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Experience Paris like a local. Canon Blanc's tips, half-day visits and to-do list.

Experience Paris like a local. Canon Blanc's tips, half-day visits and to-do list.

So it's decided, you are going to Paris for your Wedding / Birthday / Holidays / Just because…? Here are a few insiders tips so you can experience Paris like a real Parisian, even if just for a few days…

Getting there

Assuming you are flying coach and looking for a decent deal, prefer Air Canada rather than Air France. They match each other’s ticket prices, but Air Canada has one less seat in width so it does make a difference when you are spending eight hours crammed in a shoe box.

Prefer direct flights. They leave at night and arrive in Paris in the morning, so you still have a full day ahead of you. No need to waste hours on commuting flights for your hard-earned, short-lived vacation!

When you arrive at the airport, do not, I repeat do not, under any circumstances, take a taxicab. It’s a total rip-off, and totally not worth the 45 minutes wait in line. You will soon understand why Uber’s founders came up with the idea while visiting Paris!

Besides, there are plenty of cheap and efficient public transportation options:

  • RER: it’s the suburban train that takes you downtown. At the airport, follow the icons to the train station. There are plenty of automated machines to get a ticket, and they accept all credit cards. Ask an attendant for a direct train to Paris, they leave every 15 minutes. Voilà!
  • Les Cars Air France: these downtown Bus lines operated by Air France are accessible to everyone. You can also purchase your ticket by credit card, and they have several routes taking you to the most popular hotels around Paris. The downside: you might get stuck in traffic, but at least you will have free Wi-Fi and A/C to spend the time.
  • Book a community shuttle: if you google “Paris Airport Shuttle” you will find dozens of companies that will pick you up at the airpot with your luggage and drop you directly at your hotel, much cheaper than a Taxi. If you don’t mind waiting for other passagers, the price goes down, but you can also book a VIP limo for yourself!
  • Call Uber: There is this option as well, but it is more cost-effective for trips within downtown Paris. Besides, I would recommend to not use your Canadian / US cellphone while in France, but rather to get a local, much cheaper SIM card for the duration of your stay, in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise when you get back home!

What to pack / Weather ? A few quick tips on dress code: 

Unless it’s the middle of the summer, avoid shorts and athletic wear as they label you “tourist” and therefore make you more noticeable to pickpockets. 

You should pack at least one dressy outfit, because Parisians dress up to go out, and you might actually be refused entry to average-looking restaurants or clubs if you show up looking too casual.

Paris is rather humid all year long, so a light raincoat or umbrella are always a good idea

Lodging

If you only have 1-2 nights in Paris, then a Hotel is the best option. Here are our picks:

- For a clean, budget hotel, the 2-star Cosmos Hotel will do the trick. They do get busy though, so you will need to plan your stay well in advance

- Looking for a good compromise between price and quality? then 3-star Hotel Beaumarchais is yours. Great location too!

- For a more upscale Paris experience, try the 1K hotel, a contemporary 4-star hotel located a stone throw away from Merci (see below our shopping tips) and several of the hippest cafes and boutiques.

- If money is not an issue and you want an unforgettable Parisian Luxury experience, then there is only one place to go: the Plaza Athénée. It’s located right on Avenue Montaigne, along with the most exclusive luxury boutiques such as Chanel, Dior, and so on…

For longer stays (3 nights or more), you can truly experience life as a Parisian by renting a studio.

There are plenty of companies to choose from, but these ones are the most trustworthy:

 

Irene, celebrating her 80th birthday in Paris with our list!

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Shopping half-day trips

Virtually every street in Paris is a shopping street, so there are countless places to see; this list is a biased selection of some of our favorites, grouped by area so you can make it a half-day trip. There are local staples, so you will experience Paris the way Parisians do! 

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1st and 2nd Arrondissements : The 19th century heart of Paris meets Japan!

This is the most “touristy” area in the list, but these places are often overlooked or in smaller streets a bit away from the big touristy attractions, so it will give you a different perspective:

Colette 

213 Rue St Honoré 75001 Paris

This is the store that invented the “concept-store”. They change their design every couple months, have and regularly host launch parties or limited collaborations with sought-after artists. The price tag is often prohibitive, but at least you’ll be able to say “been there, seen that!”.

Angelina

226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Angelina is a pastry and coffee shop that has been around since 1903. It will probably be very busy, but it is worth the wait. Don’t fool around the extensive menu, and go straight for the specialties: the thick, creamy Hot Chocolate, and their signature dessert the Mont Blanc : a meringue heart topped with whipped cream and ribbons of chestnut purée.

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Located in an aisle of the Louvre, the Museum of Decorative Arts boasts more than one noticeable attractions: 

  • Their museum shop is absolutely top-notch, carrying authentic replicas of the museum collections, as well as original pieces by local designers;
  • Their permanent collections are a must-see, with entire rooms decorated in a specific period style, from the wall panels down to the forks;
  • The jewel of the museum is without a doubt the apartment of Jeanne Lanvin (founder of the Lanvin fashion house), furnished with her original tapestries, sofas and bed.

Opéra Garnier

8 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris

Also known as Palais Garnier, this Opera house was ordered by Napoleon III, although it took so long to build he never saw it finished. If you cannot afford an actual ticket for the Opera (like most of us!), there are daily visits for 15€ touring the ins and outs of the building with a guide who will explain the stupefying history of the building. As a sneak peak, we can reveal that there is an actual lake beneath the Opera house, as well as a labyrinth which inspired the Phantom of the Opera legend… 

Little Tokyo 

Even Japanese people are surprised to learn that Paris has an extensive Little Tokyo area! There are numerous shops, convenience stores and authentic restaurants to choose from, but we have to mention the oldest of them all: Higuma. This is the grandfather of ramen bars, and in our opinion still our favorite despite the Toronto ramen-craze… More than 30 years in business, and still a line every single night in front of their 3 locations; are you convinced yet you HAVE to try it? By the way, in Paris we say “lamen” with an L!…

Galerie Vivienne

A curiosity that will take you back to 1823, this covered alley’s entrance is located at 6 Rue Vivienne, where you will also find one of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s parisian boutiques. Stroll there for a bit of luxury window-shopping and imagine yourself as a 19th century elegant philosopher!

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3rd & 11th Arrondissement : Marais - Bastille

There are a lot of designer boutiques in the Marais. Many customers have asked us for our recommendations, but would you ask a restaurant for their secret recipe? So be adventurous, wander around the little streets, and with a little luck you will find some of the designers we carry!

Merci

111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris

Probably the most recent parisian concept-store, Merci is a staple of your trendy parisian stay, albeit a very overpriced one. If you decide to shop there, remember that you are paying for the artful display, and you will be able to find every single item somewhere else about 20-30% cheaper. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth a visit, and will be a source of inspiration!

Marché des Enfants rouges

39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris

The entrance of this street market looks like a building door, so it remains invisible to a lot of tourists scouring the Marais. But you will know what to look for: a tucked-away food vendors market where you can sit and eat on the spot. Don’t actually buy groceries there because it is rather expensive, but it’s perfect for a tasty lunch on the go!

Chez Jenny

39 Boulevard du Temple, 75003 Paris

This is probably the less hip recommendation in our list, but nevertheless a must-taste. Chez Jenny is a Parisian institution (80 years old and counting) serving authentic Alsatian specialties such as flammenkuche, sauerkraut and seafood. My personal favorite will forever be the Sole Meunière (basically the best breadcrumbed Sole you will ever taste). If you go there please drop us a line in the comments to say if you liked it!

Chez Paul

13 Rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris

Another Parisian culinary staple, Chez Paul is Ze french Bistrot. There you can order a Rabbit paté, Os à Moelle (marrow bone), Veal brains or Duck confit. Not for the faint of heart (or vegetarian), this will be the most authentic french food you ever tasted! Our recommendation is to ask for a side of Gratin Dauphinois (thin-sliced potatoes slowly oven-roasted with fresh cream, nutmeg, pepper and cheese…)

Gaité Lyrique

3bis Rue Papin, 75003 Paris

This place is a perfect example of one of the few things I still like about Paris : a publicly operated cultural hub dedicated to contemporary arts and electronic music, offering cheap or free activities for the general public, and where families are welcome! Alongside its North-Eastern counterparts Le 104 and Maison des Métallos, Gaité Lyrique is the product of the socialist local government, so enjoy! Check their event calendar before going to Paris, and it is very likely that you will find a concert, exhibition or local designers market to attend for free.

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12th & 13th Arrondissements : Bercy Village

This area is touristic for suburban parisians, but completely unknown by international visitors. You can spend the better part of the day and most of the night there, on both sides of the river Seine:

Parc de Bercy

128 Quai de Bercy, 75012 Paris

Start at Parc de Bercy on the north side. As you go out of the Bercy subway stop, you will be able to stroll down the park heading South-East, witnessing contemporary gardens as well as repurposed wine storing facilities. As you reach the end of the park, a huge row of stone cellars comprises the Cour Saint Emilion, where a massive redevelopment implanted restaurants, shops and movie theaters. You can stop there for a beer, and practice the local sport of sitting on the patio while commenting on passers-by outfits. But save your wallet for the other side of the Seine, the best is yet to come !

Take the subway at Cour Saint Emilion for just one stop, and re-emerge at Bibliothèque François Mitterrand 

National Library: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand

Now, I can’t resist a bit of French attitude about this whole area: this used to be a vast network of railways and industrial plants. In the mid-20th century, it became obvious this was prime real estate, but it took a few decades to clean the lands polluted with heavy metals. Finally in 1988, then-president François Mitterrand nominated an architect without public consultation, to build his legacy: a gigantic National Library which would host the huge collections that were slowly decaying in the former historic buildings in downtown Paris, which had become too old and small.

Needless to say, the project took longer than expected and completely blew up the initial budget, not without a few disasters that became national jokes. My favorite is this one: the architect, in his grandiloquent dream, designed four glass towers shaped like giant books to hold the collections. It took until the construction was nearly completed for someone to ask if books were not best conserved in the dark…? So the architect had tons of exotic wood panels shipped from Indonesia to cover up all the windows from the inside.

More than 20 years after its opening, the area’s growing pains are finally over, and you’ll be able to enjoy a host of activities: the Library itself has amazing exhibitions year-round, and the site itself is a must-see with its 2.5 acre garden buried at the core of the building. 

The buildings surrounding the Library are a cultural hub: next door at the MK2 cinema you can enjoy the best of independent movies in a VIP setting, as well as a well curated art store and luxury restaurant. Down the street are several contemporary arts galleries with some of today’s most cutting-edge artists exhibited for free.

Batofar

Last but not least, if you walk down towards the Seine, you will find a row of vintage boats transformed into nightclubs. The most famous being (and I’m completely partial, having worked there at its prime), the Batofar. This stunning lighthouse-boat hoasts a musical patio, a restaurant, 2 bars AND a nightclub. The event calendar is eclectic, so you can enjoy multiple facets of electronic music, from hip-hop to trance. During the summer an extra patio opens outside on the docks, and you can sip a cocktail while listening to music and watching the boats floating by.

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6th - 7th Arrondissements - The Posh area !

Le Bon Marché

24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris

Ditch the Galeries Lafayette and experience the original department store : Le Bon Marché was founded in 1852 and was the first store of its kind. Today, it remains the epicentre of parisian luxury, with Karl Lagerfeld as official photographer for their ad campaigns.

Le Bon Marché is certainly worth a visit if you are after luxury designers, cosmetics and lingerie, but it boasts another hidden gem: L’Epicerie du Bon Marché. It is an exceptionnal grocery store where you will find edible flowers and delicacies from around the world! You can eat on the spot, but save room for dessert (see below why…)

 

Jardin & Musée du Luxembourg

The Luxembourg is certainly the iconic park of Paris, and as such has been featured in countless movies. Weakthy families from the neighbourhood have been enjoying it for decades, and you can witness kids playing with wooden boats in the fountains, riding around on ponies, or throwing a tantrum to get cotton candy.

A lesser-known fact is that the Luxembourg also hoasts several rare species of orchids, which you can admire in the gardening artworks.

If you have a few hours to spend, stop at the Musée du Luxembourg, a small but well-funded museum (it belongs to the French Senate), so there is always a noteworthy exhibition going on.

Sadaharu Aoki 

35 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris

The success story of this japanese pastry chef started with the opening of his first parisian atelier in 1998. Now, he runs a few stores in Paris and Tokyo, and is also the official pastry chef for Japan Airlines!

This store is his original location, but if you cannot make it to this neighbourhood, he also has an outpost in the Galeries Lafayette Gourmet section.

Every time I am in Paris, I make a detour just for his heavenly Matcha Madeleines and Black Sesame éclairs, but he constantly comes up with new pastries which makes the choice increasingly difficult! A must-do on this list.

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Foodies “to-do” list

Here are a few miscellaneous tips we had to mention for your trip to be complete.

Sushi Shop

Sushi lovers, look no further. This take-away concept makes the very best sushi and maki in France, with an extensive permanent menu and limited additions designed by French gastronomy Chefs. Our personal favorite, the California French Touch, stuffed with Foie Gras…

You cannot eat on the spot, but you can order over internet or take away to eat at your studio. There are 18 locations in Paris, so chances are you will run into at least one !

Au Pied de Cochon

6 rue COQUILLIÈRE - 75001 Paris

An old-fashioned Brasserie opened 24/7, this is the spot to go to when coming out of a nightclub at 4am, or simply for a delicious dinner.

The must-try on their menu is definitely the Bulots. We tried numerous times to explain this french delicacy to Canadians. The official translation is Whelk, it’s a small seafood fished off the French Atlantic coast, cooked and served with delicious Garlic mayonnaise. This inexpensive appetizer is one of the things we miss in Canada, so if you go there make sure to savour it for us!

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2 Comments

    • Avatar
      Elaine
      Sep 13, 2015

      If you want to enjoy your best-ever trip to Paris, take this advice! I’m just back from a week away, and used the list as a basis for my otherwise aimless wandering through the beautiful streets of Paris. Thank you for sharing! Visited (among other places): Colette, Opéra Garnier, Galerie Vivienne, le Marché des enfants rouges, Jardin de Luxembourg, Sadaharu Aoki and Au Pied de Cochon

    • Avatar
      Allegra
      Nov 15, 2015

      I have been living in Paris for 2+ years now and I absolutely love this list, it is a great overview and definitely incorporates the activities and treats real Parisiens enjoy. Definitely bookmarking it to send to family and friends that are visiting, bravo!

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