People fall into two camps: those who have visited Paris and those who want to.
Rumour has it people exist who don’t have Paris on their Must See list. Let’s blame this failing on grade-school grammar trauma and Monsieur Sagar who forced us to declare, “J’ai un stylo,” or was that, “Je suis un stylo?” Verbs are scary, but a trip to the third most visited city in the world shouldn’t be.
Travellers often prepare lists — whether rigid or flexible — of landmarks, restaurants, and museums they’ve dreamed of seeing firsthand. A list is a great idea, but let’s go beyond the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and explore Paris how she’s meant to be discovered: slowly, with eyes turned upward and outward, and on foot. Only then will you have time to savour the buttery, flaky layers of a real croissant, start learning the rules of boules or pétanque (still played regularly in many neighbourhood parks), and appreciate the challenges of 21st century life vying for space in a centuries-old city.
15 Ways To Fall in Love With Paris
1. Walk up the steps to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (the big white church on top of a hill), into the village of Montmartre, right past the kitsch of the Place du Tertre where Picasso and Hemingway once roamed — but where you’ll now spend more time practising linebacker skills you didn’t know you had — to the quieter lanes beyond the square and down the other side of the hill. This is where Montmartre still lives.
2. Go for ice cream at Berthillon. I recommend noisette or pistache, but all the flavours are delicious, though I’ve yet to make it through the entire list. If you’re renting an apartment and have freezer space, take home a container of ice cream to enjoy at the end of the day.
3. Buy pain de campagne or a baguette at any bakery frequented by Parisians, dried salami (saucisson sec), cheese, chaussons au pommes (or another equally delicious pastry), and Orangina or wine and have a picnic in a park or on the banks of the Seine. Any park will do and these are literally around every corner in the city. Dining out in Paris doesn’t have to be pricey.
4. Climb the steps to the top of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris and hang out with the iconic gargoyles that guard her steeples. The view is spectacular and the gargoyles friendly.
5. Visit some of the lesser-known museums; there are countless of them scattered across the city. It’s not small or off-the-beaten path, but make the time for the Musée d’Orsay, which is housed in a converted train station and displays some of the best Impressionist paintings in the world. A few quirky and smaller museums to consider are the Museum de Montmartre and the Renoir Gardens, the Museums of Sewers (for those who dare), and a museum where old fairground rides and stands go to retire – the Musée des Arts Forains.
6. Wander the streets of a neighbourhood off the main thoroughfares, stop in to lesser-known churches and museums, pause at cafés frequented by people who live in the neighbourhood, and shop in boutiques where the prices aren’t artificially inflated. Two of my favourites are Belleville and the village of Passy. Belleville is vibrant and multi-cultural and attracts artists worth checking out. And if you want a bit of quiet there are still impasses and secret gardens to explore. Passy will please those who want to shop as well as anyone who needs a refuge, which can be found in the gardens of the Maison de Balzac.
7. Cruise down the Canal Saint-Martin and avoid the larger boats and noise of the bateaux-mouches on the Seine. The Canal is quiet, frequented by locals who picnic on its banks during the warmer months, and it’s lined with cafés and shops you’ll want to pop into after the cruise.
8. Eat a street-side hot dog. You’re in France and I’m telling you to eat street meat, but I can’t stress enough that this will be the best street meat you’ll ever eat. Once you place your order, a baguette-half is cored and the inside liberally coated in sharp mustard before the sausage is added. The crunchy baguette crust combined with the flavour of the mustard and the heat of the sausage is delicious!
9. Explore an area or take in an experience that’s usually reserved for locals in the know. One of the most beautiful ones is La Coulée Verte, a 4.5 km stretch of abandoned railway that was converted to parks and paths in late 1980s. But Paris is full of hidden treasures and it’s hard to pinpoint the best ones to see, so do a bit of research before leaving home and choose one or two that intrigue you the most.
10. Sail a boat in the Jardin de Luxembourg as kids have done for decades. Children (or adults) can rent toy sail boats or bring their own, and sail them in the pond. The boats are controlled by pushing them out or bringing them back in with a long stick. It’s an experience worth having for its history alone.
11. Spend the afternoon at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It’s one of the largest parks in Paris and between the caves, waterfalls, and stunning city views there’s a lot to enjoy. The park is also where Parisians took to their snowboards and skis during the heavy snowfall several winters ago.
12. After your morning café au lait and croissant, stroll into every second-hand book store you cross. Yes, even the bouquinistes along the Seine and the Abbey Bookshop are worth a stop, but it’s hard not to stumble on a bookseller in Paris.
13. Good coffee was not always a given in the past, but coffee houses have recently cropped up in many Parisian neighbourhoods and most of them go beyond serving exceptional coffee by providing it in a pleasant atmosphere. Boot Café is a good place to start. It’s taken up residence in an old shoemaker’s shop, hence the name, and has already attracted a lot of attention. The pretty locale helps.
14. Take a pastry making class. La Cuisine Paris is on my list of places to make time for next time I’m there.
15. Visit a neighbourhood market. Local markets are listed online, but some are more touristy than others. If you want the feel of a market frequented by people who live in nearby homes try the Marché Couvert Beauvau – Marché d’Aligre or the Marché Saint-Charles. The oldest covered market in Paris — les Enfants Rouges — is worth a visit even though it is a major tourist attraction and very busy.
Do NOT, at any time, attach a lock to architecture that’s been around longer than the Canadian and American constitutions combined. This is not an ages-old tradition — the love locks are a recent phenomenon that perplexes most Parisians — and it puts a visual blight on a beautiful city. The locks are nothing more than vandalism. If you want to commemorate a romantic visit to Paris, stroll along the Seine as lovers have done for decades and ask someone trustworthy to photograph you instead of leaving keys to rust in her waterways.