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Grafitti Paris | © Jota Hache Ce/Flickr
Grafitti Paris | © Jota Hache Ce/Flickr

The Most Essential Parisian Life Hacks

Picture of Anya Schukin
Updated: 9 February 2017
Paris may be famously beautiful, but it is also famously expensive, callous, and trying. So how do you get the best out of a city that’s determined not to give it to you? We know the secrets… Here are the best ways to stay ahead and make the most of your time in the French capital.

Spot the best views

The Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur provide beautiful views over Paris, but get ready to compete for space with hordes of clamoring tourists, keychain vendors and pickpockets. However, the city is big and there are plenty of lovely places where you can park up with your significant other and a bottle of wine. Our favorite viewpoints include la Coulée Verte near Bastille, le Pont des Arts at night, and anywhere along the Berges de Seine.

Sneak in sideways to the best museums

We know why the Mona Lisa is smiling; she’s protected by a comfortable layer of bulletproof glass, while you’re getting elbowed in the face by a sweaty, tangled throngs of tourists jostling to glimpse her. Life is too short to spend your day competing your way through a museum – or standing in lines, for that matter. Many Paris museums host late nights, when the museums empty out and become dark, quiet, and eerily enchanting. The city is also home to numerous offbeat, non-western, and downright eccentric museums which make for delightful visits. And if you absolutely must go to the Louvre then take advantage of its quieter, more overlooked wings, which boast nearly half a million pieces of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Isalmic, Roman, and Dutch art.

Find high-quality food at the local markets

According to French law, each arrondissement in Paris must have at least two open-air food markets per week. These markets are absolutely fantastic, offering high quality food that is fresher and cheaper than the supermarket. Not all markets, however, are created equal – they have distinct characters that reflect the neighborhoods they inhabit. The markets typically run from 8am to 1:30pm, and get busy around 11, so arrive early to have the place to yourself. Many vendors (particularly the cheese sellers) will give you little taste samples. If you’re curious to try something, this key phrase will get you through – Puis-je gouter, s’il vous plait?

Sniff out good wine

You can pick up a solid bottle of French wine for €5, and a delicious bottle for €10 – you just need to know what you’re looking for. One rule of thumb to remember is that bottles marked Appélation d’Origine Contrôlée or Protégée (with a green label above the cork) are often of great quality and make a safe bet. Looking for a wine to enjoy with dinner? Neighborhood cheesemongers, fishmongers, and butchers often sell wines specifically meant to be paired with their fare.

Feast at the food conventions

Paris is a famous foodie heaven, but what is there to do when you’ve eaten it all before? Take your love of food to the next level; Paris hosts spectacular salons, dedicated multi-day food conventions that promise a sensory overload and amazing treats. Our favorites include le Salon du Chocolat, le Salon du Vin et Vignerons Independents, and le Salon du Saveurs des Plaisirs Gourmands. Pro-tip; bring a backpack, as it’s likely you won’t walk away empty-handed.
Courtesy of the Salon du Chocolat

Courtesy of the Salon du Chocolat

Get deals on meals

Eating out in Paris doesn’t have to be expensive, if you’re resourceful. La Fourchette offers up to 50 percent off meals at restaurants around the city through their website and smartphone app. Restaurant delivery services – like Foodora, Take Eat Easy, and Deliveroo – have been offering promo codes to new customers and flyering vouchers outside popular metro stations. If you’re already eating out and can’t decide what to choose for dessert, order a Café ou Thé Gourmand, which is a coffee accompanied by a selection of three mini-desserts or cakes.

Navigate the city like a pro

When visiting Paris, forgo the day or week metro pass and instead opt for a carnet (booklet) of tickets – it’s a lot more cost effective and the tickets never expire. Once you’ve entered the metro system, hold onto your ticket; transport authorities lurk around corners and failure to provide proof of payment can land you a hefty fine.
If you prefer to travel by bike, grab a vélib! With bike stations located every 300 meters, they can be the fastest and most visually appealing way of getting around the city. Even if a vélib station is empty, many have screens which will pinpoint other stations nearby and indicate how many bikes and parking spaces there are available (many smartphone apps do this too).

Find free water

Wandering the city – particularly in the summer sun – is thirsty business. There’s no need to spend precious euros on bottled water when there’s free, potable and easily-accessible water everywhere. Here is a map of all the public water fountains in Paris. Particularly famous are the beautiful Wallace Fountains, which were donated in the late 19th century by English philanthropist Sir Richard Wallace to provide the city’s poor with clean drinking water. Another fun source of water can be found under Concorde Bridge along the Berges de Seine, which has a fountain that spouts l’eau pétillante, or sparkling water. Restaurant-goers can score a pitcher of free tap water by ordering ‘une carafe d’eau.’

Locate bathrooms

Drinking all that free Parisian water has consequences. Unfortunately, public restrooms are not so easy to find and can be pretty disgusting; in times of desperation this handy public toilet map will guide you to sweet relief. For a more civilized alternative, find a casual cafe-brasserie, and politely ask to use their toilettes while offering 50 cents – they’ll appreciate the gesture if you don’t want to cough up coinage for a full coffee. They’ll be most gracious if you ask in French.

Tap into the internet

Paris is remarkably well set-up when it comes to WiFi; the city offers complimentary WiFi in 296 public places, including parks and squares. The signal can be a bit patchy, particularly if a cloud moves overhead, but it’s still handy. Complimentary WiFi goes by the network name ‘PARIS_WIFI_’, not to be confused with the ironically-named ‘FREE’ wifi, which is run by a company called Free whose services you must pay for. Several cafes and restaurants have also started to offer free internet (McDonald’s and Bagestein are safe bets), just look out for a sticker in the window that says ‘Wifi Gratuit.’ If you need to hunker down somewhere quiet to focus, there are many fabulous Coworking spaces across the city which charge by the hour and offer unlimited coffee.

Buy the best bread

According to French law, baguettes can only be made using four ingredients – flour, water, salt and leavening. Not all baguettes are created equal, and it’s easy to fall upon a bland, industrially-produced lump rather than the golden, pillowy creation of your dreams. Avoid supermarket bread and big bakery chains like Paul, Pomme de Pain, and la Brioche Dorée. Boulangeries that make their bread in-house are designated Artisan, which will either feature in their shopfront banner or be indicated by a yellow sticker in the window. The French gold standard for bread is the baguette tradition, which you can order bien cuit (well-done and crispy) or pas trop cuit (lightly-cooked and spongy). It’s perfectly acceptable to order a demi-baguette, for half the price.

Charm the French, their way

Parisians have a reputation for a certain level of surliness and they won’t impart smiles to someone without good reason. The French are friendliest to familiar faces; shop owners and cafe waiters will treat strangers with indifference but are very warm towards regulars. To increase the likelihood of a genial interaction, charm the Parisians their way. Always say ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Au revoir’ when walking in a store, boulangerie, restaurant, anything; this traces back to the days when shopkeepers lived in the apartment directly above the shop, so entering a shop was akin to walking into someone’s home. Dress well – being groomed and presentable in nice clothes is an expression of politeness, and you will be treated better for it. But to absolutely win over locals, show your wit. The French value intellect over other markers of success, and a bit of witty banter and punning is regarded as a sign of a sharp mind.

Score sales and freebies

Figuring out how to save cash is a precious skill in one of the world’s most expensive cities. There are plenty of deals to be had in Paris if you’re willing to dig for them. Leboncoin, the French version of Craigslist, is a fantastic resource for anything from Eurostar tickets to free things. There is also a glut of vintage steals around the city, particularly at the Kilo Shops (which sell clothing by weight) and Vide Greniers (neighborhood yard sales). Paris’ famed flea markets, however, are highly touristed, largely overpriced and easily skipped.