Top Tips for Americans Travelling to Paris
Crossing the pond for a trip to Paris? Here's all you need to know about how to make the very most of your time in the City of Light
Paris is one of the world’s most idealised cities: Oscar Wilde once wrote that 'when good Americans die, they go to Paris.' But luckily, the French capital has all the culture, food and history to back up the hype. Paris is the perfect place to spend a long weekend. Sure, the French have been known in the past to poke fun at Americans (if you’re reading this it’s probably not you: blame those who refer to Europe as one big country). But what they don’t tell you is that the French love themselves some American culture too. Young Parisians listen to US music (especially hip-hop), Brooklyn-inspired pizza bars are all over Paris, and they’ll queue around the block for the opening of a Burger King (yes, really). But a little cultural assimilation never hurt anyone, so here are Plum Guide's tips for Americans travelling to Paris – covering everything from how to order coffee like a local to the best ways to escape the tourist spots.
For the cabaret, skip the Moulin Rouge
The Moulin Rouge may be the most famous cabaret joint, but you can(-can – sorry not sorry) do better. If the presence of a gift shop is likely to put you off a cultural nightlife experience (us too) then swerve the red windmill for one of the alternatives. Try Au Lapin Agile, where you’ll find classic French folk tunes, chanson and artistic cabaret in its true form, in a wonky pink Montmartre building next to a little city vineyard.
Manage expectations when it comes to the Mona Lisa
You will go to the Louvre and you will see the Mona Lisa, but be warned. For such a famous painting, it is rather small, and there will be many bobbing heads in front of you, obscuring your view. But the Louvre’s joys also lie in its incredible Egyptian section and all the other wonderful paintings in the building – from La liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, which depicts the July Revolution in Paris 1830, to the fruity Les 4 Saisons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
Head to Canal St Martin instead of The Seine
So you’ve appreciated the romance of The Seine (and tolerated the tourist tat), now do as the locals do and walk along the now gentrified Canal St Martin for laidback cafés, restaurants and bars with outdoor seating that’s perfect for people-watching, without the cheap souvenirs at every turn. There are plenty of the city’s famous free sparkling water drinking fountains along the way, helping to reduce plastic-consumption in a very classy, Parisian way. (Apparently people said they’d drink tap water more often if it was carbonated.)
Stick to mealtimes for the best food
The French take mealtimes seriously, which is something to bear in mind for all Americans travelling to Paris. Unlike in many other major cities, a lot of the best restaurants in Paris will close in between lunch and dinner service. So if you’d like to be sitting in the little neighbourhood restaurant, glass of chilled sancerre in hand, eating what the locals eat, rather than eating tepid omelette and frites in a tourist trap, then plan your visit accordingly. Generally restaurants will serve food between 12pm and 2pm and around 7pm to 10pm.
Order a coffee the French way
While the international and Italian names for coffee will mostly be understood, if you feel like upping your game and doing it the French way, here are the correct terms: ask for un café and you’ll get a short, strong coffee, un café au lait is closer to a latte, while un café crème isn’t cream in a coffee, but more like a cappuccino. The noisette is an espresso with a little extra milk. And to avoid being judged, ask for un café allongé if you want an Americano. Another faux-pas is ordering a latte after a big meal: the only time you’ll see a Parisian enjoying a filling, milky coffee is in the morning, because why on earth would anyone want all that heavy dairy after a blowout dinner? And the French rarely take their cafés to go – they’ll sit down and sip, or at the very least stand at the bar.
For views, try some alternatives to the Eiffel Tower
You may want to skip the most obvious – and busiest – views from the top of the Eiffel Tower and opt for a different, more laidback choice. For another perspective, try walking up to the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. And while the Champs-Élysées itself is overrated and filled with chains, the tree-lined boulevard looks rather more impressive from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Shop where the Parisians shop
Speaking of the Champs-Élysées, any Americans travelling to Paris would do best to avoid it if looking to shop like a local. Instead try the Triangle D’Or for labels such as Celine and Saint Laurent. Or head to Le Marais for French fashion boutiques such as Kitsuné and concept design stores like Merci, in a 19th century former fabric factory.
Avoid visiting in August
This particular month means holiday time for Parisians, so as the locals ship out and many of the city’s small, unique businesses will shut up shop, the tourists ship in. A visit in spring or early summer can be just as lovely weather-wise as Paris in August(and a lot less sticky and hot), and you’ll see more of the local character too.
Live like a local in a Plum Guide home
Plum Guide’s experts are as fussy as they come (excuse the stereotype, but that's why we fit in so well in Paris). Our hard-to-please home critics have cherry-picked the top 3% of holiday apartments in Paris's best locations – so booking one of our homes is a guaranteed way to experience it like a lifelong Parisian. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d died and gone to Paris.