The 10 best things about Paris that the movies never show

If you were to believe the cinematic depictions of Paris, everyone in the city lives in a huge apartment near the Eiffel Tower, the entire city is made up of Haussmann buildings and clean streets and every single person is smoulderingly sexy.

The 10 best things about Paris that the movies never show
Photo: AFP
In fact there’s even a name – Paris syndrome – for the disconnect that many tourists experience when they arrive and realise that Paris is a modern capital city with all the problems of all big cities (and a few others just of its own – we’re looking at you, men who think peeing in the street is OK).
But there’s also many great things about Paris that for some reason rarely make it onto the big screen. 
With the start of the new Netflix series Emily in Paris (which packs in quite a few movie-land clichés about the City of Lights) here are a few of our favourite things about the city.

1. It’s really diverse
As a modern international capital, Paris has a real mix of nationalities living here and is much more ethnically diverse than the rest of France. As a newcomer this is particularly good news because you’ll find it much easier to find a wide circle of friends from around the globe, most of whom will have an interesting story to tell.
Paris also reflects the ethnic and geographic mix of French culture, from getting a delicious Senegalese meal in the Marais to popping up to the Goutte d’Or to sample the amazing tailoring and African wax print fabrics.
2. It has great markets
Food markets are a staple of French life, but the popular conception of them is for the countryside. In fact Paris has dozens of markets, from the small arrondissement markets to the large sites at Belleville and Barbès. They’re cheap and they have a great range of seasonal produce.
But it’s not just food – flea markets (marchés aux puces) and vintage markets (brocantes) are a big thing in Paris with some real bargains if you aren’t afraid to have a bit of a rummage and your quartier is also likely to have special markets every couple of months including organic products, local crafters or seasonal events.
3. Planches
These are popular all over France, but for some reason they never feature highly on the list of the country’s foodie treats – maybe there’s just too much to get through?
While the movies will have you believe that eating in Paris is all fine dining in expensive restaurants, one of the city’s greatest pleasures is meeting up with some mates in a café or one of the increasing numbers of craft ales bars to drink and share a planche – a selection of charcuterie, cheeses and bread. Simple and yet perfect.
4. Picnics
Which brings us to picnics. More of a fine weather activity of course, but in the summer evenings groups of people gather in open spaces around the city to share a picnic and a few drinks in a cheap but perfect night out. Head to the quais of the Seine, the banks of the Canal-Saint-Martin or one of the city’s many parks.
If you like your picnics posh, there’s even the extremely fancy Diner en Blanc.
5. Weird shops, museums and clubs
Paris has a little museum called the Louvre which we’ve heard has some good stuff in it, but did you know there is also a museum of vampires and another entirely full of stuffed animals?
Alongside its more famous cultural offerings Paris has a rich selection of the bizarre, from crazy museums to quirky shops and a very wide-ranging art scene. Want Bulgarian jazz or franglais Shakespeare with added jokes about the French Interior Minister’s sex life? Paris has that covered for you.
6. Outdoor gyms
You might get the impression from films (and certain dishevelled French singers) that all Parisans live on red wine and Gauloises, but actually they are a pretty healthy lot and the city is increasingly well set-up for free exercise.
More and more bike lanes and pedestrianised areas make cycling and jogging a viable option and you will also find free outdoor gyms scattered around the city. If you prefer to exercise in groups there are running groups for all levels and the City of Paris runs free PE sessions on the banks of the Seine on Sundays.
7. It has a beach (sort of)
A cursory glance at a map will show you Paris is quite a long way from the sea, but every summer the seaside comes to Paris with the two Paris plages – one on the banks of the Seine and one in the 19th arrondissement next to the Canal Ourq. They’re open to all but they were conceived so that the millions of low-income Parisians who cannot afford the traditional August trip to the seaside at least get some of the beach experience.
8. The Metro
OK, the city’s public transport system is not exactly loved by everyone who lives here. But it is a crucial part of daily life for millions and it rarely seems to feature in movies (maybe because it’s not exactly the most romantic spot in town).
It may be frequently crowded, sometimes smelly and a haven for pickpockets, but as public transport systems go it’s pretty cheap and enables you to be anywhere in the city within an hour.
9. Walking
But if you’re really not a fan, most places in Paris are reachable on foot as it is a very compact city – just 12km across. This is why, contrary to what you see on the big screen, very few women teeter around Paris in designer stilettos.
10. Lingering
Paris is a busy capital with lots of people and a lot going on, but you can also go into a café, order an espresso and sit for hours, without the staff glaring angrily at you or impatiently breathing down your neck for you to order more.
In fact, the café culture is at the core of Paris’ identity, and it’s an unspoken rule that sitting down to peacefully read your paper or book while sipping your  €1.50 coffee and idly watching the world go by is a right along with breathing.

Member comments

  1. €1 coffee?? Where?? In Paris?? Oh don’t make me laugh!!
    You’ll never find a coffee for €1 in a bar – it’s much more expensive than that.

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.