From seeking out vintage treasures at flea markets to finding the best places to drink France’s rarest spirits, Lonely Planet Local Catherine Le Nevez delves into the intoxicating world of her home city, Paris. She even has tips on how to best tackle the Eiffel Tower.
What I love about Paris... is the rhythm the seasons bring to daily life. Chestnuts roast on street corners and ice rinks pop up around the city in winter. In spring and summer, old-time dancing outdoors revives the tradition of the guinguettes (open-air taverns/dance halls). Although many restaurants and smaller shops close in August, when most people leave for summer holidays, it can be a really peaceful time to be here; away from the tourist sights, the crowds evaporate. La rentrée, when everyone returns in September, is a great reunion.
My favourite festivals... feature live music, such as the Paris Jazz Festival and Classique au Vert. Both are held at the Parc Floral de Paris in the Bois de Vincennes, the huge forest at the city's eastern edge (it makes a great escape from the concrete at any time of year). Another highlight is the Fête de la Musique on the summer solstice, when stages set up on street corners and outside bars all over the city; it's an electrifying atmosphere, and it's free.
I like to shop... at the flea markets. I recently renovated my apartment; it's ancient, with stone walls, beamed ceilings and a vaulted cellar, so in addition to frequenting hardware stores, I searched out vintage fittings. The biggest and best flea market is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, in the north of Paris, with more than 2000 traders spread across 15 marchés. The Marché aux Puces d’Aligre is a central spot to pick up glassware, silverware and other homewares.
For food shopping... I go to the street markets for the freshest produce. There are great ones all over the city: the Mes Lieux website lists them all by day and by arrondissement (city district) and the metro makes it easy to get everywhere. Department stores also have inspirational food halls like La Grande Épicerie de Paris, next to Le Bon Marché. In Le Marais, gourmet emporium La Maison Plisson also has a brilliant cafe.
To eat out... Paris is a truly multinational city; you can find cheap eats through to fine dining across every imaginable cuisine. My longstanding favourite addresses though are the classic bistros; Chez Paul, near Bastille, is an absolute treasure. For a quick, inexpensive meal, crêpes are perfect. There's a fantastic concentration of Breton crêperies in the 14e near Gare Montparnasse, where (not coincidentally) trains arrive from Brittany; rue du Montparnasse and rue Odessa are lined with them, so you can wander along and take your pick.
For a caffeine fix... quality coffee is easy to come by (something that wasn't always the case). Parisian roasters Café Lomi, Coutume and Belleville Brûlerie are all outstanding; you can find their beans at cafes all over town as well as at their own premises. Coutume has a great Left Bank cafe, and Belleville Brûlerie's La Fontaine de Belleville is just near Canal St-Martin; it's a wonderful stroll along the canal's towpaths to the Bassin de la Villette.
For drinks... Bar Hemingway, at the Ritz, is legendary for its history (Hemingway allegedly liberated it in WWII and it's filled with memorabilia) and for its cocktails (the Bloody Marys with fresh-squeezed tomato juice are amazing but pricey, so they're only an occasional treat). Some really exciting cocktail specialists have opened their doors, such as Le Syndicat, which uses rare French spirits. Breweries are also booming; waterside Paname has a spectacular tap room in a converted granary on the Bassin de la Villette. And, of course, good wines are everywhere.
When I have friends visiting... the river is a must (especially at sunset). The Batobus is ideal for a tranquil perspective of the city's landmarks: you can hop on and off spontaneously all day, and it's a lot less touristy than standard Seine cruise boats. I always recommend first-time visitors catch the lift up the Eiffel Tower (pre-booking to minimise the queues!), then take the stairs from the second floor to the ground - it's the ultimate way to appreciate its ironwork up close. The Arc de Triomphe's viewing platform also has stunning views down the Champs-Élysées.
A defining aspect of Parisian life... is that it's lived on the streets. Most apartments are tiny (mine included), so parks, squares, cafes and restaurants become communal living and dining spaces. There's a big push to reduce the amount of cars and open up outdoor areas, such as place de la République and place de la Bastille, and the Parc Rives de Seine: former expressways-turned-riverside parks on the Left and Right banks. It's refreshing to see pollution being reduced (and not before time!)
My perfect weekend... involves browsing the bouquinistes (the dark-green secondhand book sellers along the Seine); catching some sunshine in a park (the city is filled with tucked-away gems, such as Paris' oldest square, place des Vosges, surrounded by symmetrical cloister-like arcades, and the Promenade Plantée, the world's first elevated park); and hitting a cultural centre. Ground Control, a one-time a postal sorting centre at Gare de Lyon, with an urban garden, shops, bars, street-food stalls, DJs and concerts, is a current hotspot.
Article first published July 2018, and last updated July 2019.