I came to Paris with the intention of diving head first into the culture through adventure and exploration. As I discovered the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, I quickly realized my streamline dive into a society rich with history was turning into a cannonball into tourist traps. Many of these highly frequented destinations are well worth a visit despite the hoards of travelers, but how do you find the French nooks and crannies jam packed with snapshots of authentic culture? A great approach is in one of the markets scattered throughout the city. If you have limited time there are a few you should be sure to not miss.
Rue Mouffetard market street, located in the 5th arrondissement, is worth going for the sites and smells alone. On the weekends the street is packed with local shoppers and tourists perusing specialty food shops, cafes and a variety of merchandise. You will often come across a slew of street performers, from the solo accordionist to the full musical production right in the street. Be sure to stop by Le Fournil de Mouffetard for excellent pastries and baked goods. I highly recommend the coffee eclairs. If the lines and crowds are overwhelming on the weekend, head to Rue Mouffetard on a weekday for a more relaxed experience.
If you have a Sunday to spare in the city, head to the Flower and Bird Market in the 4th arrondissement. On any other day of the week this space is home to the city’s best flower market. On Sundays, however, the flower shops give way to a market of live caged birds in an endlessly entertaining variety. Even if you are not looking to bring a bird home with you, it’s a unique pocket of the city conveniently located just around the corner from Notre Dame. From there you can hop on the metro and continue your excursion to the Clignancourt Flea Market in the 18th arrondissement. This is the art and antique enthusiast’s nirvana. While finding it can feel a bit like a treasure hunt, the search is well worth the effort. It took me a full day to find on my first visit. The hundreds of stalls have everything from modern art to World War II artifacts. Greet each stall owner with a “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Monsieur” and more times than not you will receive a friendly response and maybe even some historical anecdotes about their goods. It’s like a living breathing museum that you can take home with you if you have the budget and room in your suitcase! Be sure to stop in Chez Louisette, a great restaurant in the heart of the market, for live music and some escargot.
Once you have checked the bigger monuments off your list, head to one of these lesser traveled, culturally enriching pockets of Paris for a truly rewarding and unique experience. The markets are the best place to discover the rich history in food, merchandise, music, and social interaction of this wonderful city.