8 Secrets of Paris You've Never Heard Before

By Jamie Beckman
May 10, 2016
Paris, France
We love Paris's classic attractions—seeing the Eiffel Tower is always a thrill!—but if you're looking for hidden cafés, museums, and walks that Parisians love, we have eight must-do recommendations from a Paris insider who knows the arrondissements inside and out.

Gallery owner and author Matt Wagner literally wrote the book on Paris—his gorgeous new coffee-table book The Tall Trees of Paris interviews 42 artists (in both English and French!) about their favorite neighborhoods and what inspires them. Naturally, in the course of his work, he picked up a few secrets of Paris that only the coolest locals know.

We couldn't resist tapping his wealth of insider knowledge—and now we want to go back and try each and every one!

1. A must-see neighborhood locals love:

"I really love the 18th arrondissement, Château Rouge neighborhood in particular, known as Little Africa. Thre's so much activity in this neighborhood—and great food too. Check out Ground Control. It’s a bar, restaurant, and music venue within a decommissioned train yard. In between each track is pétanque courts [pétanque is a bowling-style game that's similar to bocce]. Great way to spend a sunny Sunday in Paris."

2. Two obscure museums worth visiting:

"Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme [admission about $14] and the Institut Du Monde Arabe [from about $9] are both particularly good. The World Arab institute had an amazing history of hip-hop show last year."

3. A café you'll be talking about for years:

"Hands down, my favorite café is Jeanne A in the 11th arrondissement. There's a deli up front and tables in the back for eating in. Roast chicken and lamb are standouts, and the service is spectacular. All at a very affordable price."

4. A pastry shop so authentic it has no name:

"One of my favorite pâtisseries is a place at 15 Rue Marcadet in Château Rouge. Order one of the classics: pain aux raisins or a chocolate croissant."

5. Souvenirs (plus art) that won't break the bank:

"Galerie Arts Factory in the Bastille has a fantastic book selection and art. The owners, Effi and Laurent, are fantastic people."

6. A beautiful, movie-worthy walk:

"Without a doubt, Canal de L’Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement. Having a picnic on a Sunday afternoon then walking up the canal listening to the street music and people watching is pretty much my perfect day in Paris."

7. How to fit in with the locals in Paris:

"A little bit of language goes a long way. It will make the people you are interacting with appreciate the attempt before they most likely break into English for you. Steering clear of the main tourist areas would also help."

8. The train pass Budget Travelers need:

"If you're going to be in Paris for a week or more, I suggest buying the Navigo Découverte train pass. The pass is a swipe card that will eliminate trying to come up with cash to ride the trains. It is quite affordable at around $25 for a weeklong pass. You will need to provide a small picture of yourself at the gate."

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Budget Travel Lists

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1. GO TO MONTREAL, NOT PARIS  Mon dieu! Overseas flights and City of Light prices can blow a budget pretty quickly; immerse yourself in French language and culture in Montreal instead. The city's brand-new, streamlined Alt Hotel is très chic and doesn't do low-season or high-season rates: Rooms are $131 per night, every night (montreal.althotels.ca). Je voudrais un croque monsieur, you say? Grab one to stay or to go at Café Grévin by Europea downtown ($7, cafegrevinpareuropea.ca). Psst—they have wine, too. Afterward, learn all about "New France" at the historic site and museum Château Ramezay and take a stroll through its replica French colonial garden (about $9, chateauramezay.qc.ca). For dinner, hit the bar at Laloux for modern French bistro fare. The special "intermission menu" offers two entrees and a dessert for each person—we're talking roasted quail with chanterelles, and maple profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and hazelnuts—for about $17.50 (laloux.com). 2. GO TO WARSAW, NOT LONDON  Rich European history, mesmerizing museums, and quality time at the pub can all be had in Warsaw for less than you'd pay in London. The capital of Poland is an eminently walkable city, with cheap public transportation (about $5 for an all-day pass) and museum admission prices that top out at about $6.50 on days they're not completely free. Boutique Bed & Breakfast, near the Chopin Museum, has a charming, old-world feel and hosts piano concerts on the second floor ($70 per night, bbwarsaw.com). Fish around in your pockets for $1.20, and you've got entrée into the Warsaw Fotoplastikon, one of the few turn-of-the-century 3-D photo theaters left in the world. View original historical photographs of subjects ranging from WWII-era Warsaw to the Radio City Rockettes high-kicking in the late 1960s (fotoplastikonwarszawski.pl). 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Fresh-caught anchovies and pesto, which originated from the Italian Riviera, are two local specialties you'll want to check off your foodie list, and Trattoria dal Billy, hidden up in the hills of Manarola, dishes out both amid sweeping views from the balcony (entrees from $14, trattoriabilly.com).  12. GO TO BUDAPEST, NOT PRAGUE  Fun fact about Budapest: Hungary is a member of the European Union but not part of the eurozone, which means more Hungarian forints for your pocket. Aside from being cheaper than Prague as a whole, Budapest is also larger, so the crowds will be thinner. (Bonus.) Overlook the Danube River from quiet, leafy Margaret Island at Grand Hotel Margitsziget (from $100 per night, danubiushotels.com). Frugal spa-addicts, there's a heated hallway that connects guests to free mineral-rich thermal baths, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a mint-scented aroma cabin, two saunas, a steam room, a solarium, and a sunbathing deck. For about a buck, you can try Hungarians' favorite street food, lángos, deep-fried bread with sour cream, grated cheese, and garlic on top that's sometimes called "Hungarian pizza." Get it at a stall in the Great Market Hall, along with a homemade plastic baggie of paprika to take back home for only a couple of dollars (budapestmarkethall.com). For free, you can take a walking tour of UNESCO World Heritage site Castle Hill, a collection of historical sites such as the 13th-century Royal Palace (now the Hungarian National Gallery, admission about $6, mng.hu) and Matthias Church, founded in 1015 (matyas-templom.hu). But who can resist a cruise down the Danube? Book seat on a boat ride and see the sights or treat yourself to dinner (from about $16 for a sightseeing cruise, from about $34 for a dinner cruise, legenda.hu). 13. GO TO BIG SKY, NOT ASPEN  Aspirational as Aspen is, fighting for space on the slopes and paying a premium for skiing accouterments isn't exactly the vacation that some of us envisioned for winter break. Instead, consider swooshing north to Big Sky Resort in Montana, the largest ski area in the U.S., which opened up more terrain over the summer for a total of 5,800 acres (bigskyresort.com). Kids ski free if you stay in a property that Big Sky manages—that includes condos with kitchens if you'd rather do the cooking yourself. Best hotel bets for a tight budget are the resort's Whitewater Inn, eight miles away (from $133 per night), and Huntley Lodge, on site (from $179 per night). After a grueling run, refuel with a creatively topped weiner from Yeti Dogs, like the Lifty: a beef dog with yeti sauce (zesty mayo), shredded cheddar, and bacon (dogs from $4, yetidogs.com). Locals love 'em. If you're more into the après than the ski, Solace Spa's menu includes moisturizing ginger foot rubs and the option to add locally made, muscle-soothing arnica oil to massage treatments for $10. Of course, booze is another way to numb a sore body. Cure what ails you by having a barkeep mix up a 44˚ North Huckleberry Lemonade, a cocktail made with Idaho potato vodka that's been blended with local huckleberries ($9), or pour you a pint of Retro Red Ale, crafted by Lone Peak Brewery for the resort's 40th anniversary ($5). Off property, Yellowstone National Park's West Entrance is less than an hour's drive away. Set out on a mission to spot Old Faithful, rent a bike for $8 at Old Faithful Snow Lodge to explore the park's bike paths, or go on a short day hike through the backcountry (entrance fee $25 per vehicle, nps.gov). 14. GO TO THE ALBANIAN COAST, NOT THE DALMATIAN COAST  Croatia's sparkling Dalmatian Coast is spectacular (in fact, we recommend it as No. 18 on this list), but flights to Tirana, Albania, are significantly cheaper right now than flights to Dubrovnik (a Kayak search for a six-day vacation in early 2015 brought up $845 for Dubrovnik versus $718 for Tirana), and vacationing on the Albanian Coast has been lauded by travel experts as a real budget traveler's paradise. Rent a car after your flight to Tirana and drive to the coastal town of Vlorë. The modern, cleanly furnished Paradise Beach Hotel has two restaurants that serve traditional Albanian food like fresh octopus, plus Italian and French cuisine (from $27 per night, paradisebeachhotel.al). Hit the beach a few miles down the coast: Jali Beach offers swimmers crystal-blue waters and eaters fresh seafood at nearby eateries. Farther south, below Himerë, is the still-standing Port Palermo Castle. No one seems to know for sure who built it or when, but at one time it was in the possession of a tyrannical Ottoman pasha who came to power in the 18th century. Now the fortress is both an historic site and a place to take selfies and admire the sea view. Pay particular attention to the loopholes for guns and cannons, and be glad you were never on Ali Pasha's bad side (albania.al). If that whets your appetite for archeology, you'll be satiated near the Greek border at UNESCO World Heritage site Butrint, a former stop along ancient trade routes that contains a bonanza of ruins left as the detritus of different occupations: Greek temples, Roman fountains and baths, a paleo-Christian baptistery, and a tall Venetian fortress, among other significant finds—all pristinely preserved thanks to a literal sea change in the late Middle Ages that coated the city in mud and vegetation until excavation began in the 1920s (about $6.50, butrint.org). 15. GO TO PERTH, NOT SYNDEY  Less crowded and even sunnier than Sydney, Perth is a clean, spiffy city with a burgeoning hipster scene. Exhibit A: A café called Toastface Grillah, where you can order a brie, prosciutto, and zucchini sandwich called the Danny Zuccho ($9, toastfacegrillah.com). Where to stay? The 83 on Swan B&B is a federation-style home with a quaint, well-manicured garden near Swan Valley, known as a winemaking region where you can get your chenin blanc and shiraz straight from the source (from $95 per night, 83onswan.wordpress.com; swanvalley.com.au). Or go old-school and set up shop in the oldest hotel in Western Australia: The Rose & Crown was built in 1841. Staying in the ornate rooms in the original structure costs a pretty penny, but the budget-friendly rooms in its adjacent Lodge are decidedly modern (from $150 per night, rosecrown.com.au). Don't leave the city without stopping at one of Miami Bakery's three locations for one of its award-winning sweet or savory pies for under $10. The custard tart's smooth, dome-shaped top is so perfect you'll hate to pierce it (miamibakehouse.com.au). Take the pie and have a picnic among the bright red-and-green kangaroo paw plants—with a clear view of Perth's skyline—at Kings Park & Botanic Gardens (free, bgpa.wa.gov.au); snorkel and dive the reefs at Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, then watch penguins and sea lions frolic atop a string of limestone islands (free, parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au). 16. GO TO PORTUGAL, NOT SPAIN Portugal is cheap. Real cheap. It's also the ideal place for a somewhat schizophrenic all-in-one vacation: You can beach-hop among the country's 50 different sandy stretches and get a huge dose of history via sites like the 11th-century Castelo de S Jorge that looms over Lisbon and the medieval villages Marvão and Monsaraz ($11 for a castle tour, castelodesaojorge.pt). In Evora, Convento do Espinheiro, a former 15th-century convent gone (affordably) luxe, has incredibly sleek indoor and outdoor pools and plush, modern furnishings (from $151 per night, conventodoespinheiro.com). Nearby, the Alentejan cuisine at longtime institution Restaurante Fialho is a splurge but does include specialties like quail eggs with paio, a traditional pork sausage, and house-made desserts including sweet tecolameco cakes and custard; send any appetizers away that you don't want to eat or pay for—they're already on the table when you sit down (entrees from $19, restaurantefialho.com). Along the southwest coast of Portugal, walk the Rota Vicentina, a series of preserved rural and coastal paths that run through cork tree forests, past villages, and up along the cliffs (rotavicentina.com). Time your stroll just right to end at Cape St. Vincent, Europe's southwesternmost point, as the sun sets. 17. GO TO KRABI, NOT PHUKET  No disrespect to luxury playground Phuket, but a visit to Thailand's coastal province of Krabi is reputedly even more peaceful and relaxing. The Just Fine boutique hotel in Krabi Town has crisp, modern décor; each of its 12 rooms has an individual style, including one with a painted wall of tall, fanciful trees (from $47, facebook.com/justfinekrabi). On weekends, pop over to the "walking street" market on Maharat Road, open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The stretch is lined with food stalls selling inexpensive dishes like khao yam (rice salad) and hor mok yang (Thai steamed fish, chicken, or pork curry in banana leaves on a stick). Glide via kayak through mangrove estuaries into Ao Thalane canyon for a prime opportunity to see the area's unique limestone karsts and wild monkeys in action—watch for langurs and long-tailed macaques. There are numerous kayak tour outfitters to choose from, like Sea Canoe and Krabi Trek (from about $16, seacanoe.net, krabitrek.com). 18. GO TO CROATIA, NOT ITALY  Croatia is just a hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, but the savings are ample, and the rolling hills and loads of sunshine are terrific for relaxation. Plus, instead of a tourist-heavy experience, you can take in the crystal-blue seas and an almost supernaturally beautiful landscape. To wit: The HBO TV show Game of Thrones is shot there—die-hard fans who have saved their pennies can take a three-hour walking tour in Dubrovnik's Old Town that includes a stop at Lovrijenac Fortress, better known as the palace at King's Landing in the series ($74, viator.com). For fresh catches, Kantinon Tavern, up north in Rovinj's Old Town, emphasizes local seafood and Croatian wines—we hear great things about the tuna steak (385-0-52-816-075). The San Rocco hotel, in the coastal region of Istria, prides itself on its enogastronomy (food and wine tourism) (from $150 per night, san-rocco.hr): The restaurant incorporates different olive oils from the San Rocco family's olive trees nearby into its traditional Istrian cuisine (multi-course tasting menu from $64). Lounge by the pool or get a rubdown for cheap, because this is a hotel spa you can afford: Full-body treatments start at about $27. When in wine country, visit a winery. The Istrian peninsula is full of them. Family-owned Franc Arman winery offers free tastings if you buy a bottle to take home with you (call 385-0-52-446-226 for an appointment, francarman.hr). 19. GO TO MONTENEGRO, NOT GREECE  Cleverly dubbed a "pocket dictionary" of experiences, Montenegro is more compact than Greece and still relatively unknown, ideal for obscure-vacation cred among your well-traveled pals. Its green, rugged terrain offers everything from a rain forest—rare in Europe—in hiker-friendly Biogradska gora national park to the long, sandy Big Beach in Ulcinj. On the coast, also in Ulcinj, Old Town's historic Hotel Palata Venezia has Adriatic Sea views from each apartment unit and is close to several beaches (from about $80 per night, hotel-palatavenezia-montenegro.com). In the walkable, café-rich capital city of Podgorica, restaurant Pod Volat serves a smorgasbord of Montenegrin food, especially roasted meats (382-69-618-633). 20. GO TO GUATEMALA, NOT MEXICO For a glimpse of authentic Mayan culture—both ancient and modern—unlike what you'd see in the usual touristy destinations in Mexico, Guatemala is an inexpensive but rich choice. In Antigua Guatemala, the tranquil seven-room Hotel Cirilo is built into the ruins of an 18th-century colonial church and within walking distance of Antigua's famous colonial relics, including the iconic vivid-yellow Arco de Santa Catalina (from $109 per night, hotelcirilo.com). While you're in town, stop by La Fonda de la Calle Real restaurant, which dishes out traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Pepián y pollo stew is a specialty (lafondadelacallereal.com). Yoga devotees and workaholics in need of a change of pace, Villa Sumaya Retreat Center, on Lake Atitlan, could be your new favorite escape. Tailor your own trip by customizing a four- to seven-day "personal package" that can include options like vegetarian meals, yoga classes, Mayan protection ceremonies, adventure sports, and guided tours of local municipalities like Santiago and San Juan (from $65 per night for single occupancy, villasumaya.com). Come face to face with the ingenuity and brutality of ancient Mayan culture at several sites throughout Guatemala. Most popular are the ruins at Tikal National Park in northern Guatemala, which are larger than those at Chichén Itzá in Mexico and evidence of one of the most powerful ancient Mayan kingdoms ($20, whc.unesco.org). The Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent, built circa 741 AD, rises above the bygone city at 212 feet—but you might know it from the movie Star Wars, as Luke Skywalker's rebel base. Climb to the top (yes, they actually let you do this!) via wooden steps and take in the view of rain forests and the other Tikal temples. 21. GO TO ZAMBIA, NOT ZANZIBAR  The city of Zanzibar is crowded, but the country of Zambia is comparatively undiscovered, offering such pristine beauty that Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Nearby, antelope roam (along with zebras, giraffes, and other creatures) in Mosi oa Tunya National Park: Drive your own car through or go on a guided open-vehicle game drive with a company like Safpar (from $55, safpar.com). Lusaka, the capital city, is bustling with business travelers, so if you'd like a solid hotel option with modern conveniences, Southern Sun is a favorite (from $170, tsogosunhotels.com). Expats rave about Sugarbush Café's Sunday roasts (roast beef, that is) and fresh vegetables plucked right from the neighboring farm (entrees from $7, facebook.com/sugarbushcafezam). If you have a decent amount of cash left over at the end of your visit, the adjacent Jackal & Hide shop sells travel bags, leather-bound journals, and accessories made from locally tanned cow leather, plus other small souvenirs (jackalandhide.net). 22. GO TO JACKSONVILLE BEACH, NOT SOUTH BEACH  If you're aiming to shoehorn a Florida beach getaway into your budget and want to avoid South Beach prices, Jacksonville just might be your town. Its average hotel rates are the lowest in the state, at about $77. A boutique luxury experience is actually affordable at the One Ocean Resort & Spa, right on the Atlantic Ocean (from $150, oneoceanresort.com). Aside from easy access to the sand, amenities include a heated beachside pool, a selection of snacks and drinks—like sparkling water and sun-dried tomato pita chips—waiting for you in your room when you check in, and a personal "docent" who can unpack your suitcase, steam your clothes, book your spa treatments, recommend restaurants, and more. Does a day at the beach leave you craving tacos, no matter which coast you're on? They start at $3 at local favorite Taco Lu (tacolu.com). Pair a Baja fish taco with a pinarita (pineapple margarita) and sit outside. For a modern farm-to-table vibe, the Blind Rabbit will present you with brioche-bunned burgers and a long, long list of whiskeys (entrees from $10, theblindrabbitwhiskeybar.com). There's a bacon maple milkshake that you can spike with Buffalo Trace for two bucks. You're welcome. 23. GO TO ROCKAWAY BEACH, NOT MONTAUK  The ride to Rockaway Beach in Queens from Manhattan is about an hour and a half via train, as opposed to double that for Montauk. The crowd of surfers and sunbathers is low-key and the eats are cheap: Rockaway Taco's tilapia taco and fried sweet plantains are modern classics (from $3, rockawaytaco.com). Spending the night? Come for the beach and stay for the party at the recently opened hipster-rific Playland Motel, which freely owns up to its "loud environment" (from $72 per night, playlandmotel.com). Artists designed the often-bizarre rooms—all of which, except one, have a shared bathroom. Playland Tavern, down below, holds open mics and DJ'd parties, and slings cocktails like the peach-flavored Rockaway Boulevardier, made with rye and brandy. The motel just partnered with Bolivian food stand (and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, favorite) Bolivian Llama Party for the summer season: Fans make a beeline for the brisket salteñas and triple pork sandwich de cholas (from $6, blpnyc.com). 24. GO TO PHILADELPHIA, NOT NEW YORK  We love New York, but for a more affordable, more manageable option that's iconic in its own right, consider Philly instead. History 101 starts here. Back when Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States, the Morris House Hotel, built in 1787, was there to witness it. Today, the renovated brick inn is two blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. You can have your (free) tea and house-baked cookies and eat them too in the hotel's Revolutionary-era lounge, sip a complimentary glass of wine from 4 to 5 p.m. every day, and take advantage of a free continental breakfast in the morning (from $139 per night, morrishousehotel.com). Obviously, you're going to run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and strike a Rocky Balboa pose for Instagram (aren't you?), but for a different creative experience, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a indoor/outdoor visionary art environment, celebrates the curious, colorful, undulating mosaics and murals of local artist Isaiah Zagar ($7, phillymagicgardens.org). Head to Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue to decide for yourself who has the best Philly cheesesteak: Pat's or Geno's, longtime rivals directly across the street from each other that are open 24/7 (from $7, patskingofsteaks.com, genosteaks.com). John's Roast Pork, though, is known for elevating the sandwich with its roast pork, sharp provolone, and broccoli rabe creation-he has regular cheesesteaks too that reviewers love (from $6.50, johnsroastpork.com). 25. GO TO MYRTLE BEACH, NOT CHARLESTON  Betcha didn't know: Quaint little towns and sprawling plantations make Myrtle Beach not just a beach town, but a more reasonable alternative to Charleston, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach spans a full 60 miles, and its southern end, specifically Pawleys Island and Georgetown, has a rich Southern history. Mansfield Plantation Bed & Breakfast in Georgetown was a giant, near-1,000-acre rice plantation in the late 1700s and is still relatively architecturally intact-you can take a group tour for $12.50 per person. If you stay overnight, the Old Kitchen House is the least expensive of the three guesthouses: Each room has a private entrance, two have four-poster beds, and one has a claw-foot soaking tub. A large "plantation breakfast" with selections like poached pears, much-raved-about stuffed French toast, and various egg bake incarnations is served in the a.m. (from $150 per night, mansfieldplantation.com). Farther north, if the thought of contending with crowds of beachgoers makes you shudder, Litchfield Beach is quiet and pristine. It also lies near the thin, four-mile stretch of Pawleys Island, a laid-back "barefoot paradise" with vacation rentals and hotels like the Sea View Inn, which serves guests three full meals of Southern cuisine a day, from grits in the morning to seafood gumbo at night (from $130 per night, meals included, seaviewinn.net). 26. GO TO FINGER LAKES WINE COUNTRY, NOT NAPA VALLEY  Vacation fantasy: You're swirling a goblet of red in the countryside. Vacation reality: Hey, you can definitely still do that, even if Napa's prices are out of reach. Wines produced in central New York State's Finger Lakes region—riesling, chardonnay, cabernet franc, and pinot noir in particular—are garnering higher scores than ever and enjoying expanded distribution. New Vines Bed & Breakfast has Seneca Lake views, an idyllic porch perfect for sunset sipping, a backyard vineyard, and six wineries within a two-mile radius (from $120 per night, newvinesbb.com). In Hammondsport, Dr. Frank Wines, famous for its critically acclaimed rieslings, holds free tastings; bottles start at $10 (drfrankwines.com). Later, you'll need some food to pair with that vino. Open April through November, Stonecat Café's organic cuisine is hyper-local-spelt from Trumansburg combines with cream from Ithaca to make up the strawberry and sweet pea risotto; wines are Finger Lakes only-and the back garden's willow trees make for picturesque alfresco dining (entrees from $12.50, http://stonecatcafe.com/). If you're looking to dispense with the fancy stuff and grab and go, pick up a house-made sausage or fresh-ground burger for lunch from FLX Weinery (yes, you read that right) (from $3, flxwienery.com). Need a break from gastronomic bliss? The Corning Museum of Glass is opening a sunlight-infused, architecturally sleek new wing in March, but until then you can still view the glass art collections that span 3,500 years and glassmaking (and glass-breaking) demos ($16, cmog.org).