5 things to know before you go to Paris
Think of Paris and images of stylish people wearing striped tees and berets riding bicycles with baguettes in their wicker bike basket under the Eiffel Tower spring to mind. While the clichés are all well and good (those Breton t-shirts are known as marinières for those who don’t speak fashion and, who doesn’t love a baguette?), if your French holiday daydream has you wrapped in that très chic Parisian je ne sais quoi instead of being marked as a tourist, there some things you need to know before you go to Paris. In honour of Bastille Day, we tapped our resident Frenchy Bénédicte Bouchereau for the insider info.
1. Pucker up
It’s customary for friends to greet each other with two kisses on either cheek in Paris. While you’ll only kiss people you know, and not randoms on the Métro, you’ll rarely see anyone shake hands – this is reserved for business meetings only. And that notoriously haughty French demeanour? Our Parisian insiders say while locals may appear unfriendly, try out your French vocab and people will be happy to switch to English and chat to you.
2. Don't be polite, push!
You queue, you lose. If you’re waiting for the bus or the Paris Métro, don’t look for an orderly line or system – everyone just pushes onto the subway and if you don’t, you’ll get left behind. The notoriously crowded trains mean people don’t even wait for others to get off before they start boarding, and passengers will continue to pile in until the doors close. That said, our insiders say that the Métro is the cheapest and easiest way to get around Paris – don’t even think about driving! And if the subway is too busy, make like a local and hop on a Velib’ public hire bike.
3. I love Paris in the summer...when it sizzles
The famous song may list Paris’ attributes in all seasons, but those- in-the-know tip August as the top month to visit the French capital. Why? It may be high season for flights to Paris from Australia, but August is the French equivalent of our December when many businesses close down and most Parisians take their summer holidays in the south meaning it’s the quietest time to visit Paris plus the weather is awesome. The must-do thing in summer is to pack a picnic and sit in Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. Make sure you pack a jambon-beurre (a ham and butter baguette sandwich).
4. It's macarons, not macaroons
And the best place to eat them? Ladurée. Yep, it’s not just a Paris cliché, they really are the best and 15,000 of the sweet treat are sold by the luxury patisserie every day.
5. And if you're hungry/thirsty/drunk?
Somewhere is always open to eat and drink in 24/7 Paris. Restaurants in Paris open from 6pm, however the peak time to dine is 9pm and they’ll stay open until past midnight. Bars are open until 2am then people head to the clubs, which don’t close until 5am. Bars will open again at 6am and locals will drop in after the clubs shut for coffee or to continue drinking.
You’ll also find most bistros and cafes have chairs facing the street as the French love to watch the passing traffic and check out what people are wearing (hello, street style blogs). A typical traditional French bistro is known as a guingette – try Rosa Bonheur on Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement (Métro: Botzaris). If you’re missing fast food, our insiders say Bar des Variétés serves gourmet burgers with salads known as salade landaises that are typical of the southwest. With charming French red-and-white checked tablecloths, you’ll find this bistro in a small lane (Passage des Panoramas) close to Métro stations Richelieu-Drouot or Grands Boulevards ou Bourse.
And if you do find yourself in Paris for Bastille Day, it’s known as Le 14 Juillet, FYI. Don’t miss the famous fireman’s balls (Le Bal des Pompiers). From 9pm to 4am, each arrondissement hosts a fireman’s ball in the fire station. Think a live band or DJ, beer and plenty of patriotic red, white and blue. For the official celebrations, there’s 11pm fireworks near the Eiffel Tower (watch from the Champs de Mar and Trocadéro - this year’s theme is ‘Guerre et Paix’ meaning ‘War and Peace’) and a military parade (Défilé militaire du 14 Juillet) on the Champs-Elysées complete with a fly-over with aircraft streaming red, white and blue smoke overhead.