How to Find Your Paris, and Live There Like a Local

New Yorkers avoid the Empire State Building unless they’re entertaining visitors. San Francisco residents would never be caught taking a tour to Alcatraz. People who live in popular destinations rarely do what tourists do there. But you can bet they know a hip little spot for lunch, or a hidden canal-side walk that hasn’t featured in a guidebook yet.

When you travel, or live, overseas, it’s the undiscovered little spots, sights, and scenes that are the most rewarding.

Over time, my traveling habits have changed from primarily local to mostly overseas. What has remained the same, regardless of where I am, is a desire to know a place well enough that I feel like a local. In over a decade of twice-yearly visits to Paris, France, I’ve avoided long-term visa headaches by limiting each stay to under 90 days. Once I’m there, though, I nest in the city long enough to feel that I’m returning to a second home.

If you’re a retiree, a digital nomad, or someone with a week, month, or more to spend in one location, getting deep into the everyday life of the place you visit can be a great way to test the waters.

It’s the foundation stone of a permanent move overseas, too. Even if you don’t end up moving there forever, a deep dive into a location’s long-term living potential can still work as a practice run, or as a way to gain deeper insight into the lifestyle in a favorite destination.

From knowing the best spots to catch a sunset, to mastering the language—going where the locals go and doing what they do uncovers a whole new side of a city. Paris, especially, is a joy when you know it well. Let’s get started.

Lounge in Your Parisian Apartment

Renting an apartment is a great way to enhance the feeling of being at home, away from home. In Paris, it can also give you a whole new understanding of “comfortable living space.” Apartments here are cute, but small. Although recent rental laws have reduced the number of Paris apartments available for visitors who are not working or studying in the city, planning far enough ahead can increase the odds of lodging in your neighborhood of choice.

Sabbatical Homes (see:, VRBO ( and Haven in Paris (see: are just three of many companies that provide a wide range of options and price points.

Frequenting nearby markets and becoming familiar with local vendors may earn you the special attention bestowed on full-timers. Many merchants do not speak English, but a few words of French are all you will need for a proper greeting and completing a purchase. And, whether the shopkeeper is charming or grouchy, with the right outlook on your part, it’s always entertaining.

Never Get (Really) Lost

Within the city limits of Paris, there are 20 numbered neighborhoods (arrondissements). Some of these neighborhoods have names as well as numbers (for example, the 3rd and 4th arrondissements are also known as Le Marais, the 5th arrondissement is called the Latin Quarter, parts of the 6th and 7th are St. Germain, and the 18th arondissement is best known as Montmartre.)

The Seine River separates the north side of Paris (right bank) from the south (left bank). Find a map that shows the arrondissements arranged like a snail’s spiral and you will understand the layout. Zip codes for most addresses in Paris begin with 75 and end with an arrondissement number (e.g., 75002 or 75014.)

Once you have a general idea of where you are staying in relation to the rest of the city, you may realize that Paris is small enough to get lost, and find yourself again, without getting stressed out. Meandering streets will eventually lead you back to some place familiar. Meanwhile, your adventure may have yielded unexpected architectural delights or enticing shopping opportunities that you’d have missed on a more direct route.

Parlez Like a Pro

A number of English-speaking chefs, authors, and professors eagerly pass on their skills in day-long to month-long sessions. Name a topic and there is probably a course being conducted somewhere in the city on any given day. Classes are easy to find online.

A few favorites of mine are:

  • WICE (Where Internationals Connect in English) is an international community based in Paris, offering a wide array of learning opportunities centered on art, culture, and languages. It’s an English-speaking group, but rest assured, they can help arrange classes to polish up your French, too. Some activities are members-only, but many are open to the public.

WICE is a good source for special events and guided walks that are enduringly popular with Paris residents, both international expats and native French. And, if you are seriously considering a move to France, this group has a network of individuals who have already taken the leap and can help show you the ropes. (See:

  • The Paris Writing Workshops organization offers both week- and month-long courses each summer in genres including poetry, fiction, memoir, and travel writing. (See:
  • Eatwith provides opportunities to take a cooking class or share a meal in a Parisian’s home. Often hosted by professional chefs, and other artists who like to cook, classes end with enjoying the fruits of your labor at a sit-down meal.

If you don’t feel confident doing the cooking yourself, you can skip the class option and simply sign up for a fully prepared home-cooked meal with an Eatwith host. (See:

Mix and Mingle

If listening to poetry or prose is one of your passions, there are long-standing English-speaking groups around town that meet regularly and welcome visitors. Au Chat Noir (76 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011) is a neighborhood bar that hosts weekly spoken-word performances where established and fledgling artists give five-minute readings of their latest creations.Fledgling artists give five-minute readings.Most presentations are in English, but even those that are not can be entertaining. It’s like literary karaoke, and the ambience feels like a time warp to the bohemian literary salons of the ’60s and ’70s. You sit on benches in a cave-like basement and cheer on the brave soul holding a mic.

The spectacle stopped for a while during 2020-2021, but it’s now back to hosting live performances of spoken word every Monday. The show starts at 8 p.m., but come early to get on the list if you want to read or perform. (See:

Shakespeare and Company is a lovely spot to soak up atmosphere. ©Sergio Hernan Gonzalez/iStock
Shakespeare and Company is a lovely spot to soak up atmosphere. ©Sergio Hernan Gonzalez/iStock

Cinemas, Libraries, & Bibliothèques

The French government often protects niche businesses that represent treasured crafts and services. Tiny neighborhood movie theaters fall in this category. They may only seat 50 to 100 people, but a number of them show American movies from the 1930s through the 1960s, in English (with French subtitles.)

The 5th arrondissement has quite a few small movie houses including Filmothéque du Quartier Latin (9 Rue Champollion, 75005, see:; Le Champo (51 Rue de Écoles, 75005. See:; and Le Grand Action (5 Rue de Écoles, 75005. See: Classics abound. I saw Casablanca in a tiny theater where it may have been playing since the movie was first shown in Paris. Concession stands are rare. Parisians snacking between meals are even rarer.

Like at home, you may just need some time without technology stimulating your senses. How about a quiet read? Try The American Library in Paris, (10 Rue du Général Camou, 75007. See:, or stop into one of the small bookstores (librairies) stocked with English-language books and periodicals such as Galignani (224 Rue de Rivoli, 75001. See: next door to Angelina (the quintessential spot in Paris for an indulgent hot chocolate.)

Other options for English-language reading matter include The Red Wheelbarrow (9 Rue de Médicis, 75005. See: across from the Jardin du Luxembourg; or the best-known of them all, Shakespeare and Company (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005. See: sitting in the shadow of Notre Dame. (If you contact them well in advance, Shakespeare and Company also offer short-term accommodation among the books.)

After purchasing what suits your pleasure, while away an hour or two reading in one of the city’s beautiful public libraries (bibliothèques), like the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris (24 Rue Pavée, 75004. See:

Or choose the high-ceiling, bookfilled shelves, and dark-paneled walls of the Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville (5 Rue de Lobau, 75004). Its leather-topped tables are lit by green-shaded banker’s lamps, recalling a bygone era. (See:

Although you need a library card to be seated in many of the city’s bibliothèques, a small passport-size photo is all you need to get one on the spot. Then, when you return home, you can flash your library card as proof that you are truly becoming a local in Paris.

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