The Hidden Paris… How to Find the Secret Parts of Your City

Below: the hidden city (unique coffee shops, unknown art galleries and quaint pallazos) 

Bottom: the “unhidden” city (main tourist spots, chain stores and starbucks)

As stated in my first article about a Parisian state of mind, the Parisian knows the hidden and more secret parts of her city. She knows the best coffee shops, unique walking spots and bargain shopping areas. She isn’t afraid to go off the beaten track to find these places. 
The last time I went to Paris, I only had 3 days to spend there as part of a European tour. I did the tourist things with my sister, and didn’t have a lot of chance to explore. I don’t know the hidden Paris, because I don’t live there. I don’t spend enough time in Paris to know it like the back of my hand. I also live about as far away from Paris as possible (Auckland, New Zealand) so it isn’t easy for me to visit and see things. That doesn’t stop me, however, from still having a Parisian state of mind in regards to my own city. I can tell you all about Auckland, and the different parts of it. The cafes, restaurants, art galleries and shops that might not be so obvious to the average passer by. 

Using my own knowledge of my city, and what I know about Parisian women, I’m going to show you, how you can you can “discover” your own city. Wherever you live in the world, there is always a hidden city, and it is up to you, to enjoy it. 

Move away from the main streets and shopping centres 

First of all, move away from the main streets and shopping centres. In Auckland (like every major city), the centre is a Mecca for tourism, chain store shopping and designer boutiques. Queen Street (the main drag), holds Dior, Chanel, Tiffany, Topshop, Cotton On, Glassons, and Peter Alexander along with, Starbucks, McDonald’s and hundreds of naff tourist shops selling “New Zealand gifts”. From here you can also access the Auckland Art Gallery (currently hosting an exhibition from the Tate), the Sky Tower, the Casino and the Civic Theatre (currently showing Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat). 

In a way, I like Queen Street, and it is certainly popular with tourists and locals alike. However, like the Parisians, I find places like Queen Street to be a bit… Common. Not in a horrible way, just that is doesn’t offer any uniqueness. During the school holidays Queen Street is flooded with 15 year old girls shopping and drinking Starbucks, on an ordinary weekday you can find hundreds of men in suits walking to the offices, on a Saturday night it’s full of drunken people lining up for McDonald’s and during summer it is chocka block full of tourists, often from the cruise ships that dock in the harbour. Queen Street has something for everyone sure… But nothing unique. The Parisian knows this too, she doesn’t shop on the Champs Elyse, although famous, it is essentially Queen Street! She moves away from the main drag to the quieter spots – more likely to turn up a real find. 

Explore alone

The Parisian woman is no stranger to being alone, and she doesn’t find going to a cafe or restaurant alone to be a totally mortifying experience. It can seem scary, women tend to travel in packs. But you don’t have to be afraid. Make like the Parisian and take yourself off one day, without the girls. Although it can be fun to shop with the girls, it is unlikely they will want to go off exploring the way you do. Plus you’ll probably end up in Starbucks (my best friend and I always seem to start the day in Starbucks, go to Sal’s, have a mooch around Smith and Caughey’s department store, and end the day in Mac – it never changes!). To find the best parts of the city, it’s best to do it alone. Pack up a bag with a camera, drink bottle and money, walk or get on public transportation, and explore. I have found so many lovely little places just by walking around. One time I found a cafe that makes Vienna’s for only $3.50 (on Queen Street, just a 10 min walk away, they are $5), another time I found a beautiful unique bookshop, it organised things via category and did not have a best sellers section… I must have spent 3 hours in there one time, getting lost in the art books, my favourite find was a shop in an arcade behind a cafe, it was called “Smoove AF: Reworked Vintage” and sold dresses dating back to the 1940s for under $50! At the time, Topshop were selling copies for $80+ and they weren’t even real! This shop became my Haven. I would never have found these places if I went out with my friend or my sister. The day would have been Starbucks, Mac and Dior! Explore alone and leave the friends for the silly, generic days. 

Restaurant Districts are a Premium… Find restaurants and cafes off the beaten track 

In Auckland the most expensive and popular restaurants are on the Viaduct Harbour. With it’s stunning views of the Harbour Bridge, yachts in the marina, celebrity chefs and many 5 star restaurants you can understand why it’s so popular… And pricey!! A pizza and a glass of wine on the Viaduct will set you back $50 a head! Paris is no different. One of the foodie capitals of the world, Michelin star restaurants, and wine that has “price on application” you can easily find yourself spend hundreds of euros on one meal… Why would a Parisian want to spend that much money on a meal? Especially when she knows there are perfectly good and reasonably priced restaurants all over her city? You need to look at it the same way. Don’t stick to the famous, expensive restaurants because you expect a culinary delight there and there alone. Try other places. My friend found a tiny authentic Italian restaurant out the back of the main city, near the University once when he was taking photos for an assignment. We all went there and it was PERFECT! We had authentic pizza, and Italian fizzy drinks for $24 a head! They were honestly the most delicious pizzas we’ve ever had. Another time, I was taking a short cut to my bus stop through an Asian arcade and saw a Japanese and sushi restaurant that was packed with Asian people (hint: if an ethnic restaurant is full of people of said ethnicity, then it is likely to be VERY good and not westernised crap). I tried it with a friend the following week and it was delicious. Plus it only cost us $30 each for an entree, main and dessert with free green tea! Look for the smaller, cheaper places for good meals out. Sure you can always treat yourself every now and then and go 5 star, but honestly the best restaurants are the lesser known ones. You’ll be glad to have your favourite places to take people in the city. That is VERY Parisian. 

Forget the chain stores

Chain stores are great for the basics, and for quickly updating your wardrobe in a particular season. But honestly the best shops are always the more unique ones. Queen Street will always be the place to find your basic stuff and your chain store clothes. Designers have their stores there too, if I want Tiffany, Dior, Chanel etc. I can find it on Queen Street. More “hipster” shopping districts include Ponsonby Road (designer and indie shops with equally expensive price tags), and Newmarket (think Nottinghill in London, once would have been cheap and hip, but now is expensive and mainstream like the rest of it!). The Parisian knows which areas fit these bills, and where to find the real gems. So do I, and so should you! For me, the real fun shopping is on K Road (Karangahape Road, red light district and gay capital of the country). There are hundreds of vintage shops and thrift stores on this road, and I have found many great finds here. I once found a classic lace little black dress for $20 in a vintage store, my sister found a distressed 1980s, Calvin denim jacket for $40 and we both bought khaki jumpsuits from the Army and Outdoors Recall store for $15 each! All in one day! There is also a vegan store that sells hemp jumpers, and a brilliant lady who travels to India and Morocco bringing back scarfs and bangles… The finds!! There are many, many more places throughout Auckland perfect for shopping and discovery, K Road is just one of them. Like the Parisian I’m sure you can find your unique streets and shops. 

Out of the ordinary activities

The Parisian is lucky. There are more museums, galleries and parks per square mile than any other city in the world. She is spoilt for choice for things to do on weekends. That being said, she doesn’t always head for the Louvre, she goes to lesser known placed with fewer crowds. We are not all so lucky or have such gems readily available in our own cities. In Auckland, I could go to the Auckland Art Gallery, or Auckland War Memorial Museum, I could see a show at the Civic, or take a walk in the Domain and winter gardens… But that is so touristy, so busy, and if you grew up in Auckland, you probably went 50 million times on school trips! There are some real gems in Auckland and in your city, you’ve just gotta find them. Instead of the museum, visit a historical house (Auckland find: Ewelme Cottage, Parnell, 1863 Missionary cottage still the same after over 150 years! Open on Sunday for $8.50). Instead of Botanical Gardens, try a nature walk (Auckland find: Fernglen Gardens, Birkenhead, 100% free native bushwalk 10 minute walk from my house!). Find smaller galleries, as opposed to the big popular ones, it is very Parisian to go to a unique art gallery, (Auckland Find: Gus Fisher Gallery, Shortland Street – unique travelling exhibitions in the old Auckland Radio Station – one of the most beautiful buildings in Auckland, plus free for all university students). Instead of going to see a show at the main theatre every month, try a local drama society, or a comedy club (Auckland Find: The Pumphouse Theatre Summer Shakespeare, Shakespeare plays put on in an old pumping station next to a lake, for only $15 a show in summer). All these things are unique and will make you feel more in tuned with your city, plus it’s very chic to do unique things. Not only that, you’re supporting the little man, not the huge businesses. 

To conclude, being Parisian is a mindset, and you can create that regardless of where in the world you live. I have shown you how I do it with my hometown, so you do it with yours. Go out, set aside some time and explore! Enjoy your city and feel proud of the quirky little parts of it. Be Parisian, even if you live in Auckland, Buenos Aires, Atlanta, or Phuket! Tres chic! 

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