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Getting the most out of your trip to Paris

Getting the most out of your trip to Paris

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. 

 

 

The Paris cocktail scene

The Paris cocktail scene

The Paris cocktail scene is alive and thriving. Of course you’d never know it if you visited one of Paris’s many cafés, which all seem to serve the exact same list of generic cocktails that you’d be hard-pressed to find in any of today’s more contemporary cocktail bars. But once you make it past the mojito and the piña colada and the long island iced tea spilling off every café menu in Paris, you’ll find that this city really is filled with awesome bartenders working in some of the coolest bars making the cocktails we all want to be drinking.

You can still go old school, of course. Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure this city holds one of the best mai tais I’ve ever had, along with a few solid margaritas. But you can also find more interesting creations, like from Le Syndicat, a bar in the Strasbourg Saint-Denis neighborhood dedicated to serving a huge selection of French liquors. Speakeasies are all the rage these days in Paris, and Le Syndicat is no different. You won’t need a password, but you will need to make your way past the exterior, which appears to be more of an abandoned storefront than a thriving bar.

Depending on where you are in the city, some good cocktails can come with ridiculously expensive price tags. These cocktails tend to come from the places in Paris that are there for the tourists and the expense account drinkers – not so much your average visitor or Parisian. The good news is that they are easy to avoid as long as you’re searching in the right neighborhoods. In general, the city’s best cocktail bars can almost exclusively be found on the right bank. From South Pigalle (which is, as you might imagine, just south of Pigalle) to Strasbourg Saint-Denis, Canal Saint-Martin and all the way down to Bastille (and plenty of places in between), these are the neighborhoods with the widest variety of trend setting cocktail bars and your best shot for having a modern Parisian cocktail experience. 

Dining out in Paris

Dining out in Paris

Today’s culinary scene in Paris is like many of the world’s big cities – filled with an abundance of cuisines, a range of prices and a host of hip restaurants. Perfect for those who want to experience modern French food in the capitol of French dining, many of Paris’s newer restaurants have embraced the tenets of traditional French cooking while demonstrating that the evolution of these techniques is not only possible, but also quite tasty.

While the days of classic French fare served on pressed linens with a touch of formal service can still be found for those who crave it, the trend here has turned towards something far more approachable. Restaurants in Paris have managed to become casual in the best of ways, while maintaining the elegance and beauty that the French are so rightly known for. Simply walking into one of these modern showcases of French cooking, you’re instantly put at ease.

For starters, the service is often warmer and more relaxed than expected. And at least some English is usually a requirement for getting a job in one of these restaurants – lest you fear getting trapped with a French menu and no friendly translator at your side.

The food has also evolved with the times. Many of the dishes are lighter than what you’re used to finding at traditional French restaurants. Plates are carefully balanced to consider the melding of flavors and textures in the overall composition. Acids, though still not as prominent as I would sometimes like, are used more these days to complement food and to offer a satisfying dish without the heft of so much cream and butter.

While meat is still a fixture of French dining, it is becoming easier and easier to eat only fish or vegetable dishes for those who prefer it. That being said, dining for vegans can still prove to be a challenge, and for which I recommend seeking out the restaurants in Paris that cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans (yes, these do exist!).

Finally, for those of you intrigued by the idea of also trying some non-French food while you’re visiting in Paris, you’re in luck. It’s nearly impossible to find a type of cuisine that’s not well-represented in Paris these days. Mexican food is one of several that has recently taken the city by storm (much to the joy of so many expats living here), with a variety of taquerías and sit-down restaurants around the city.

All-in-all, the food scene in Paris just keeps getting better and better. And what's even more exciting is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get some of the city’s best food. You just have to know where to look. 

When to visit Paris

When to visit Paris

Paris is beautiful any time of year. But depending on when you visit, that beauty will come in drastically different forms. Winter tends to be slower in Paris from a tourist perspective. It can be cold and wet, and many people would prefer to see it during the warmer months. Yet wintertime isn’t without its benefits, particularly around the holidays when people tend to be in especially good spirits. After the new year, life settles back into a routine. Restaurants are often easier to get into, and plenty of people take to the heated terraces to have a drink with friends.

Springtime can be magical in Paris, as you’ve no doubt heard. Beyond the beauty of the season’s first blossoms, there’s a palpable feeling of hope and happiness in the air. We’ve all made it through winter, and are now being rewarded with warmer, more radiant days. If you come in the spring, keep in mind the weather can be mixed. The later in the season you’re here, the more likely you’ll be to enjoy warm days.

Of course, summer is when tourist season goes crazy in Paris. There’s no doubt that it’s the most consistently beautiful time of year, but the crowds can be quite large, particularly around the city’s main tourist attractions. Summer also coincides with the biggest annual holiday for many Parisians – the August break. If you come in August, you’ll benefit from a somewhat quieter city thanks to all the vacationing Parisians, but on the flipside you’ll also have to contend with plenty of closed restaurants and shops. That’s especially true if you’re staying outside the very center of the city. In general, it’s not a tremendous problem for tourists because there are so many restaurants in the city that you’ll be able to find some that are open. However, if your entire trip is centered around visiting some very specific restaurants, you’ll want to check ahead to make sure they’re going to be open.

September marks la rentrée in Paris, when everyone returns from their vacations and goes back to work or starts a new school year. It’s an active, exciting time in the city. The weather is warm and the streets are full of life. By the beginning of November, the weather is starting to cool slightly and the prospect of winter is looming large. Restaurants and shops are starting to decorate for Christmas, and suddenly puffy down coats are everywhere. And before you know it, winter is here again and the cycle starts again.