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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Crowds crossing a street in the 18th district.
Crowds crossing a street in the 18th district.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Paris

Crowds crossing a street in the 18th district.
Crowds crossing a street in the 18th district.
  • By Jennifer Padjemi
  • Photos by Cyril Marcilhacy
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Paris is often seen from the outside as a place of love and light — a magical city bathed in romance. This can be true, but Paris is mostly a place of imperfection, a mixture of beauty and chaos. And this is why it’s probably the most charming city in the world.

Far away from the Eiffel Tower, life vibrates from little cafes and restaurants (from fancy to quirky), public art and wide diversity found in few European cities. Show us you love our city as much as we do, and you may even walk away thinking Parisians are actually nice.

Meet Jennifer Padjemi

Jennifer has lived in the Paris region for most of her life. She spent time in Madrid and Birmingham, England, while studying, but she has always come back to the city where she feels truly at home.

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IN THE ACTION
18th district
In the 18th, you’ll find starkly different atmospheres in a span of a few blocks. There’s Barbès, where large populations of North Africans and sub-Saharan people settled in the 1970s; there’s edgy Pigalle, which became notorious for its sex shops and world-famous as the home of the Moulin Rouge. Nowadays, both areas have been revitalized, but they retain signs of their former lives. There are a lot of Airbnb options, plus boutique hotels and new hostels. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
20th district
The 20th, where young families come for cheap rents and space, feels as if it’s outside the city — its greenery and charming streets have earned it the nickname “the countryside of Paris.” From the hotel chain Mama Shelter, with its open rooftop during warmer days, to Le D’Artagnan, a budget hostel, there are plenty of sleeping choices. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Du Pain et des Idées
We could save you some reading and simply say that many Parisians regard this little bakery near Place de la République, one of the central meeting points of Paris, as the best in the world. It’s esteemed especially for its range of options. Located in a traditional Haussmannian building, it has a facade that recalls typical bakeries of the 1910s. Inside, you’ll find gilded mirrors and an ornate painted ceiling above the stacks of bread and pastries.
BTW: Don’t leave without trying the mouna, a brioche with orange-blossom flavor.
Du Pain et des Idées, 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France
BREAKFAST
Boulangerie Benoît Castel
Among all the breads, cakes and pies, it’s difficult to make a choice at Boulangerie Benoît Castel. Everything is homemade — as you can tell by the scent as you enter the shop. The place has a rustic feel, with long tables, mismatched plates, stacks of wood and two big, old ovens that serve as pure decoration. On the weekends, egg dishes and salads are served family-style on the counter for unlimited brunch. This place is also nice for a weekday breakfast of coffee and croissants — and don’t miss the jam.
BTW: They don’t take reservations. Come early for the weekend brunch.
Boulangerie Benoît Castel, 150 Rue Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris, France
LUNCH
Jah-Jah by Le Tricycle
Whether you’re vegan or just want to spend a meal as one, Jah-Jah is the kind of place that proves plant-based food can shine even in a city laden with butter. Coralie Jouhier and Daqui Gomis, the team behind Le Tricycle, Paris’s first vegan hot dog cart, were inspired by Ital cuisine (the vegan Jamaican diet) for this one. There are “burgers” and junk food along with Instagrammable bowls and smoothies. With tropical and Rastafarian accents, this laid-back place brings a bit of Jamaica to Paris.
BTW: Le Tricycle, originally only a cart, now has a storefront and is only a few blocks away.
Jah-Jah by Le Tricycle, 11 Rue des Petites Écuries 75010 Paris, France
LUNCH
Cafe D’Ici
In the heart of the 18th district’s Goutte d’Or, the most ethnically diverse area of Paris, you’ll find this tiny cafe at the Institute of Islamic Culture, where French and Mediterranean influences inspire plates of couscous, tajine and chorba (a traditional North African soup). It may not look like much from the outside, but inside, the cafe is designed like those of 1970s Barbès, with posters from the golden age of North African singers. A patio is open during the warmer months where you can end your meal with a traditional mint tea.
BTW: While you’re in the area, check the calendar for the latest exhibits at the institute.
Cafe D’Ici, 19 Rue Léon, 75018 Paris, France
DINNER
Bouillon Pigalle
Think of traditional French food amid hip decor and a mix of Parisian creatives, millennials of all stripes and, yes, some tourists at the same place, and you get Bouillon Pigalle. Opened in 2017, it quickly became the place to have a date, birthday party, work dinner or late lunch (so, really, any meal). Because it’s cheap, good and huge (300 seats), this is the must-do restaurant when you want to stick to classics like onion soup, beef bourguignon and bone marrow — they’re all done well here. Snag a seat on the covered balcony.
BTW: The line can be scary but moves pretty fast.
Bouillon Pigalle, 22 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris, France
LATE-NIGHT
Uma Nota
Here’s the kind of place you go when you crave a sunny vacation without leaving the city: Brazil and Japan united in a brightly painted space. Why those two? Well, it turns out São Paulo has one of the largest Japanese populations outside of Japan. There’s a range of tapas, with Brazilian inspiration and Japanese seasoning, but you can just as easily come for the drinks and be happy. The staff is good at helping you choose something.
BTW: Try the coxinhas de frango (Brazilian chicken croquettes with okra).
Uma Nota, 86 Rue Réaumur, 75002 Paris, France
DINNER
Gros Bao
The big brother of Petit Bao, Gros Bao opened during the pandemic along the Canal Saint-Martin in a busy area of Paris. Big by its name and size, the red Hong Kong-style cafe is impossible to miss. On the bustling first floor, you can spot the cooks making the famous bao, whose fillings include pulled pork barbecue, and cabbage, mushrooms and carrots. The second floor offers a more intimate experience, with a view facing the canal. Squeeze into a tiny table and grab some dishes to share. Delicacies include chicken wings in garlic sauce, cold noodles, mapo tofu (a specialty from Sichuan cuisine), or the Peking duck paired with a craft beer.
BTW: It would be a shame to leave without tasting the spicy eggplant, which comes with a secret sauce.
Gros Bao, 72 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010, Paris, France
LATE-NIGHT
Shake n’ Smash
From the outside, you wouldn’t think this place serves some of the best cocktails in town. Inside the moody bar, you’ll discover kitschy decorations, like animal-print chairs and feather lampshades — an homage to the owner’s mother. It’s the perfect place for a date or just a night out with friends, where you’ll fill up with snacks like the duck tacos, with honey mustard and mint, or the mini beef sandwich with Cantal cheese. Very French.
BTW: You can book a 90-minute mixology class for 50 euros.
Shake n’ Smash, 87 Rue de Turbigo, 75003 Paris, France
(Paris illustrator Fiona Poupeau for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Our transportation system is smelly, and some lines are always crowded — from opening to closing. Avoid Line 13 as much as possible.
  2. If you’ve found an espresso that costs more than 2.50 euros, you’ve paid too much and are probably in a touristy or hipster spot. Real Parisian coffee should be cheap.
  3. Try to say a few words in French, even just “Bonjour” or “Merci.” A little effort can go a long way.
(Paris illustrator Fiona Poupeau for The Washington Post)

Do

Palais de Tokyo
The Palais de Tokyo is the most contemporary museum you can find in Paris. Having originated as a simple museum of modern art, it quickly morphed into a multidisciplinary space, hosting conceptual exhibitions, fashion shows and cultural events. Within its enormous complex, it invites visitors to connect with art playfully and learn about the artists. (There are cultural mediators to help you with that.) That’s not all: There are three restaurants (Les Grands Verres, Monsieur Bleu, Le Ready Made), a gigantic bookstore and a nightclub (Le Yoyo).
BTW: New exhibitions are being installed through late June 2019; check the schedule online to ensure it’s open. When the museum is open, it’s open, until midnight.
Palais de Tokyo, 13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France
Ici (at Grands Boulevards)
Any bricks-and-mortar bookseller, let alone an independent one, is increasingly rare. Ici Grands Boulevards is the biggest indie bookstore in Paris, managed by two women who wanted to offer a big choice of titles — and they did, with more than 40,000. The selection of art, fashion and feminist literature is impressive. There’s a coffee shop inside, where you can sip one of Paris’s best coffee brands (Coutume) and grab food.
BTW: Take a book and sit on the big cushions downstairs. No one will chase you out.
Ici, 25 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75002 Paris, France
Make My Lemonade
Make My Lemonade isn’t a cafe, nor is it a traditional shop. Here, you can make your own clothes from patterns in a brochure or just buy some fabrics. There are also new collections of clothes designed by Lisa Gachet, the owner of the brand, for sale, along with decorative items from notable labels. Even if you’re not keen on making or buying anything in this airy, feminine boutique, you can just have a tea and quietly read a book at the back.
BTW: Check the calendar for workshops, which teach skills such as sewing.
Make My Lemonade, 61 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France
Rosa Bonheur
This old-fashioned tavern in the heart of the enormous Buttes-Chaumont park is one of the best ways to party in Paris, especially when the sun is out. Rosa Bonheur was founded by Michelle “Mimi” Cassaro, who managed the Pulp, a historic lesbian club, in the late 1990s. During the day, grab a table outside and people-watch. By night, the hedonistic vibe is on full display, with patrons — often an LGBT crowd — dancing. It feels like a festival.
BTW: Come early, but there are two other locations if you fear the masses: on a boat near the Seine and in a suburb.
rosa bonheur, 2 allée de la Cascade, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, 75019 Paris, France
Street Art 13
The 13th district is associated with its Asian community, but it has also become known for some of the best public art in Paris, thanks to Street Art 13. The project, created by the Itinerrance Gallery, promotes some of the best street artists in the world. With 50 giant works from more than 20 artists, the neighborhood walk is the occasion to look up. It’s a free museum worth the hype.
BTW: Stop by La Butte-aux-Cailles, the tiny village nestled in the 13th with walls beloved by artists.
24 Boulevard du Général d’Armée Jean Simon, 75013 Paris, France
Le Paris Noir
Kévi Donat created his tours of black Paris to show how black intellectuals and immigration shaped the city. From the haunts of James Baldwin and Alexandre Dumas in the left bank (Panthéon, the starting point, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés) to the more recent immigration hubs in the right (Barbès and Pigalle; begins at le Moulin Rouge), the paths reconnect the main dots of history and the black experience in Paris. Check the website for dates, or contact Donat, via phone or emailing leparisnoir@gmail.com, to schedule if the day you want isn’t available or for a tour in English.
BTW: Find inspiration at Café de Flore, where Baldwin wrote his novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
Jennifer Padjemi
Jennifer has lived in the Paris region for most of her life. She spent time in Madrid and Birmingham, England, while studying, but she has always come back to the city where she feels truly at home.
Cyril Marcilhacy
Cyril is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post and a native Parisian. He loves his city’s cultural diversity and is the co-owner of three cocktail bars in Paris.

CITY GUIDES