Paris is among the world’s most visited cities, but it’s not an urban resort. The city has the highest population density of any European capital, and its parks, cafes and restaurants are its communal backyards, living rooms and dining rooms, while neighbourhood shops and markets are cornerstones of local life.
Dining Like a Local
Parisians are obsessed with talking about, shopping for, preparing and above all eating food. Quality trumps quantity, which is reflected in the small, specialist gourmet food shops thriving all over the city.
Sunday lunch is traditionally France's main meal of the week, but Sunday (and often Saturday) brunch has become a fixture on the weekend's social calendar from around noon to about 4pm. Be sure to book for popular venues.
Another part of the recent shift towards informal dining is the profusion of casual wine bars where, rather than ordering full menus (two- or three-course set menus), locals gather to share small tapas-style plates over un verre (a glass).
Drinking Like a Local
Given Paris’ high concentration of city dwellers, most bars and cafes close around 2am due to noise restrictions, and nightclubs in the inner city are few. Cocktail bars continue to shake up Paris' drinking scene, though, with a slew of specialists across the city. Craft beer is also staking its claim in this wine-drinking city, with numerous Parisian breweries in fully fledged operation. Paris Cocktail Week and Paris Beer Week are now fixtures on the city's calendar.
And, although the image of Parisians sipping un café on a wicker-chair-lined cafe terrace isn't new, recent years have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of the coffee. Led by pioneers like Belleville Brûlerie and Coutume, a new wave of Parisian roasteries sees hip Parisians attending cupping sessions and buying beans to brew up at home.
In summer, ephemeral bars, often with pop-up restaurants, food trucks, DJs and live music, open all in unique spaces such as railway-station yards, rooftops, courtyards, parks and along the riverfront. Check www.parisinfo.com for the year's locations.
Conversing Like a Local
Food and drink aside, conversations between locals often revolve around philosophy, art, and sports such as rugby, football (soccer), cycling and tennis. Talking about money (salaries or spending outlays, for example) in public is generally taboo.
Dressing Like a Local
It’s nearly impossible to overdress in this fashion-conscious city. Parisians have a finely tuned sense of aesthetics, and take meticulous care in their presentation. Parisians favour style over fashion, mixing basics from chain stores like H&M with designer pieces, vintage and flea-market finds, and statement-making accessories.
Hanging Out Like a Local
Parisians generally work to live rather than the other way round. Thanks to the much-debated 35-hour standard working week, long annual leave and a lot of public holidays, Parisians aren't driven to make and spend money 24/7/365. Instead, leisure activities factor highly in Parisians' joie de vivre (spirited enjoyment of life), along with the company of friends and family (children are treated like little adults and welcomed with open arms just about everywhere).
Cinemas, theatres and concert venues as well as art exhibitions, festivals and special events draw huge local crowds.
Sunday is the main day of rest, when most workplaces (including the majority of shops outside the ZTI tourist zones) close and locals head to museums, parks and jardins partagés (community gardens); visit www.paris.fr for a list (and map) of gardens that are open to the public.
Year-round, you'll find locals kicking back all along the banks of the Seine but never more so than on warm summer evenings with a picnic and bottle of wine.
Meeting the Locals
The best way to get a feel for local life is to head to areas where Parisians work, live and play away from the busy tourist sights. Great neighbourhoods to start exploring:
- Canal St-Martin
- Les Halles (especially rues Montorgueil and Montmartre)
- Latin Quarter (especially on and around rue Mouffetard)
- South Pigalle (aka SoPi)
- The 13e (especially the villagey Butte aux Cailles and floating clubs on the Seine)
Local-led tours and activities are also a fantastic way to get an insider's perspective of the city.
Need to Know
- Metro Parisians from all walks of life – from students to celebrity chefs – use the metro. If you’re in Paris for a week or more, get a Navigo pass to save money and zip through the turnstiles without queuing for tickets.
- Vélib’ bikes Virtually free Vélib’ bikes are hugely popular – Parisians flit all over the city on two wheels.