Paris was, is, and always will be en vogue. That’s why I’m so excited to share my first ever guest post on the blog from Aaron Chin at Aaron Gone Traveling—who has lived there—on non touristy things to do in Paris. Even if you’re short on time! Read on if you only have 36 hours in Paris for your trip (or four days in Paris)…
The City of Lights has been drawing visitors from around the globe for centuries and it’s not hard to see why. The aroma of freshly baked baguettes, elegant Haussmanian architecture, cobblestone streets, and historic museums and monuments make this city a one-of-a-kind wonder. And while there are all the iconic sights, there are also many lesser known local places to visit in Paris.
- 36 Hours in Paris
- Paris Like a Local: Day 1
- Where to Stay in Paris: Accommodations
- A Local’s Guide to Paris: Day 2
36 Hours in Paris
Paris Like a Local: Day 1
8 am – Pastries at Le Grenier à Pain
Start your day off with a coffee and pastry at Le Grenier à Pain. This boulangerie-pâtisserie is world-renowned for its many award-winning traditional French breads and pastries…even billing itself as the “best baguette in Paris.” You’ll find fresh baked breads here with apricots, hazelnuts, figs, and nuts. Taste an éclair, tarte Tatin, croissant, or “pain au chcolat” here. Get some macarons or madeleines to go!
There are 2 branches of Le Grenier à Pain in Ile-de-France, but head to the one near Sacré Cœur in Montmartre. Since you are in the area, you should take a few moments to ogle the majestic and iconic Sacré Cœur Basilica when you are here. It stands at the summit of the highest point in the city!
8:30 am – Stroll Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Head to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement next. This is Paris off the beaten path (for tourists anyway). This is my favorite park in Paris after visiting more than 20 of them! It’s an oasis loved by locals… a little bit of wilderness in the city. The park also affords great views of the city and the surrounding neighborhood is a pleasant place to walk.
11 am – Shop the Pyrénées Market
If you’re in Paris on a Thursday or Sunday, be sure to walk down Rue des Pyrénnées and check out the Pyrénées Market. This traditional food market—located just behind the famous Père Lachaise cemetery—offers everything organic. It’s one of the best local things to do in Paris.
From fruits and vegetables to cheese and flowers, the market has it all. It’s where locals shop. (Say hi if you see me!) It’s also the perfect place to assemble a beautiful picnic lunch.
1 pm – Picnic at Parc de Belleville
Continue your tour of Paris like a local with a stop at Parc de Belleville. It’s the perfect spot for your picnic. Nothing is more “Parisian” than making your own baguette sandwich and enjoying a little bottle of wine while admiring the view of the Eiffel Tower from afar. Consider it one of the local customs in Paris.
Where to Stay in Paris: Accommodations
Le Marais makes a great non-touristy base for this Paris itinerary! It’s close to the center of Paris for convenience but retains enough local charm that you’ll feel less like a tourist staying here. Here are three options for Marais accommodations:
1. Le Pavillion de la Reine & Spa
This beautiful hotel has a prime location right on the stunning Place des Vosges (known as the “prettiest square in Paris). It’s just a few minutes walk from Victor Hugo’s house. Click here to check current prices and availability.
Best for: Couples, guests who love luxury stays, and fans of iconic boutique hotels. Air conditioning and free parking included.
2. Monsieur Saintonge
Not far from Musée Carnavalet, this lovely hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the Fille du Calvaire metro. Guests give Monsieur Saintonge top marks for friendly, helpful staff. Click here to check current prices and availability.
Best for: Guests looking for a great location for a good value.
3. “Cozy Nest” Apartment
This cute little apartment is perfect for couples on a budget! It includes one bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. Click here to check current prices and availability.
Best for: Budget travelers who appreciate a kitchen. (Or if you’re a serious budget traveler, check out this list of best Paris hostels.
3 pm – Explore the Marais
This is the neighborhood—the 4th arrondissement in Paris— that I had the pleasure to call home. If you’re ready for another bite, head directly to Marché des Enfants-Rouge and sample the Moroccan food at Le Traiteur Marocain. You won’t be able to resist it once you look at what’s on offer!
Try the lamb tagine, tender lamb with vegetable—and sometimes plumbs—cooked in traditional Moroccan cookery. I miss it so much! You can just point to whatever you’d like here if you don’t speak French.
Stop next at the striking 19th-century building that is Hôtel de Ville. (The Mayor of Paris works here.) Then take bus line 72 from this point. The bus will take you along Quai François Mitterand—along the Seine river—giving you a bird’s eye view of the best of Paris while sitting in comfort.
Feel free to hop and off the bus whenever you spy an intriguing sight to explore, but be sure to make a stop for photos at Trocadero. It offers one of the very best views of the Eiffel Tower.
7 pm – Dine at La Coupole
If it’s authentic French dining you’re hungering for, La Coupole is your spot! No Paris guide to restaurants would be complete without it. Since 1927, this beautiful little brasserie has been serving up Parisian specialties like pepper steak, seafood platters, and its famous Indian lamb curry.
With its art nouveau décor and top tier food quality, I personally think that the menu is well priced. French dinner is a sophisticated affair so I recommend you arrive at 7 pm to allow a leisurely meal in the true French style.
Whatever you do, make a reservation in advance or prepare to be disappointed. Otherwise, Le Select, just across the street, makes a nice, non-touristy alternative. (A veritable who’s who of artists and literary greats—including Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and Picasso— have frequented this place since 1923.)
11 pm – Enjoy a Nightcap in the Marais
Paris comes alive after dark so join locals for a late night drink!
The Marais offers plenty of options for lively bars to choose from. For a quieter ambiance, I recommend the bars around Saint Germain des Près. It’s almost impossible to choose because they are all amazing.
However, some of my favorites are Chai Antoine for its 2.5 euro Happy Hour (6 to 9 pm) and Les Caves Alliées. (You feel as if you’re entering a secret cave upon entering!) Monsieur Le Zinc is a quieter and less dark alternative.
A Local’s Guide to Paris: Day 2
Are you starting to feel like a local yet? We’re just getting started! Read on for more of the best non touristy things to do in Paris.
7 am – Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral
Seeing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral (“Our Lady of Paris”) is on most visitor’s bucket lists. The problem is the crowds, of course. The best way to beat them? Go first thing in the morning when you’ll enjoy it mostly to yourself. Even as an expat myself these days, I still go to admire this radiant gem occasionally.
After the tourists arrive, retreat to other less visited sites. See Sainte Chapelle (the famous Gothic royal chapel) or visit Place Dauphine, one of the most beautiful and romantic squares in Paris (first arrondissement).
9 am – Pastries at Pierre Hermé Paris
To me, breakfast is an important affair. If Le Grenier à Pain pleased you, you can definitely return there. However, consider La Parisienne Saint Germain or Pierre Hermé Paris for artisanal pastries, too.
There’s nothing more Parisian that people watching. And that’s why the tables are deliberately set at Pierre Hermé to encourage this favorite pastime. So sit awhile and watch the world go by while you enjoy your coffee and pain au chocolat – a relaxing and delightful non tourist thing to do in Paris.
11 am – Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève
This library is so gorgeous that I doubt people can concentrate on their work here! (It’s one of the hidden things to do in Paris for sure.) The names of philosophers and scholars are carved into the facade. Inside, rows of turquoise lamps illuminate long tables and the floor to ceiling books.
Tip: It’s easy to visit the famous Panthéon and Saint-Étienne-du-Mont (the church containing the shrine of St. Genevieve, patron saint of Paris) as they are located just next to each other here.
1 pm – Lunch at Les Trublions
I love eating out for lunch as lunch menus are significantly less expensive than dinner menus in Paris. Close to the library is Le Trublion with a well-priced and creative menu. (If you are interested in options further afield, check out my other recommended restaurants in Paris.)
For dessert, head directly to Jean-Charles Rochoux, the oldest chocolatier in Paris! This chocolatier is one of the few in the city with a workshop on-site…so expect to be greeted with aromas of chocolate and caramel as you open the door. (If you’re a chocolate lover, you might also consider taking a chocolate tasting tour with Paris Walks.)
4 pm – Explore the “Chinatown” of Paris
Unlike in many other major cities in the world, there isn’t truly a Chinatown in Paris. However, it’s well-recognized that the 13th arrondissement is the Chinese Quarter of Paris. Asian spices fill the air!
If you haven’t had your fill of local markets, head to Tang Frères, the Asian supermarket here. This is where I go for top quality Asian products when cooking at home. It’s definitely non touristy Paris!
5 pm – Catch the sunset at Galeries Lafayette
I don’t come here to shop at this upscale department store in the ninth arrondissement, but rather to enjoy a superb view of Paris from its rooftop! The warm sunset hues make for an incredible backdrop as the Iron Lady poses for your camera.
7 pm – See Palais Garnier
Before you go, take a quick peek into Palais Garnier, perhaps the most famous opera house in the world and truly one of the cool things in Paris to see. (It was used as the setting for the book Phantom of the Opera!)
This opulent masterpiece is unique and unparalleled anywhere in the world. It makes a memorable grand finale to your visit to the City of Lights.
Born and raised in Malaysia, Aaron is a final-year medical student in Australia who desperately preaches that “traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.” He blogs about it at Aaron Gone Travel. When he is free, he checks for the cheapest airfare for flights from Australia.
Aaron indulges in local cuisine so enthusiastically that he has to diet before and after he travels. Read more about his adventures at Aaron Gone Traveling or join him on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Other Paris inspiration:
• What to do with three days in Paris.
• Try these day trips from Paris.
• Take a train from Paris to Strasbourg.
• See these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France!