Very excited to announce the very talented Camillo de Vivanco is joining the BudgetTraveller team as our Paris based expert. Born in London to an Italian mother and a German father, Camillo grew up in New York and Berlin. He returned to London for his studies and now lives in Paris, where he spends his days reading, walking and biking through the city, as well as consuming enormous amounts of coffee and pastries at every available opportunity. Every week, Camillo will be contributing to the site with the latest tips and inspiration for discovering Paris in style on a budget. Here is his debut post for the blog: a 48 hour ‘Open-Air’ guide to Paris. lus if you are planning a trip to Paris , checkout this post for cheap places to stay in Paris.
It’s summer and you’ve been traipsing around museums for days, glad to have seen some priceless artworks but longing for some fresh air and ready to leave the must-sees for another day in favour of some quieter hours spent ambling around the many wonderful outdoor areas the city has to offer.
Campagne à Paris
(Rue Irénée Blanc Metro Porte de Bagnolet; line 3)
Originally built for workers to allow them to experience the charms of a country village without having to leave the city, this is a curious little enclave of distinctly un-Parisian cottages. Delightfully calm and contemplative in nature, the houses are covered in ivy and flowers of all sorts, and the tip-tapping of your shoes on the cobble-stone streets is likely to be the only sound accompanying the birdsong. It doesn’t feel like you’re in Paris, in a good way, as it reminds you that the city is so much more than the Haussman buildings of the west or the film-set streets of Montmartre. This is a great way to start the day.
Au fond du jardin
(39 rue de Pelleport; 8.30am–1am; except Sunday 11am–5pm; closed Mondays)
After a short stroll around the Parisian campagne, you’re ready for a café crème and a croissant. Head over to this trendy spot. With a massive backyard full of repurposed objects (cable spools for tables, plywood benches and other assorted garden furniture, interspersed with plants of all varieties), this is the perfect illustration of the ‘Brooklynization’ of the northeast of Paris. It’s a nice quiet spot where you can sit for a while and plan the day ahead. The staff is hip and friendly and the coffee is far better than the usual fare being served in your standard corner bistro. Once you’ve had your fill, walk down to Place de Gambetta and into the Père-Lachaise.
Admission free; open 8am to 6pm
A true underdog story as far as cemeteries go. When Père-Lachaise first opened in the early nineteenth century it was extremely unpopular as a resting place. Deemed too far away from the city and in an unfashionable neighborhood, few would bother to bury their dead here. Until someone had the age-old idea of glamming the whole place up with a few celebrities! The likes of Molière and La Fontaine were reinterred here and the crowds readily followed the big names; suddenly everyone wanted to be buried next to the celebs and over the past 150 years it has become the best-known cemetery in Paris, if not the world. Famous writers like Proust, Oscar Wilde and Balzac are buried alongside some of history’s most famous musicians, like Chopin, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf (who grew up not too far away from the cemetery), and artists, including Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault.
If one were so inclined, one could spend all day finding the graves of famous men and women, so it’s a good idea to limit yourself to a few pre-selected favorites and enjoy the stroll around the cemetery without stressing too much about seeing every important grave there is.
There is a big map of the cemetery at each entrance and there are also free maps available in the central office of the cemetery. If you want to spring for a glossy colorful map, there are several kiosks and corner stores scattered around the entrances of the cemetery that provide these for 2-3€.
Parc de Belleville
Once you’ve spent enough time amongst the dead, head to Place de Gambetta (exit at the top of the hill in the cemetery), where you can hop on the 26 bus and ride it up the tree-lined rue des Pyrénées until you get to Metro Pyrénées, where you can get off and head to the top of the Parc de Belleville, in the immediate vicinity.
The Park itself is nice, if unremarkable, but it’s the view that does it here. There may in fact not be a better view on a sunny day in Paris, with the entire city sprawling in front of you and nothing around to block even an inch of it. On the square you can grab a coffee at ‘Le O’Paris’ and continue enjoying the wonderful view. If you’re ready for lunch, ‘Le O’ has an excellent menu of mostly standard French fare that ranges from 9.50€ to 13.50€ for mains.
Belleville itself, like the neighboring Ménilmontant that runs from the Père-Lachaise all the way to Belleville, is a former working class neighborhood that benefits from an influx of cultures. At the bottom of the hill is one of Paris’s two Chinatowns (the other being on the Left Bank in the 13th), which serves delicious and very affordable dishes from several Southeast Asian cuisines, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Cambodian. If you’ve forgone lunch at ‘Le O’ and are looking for a cheaper alternative that will satisfy your empty stomach, head to one of the many Vietnamese sandwich shops in the streets by the Belleville Metro station for a Banh Mi – a baguette stuffed with marinated beef, chicken or tofu and vegetables that will only set you back 3€ or 4€, depending on the spot and your choice of filling. Chez Yu (40 rue de Belleville) is the option closest to the park and will save you most of the walk all the way down (and, more importantly, back up!) the steep rue de Belleville.
Once you’ve satisfied your hunger, you can head down the Avenue Simon Bolivar to the tear-shaped Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Designed to provide a green space for the newly incorporated 19th and 20th arrondissements in the second half of the nineteenth century, this is one of the most curious inner-city parks you’re likely to come across, and certainly unique for Paris. Unlike the far more famous Jardin du Luxembourg to the South of the Seine or the Tuileries in front of the Louvre, the Buttes-Chaumont eschews the neat flowerbeds and gravel paths for an intentionally designed wildness. A grotto, a waterfall, a series of bridges crossing deep ravines (one of which was designed by Gustave Eiffel) and a fake Roman temple at the top of the hill (with another splendid view of the entire city) make this one of the coolest parks in the city. The steep lawns are perfect for lying on and maintaining a nice view without even raising your head and there are plenty of well-positioned benches where one can take in the view. There are also three cafes in the park itself, all of which have plenty of outdoor seating, but it’s the park’s various faux-wilderness features that are the most enjoyable thing to explore.
Once you’ve had enough of the peaceful park, head out the western exit onto avenue Secrétan, a street you can follow all the way to the Canal Saint-Martin. Once you hit the canal, take a right and check out the Bassin de la Villette, a wide basin that is surrounded by trees and gravel paths, where the old and young can be seen playing pétanque all day and night. If you’re up to it, ask to join them for a game, though be aware that the unassuming old men can be quite competitive, so you’re better off joining a group of young revelers who will enjoy the company and are less likely to care about the game itself. If you want to start a game of your own, the BarOurcq on the eastern side of the Basin (68 Quai de Loire) lets you borrow a set of pétanque balls free of charge if you buy a drink and will serve you your drink in a plastic cup so you can take it with you to the quayside. BarOurcq often also has some good DJs playing a few sets in the evening, so there’s never a lack of atmosphere in front of it.
Once you’re done with your game, return the balls and head south along the canal until you get to a bend in the canal. This is where the hipsters come to pass their summer days. This tree-lined part of the canal is the northeast’s answer to the Seine (it does in fact also flow into the river), but its charms are entirely different. The lack of landmarks in the immediate vicinity makes it a mercifully peaceful, mostly tourist-free hang-out. The arched bridges offer a romance of their own and the cobble-stoned quays may not be the most comfortable to sit on, but the groups of young people sharing a bottle of wine while chatting the day away assure you that you’re doing things the Parisian way.
There are any number of restaurants all along the canal and in the many side-streets, but if you’re looking to really enjoy the warm summer evening, the best thing to do is to join the others by heading to one of the multiple supermarkets close by (if you haven’t already, there’s a U Express right on the canal at 64 Quai de Jemmapes) and grabbing a bottle of wine (screw-top is easier for obvious reasons, but a friendly smile and an entreating glance towards one of the waiters at the cafés or an enterprising group of youngsters will quickly uncork even the trickiest of bottles), some cheese and a baguette from the bakery and you’ve got your perfect dinner for under 10€!
You can basically spend all evening here, chatting with friends or even neighboring groups of people, who seemingly have all the time in the world, but if your backside starts hurting a bit, you can just hop over to one of the myriad of bars that surround the canal for a cold beer, a nice glass of wine or a refreshing cocktail.
A particularly popular spot of late is the Comptoir Général (80 Quai de Jemmapes, open until 2am) – a Bar/’Ghetto Museum’/Trinket Store that draws its inspiration from the many African independence wars and revolutions of the twentieth century and is a truly quirky hang-out spot with great punch and plenty of seats. On weekends you’ll notice a long line of people waiting to get in, as the bar becomes more of a club. Be willing to wait a while, if that’s what you’re after, but if you’re there on a weeknight, it’s easy enough to walk down the long dimly lit alley that goes into the warehouse-like edifice that undoubtedly gave the place its name. It’s not the cheapest, (e.g., pint: 6.50€) but it’s a truly unique atmosphere and the cocktails are always fresh-tasting and unusual.
Jardin des Plantes
(Metro Jussieu, lines 7 and 10)
If you feel like having a quick breakfast while sitting on one of the many benches in the park, grab a croissant or a pain au chocolat at the nearby bakery, Maison Quatre Homme (6 rue Linné) before heading into the park. Combining the outdoors with education, Paris’s botanical gardens-slash-park is the perfect place for a quiet morning stroll. Almost every tree is labeled, though unless you have a particular interest in botany the Latin names will mean little to you. A bustling beehive is accompanied by a detailed explanation of the social life of bees, while the greenhouses that are scattered around the pristine alleys of trees contain any number of floras from all across the world. There is also a small zoo (adults 13€/concessions 9€), should that be of interest to you, though the more serious zoo-visitors amongst you may find it a bit disappointing in terms of its size and scope.
Once you’ve seen enough of the park, head across the Pont d’Austerlitz, right by the northeast entrance to the park, and walk straight up the boulevard de la Bastille until you get to rue de Lyon, where you will see the first of a series of entrances to the Promenade Plantée (also called the Coulée verte).
Well before New York got its highline, Parisians were already promenading down disused railroad tracks repurposed as a splendid walkway above the hustle and bustle of the city.
Connecting the always-busy Bastille area to the vast peacefulness that is the Bois de Vincennes, this 5km stretch of green walkway makes for an enormously pleasant experience by offering a new vantage point on the city below. The first stretch away from Bastille provides the sometimes odd experience of looking into Parisian apartments while trying to avoid eye-contact with their inhabitants as they prepare their lunches, play with their kids or simply sit at their computers. There is a dream-like quality to these passing tableaux of domestic life that can be amusing in its own right, though you should be careful not to stare into any given window for too long lest the irritated occupant is forced to pull the curtains shut to avoid the intrusion. If you’re feeling uncomfortable looking into people’s homes, the street below offers plenty of activity for observation as well, as do the variety of people who are also taking advantage of the promenade. Some, like you, are casual strollers, while others clearly use this as a convenient and far more pleasant route for their daily commute, as they whizz by on their bikes or stride determinedly into the city.
For a very tasty and affordable lunch, get off the promenade for a stop at L’Ebauchoir (43 rue Citeaux), where the 13.50€ lunch menu (only on weekdays) is great value for money (the steak is exquisite) and the staff is super-friendly. Once you’ve eaten, head back up to the promenade and continue your journey east.
Bois de Vincennes
Once you’ve made it all the way to the end of the Promenade Plantée you’ve exited Paris and are now in Vincennes, a pleasant and affluent suburb that acts as a gateway to the magnificent woods that carry its name. If you feel like cheating, you can take one of the many stairs that lead down form the promenade and hop onto Line 1 which basically runs all alongside it a few blocks to the north, and take the metro to the last stop ‘Chateau de Vincennes’.
The Château looms large over the park entrance, and is where Marquis de Sade wrote most of his scandalous novels while incarcerated there. It’s worth a visit in its own right, but it takes a bit of time and it may eat into your daylight hours in which you could be enjoying the sun or reading a book under a tree, so consider saving it for a rainy day and walking over to the Franprix supermarket just off of the main street (12 rue Robert Giraudineau) to stock up on provisions for a picnic.
Truly a ‘bois’ (woods) rather than simply a ‘parc’, it’s easy to get lost here and consequently it’s definitely worth closely looking at the map that can be found at every entrance, unless getting lost is your intention, in which case you’ve come to the right place. Head over to the Lac des Minimes, the lake that graces the eastern end of the park, which has nice lawns to lie on, a café with cold beverages and snacks, and a boat rental spot (10–12€ an hour, depending on how many people there are). Renting a boat will take you back a century to the days when the Impressionists found inspiration in observing the pleasure-seekers of the day as they sat in their boats with their parasols. It’s not quite the same anymore, but it’s still fun and it will allow you to explore the little waterways created by the three islands that are perched in the lake, while occasionally resting your arms by simply letting the boat drift across the water.
Subsequently, you should find a nice spot on the lawn and enjoy a fine evening picnic, though it’s worth making sure you leave enough sunlight to find your way back – if getting lost during the day is easy, nighttime poses an entirely new challenge!
If you’re not too tired and still feeling peckish after your picnic hop on the Line 1 again and take it back into town, getting off at Saint-Paul. From here it’s a short walk to the Île Saint-Louis, home to some of Paris’s most expensive real estate, and the perfect place to wrap up the day.
The ice cream maker Berthillon makes some of the best ice cream you’re ever likely to eat, which is sold all over the island. There is a huge array of flavors for every palette, from the standards (hazelnut, strawberry, chocolate) to the somewhat zanier (caramel salted butter, peach with mint-leaves, lemon-thyme) and prices range from 3€ to 4€ scoop, depending on the location. It’s also worth springing the extra 50 cents for the ‘cornet pâtissier’ as opposed to the standard cone, as it’s far tastier and doesn’t have the consistency of cardboard.
With your ice cream in hand, enjoy a stroll around the island, which admittedly can be rather crowded on the main streets, but still has a pleasant quietness in the side-streets and along the river, where there are some great views of the city and the neighboring Île de la Cité with the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral.
All the images are courtesy of Camillo de Vivanco with the exception of the following images: ‘Campagne à Paris’ which was taken by couscouschocolat from Issy-Les-Moulineaux, ‘Parc de Belleville’ by Hadonos and ‘Promenade Plantee’ by Twice 25 : all these images were sourced via Wikipedia Commons using the Creative Commons License.