September 11, 2019

Welcome to the land of bread and cheese, where the wine flows like water. In the French capital of love and light, denizens are rarely seen without a cigarette. Always lounging on the grass or sitting al fresco in a street cafe, Parisians are not the type to coop themselves up at home. Who would, when you’ve got such alluring, old-world streets to explore? With the lack of skyscrapers, the refreshingly clear, blue skies will be in full view too.

Before you start imagining Paris in sepia and fall prey to the Paris Syndrome, you should know that the city has lost much of its romantic charm over the years. If you’re travelling in the summer, you’ll probably meet more tourists than residents as well—it’s difficult to have a fully French experience if the locals aren’t there. To prepare yourself, here are a few other things you need to know.

1. Metro Tickets

To take the public transport in Paris, you’ll need individual, one-way tickets, which cost €1.90 each. We recommend getting a carnet of 10 at €1.49 each, if you’re staying for more than two days. There are other travel passes available, but unless you’re planning a three-week-long vacation, stick to the individual tickets. They can be quite a hassle (and not particularly eco-friendly), but they might end up as the most affordable option.

The only catch is that you’ll have to use a new ticket if you’re taking a bus transfer. Still, chances are, you won’t need to take the bus. Paris is well-connected with an armada of subway stops, and like New York, it’s a highly walkable city. For the RER stations, you’ll need your ticket to leave the station as well, so make sure to hold on to them. If you’re planning to keep your used tickets, devise a storage system to separate the used tickets from the new ones. If you’re staying for just a week, get a one-week Navigo card for €22.80 (with an additional €5 for a reloadable card).

2. Street Peddlers

At every landmark, you’ll see the same line of guys. Mostly black. Touting tacky Parisian souvenirs, or selling water and friendship bracelets. It doesn’t matter whether you’re climbing the hill towards the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, or heading to the labyrinth of vintage flea markets in Saint-Ouen. These folks are ubiquitous. You may be disinclined to listen to your mother, but it really is vital to be careful and make sure to keep your belongings close.

Robberies happen often, and sometimes to the locals as well, which means the tourists are doubly vulnerable. Whenever you see that line of guys, distance yourself. Don’t make the mistake of talking to them, or even raising your hand to say “no thanks” for the sake of politeness. One of them might just grab your hand anyway, and try to push their products on you without letting go—a disconcerting session of tug-of-war that will leave you feeling violated.

3. The Mona Lisa

You should already know by now. The Mona Lisa is overrated. There’s a queue to see her, and it gets so crowded (even on a weekday) that you’ll feel like you’re at a market, instead of a classy museum. The closest you can get to the painting is still pretty far away. Even with a telescope, it’s practically impossible to examine the actual details of the work. What’s more, you’re only allowed a short period of time to look at her. The museum says it’s about 15 seconds, but it feels more like five. Nevertheless, go for the experience, if you want. The absurdity of the queue and crowd will, at the very least, make for an amusing memory.

4. The Unmissable Spots

Once you’ve had enough of the usual sights, mosey over to Bouillon Julien, the most underrated restaurant in the city. Their tagline reads, “Here, everything is beautiful, good and inexpensive”, and it’s not false. Hidden along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, the palatial joint makes a solid first impression with its century-old mahogany bar, stained-glass ceiling, Art Nouveau murals, and baroque mouldings, housed within a 1906 establishment. As lavishly picturesque as it looks, its dishes are among the most affordable (yet delicious) around.

Another gem to uncover is Shakespeare and Co, a beautiful, rustic English bookstore and cafe with a stellar curation of titles. This bibliophile’s wonderland is peppered with vintage decor, painted literary quotes, and charming little reading nooks. Upstairs, you’ll find an extensive collection of antique tomes (not meant for sale) and the most cinematic seat by the window that looks out over grandiose landmarks by the Seine River. Every now and then, old-timey jazz and blues buskers will station themselves outside the bookstore as well, providing the kind of musical backdrop that transports you back to the 40s.

Here’s a final note: Take some time and step into each church you see. Even if it’s not on your itinerary. You’ll be surprised by what you find inside—treasures of architecture and design masked by an ordinary facade.

5. Summer Break

In the summer, most Parisians leave home for their yearly holiday, and they’re usually gone for the entire month or more. This is because the residents here get about five weeks of paid annual leave—and that’s the minimum. Perhaps due to the warm weather, citizens prefer to skip town during summer too. While this means a good number of boutiques will be closed, you’ll also be treated to a quieter, calmer Paris with fewer crowds and more seats in the subway, which apparently is a rarity. In any case, there’s still an abundance of sights, cafes and shops to see along neighbourhoods like Le Marais and Montmartre.