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We’ve been to Paris several times and every time we went, we fell more in love with the City Of Lights (La Ville Lumière). There is something so incredibly romantic about this city, but truth be told it isn’t the Paris you see depicted in so many romance movies; it is the Paris beyond the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. We’re not saying that Paris’ main attractions aren’t breathtaking – they sure are – but it is only when venturing off the beaten path that the city’s true essence shines through.
There is just something about watching Parisians go about their day, or soaking up the bohemian atmosphere unique to the Montparnasse neighborhood, or sitting in a café and watching the world go by for a couple hours at a time, just like Parisians do. These all sound simple, but there is a spirit, an energy, that you only have in Paris and in order to soak it up, you have to spend more than a couple of days here after ticking off those main attractions to feel it for yourself.
1 Stay in an apartment
Parisian apartments are a big part of the experience. Sure, they can be tiny and cramped, but they are also enchanting, gorgeous even, in a way that you just don’t have in equally tiny Manhattan apartments, for example. The neoclassical buildings, the history of each one, the unique design touches, the balconies and windows that run floor to ceiling and overlook your own little neighborhood street.
With so many vacation apartment websites competing these days, rates for an apartment in a central location can be as low as $80 per night. You’ll save money compared to a hotel, plus you can stop in to your local bakery, market or grocery store to pick up yummy local food to prepare at home. Walking home with a baguette under your arm just as the Parisians do will make you feel right at home.
I personally recommend using AirBnb, and if you haven’t signed up yet – sign up through this referral link and get $20 off your first booking!
The best way to see the real Paris is to just wander. The Metro is great to get from point A to point B, but to soak in the city, avoid dark tunnels and sweaty armpits and get lost on a walk through the city instead.
If the idea of leaving it all to fate is a problem you can plan your trip to Paris with little effort by using CityTripPlanner. This is a website that helps you make the most of your stay in Paris or any other European city by offering totally free personalized itineraries. So you just choose what you’re most interested in seeing (top attractions, nature, churches, museums, or streets and squares) and the website creates an itinerary for you based on your preferences and the amount of days you’re going to spend in the city.
When I used the site to see which places it would recommend to me (setting my preferences on ‘streets and squares’), I was impressed with the itinerary CityTripPlanner put together for me. Not only did it suggest some great routes, but also some places that we haven’t even been to yet. The best part was that it then sent me an email with the itinerary, detailed directions, travel times, maps and a suggested amount of time for each place to print out and take along with me.
But even just getting lost, you’ll pass by many of those must-see iconic sights and also get a feel for other neighborhoods outside of your apartment or hotel.
You’ll be surprised how many unexpected but beautiful things you will see, from hidden plazas and parks to charming little churches and magnificent cemeteries. One of our favorite days in Paris was following Canal St Martin and stumbling upon fruit & vegetable markets, artsy cafés and picnic areas along the water.3 Explore your neighborhood
No matter if you’re staying in an apartment or a hotel, and no matter how limited your time is to just wander, definitely take the time to explore your own neighborhood at least.
Stop in to have a coffee and croissant at the nearest café, look out for a local restaurant for dinner instead of tourist traps around the main sights. After two or three days, the vegetable vendor on the corner will recognize you for sure, and if you’re confident enough, you can even practice your French and strike up a conversation.
Better still, go for a run in the mornings – that way you can soak up a lot of the city at once and not feel guilty for all that delicious cheese and wine you’ll consume later on.