One of my favorite things about living in Europe is how fast you could get to another country. A long weekend in Ireland? A city break in Barcelona? That’s something I get to do regularly – not just because everything is so close, but also because it is so easy and cheap to get to a different country, with the amount of budget airlines that are covering even smaller cities all throughout Europe. (I’ve written in detail about how to travel around Europe on the cheap). And because it is so inexpensive to travel to other another country, it is easy to visit the same places over and over again, and to really get to know them. That’s why I’ve gotten to see more of Paris over the years than most tourists, and started to see Paris like a local – beyond the famous landmarks, Paris off the beaten path.
How to Experience Paris Off the Beaten Path
Paris est toujours une bonne idée – Paris is always a good idea, Audrey Hepburn famously said, and I couldn’t agree more. I never got tired of our weekends in this stunning city, Saturday mornings with cheese and baguette picnics in Jardin d’ Luxembourg, and afternoon eclairs from patisserie L’Éclair De Génie, where you find, undoubtedly, the best eclairs in all of Paris. Strolls along the Seine, seeing new art at the Centre Pompidou art center, meandering through the streets of Montmartre, ending the day with a glass of wine at the Le Baron Rouge wine bar… I could do it all over and over again, but I also made it a point to discover something new on each visit to one of my favorite cities in Europe.
You all know about the touristy stuff in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc d’Triomphe. So today I wanted to share my top five experiences off the beaten path in Paris – from flea markets to street art to extraordinary city parks:
1. Canal St Martin
What the Seine is tourists, Canal St Martin is to locals. This 4.5km long canal, which winds its way through Paris northwest of the Seine River, is a favorite with Parisians who you can see sitting along the edge, enjoying a chat and a bottle of wine. If you want to see Paris like a local, join them – a good place to start your canal walk is La Villette Park.
Closest metro stations: Porte De Martin on the 5 and Corentin Cariou on the 2.
2. La Promenade Plantée
What the High Line is to New York, La Promenade Plantée is to Paris: a 4.7 kilometer long elevated green space, which was created, just like the High Line Park in Manhattan, on an abandoned railway line. If you are wondering which one came first: it was the Promenade Plantee, and the railroad that it is set on is the disused 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct. The park offers a unique aerial vantage point on Paris and takes you off the beaten path in Paris. Read more about this unique place here: A magical, green walk along Paris’s Promenade Plantée
Closest metro station: Bastille on the 1, 5 and 8 lines – Walk to the staircase south of Place de la Bastille on Rue de Lyon.
This up-and-coming neighborhood is known for its multi-cultural feel and the colorful street art. Here you find Chinese grocery stores right next to African shops and French cafes. You’ll notice that the neighborhood is grittier than most of Paris’ picture-perfect neighborhoods and get to know a side of Paris only very tourists get to know – it’s one of the best ways to experience Paris like a local, and if you’re into street art, you really shouldn’t miss Rue Denoyez.
Closest metro station: Belleville on the 2 and 11 lines.
I also recommend this fantastic self-guided Paris street art tour which starts at République, goes to Belleville and then loops back to République.
4. Les Puces (Saint-Ouen Flea Market)
Officially named Saint-Ouen Flea Market, but among Parisians the city’s largest flea market is known simply as Les Puces, which translates to ‘The Fleas’. The flea market, which takes place every weekend, is with over 2,500 market stalls the largest antiques market in the world and sees between 120,000 and 180,000 visitors every week. Treasure hunters, vintage lovers and souvenir shoppers can’t miss a visit to this market. I love flea markets, and wandering around the market stills with all the Parisians always makes me feel like I see Paris like a local.
Closest metro stations: Porte de Clignancourt on the 4, Garibaldi on the 13, or take the 85 bus right into the middle of it all.
5. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a giant park in northeast Paris, just north of Belleville (you can easily combine a visit to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with a stroll through Belleville). It is so much more than just your regular city park, with stunning landscape design and sights that include a Roman Pavilion (Temple De La Sibylle), a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, concrete cliffs and a man-made lake. Plus: incredible views over Paris! Bring a picnic, or head to Rosa Bonheur, a bar inside the park that has a gorgeous terrace.
Closest metro station: Buttes Chaumont or Botzaris on the 7B
Experience Paris off the beaten path: Stay in an Airbnb!
There are hundreds of hotels in Paris, from small boutique hotels to every single one of the large international hotel chains. But if you want to experience Paris like a local, I recommend staying in an Airbnb. The first time I stayed in a Parisian appartement and opened the classic French window shutters in the morning and stepped out onto my tiny balcony, I truly felt like I was living the Parisian dream. During the week I spent in the Marais, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, I found a local boulangerie (bakery), a fromagerie (cheese shop), a small local supermarket, and a patisserie (pastry shop) – and I was able to make elaborate cheese boards with local cheeses and French wine in my small kitchen. I devoured them while watching street life from my window – and I appreciated having a kitchen to make breakfast at home. Consider staying in an Airbnb when you’re visiting Paris – here are some to check out:
Save money: If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, use my referral code to sign up and get up to $40 off your first booking.