Paris is arguably the most visited city in the world. Warmer weather brings with it droves of tourists. What this often means for locals is crowded streets, a cramped métro, and English spoken everywhere. Parisians are used to tourists but you often hear the same complaints tourist season after season. Here is our list of the 10 best ways to get the most out of your vacation by participating in Paris life rather than invading it.
1. Get to know your neighborhood
Even if you are on a short trip it is truly worth it in Paris to get to know your neighborhood a little bit. Take an hour and scout out the boulangerie, the market, the pharmacy, the park, the nearest metro stop and local restaurants. This quick orientation will help you assimilate into your new surroundings and get your bearings.
2. Be vigilant on the métro
Visitors to Paris are often taken by surprise by the double set of closing doors used by the newer trains: friends are cut off from the rest of their party, or worse yet stuck in the door. It happens every day, and it’s dangerous. I once saw a cute little tourist separated from her Ladurée macarons by the closing doors; the little green bag waved around outside until the next stop came around and she was able to retrieve them. If you value your macarons and your safety stand away from the closing doors.
One of the incredible things about being in Paris whether you know the city or not is that it’s a wonderful to get lost. Don’t stress if you take a wrong turn, it may turn out to be the dose of happenstance that helps you discover something beautiful you didn’t know existed. Let the city guide you.
4. Celebrate your love, don’t lock it up
An unfortunate trend of vandalism has afflicted some of the major patrimonial sites of Paris. No Love Locks was created by two american ex-pats to petition the Mayor of Paris to prohibit the placement of “love locks” on public spaces in Paris. These locks have particularly virulent on the Pont des Arts between the Louvre and the Institut de France. We suggest you do any number of creative things to celebrate your love in Paris: hold hands, smooch, read each other love poems, have a champagne toast…Use your imagination! As No Love Locks says, “Free your love, save our bridges”.
5. The Museum is a temple for art, when required show your devotion with a voice as soft as a prayer
I personally spend a minimum of six hours per week in a Paris museum so I am particularly aware of the compromise required to maintain balance in these public places of study and art appreciation and tourism. My fellow students and I understand that we are all sharing the space, and (we’re happy too!) but it makes is much easier for us to concentrate when visitors honor their surroundings. Know that we are grateful!
This one is a safety issue but can also enhance your experience of the city. Walking in Paris, especially in older areas like the Marais, is best done in smaller groups or alone. There is just not enough room on the sidewalk, pure and simple. Larger groups are also greater targets for pickpockets as they use the commotion to their advantage.
Going solo in Paris, if for a couple of hours, is really lovely. You become more aware of your surroundings: the smell of baking bread or the perfume of the woman in front of you, the window boxes and sculpted door handles…the tiny details that make up as much the story of Paris as does the Eiffel Tower.
7. Politeness will get your everywhere
The stereotype of French rudeness has been longtime debunked and most visitors find Parisians to be reciprocal where politeness is concerned. It is always advised to say bonjour, au revoir and s’il vous plaît at the appropriate times and if you can muster a, je ne parle pas français, you will be in even better luck for the rest of the conversation. Also, remember most Parisian’s speak at least some English, and therefore understand your conversations, and therefore know if you’re speaking unkindly about them or their country.
It is also advised to be aware of the volume of your voice as speaking very loudly in public is France is sometimes considered impolite.
8. Remember that although you may be on vacation most Parisians are not
It drives Parisians crazy to have to navigate around large groups, especially on their morning or evening commute. We’re tired, crabby and we’re jealous that we don’t get to spend the day wandering this beautiful city. Also, there are benches all over Paris which are perfect for opening up your map to get oriented, so it is best to avoid this activity at the entrance or exit of metro stations as well as other congested areas.
Remember to be cognizant of your luggage and backpacks as they are often, quite innocently, in the way in the metro. Just make sure they aren’t blocking someone’s exit, if you hear pardon, it probably means someone’s trying to make it past you.
Paris is a diverse city with prominent North African, North American, Chinese, Japanese and Indian communities, and that’s just the short list. Don’t be afraid to try what’s cooking. Some of my personal go-to restaurants in Paris are Japanese, Cambodian or Italian places where fresh artisanal meals are served up with a strong accent and a smile.
10. Think outside of the box when it comes to souvenirs
Sometimes one of the best ways to create a souvenir, which is french for memory, is to use your senses. My mom always buys a great bar of soap when she gets here and uses it along her trip, when she brings it home the scent instantly transports her back to Paris. The same idea could be applied to a nice French perfume, candle or tea.
Another tip is to search out the shops you can’t find at home. Smaller boutiques and artisanal shops are often locally owned and undiscovered by the majority of tourists. See what your neighborhood has to offer.