I moved to Paris in a bit of a blur. I wasn’t in my best frame of mind and, having spent months lying to everyone I knew and saying that I was going to move abroad to follow my feminist dream (when I just wanted to get high all day), someone called me out on it and I got embarrassed and booked a Eurostar.
Zero planning went into this. I’d been to Paris twice before, both when I was too young to go out alone, and hadn’t really liked it. Though, after a few years of reading Foucault and de Beauvoir and Derrida, I felt like it was going to be my post-structrualist haven and I would get clean, or at least get off Class As.
I spent my first two weeks there walking the city (which was completely deserted, I arrived in August) working out how to score, where to buy vintage clothes (or ‘frip’) and listening to my Michel Thomas CDs on my iPod (I spoke no French).
I hustled myself a waitressing job, which I sucked at because everyone had to order their food in English, found an apartment with a fridge and hot water after my short-lease ran out, and got settled.
Paris isn't perfect - multiple sexual and physical assaults fall under the radar of a disinterested police force, renting an apartment involves as much paperwork as adopting a child, and groceries are obscenely expensive, but there are some incredibly beautiful aspects to it. Here ya go with a list of some of my favourite things to do when you aren't beret shopping or eating a baguette.
So, chain clothing stores in Paris suck. They’re either like APC or Sandro or The Kooples where you pay about €200 for a white t-shirt, or polyesterville. However, vintage shopping there is nothing short of incredible and I’m not going to bother talking about where is best to spend a year’s rent on a coat because, let’s be real, who can afford full-price Chanel? Although, do not miss a trip to Colette for hipster Frenchy designer vibes.
In the Marais in the 4th Arrondissement, there are an assortment of ‘friperies’ (vintage clothing stores) where you can spend all day rooting through the euro bins or €10 rails to find anything from sundresses to ballgowns. The best of the best is ‘FreePstar’, on 8 rue Sainte-croix de la Bretonnerie, 4eme, metro Saint-Paul – they have the cutest clothes and the best bargains.
If you want to get really devotional to finding bargains, you can go to the flea markets. Marche aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignacourt is the best and biggest but prepare to get hustled. If you’re buying silver, check for hallmarks, if you’re buying vintage designer, check seams and fabrics as well as labels for authenticity. It’s open Saturday through Monday (Monday was my favourite) from 9am to 6pm. Get there early. Metro Porte de Clignacourt, 18eme.
If you want someone to have done that stuff for you, go to where I used to work – Chinemachine Vintage on 100 rue des Martyrs in the 18eme. From FreePstar bargains to vintage Chanel or last-season Isabel Marant, you are straight up going to find something you love. I promise. It’s open every day, has the best prices and the best clothes.
Also, if you want souvenirs aside from clothes, I thoroughly recommend French pharmacies. Not for drugs-seeking (although they do some rad OTC remedies) because that’s no longer my vibe, but their cosmetics aisles are immense.
The best things that you must buy, available in pretty much any pharmacy – Embryolisse Lait-crème concentre moisturizer and Bioderma Crealine H20 makeup remover. The moisturizer is thick without heaviness and readily absorbent, and the remover pretty much as gentle as water but as effective as a chemical slough. Do not leave without them both. Also, bring me some.
Finally for shopping, if you’re not a vegan and into taxidermy, you have to go to Deyrolle. It’s like being in a museum, or Jumanji, but you can buy everything, and if you don’t have 20k to drop on an antique elephant or morally object to that stuff, the butterfly and insect drawers in the final room are not only cheap cheap cheap (did you know there isn’t a specific word for cheap in French?) but incredible.
It’s on 46 rue de Bac, 7eme, and it isn’t anywhere on the website but I remember it was closed on Mondays. Maybe things have changed, but don’t risk it.
I could obviously talk for like fifty thousand hours on all the restaurants, particularly as my partner and I would spend all of our money on eating out. There are two main things to know about French food – most of the brasseries in Paris suck, they are overpriced tourist traps, do not bother.
Also, you cannot order takeout, apart from sushi, that is even vaguely edible. If you order takeout, Sushishop does great stuff and you can order it all online so you don’t need to speak French down the phone.
My favourite restauraunt in all of Paris is Chair de Poule, 141 rue Saint Maur in the 11eme. I cannot explain how good the food is here, with contemporary Frenchy fusion tapas plates (I’d get 3 or 4 per person and share them all). I have never eaten anything less than incredible, and it’s a bargain for what it is – for food and drink for two, I’d say it never exceeded €80.
Secondly, for straight up steak, Robert and Louise at 64 rue Vielle du Temple, 4eme. Flame grilled, simple as fuck and straight up incredible, it was my favourite place to eat steak in Paris. Sides are basic, meat is chosen by the cut, do not go if you are veggie.
Actually, if you’re a veggie or vegan in Paris, you’re kind of screwed. Rose Bakery, the English/French bakery café where I worked for a while, is one of the only places that caters towards a vegan diet – there is one in the Marais, one in the 18eme and one at the gallery Maison Blanche. You cannot eat there after 4pm, but the salads are delish. And the scones are to die for.
La Bal was one of my other favourites – which featured British food in a French setting in a similar way to Rose Bakery, but you could eat there in the evenings, too, and isn’t too expensive. Or if you’re on a major budget, Pho 14 at 129 avenue de Choisy in the 13eme (the Vietnamese district) is the best Vietnamese food I have ever eaten and cheap as chips.
Le Comptoir Général was the most incredible cafe I have ever been to, and we put on some of our Ladyfest events there. With curiosity cabinets galore (and pho for lunch), the sweetest garden and the most chilled atmosphere, make it down to 80 quai de Jemappes in the 10eme.
Finally, if you’re there for a special occasion, there is nowhere that I recommend more for the most traditional French setting than Le Dome du Marais, 53 Bis rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the 4eme.
It is expensive (although not as expensive as some of the higher-end restauraunts) but one of the most beautiful and memorable places that I have ever eaten. You can get a prixe fixe menu for €45, which really isn’t bad – looking for fixed price menus at expensive restauraunts is not something to feel weird about, it was my favourite way to eat better than I could justify affording.
Finally, a few extra places I loved to visit:
Musée de la Vie romantique
16 Rue Chaptal 75009
This tiny museum in Montmartre is free, and focuses on the life and work of George Sand. It is completely captivating and has the most beautiful courtyard in Paris where you can get amazing quiche and tea in the prettiest teapots I have ever seen (although the courtyard café is not open in winter).
Jardin des Plantes Menagerie
The second oldest zoo in the world, this is one of the most bizarre places of all time. With art deco design houses for the animals, you feel like you’re transported to an older Paris and during the French revolution, the rich people ate all the animals in there when food got scarce. The habitats are sometimes depressingly small but it is dedicated to the preservation of otherwise extinct species and it's like a weird time warp.
Mosquée de Paris
2 bis Place du Puits de l'Ermite, 5eme
I’m not sticking this on here for religious tourism, which is something that grosses me out, but because they have the best hammam I have ever been to. Seriously, make time to go – there is a divine courtyard where you can eat tagines and drink mint tea, and there are specific days for women and men to use the beautiful baths.
Musée Gustave Moreau
14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld, 9eme
I really love Symbolism, and Moreau is one of my favourites. This museum is free and is set in Moreau’s old home, so you can see his rooms as he lived in them whilst an incredible retrospective of his life’s works is everywhere. They also have archives of all of his sketches andplans for his elaborate paintings which are an utter joy to be able to see in real life.
16 Rue de Repos, 20eme
Père Lachaise is one of the most historic cemeteries in the world (and the largest in Paris), with Oscar Wilde’s gravestone which is the campest place I’ve ever been with his monument covered in lipstick kisses from gross devotees who don’t mind getting sick, and a load of people smoking joints around Jim Morrison’s grave.
I particularly love the Jewish areas, and the terrifying old crypts. It’s incredibly beautiful and peaceful to walk around as long as you avoid the tourists who exhibit disturbingly little courtesy towards the funerals which still go on there.
VOILA! My tips for Paris. Have you been? Do you like it? Do you have anything to add? Do you want to go? Trade tips with us!
Olivia is now living in London and on Twitter @oliviasinger.