Down and Out in Paris and London
June 11, 2009 3:45 AM   Subscribe

LondonFilter, ParisFilter: I'll be in London and Paris for about a week, starting next week. What are the coolest, most-offbeat, least-overplayed activities/destinations for a young (21) traveler?

Yeah, yeah. The Louvre, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London -- all that stuff is great, but I'd like to do and see things during my two weeks in Paris and London that hinge on me being young and fun. (Disclaimer: I'm not discounting the value and coolness of museums, but on limited time and money, offbeat is better.)

So, MeFites, what can I do? Ideally these activities will be within the Paris and London metro areas, moderately easy to access via tube (or whatever France has), and edgy but not dangerous. (i.e., I shan't be buying hard drugs under bridges like Russell Brand.)

Bonus points for good food and good photo ops (for my Rebel XT, you see).

posted by the NATURAL to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
London: have a burger at Smiths of Smithfield. Try to schedule St Johns Restaurant too (it's not far from Smith's). Drink espresso at Flat White or Milk Bar (Soho).

Paris: eat macarons at Ladurée (near the Bourse). Take a Segway tour (don't know how that rates on your offbeat scale, but you will find that Paris is big and walking those cobblestones is hard on the knee joints). Go on the bateau Mouche. Also not very offbeat, but it's fun. If you want to go picknicking, try the Parc Citroën next to the Seine: a beautiful haven.
posted by NekulturnY at 3:53 AM on June 11, 2009

Paris: Check out the Promenade Plantée, an elevated park. Paris also has amazing public swimming pools, with my vote going for Piscine Pontoise which is surrounded by galleries.

London: Swimming theme again, go visit a lido.

If you really want to do something fun, offbeat, cheap and edgy-but-not-dangerous, though, I'd put on comfortable shoes, grab your camera, pick a tube or metro stop based on a whim or the name or a nearby café, and go - you'll have more interesting experiences, more adventures and more to remember than if you set out an itinerary or tick off a list of attractions (however offbeat or hip).
posted by carbide at 4:08 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wagamama (communal noodle restaurant)

Sir John Soane Museum

Black Friar Pub
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:13 AM on June 11, 2009

Wagamama? Oh hell no.

These guys do what they say: "Eat everything"

Dos Hermanos. Might be bit higher end then you were thinking but I would absolutely trust their reviews.
posted by JPD at 4:29 AM on June 11, 2009

Do the tour of the Paris Sewer system - it smells like hell, but is an amazing look at building the infrastructure over the last centuries in a major city. Seriously, it is a cool tour.
posted by Flood at 4:54 AM on June 11, 2009

Along the lines of the sewer system, for a kind of unsettling walk visit the Catacombs of Paris. By the end I was a little creeped out and glad to get out of there, but definitely a neat visit.
posted by speeb at 5:01 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

In London, try Brick Lane on a Sunday for the street market. There's always loads of street performers and musicians just playing in the street. Like Covent Garden market, only a lot less touristy.

The Catacombs in Paris might be suitably hip and edgy for you, plus you can take fantastic photos if you manage to avoid the guides who keep asking you to stop taking photos.
posted by tapeguy at 5:08 AM on June 11, 2009

Museums may sound old and staid to you, but there's the Tate Modern in London which does what it says on the tin: modern. Also, it's free. Drinks at the bar on the top floor are easily the best view of London anywhere, catch it at sunset.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:12 AM on June 11, 2009


Seconding St John.

Also try Tayyabbs - best S Asian restaurant in London and very cheap, just off Brick Lane in Whitechapel and far better than anything on it. Great Value. Buy beers round the corner before you eat as unlicensed.

The Anchor & Hope on the the Cut near waterloo is great for food too.

Take one of the Thames Clippers down the river, perhaps to Greenwich from the Tate (the commuter boats are best) - really good fun, costs about £5.

Climb up the Monument (monument station). It takes five minutes, costs £2 and is rarely busy. Great views.

Have a cocktail overlooking the Thames at Somerset House.

Whitechapel art gallery can be cool too. Usually free.

Visit the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park (free) then go boating on the Serpentine.

Hire a bike and cycle from Tower Bridge to Richmond down the Thames - mostly along the river.

Watch a trial at the Old Bailey.

Walk or cycle down the Regent's canal from Regent's Park to Islington.

Not sure why everyone raves about Wagamama - it's a big noodle chain and while it's perfectly nice is neither distinctly British nor terribly exciting full stop.
posted by rhymer at 5:25 AM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not a destination per se, but when it's not raining definitely use the velib' bikes in Paris instead of the metro. You really get a sense of how the city fits together, plus you'll pass things you didn't know you wanted to see and would have missed on the subway. Getting lost isn't a problem, in the sense that you can drop the bikes anywhere, re-orient yourself, and then pick up another bike and head off again.

There is an adorable little park in Montmartre where St. Denis is very serenely holding his own head at about chest height. I can never find it directly- it's one of those parks that I can only find by getting lost in Montmartre and stumbling upon it. But getting lost in that area is pretty fun, so I don't mind. On that note, Parc Monceau in the 8th district (near Arc de Triomphe) is a very special park. There are weird ruin-y things in it and it is surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in all Paris. There are often adorable tiny children in adorable uniforms. Good pictures are often to be had.

The morning fruit/veg markets are one of my favorite things in paris (also fish, meat, crepes, bread, cheese, basically all the grocery shopping you'd need to do and better and cheaper than the monoprix or the like). The Sunday ones are the best, but Wednesday/Thursday is nice, too. My favorite markets at Convention in the 15th (Thurs./Sun.) and Boulevard Richard Lenoir (Thurs./Sun.). This website shows where they all are: These aren't your American yuppie markets- this is where real shopping gets done, and the entire neighborhood is generally there.

Palais de Tokyo, 13 Ave. de President Wilson, is a fantasitc contemporary art museum/show space. All sorts of interesting stuff, rotates a lot. Weird, rich neighborhood- might be fun to sit at a terrace and sip your cafe creme with the ladies in chanel with tiny dogs.

Have fun!
posted by ohio at 5:52 AM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Monopoly Pub Crawl
posted by jontyjago at 6:22 AM on June 11, 2009

I was just in London and enjoyed my wander around the Old Truman Brewery -- it's in the middle of what I'm referring to in my head as "Little India" although I don't know what locals call it, so there's fun shopping (and more curry houses than you can handle) around the Brewery -- and then the OTB itself has been transformed into an art/boutique/food venue, which while I was there was doing shows of student work from someplace, had some cool vintage stores and boutiques, and if you're into vegetarian food or eating in double-decker buses, a startlingly excellent restaurant in a bus, Rootmaster, right in the middle (honestly, if you're not vegetarian it's still amazing, so as long as you don't think meat is required to make a meal complete, I *highly* recommend it).

The whole area is also very photogenic, in ways ranging from people-watching to architecture.
posted by obliquicity at 7:31 AM on June 11, 2009

Go to David Lebovitz's web site for wonderful postings on great little restaurants, wine bars, dessert places, and links to all of them. One good Sun. AM food/wine combo is Marche D'Aligre (until 1:00)--great big noisy market in the 12th arr. with a follow-up visit to Baron Rouge (rue Thierry Roussel), a great wine bar just off the Marche. There's a covered market in there, too. Get to Baron Rouge by noon at the latest, though, or it's a crush. People are inside and out scarfing down great cheeses, charcuterie, and wine by the glass or bottle. When they run out of barrels, counters, and tables to lean on, people set up on cars and trucks parked outside. It's a great. Bonus is that it's near the Promenade Plantee (seen in After Sunset) from the Bastille metro stop. At that stop, follow signs for the exit to Bastille Opera. Outside look for the signs for Gare de Lyon on rue Daumensil and walk on the left side of it. The Promenade Plantee staircase entrance is several blocks down. When you get up there, walk along until you pass a black little Chinese style garden building on the left. Between that and the very next garden arch is a set of stairs to exit--hard to see. You'll be back on Daumensil. Under the brick arch is rue Abel, which turns into rue Ch. Beaudelaire, which intersects with rue Thierry Roussel--take a right. BR is tucked under some construction scaffolding right now, but just ask.

Try Piano Vache--check on rue LaPlace, back room, for free jazz manouche Monday nights. 95% cool students. They have other music nights, starting around 9:30-10:00. Check web sites to see what's on. All that takes place in the back room, but front bar is fun too. It's in the 5th arron. Good food, excellent wine at Les Pipos around the corner--wine bar, so you can just do cheese or charcuterie or their regular menu. Grumpy waiters though with Anglophones even French speaking ones. Les Pipos is at the intersection of rue Ecole Polytechnique and rue Montaigne Genevieve.

The Louvre is daunting and exhausting. If you go, just pick ONE period to see--antiquities, classical sculpture--whatever suits your interests. If you decide not to go, you can still walk through the Pyramide courtyard and the Cour Carree behind it at nighttime before 10--two of the great spaces of civilization. It's worth springing for a glass of champagne at Cafe Marly out on the courtyard in front of the Pyramide at nighttime as the lights come on--after 10 in the summertime. Knockout. Then walk over the Ponts des Arts and into the 5th, which is hopping at night.

Museum-wise, if you need just one big art experience you can have one on the fifth floor of the Musee D'Orsay. Go there first thing, then slowly walk down to the other floors if you haven't fainted yet even though this is backasswards historically speaking. Otherwise, just track down smaller museums on the internet. Cluny for amazing medieval art. Gustave Moreau for insane, mad artist stuff--nobody there either. Picasso Museum has fun collection badly presented. It's over in the Marais, so walk through Jewish section nearby and get a falafel sandwich as L'as du Falafel on rue des Rosiers. (DO NOT GO TO ANY OF THE COPYCATS.) You can wait outside and eat on the street. It's usually easier to wait for a table and get an Israeli beer with it. I know, crazy to get falafel in Paris, but see Lebovitz and food blogs on this.

I could go on. Just Google club scene, bar scene, dance scene--whatever--to find the fun spots at night.
posted by Elsie at 7:52 AM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Obliquicity - the "Little India" your referring to is Brick Lane. It's one of the capital's largest concentrations of South Asians although in fact mainly Bengali, not actually Indian.

Anyway, definitely worth a visit. Far better than London's rather lackluster Chinatown.
posted by rhymer at 7:53 AM on June 11, 2009

London: If you are in London on a Sunday I would say you MUST go to Brick Lane as it is somehow the embodiment of the Contradictions of London as a Modern vs Old city.

or just go there cause that where all the cool kids and hipsters are on a Sunday. markets hipsters, food and lots of people, fixed gear bikes music, chaos...

If you are around there for late night boozing - you should also try a Hot Salt Beef Beigel with Mustard and Pickle on the way home . its a tradition.

and to whoever suggested Wagamama? NO! what the hell? its shit overcooked noodles in a generic asian fusion style. horrible. I only eat it as a last resort.
posted by mary8nne at 8:02 AM on June 11, 2009

Wagamama's is everything that is BAD about food in London!!!! Cooked in the Midlands, re-heated in London, with sh1tty service and expensive 'food' - just like the rest of the Chain restaurants. The Chicken Katsu Curry is the prime example - crumbed, deep fried chicken McNugget (not chicken) heated up by cheap migrant workers who are not chefs drowned in bland, sweet, westernized curry paste on overcooked rice.

Most London food is overpriced and pretty bad, they have great high end restaurants, but they are too expensive for the likes of you and I :-(

Fish Pie from any pub is what I recommend to my visitors (As an Aussie living in London it is expected that your 1 bed flat will be used by anybody you know)

V&A is cool - all the museums and galleries in London are free, so make the most of them. Pretty much each of them is better than pretty much any museum or gallery in the world (except for about 5.)

Espresso and pan au chocolate from pretty any cafe where you stand at the bar in Paris will be better than coffee/cake/donut combination you will have had.

Crape from any corner stall. Try the smelliest cheese you can find - places like Aus (and I think US) don't allow non-pasteurized cheese - these are the best!

Don't miss the Musée d'Orsay (it is one of the 5 mentioned above)

2nd Walk or cycle down the Regent's canal from Regent's Park to Islington. but start at Camden Markets and end up at Paddington, it goes past Little Venice.
posted by lamby at 8:03 AM on June 11, 2009

My favourite bit of London was walking along the embankment after midnight. Especially at this time of year. Go to a restaurant mentioned above, have a drink somewhere (has anyone mentioned Gordons? Wicked little underground wine bar, but fairly popular and often crowded...) then walk along the river. You'll be totally alone, and can just enjoy the city for what it is, instead of a particular place within it.

Also, the Tate Modern is fantastic.
posted by twirlypen at 8:26 AM on June 11, 2009

Check out the London and Paris tags, there is a ton of information on here handed out weekly on major cities. A similar question on Paris.

If you're young and looking for a fun experience where you'll meet new people, eat at Refuge des Fondues (vid).
posted by fire&wings at 8:41 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

(and if you decide to go, get there at 7pm otherwise you'll encounter a queue of 20 people trying to get in all night.)
posted by fire&wings at 8:43 AM on June 11, 2009

Eat at Cafe Laville while you're visiting Little Venice in London. The entrance to the restaurant looks normal, but the back is an open air balcony suspended over the canal. Very cool.
posted by clerestory at 11:09 AM on June 11, 2009

Yikes, I had no idea Wagamama would set people off.... I studied abroad in London when I was 21, and it was a favorite of many of the people I hung out with there. No, it's not gourmet food, but the food is fine, it's cheap, the service is fantastic, there are a lot of them throughout London, and it's a fun experience. You sit at long communal tables -- very conducive to striking up random conversations with locals. As you can see from the link in my previous comment, most people on Yelp give it 4 or 5 stars.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:35 AM on June 11, 2009

I did a five week trip through Europe exactly a year ago (sigh). Your time scale is a fair bit shorter, but one thing I would recommend is not trying to do too much. Enjoy yourself & relax.

See a show in London - I liked Wicked, but I'm not sure if it's still on.

Also, the Moulin Rouge when you're in Pais is worth catching. It's not everyone's cup of tea obviously, but it is a real performance - most of the folks there when I went were (a) Female, and (b) over 60, which I totally never expected.
posted by MatJ at 1:25 PM on June 11, 2009

Paris: I'll second the Ladurée macarons suggestion. There's one on the Champs Elysées you can stop by if you're near there - there might be a long line but I think it's worth it if you have the time. The inside of the building is very posh and cool looking imo. Buy a bunch of little ones to try the flavors. Even if you don't go there, macarons are delicious and worth trying and you can buy them in any pâtisserie. They look like little colorful round sandwich cookies.

Ladurée is 75, avenue des Champs Elysées - on the right side if you're walking from the Arc de Triomphe. On a corner of Rue Lincoln. There are no huge signs so it's maybe easy to miss.

I love food and so I could go on about all the delicious things to eat in Paris, but it's more fun to discover them for yourself. You can have a really nice picnic meal or breakfast on the cheap there. Just go to a Fromagerie (which is cool in its own right) and a boulangerie.

If you like falafel, I agree that L'as du Falafel on rue des Rosiers is the go-to. But personally I love Chez Marianne, just down the street (2 rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais.) I can't believe someone hasn't mentioned it. It's adorable and they have awesome strudel. At Chez Marianne, you order your falafel inside then take the reciept outside to the window where they'll make it. The area both are in - the Marais - is fun to wander around and check out, there's a ton of interesting little shops and restaurants.

The Louvre has audio guides (they have english ones) for a few euros. I think it's worth it - there is a walk on it of just the three-or-so most famous pieces, which is nice because it guides you right to them so you don't waste time getting lost.

If you're even in the area (around the Père Lachaise Cemetery, maybe) there's a really nice park off of the beaten tourist path called the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Okay, my one London recomendation: if you like cemeteries, check out Highgate. It's out of the way (directions on that site under location) but really neat. It's basically all victorian and grown-over. The East Cemetery, the one you want to see, is only viewable through small tours so you need to get there a bit early before one of the daily tours. Check out the website for details.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:14 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Black Friar Pub is awesome - best meatpie I've ever had, best pub food actually. They have like 17 different kinds of pie.

I discovered it through a tour of "Secret London" one of the brilliant London Walking Tours. If you really want to see London off the beaten path - even off the beaten path right behind the beaten path - these tours are the best thing. This and the Museum of London were the best things I did in London. The Tower of London was also much more fun that it should have been, considering how much I usually hate tourist things. Westminster Abbey was horrid - it would be stunning, but the crowds (and the commercialisation) are just too much.
posted by jb at 3:41 PM on June 11, 2009

London - Shunt is an art gallery / club in the arches of London Bridge train station.

Authentic British food? Sausage and Mash cafe in Angel, with a mug of tea on the side.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 6:36 AM on June 12, 2009

I really just want to see this bridge in London.

Take the Docklands Light Railway for a pretty view of the industrial bit of London.

there tend to be street performers in the West End of London around dusk.

Shakespeare and Company in Paris is GREAT!

find a go club in Paris and play in a smokey back room with a bunch of asian guys. it's terrifying but a GREAT experience!
posted by cmchap at 2:31 AM on June 13, 2009

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