the typical Parisian feeling and charm. But there are many other fascinating French singers, especially great chanson singers. I would recommend music from Rose, Brune, Soha, Mylène Farmer, Axelle Red or the album „Couleurs sur Paris“ by Nouvelle Vague.

Marie Simon: The electro swing of Caravan Palace that is old and new mixed, like Paris in fact: “which takes you swing on the banks of the Seine, the caravan that takes you from hell to paradise!” If you prefer a more traditional swing, listen to Thomas Dutronc’s J’aime plus Paris (I don’t like Paris anymore).

Richard: Ne me quitte pas (Don’t leave me) by Jacques Brel is probably one of the most romantic songs ever written.

What’s the movie you would suggest to someone going to Paris for the first time?

Amy: Paris, I Love You for all, it is about different slices of life in Paris. Two Days in Paris of Julie Delphy also captured so much, and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was wonderfully romantic. And there’s always Breathless.

Doni: Definitely Amélie – but then you’ll have to visit Montmartre when you’re here. I’d suggest you take my downloadable walking tour of Montmartre and Pigalle to get a feel for the less touristy part of this charming part of town (click here for the guide).

Kathrin: I especially love the film Paris, I love you with a lot of great actors, such as Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Willem Dafoe, Elijah Wood, Bob Hoskins, Nick Nolte or Natalie Portman. 18 short movies show the different arrondissements of Paris, so that you can get an excellent impression on the various facets of the city.

Adam: A shot in the dark featuring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. It shows a completely artificial vision of Paris and French life, but don’t they all? At least this film is funny!

Rachele: Paris, I love you and Zazie dans le metro by Louis Malle.

Eric: Well, I loved one called Paris! Mixed stories of Parisians. Very moving and very Parisian too.

Jean-Claude: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (The fabulous destiny of Amelie Poulain).

Richard: My favorite film about Paris is Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. A romantic mystery that is perfection. Also the recent Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris is a wonderful love letter to the city.

Marie Simon: Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. And the Cat of Cedric Klapisch, where the life of a district of eastern Paris is discussed in more real.

So, to make some conclusions:

  • you need to stay at least 1 week in Paris to enjoy it;
  • metro, bus and bikes are the best way to get around; you have plenty of choice regarding pubs, bars and restaurants;
  • while walking in Paris the most suitable soundtrack is Edith Piaf and if you are wondering about a movie to see to get into the Parisian atmosphere you have to watch Midnight in Paris;
  • And… Yes, Parisians can be rude sometimes, but they are not bad… They are “just drawn that way” :-)

A huge thanks for this article to all the bloggers that participated in our questionnaire. If any of you would like to add info to this ‘insiders’ guide please feel free to comment!


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