This isn’t your typical list of things to see in Paris. Sure, the Louvre is great. And the food is great. But there’s a lot more to the world’s most touristic city than its tourist sites. Here: a guide to what’s special and unexpected in Paris.
Paris is one of those cities that’s always so easy to return to. There are just so many amazing things to do in the city, so many amazing museums, and activities, and parks, and the food—THE FOOD!
Well, by food, I mean cheese. But you get the idea: Paris is exciting. It has been, it is, and it always will be.
Paris isn’t just a place, it’s a way of life.
And while the main tourist attractions shouldn’t be missed, there’s a lot of ways to enjoy Paris. It’s not all museums and walking tours, it’s also the way you soak it all in. Below, my list of unique and unexpected local things to do in Paris.
Unexpected Things To Do in Paris
- Buy baguettes in the same boulangerie every morning until the baker learns your name.
- Stand up in the metro when you are sitting in the fold-down seats and the wagon gets crowded. It’s mandatory.
- Say “Pardon” if you’re in other people’s way, even if no physical contact is made.
- Go for a walk in your local park (Parc de Buttes-Chaumont, Parc Montsouris, Luxembourg, etc.). It doesn’t matter what time of day or the weather.
- Look right, look left, skip the red light. This is not Germany.
- Offer your help. Seriously. You can carry bags. You can hold doors. You can pick up stuff. Parisians are far friendlier than you think and many will go out of their way to offer help.
- Say “Bonjour” upon entering any store. Immediately. Without it, you’ll never get service.
- Buy delicious, artisanal cheese on the Rue De Martyrs.
- Visit the museums every single weekend. Even if it’s crowded, doesn’t matter. Art is important.
- Dance in front of the Pompidou Center with your gang, or near the Bibliotheque Nationale François Mitterrand.
- Drink peppermint tea in the Grande Mosquee on a rainy afternoon.
- Acquire an expensive-yet-affordable sense of fashion, without spending thousands of Euros in Lafayette.
- Ride a bike. Skate. Hell, even use a futuristic hover-board unicycle. In Paris, the people M O V E .
- Look out for the temporary art exhibitions at places like the Tokyo Palace, the Grand Palais, Orsay, or the Pompidou. (Buy your tickets in advance.)
- Be prepared to win fights with silence. Learn how to strike a severe look when people lose their shit and start a fight. Take sides without saying a word.
- Be gentle to retail workers. To public servants. Understand the French bureaucracy has its limits.
- Don’t ever pollute. Ever. There are trash cans everywhere.
- Take a selfie in the Simone-de-Beauvoir footbridge.
- Be tolerant of other tourists. Most Paris tourists only visit for a few days, often on their own dream trip. Don’t spoil it.
- Get used to the architectural beauty and be prepared to always be looking up.
- Visit the peacocks and ducks at the Île de Bercy, Bois de Vincennes.
- Take away food in your local Traiteur Asiatique—small Chinese food takeaways and some of the cheapest food you’ll find in the city.
- Go to the small museums with your best friend. Stand between people taking photos and the artworks. Act like you don’t care (because you shouldn’t really care).
- Buy macaroons only because you can.
- Exercise in public spaces. Along the River Seine. In the open-air gyms. Under the Statue of Liberty.
- Dance with your partner at Parc Belleville.
- Buy your vegetables in the local market, never in the groceries store.
- Learn the bus routes. The RER routes. The metro routes. Sure, the Paris metro is dirty and crowded and smells of piss more than anything, but it’s that raw beauty which makes it work for so many people. It’s pure democracy. Use it.
- Carry an umbrella on cloudy days. Because in Paris, it will always rain.
- Join a demonstration at Bastille. Support the strikes. Revolt.
- Get used to the military troops strolling around.
- Wait in line for ramen at the best restaurants in the Quartier Chinois (Chinatown).
- Expect to get lost in the second-hand bookstores, especially those in the Latin Quarter.
- Learn to ignore obscene manifestations of overwhelming wealth. Yes, there are billionaires among us. They are mortals too.
- Go watch French movies in a matinee showing (if you’re staying a while, get a yearly cinema pass).
- Be cool with diversity. Don’t be bothered by listening to Arabic, Chinese, German, English or Spanish.
- Spend a Sunday in the Jardin des Plantes.
- Explore the many flea markets. Look at the products. Find rare items. Buy them (or not).
- Appreciate a sunset reflected in the waters of Canal Saint-Martin.
- Get used to watching heterosexual couples taking wedding pictures at Pont de Bir-Hakeim (formerly the Pont de Passy).
- Learn where to buy fancy stuff: flowers at the Quai de la Mégisserie, art between Rue de Seine and Rue de Mazarine, pianos along the Boulevard Saint Germain.
- Expect ‘hors de service’ (out of order) signs everywhere. Things break. Paris goes on.
- Tolerate the stench of urine under the bridges along the Seine. In fact, better to learn the spots where you have to hold your breath.
- Let the many churches be part of your daily life, even if you don’t believe in any god: La Madeleine, Trinite, Saint Sulpice… and of course Notre Dame and Sacre Couer.
- Fall in love with the silent, crooked streets.
Paris is beautiful. And its beauty isn’t just in the big monuments, it’s along the streets, in the parks. It’s infused within the city’s very being—a place revolutions have been won and lost, where the people remain resilient. It’s beautiful but also very real. A truly unique city.
Someone asked me recently if I liked Paris. “Isn’t it too crowded, too touristy,” they asked. No. Paris is Paris and there’s no other place like it. A city that’s as pristine and beautiful as it is dirty, rough, and raw.
I think a lot of people visit Paris just once—hitting up all those tourist things to do—and once they’ve checked it off, they’re good. But there’s so much more to this city. It’s the kind of place you can always return to, one that changes frequently. Because Paris isn’t just a place, it’s a way of life. An experience, really, way more than its attractions.