By Janice MacLeod, author of Paris Letters
Paris is a city of layers, a veritable mille-feuille if you will. The top layer, the most visible one, is where you’ll find the tourists visiting monuments. But the longer you stay in Paris, the more strolls you take, the more you discover the sweeter side of the world’s most popular tourist destination: secret gardens, hidden passageways, a treasure trove of boutiques, intricate architecture, and a passion for preserving history.
After two years of strolling around the City of Light, here are my top insider tips:
1. Best view of Paris goes to Pont Saint-Louis
This bridge links the two central islands: Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. Watch boats putter by, listen to the music of street performers, and take in the iconic buttress of Notre-Dame and the statue-encrusted Hôtel de Ville all from one place. It’s a nice way to quickly check plenty off your tourist checklist.
2. Picnic along the Seine
Every Parisian knows that restaurant meals can prove pricey, so opt for a picnic along the Seine. During the day, collect tasty rounds of cheese, charcuterie, baguettes, and wine, then hobnob with the locals along the river for dinner. My preferred picnic paradise is on the most easterly tip of Île Saint-Louis.
3. Natas in the Marais
On a side street in the bustling 4th arrondissement, you’ll find Comme à Lisbonne, a small storefront offering one perfected baked good. The nata is a Portuguese vanilla tart that has been adopted and revered by the French, which you shold eat piping hot from the oven, with or without cinnamon.
4. Hot chocolate to go
Sure you can sit in the gorgeous tea room at Angelina’s along with the old ladies and their bouffants, but if you’ve got sites to see and photos to take, the café offers the world’s most famous hot chocolates to go at the dessert counter for a fraction of the regular price.
5. Visit iconic film locations
Skip stones like Amélie along the Canal Saint-Martin, stroll the seedy streets of Pigalle seen in Moulin Rouge, purchase culinary delights on Rue Mouffetard like Julia Child in Julie and Julia, or wait for the 1920s to come fetch you at the stairs in Midnight in Paris (the side stairs of the Panthéon).
6. Stroll the covered arcades
If you’ve had too many rainy days, head past the serene garden of the Palais-Royal to stay dry in the covered walkways of the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. Built out of steel and glass in the 19th century, those that weren’t demolished by Haussman remain in stellar condition, so walking through them feels like going back in time. Two stores of note: Jean-Paul Gaultier opened his first boutique in Galerie Vivienne and it remains his flagship, and Passage Jouffroy houses a store dedicated to antique walking sticks.
7. Weekend brocantes
Not to be confused with their sprawling counterpart at the Porte de Clignancourt, brocantes are tiny flea markets that appear in different areas of the city on weekends, with brocanteurs who unfold their rickety tables and unpack their dusty wares: burlesque feather boas, vintage posters, and faded postcards. You’ll find better deals here than at Clingancourt and also discover an excellent cross-section of Parisian life. Because these markets move across the city, search online for up-to-date times and locations.
8. Cemetery walks
When the street noise takes its toll, stroll around the hushed lanes of Père-Lachaise cemetery, where you'll find the gravestones of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf. This cemetery also boasts the biggest and oldest trees in Paris, making it a welcome reprieve from summer heat of the city. Most of the prettiest statues are situated along the major walkways, so start out at the entrance on 16 Rue du Repos in the 20th arrondissement.
Janice MacLeod is the author of Paris Letters, a memoir of how she went from life in the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris. A full-time artist, she creates letters about Paris, paints them, personalizes them, and mails them out monthly to her subscribers. A former advertising copywriter and associate creative director, she has been featured in Canadian Living, Business Insider, iVillage and Etsy. This is her third book. Visit her at www.janicemacleod.com.