The idea of writing any type of tourist guide to Paris has been on my mind since I first moved out here and began writing this blog. There is a sort of safety in complaining about French university, given that the majority of friends and family reading this won’t have experienced it personally. Talking about real places removes this comfort. It seems hard to recommend anywhere – a delightful bistro for lunch, a gorgeous boutique – given that I have barely scratched the surface of this city. Regardless, “I’m in Paris soon – where do you suggest to go?” is a question I have heard repeatedly since my first day.
So here goes; an attempt at a tourist guide to my favourite spots in Paris. Read with caution – I can’t guarantee the level of taste, but everything is on a student-friendly budget. A certain level of bias may apply to the Canal Saint Martin area, largely because it’s the best in Paris and but also because it’s where I’ve lived for the past 9 months…
Food is one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking of Paris. You could probably eat at a different restaurant each day, have delicious food and never ever get bored. So I won’t pretend to be the expert! However, I do have a few spots I end up going back to over and over again, and not just because they’re a great Instagram opportunity.
Brunch happens to be my favourite way to waste my student loan. Luckily, brunch destinations are popping up all over Paris quicker than I can try them all. My all-time love has to be Holybelly, just off Canal Saint Martin, because as they state quite rightly brunch is more than just avocado toast. Their motto, “It’s good because we care”, simply doesn’t do those divine hash browns justice. Season is another delicious option, not far from République. I can totally recommend their Acai bowl, which just might be healthy enough to balance out the pancakes I also can’t help but order. Practically all of Paris grinds to a halt on Sundays (despite it being a raging modern world out there) so unless you’ve got a specific brunch place in mind, you can’t count on any Boulangeries or Cafés being open. Both Holybelly & Season are Sunday friendly and happen to have fabulous decor for pictures as well.
In terms of Lunch, a savvy student can find a good menu midi pretty much anywhere. The asian burgers at Siseng are heavenly and there is even a vegan tofu option, although the entire establishment is the size of my bedroom so queues are inevitable. You can’t beat the fresh ravioli at La Marine though; I think I’ve taken everyone I know to eat there at some point. Besides, at two courses for €18 with a beaut view of the canal, it would be silly not to go.
Perhaps more than the food itself, some of the most memorable dinners have been down to the friendliness of the staff. It’s not rare to be on the receiving end of rude waiters, especially if they’re busy with little patience to spare for demanding tourists. Luckily, the Brazilian owner at Jours de Fetes by the canal is absolutely hilarious, determined to provide une petite pause from hectic Parisian life. I don’t quite understand why there are bicycles hanging off the walls but it kind of adds to the overall spell. Another gem is La Mandigotte, because despite how packed Montmartre can be, the waiters could not be more charismatic. Regardless of how delicious the food is (and at both these spots it certainly is) I’m more inclined to return somewhere because I felt welcome rather than because the boeuf bourguignon was exceptional.
I think I have effectively described the vibes of a Parisian night out in a previous post but just in case you were wondering where to go, these happen to be my top recommendations. I find that in Paris, the charming streets and relaxed atmosphere can turn any old bar into a perfect drinking spot. In terms of decent music and cheap wine, Le Mauri 7 has proven to be a solid choice. My friend Fran is such a regular she has to meet, greet and kiss on the cheeks with practically every staff member including the bouncers before she can walk in to get smashed. My ‘local’ choice (although I probably am just recognised for my terrible accent) is Pallisade, that occasionally has a free photo booth and always has delicious tapas to help you drink your bodyweight in wine.
I think if I were to return to Paris for a weekend, then either Favela Chic or Café Oz has to be on the list for a night out. I don’t think I’ve ever been and not enjoyed myself, often ending up crying with laughter until the early hours. The best news is you can dance without inhibitions since everyone around is having just as much fun and being just as embarrassing. Perhaps I should stop going and making a fool of myself but the music is just fab. I can confirm, both are worth the initial queue and inevitable hangover.
If you really fancy a techno night out then Badaboum or Concrete is where I would suggest. Although this isn’t really what I aim for in a club, both happen to be the best at what they do. On the other hand, if you want to overpay for a Champs Elysées club then Maison Blanche is your safest bet. At least it has a terrace with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower, if you do manage to get in and survive the drinks price. I’m quite happy with my Beyoncé and mojitos without the need for sweaty techno or aggressive bouncers though…
I’m not someone who is put off by social media hype for a destination. If, like me, you don’t mind sipping a cocktail whilst people take endless photos for some sort of narcissistic blog (*ahem*) then Le Comptoir Général is a must. Having experienced it both in the evening, as quite a cool bar with decent tunes, and during the day in its full ‘Ghetto Museum’ chic, it does deliver. Yes, shuffling groups enter just to take photos but with delicious cocktails and unique vibes, I don’t mind being awkward in the back of someone’s snaps. Word of advice; it’s a one in, one out policy so the queue on the weekend can be lethal. Just another excuse for midweek drinking or starting the party a little earlier than you usually would. If you’re tired of wandering around Le Marais area then Lizard Lounge is another option for cocktails. It’s perfectly located so you can refresh yourself with a few strong drinks before continuing the arduous task of shopping. Just don’t watch how much alcohol goes into their Long Islands… (clue, they’re not stingy).
Finally, if you are lucky enough to be in Paris between April and October than you have to experience Wanderlust. It’s an open terrace overlooking the Seine with enough fairy lights to make anyone swoon. Of course, the weather or the DJ may be terrible but the experience will probably still be worth it. #Chillance, whatever that means.
So what’s a Concept Store? If you’re young and relatively carefree à Paris, odds are you have money to spend in one. There happen to be more than I care to count, selling everything from sandals to handprinted tote bags to flamingo shaped light bulbs. Babel is packed full of gorgeous things you don’t need but I just want, with the vintage tins a personal favourite. It’s the first place I’ve visited each time I had a gift to buy for someone because everything is suitably special without costing a fortune. Mukasa, self proclaimed ‘ethnique boutique’ stocks unique clothing and accessories from around the world, allowing you to leave Paris without ever stepping a foot off Rue Oberkampf. I can also confirm, the shop owner is absolutely charming and doesn’t mind dreadful french. Apparently, she sources one off pieces around the world to style the Parisian woman, but she might have just been wanting me to buy that €110 jacket I foolishly tried on.
I stumbled across Papier Tigre the other day and it’s safe to say I Want It All. I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to decide between notebooks before promptly buying a scented candle, which was not the same price range but was a logical step in my mind. The candle happens to be called Parc des Buttes Chaumont after the nicest spot of greenery in this urban jungle, so I could hardly resist. Quite simply, this shop has enough delicate stationary to make anyone feel like they’ve got their life together. They even sell wallpaper, although I’m trying to convince myself this isn’t a necessary purchase as I am a) an unemployed student with b) a suitcase limit for my departure. If you can’t decide on a product, my advice is to buy a printed tote bag. After studying enough stylish women on the metro, it’s clear you need one to carry your belongings in.
I think if I won the lottery, clothes shopping in Paris would be an immediate priority, before even paying off my student loans. I sound like a broken record as I walk around the streets, passing practically each boutique with an “Ooh ! Ah! That’s so lovely” every few steps. I can only hope a sliver of the sophisticated dressing has rubbed off on me; I have the ambition to look that poised everyday, even if the outcome is never equivalent. I won’t pretend to you that I have the extensive knowledge of every darling boutique across this city but here are a few I don’t mind diving into.
Situated along the canal (let’s be honest, which of my top places aren’t?) is Quai 71. It’s tiny, it’s usually packed and it also always has the cutest collection of clothes to discover. They actually have another couple of boutiques across the city which is just more opportunities to spend money. Think silk bomber jackets and quirky printed shirts for a visual reference. On a similar level regarding price and taste, 78 ISL is located on Île Saint-Louis and happens to be where I bought the winter coat I have effectively lived in this year. Basically, if you want to achieve the look that the most sophisticated of Parisian ladies are wearing, be it the tailored grey coats or embroidered shirts that have filled the metro these past few months, either of these shops is a good shout for finding these styles without breaking the bank.
Rue Oberkampf happens to host both Filles de Saison and Bobby, two shops I enjoy wasting valuable studying time in. Filles de Saison doesn’t have a large collection but somehow everything is exceptionally pretty. The woman was clear to insist, on my first visit, that this the Parisian shop for French designers, whom she is very passionate about representing. Whether you think it accurately represents French designers or not, I have never wanted an orange and navy silk neck tie more than in that first visit. On the other hand, Bobby is an interesting second hand shop to delve into. You can exchange old clothes there but it can’t be your Monoprix t-shirts; everything is designer and in impeccable condition. Although it still isn’t cheap in any student sense, it is the perfect spot if you want a label like Balmain or Miu Miu without the original price tag.
If you’re interested in vintage shopping then you can’t go wrong in Le Marais. An area I love for its vibrancy and ambience, there are more vintage shops dotted around than I could begin to list. The best value for money has to be Vintage Désir, if you’re prepared to get up close and personal with a colourful array of clothing and slightly odd owners. It is pretty chaotic but wonderfully cheap. Another spot worthy of a serious rummage is The King of Frip, where I can recommend searching through the hectic collection of bags. More refined vintage shops are also to be found in Le Marais, with Tilt Vintage providing a slightly more tranquil shopping experience although the price is a little steeper.
Of course, you can’t go vintage shopping in Le Marais without visiting Kilo Vintage. The largest collection of vintage gems I have come across, I genuinely could spend hours in here quite happily diving into each rack. I have a tendency to fall in love with the items of fixed prices but luckily the majority is paying by weight. It doesn’t have any changing rooms though so be prepared to throw on whatever you want over your current outfit to see how awful or fabulous the result is. Luckily, I have no shame and will definitely shimmy on a potential number or two. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than vintage shopping and pretending you don’t care a care in the world?
Contrary to popular belief, I have actually done other things besides eating, drinking and wasting my student loan for the past 9 months. Part 2 (a cultural excursion) to follow xo