Discovering Authentic Paris

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Aug 18, 2014 / 0 comments

When you think of Paris, what words come to mind? Eiffel Tower, the Seine, Moulin Rouge, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Lachaise Cemetery, baguettes, macarons, crepes, shopping… am I right?

Discovering Authentic Paris

Photo flickr cc: Dimitry B, adapted by Wandering Educators

But what if, instead of hitting the tourist spots (don’t worry, you will still get your daily baguette), you experienced Paris like a local? You actually LIVED Paris, instead of passing through? You got a feel for the streets, the neighborhoods, the immense diversity, the markets, shops, and local favorites? That is the way I love to travel, and I think you’ll enjoy this Paris much more than the tourist version.

Discovering Authentic Paris

Rue Abel. Wikimedia Commons: David Monniaux


First, you’ll need to decide where in Paris you want to be. Paris is divided up into arrondissements. Each has its own unique character (or characters, as neighborhoods can vary greatly).

Budget tip: You will save a great deal of money by renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. The upside? You’ll be living like a local.

Check out as many Paris online resources as you can, read up, and then search to find an apartment that fits your needs.

Things to look for:

  • Location
  • Amenities (do you need wifi? An elevator?)
  • Cooking space, if you’re going to be market shopping and trying new recipes
  • Reviews
  • Neighborhood goodness (bakery, café, etc.)

Discovering Authentic Paris
Flickr cc: Angel Torres

Diving into Paris Neighborhoods


The first thing you will want to do, upon arrival, is to dump your bags, freshen up, and then head out and explore. Might I suggest asking the apartment owner for their favorite café and bistro? Head to one of those, sit down, and soak in the ambience. You’re in Paris, with an apartment, and a REAL NEIGHBORHOOD! You might, in the next few days, find your own café, your own market where people know you, your own boulangerie and patisserie, and your own favorite restaurant. There are so many to choose from – one great resource is Alexander Lobrano’s Hungry for Paris. Nothing like a recommendation from a foodie.

Discovering authentic Paris

Devanture de boulangerie en Verre églomisé rue de la Roquette à Paris. Wikimedia Commons: Roby

Next, after your fortifying coffee or meal, head out to the local market. This could be a street market (if you’re lucky), or a grocery store. I have to be honest – this is my favorite part of being in a different place – discovering the grocery stores and markets, seeing what people eat and buy and what foods are important to them. Call me a culinary ethnographer, but there you are.

At the market, ask people what they love, what they recommend, and if they have any recipes to share. The latter is easiest at a street market, where you can buy ingredients (leeks! Cheese! Charcuterie!) and ask how to put things together.

Now this part is critical – you MUST find a good local bakery. Baguettes, macarons, pain au chocolat, the list goes on. Because, when in Paris…

Discovering authentic Paris

flickr cc: Herry Lawford


As you know, half of living in a place is being part of a place. That means making connections, talking with people, and learning about life there. Depending on the neighborhood, you might not find many locals, or the place might be quite populated. Again, when you choose where to stay in Paris, this might be a deciding factor. Talk with the street market vendors, with fellow shoppers, and whoever you think might answer back! You will learn so much.

street market, rue Mouffetard. Discovering authentic Paris

Street market at the bottom of rue Mouffetard, Paris. Wikimedia Commons: David Monniaux


Visit smaller art museums. Or go to the Louvre – and spend your time seeing the smaller art that is just as powerful as the Mona Lisa.

Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris. From Discovering Authentic Paris

La salle art déco (Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris). Flickr cc: Jean-Pierre Dalbera


Flea market Porte de Clignancourt. From Discovering authentic Paris

Flea market Porte de Clignancourt. Wikimedia Commons: Shadowgate

There’s more to Paris than food (gasp!). Find your local bookstore, stationery store, flea market, and all kinds of handmade goodness (my favorite book for this is Paris: Made by Hand, in which author Pia Jane Bijkerk focuses on small shops with handcrafted items. Told you.).

Paris Made by Hand. From Discovering authentic Paris


My view on parks in Paris has never been the same after reading The Hidden Gardens of Paris. This book contains beautiful descriptions - and gorgeous color photos - of a plethora of outdoor places in Paris. If you're like me, being in a city wears on you and you need a bit of green each day to thrive. This book can deliver that to you, no matter where you are staying. 

Find your favorite architectural detail and scour your neighborhood for them. Mine? Fountains! And Doors! And street art!

Fontaine à Paris, 131 Rue saint Dominique. From Discovering authentic Paris

Fontaine à Paris, 131 Rue saint Dominique (Fontaine de Mars ou Fontaine du Gros-Caillou). Wikimedia Commons: g cohen

From Discovering authentic Paris: Door of the Art Nouveau Building from the architect Jules Lavirotte, 29 avenue Rapp, Paris 7th district, France

Door of the Art Nouveau Building from the architect Jules Lavirotte, 29 avenue Rapp, Paris 7th district, France. Wikimedia Commons: Pline


No article on Paris would be complete without mentioning crepes. They are ubiquitous, and important (to me, at least). Find a crepe stand, and make it your own. Like eating gelato every day in Rome, to me, Paris is all about eating a crepe a day (and a baguette, and cheese, well, the list goes on and on).

Crepe stand, Paris. From Discovering authentic Paris

Can't make those fast enough... Photo Becca Tran


Lastly, the best way to discover authentic Paris is to walk. You’ve got a home base, you’ve found your café and favorite restaurant and street food vendors, you’ve got a bookstore and probably a few other stores to frequent, and a street market with people who not only sell you amazing food, but give good advice. Now the rest is up to you. Walk. Ride a bike. Get out and explore. SEE what Paris is like, from every street and alleyway to hidden treasures. Get lost. Find yourself.

Discovering authentic Paris

Flickr cc: Cristian Bortes



More Paris goodness here on Wandering Educators:

10 Best Books on Paris

10 Ways to Visit Paris on a Budget