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Ten Ways to Experience Paris Like a Local, France

With limited time in the French capital and so many amazing attractions to fill your days, it can be tricky to get a true sense of life as a local. These ten fun things to do will take you off the tourist trail and into the real Paris.
14 Feb, 2024
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local. Image: Linda McCluskey

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Braving the crowds at major monuments, waiting in line for entry to museums, and taking out a second mortgage for a Michelin-starred dining experience are the reality for many visitors to Paris.

However, it’s not hard to put all that behind you and tune in to the real rhythm of life in this incredible city. Here are ten ways to experience Paris like a local.


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1. Catch a classic at a boutique cinema

The Lumière brothers screened their first short films in 1895 in the basement of the Grand Café, and Parisians have loved cinema ever since. Honour that long tradition by catching a flick at one of the characterful boutique theatres dotted across the city, including the delightful Cinema Studio 28. Inaugurated in Montmartre in 1928 as the first cinema of the avant-garde, Studio 28 screens films from directors such as François Ozon, Xavier Dolan, and Pedro Almodovar. The public casts a collective vote for the classic film of the month. 10 Rue Tholozé, 75018

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local. Image: Cinema Studio 28

2. Hit the pool

Sadly, Parisians don’t have the option of plunging into a natural body of water to de-stress. They do, however, have some pretty neat swimming pools. You can do laps, take an aqua gym workout, or perhaps strip off for a nude night swim!

While you can’t swim in the Seine due to the pollution, the next best thing is swimming on the Seine. The Piscine Josephine Baker floating swimming pool near Bibliothèque François Mitterrand is open air during the warmer months and has a clear cover in winter for your swimming pleasure. Quai François Mauriac, 75013

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Take a dip.

Piscine Pontoise is a gorgeous 33-metre pool in the Latin Quarter with an art deco design, two mezzanine levels, mosaic frescoes and a glass ceiling. For those who loved the Three Colours trilogy by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, this is the pool frequented by Juliette Binoche in Three Colours: Blue. 17 Rue de Pontoise, 75005 

Swimming caps are mandatory in Parisian pools (they can be purchased sur place if you don’t have one), as is Speedo-style swimwear for men (no shorts). Alternatively, you can dispense with your costume altogether. Mais oui. Piscine Roger Le Gall welcomes nude swimmers on certain evenings. 34 Boulevard Carnot, 75012

3. Shop at a street market

There are dozens of regular street markets across the city and they’re a key source of fresh produce for much of the population. Visiting a local market in your arrondissement guarantees a lively ambience, delicious street food to snack on, fresh flowers to brighten your day, and gigantic cheeses to gawk at. And the vociferous sellers always seem to be in such a good mood, despite having been up since dawn. For a list of daily markets, visit www.paris.fr/marches.

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Shop at the markets. Image: Ruby Boukabou

4. Take to the floor for a stretch or dance class

French ladies may look like they need to make very little effort to look gorgeous, but it actually does take work! One of the most popular ways to keep fit is by doing a regular barre au sol class (floor work/stretch class). They’re offered by health and fitness studios across the city. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the lingo; just put a smile on your dial and follow along!

Dance classes are another fun and friendly way to shake your booty with the locals, and tone it at the same time. Head to:

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Attend a garage sale.

5. Go on a treasure hunt

While it may not be on the official weekend agenda as such, Parisians will often take time out to explore a temporary vide grenier — an ‘attic clearance’ (or what Australians would typically call a garage sale). While it looks like junk from afar, you might pick up a retro jacket, some classic CDs, or a prehistoric mobile phone charger. OK, so a lot of it is junk, but who knows — a unique Parisian object d’art may come your way!


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6. Be a wine buff

Contrary to what you may think, not all bars in Paris serve terrific wine. However, it’s hard to go wrong at a dedicated bar à vin (wine bar). They’ve been popping up all over town and are popular with groups of friends who want to catch up, but not necessarily stay for dinner. However, if the wine is good, the tapas snacks may well become dinner!

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Enjoy a drink at a bar à vin.

Sandwiched between Asian restaurants and bazaars in Belleville, La Cave de Belleville has a wide selection of bottles, and cheeses and hams to match. It’s not dark and dingy; rather, spacious and inviting. 51 Rue de Belleville, 75019

The original idea behind Freddy’s was to have a place where people could sit and wait with a drink and a tapas snack for their table at popular Semilla Restaurant next door (by the same owners). The bar is now a dining destination in its own right and gets really busy. So, swing by early. 54 Rue de Seine, 75006

7. Do cheap international eats

Parisians don’t eat snails and frogs’ legs at every meal. Non. They embrace the city’s multicultural dining scene and are down with a good couscous, curry, and pho. Couscous is hugely popular in France, due to the county’s large North African diaspora. Try L’Homme BleuChez Hamadi, or Les 4 Frères.

The 10th arrondissement is where it’s at for authentic Indian cuisine — just behind Stalingrad station, and around Gare de Nord. There’s an option on just about every corner, including the highly rated Krishna Bhavan.

For flavoursome Vietnamese food, you can’t go wrong at Belleville’s Viet Siam, Dong Huong, and anywhere along Rue Louis Bonnet.

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Eat cheap. Image: Bigstock

8. Tap along at a free concert

Sure, visiting music lovers can shell out to see high profile acts at Paris’ legendary venues like L’Olympia, La Cigale, and Bercy. But for a more local experience, check out any of the dozens of free concerts staged in bars across the capital every night. It’s a very Parisian way to spend an evening: sipping a beer or Perrier and catching up with friends between sets. The musicians will pass the hat around, so if you’ve enjoyed the music, be generous.

9. Pound the pavement

It’s easy to max out your calorie count with wine, cheese, and croissants in Paris; pay penance with a daily jog. Here are three places where Parisians love to lace up and burn off last night’s indulgences. Jog around lakes, over bridges, under waterfalls, and through caves in the 19th’s Buttes Chaumont (a former quarry). Another popular option in this part of town is to run along Canal de l’Ourcq from Jaurès metro station to Parc de la Villette — the third largest park in Paris. Parc Monceau in the 8th is much smaller, but beautiful, uncrowded — and flat!

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local
Ten ways to experience Paris like a local: Go for a run.

10. Get arty

There are plenty of fun ways to be a culture vulture in Paris that don’t involve lengthy lines at the Louvre. One option is to watch artists-in-residence working at the iconic 59 Rivoli art collective, which is housed in a funky ex-squat in the centre of town. Say hi and purchase a print from American painter Linda McCluskey, who creates dreamy, poetic Parisian landscapes.

Small, independent galleries abound across Paris and there are always new exhibitions to see — many of which are free to enter. Visit www.slash-paris.com to find quirky cultural events that are happening during your stay.

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For more travel inspiration, visit www.en.parisinfo.com.

Browse our range of Paris day tours and experiences here.

Do you have anything to add to our list of ten ways to experience Paris like a local? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Ruby Boukabou

About the writer

Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture, and food writer based between Europe and Australia, and has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice, and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS, and Screen Australia. Ruby’s books — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris and The Architecture Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — are available in bookshops and to order online.

 

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