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The Great Gate to the Rest of Paris

August 28, 2014

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The founder of ParisSharing, Carsten Sprotte, debunks three myths about the so-called "outer" arrondissements of Paris, that most tourists never visit:

 

I once had an American couple stop me in the street and ask directions to the Marché Aligre, which is one of Paris' largest, most cosmopolitan, and least expensive street markets. They pulled out their Paris map and asked me to point. I rapidly glanced at the map, confident about where my finger would land without even a second thought. Think again! I was astonished to discover that we were off the map, as was the Marché Aligre! Where were we exactly? On the corner of rue Charonne and rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, a bustling shopping street that heads east from the Place de la Bastille.


What kind of map would not include this district of Paris? A map edited by Frommer's, one of the most widely sold guide books. In fact, not only does the map show nothing east of Bastille, it also shows nothing west of Trocadéro, nothing north of the Parc Monceau, and nothing south of the Jardin de Luxembourg. In practical terms, this means that two of the city's most important train stations (Gare de Lyon and Gare d'Austerlitz) do not even appear. As for Montmartre, the most visited "village" in the world, there is a special inset.

 

Returning to the story of my bewildered visitors, I told them that the market they were looking for was just down the road to the right, and encouraged them to continue their explorations off the map.

 

Editors publish for their audience, and it is true that the majority of first-time visitors to Paris focus on the center of the city. The unfortunate retroactive side-effect of disseminating a truncated map of Paris is to lead a great number of visitors to believe that whatever is off the map is either too far away or of little interest. This is especially the case when searching for accommodations. We've had bucket loads of people telling us they only want to stay in the 1-9 arrondissements. Why only up to nine? Ask Frommer, or any other of the top Google information sources. Imagine a map of New York City showing only 10 blocks around Central Park. You can forget about the Statue of Liberty, Wall St. Chelsea, China Town, West Village, SoHo, etc. Incidentally, there is also a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Paris that you can admire from the famous Pont Mirabeau (except that both of these are off the map!)

 

Parisians, who know the distances and transportation system well, have a very different vision of Paris. Some of the city's most sought-after neighborhoods are not even represented on the Frommer's map, such as Autueil, Passy, Ternes, Batignolles and Villiers on the West side; Oberkampf, Charonne, Gambetta, Buttes Chaumont, Butte aux Cailles, Bercy on the East side. Not to mention all of the upscale neighborhoods that edge the city's outer parks: Bois de Boulogne, Domaine de St. Cloud, Bois de Vincennes, Parc de Montsouris. If you happen to live in Neuilly, St. Cloud, Sèvres, Levallois, Vincennes, St. Mandé, or Saint-Maurice, you may be off the map, but you definitely have the right address!

 

Real estate prices have increased substantially throughout the city, with only a brief dip during the worst of the 2009 crisis. Previously proletariat neighborhoods are being gentrified, particularly on the East side.


The point is this: you can be a Frommer's kind of tourist and stick to the old map, or you can venture off and maybe discover the next big thing. When choosing a vacation accommodation, this is a way to save. An apartment with a lovely view over the Buttes-Chaumont will not be priced the same as one that overlooks the Tuilleries. You will have an easier time finding family accommodations in districts with a lower real estate price per sq. meter. Makes sense, doesn't it? So why are people so reticent? Probably as a result of several myths.

 

Myth #1 : Off the map = not safe
There are a few pockets in the city where I would not personally choose to walk around at night. The majority of these are located north of the Gare du Nord and east of Montmartre. But I would still prefer these to downtown Cleveland. Security is difficult to measure; it has a lot to do with our perception. What is perceptible is that the streets of Paris, wherever you may be, are rarely abandoned. There is also an active police presence. At the train stations and key monuments, you are even treated to security patrols carrying machine guns! Wow, don't you feel safe!

 

Myth #2 : Off the map = too far from tourist attractions
The most visited tourist attractions are not located in the same area of Paris. The Eiffel Tower is on the opposite side of town from the Père Lachaise cemetery and the Parc de la Vilette, and these are all on the opposite side of town from Montmartre or the Mouffetard quartier. So, which will you choose? How about staying right in the center so as to reduce your average transportation time? Guess what, you're not the only one to have thought of that! So, that clever choice will result in paying a premium. How much of a premium? The first premium is the price of the accommodation. Expect at least +25%. The second premium (less well-known), is the price of everything else. You can easily pay three times more for fresh foods in a grocery store in the 8th than you would pay at a street market in a less upscale area of the city. Likewise, a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower will easily cost you +50% what you would pay for the same quality off the beaten path.


So, before you decide to follow the masses, you might consider how much time you will actually lose in transportation were to to stay "off the map". You can then compare the "cost" of this time to the cash consequences of your choice.
Did you realize that wherever you stay in Paris, you can get to just about any tourist attraction within 30 minutes on public transportation? For example, if you were to stay near the Place de la Nation (which is totally off the Frommer's map), you can get to the Louvre in 18 min and the Eiffel Tower in 30 min. Do you really plan on going to the Eiffel Tower more than once? What is more likely is that you will spend the majority of your time in the center of the city, and you can easily get there from many "off the map" locations within 15 minutes on public transportation. For example, you can get from Belleville to the Town Hall in 10 min on the metro (or on a bike, for that matter).

 

Also consider this: thousands of tourists pay to ride a special double-decker bus to visit various sites in Paris. They probably don't count this as "transportation time". You can also hop on a public bus using your transportation pass (the same you use for the metro) and consider your transportation time as sightseeing.

 

Myth #3 : The best of Paris is on the map
In terms of monuments, that's true. In terms of shopping and eating out, that's not necessarily true. You'll find comparatively great value and amazing discoveries off the map, whether you're looking for legendary French food products, fashion, or decorative objects. Your chances of being pleasantly surprised are significantly higher off the map. Sure, you can eat a Big Mac on the Champs-Elysées for approximately 7.50€, but that will NEVER be an experience to write home about. Unless, that is, you are an extremely talented writer. Still, if you ventured off the map, say to the backside of Montmartre, you could have paid four more euros to be served a sumptuous lunch out on the terrace, prepared by a chef with as much talent as you have for writing.

 

In conclusion, if you are a savvy traveler and your map of Paris doesn't show all of Paris, get a new guide book! You can pick up a free map of Paris at any metro station, and you can learn a bit about different Paris neighborhoods on dedicated pages of the ParisSharing website or through online resources such as Guide2Paris. You may also enjoy having a look at our slideshow of places in Paris that have been left off the aforementioned tourist map.

 

In 1660, Louis XIV made his royal entry into Paris with his newly wed Marie Theresa passing through what is today known as Place de la Nation. Two columns were later erected with kings Philippe II et Louis IX set on top of them. The deceased kings would likely be disturbed at having been evinced from the tourist map. But that is not reason enough to pay them a visit. Take time rather to walk up the rue des Pyrénées, a very long, tree-lined street that begins east of Place de la Nation and winds its way up to the Buttes Chaumont. As much as any street in Paris, this one will give you a taste of real Parisian life with its host of bakers, butchers, wine shops, and specialty stores.

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