Double page article on my Paris for Bust Magazine's 'Around the World in 80 Girls' feature. Text and photography. 

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

Strolling aimlessly, or what the French call flânerie is the best way to discover Paris—a city divided into 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), each boasting distinct historical sites and streets lined with local Parisian delights like the fleuriste (florist), mercerie (haberdashery shop), papeterie (stationery shop), café, and pharmacie. And while there’s much to enjoy in St Germain, Bastille, and Montmartre, you can search their cobbled streets for days and won’t find Amélie or romantic painters—just crowds of tourists clutching guide books. Instead, I’d recommend the Marais, one of the oldest districts in Paris where you’ll find a jigsaw puzzle of charming streets, lively pavement cafés, the gay club scene, and the ultra modern Pompidou Center. Picking up copy of free ‘zines GOGO Paris (in English) and En Ville will clue you into the many happenings taking place in the city, and a Petit Parisien map is essential for navigation.

Spanning the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, the Marais has managed to retain its 17th century charm while the neighboring North Marais plays host to an influx of new art galleries and independent boutiques that happily co-exist with ancient establishments like Marché des Enfants Rouges (corner of rue Charlot and rue de Bretagne / Open Tues –Sat, 8 am – 1 pm and 4 – 7:30 pm), the oldest and most diverse food market in Paris. After perusing the stalls of flowers and produce, stop for a pichet (jug) of wine and a platter of cheese and charcuterie at L’Estaminet (39, rue de Bretagne). Sit at an outside table facing the market and make the owner laugh by practicing your French on him. On the other side of the market, facing onto rue Charlot, you’ll find idiosyncratic shop à Chacun Son Image (35 – 37 Rue Charlot) where fans of rummaging will turn up anonymous 1970s wedding photos, vintage camera equipment, and other unique trinkets.

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

Nobody has mastered the art of café life like the Parisians. French hipsters flock to Café La Perle (corner of rue de la Perle and rue Vieille du Temple), the North Marais’ main bar/café, but I prefer nearby L’Apparemment (18 rue des Coutures-St-Gervais), a cozy, low-key place to go for an aperitif or coffee, with wood lined walls and rooms compartmentalized like a house. Walk further down rue Vieille du Temple and in the heart of the Marais you’ll find Le Petit Fer à Cheval (30), a tiny watering hole with a horseshoe-shaped zinc bar that takes up almost the entire space. Round the corner in rue du Bourg-Tibourg, Mariage Frères Maison de Thé (30) elevates tea to an art form. There are thousands to choose from (starting at €6 per 100g). White uniformed staff bring down metal tins of exotic teas from the dark wooden shelves for your olfactory approval. They weigh the tea you choose on old-fashioned scales and wrap it in beautiful packaging.

If you’re in need of more sustenance, head down rue des Rosiers, the heart of the Jewish community in Paris. The street is lined with famous delicatessens all vying for the title of “Best Falafel in Paris.” Sacha Finkelsztajn (27) is my pick. At the other end of rue des Rosiers is Le Loir dans la Thiere (3)—a quirky, ramshackle café with mismatched leather chairs and tables. It’s plastered with film and art exhibition posters, including a whole pillar dedicated to (swarthy French heartthrob actor) Romain Duris. It’s an ideal spot for weekend brunch, but sit in the no-smoking section to avoid contracting emphysema. Chez Janou (2, rue Roger Verlomme) has everything you could wish for in a French bistro: tiled floors, leather banquettes, vintage French film posters on the walls, and delicious food. The waiters are also friendly and polite, which in Paris is a rare and precious thing.

All that food should have you revived and ready for some serious Paris shopping. Les Archives de la Presse (51 rue des Archives) houses what seems like every magazine published in every language from 1900 onwards, stacked in huge wobbly piles, yet somehow in perfect order. I swooped upon the rare special issue of French Vogue (Dec ‘04) edited by Sofia Coppola. You can also flick through now defunct 1930’s titles with articles such as “How to Wear Gloves at Sea.” Nearby is bakery Pain de Sucre (14, rue Rambuteau) where they make the most inventively scrumptious bread, cakes, and pastries.

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

Rue des Francs Bourgeois is the main shopping artery of the Marais. Buy fashion-forward shoes at ridiculously cheap prices from Mellow Yellow (43), and chunky artisanal jewelry from Metal Pointu’s (19) that looks much more expensive than it is. Close by in a courtyard is Entrée des Fournisseurs (8), which has a huge selection of buttons, ribbons, and trims. I always leave with a little brown paper bag full of inspiration. At the end of the street you come to the Place des Vosges—undoubtedly the most beautiful square in Paris with its symmetrical 17th century red brick houses built on top of arcades and peaceful, leafy gardens.

For affordable, hip clothing I head to Maje (9, rue des Blancs Manteaux) and Princesse Tam-Tam (20, rue St-Antoine) to stock up on gorgeous printed cotton pajamas and lingerie. Just off rue St-Antoine and leading down to the river is rue St Paul. Au Petit Bonheur La Chance (13) is great for vintage knick-knacks like kitchen storage jars and unused 1950s French school exercise books, and Village St Paul boasts a block-full of antique shops situated around an ancient courtyard. Cross over the Seine to the Île St-Louis for an ice cream at Berthillon. It’s touristy, but worth it. And you can eat your ice cream by the river with a view of Notre Dame Cathedral.

No visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to one of its flea markets, and it’s worth venturing beyond the Marais to the early Saturday morning market at Vanves (Line 13 metro: Porte de Vanves). It’s cheaper, easier to negotiate, and more likely to turn up a curious treasure than the bigger, more famous one at Clignancourt on the other side of the city. After a bit of haggling, you can easily walk from here to Alésia, an off the beaten track neighborhood that just so happens to have amazing Art Nouveau and other early 20th century architecture. Be sure not to miss Cité Bauer and Rue des Thermopyles— both charming cobbled mews with wisteria growing like a canopy across the street. You’ll most likely have the place to yourself, as few are aware of this hidden treasure. It’s these secret spots—where you feel like you’ve stumbled upon the undiscovered—that make “flânerie” in Paris so rewarding.