Former Parisienne, Cee Fardoe from Coco and Vera shares her tips for a chic & comfortable stay in Paris.
Paris is a city that has inspired a thousand travel dreams. The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The flower markets and baguettes. The shopping. In the instagram age, the French capital only seems that much prettier – our feeds are filled with images of pink peonies carried over cobbled streets and marble tabletops laid with cafe and croissants.
Paris is a beautiful city – but reality on the ground is a fair bit different than the image projected on social media. If you want to experience a truly stylish stay in the French capital, read on – I’m a former Parisienne myself, and I’m sharing my top tips for staying comfortable and stylish, avoiding cultural hiccups and living in the city like a local (even if only for a short time.)
No matter how glamourous you want to look in Paris, pack flats – you’ll need them.
I know, I know. Paris is the fashion capital of the world and you want to look glamourous. But trust me, flats are a necessity; even Parisians wear them! As North Americans, we often take for granted that an elevator or escalator will always be available, but remember that a lot of Paris was built before either of those things had been invented; you will climb stairs in the metro, at your hotel, in museums… basically all day, everywhere you go. Flats will save your feet, and your shoes, too. Parisian cobblestones are murder on even the highest quality footwear.
Sleeping on the plane is not the same as sleeping in your bed.
Jetlag is very real. You can bring an eye mask and a neck pillow, but no matter how many hours of sleep you get on the plane, when you cross multiple timezones, your internal clock will get confused. The key is to adjust to the local time as quickly as possible, even if it means staying up for hours after you arrive when you are exhausted. Try to sleep only at night (with a little help from over the counter sleeping pills, if you like; they’ll help you stay asleep.)
Good hair days are possible – but require effort.
Parisians are not known for having amazing hair. Come on, admit it, when you think of stylish Parisians, their hair is rarely the first thing that comes to mind. It’s not for lack of trying; when it comes to washing their hair, Parisian girls don’t have it easy. The water in Paris is hard and full of minerals. If you hair is porous, it will hold onto those minerals, making it feel dirtier after you washed it than it did before. Yuck, right? But there’s hope. For your best Parisian hair, skip conditioner. Instead, pick up a bottle of apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and rinse with a mixture of one parts vinegar, four parts water after shampooing – it makes all the difference.
Speaking of hair…
There is no Shopper’s Drug Mart in Paris; no one stop shop for medication, toiletries and cosmetics. Basic soaps and shampoos are available at local grocery stores like Monoprix, while more luxurious brands can be found at Sephora. But the best of French beauty products can be found at the parapharmacie, which is also the only place to buy over the counter medications like aspirin and decongestant. But in France, nothing is over the counter; whatever your medical ailment, even a basic headache, you have to tell the pharmacist and they will choose the best medication for you.
Seriously though, don’t worry too much about replenishing your go-to bronzer while you’re in Paris.
The effortlessness that Parisian style is known for extends to make-up. Parisians wear far less make-up than North Americans, often sticking to a basic regime of powder, mascara, concealer and lipstick. That’s not to say that they don’t spend just as much money at Sephora as we do – but they’re more likely to splash out on moisturiser than eyeshadow. Many Parisians go entirely without make-up, and it’s far more strange to see someone wearing too much make-up than none at all. Adapt your daily look accordingly to look like a local.
The true trick to looking like a local is in ordering food, though.
Portion sizes at North American restaurants can be pretty crazy – I often order my dinner from the appetizer menu so that I can reasonably hope to finish it. But food culture is sacred in France; a misstep in a restaurant can be the difference between a wonderful experience and a horror story. French portion sizes are similar to what you would eat at home. The idea is that you should be able to enjoy an appetizer and dinner, with coffee to follow (and maybe dessert, too.) If all you order is an appetizer, your waiter will think you’re crazy – they may even try to explain to you why this is a terrible idea, because to them, it will seem terrible – and you’ll likely leave hungry.
Not looking like a tourist isn’t as hard as you might think, mind you.
The key is not to sacrifice style for comfort – or for the illusion of safety. Leave your New Balance runners at home. The only sneakers Parisians wear are Chuck Taylors, and even then, they’re mostly a summer shoe, since winters in Paris are rainy. And no matter what your well-meaning aunt or travel agent tells you, you don’t need a money belt. Common sense won’t guarantee that you don’t get pickpocketed, but frankly, nothing will. Pickpockets are a fact of life in Paris, albeit a rare one, and locals are their victims as often as travellers. As for your passport, don’t carry it around unless you need it. It’s that simple.
You will need your passport for one (very important) thing.
Shopping! Especially designer shopping. Many stores in Paris, including department stores and luxury stores like Chanel, offer automatic tax refunds to foreigners. The catch is, you have to have your passport with you to prove your nationality in order to qualify. Since the refund – which you can get in cash on the spot or have refunded to your credit card after your departure – can be up to 12% of the purchase price, it’s seriously worth it. But it does mean planning ahead to be sure you have your passport on you when you make a big purchase.
Cee’s Favourite Places in Paris
Place to spend a sunny afternoon
In the park at Place des Vosges, sipping champagne
(and if I’m feeling cheeky, eating potato chips dipped in walnut Boursin!)
Place for Dessert
La Patisserie des Reves… Everything is to die for but especially the lemon meringue tart.
Place for Macarons
Carette. Granted, they don’t come in a collectible box, but they are served on
adorable china plates on a sunny terrace (and they’re delicious.)
Place to People Watch
Le Jardin des Tuileries. The Louvre is at one end and Place de la Concorde at the other;
the garden is beautiful and the interaction between tourists,
peddlers and locals is utterly fascinating.
Place to Shop
Shopping dreams come true at Le Bon Marche… but sometimes
it’s best to visit without your wallet, so as not to get into too much trouble!
Place for a fancy dinner
Restaurant David Toutain – the food experimental, but immaculate and full of surprises.
Photos by Ian Lloyd
and I Heart Paris Photography