How To Experience Paris Like A Parisian

When visiting Paris, many travelers gravitate to the more touristy areas, activities, and attractions. From heading to the top of the Eiffel Tower to seeing the Louvre, there are just some things visitors want to check off their travel to-do list, especially if it is their first trip to the city. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing, why limit your experience in one of the world's best destinations? Instead, travelers should embrace the City of Lights and Love as the locals do.

With so much to offer beyond the well-known tourist spots, Paris definitely deserves more than a cursory look. Getting a true taste of this European city's culture is a must, whether this fashionable metropolis is new territory for you or it is your dozenth time exploring these charming cobblestone streets. Still, experiencing Paris like a Parisian can often be a challenge for newcomers — but if you are willing to take the road less traveled, there is no reason you cannot enjoy this city's fantastic locally based side. So get ready to delve a little deeper on your Parisian holiday, as there are more than a few ways to take one's Paris getaway to the next (if not the best) level.

Speak the language

Learning to speak the language at your destination really does open up a whole new world. Not only can you better immerse yourself in French and Parisian culture, but you can also blend in better, which will make your Paris getaway more relaxed and safer. Of course, you do not have to be fluent in French to visit the City of Lights, but knowing the basic phrases, being able to engage somewhat in conversation, and understanding the menu will not hurt.

If going over even the basics is simply something you do not have time for beforehand, there is no need to panic. At the very least, learn to say bonjour (hello), bonsoir (evening), au revoir (goodbye), merci (thank you), and s'il vous plait (please), as these phrases are very important while vacationing in Paris. Remember, pleasantries are a crucial part of the culture here — in fact, they are pretty much mandatory. So when entering establishments and mingling with native speakers, try to speak the language (before speaking in English if necessary) to show respect and to truly do Paris like a local.

Book less formal accommodations

If you are used to booking boutique hotels and other chain accommodations, you may need to go outside your comfort zone to stay local. But, when travelers book a stay at a villa, an Airbnb, or a short-term apartment in some gorgeous city section, they tend to connect with the culture almost effortlessly, if not instantly. Plus, with approximately 20 Arrondissements or neighborhoods in the city of Paris, visitors definitely have some options when looking to stay local.

Before getting into how these Arrondissments are numbered, travelers looking for something close by but with less of a touristy vibe should consider accommodations well beyond the first few neighborhoods. From the River Seine, these districts circle out counter-clockwise, with the quarter surrounding the Louvre being number one. Here, the further out you opt to go, the less touristy things get. But, if it is your first time in Paris, it is highly recommended that you look for lodgings, ideally in the neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower (7th Arrondissement), to be semi-close to the center of it all. For repeat visitors and bold newbies, the 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre, is the area you want to stay in. Montmartre is brimming with French culture, is a budget-friendly option, and will have you experiencing Paris like a Parisian in no time.

Ride the Metro

As a whole, Paris is a walkable city that is fairly easy to navigate on foot. Driving on the road, however, is where things tend to get a little tricky for out-of-towners. Thankfully, like many other European cities, Paris has great public transportation — from buses to scooter rentals and everything in between. Still, if you are like most travelers nowadays, then you are probably quick to download your destination's ride-sharing app, especially if you are all walked out or have somewhere you need to be sooner rather than later.

An Uber or taxi here and there is a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation for Paris visitors. But, if you want to canvas Paris like a local, do yourself and your wallet a favor and use the Metro. This underground transportation system is one of the most comprehensive in the world and will make getting around Paris much easier. That said, this city is meant to be explored one way or another — and most Parisians tend to favor the Metro.

Bike around town

Parisians have more than a few ways of getting around town besides taking the Metro. One way, in particular, is via bike. Not only is this an excellent option for visitors who are not big on walking everywhere, but it is also another perfect opportunity for experiencing Paris like a true Parisian or local. Whether you are looking to burn a few calories, give your feet a rest, or add a dash of romance to your visit, all you need to do is rent a bike.

The City of Lights has hundreds of miles of cycle paths around the city, countless biking tours, quite a few bike rental shops, and more. So travelers should not have any trouble renting a bike from a local shop or possibly finding a bicycle or two at their accommodations. That said, if you want to do Paris like a local, then you should use the inexpensive Vélib' Métropole bicycle service. With Vélib' locations throughout Paris, you can take in all this city has to offer (day or night) with a gentle breeze blowing through your hair.

Check out key events

Paris is full of seasonal events, concerts, and happenings. With free shows like Fête de Musique, celebrations for Bastille Day, a chance to catch a leg of Le Tour de France, and the world-famous Fashion week, visitors have ample opportunities to join in on the fun and feel like a local. What's more, many of these key events hosted throughout the City of Lights are free to all and give visitors some rather exciting afternoon and evening activities to add to the itinerary.

Other seasonal events like Nuit Blanche (museums are open all night long and free to enter) and Semi de Paris (a popular half-marathon) are both fun activities to consider when in town. And if you are planning a trip during the holiday season, then a stop off at the Marchés De Noël (Christmas Markets) is a must. All in all, there are notable happenings that the locals enjoy all year round if you know where to look. And no matter the time of year, you can also partake in various local festivals, celebrations, and more, just like the Parisians.

Embrace the café and picnic culture

Cafés in Paris are simply delicious. Whether you are craving pastries, coffee, tea, or robust wines paired with a lovely selection of cheese, you will not be disappointed here. Parisians, however, like to savor their meals or light afternoon snacks at their leisure and with a healthy dose of people-watching. So don't be shy — check out the plethora of cafés in Paris from lunch on (avoid overspending on breakfast, as this is a touristy move), and remember to take your time sampling French fare.

In addition to the bustling café culture, Paris is known for its seemingly abundant "picnic in the park and drinks along the River Seine" scene. Parisians definitely love a good day out in the lush and scenic outdoors. So, it is not too surprising that you can find the locals taking a load off while sipping some wine and enjoying some tasty treats in a garden or while admiring the riverfront. While out and about, you should enjoy it all, too — whether that means having cocktails like a Parisian on the banks of the Seine after a long day, delighting in a lovely picnic in the park, or savoring a light bite to eat at a quaint café.

Shop small and at the markets

Paris just so happens to be one of the most famous fashion cities in the world, and its annual Fashion Week brings visitors from all over. So it can be tempting, when in town, to go straight for designer boutiques and fashion houses or head to Champs-Élysées and the bustling St-Germain-des-Près district. But, if you want to enjoy shopping like a local and have some vacation dollars left over, it is highly recommended that you shop at niche and open-air markets (for clothes, flowers, food, and otherwise).

Parisians also prefer to shop small or rather at the lesser known stores. Thus, shopping small should be high up on your how-to shop like a Parisian list. With local designer boutiques in Montmartre that are more vintage than fresh off the runway, newer fashion labels near Canal St-Martin, and budget-friendly buys in the left bank region of the city, you will not want for more. Though if you do, you can do some additional shopping in the Le Marais area, near Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, for more eclectic styles.

Stop by Île de la Cité

After doing some serious shopping locally, travelers can add a touch of Parisian style (comfortable elegance meets simplicity) to their attire and make their way over to Île de la Cité, an amazing island in the River Seine. Île de la Cité is a popular location for visitors looking for an authentic taste of old-world Paris. This rich little island is brimming with history, multiple facets of Parisian culture, bistros, and three medieval wonders —Norte Dame, the Concierge, and Sainte-Chapelle.

Not only is this the original birthplace of Paris, but Île de la Cité is also home to some of the best and most beautiful Parisian neighborhoods, flower markets, and views from Square Du Vert Galant. Here, you can do Île de la Cité like a local, by discovering all the great shops, indulging at any of the cafés on this island, and lounging about at various parks — once you are done sightseeing. And, if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, then consider hopping on over to Île Saint-Louis, another little island right next door that locals like to frequent.

Learn to cook like a Parisian

There is no denying that the French are passionate about food and drink. Travelers can also showcase their appreciation for French fare by signing up for a cooking class or two and learning how to re-create some of the most delicious, authentic dishes made in the city by top-tier chefs. The best part here is you can come home with a newly learned skill that you can use when craving French cuisine and other tasty delicacies.

Now, if you want to dine like a Parisian, then definitely give French food its just due, but don't be afraid to branch out. Paris is full of all types of cuisine, and there is no reason you cannot enjoy some Thai or Italian food while visiting. That said, locals do not splurge on breakfast, enjoy a light lunch and happy hour with a view, and tend to eat dinner somewhere between 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. – so make sure you keep that in mind when figuring out what to eat and when making restaurant reservations.

Visit the smaller museums

Paris has so many wonderful museums, and the Louvre is arguably the most popular among tourists. Likewise, the Musee d'Orsay and the Pompidou Center are also fan favorites. But, unfortunately, all three grand art houses are often hard to fully enjoy during peak season due to the seemingly neverending crowds. So, unless it is a key event like Nuit Blanche, you might want to save the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and the Pompidou Center for possibly an off-season visit.

But all hope is not lost. If it is an up-close-and-personal afternoon of art you desire or you want to marvel at all the amazing works of the greats like a local, all you need to do is set your sights elsewhere. Countless smaller museums throughout the city are more accessible and worth the visit. For instance, the Musee Rodin is a great one that the locals often frequent. Musée National Eugene Delacroix, Musée Jacquemart-André, and Musée Marmottan Monet are also a few more hidden gems that Parisians like to peruse.

Spend your leisure time in the parks

With over 450 parks in Paris alone and a serious picnic-in-the-park scene, it is pretty clear that Parisians love their lush outdoor spaces. Not only are all of these parks perfect spots for snacking, but they are also great for mingling with fellow Parisians, spending downtime, reading a good book, people-watching, and simply enjoying life. So if this sounds like your cup of tea, then pencil in some leisure time, like a local, in any of the phenomenal parks in the City of Lights and Love.

Jardin du Palais Royal, Jardin des Tuileries, and Parc Monceau are among Paris's most beautiful outdoor spaces. So whether you are interested in a nice stroll, smelling the roses, relaxing pond side, or looking for a nice respite in the city's center, these parks and gardens are definitely worth a visit. Parc Floral de Paris is also a dazzling space that often has musical events such as the Paris Jazz Festival and Pestacles and the Festival Classique au Vert.

Slow down on Sundays

Many Parisians consider Sunday the perfect day to take things slow, catch up on rest, spend time with loved ones, and just relax — so you should, too. Most shops and stores close early on Sundays while more than a handful of others are simply closed, especially in non-touristy areas. But this does not mean there is nothing for out-of-towners to do. Rather, this is the time to experience Paris as the locals do.

Paris's favorite leisure spots like the museums, parks, and cafés are definitely open and often teaming with excitement. In fact, Sunday is the perfect day get lost in this amazing city, possibly brunch in the park, take advantage of the free admission to the museums, or take it easy by simply doing nothing at all. Sundays are also great for day trips to nearby attractions, exploring some of Paris's hidden passages, and visiting further out neighborhoods.

Let your inner flâneur shine

A flâneur is a term coined in the 19th century by a Parisian poet that came to represent a certain lifestyle or way of being (via Maison Flâneur). Becoming a flâneur means that you are a stroller — a person who wanders about their destination to better experience their surroundings, but with no actual goal in mind. In Paris, this is the best way to describe a person who willingly gets lost in this amazing city (possibly on a Sunday) and embraces fundamental aspects of everyday Parisian living.

Something as simple as observing the locals and how they like to spend their free time can completely change the way you encounter Paris. Even if letting your inner flâneur shine bright initially feels a little outside your comfort zone, it is still worth giving it a try — no map, no itinerary, just you and some comfortable walking shoes ready to see where the day takes you — and when you think about it, it really doesn't get more Parisian than that.