Fall in love with Paris...all over again!

by Rachel Burgess

If you've already chomped croissants on the Champs Elysées and seen the famous sites, go off the beaten tourist track and experience Paris like a Parisian

Been up the Eiffel Tower at night? Seen the view from the top of the Sacré Coeur? Stared at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre? Yeah, me too. So after you've checked in at all the usual sites -  Les Champs Elysées, Notre Dame, Musée D’Orsay, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge and Pompidou Centre - take time to experience the real Paris, the one Parisians enjoy every day.

Flea markets are a big craze. The most famous is St-Ouen, north of the city so best reached by taking Metro line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt - the final stop. It’s crowded, so beware pickpockets, and offers a minefield of treasures. I’ve picked up numerous scarves and stunning jewellery at this flea market over the years so take time to view the antiques, vintage clothes, shoes, books and records for sale.

For a healthy snack, stall after stall on Rue Mouffetard, near the Panthéon in the Fifth Quarter, sells the city's freshest fruit. 

Lazy cycling
Sunday is the best day to experience Paris by bike.  The city introduced Vélib, a cheap easy-to-use public bike service in 2007, which makes getting around on two wheels simple.

We picked up two bikes, with baskets for our light luggage, just 300 metres from our hostel and dropped them off later near Paris Nord Station. You simple insert your credit card into a machine (there is an option for instructions in English) and a bike is released, to be dropped off wherever there’s a point in the city.

The first half hour costs one euro. We had our bikes for three hours and were charged €7.20 each. Not bad for a budget traveller.

The road following the Seine north is closed to traffic on Sundays and is free for rollerbladers and cyclists to enjoy. Life doesn’t get much better than cycling leisurely along the Seine in the sunshine with the Parisian skyline for company.

People watching
The pristine gardens of Jardin Du Luxembourg are a little bit of bliss in the madness of Paris. Charming any day of the week, on Sundays Parisians go there to meet with friends and sip coffee. The lake near Palais Du Luxembourg has toy yachts for children to rent out while their proud parents look on.

There are tennis courts, a playground, café and, inevitably, an area for boules - plus numerous chairs and benches for people-watching. I've happily sat there for 45 minutes watching life go by before even considering getting on my way.

Paris is an expensive city for anyone, let alone a budget traveller. Oops Hostel (50 Avenue des Gobelins) in the 13th quarter is newly-opened with a retro feel. At €25 a night, it’s one of the cheapest options in central Paris. We booked a four-bed dorm with ensuite but there are also private rooms available.

Any regular hostel user will agree cleanliness is top of the agenda; Oops gets five stars on that front. Breakfast was also included in the price and with chocolate cereal on offer, I was one happy camper.

As you’d expect accommodation in Paris is hit and miss. I’ve stayed in some hellish run-down and unclean places for €30 and found some simple but clean hotels for the same price.

Every other shop seems to be an eaterie. St Germain is a great place to start a food hunt. I always look for my dish of choice, steak poivre, and fixed-price menus. On my most recent visit, I ate three courses at Allard (1 Rue l’Eperon, +33 1 43 26 48 23) for €12.95. Great food, ambiance and customer service.