Sprinkled around Paris’ central neighborhoods are a number of so-called “Chinese restaurants”, but it’s always a risky proposition because many are, let’s face it, bland and congealed. Instead, head down to this outlying southern neighborhood to find Paris’ biggest Chinese diaspora. But don’t expect a Beijing look alike movie set. The vibe is more modern – skyscrapers and solitary alleys (we warned you). Still, you’ll be rewarded with authentic Chinese grocery stores and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. If visiting a Chinatown is not your thing, head to la Butte-aux-Cailles, which is basically the Paris equivalent of the Shire in Lord of the Rings: It’s charming as hell; perched on a tiny hill, no bigger than five short interlaced cobbled streets, and replete with cafés, bookshops and bars. One exception – everyone speaks French instead of Frodo.
You want to stroll down the Seine, you need to stroll down the Seine—Parisians love it and when the weather is cooperating, are there all of the time—a result of the unique development of the Berges de Seine over the last few years. It went from multi-lane highway to frolic zone for pedestrians, cyclists, and alcohol appreciation meetings alike. Read in-depth to decode it according to your tastes and plans for the day as the vibe varies quite a bit from cheap, youthful, and boisterous East to still-lovely but touristy, 15€-for-a-mediocre-cocktail, West side (If you can see the Eiffel Tower…).
We know you’re coming to Paris to experience the magical City of Light and live out the quaint French fantasy brainwashed into you by movies like Amélie (spoiler alert: it’s all a lie). So if you want a break from the illusion, head towards Chinatown, considered to be the largest Chinatown in Europe (ha! In your face, London). It’s a bit grungy (in the best way possible), a little bit chaotic, and most of all—perfect. The area is ugly AF, but that’s because the high-rise buildings were the cheapest thing refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos could afford. Don’t let this deter you because it’s the best place to satiate that phở itch. Or bubble tea itch. Or K‑pop itch. Basically, whichever itch you have that needs to be scratched.
If you’ve decided to venture out to this side of town, you’ll be well-rewarded with the Buttes-aux-Cailles, as it’s a charming area that captures the heart of young families as well as trendy and festive Parisians (if they bother to schlep all the way here, that is). It’s one of the few places left in Paris with a village feel—like Montmartre, but less crowded and much, much, MUCH less hilly (your thighs will thank you). Wander through paved alleys and find adorable houses that will give even the most secure of you penis-envy. But the real pièce de résistance of the Buttes-Aux-Cailles is the jaw-dropping street art, including stencils from the late MissTic. Quiet during the day but positively buzzing in the evening, it’s an alternative area only the locals know, and coming here will give you Paris insider-knowledge cred you can boast about. The area around Place d’Italie itself isn’t worth raving about, but it’s a handy gateway to the other areas in the 13th.
Coming down to this area will not give you those “wow, this is Paris!” vibes. But that doesn’t mean you should disregard the area completely because it still is a part of Paris — albeit a more…sterile version (picture modernized buildings with the current trend of high ceilings and large vitrines). If you’re a bibliophile, head towards Bibliothèque François Mitterand* and you’ll be regaled with French literary collections, comics, manuscripts, expositions, and more. And bonus, if you try really hard and use your imagination, you’ll see how the four buildings look like open books facing each other. By all means, explore this area because you’ll find a Wizard-of-Oz-looking building (all green and made of glass) housing the City of Fashion and Design, and when you’re done, it’s easy to hop over to Gare d’Austerlitz where you’ll be able to traverse to more exciting areas.
*We’re in no way a qualified French teacher, but here’s a quirky lesson and useless info to shower your friends with (despite their protests): a library and a librairie are not the same thing, they’re faux amis or fake friends. A librairie here is a bookstore.