When you’re a frequent Paris visitor, it’s easy to get sucked into your comfort zone: you stay at the same hotel or apartment; you have your favorite neighborhood and know exactly which pastry shop has the most succulent tarte au citron; you’re on a first-name basis with the chef who runs that great bistro you love so much.
I understand the attraction: you don’t want to be a mere tourist; you want to belong. I’ve been guilty of doing that myself. So, let me tell you about this little game I’ve been playing for a few years. I picked up two of the free maps that you routinely find at the airport or in hotel lobbies (they usually advertise the Galeries Lafayette department store.) I unfolded one of them, cut the city map along the grid, and obtained about 120 squares. I did allow myself to discard those on the outer edge where the only place of interest was the boulevard périphérique… Each one measures about 1.25” x 1.25” and I keep them all in a box. Before each visit, I pick one. Randomly. Then I make sure to devote at least half a day to explore my “assigned” area, trying to walk every little street, paying attention to architectural details, looking for surprising places, and taking photos of what I encounter.
I keep the second map as a reference so I can easily spot where my square fits overall: some of the mostly residential areas can be hard to locate when they don’t include part of the river or a recognizable monument. Once I know where I’ll be walking, I make a copy of a real street map of the area and take it along: I can always see the “boundaries” of my square and don’t need to rely on a phone app. I strongly recommend Paris 3 Plans par Arrondissement (which is a bit hard to find these days) but I’ve also used the Michelin Paris Plan (royal blue #11.)
You can also decide to explore beyond the strict limits of your square: it usually makes sense to cover the length of a street or walk around a whole park. Whether you consult guides, prepare your itinerary, or just go blindly is entirely up to you. Either way, I’m sure you’ll make unexpected discoveries. Give it a try!
Tarte au citron: lemon tart
Boulevard péripherique: the beltway circling around the city