The three-day strikes might be a thing of the past, but some things endure in the French capital: The techno DJs are still pricks, the waiters are still rude, and the big nightclubs still suck. The best of Paris is hidden from view, whether it's drag-queen voguing parties or raves in the suburbs. So read our guide and figure out the most efficient way of having fun in this place.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS, AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT PARIS
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
WHERE TO PARTY
If the way a city drinks really reveals the way a city thinks, then Paris is full of people who hate fun and themselves. Sadly, the capital has been overwhelmed with shit clubs with heavy-handed door policies where people only really go to show off their shoes. If you really want to go clubbing, forget going anywhere except the Rex (1 Boulevard Poissonière, 2nd Arrondissement), La Java (105 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 10th Arrondissement), or La Machine du Moulin Rouge (90 Boulevard de Clichy, 18th Arrondissement). Those three spots are where people actually go to dance.
In downtown Paris, the most famous clubs are the Social Club, New Casino, Wanderlust, and Chez Moune. They have the usual mix of mean-looking bouncers, expensive drinks, and douchebags, but they do occasionally book decent DJs, so it's worth checking their schedules.
Near the Canal St. Martin, Le Comptoir Général (80 Quai de Jemmapes, 10th Arrondissement) puts on exhibitions and screenings. On weekends the restaurant becomes a huge dance floor, making it absolutely the best place in Paris to drink punch while surrounded by portraits of African dictators.
It's also worth looking into parties like Concrete, which is organized on a boat at Quai de la Rapée. They put on established French artists, but their biggest advantage is that they tend to happen when most Parisians are asleep, like 7 AM on a Sunday or whenever Parisians are supposed to be at work. Gazza is another good night, serving the city with the likes of Karen Gwyer, Huerco S, Patten, and other stuff that treads the line between sound art and dance music, a non-genre most accurately described as repetitive noise and confusion.
If you really want to rave until the early hours, it might be worth getting out of the city center. In the suburbs, many parties are organized by the 75021 collective at the 6B in Saint-Denis (6-10 Quai de Seine, Saint-Denis). This huge place is home to 161 residents and is one of the only places we know where you can dance without accidentally frotting a stranger with every writhe. There are loads of different rooms, with a few dance floors and other places to just crash out on the sofa.
And yes, we realize we just listed the ability to fall asleep on a sofa as a selling point for a rave, but this is Paris and you're a foreigner, so being disheveled is just about the only way you're going to charm us.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
Drugs in Paris have a pretty unexceptional reputation and tend to be cut with all sorts of crap, but that doesn't stop people from stuffing them into themselves at any available opportunity. The most popular drugs are weed, "shit" (which is the affectionate local term for cannabis resin), cocaine, crack, and MDMA. But yeah, they're not all renouned for quality. Paris is a long way from the nearest port, so cocaine in particular will have been stepped on plenty of times before it even arrives.
Both weed and "shit" are pretty expensive, usually €12–25 ($16–27) per gram, but they're the most common. You'll hear loads of street dealers offering "beuh, coke, or shit" around Pigalle, Blanche, or Barbès-Rochechouart—and it's worth avoiding these pricks.
The Emile Cordon street in Saint-Ouen is an open market known by many Parisians—and cops. And the purchase of cannabis is punishable by a fine anywhere between €50 and €1,700 ($68, $2,326). However, though the laws are strict, the police don't always enforce them. Often, they simply confiscate the gear and shout at the scared kid.
Crack has reached the outskirts of Stalingrad, Barbès, Chateau Rouge, and Porte de la Chapelle and is ruining all of them. The train station area of Saint-Denis became the capital of crack in the Île-de-France, which also means it's a black hole of misery and bastards and worth avoiding.
The party drugs—ecstasy (about €10 [$14] a pill), coke or MDMA (€50-80 [$70-110] per gram)—people usually pick up from the big clubs. Any traveler should be aware that the police are a lot less lenient with these, so getting busted could really screw you up and make your mom sad.
POLITICS, PROTESTS, AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
These days, Paris is subject to strict squatting legislation, and the few illegally occupied places are already listed (or being watched) by the municipality. La Miroiterie (88 Rue de Ménilmontant, 20th Arrondissement) was one of the best Parisian squats where people tried their best to organize cool gigs between all the stormtrooper raids and eviction notices. Unfortunately, one of their walls crumbled last April, hurting two people in the process—it's now definitely closed.
If you're dying to go to a protest in Paris so you can chain-smoke tar and pretend you're in The Dreamers, in Bastille on the first Saturday of each month there's a "Vélorution" in which cyclists come together to stop traffic. It's hardly May '68, but at least you'll get to piss off the same taxi drivers who've been ripping you off since you set foot in town.
If you like causing trouble, head to the Femen headquarters in Clichy (4 Rue du Port), where their members spend all day doing push-ups and kicking punching bags so that they're in shape when they confront the police. If you ask nicely, Femen's leader, Inna Shevchenko, will probably fill you in on the finer points of how "topless feminism" will one day guillotine the patriarchy's balls off.
At the other end of the political spectrum, ever since homosexual marriage was legalized, right-wingers have been protesting against the government with their Manif pour Tous (Demonstration for Everyone) movement. Take a look at their Twitter stream if you're in the mood for some outraged hopelessness.
We know the stereotype is that everyone in France goes on strike every three days, but the truth is we've never been so apathetic. Recently, most big protests have been organized by people who believe the Bible is literal, so we're a long way from Montaigne and Voltaire. These days, people loathe the unions as much as the politicians, so it's become rare to see anyone taking their fight to the streets.
Most Parisians like to say they're so multicultural they don't notice immigration, although this is largely because people treat immigrants just as they treat their fellow Parisians: by ignoring their existence. There are big immigrant communities on the outskirts of the city, and the angry young men of the banlieues sporadically clash with the police in riots that can last for days.
Photo by Arthur Liminana
Recently, of course, the comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala—the guy who invented Nicolas Anelka's beloved "quenelle" gesture—has been accused of stoking anti-Semitism in the country, especially among young Muslims. But the sad reality is that there is a lot of anti-Semitism France, and now there is a strange, quasi-alliance between the traditional French far right and young Arabic people who hate Israel.
In early January, this became clear when a bunch of people gathered together in Paris's Bastille Square to celebrate their rage with a "Day of Anger." Apparently about 20,000 of them turned up in the rain to complain about various things. Some people were mad at the country's president, François Hollande, for being too much of a liberal, and some were mad about abortion, but the event was remarkable for the number of anti-Semitic chants.
WHERE TO EAT
129 Avenue de Choisy, 13th Arrondissement
Phô 14 is the best canteen in the 13th Arrondissement. The Vietnamese diaspora go there every day, creating a constant hubbub of words we could never understand, speak or write down. The place looks pretty bleak and you'll have to sit on a plastic children's chair, but the food is delicious and cheap. The Vietnamese soup is excellent, especially with a good Saigon beer and crispy spring rolls.
Café de L'Industrie
16 Rue Saint-Sabin, 11th Arrondissement
It's a well-known fact that Paris has more bistros than pigeons, but this one is remarkable thanks to its cheap prices. The Café de L'Industrie offers classic meals (duck, sausage and mash, steak, etc.) with reasonable prices (€8 [$11] for sausage and mash). The decor theme seems to be "colonial", which is obviously weird, but on an aesthetic level the African paintings and vintage portraits are beautiful. You might hear a few jerks say that "there are a lot of better places to eat," but if you're rich enough to pay more than €50 ($69) for one course, you should go to La Coupole (102 Boulevard de Montparnasse, 14th Arrondissement) or Royal Vendôme (26 Rue Danielle Casanova, 2nd Arrondissement) and never, ever come back.
31 Rue Berger, 1st Arrondissement
This steakhouse is located in a former butcher's shop downtown, and you'll still catch sight of lumbering chefs wearing bloody aprons. For €23.90 ($33), you can get beef thighs, lamb legs, and ham bones with homemade mash. Wash it down with two liters of a nice French red wine and enjoy the gout and constipation that come from a truly great meal.
23 Rue des Vinaigriers, 10th Arrondissement
Our favorite vegetarian place used to be a small shop with organic ingredients imported from South America—malpighia glabra, maca, powder chlorella, to name a few—and is now a cheap canteen. For €12 ($17), you can have a full meal with chestnut squash, soy marinade, urucum, and purple corn blinis—none of which were considered foods in this town until about five years ago.
L'as Du Fallafel (or King Falafel)
32–34 Rue des Rosiers/26 Rue des Rosiers, 4th Arrondissement
The two addresses of King Falafel appear in every single tourist guide to Paris, but there's a good reason for that. The food is so good that you might have to wait a while, but the neighborhood is full of top-hatted Jewish dads, cute couples, and hysterical fashionistas that should keep you amused while you wait.
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
This is a cornerstone of French cuisine, and no visitors to Paris should spare themselves these 200 morning calories. A good croissant should be slightly puffed on the outside and tender in the inside. If you want to eat the best in Paris, go to Du Pain et des Idées, at 34 rue Yves Toudic in the 10th Arrondissement.
Not so long ago, these wonderful bowls of Vietnamese vermicelli were only eaten by wankers who bang on about the "healthy and exotic lifestyle" they're leading. These days, pretty much every Parisian eats it. Go to Belleville or the 13th Arrondissement—the semi-mythical Asian neighbourhoods of Paris where even the local McDonald'ses use a Chinese font on their menus.
If eating macarons is part of your picture-postcard idea of what a trip to Paris should include, or if you're a fashion blogger in search of something to Instagram, the place to go is the Ladurée store (75 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 8th Arrondissement). Before you indulge, just know that nobody besides tourists actually eats them in real life. But they are nice.
Butter Ham Sandwiches
Thanks to inflation, it's becoming more and more difficult to find a chewable sandwich for less than €3 ($4). But the butter ham sandwich (also called the "Parisian") is still one of the most popular snacks in the city. It's mostly eaten by philosophy students and bankers, neither of whom respect the French tradition of two-hour lunch breaks. The best Parisian sandwiches can be found at Chez Aline (85 Rue de la Roquette, 11th Arrondissement).
Like most Western cities, Paris has recently become the theater for a frantic race to make the mythical "Proper Burger." They tend to be expensive, but they're always satisfying, so head to the Big Fernand (55 Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, 9th Arrondissement or 32 Rue Saint-Sauveur, 2nd Arrondissement) where the owners are so snobby they won't even use the word burger, preferring the grotesque French equivalent hamburgé. Other good options are Blend (44 Rue d'Argout, 2nd Arrondissement) or the Beef Club (58 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 11th Arrondissement).
WHERE TO DRINK
Travel guides usually describe these areas as "cosmopolitan and colorful," which basically means they're filled with Asian grocery stores and sports bars owned by immigrants who would rather kick a tourist's eyes out than shake his hand. They were ignored for a long time, but now everyone's realized they're the best place for cheap drinks. On the Boulevard de Ménilmontant you'll easily find bars serving pints for €3.50 ($5). If you're an artless pisshead who has beer for dinner, this place will suit you.
La Butte aux Cailles
Once upon a time the Butte aux Cailles was a hill covered in meadows, and even today it retains the feel of a small village, far from the huge boulevards and overcrowded avenues that characterize downtown Paris. There was a time when people couldn't drink in public, but thanks to a few angry voices it's now possible to enjoy a beer in the streets: proof that French people do sometimes protest for a good reason.
In Pigalle you'll find sex tourists, and in Montmartre there will be couples visiting the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, but in between you'll find a load of cheap bars dotted around.
If you find yourself starting to get sick of Paris, head to the least Parisian of all the Parisian neighbourhoods. You'll find one of the few parks where you can hear birds chirping and spot black swans, and there's a deserted surgical building that's been converted into a restaurant/bar where you can get wankered with some retirees.
Le Canal de l'Ourcq
During summer, Parisians like to mass together on the Canal de l'Ourcq. As long as you can find a spot to sit that nobody's pissed on, the area is lovely and dotted with locks and beautiful bridges. If you really want to French it up, order a pastis at the Bar Ourcq (68 Quai de la Loire, 19th Arrondissement) and try your luck at a match of pétanque (boules).
WHERE TO STAY
If you're planning on staying in Paris for more than three days, you'll probably turn to Airbnb rather than looking for a hotel. This is a wise decision, particularly when you consider how overpriced Parisian hotels are.
If it's your first time in Paris and you're looking for an apartment, the best neighborhood to head to is probably Charonne, especially if you're with a partner. It's one of the few areas that's both clean and located in Eastern Paris, which is where you want to be to find bars open after 7 PM and streets frequented by real people. There's loads of cool, cheap places where you can eat, drink, and wander about without fear—just as long as you avoid the super weird spot in front of Saint-Antoine hospital where pigeons come to die and it smells of vomit, bird shit, and burnt tires.
If you're a little bit more experienced in Paris, you could try Lamarck and Jules Joffrin. It's located in north-eastern Paris, a land of dull neighborhoods and semi-clandestine clubs but also respected music venues and amazing restaurants. Basically, it condenses the worst and the best things Paris has to offer into one area. Lamarck and Jules Joffrin are less apocalyptic than Abesses and Pigalle and also far from the horrors of Porte de Clignancourt or Château Rouge.
If you're planning to spend more than two weeks in Paris, renting an apartment outside of the city itself might be a decent choice. A smaller town nearby will still give you the impression of being in Paris, just with far fewer hysterical people and subway stations. So, if you want to do this, then Montreuil is your only option really, because it's the only good one. Bagnolet is too sordid, Les Lilas are full of young active couples with children named after folk singers, Pantin is still struggling to find its own identity, Vincennes is too bourgeois, and Aubervilliers too ghetto.
If you really must stay in a hotel, Mama Shelter (109 Rue de Bagnolet, 20th Arrondissement, from €79 [$108] for a room) is a pretty good choice. Remember to book in advance because they make all of their profits on stragglers. Sure, their interior decoration is trying way too hard, and they serve cocktails named after 90s rap albums, but there's also an amazing pizzeria in their lobby ,and the hotel is right in front of La Flèche d'Or, an old train station turned music venue. Most importantly, you will be close to Ménilmontant, an area where you can go to find a flat as soon as you realize that booking a hotel was a terrible idea.
Although it can depend on which neighborhood you're in, generally Paris is welcoming for LGBT people, and it's very unlikely that you'll get beaten up for holding hands with your partner. Although there were a lot of people in France who were reluctant to legalize same-sex marriage, those people do not represent a majority in Paris.
The most gay-friendly neighborhood is Le Marais, which is in the center of Paris. You might even find the man or the woman of your dreams here, but only if you are wearing the right shoes.
If you want to experience the gay party scene, you have to try the Flash Cocotte. It's a crazy party, the music is great, and everybody will be high and dancing until dawn. If you're a drag queen and you're willing to dance on stage, this is where you'll become a star. Don't turn up too late, or you'll end up waiting in the line for hours. Another option is the aggressively named lesbian and bisexual Wet for Me party, which is at La Machine du Moulin Rouge—one of Paris' better clubs.
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
La Petite Ceinture
This old abandoned railway goes all around the city, with many gardens and deserted stations—it's completely illegal to go there, though, so don't go there, just try to imagine it.
Jardin des Plantes
This cute botanical garden will almost make you forget you're in a city devastated by pollution and food waste. There are a few dinosaur museums in the area, which is always a fun way to spend a day.
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
This place is composed of 14 markets, and each has its own specialty. It's full of clothes, furniture, and antique stuff, and it's worth having a look around even if you're not planning to buy to lug a 200-year-old wardrobe back across the Channel with you on the Eurostar.
Bois de Boulogne
Most parks in Paris look like they were designed by Harrods window dressers, but this forest is amazing. It's about two and a half times bigger than Central Park, and there are lakes and huge lawns. It's worth spending a whole day there.
OK, there are way too many people here during the summer, but you should go just to have a drink in front of the canal while watching swans trying to eat beer cans.
This old 450-square-meter workshop is one of the best places to check out contemporary-art exhibitions. It's at 12 Rue Deguerry in the 11th Arrondissement, and it's filled with old machines and cool furniture.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
Scammers are everywhere in Paris, especially in the big tourist spots. You'll find most of them at La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, Notre-Dame, on the Place Saint-Michel, in Châtelet, and near the Eiffel Tower. This is where criminal groups spend their time robbing tourists by trapping them into playing bonneteau—a game of "chance" played with three cards. The player has to bet on one of the three cards to find the King of Spades, but the scammer will win 95 percent of the time.
In these places, as well as the Pont des Arts and Saint-Germain, you may be assailed by supposedly deaf beggars who will ask you to sign a petition for (nonexistent) research studies on deafness. Once you've signed they'll ask you for a few euros and won't leave you alone till you've given it to them. If the deaf people of Paris heard about it, they'd be outraged at the stain on their reputations.
At Barbès-Rocherchouart you'll find plenty of people willing to sell you phone cards or cigarettes imported from Africa. They're extremely nice, and their prices are pretty cheap, but their products suck. Also, be wary of pickpockets on the metro—especially at Saint-Denis or on Line 13, where the most subtle thieves seem to congregate to pillage the most gullible and confused tourists.
Another well-known con is the "gold ring scam." This can happen anywhere in Paris but tends to follow the same routine. You'll be accosted by guys who'll tell you they found a ring on the floor. It will look gold and have something stupid like "20K carats" stamped on it. They'll ask if it's yours, and when you say no, they'll give it to you anyway. Then they'll ask you for money—because it is gold after all! Except, obviously, it's not.
You'll also be accosted—getting accosted happens a lot in Paris—by people trying to sell you roses. Chances are they've just been chiefed from a nearby market/grave. They're so persistent it's pointless trying to ignore them, so just say "no" firmly. If you're a male and with your girlfriend, for fuck's sake please don't say, "Nah, it's fine—I already banged her," like all the awful French bros do.
HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
It's well known that Parisians are assholes, and we're not going to dispute that. However, the truth is, we actually don't mind tourists that much. We find it adorable when we see people taking selfies near the Eiffel Tower or rubbing Dalida's bronze boobs in Montmartre. It's just nice to see people who are actually happy to be here, to be honest.
The exception to this are the French tourists who visit the capital because "clubbing life is way better in Paris." They pay €10 ($14) for a bottle of rainwater at Colette and then hang out at hip clubs such as Silencio or Le Baron, trying to get selfies with minor celebrities, so they should be easy to avoid.
Don't do that. Also, try not to be American; we still hate them and their "Freedom Fries."
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
People Who Claim to Be "Real Parisians"
This is the number-one lesson that people visiting Paris for the first time should learn: Never, ever befriend people who make a big deal about how they're "real Parisians." These people will make you eat snails, visit the Catacombes, invite you to an art exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, and get you shitfaced on the Pont des Arts, despite the fact that no locals do any of this. Later, they'll confess that they're actually from Lyon, Nantes, or even fucking Strasbourg. People who are really from Paris are so proud of their city that they will never admit it. It's complicated.
If you have the misfortune to stumble upon a badly shaven guy wearing headphones sitting in front of his laptop and wearing a "Cue-Stop" T-shirt, here's our only advice: Run. This guy might be a DJ. If he's not a DJ, he's most likely some DJ's manager. If he's not some DJ's manager, he's probably important in one of the multiple sub-layers that make up the French club scene. Ever since Laurent Garnier and then Daft Punk made the scene cool, Paris has been flooded with douchebags wearing Air Max Ones and tinted sunglasses. They like schoolboy pranks, loud farts, and listing their sexual conquests.
We have no idea why this phenomenon isn't as big outside of France, but Paris is home to a great deal of people in their 30s who dress like hipsters, work in the media or for an ad agency, and spend all their time complaining that French people pay too much tax. They'll tell their kids to "start a business in another country" because, "thanks to taxes, there's no financial future in France." They are awful and everyone scrupulously avoids them, even the techno dudes. For some reason the only thing they love as much as neoliberalism is shitty rap music.
In 1997, Burger King left France because it couldn't compete with McDonald's or Quick (a Belgian fast-food chain). The lack of Whoppers became another thing for Parisians to whine about until last year, when a new Burger King opened in Saint-Lazare. Thousands of people waited up to two hours for their burgers, including journalists eager to write a report on the "buzz." Nobody should ever wait that long to eat an Angus burger in an ugly train station. Fuck French fast-food fans.
This club was designed by David Lynch, which is apparently enough to make people pay €840 ($1,150) a year to be a member. It's not even worth being an occasional visitor.
These Tex-Mex restaurants are pretty much everywhere in the city, and it's basically the French equivalent of Hard Rock Café. Zero character and gross food.
This area on the southern bank of the Seine gets called "bohemian," "countercultural," and "creative," which are all euphemisms for "horrendously overpriced."
Metro Line 13
More than 600,000 people ride this line every day. Unless it's a matter of life and death, don't be one of them. It's the most overcrowded line in Paris, everyone hates it, and it smells like a disco in a radiator.
A "concept store" whose concept is to sell overpriced jumpers, art toys, and ugly shoes. When it got robbed of €600,000 ($819,790) worth of stock last March, the running joke was that the thieves must have got away with three watches and a denim tote bag.
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
When you go to a restaurant, tips are included in the total price. We're the only people who give tips—since our welfare sucks, we don't understand that French waiters don't need to kneel before their clients to survive until the end of the month. Of course, if the waiter or the waitress is really sexy, you can always leave a few euros, but once again, welfare makes the bribe less effective.
No need to give tips at bars. In taxis, just hand €10 if the fare is €9.90—taxis are so expensive anyway that you might reconsider using them. Take the night bus, like every drunk and poor Parisian does.
Hello: Bonjour (when you meet someone who could be your dad or your mom) or Salut (when you meet someone whom you could hang out with/exchange bodily fluids with)
Goodbye: Au revoir (old people) or Salut (young people)
Please: S'il vous plaît
Thank you: Merci
You're welcome: De rien (very basic) or Je t'en prie (when trying to impress someone you want to have sex with)
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
You know what Parisian music is by now; we only really like it if it helps us look cool when we're staring into the mid distance thinking about sadness. Note: This is not a definitive list or anything, it's just what was popped into my head while I was working on this guide at midnight on a Friday.
VICE CITY MAP
We think that's about it. Bet you still go to fucking Silencio.
Topics: The VICE Guide to Paris 2014, The VICE Guide to Europe, paris, travel guide, travel, tourists, france, La Machine du Moulin Rouge, rex, La Java, croissants, Social Club, New Casino, Wanderlust, Chez Moune, le Comptoir Général, concrete, 75021, drugs, Femen, Marine Le Pen, Bastille, Manif pour tous, Gare du Nord, La Chapelle, Café De L’industrie, Phô 14, Louchébem, Voy Alimento, L’as Du Fallafel, bo buns, macarons, Montmartre, Le Canal De L’ourcq, Bar Ourcq, Mama Shelter, Charonne, Flash Cocotte, Le Marais, Wet For Me, La Petite Ceinture, Bois de Boulogne, Les Puces De Saint-Ouen, La Cartonnerie, metrô, Colette, le baron, Burger King, Metro Line 13, Rive Gauche, Silencio, merci