The experience of Paris, the City of Light, shouldn’t be reduced to just the Eiffel Tower or even worse, Disneyland. There’s so much more to this city. Take the time to enjoy the ambiance, eat where locals eat, listen to the different languages and accents… – in short, blend in with the crowd. Parisians themselves prefer small streets with flowery houses in the 19th district to the long ticket lines of the Eiffel Tower. Our local Hélène says that Parisians are fond of easy ways of chilling out, so here are her recommendations for experiencing Paris a bit differently:
1. Listen to music in quirky places
Together with the first rays of sunshine, music festival season begins. There’s Weather Festival in June dedicated to electronic music, while for pop rock addicts there’s Rock en Seine that brings together various famous national and international artists. On June 21st World Music Day celebrates the arrival of summer. There are concerts happening everywhere in Paris and honestly, there’s something for every taste, be it jazz, rock, electro, and even Celtic or choral music.
In summer, another amazing event takes place on a farm in Nanterre near Paris, which is accessible by public transport. Five days of hedonism in July and August gives you the chance to listen to various performers while drinking fair trade beer in the sun and eating local produce. “La Ferme du Bonheur” translates to “The Farm of Happiness” and has become an institution amongst Parisian people. Here you can enjoy many concerts and parties, especially in summer, though there are events throughout the rest of the year such as baroque music concerts on Sundays and the occasional jazz performance.
La Ferme du Bonheur (photo credit: March’)
Besides festivals and other events, there are many concert halls and restaurants that create a special Parisian feeling with their shows, such as La Bellevilloise and Le China Club.
2. Use an alternative mode of transport
Obviously you can take the subway, or better still a bus so you can actually see your surroundings, though there are some alternative ways to get around in Paris. For instance, if the weather is on your side, take a “Velib” from one of the many public stations dotted around Paris. Velib is a public bike rental system that costs €1.70 per day. The first 30 minutes are free and then it’s €1 for the next half hour, and €2 for the next.
Another alternative way to get around is a bit more astonishing. Have you ever tried the Roller Ramble? Two options are worth considering: the Friday night ramble to discover the city by night, or the Sunday afternoon skate which is more suitable for amateurs!
Roller Ramble (photo credit: kimdokhac)
For party maniacs or romantic couples, it’s a great idea to enjoy a nice aperitif in a private little boat on the Seine with some music in the background.
3. Experience original and unusual gastronomy
In Paris, there’s obviously no short supply of famous French cuisine in each neighbourhood. But there are alternatives: food trucks for eating on the run, organic homemade meals, vegetarian fare and ethnic cuisine. And speaking of food, you can easily travel all over the world as Paris provides a deliciously diverse range of eateries.
For a somewhat strange experience you can eat in the dark and enjoy the flavours of your meal without any visual distractions. And have you ever tried molecular gastronomy? Try this original and scientific cuisine and discover new textures and flavours. In fact, just like New York or London, Paris is a city that welcomes new concepts with open arms, especially those relating to food.
4. Discover Parisian street art and graffiti
You can see works by famous street artists everywhere in Paris, and I think seeking them out is one of the best ways to explore the city. Graffiti and the 19th district became friends a long time ago. Artists have left their mark since the 80s, nowadays reaching as far as the 10th and 20th districts, the Oberkampf neighbourhood of the 11th district and many other areas. Rue Dénoyez in the Belleville district is a great example of a street that changes its face each time a new artist repaints the wall. Similarly, a wall located on rue Oberkampf called LE M.U.R. (Modulable Urbain Reactif) belongs to an association that aims to promote street art, so every two weeks a new artist is featured.
Keep your eyes out for pixelated Space Invader mosaics by the well-known French urban artist Invader. Inspired by none other than the classic 1978 arcade game Space Invaders, his amusing creations are strewn across hidden corners of the city.
Photo credit: Helene Sitbon
Another local phenomenon is Bonom, a mysterious artist who climbs to the top of Parisian buildings and draws strange animals on the walls that are only noticed by passers-by who raise their eyes. There are several of these works around the city, including in the 11th district (rue de Crussol) and the 12th district (rue Traversière). The famous French artist Benjamin Vautier aka Ben is also present on rue de Belleville with his oeuvre “Il faut se méfier des mots”. My personal favourites are the ambiguous stencils of Miss. Tic that always feature a woman with French wordplay alongside her.
Miss. Tic’s stencil in Paris (photo credit: Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux)
5. Find a hidden passage
Even for local
s, Paris has plenty of hidden corners – there are always new places to explore in this dynamic city. To feel the real spirit of this international metropolis, don’t be afraid to get a bit lost. When you’re walking down the street, keep your eyes open for new secret passages and little streets where extraordinary shops and restaurants are typically located. You won’t get bored. That’s the magic and beauty of Paris.
My personal favourites include Passage Brady, also referred to as the little India of Paris. Located right in the middle of the Gare de l’Est district, it catches your attention with its spicy smells, and lets you experience Indian culture with its authentic and inexpensive restaurants, colourfully dressed inhabitants and old school barber shops. The Flower Market on L’Ile de la Cité is a picturesque covered marketplace offering an extraordinary variety of flowers – it’ll be your most scented break in town. On Sundays, there’s also the bird market with rare species on display. Also worth a visit is Passage Jouffroy, a 100-metre long pedestrian walkway paved with black and white tiles which give it an old-time Parisian feel. You’ll find many old and unusual shops where you can buy souvenirs other than plastic Eiffel Towers!
Passage Jouffroy (photo credit: wolfB1958)
Similarly, Passage des Princes with its toy shops, Passage de Choiseul in the second district, Galerie Vivienne and Passage des Panoramas with the famous Théâtre des Variétés (which belonged to Jean-Paul Belmondo until 2005) are all worth a visit. In my opinion, the best way to feel the magic of Paris is to get lost in its streets and discover its hidden gems – it’s true, even for locals. And thanks to the diversity of Paris, there’s something for everyone. From little museums and delightful landscapes to small cobblestone streets and local markets, you’ll find your own favourite places and feel right at home.
Opening photo credit: Derek Key