By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
In the same way that every region in France has its specialty food, every neighborhood in Paris has its strong point. (Some areas just do a thing better!) To save you from seeking free museums or cheap eats in the wrong section of town, we’ve compiled a list of 10 popular Paris activities and neighborhoods that do them best.
1. Bakeries. The delicious, crusty baguette is so quintessentially Parisian that the city holds and annual “Grand Prix de la Baguette” competition to determine the best baguette in Paris. And for five of the past six years, the winner has been located in Montmartre, making the 18th arrondissement the bread hot spot.
This year’s prize for stellar baguettes à la tradition went to Boulangerie Mauvieux (159 rue Ordener), but we also suggest a stop at 2010’s winner, Le Grenier à Pain (38 Rue Abbesses) to hold a little tast test of your own. (Don’t skimp on a croissant or two, either.)
2. Jogging. It’s tough to decide between the main parks and gardens around Paris, but the Butte Chaumont neighborhood in the 19th arrondissement is a top pick for joggers. The hills may seem tough at first, but there are flat areas around the lake befitting even the hill-averse—and you won’t have to dodge shutterbug tourists either.
3. People watching. There’s something about a classic pedestrian (or semi-pedestrian, anyway) street that begs one to sit and observre the passing theatre. In the Châtelet neighborhood, any café will provide plenty of entertainment. Along rue Montorgueil, the street leading to Paris’s old central food market at Les Halles, you’ll spot trendy young Parisians mingling with the food-obsessed tourists, and day or night there are sure to be some characters.
4. Free museums. The Marais is dotted with hotel particuliers, historic mansions that have been converted into some of Paris’s cutest (and most free) museums. The Carnavalet (23 rue de Sévigné), the city’s oldest municipal museum, is a standout. And the Maison de Victor Hugo (6 pl. des Vosges), Le Musée Cognac-Jay (8 Rue Elzévir), and the Pavillon de l’Arsenal (21 Boulevard Morland) are all great runners up.
5. Dining. Cheap dining in Paris can be tough, but for an alternative to pricey steaks and humdrum burgers, check out the ethnic side of Paris in Belleville. The many Asian (mostly Vietnamese) restaurants here are great experiences that won’t set you back more than €15 for copious amounts of food.
6. Kid-friendly spots. A stroll through the Latin Quarter is a surefire hit for kids. Home to the Natural History Museum (including the zoo and Jardin des Plantes) and numerous sweet shops along rue Mouffetard, the 5th arrondissement is a little one’s paradise. Stoke a sugar high with candy from Le Bonbon au Palais (19 Rue Monge) or dessert at Sugarplum (68 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine) before folicking about or riding the Charles Garnier-designed carousel at the Luxembourg Gardens.
7. Window shopping. The cheapest way to enjoy Parisian fashions is to “shop” without buying, or ”window lick,” as the French call it. The stores by the Champs Elysées, notably along Avenue Montaigne, are among the most impressive—with more fashion labels than one could ever need. (Hey, if you’re not going to buy anything, you might as well drool over the best…)
8. Sweets. When it comes to sugary delights, it’s hats off to the St. Germain neighborhood. Rue de Seine, with its Gérard Mulot (76 Rue de Seine) bakery, Pierre Marcolini (89 Rue Seine) chocolats, and Grom (81 Rue de Seine) gelato is just the start of a sweet adventure that will lead you to the buttery pastries of Georges Larnicol (132 Boulevard Saint-Germain) and the blissful chocolates at Patrick Roger (108 Boulevard Saint-Germain). We could go on forever…
9. Picnics. Ile-Saint-Louis is the perfect spot to set up with a bottle of wine and a cheese spread (baguette mandatory). The lively picnickers along the riverside keep the party going all night long as the bateaux mouches boats cruise by, illuminating the banks of the Seine. Be warned, though, there’s no public toilet nearby…
10. Rainy Days. From the Opera Garnier to the many floors of the Galeries Lafayettes, the 9th arrondissement is the place to be on a rainy day. Wander the many covered passages around the Grands Boulevards area to find cute shops and cafés while waiting for the sun to shine again.
Ready to go? If these tips get your mouth watering for a visit, be sure to start with this guide to find the best cheap sleeps in Paris to start planning your trip!
More on neighborhoods: For much more on this subject, see our article on Paris neighborhoods. We break down the city’s most popular neighborhoods, with cheap hotel picks in each.