Living for the city: a guide to Paris
A move to France doesn’t have to mean living in the countryside or a small village. The bright lights and dizzying array of attractions in Paris continue to draw not only visitors but also those seeking a new life across the Channel, as Anna McKittrick discovers
Welcoming more than 28 million visitors every year, it’s no surprise that Paris has been voted the best city in the world to visit according to a new poll*. However, it’s also a great place to live, with expats continuing to flock to the capital to put down roots. Out of a population of 2.2 million, the Mairie de Paris estimates that 310,000 foreigners live in the capital. It’s no new phenomenon, and for centuries writers and artists have been seduced by the charms of living in the City of Light.
Paris has always held a fond place in my heart, and last summer I went to stay with a friend who had just bought an apartment in the 18th arrondissement.
Like many expats, Alison Weeks and her husband Tim relocated from the UK to Paris for work when Tim was transferred with his company. The couple knew they wanted to put down roots in the capital, and that it would be an investment for the future, so they chose to buy somewhere that would be a draw for either future renters or buyers. “We chose the Montmartre area because it’s a place we’ve always loved. It’s also one of the few places in Paris which happens to be in a more affordable arrondissement,” says Alison, who now lives just a stone’s throw from the Sacré-Cœur in a charming one-bedroom apartment.
Finding the right property took time and patience, however. “Searching for properties was a different experience. Most of the places advertised were already sold,” says Alison. “You really had to get in with an estate agent to find out about new properties on the market. My biggest tip would be to go through a courtier – a mortgage broker – who can help find the best rate and deal with the paperwork.”
Gaela Fernandez from My Home in Paris helps foreign buyers with the purchase process and knows the city and its property market like the back of her hand. “Expats buy apartments in Paris to put down roots and tap into the art de vivre. While prices have reached a high, it remains feasible to enter the market. A definite up-and-coming neighbourhood is the 10th arrondissement, around the Canal Saint-Martin. Gentrification here is in full swing, with lots of boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops popping up. This neighbourhood will continue to change, and we think it will soon be as hip as the Marais, and expect prices to increase substantially within the next couple of years,” says Gaela.
Whether you’re visiting as a tourist, or you’re planning to settle in the city, getting to know the arrondissements is the best way to get under the skin of the capital. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements that spiral clock-wise in a snail-like shape, from the 1st in the heart of the city, up to the 20th in the east. The core of the city is located in the first eight arrondissements, where you’ll find the majority of the tourist attractions.
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While soaking up the iconic sights is high on the agenda of any tourist, it’s interesting to see what Parisians themselves love so much about their city. A survey conducted by social intelligence agency happycurious for Mastercard France** polled 400 Parisians to find out their favourite things to do in the city. The quartier (neighbourhood) that came out top was Saint-Paul Le Marais (covering the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the Right Bank of the River Seine), followed by the chic Left Bank area of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Notre-Dame de Paris was voted their favourite monument, the Musée du Louvre their preferred museum, and the pretty Jardin du Luxembourg the top garden. The survey also asked participants to choose their favourite places to eat, drink and shop and, interestingly, this showed that the previously unfashionable north-east area is becoming more popular thanks to revitalisation projects.
Élodie Giraud, associate director of happycurious, says: “It appears that the Left Bank/Right Bank balance is undergoing a major shift. Our findings show that the north of Paris is more attractive than the south. When it comes to going out for dinner, dancing or stimulating our curiosity, the most happening sub-section is the north-east and the least appealing is the south-west. A brand new geography of urban vitality seems to emerge in an extended north-east, reaching from the 18th arrondissement to the north of the 12th. As before in cities like NY and London, districts in this area are being renamed – as if Parisians wanted to be part of a complete neighbourhood redesign. SoPi (South Pigalle) was born a few years ago, and NoMo (North Montmartre) seems poised for adoption.”
Miranda Bothe, founder of Paris Property Group, reiterates this. “There is a lot of investment by the city in the previously ignored 19th arrondissement. Beautiful apartments and even houses encircle the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, or south between métros Belleville and Jourdain.”
Paris is well-placed for new ways and means of discovering the city. In 2007, the Vélib’ bicycle sharing scheme was introduced as a way to see the sights or simply to travel from A to B. With 700km of cycle lanes and access to 23,000 bicycles located at Vélib’ stations across the city, Paris is certainly a bike-friendly place. To discover the city on two wheels with the help of a guide, I took the Parisian day tour from Bike About Tours. After three-and-half hours gently cycling through the quiet backstreets of some of the city’s most famous areas; I saw the sights from a different light with English-speaking guides relating interesting stories.
After the bike tour, I met up with Australian expat Lauren Lou Bate, who works as one of the bike tour guides alongside nannying for a French family. Lauren moved to Paris from Sydney in 2009 after taking redundancy from her job in magazine publishing to pursue her dream of living in France. “I’d always been a Francophile, and was really interested in French music, and had learnt French at school. I was kind of naïve though, and thought I would be able to get a job in marketing again, but I needed to hit the ground running, so I started working in an Australian bar. It wasn’t great from an immersion point of view, but it was good to be with like-minded people and to have our days off together to explore the city,” says Lauren.
Since then, Lauren started working as a part-time nanny and is hoping to set up her own events company in the future. For the time being, she’s enjoying living in Batignolles, a residential area of the 17th arrondissement where she lives with her boyfriend and their dog Daisy. She shares her Parisian discoveries, from coffee shops to markets, shopping to weekend jaunts, on her blog Folies du Bonheur that she started in 2012.
Another expat who runs a successful blog is American Lindsey Tramuta who writes Lost in Cheeseland. Lindsey has lived in Paris for seven years since coming over to spend a semester in the city when she met her now husband, Frédéric. Like Lauren, Lindsey found it a challenge to find work in Paris after graduating from college, and went to the American University of Paris to study for a Masters in Global Communication.
She currently works in social media for an advertising agency. “I think the experience of living in Paris is changing now, because social media is so developed compared to when I first got here. Now I see expats who come and within a year and a half, they have launched their own businesses. I think it was hard for me in the beginning, because I didn’t have a network, and I wasn’t really active online. The people who are immediately on Twitter and connect with the people who are here forge relationships so much faster than I did,” says Lindsey, who set up her blog in 2009, and credits it with facilitating her integration. “Writing about France and expat life was something new that I could develop. Before I came here, I didn’t realise how connected the expat community is. There are lots of Americans, but also Brits and Australians, and everyone’s really supportive.”
Home for Lindsey and Frédéric has always been the 11th arrondissement, and in 2007 they bought an apartment near Parmentier métro station. “We looked at a lot of places and everywhere seemed comically small and extortionately expensive, but then you remember that it’s an investment you’re making. Luckily, it’s just the two of us and our cat in our 37m² apartment. Yes, it’s a little too small, but it’s full of Parisian charm and we have views of the rooftops,” says Lindsey.
Getting to know Paris through the eyes of a local is certainly the best way to uncover hidden gems you might otherwise miss. My experience of staying with a friend was the perfect way to see Paris in a new light as she introduced me to her quartier, where I discovered the best bakery, quirky independent boutiques, and a lively brocante held at Place des Abbesses at weekends.
If you don’t have a friend who you can call on in Paris, then a good option is to go on a tour with Localers, whose tag line is ‘Explore France like a local’. The idea behind Localers is to give visitors a travel experience they might not otherwise have, thanks to the Parisian guides who lead the varied choice of tours. Offering more than 30 accompanied visits in Paris, there are plenty of options to choose from, whether you want to learn more about the literary past of the city or scour the marché aux puces at Saint-Ouen, which I opted for. Paris is famed for its flea markets and Saint-Ouen, in the Porte de Clignancourt area in the far northern reaches of the city, is not only the biggest of its kind in France, but also one of the largest in the world. With its many and varied specialist markets, it can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated, so I was grateful that tour guide Charlotte was there to show the way. She knows the rabbit warren of stalls selling antiques and vintage wares like the back of her hand, and for any particular wish list items, she can also help visitors source them for their homes.
For visitors thinking of relocating, the ‘Paris like a local crash course’, led by American expat Corey gives tips on customs and etiquette to help avoid making a faux pas, along with more practical advice to help navigate the city.
Whether you are visiting Paris for the first time, are a seasoned visitor returning for another visit, or are thinking of making the move permanently, the City of Light remains an ever-intrigiung and fascinating place to discover. LF
* Ipsos MORI Top Cities Index surveyed almost 19,000 people across 24 different countries from 5-19 February 2013
** happycurious surveyed 400 people living in Paris from 28 October to 2 November 2012
FIND OUT MORE
Paris Tourist Board, en.parisinfo.com
Eurostar operates up to 18 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris with return fares from £69. Tel: 08432 186 186 www.eurostar.com
WHAT TO DO
Bike About, Tel: 00 33 (0)6 18 80 84 92 www.bikeabouttours.com
Localers, Tel: 00 33 (0)1 83 64 92 01 www.localers.com
My Home in Paris, Tel: 00 33 (0)1 49 96 60 80 www.myhomeinparis.com
Paris Property Group, Tel: 00 33 (0)9 75 18 18 99 www.parispropertygroup.com
AN AGENT’S VIEW
Miranda Bothe, founder of Paris Property Group, a property broker focusing on international clients, offers tips on buying in the capital
What’s your top tip for people looking to buy in Paris?
Timing is everything. The Paris market is cyclical, with most properties coming on to the market in September/October, or late March through April. You will have the biggest selection during this time, and also the benefit of the market correction (if any) during the down months preceding them. Beware: find out the Paris school holidays during those times (Toussaint in October, Easter holidays in April) as new properties will not be listed during those times. Paris is famous for closing down during the summer holidays generally, but the real estate market follows this rule for any school holidays throughout the year.
Which area offers the best value for money?
The outer-ring arrondissements (9th-20th) are historically the best value for the money, which remains so today. In the end, it depends what you are looking for: if you want a classic Haussmann-style building with an elevator in an established residential area, look to the 16th (métro Passy and north from there) or the western 17th. If you are ready to go for an up-and-coming area, look to the eastern side of the city, where pockets of the 11th or 12th and even 19th or 20th can cost a third what you would pay in more established areas of the city.
Is it possible to get something affordable?
Definitely! There is quite a range of prices within Paris. While the 6th arrondissement with its top prices over €25k/m² draws a lot of attention, nice properties in less desirable neighbourhoods can be had for €7k/m² or less. It all depends on your taste for la vie populaire.
Is buying in Paris a good investment?
Yes. Paris defies the downward trends due in large part for its unwavering attraction. Besides being the most visited city in the world, there is just a huge number of people who dream of owning a piece of Paris. Once they get to the place in their lives where this is possible, they do it – often regardless of market prices, exchange rates, or mortgage options. When one country’s buyers are on the retreat, another country’s residents are buying in Paris in force. So, the real fluctuation ends up being not whether there are buyers but where they are from. Owning a piece of Paris is usually not simply a financial investment, but an emotional decision for people that are seeking the lifestyle, the food, the fashion, and the culture that make Paris unique.