Paris strictly enforces its regulations of trinket shops and food stands that surround popular attractions. This is why Paris’s thoroughfares are not clogged with vendors selling questionable or overpriced goods—unlike the tourist spots of many other European capitals.
Still, there are even quieter sweet spots close to monuments that are unknown to the hordes. These are perfect places to rest your feet, write a postcard, or find better deals on food and gifts.
No matter how crowded it gets underneath the Eiffel Tower, for instance, it is usually placid in the grassy areas just outside the pillars closest to the Seine—an ideal spot for a picnic lunch made of items from a local store. (Time your dessert course for after sundown so you can watch the structure sparkle in on-the-hour light shows.)
Similarly, the backside of Sacre Coeur bears all the Montmartre charm of the front, but is less cacophonous, more classically Parisian, and priced for locals. In fact, the Lamarck neighborhood—as this quartier in the shadow of the basilica is known—is one of the most traditional areas of the entire city. Descend the stairs on rue du Mont Cenis, stopping at Le Relais, a century-old bistro that was one of the haunts of Édith Piaf (the late pop vocalist who recorded a famous version of La Vie en Rose).
After an inexpensive steak-and-potatoes dinner at a table set outdoors on cobblestones, continue your descent to La Butte, a lively café on the corner of rue Caulaincourt, for an equally reasonable after-dinner drink or coffee. Don't worry about climbing back up all those stairs to get back to your hotel: the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro stop is right nearby.
—Laurie Pike, guest-blogging for our Affordable Europe series.