Paris, France travel tips: Ten ways to have a better holiday in Paris

Judging by the lines that were snaking along the Faubourg Saint Honore near the Hermes flagship store, Paris didn't seem to be doing too badly for visitors when I was there a few weeks ago.

Less expensive cities, such as romantic Lisbon, may be gaining in popularity but the allure of what I call the classic European cities – Paris, Rome and London – (although soon London won't count as European) is still strong, even if just as a stopover.

Given that just about everything has been written or discovered about these iconic places, how do you get the best of a short stay in one of them, without feeling that you've been shafted onto a path well trodden by billions of tourists? Assuming, of course, you're interested in more than taking selfies at Trocadero with the Eiffel Tower in the background. (Go to the bridge at Bir-Hakeim between the 15th and 16th districts for a less cliched view.)

I'm going to use Paris as an example because I know it best but these tips apply to any European city.

Get a grip of the language. I'm bad at languages, so I feel that speaking whole sentences is not necessary, but a few words of courtesy or basic shop talk is useful. If you don't think so, observe what complete asses tone-deaf tourists who plough on insensitively in English make of themselves.

Stay in small hotels or bed and breakfasts. (Or Airbnb if that's your thing.) Many hotels are family-run and you're much more likely to get good neighbourhood tips from a local than a concierge who was raised in Bucharest.

Seek out the less known neighbourhoods. Paris is not all about Saint-Germain or the Marais. I once stayed in an apartment in the 13th arrondissement that was quiet and inexpensive. I could walk to the trendier Marais and Bastille and the Paris Metro got me everywhere else. Some of the outer neighbourhoods have magnificent parks, such as Parc Monceau on the edge of the 17th, Parc Montsouris in the 14th, and the Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th. You're more likely to see genuine Parisian life where there are schools and churches.

Visit markets, both food and flea. I'm talking about neighbourhood favourites, such as the organic market at Batignolles on Saturday or the one on Raspail on Sundays. There are fabulous market streets as well, such as Montorgueil near Les Halles. As for flea markets or "brocante", I always liked the one in the 15th district at Vanves – and it takes you to a part of the city you would otherwise never explore.

Buy flowers. Paris is full of gorgeous flower shops. Just because you're not at home doesn't mean you can't have a bunch. And when the kids line up at the patisserie for their after-school snack, join them. No one will sneer at your sweet tooth.


Shop for what Paris does best. French brands are sold all over the world and few make their goods in France anymore. Instead, look for fragrances from wonderful small perfumeries like Serge Lutens in the Palais Royal, or stock up on French cosmetics at discount pharmacies like the fabulous City-Pharma on Rue Bonaparte.

Don't linger at cafes like Deux Magots. They despise you, really. Follow your nose away from the boulevards and find a more charming place, like the cafe at the back of the Luxembourg gardens.

Ride bikes. Most European cities have bike-loaning services. A ride along the Seine can be glorious in the right season.

Visit the lesser museums. By all means, line up at the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. But did you know that the Musee Carnavalet holds fascinating ephemera from the history of the city and the Maison La Roche houses the archives of the architect Le Corbusier? There are dozens more secret places, such as the opulent Musee de la Chasse et Nature (Hunting and Nature) in the Marais, as well as museums and studios devoted to the life of less well-known artists.

Finally, if you really want to see the icons, go backstage. Take a backstage tour of the Paris Opera, the sumptuous Palais Garnier, which includes a viewing of the subterranean lake featured in Phantom of the Opera. It's possible to visit the workings of the Eiffel Tower or go on a tour of Paris' legendary rooftops.

Bonne chance!

See also: 10 things you should never do in France

See also: 20 reasons Paris is the world's No.1 tourist city