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paris travel hacks - a view of the seine from the elevated road

12 Necessary Paris Travel Hacks

Paris is a city of immense beauty, but also immense, if occasional, complication. These are my best Paris travel hacks for navigating the city.

1. I feel safe here, but property crime is real.

Within the city limits, I’ve never felt unsafe in Paris — not even walking home solo at 2 a.m. I don’t know anyone who’s been the victim of a violent crime. I feel physically safer in Paris than in the other big cities where I’ve lived — New York, San Francisco, London, and Rio — and I’ve never walked into a mall here looking for the exits in case some lunatic starts shooting up the food court.

That said — that said! — property crime here is real. Pickpocketing is real. I feel like relative to NY and SF, you’re less likely to get your bag back if you leave it in a restaurant. And — pièce de résistance — earlier this summer a thief came through a window into my apartment and swiped my laptop.

Bizarrely, parallel-ly, I feel like the French themselves are generally very honest — I often buy things online and literally send cash by mail.

Just keep an eye on your stuff, and you’ll be fine.

2. The best way into the city from CDG is the RER; the best way from Orly is by Uber.

In terms of my transportation-centric Paris travel hacks: Obviously this all goes out the window if you have a ton of bags. The RER B from Charles de Gaulle is quick, efficient, cheap, and it picks you up in-terminal (unlike Orly, where you need to take Orlyval first). It can probably get you close to where you’re staying, as it stops at the Gare du Nord, Châtelet, St-Michel, etc. If you’re a train nerd, you can wait for a train running express to the Gare du Nord – it’s under 30 minutes direct, 10 minutes longer otherwise.

You can take public transport from Orly — by OrlyBus (which goes to Place Denfert-Rochereau, of limited value to most people), by T7 tram to Metro line 7 (extremely tedious), or by Orlyval tram to Antony, where you can switch the RER B heading north — a pain if you have a bunch of bags). Ubers from Orly can be as cheap as €25, while they’ll probably be several times that from CDG, making the RER a better choice from CDG but not from Orly.

3. If you’re looking for cheap airfares to other destinations from Paris, don’t sleep on Beauvais.

This is a ridiculously small, terrible airport about 60 miles north of Paris that’s nonetheless home to a number of budget airlines, including EasyJet, Ryanair, and Wizzair. It’s a hassle to get to, but I flew to Sofia and Sarajevo from here for under $30.

4. The bois aren’t that fun.

Paris is bookended by two giant parks — the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes. Controversial opinion but I don’t find either of them very fun. The Bois de Boulogne is worth a trip only for the Fondation Louis Vuitton (a beautiful art museum with worthy exhibitions). Instead of the Bois de Vincennes, I’d swap in the Chateau de Vincennes, which is an amazing castle right outside of Paris (it’s so close you can get there by Metro line 1). If you’re looking for nature, I’d suggest a closer-in park like the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont or just hanging out on the banks of the Seine.

5. The Mona Lisa is the worst part of the Louvre.

Want to stand around with an overheated roomful of strangers staring at a painting through their cellphone? Welcome to the Mona Lisa. No shade to the Mona Lisa, but it’s just not worth the hassle in a gigantic museum full of amazing work. Three other spots to consider: For a year I began every visit in Cour Visconti, home to the Islamic art collection. I’m obsessed with Cour Marly, home to part of the sculpture collection. And my favorite painting at the Louvre, Delacroix’s Jeune orpheline au cimetière is hidden up in an attic/very quiet corner of the museum.

6. If someone’s asking you to sign a petition, it’s a scam.

Here’s how it works.

7. The Metro is better than Uber.

The Metro can get you pretty much everywhere (except to the dead center of the Marais, thanks to the fact that the neighborhood was, indeed, a swamp (“marais” is “swamp” in French). It runs from 5:30 a.m. until 12:40 a.m., an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays. Google Maps can give you metro directions with its public transportation option — or download the RATP app (now officially known as Bonjour RATP), which can do the same thing but in French or English and with extra granularity.

8. Paris travel hacks, controversial division: It’s OK to just speak English.

Depending on where I am, I’ll open the conversation in English. (And certainly, if I’m asked a question by an overbearing shop worker, I’ll definitely answer in English.) The level of English spoken by service workers in Paris is very high — notably higher than even a few years ago — no doubt aided by the spread of English via the Internet. The fumbling of “parlez-vous anglais” seems to be a relic of an older generation. If we’re framing it as a question of respect, I actually think it’s more respectful to assume that they speak better English than I do French.

Most of the time, I’ll ask my question in French, and then, if the employee responds in English, certainly stay in English. At certain places, I might start off in English — a major department store or museum. And in other places — catering to Parisians — I’ll start and stay in French: not only the tax and immigration offices but places like a hardware store, the post office, and the grocery store.

All that said, I absolutely do the whole “Bonjour/bonsoir” to the shopkeeper on entering, and “Bonne journée/bonne soirée” on leaving.

9. Trying on clothes here can be miserable.

hate shopping for clothes in Paris. The clothes: beautiful! The service: actually, often, overbearing. Far from the stereotype of the lazy French worker (a stereotype I don’t find accurate), I find shop staff here way too invested in what I’m doing. I just want to try on some clothes, buy them/or not, and leave.

Many Paris dressing rooms don’t have mirrors (what?) and do have cloth “doors” — meaning that it’s hard to get any privacy. I wouldn’t mind emerging from the dressing room to take a look in a communal mirror if not for the absolutely too frank appraisals of the staff: I know if it’s too tight, I don’t need a second opinion sheesh!!! The last time I tried on a dress at BHV, the concession employee was knocking on the dressing room door, sizing me up, bringing over matching shoes I didn’t ask for. Honestly, in many ways she was a huge help (the shoes were great!) but I just wanted to be left alone. I am likely in the minority on this, but it’s something to know.

For the record, plenty of places, like Sézane, have mirrors in its dressing rooms, with chill staff.

10. Why not consider the off season??

I actually sort of love crowds, but many people don’t — and to those people I would say: Have you considered visiting in January, February, or November? Paris is packed during the summer (see more in #11) and visiting in the off-season can mean fewer crowds and not-bad weather. These days, with 100-degree-plus heat waves and a stubborn lack of air conditioning, anyone compromised by the heat shouldn’t bet on temperate weather in July or August (or should absolutely be sure to find a hotel/Airbnb with AC). January and February can be surprisingly mild (though often rainy), and late in the month, November offers holiday decorations without the Christmas crowds.

11. Paris travel hacks, controversial division #2: August in Paris is amazing.

At one point last August, there was only one other apartment on my street with the lights on — a bizarre but delightful situation. I love the chilled vibe as the entire city empties out. (Fact: The dominant language in my Franprix, at least during August, is English!) If you’re looking for the most authentic French experience — well, I’d say there’s nothing more authentic than millions of French people taking off for their summer houses.

12. Dinner is not served at 5 PM.

God help us. I grew up in standard American mode, eating dinner at 5:30 every night. Let me emphasize, I don’t think eating later is more sophisticated — we ate early because my mom grew up eating early, and her family ate early because my grandpa was a farmer who got up with the sun. So no shame — but get ready to eat at 8 p.m. or so (and don’t expect restaurants to open for dinner until 7/7:30).

A corollary of this is that outside of fast food and boulangeries, it can be hard to find lunch after 2 p.m. As a previous New Yorker who ate lunch at her desk at 3 p.m. (earliest!!) every day, this has caused me absolutely no end of heartbreak//empty stomach syndrome. Even after nine years, I’ll still be wandering the streets at 2:45, angry at myself for missing the cut-off. Best solution: crêpes at Breizh, my top choice crêpe place, which is always busy but helpfully serves crêpes and galettes all day long.

best non touristy neighborhoods in paris - image of canal de l'ourcq in the 19th arrondissement

The Best Non-Touristy Neighborhoods in Paris

Ever wonder about the best non-touristy neighborhoods in Paris? Our letter-writer did! (Pre-PS: If you have travel questions, please do send them to us via Instagram DM; there’s nothing better in the whole world.)

The question:

Can you recommend your favorite residential arrondissement — not touristy?

Absolutely!!

I want to open with two brief provisos in terms of the best non-touristy neighborhoods in Paris:

#1: Paris is so small that I honestly believe you can stay anywhere within the city itself and have a wonderful time here — meaning that the more residential arrondissements shouldn’t put you off. The 15th is 1000X closer to the center of Paris than, say, Park Slope is to Manhattan, or Chiswick is to central London (and I say that as someone who lived in both of those latter neighborhoods — it’s not a dig, it’s just geography).

#2: In terms of having a non-touristy experience: timing is as important as location. Montmartre in July is a nightmare, and I say that as someone who walked through the Place du Tertre 90 minutes ago. Montmartre in January can be lovely. Visiting during low season can help a busier part of town feel like Parisians live there, instead of nine million Americans in Airbnbs — this is anecdotal, but I find November and February the chillest of the months (actually both in vibe and temperature).

That said: Within reason — noting that more people visit France than any other country on Earth — it’s easy to avoid the crowds. Here’s what you’ll want to skip: the 1st arrondissement (the Louvre), the 2nd (Louvre adjacent), the 3rd (there might not be any Parisians left at this point in the summer), the 4th (the Marais, Notre Dame), the 5th (the Latin Quarter), the 6th (the Jardin du Luxembourg), the 7th (the Eiffel Tower), and the 8th (the Champs Elysées, the Arc de Triomph). The 9th, 10th, and 11th would win my votes for the coolest parts of town (noting that they each have cool/uncool parts, especially the 11th). They’re pretty buzzy, though, and popular with out-of-towners as well as locals.

Where does that leave us? With some really lovely, relatively undertrafficked neighborhoods. My top three choices would be:

best non touristy neighborhoods paris - the interior of the chateau de vincennes

The 12th arrondissement: The Promenade Plantée, the Place d’Aligre, Bercy, the Bois de Vincennes
The basics:
The 12th is an outlying arrondissement on the eastern edge of Paris, bordered to the south by the Seine.
The sights: The Promenade plantée — aka the Paris Highline — is a lovely three-mile-long raised garden built above the tracks of the 19th-century Vincennes railway line. It’s a terrific place for a date, a run, or a quiet afternoon staring at the sky. The Bois de Vincennes is a huge expanse of parkland — cross the city border and go into Vincennes for a visit to the Chateau de Vincennes, a genuine castle with a moat and a chapel with stained glass as lovely as Sainte-Chappelle, and none of the crowds.
Where to stay: I liked the Square Trousseau so much that the first time I went there, after a morning at the Place d’Aligre flea market, I spent the rest of the day looking at apartment listings. The famous Baron Rouge wine bar is around the corner.
Especially good for… anyone going to a concert at Bercy, which gets tons of big-name performers.

best non touristy neighborhoods in paris - the 19th - parc des buttes chaumont

The 19th arrondissement: The Bassin de la Villette, Centquatre, the Philharmonie de Paris, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (pictured: Eiffel’s bridge)
The basics:
The 19th is an outlying arrondissement on the northeastern edge of Paris, to the right of Montmartre.
The sights: The Bassin de la Villette (seen in the top photo) is like a low-key, hipper version of the Seine — in the summer, it’s paradise, with lots of little places to eat and drink along the water, plus bathing areas in the canal itself. The Philharmonie de Paris, within a beautiful, striking building designed by Jean Nouvel, is a complex of auditoriums and event spaces — buy your tickets in advance if you think you might want to see something there. And Centquatre (aka 104) is a cool art space on the western side of the canal hosting a huge array of events and exhibitions.
Where to stay: Noting that everything is extremely relative, this is one of the less expensive parts of Paris — the official Paris website makes multiple mentions of the neighborhood’s “industrial and working-class past.” I’d stay near the pretty Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, home to a suspension bridge created by Gustave Eiffel (of the tower Eiffels) and my favorite outdoor bar in the whole city, Rosa Bonheur.
Especially good for… anyone happy to be between the sights of Montmartre and the very busy bars of the 20th. You can see the Sacre-Coeur basilica from lookout points in the park.

I decided that I really wanted to only suggest three spots for the best non-touristy neighborhoods in Paris — more than that and I’m basically recommending all of them. I’m going with this choice below, but know that the 20th was an extremely close second, and if your main mission is to go to very fun bars, I’d stay in the 20th. For me, I’m just one of those scaredy-cats who can’t be that close to Père Lachaise, which knocks the 20th into fourth place. I’ll also say that the 15th is a good choice, especially if you want to be close to the Eiffel Tower but not too close.

best non touristy neighborhoods in paris - the seine seen from the 13th arrondissement with a view of the river and sky

The 13th arrondissement: Butte-aux-Cailles, “the lost River Bièvre,” the Josephine Baker pool, Petit Bain (picture: the Seine seen from the 13th)
The basics:
The 13th is an outlying arrondissement on the southeastern edge of Paris, south of the Seine.
The sights: The 13th has fewer sights that (all of) the other arrondissements, but I gave it third place because I also think that it feels the most settled — like, people actually live there and go to work there and buy hammers. There are some solid attractions right on the water, like the Josephine Baker public pool (a boon in summer) and Petit Bain, a floating event space that welcomes DJs and musical talent from around the world (recent example: French synthwave duo Doppelhandel).
Where to stay: Definitely in Butte-aux-Cailles. To reach it by metro, you’ll exit at Place d’Italie, a traffic roundabout only marginally improved by the appearance of a mall. Just five minutes away, though — all uphill — you’ll find this charming, self-contained little neighborhood — what Montmartre might have been if it hadn’t gotten quite so famous. Twice a year, in June and October, it hosts a fabulous flea market — to double-check the specific dates, search for vide-grenier and butte aux cailles.
Especially good for… anyone who wants to have a unique experience in a truly lesser-known  (but still worthy!) corner of Paris.

Everything You Need to Know About Paris in August

Last summer, I was the last of my friends to leave Paris for the season — and I spent all that time alone doing the weirdest but also most interesting thing I could think of, which was documenting the exact vacation dates of all the Paris storefronts that close up shop in mid/late July through late August/early September. (I say “storefronts” rather than shops because “storefronts” includes boutiques, restaurants, and services (i.e. hair stylists) — anyone who might leave a sign in the window explaining why they’re gone).

It took a very, very long time to sift through all that data — but it’s done, and now I can tell you:

The average number of days a storefront closes shop in Paris in August: 19.15
I was a little surprised this was as short as it was — respect to the real ones who closed their doors for a solid month. The longest closure on my list was for 33 days. The shortest was seven days.

Note: This is more the average of shops taking two- or three-week vacations (i.e. 14 or 21 days), than it is shops taking 19 days off. Also, this is the total number of consecutive days off as stated by the stores, and usually included days they would be closed under any circumstances (i.e. Sundays).

For my stats nerds out there: 
Median: 17 days
Mode: 16 days (i.e. Saturday – the following Sunday inclusive, reopening on Monday — so two weeks)

The average closure date was: August 3
Now you know, and you won’t be disappointed when you show up in early August and everybody’s gone.

Median: 8/4
Mode: 8/1

The average reopening date was: August 23
This is true, but I would advise that things don’t really feel like they’re starting up for real until September 1.

Median & mode: 8/23

The earliest closing date in my survey was: July 19
I get it.

The latest closing date was: September 6
Slackers! Go for it, I say.

And — my favorite date of all — the date more businesses were closed than any other was: August 15
A full 98% of the stores in my survey were closed in Paris on August 15! Note that this is not solely vacation-related, as 8/15 is also the public (Catholic) holiday of the Assumption. And in the most Paris shop-hours trifecta of possible trifectas, in 2021, August 15 was a Sunday. Honestly I’m shocked that two percent of the shopfronts were open.

Unsurprisingly, the most-closed days after this were the two that surround it: 8/14 and 8/16.

All dates accurate for 2021.

Please enjoy my infographic!!!!!!!!!

What to Do in Paris: 101 Ideas for Museums, Food, Day Trips, Festivals, and More

What to do in Paris: The Absolute Must-Dos

1. Sit along the banks of the Seine as the sun sets — ideally in June, but if you get lucky with the weather, you can do this literally all year round. And ideally you’ll get to do this several nights in a row — which means you can try out a bunch of different spots. My favorite include: the Right Bank right below the Sully-Morland métro stop, the southern bank of the Ile Saint-Louis, the stretch of the Left Bank between the Sully and the Jardin des plantes, in the Jardin Tino Rossi. If you’re there in August, look for the Paris Plages.

2. Well, you probably have to go up the Eiffel Tower; it’s required.

3. Even better, though, watch the Eiffel Tower put on its nightly sparkle show from the steps in front of Sacre-Coeur, up in Montmartre. Obviously you’ll want to go late; follow it with dinner at La Boite aux Lettres, on rue Gabrielle. The show lasts five minutes, and starts every hour on the hour.

4. Have you even been to Paris if you haven’t take a boat ride along the Seine? Batobus is the best of all the options — more utilitarian, sure, but there are better places to have dinner in Paris, and with a Batobus pass you can trade the métro/Uber for a day to roam the river to your heart’s content.

5. Notre Dame is now one of the world’s most expensive construction sites, but it’s still a necessary stop. Go to the eastern end for a view of the damaged roof; on the western end, take a look at the temporary exhibits along the sidewalk showing the interior of the structure, and then head all the way to the western tip of the island to see the beautiful (if small) Square du Vert Galant.

6. Sainte-Chapelle is right next to Notre Dame — but for an even better historic chapel, hop on ligne 1 to go just across the city limit to the Chateau de Vincennes. (Here’s a full field report.)

7. The Chateau de Vincennes feels like a military fortification (there’s even a moat!). If, however, you want a chateau in the sense of a palace — well, for that, you obviously want Versailles, easily accessible by RER (or Uber, if you’re swimming in cash). Do whatever you can to avoid crowds (coming off-season will help) and just accept the fact that there will likely be crowds. If you like, watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette beforehand, even if the film was largely shot elsewhere (including Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Château de Chantilly).

8. The Jardin des plantes is just the most wonderful place in Paris, and that’s really all there is to it. Possibly most beautiful in April, as the cherry trees are blooming, but the hard-working gardeners make sure there’s always something to see. Bring a lunch and grab one of the benches beneath the plane trees. This is the first place I take people when they visit.

9. If you’ve had your fill of outdoor drinks along the Seine, next up is outdoor drinks along the Canal St-Martin.

10. Keep walking north along the canal to where it intersects with the elevated ligne 2 — then continue beneath it to the Bassin de la Villette, with its own outdoor drinking spots, plus swimming during the summer and paddle boats, too. There’s a movie theater on each of the facing quais in case you’re looking for something slightly less active.

 

What to do in Paris: Museums

1. If you’ll be in Paris for any length of time — maybe a month? — do yourself a favor and become an Ami du Louvre, which allows you free access to the museum. Go every day, get to know a single specific gallery, and spend the next six months boring your friends back home with every detail of the Islamic Gallery (which is exactly what I did). The trick with the Louvre is to bite off precisely as little of it as possible, and go deep, versus wide. I mean, go wide too, and see everything, but come back with your membership pass and dive into a single room.

2. You’ll probably want to see the Mona Lisa, but the painting I always make a beeline for is Jeune orphéline à la cimitière, by Eugène Delacroix.

3. Other than that, the sculpture garden in the Cour Marly is extremely lovely.

4. The Orangerie is a spectacular way to see Monet’s eight, huge water lily paintings — depending on your tastes, it’s might the best visual art experience in the city.

5. You wouldn’t want to miss the Musée d’Orsay, with its spectacular setting (a former train station) and world-class collection of mostly pre-WWI French art (basically every painter you were ever tested on in art history).

6. The Centre Pompidou is worth visiting when it has an excellent exhibition on (this happens often). Of course, the building, by Richard Rogers, will be of interest to architects; those not excited by the whole world of aesthetics will want to get a look at the Parisian skyline from the top of its bank of escalators. Note it will close in 2023 for a years-long renovation.

7. The Palais de Tokyo doesn’t have a permanent collection, but its exhibitions — showcasing the most contemporary of contemporary art — can be excellent.

8. Fondation Cartier feels midway between a museum and a gallery (a very beautiful, high-end gallery, of course). The grounds themselves are worth a look, with architecture by Jean Nouvel and a small woodland to the building’s rear, designed by German conceptual artist Lothar Baumgarten.

9. It’s worth trekking out to the Bois de Boulogne to see the Fondation Louis Vuitton, with a collection safely tucked inside a building designed by Frank Gehry. If you’re looking for a post-museum activity, you’ll be right near the starting point of the GR1, a 500+ kilometer trail that swings all the way around Paris.

10. Especially if you don’t want to leave town to see one of the palaces, the Musée Jacquemart-André is part stately home, part art gallery. The former includes what is undoubtedly the prettiest stairway in Paris.

11. I really should not mention the Musée Nissim de Camondo because I find it a bit boring compared to the other museums on this list, but it does have the most Wes Anderson-y, beautifully designed bathroom.

12. If you’ve been to the Picasso museum in Barcelona, I’m not sure that the Paris version is worth the time, especially if you’re on a tight schedule — it really depends on the quality of the visiting exhibitions, which have ranged from sublime to so-so. The building itself is beautiful, and take the time for a drink at La Perle, the neighborhood hotspot about 50 meters west.

What to do in Paris: Food

1. My favorite thing to eat in Paris is a croissant. There are all sorts of lists of where to buy the best, but I love all croissants equally. (Though possibly those at Miss Manon in the Marais slightly more than all the others.)

2. I do not love all beignets equally. In fact, I am quite a snob about them, and only eat beignets from the Coquelicot bakery in Montmartre, which was my local spot before moving back down that massive hill.

3. Speaking of bakeries! It’s French law: You need to eat a baguette within 30 minutes of buying it (yes the entire thing) or you are sent to jail. Seriously, though: It’s not Wonder Bread (I was raised on Wonder Bread, I’m not judging), so forget “saving it for the morning.” Note that a tradition is the better version of a baguette. (Here’s a primer on the differences.)

4. You might like those cute little épiceries with a half-dozen products for sale. I, however, am from New Jersey, and so I must naturally gravitate toward the most mall-like offering — in this case, La Grande Épicerie at Le Bon Marché, which has everything — a fishmonger, a bakery, a cheese shop, etc. etc. — a person could want from a French food experience (as well as an entire shelf devoted to American products, including Fluff.)

5. If you’re looking for a slightly more refined experience, try Maison Plisson. Don’t let all the perishables on the ground floor put you off — head down the steps for a travel-ready selection of oils, snacks, sweets, wines, and much more.

6. If you would prefer to actually go to several specialty shops instead of just one, it is time for a tour down rue des Martyrs in the 9th. It is sort of a food paradise, with one fancy food shop after another — my favorite is the local outpost of mini-chain La Meringaie, which sells nothing but meringue pastries with seasonal fruits.

7. If you want to eat and drink how actual Parisians are eating and drinking, head for one of the Wild & the Moon locations — it’s “vegan to go” as inspired by the co-founder’s time in New York (presumably taking a lot of meetings at Sweetgreen). I would be lying if I said I hadn’t ordered many, many protein shakes from the one on rue Amelot.

8. Of course, you might want something more sophisticated than an acai bowl. In that case, it’s time to go to one of Paris’s many Michelin-starred restaurants. And oh — what’s this? A list of 17 Michelin-starred restaurants offering meals (read: lunch) at under 55€?

9. The trick at 99% of cafés with lovely Parisian outdoor seating is: Don’t eat there. Just drink there. My current favorite is Le Bastille.

10. If you’re still looking around for somewhere to eat, Le Fooding is your next stop. I found most of my favorite restaurants by plugging my postal code into their “best restaurants” finder, including Le Mary Celeste and the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie — plus, it’s free and in English!

What to do in Paris: The Day and Weekend Trips (Local)

1. Nothing can beat Monet’s garden at Giverny, which is just staggeringly beautiful. Crowded, always, but for some attractions, you just gotta live with it, and this is one of them.

2. There are several Van Gogh-related attractions in Auvers-sur-Oise, but the best choice in the matter is to do as Van Gogh himself did, and head out into the surrounding countryside for a wander. The French love a hike, so if you do, too, just search for “randonnee” plus your destination — for example, here’s Visorando’s hikes around Auvers.

3. Thanks to the super-fast TGV trains, Lille — a three-hour drive — is but a one-hour, extremely comfortable, not-cheap-but-not-cataclysmically-expensive ride away. I love Lille, especially as a counterpoint to Paris — it’s right on the border of Belgium, something that should be evident from all the Flemish-y architecture and the seemingly universal preference for beer over wine. While you’re there, visit Louvre Lens (the Louvre satellite in nearby Lens) and La Piscine in equally nearby Roubaix, which is part museum, part spectacular indoor/highly Instagrammable pool.

4. Le Havre is just as great as Lille, and with an entirely different feel: Norman, not Flemish. While in Lille you can still hear the echoes of World War I, here it’s the effects of World War II that remain visible: The city was heavily bombed (by the Allies, and particularly the British Air Force) toward the end of the war, leaving literally half of its 160,000 inhabitants homeless. The modern architecture, though a product of tragedy, is beautiful: Be sure to see Auguste Perret’s Star Wars-esque Eglise St-Joseph, the excellent Museum of Modern Art, and Perret’s apartments, created after the war to provide immediate low-cost housing to the displaced.

5. Imagine the Hamptons, if instead of a beach you had rolling French countryside, and you have le Perche, where generations of Parisians head to their parents’ magnificent country homes. It really is beautiful. I don’t like all the travel writing in the Times, but this account of visiting, though from 2007, is spectacular: “It’s two hours from Paris, I was told, in lower Normandy, not far from Chartres. “It has glorious manoirs and chateaus and is famous for its Percheron,” Michèle wrote to me, “the noblest, absolutely most gorgeous horses in the world.” Let’s go!!!

What to do in Paris: The Day and Weekend Trips (International)

1. London!!! If you haven’t been, you must. There is nothing more magical than heading north for the weekend, and coming back on Sunday with a suitcase full of books, Cheddar cheese, Marks & Spencer snacks, and as many Sunday newspapers as will fit. Go via Eurostar, from the Gare du Nord. 

2. Amsterdam: In under three hours via Thalys, you can go from the Louvre to the Rijksmuseum, for a sunny stroll along the canals. Amsterdam is just wonderful, as is the surrounding, easily accessed countryside — especially in April, when the entire place is carpeted in tulips (well, maybe not the entire place, but enough.) Go via Thalys from the Gare du Nord.

3. Zurich: It is, rather unbelievably, possible to do Zurich as a day trip from Paris, as long as you don’t mind spending a lot of time on the train. If you go in winter, head immediately to the Thermalbad spa, with heated pools overlooking the surrounding mountains — and if you’re there in summer, join the rest of the city at the many outdoor poolsGo via TGV Lyria from the Gare de Lyon.

4. Luxembourg: When will you have another chance to see an entire country in a single day? What’s there to do? Not much. The Adolphe Bridge is very pretty, as far as bridges go. The cathedral? Why not! Then hop back on the train and come back to Paris. Go via TGV from the Gare de l’Est.

5. Antwerp: Personally I prefer Antwerp to teeny-tiny Bruges, which to me feels a little Showcase of Nations. Antwerp feels like a real city, inhabited by real Belgians, who may or may not be very involved in the making of designer chocolate. Go via Thalys from the Gare du Nord.

What to do in Paris: Festivals

1. The Paris Marathon is usually in April (after taking place in the fall in 2020 and 2021), right when the cherry blossoms are blooming. The course goes from bois to bois, mostly along the Seine, where the crowds are best.

1. Speaking of: Cherry blossom season in Paris is super-magical. See here for my favorite places to spot them.

1. The Salon du Livre, or Paris Book Fair, is a giant festival of books, held at a conference center at the Porte de Versailles, on the city’s southern rim. It’s definitely better if you speak and/or read French, but even anglophones will find plenty to enjoy from the hundreds of book-loving exhibitors. There are tons — tons! — of great small presses in France; this is the easiest way to find them all, and quickly.

2. Fête de la Musique is the best night of the whole year in Paris. It’s also the shortest: On the summer solstice (a.k.a. June 21), bands big and small play in every corner of Paris, and long into the night. It’s magical.

3. Bastille Day (July 14, or “quatorze juillet”) is like a three-quarter speed Fourth of July, with fewer barbecues but just as many fireworks, which in Paris are set off from around the Eiffel Tower.

4. “Late August” isn’t officially a holiday on the French calendar, but it is certainly an unofficial one, with anyone who can taking off for the hinterlands (read: beach cottage/country manor/castle). That means Paris, in late August, is marvelously devoid of Parisians, and the city slows down to a crawl — if you like wandering through a beautiful city in the late-summer heat and stopping frequently for wine, this is your time. People start leaving for the rest of the season as early as Bastille Day, with every weekend seeing more departures until everyone comes back in early September.

5. Paris’s version of the international phenomenon known as Nuit Blancheis in early October, with events and parties going all night long. At my first Nuit Blanche, I saw a Cai Guo-Qiang fireworks show on the Seine, and it was spectacular, and none has been quite as good, but hope springs eternally.

6. So you’ll definitely need to leave Paris for the best Christmas markets — in my opinion, you’ll want to head east and not stop before you hit Strasbourg (even better, keep going all the way to Baden-Baden, my superior Christmas Market destination). The right Christmas market, in my opinion, is one of those rare things that’s as good as their press: cheerful, singular, and full of mulled wine. These are all excellent.

What to do in Paris: Cafés and Bars

This is a highly personal list of my favorite cafés and bars: Your list, surely, will be different from mine, not least because mine is largely dependent on including options only within a five-minute walk of where I’ve lived. Rule: It is the rare cafés that offers food equal to the pleasures of sitting outside with a glass of wine; it is perhaps unfair of us to expect a café to do the work of a restaurant. Choose wisely (or go on a full stomach, or with reservations for dinner afterward).

1. There are so many cafés on Ile Saint-Louis (my first Paris home, on my second time in Paris), but for whatever reason I always seem to end up at this one (I literally had to Google the name: La Brasserie de l’Ile Saint-Louis) — most likely because it has a very sunny view of Ile de la Cité.

2. The outdoor seating is supposed to be thing at the Café Delmas, spilling out onto the place de la Contrescarpe, but equally appealing are the warrens of indoor cubbies offering semi-private drinking for small parties.

3. There are a half-dozen cafés overlooking the traffic roundabout known as Bastille, but my favorite is the Bastille, because of its extremely stylish vintage decoration.

4. I feel like this might be the perfect Paris café – Le Progres isn’t as much about sitting outside as it is watching everyone walk through Montmartre through the gigantic windows.

5. I wrote half my book (my new book) on a banquette in the back of La Barbouille. (I always get the salad with goat cheese. And a Diet Coke lol.)

6. Cafe de l’Industrie has a very special place in my heart, as it is the café where I both met my first-cousin-once-removed Ashley and where she and I crawled under a chair because we thought we were about to be killed by terrorists. (Here’s that story.) It’s still a first-rate café! (Don’t get the pasta.)

7. With its industrial-style steel finishes and subway-tile walls, La Favorite is the pumpkin spice latte of Parisian cafés – it’s that basic – but it is also delicious and extremely comfortable and has both excellent wifi and enough electrical outlets to go around. J’adore.

8. With a similar style, Café Charlot offers prime people-watching along the fashion-y rue de Bretagne — it’s an entertaining nightmare during Fashion Week(s).

9. The “cafés and bars” section here is perilously short of bars — perhaps to make space for the Comptoir Générale, half-hidden down a courtyard in the 10th. Once inside, you’ll find a sprawling complex consisting of a huge bar, shop (including a brand-new “épicerie cave à rhum“), gallery, and more. Extremely friendly, extremely busy; go off-hours unless you like a crowd.

10. If you like to see how the other 1% lives, make a res for cocktails at Bar Hemingway, the authorially themed bar located in the Ritz and made famous by Hemingway himself. If you’re traveling on a budget, an evening here can more than suffice as the night’s activity; just be sure you bring someone who’s good for gossiping about all the Richie-Riches at the surrounding tables. Do go downstairs to the bathrooms, for a look at a bit of luxury.

What to do in Paris: Parks

1. There are no big parks with the very center of Paris, though the banks of the Seine are a good equivalent of Central Park or Hyde Park: that lovely place in the middle of everything where everyone goes when the weather’s nice. The closest exception would be the Jardin des plantes, which is as close to perfect as it gets: restful, ever-changing, immaculately cared for. It’s just wonderful.

2. Just slightly west of the JDP and along the bank of the river, you’ll find the Jardin Tino Rossi. It’s best known as a spot for nighttime dancing in the summer, but it’s lovely in the spring, when the willow trees are leafing out and the cherry trees bloom.

3. Speaking of! There are cherry trees all over Paris, but the best collection might be at the Parc Sceaux, which has both a lovely garden and a chateau of its very own.

4 & 5. Paris’s two bois — the Bois de Boulogne on the west and the Bois de Vincennes on the east — are wilder and woolier than, say, Central Park. I like the Bois de Boulogne because it’s near the start point of the GR1, a 325-mile circuit around Paris, and it includes the Fondation Vuitton, a worthy art museum in a spectacular, Frank Gehry-designed building. The Bois de Vincennes is worth visiting, too, for the Parc Floral (more cherry trees, obvs) and access to the nearby Chateau de Vincennes. I don’t, though, consider them must-visits like the Jardin des plantes, or, if it’s convenient, the Parc Monceau.

6. Speaking of! The Parc Monceau is like if the Upper East Side (Paris equivalent: the 8th arrondissement) had its own swath of Central Park to itself. It’s extremely manicured but/and lovely, and abuts the Musée Cernuschi and the Musée Nissim de Camondo.

7. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a friendlier, bigger park, with a famous basin (perfect for little sailboats), statues and flowers, pony rides, snack kiosks, and tennis courts. There’s a higher percentage of tourists here than at the other parks on this list, but its charms are undeniable.

8. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is just lovely. Way up in the 19th, it’s both quite far north and on a hilly elevation, which means if you climb up to the Temple de la Sibylle, you’ll get terrific views of Montmartre. There’s also a suspension bridge above an artificial lake designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, plus an excellent outdoor bar at Rosa Bonheur.

9. The Coulée Verte (a.k.a the Promenade Plantée) might be the top cool-tourist attraction on this part of the list. If you’ve been to the Highline in Manhattan, you get the idea (the Highline, in fact, was modeled on the Coulée Verte): a narrow, verdant pathway above the city. The truly ambitious can walk all the way from Bastille to Vincennes, though the best parts are closer-in to Bastille.

10. Obviously you can’t miss the Tuileries, once the private garden of Catherine de Medici. Head there after the Louvre, when you’re in need of a long sit-down. I prefer it in the spring and summer (I prefer everything in the spring and summer), but it feels the most itself in the fall.

11. Beyond the Palais Royal’s Insta-omnipresent black-and-white columns — more officially a public art installation by Daniel Buren called Les Deux Plateaux — is the former palace’s garden, which is beautiful, not least for its extremely French vision of highly manicured lime and red chestnut trees.

12. I’m not sure you’d want to dip out of central Paris to visit the Parc André Citroen, but if you’re near the 15th, it’s well worth stopping by — weirdly modern park, not least because it’s built on the grounds of a former Citroen automobile manufacturing plant.

13. Just across the Paris line in Boulogne-Billancourt, you’ll find the Jardin Albert Kahn, with a Japanese-style garden that was apparently meticulously constructed after M. Kahn’s revelatory trip there.

14. Possibly saving the best, or at least the most under-the-radar for tourists, is the Roseraie du Val-du-Marne, a spectacular rose garden that’s only worth seeing in bloom (obviously) — but for those few weeks is an utterly spectacularly, rose-filled sight. Here’s my trip report.

What to do in Paris: Shopping

1. If I had to choose one store to shop at for the rest of my time in Paris, it would be Le Bon Marché: prohibitively expensive, yes, but with neat, smart buys that won’t break the bank, plus excellent installations from leading contemporary artists. The grocery hall — it’s too elegant to call it a mere “grocery store” — is a delight. Best of all are the seasonal pop-up shops, bringing in all sorts of unexpected treasures — often quite cheap — from here and there. (One of the rare disappointments: a collection of J. Crew from an L.A.-themed pop-up. What??)

2. Of course, that being said, LBM is way across town, so my actual, rather than ideal, one-stop-shop is BHV, the gargantuan, definitely cheaper department store in the figurative shadow of city hall (the titular hôtel de ville, BHV officially being the Bazar du Hôtel de Ville). There’s always something new to see here — the Diptyque concession, a plant boutique that took over when Anthropologie moved into its own digs down the street. I mostly go directly to the third floor, for books and art supplies, though I once exited the basement hardware shop with a giant ladder that I consider, to this day, the best purchase I’ve ever made in France.

3. Empreintes is like if Macy’s were Macy’s but it only sold extremely fancy handmade goods from the best of France’s artisans (specifically, those represented by Ateliers d’Art de France).

4. Similarly, Merci is a multi-level concept shop in the Upper Marais, only instead of $100 sandstone vases (like Empreintes) it stocks the hippest-of-the-hip brands in clothing, accessories, and homewares. The women’s clothing is back to the right, but my favorite part is the giant space you walk into from the street, which is where their thematic pop-up collections are shown.

5. I don’t care if it’s a cliché at this point, I just love Sézane.

6. Similarly, Lou Yetu is selling a very specific take on the Paris-girl vibe, but I love it, so I don’t care if it’s the France-jewelry version of pumpkin spice latte. I usually go to the seasonal location in the Marais, but the flagship near Opéra is gorgeous, in that soft-pink velvet and brass way.

7. Controversial opinion: Shakespeare & Co. is for tourists. After a while, you graduate to the half-anglo, demi-français Galignani on rue de Rivoli, which is just a beautiful bookstore with a smartly curated gallery of international fiction, in English, in the back. A very friendly staff, and — bonus — no lines out the door.

8. Aroma Zone. This is so embarrassing but I legit love this store — selling essential oils, carrier oils, creams, and other materiel for making your own soaps and cosmetics — and it is packed with Parisians. The French :: tourist ratio is higher here than anywhere else I’ve been outside of, like, a medical office.

9. I hate to put two bookstores on this list, but 0fr is a national treasure: part fancy magazine shop, part art-book store, part gallery. Uh, while you’re here, stop by Yvan Lambert, about five minutes away, for even more art books and gallery shows.

10. Papier Tigre has extremely cute paper goods.

What to do in Paris: Events

1. I know I just said that Galignani is a better bookstore than Shakespeare & Co., and I stand by that, but if you’re wondering where the anglophone literati are at, check to see if S&Co. has an author event coming up.

2. Parisians love their movies. If you’re going to be here for any length of time, I heartily recommend the UGC pass — there’s nothing better than sitting in the UGC at Les Halles and just going from salle to salle to salle. It’s mostly big-box stuff, but they get plenty of weird, tiny movies here, too.

3. If you’re looking for a higher class of cinema, try one of the myriad independent cinémas. Le Champo offers a 10 movies for €50 pass.

4. I don’t, like, immediately connect to the Moulin Rouge vibe, but I swear, everyone I know who’s been has loved it.

5. Meetup is a really great way to meet a bunch of people as quickly as possible. Events are always of varied quality, but if you want to get out and see the countryside but don’t want to do it alone, the Power Hiking Paris group does proper workouts of 10 miles and up.

6. So you wanted to make real-deal poets in Paris? (Mostly anglophone poets?) Paris Lit Up hosts weekly open mics at Culture Rapide — stick around after for drinks afterward.

7. La Bellevilloise has an extremely eclectic roster of jazz, world music, brunch, films — basically everything — in a fun and open-late neighborhood. Some events are in English, some are in music, if you know what I mean.

lighthouse - best audible books 2021

7 Basically Perfect Audible Books for 2021 and Beyond

These are my picks best Audible books (for 2021).

If you pick the right one, there’s something incredibly special about the right audiobook — I don’t think books are generally improved by their film adaptations, but I do think some are even better in their audiobook format. To the Lighthouse is one of the 20th century’s perfect books — but the way Nicole Kidman reads those dense, twisty sentences helps crack it open in a way that’s impossible on the page.

I have 70 books in my Audible library, and most I didn’t finish. Some were boring. With others — like with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and two Neil Gaiman books I ended up buying the print version because I couldn’t follow the plot. These, though, are all wonderful, and if you’re looking for something to listen to next, look here first.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I can’t even say what an incredible experience listening to this book was. I’ve read lots of books by TV comedians and those were fine and entertaining but this is real-deal art. I loved this book so much that I bought the hardcover for my mom for Christmas, even though there’s nothing that can replicate the experience of Noah reading it himself. Part of Noah’s story is crossing between cultures — his Swiss dad and Xhosa mom, just for starters — so hearing his expert accents and intonations just adds another layer of interest.

The George Smiley Radio Dramas by the BBC

I spent much of 2020 reading John Le Carré’s spy novels, and they are amazing and gorgeously written in a way that still isn’t celebrated enough. They are, though, intricately plotted, in the way that I can say that I love Tinker Tailor without understanding exactly what/anything that happened. These radio dramas — focused on those featuring George Smiley, spy extraordinaire but also not — are amazing because they’re pared down just enough to be clear while still honoring Le Carré’s intentions (unlike some of the film adaptations of his books, with all that creative meddling from the directors). (Of course the best practice is to read the books as well.) With: Brian Cox from Succession as an excellent Alec Leamas (in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold)!

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This is one of my favorite books and this is true despite the fact that some of the sentences are very, very long. Of course they are beautiful and intricate and they always make sense — but they are still extremely long. This shouldn’t be a big thing but I actually found this easier to parse thanks to Nicole Kidman, who reads beautifully, like an actual queen, and who did an amazing job metering out all those extremely intricate rhythms.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

I loved this collection of short stories so much that I tried to record the recording of the audio for my friends (I know this is a terrible idea/illegal) — but the stories, and in particular “The Life of Chuck.” I know “If It Bleeds” is the best-known one — and deservedly so, since it’s the sequel to The Outsider — but “The Life of Chuck” is just an incredibly special, sensitive story. I didn’t know anything about it going in and I’m not going to spoil it here. One of the best things about listening to this versus reading it was that I didn’t know how long it was — and since it’s told in a number of different sections, I was surprised more than once that there was more story to go. Listening to Part I during pandemic-times was almost too close to home.

Midnight Sun by James Dommek Jr.

If you like Dateline (seriously who doesn’t like Dateline), you will enjoy this true-crime story by James Dommek, Jr., an Alaska Native writer and musician. He had a passing connection to an Alaskan actor, Teddy Kyle Smith, who fled into the wilderness after a violent incident, and Dommek uses that connection to help bring context to a truly bizarre story of thwarted ambition. In addition to being a fascinating portrait (of a person conspicuous by his absence), it is a stellar example of writing about place.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Of the three ways to engage with The Handmaid’s Tale — Hulu, the original, or this — the Audible version, read by Claire Danes(!), is a very solid second (to reading the book). There’s another version of this, with Danes narrating alongside a full cast, that might very well belong on a list of the best Audible books of 2021 (or indeed 2022), but I haven’t heard it yet, and I think it’ll be hard to beat this, and the suffocating sense of being stuck in Offred’s head/life.

These are my best Audible books of 2021. For the last few years, my main reading project is to read a book from every country in the world. For more on that, see here

The 7 Best 2021 Wall Art Calendars on Etsy

There may be 20,000+ search results — but I’m pretty confident that among these six picks is the single best wall art calendar on Etsy.

I turned to Etsy when my usual calendar-providing suspects — Paper Source, Rifle Paper — came up empty. Some requirements for my new calendar: I wanted a wall calendar, not a desk calendar, and ideally, I wanted something bound (either with, like, staples or ring-binding) — not the sort of thing where you have to use a fancy binder clip to put it on your wall. I also avoided printable calendars (I make one(!!) but just didn’t want anything DIY for this), and I skipped single-page, full-year-on-one-sheet calendars,

I didn’t go through all 22,000 results(!!!!!) in my search for the best wall art calendar on Etsy, but I did find a half-dozen I loved. These obviously reflect my general interests — National Parks, trees, travel, etc. — but you can find literally anything you want, including: a virus calendar, a pastry calendar, a “2021 Nude Art Calendar.”

1. Architecture Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Architecture calendar, $39

I know I literally just said I didn’t want a calendar held together with a binder clip — I guess at least this calendar of architectural illustrations comes with one.

2. Hand-Sewn Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Hand-sewn calendar, $65

This is about four times as much as I wanted to spend, but this might be the very best wall art calendar on Etsy (all of it). Each art print is double-perforated and can be detached, from the calendar itself and from the monthly grid, to be saved and shown off separately. The same designer makes a moon phases calendar, too.

3. Watercolor Botanical Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Watercolor botanical calendar, $29.50

Another binder-clip situation (argh), but I love the way that the illustrations are shown at maximal size, and how the color palette gets cooler and warmer with the seasons.

4. Botanical Illustrations Calendar

best wall art calendar etsy

BUY IT HERE: Botanical illustrations calendar, $23.50

I love that the monthly grid is hand-drawn, just like the botanical illustrations. The same designer makes a terrazzo-pattern calendar, if that’s your thing.

5. National Park Calendar

best wall art calendar etsy

BUY IT HERE: National Park calendar, $32

There are a zillion National Park-themed wall art calendars on Etsy, but this is one of the ones I like the best, thanks to all its rich, saturated colors.

6. Field & Forest Calendar

BUY IT HERE: Field & Forest calendar, $30

I love the color palette for this “Field & Forest” calendar, like the icy blue of January and the pretty pink of April.

7. Streetscapes Calendar

BUY IT HERE: Streetscapes calendar, $32

A lovely gift for a travel, this calendar has gouache illustrations of streetscapes from the Jordaan in Amsterdam to New York’s SoHo (and London, San Francisco, and more.)

P.S.: See my other Etsy picks — including the best French gifts and the best French jewelryhere.

7 Perfectly Minimalist Earrings From My Favorite French Jewelry Maker

Minimalist jewelry is so tricky if you’re looking for something sleek ‘n’ chic but not utterly without interest. Paris-based designer Raphaël Schaltegger walks that line expertly with his Goutte de Terre brand, which mixes super-smooth Limoges porcelain with gold and other organic details. These are the best minimalist earrings on Etsy, as far as I can tell.

Schaltegger has a gallery and shop in the 11th but also sells his work online, which is all to the good. The prices are reasonable enough — my favorite piece below, the Seine earrings, are about $50 — and utilitarian enough that they could withstand the transition from day to night, classroom to office, or whatever big move might be on your agenda.

If you like these but they’re not quite right, check out their Instagram, which has new pieces not yet online.

Affiliate links below. 

1. Kisale Earrings

minimalist earrings etsy

BUY IT HERE:  “Kisale” earrings, $50

That’s a very particular green, but if it works for you, it looks great with gold.

2. Seine Earrings

minimalist earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Seine” earrings, $50

These are so extremely élégante that I included them in our list of the 12 best French-made presents from allll of Etsy. Fact: I didn’t look through all 300 pages of search results, but these earn my vote for the very best minimalist earrings on Etsy (all of it!!). Those are also Seines at the very top, in a slightly different color.

3. Tukituki Earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Tukituki” earrings, $147

This is the most expensive piece on this list and I’m not totally sure that I like these $100 more than the Seines, above — but I *do* love that deep-green color of porcelain.

4. Dyle Earrings

dyle minimalist earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Dyle” earrings, $97

If you’re not into the whole geometric trend, you can skip these, but I love it.

5. Mira Earrings

mira earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Mira” earrings, $53

Another super simple, super clean option.

6. Bodva Earrings

bodva earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Bodva” earrings, $53

You could wear these earrings with literally anything Everlane has ever made.

7. Kivu Earrings

minimalist earrings etsy

BUY IT HERE:  “Kivu” earrings, $75

These are the right earrings for when you get invited to a gallery opening and want to wear earrings that are cool but not, like, overly cool.

yabla review

An Honest Yabla Review (2021)

My Yabla review: I love Yabla.

I’ve used Yabla for three years, after I discovered it while looking for a way to practice my oral comprehension of French. I can read reasonably well, and speak at least competently enough to express my less-complicated thoughts, but I am hopeless at understanding people when they speak French. Enter, Yabla. (Note: This Yabla review focuses on Yabla French, though I imagine it’s more or less the same for each of the languages Yabla offers.)

So What Is Yabla?

Yabla is a language-learning system that uses a selection of game-like programs to increase oral comprehension, vocabulary, and written ability. My favorite — the one I use 99.9% of the time — is Scribe.

yabla review - scribe

The concept is simple: Every week, Yabla publishes a bunch of new videos — a mix of news reports, music videos, cartoon segments, and original material made by Yabla itself. (The original material is excellent — especially the videos by Lionel (Lionel the First, though Lionel the Second is also great, something other Yabla French users will understand) and by Daniel Benchimol, who does great video tours around Paris and France).

Each clip is divided into short sections, and you type out what you hear, like in Wheel of Fortune. See those blank spaces up there? That’s where you type in the words you hear the speaker saying.

It’s that easy — except often it’s not, because maybe you don’t know your “dis donc” from “dit, donc.” The better you do on your first try, the more stars you get. The more stars you get, the higher you appear on the leaderboard — so you’re rewarded both for accuracy and volume.

How Does Yabla Work?

Scribe is just one of Yabla’s core programs.

yabla review - fill in the blank

There’s also Multiple Choice (seen above), where you select a missing word from a sentence from a row of possibilities, and Fill in the Blank, where you type in the missing word instead of a multiple choice scenario. (Fill in the Blank can actually be a little more difficult than Scribe, because with Scribe you know, Hangman-style, how many letters there are in each word, while you don’t in Fill in the Blank — so you have to think a little harder about whether you’re hearing “viennent” or “vienne.”)

Finally we have Vocabulary Review (above), which quizzes you on possibly new-to-you words in increasingly more difficult ways: first you match French to English, then English to French, then write the word in French given the English definition. A new Comprehension section is your basic “did you understand anything that you just heard.”

Obviously, the best way to go about this would be to spend a bit of time with extra video, going through all the games one by one, but I usually just do Scribe.

Who’s Yabla For?

One of the things I like best about Yabla is that it’s not for beginners. It organizes its videos from beginner level to advanced, and there are plenty at the beginner level — but more are available for intermediates and advanced. I honestly don’t know how you’d start with no experience. Yabla can’t teach the foundations of the language — how French adjectives agree with their nouns, or when to use subjunctive verbs and when to use conditional.

In my experience, Yabla is best used in conjunction with a class or one-on-one tutor (I have the latter, on Verbling).

Yabla Vs Duolingo

I personally don’t love Duolingo, though I finished it in French, as I reviewed what I’d learned in high school and college. They really don’t compare at all: Duolingo’s for beginners, and Yabla’s not. If I were starting from scratch and only wanted to use online tools, it’d be possible to start with Duolingo and then move to beginner-level Yabla videos. But I feel like you’d still need a tutor to explain the foundations of the language, which Duolingo doesn’t do.

Yabla Vs FluentU

I’ve only spent the two-week trial on FluentU. I prefer Yabla, which is much less expensive because you’re only subscribing to one language, whereas with FluentU you get access to everything they offer. If you’re learning multiple languages, maybe that would make FluentU worth it?

FluentU offers more languages than Yabla: FluentU has Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, English, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Korean, and Portuguese, while Yabla only has six: English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Chinese. But Yabla does have deeper video libraries for the languages it does have, and I didn’t see any original material on FluentU.

There are some things I prefer about FluentU, including its more modern interface, and small things like a running total of the days you’ve used it, right on your main dashboard. But I don’t like any of that enough to consider switching. Even if they were the same price, I’d go with Yabla, but given that FluentU is nearly three times as much(!), it’s an easy choice.

In Conclusion: My Yabla Review

My Yabla review is that Yabla is the best. On its own, it won’t teach anybody French. But as part of a well-rounded language program, it’s invaluable.

It’s $12.95 per month, with a 15-day free trial, or $54.95 for six months or $99.95 for a year. (Obviously I pay monthly because I like wasting money.)

p.s. these are my other favorite online language-learning tools — some free, some paid.