Paris Cheat Sheet
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See Paris Like a Local
It's been years, but you're still irritated that you were charged $40 for a glass of wine on your last trip to France. So this time, you're determined not to look like a gawking tourist. These under-the-radar attractions will clue you into Parisians' culture and their enviable je ne sais quoi.
Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, 16th Arr.: This museum dedicated to the Paris fashion world (pictured) presents two or three temporary shows a year. Although you won't always get to see YSL's own pieces, you will be walking in his footsteps—the galleries are housed in his former haute couture studio. Inspired to revamp your wardrobe? YSL's new flagship is slated to open on nearby Avenue Montaigne in March 2012.
Cinémathèque Française, 12th Arr.: Allegedly, more film tickets are purchased in Paris per capita than anywhere else in the world. At this shrine to the silver screen, you can brush up on the evolution of film through artifacts, production equipment, and set sketches. Stay for a screening—you may catch a Godard or Truffaut classic.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 14th Arr.: Tucked away on a side street south of the Cimetière du Montparnasse, this tribute to one of the world's greatest photographers displays a dozen or so of his works (including his iconic Behind Gare St. Lazare) and his famous Leica. Temporary exhibits have included never-before-seen photos by Robert Doisneau and the work of South African photojournalist David Goldblatt.
Vélib: It's like some kind of utopian fantasy: Paris' self-service bicycle scheme gives you instant access to a two-wheeler, free of charge for the first half hour ($1.50 for the second, $2.70 for the third, and $5.50 thereafter). The system accepts credit cards, with a few caveats: For Visa and MasterCard, it requires a chip technology that American credit cards typically don't offer; chipless American Express cards do work, however.
Where to stay: To avoid the tourist scene altogether, ditch the hotels and rent an apartment. You'll find plenty of options on D.I.Y. sites like Airbnb and VRBO. If you prefer to book through a professional, contact a rental agency like Paris Perfect or Guest Apartment Services.