What to do in Paris: A local chimes in

Heading to Paris anytime soon? Gareth Jones, one of our local experts, provides his take on the City of Light's best experiences.
Conciergerie, a historical French monument. Photo: Shutterstock
Conciergerie, a historical French monument. Photo: Shutterstock

Heading to Paris anytime soon? Gareth Jones, one of our local experts, provides his take on the City of Light's best experiences.

What to do in Paris

104 (Centquatre)

Formerly the living quarters of Paris's municipal undertakers, this sprawling cultural centre is a dynamic creative hub for a diverse lineup of artistic pursuits. Making its debut in 2008 after a public cash injection of €110 million, it has since provided free studio space to some 200 artists in residence. These include painters, musicians, sculptors, breakdance crews and theatre troupes who create, rehearse or perform in full view of the public. Entry free Tues – Sun. Exhibitions prices vary. +33 15 33 50 00

"How to Become Parisian in One Hour"

A constant sell-out in Paris's main theatre district, genial Frenchman Olivier Giraud takes the audience on a comedic, whistle-stop tour of the Parisian mindset. Navigating everything from ordering a meal and dressing Parisian style, to renting an apartment and seducing the opposite sex – he does so in French-accented English – Olivier delivers an often zany performance that has the audience wheezing with laughter. It's noted for its strong native Parisian presence. Entry from €24 (Fri – Mon).

Biking in Paris. Photo: ShutterstockBiking tours are a great way to explore Paris. Photo: Shutterstock

Bikeabout Tours

Paris's turbulent and glorious history is rooted deep in its heart, and is laden with secrets and mysteries. Bikeabout Tours offers a leisurely three-and-a-half-hour biking tour through the city's back streets and to key historical landmarks. Amiable guides interweave fact and anecdote about curiosities such as Celtic settlers on the Ile de la Citè, the houses of Jim Morrison and Victor Hugo, famous movie spots, and a French Revolution cannonball lodged in the wall of a Marais mansion. Tours daily from 10am, adults €32.50, kids and students €30, +33 6 18 80 84 92.

Marché Bastille

Straddling a large portion of Boulevard Richard Lenoir, vibrant Marché Bastille holds out a welcoming hand to seekers of off-beat clothes, crafts and cuisine. A melée of enticing aromas like spicy African stew and creamy French sausage drift over stalls selling colourful garments, fresh produce and hand-crafted goods. With helpful vendors and a crackling atmosphere, you'll leave Marché Bastille with a head full of memories – and a bag full of goodies. Thu 7am-2.30pm; Sat 9am-6pm (arts & crafts); Sun 7am-3pm, Boulevard Richard Lenoir.

La Conciergerie

Residing gracefully on the banks of the river Seine, La Conciergerie hides a harrowing past. Originally the capital's first palace during the Reign of Terror, it became a prison and torture chamber for perceived enemies of the French Revolution. Of the fated 2,780 incarcerated there, notable inmates included Queen Marie Antoinette. Every day from 9.30am-6pm, adults €8.50, free for under 18s.

Did you know Insight Guides' travel experts can help you plan a holiday to France? Find out more here.

The garden courtyard in the former prison which held Marie Antoinette, the Conciergerie, in Paris.The garden courtyard in the former prison which held Marie Antoinette, the Conciergerie, in Paris. Photo: Shutterstock

Where to eat in Paris

L'Avant Comptoir

One of a kind in Paris, this tapas bar in the St Germain des Pres district takes tapas in a contemporary direction. Once inside this standing-only culinary booth, you'll be pecking at small dishes of Iberian ham croquette, pork caramelise and seared foie gras and red pepper skewers. A boisterously sociable atmosphere, don't be surprised if you find yourself tapping your neighbor to find out what they're having – while offering them a bite of yours. €5 to €10 per plate. Every day 12 noon to midnight, +33 01 44 27 07 97.

Crêperie Bretonne

The crêpe is no Parisian invention, but the city has a galaxy of crêperies to choose from. Dodge the flashing neon signs and head for this stalwart server of authentic Bretonne crêpes. Well-crafted savoury galettes and sweet crepes are on offer in a multitude of guises. Try the Gwenn ha Du– with oozing chocolate sauce and a generous dollop of hand-whipped vanilla ice cream – and wash it down with a glass of artisanale cider. Crêpes range from €2.90 to €10.90. Every day 12noon-2pm, 7pm-11pm, +33 1 43 55 62 29.

Bien Bien

This small, simple, '70s-style Thai restaurant in Paris's 9th arrondissement offers a warm family welcome. Loyal locals and visitors have flocked here for 25 years to gorge on sumptuous dishes such as Tomyum soup, grilled beef salads and Thai red curry with coconut milk. Expect generous portions at pocket-friendly prices. Booking is essential. Mains range from €9 to €18 without rice. Mon – Fri 12noon-2.30pm; 7pm-10.30pm; Sat 7pm-11pm, +33 1 48 24 14 42.

Le Chateaubriand

Le Chateaubriand is part of the new wave of Paris neo-bistros offering top-quality, five-course meals at pared-down prices. The restaurant itself has a sophisticated but unpretentious air with simple white walls and dark rosewood furniture. Inspired by his trips across the globe, Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte knocks up fusion dishes like Lotte, jardinière de légumes(pan fried monkfish tail coated with Indian spices and garnished with root vegetables),  Thon blanc de Saint-Jean-de-Luz,(white tuna with asparagus) and Spanish goat cheese with poached rhubarb sauce. Five-course menu is set at €70. Tues – Sat 7.30pm-11pm, +33 1 43 57 45 95.

Read more: Cafe life in Paris

Traditional outdoor Parisian cafe. Photo: ShutterstockA traditional (and charming) outdoor Parisian cafe. Photo: Shutterstock

Where to drink in Paris

La Fine Mousse

In recent years, Paris has been experiencing something of a craft beer boom. La Fine Mousse opened its beer taps to the city in 2012. Since then, a steady stream of beer devotees and converts have flooded its doors. La Fine Mousse purposely designed the bar with beer taps on the back wall to create a friendly ambience between server and customer. Up to 150 different brews – a good percentage French – are available for €4-7 on tap, or €6-13by bottle. Every day 5pm-2am, +33 1 48 06 40 94.

Bar du Marché

One of the most convivial corners in Paris, Bar du Marche is the perfect place for an afternoon of people-watching. With mosaic columns, cool jazz coiling from the speakers, and a lively mixture of locals and tourists bubbling onto the terrasse, it offers a fine array of French wines at €4-€5 a glass. Snacks like croque monsieur and fluffy French omelets are available at affordable prices. Every day 8am-2am, 75 Rue de Seine, +33 1 43 26 55 15.

Le Baron Rouge

Amongst a backdrop of wine bottles and wine barrels stacked to the rafters, a jamboree of locals, revelers and market traders from the Marché d'Aligre congregate here to sling back top quality carafes of the beloved grape. Offering over 50 different wines and generous charcuteries with a mix of cheese, ham, salami and foie gras, Le Baron Rouge is a no-nonsense wine bar with no-nonsense prices. If you fancy a take-out, you can join the locals in filling up your empties from the giant casks for under €5 a litre. 1 Rue Théophile Roussel, +33 1 43 43 14 32.

Café Charbon

This quintessentially Parisian bar-brasserie on the raucous rue Oberkampf has been serving up thirsty bohemian types with fine wines and tap beers since 1900. Period features such as high ceilings, leather banquettes and wrought-iron lamps help maintain its old-world charm. DJs take control of the dance floor come nightfall with a slick mix of party funk, soul and pop.109 rue Oberkampf, +33 1 43 57 55 13.

Social Club

Some of the biggest names in French and international dance music grace the turntables at this neon-lit underground venue in Grand Boulevards. At the zenith of Paris's dance music scene, the Social Club has a forward-thinking music policy that runs the gamut of electro-funk, tech-house, hip-hop and beyond. Boasting a crisp sound system and retro-futurist décor, the Social is a magnet for the city's most passionate music lovers who come to get down and boogie till daybreak.  Prices vary according to acts, Tues – Sat, 11pm-6am, 142 rue Montmartre, +33 1 40 28 05 55.

Read more: 7 ways to see Paris like a local

Where to stay in Paris

Vintage Hostel

For exploring Pigalle – Paris' most nocturnal and amorous district – and gaining easy access to historical sites such as Sacre Couer, Vintage Hostel is a good place to drop anchor. Rooms are clean and colourful and come in single-sex or uni-sex dorms with bunks. Private rooms are available and kitted out with flat-screen TVs and private bathrooms. Bunks from €28 twin & double privates from €75 B&B, +33 140161640.

Hotel des Arts

Paris preserves its artistic past with great gusto, and Hotel des Arts does a fine job of emulating it by dabbing its walls with tributes to bygone artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec. Set on a swooping hill in Montmartre, rooms are fresh, spacious and soundproofed. Some have good sources of light and offer great views of Montmartre's kaleidoscopic clutter of rooftops. Doubles from €70, +33 146063052.

Hotel Fabric

Situated in the trendy Oberkampf district, this former textile factory pays homage to its industrial past by displaying raw piping, steel columns and red brick walls. Rooms are bright, striking and spacious and posses a strong contemporary style. Hotel Fabric also offers a gym and Hammam room, and free massages are available upon request. Doubles from €170, +33 1 43 57 27 00.

Le Citizen Hotel

Slick and simple Scandinavian design abounds in this scenically located hotel on Paris's Canal St Martin. Rooms are decked out in light wooden décor – all with the added bonus of views overlooking the leafy canal paths and wrought-iron bridges. Unique features include rooms with iPads, an in-house Japanese restaurant offering bento boxes packed with rice and chicken or fish, and one of the city's most exciting night-life districts right on your doorstep. Doubles from €219 B&B, minibar and drinks inclusive, +33 1 83 62 55 50.

Read more: Top 5 boutique hotels in Paris 

Parc de Buttes Chaumont.Parc de Buttes Chaumont. Photo: Shutterstock

Hidden Gems in Paris

Parc de Buttes Chaumont

Parc de Buttes Chaumont's 25 hectares of verdant, winding paths and island in the middle of a tranquil lake offer a perfect place to relax and retune. Entry free, guided tours available, 1 rue Botzaris.

Get your jazz on

Paris is a serious jazz town, and some of the best local and touring players can be found in its more low-key jazz cellars. Try Caveau de la Huchette or Caveau de Oubliettes, or New Morning for a bit more star power.

Read more: Top tips for visiting Paris


Get lost in a guidebook: Insight Guides: Paris City Guide

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