When you travel to Paris, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. To spend so much time going from monument to monument and waiting in long lines to get into each of the main attractions that you miss out on the simple beauty of being in Paris. While it is certainly a big, hectic city, opportunities abound for slowing down and appreciating life here.

But what does that mean? Of course it’s something slightly different for every person. But in general, when I envision the ideal Paris vacation, the first word that comes to mind is balance. You have the sightseeing portion of your trip and the immersion portion. One is all about taking in the sights you came to see and admiring some of the world’s best art, and the other is about simply enjoying life and seeing the parts of Paris that are popular with Parisians but often overlooked by visitors. Together, they provide you with everything you need to experience the depths of this incredible city.  

For me, no vacation to Paris is complete without spending some time away from the harried crowds in the center of the city and finding the neighborhoods where most people are just going about their regular lives. With a few exceptions, these aren’t the neighborhoods you’ll find in many guidebooks. But they are the neighborhoods where you can feel, at least for a moment, like you’re a Parisian too.

Beyond the neighborhoods, I look towards the food. Really it’s the thing my mind always seems to wander towards. Before I moved here, I found that when I visited I adored eating a few French meals, but I couldn’t sustain the multiple courses for long. So my husband and I began to experiment with other types of cuisine in Paris, of which there’s no shortage. Think falafel, ramen, tacos, even good old Texas barbeque (the French chef actually went and trained in Texas before the opening of the restaurant)! You name it, and it probably exists somewhere in Paris. And what I loved about those meals and continue to love to this day (beyond how delicious they are) is that they made me feel like I was really seeing today’s Paris. What’s more, a lot of these meals are the cheapest we’ve had in Paris, because they’re priced for locals and not for travelers. 

Shopping is another area where you have the chance to explore Paris off the beaten path. I’m not talking about the luxury shopping of the Champs-Élysées, but the quaint shopping you’ll find at neighborhood food markets and in smaller shopping districts. While it’s true that a lot of today’s younger generation feels like they don’t have the time to do the traditional French meal shopping (let alone the actual preparation) that has been such a staple of previous generations, there are still a seemingly infinite number of areas where you can partake in the tradition of shopping for each portion of your meal in the appropriate store (the bread at the boulangerie, the cheese at the fromagerie, etc.). 

So if you’re looking for a way to get the very best out of your trip to Paris without feeling like you’ve just run a marathon, remember that balance is key and too much of any one thing can quickly make you feel like you’ve missed out on the rest.