This is not your usual guide to Paris, but a couple of personal recommendations on what to do in the City of Lights besides the obvious tourist attractions. As any other city on the planet, Paris is filled with lesser known gems waiting to be discovered, so let’s see what else is there to enjoy other than haute-couture shopping, over-priced dinners and the likes of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or Disneyland.
See & Do
Unless you’re visiting Paris exclusively for the art, the best way to take the pulse of the city is getting lost in its streets and discovering. Of course, there’s no doubt the Louvre is an amazing museum, but any traveler knows that finding those little hidden gems is what really makes the trip magical. And thank God, Paris has an abundance of such delightful places, from lesser-known museums and wonderful landscaped gardens to secret cinemas, vivid local markets and charming old-fashion brasseries that time forgot.
My advice, make the most of your time in Paris with some smaller, less crowded sites such as the quiet, yet fascinating Musee Carnavalet in the heart of the Marais, the very unique La Pagode Cinema, Le Musee du Vin or the whimsical Garden of Peace at the UNESCO World Headquarters. The utterly romantic Musee Rodin in the 7th arrondissement and the Musée Marmottan are also some excellent alternatives for art lovers in Paris, the latter being home to the largest collection of Monets in the world.
Nobody says that you shouldn’t see the iconic Tour Eiffel, but if a glorious Paris panorama is your main reason, than think twice. The city has plenty of interesting spots and buildings to climb in order to get a superb view of the place from above. Some of the lesser known include the beautiful Parc de Belleville in the 20th arrondissement – Paris’ highest park, and the enchanting Promenade Plantee, which is the world’s first elevated park and provides lovely views over the 12th arrondissement. Moreover, the rooftops of the Galeries Lafayette and the Pompidou Museum, offer some equally rewarding views, and they’re both free of charge.
The upscale Boulevard St. Germain and Le Marais – one of Paris’ most fashionable and atmospheric neighborhoods, are some excellent places to soak up the city’s unparalleled vibe, but if you’re looking to get a true taste of Paris’ legendary bohemian flair, head to the trendy, yet very relaxing Rue Beaurepaire on the Right Bank. The street runs picturesquely along the Canal St. Martin, in the 10th arrondissement, and it’s brimming with stylish boutiques, lovely vintage stores, bistros and quaint cafes. No wonder this is one of those places where local hipsters like to hang out these days.
Everyone knows that Parisians are not actually the friendliest people on Earth, thus it’s pretty hard to go local in a city that doesn’t seem to want you in the first place. However, if you still want to catch a glimpse of their chic lifestyle, you can do that freely by heading to the local markets, spending time in the city’s lovely parks, or wandering its little known neighborhoods.
The Butte aux Cailles’ fascinating village atmosphere and narrow cobblestone streets lined with all sorts of inventive restaurants and idiosyncratic shops make for a great break away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Equally appealing are the Rue Montorgueil and the nearby Grand Boulevards area; the multicultural Belleville with its colorful Chinatown, art squats and sprawling outdoor market held each Tuesday and Friday along the Boulevard de Belleville; as well as the quaint Ile Saint Louis, which is home to some remarkably old-fashioned markets, boulangeries, ice-cream shops, fromageries, characterful shopping boutiques and sprightly street performers.
As the world’s undisputed fashion capital, Paris has clearly no shortage of shopping opportunities, but if you’re looking for something more unique, the city’s peculiar passages are an excellent option. For those who don’t know, Paris boasts an amazing labyrinth of secret passages built in the 18th century as a city planning initiative meant to house Paris’ most fashionable shops. This phenomenon lasted until Baron Haussmann endowed the city with newfangled wide boulevards. In the last decade, however, they seem to have come back in full force whether in the form of ancient courtyards, glamorous belle époque arcades or delightful ethnic enclaves filled with traditional shops and restaurants.
Some of the most appealing comprise the culturally diverse Passage du Prado in the 10th arrondissement; the Passage Jouffroy – home to an adorable collection of antique and jewelry stores; the off-the-beaten-path Passage l’Homme with its cobbled courtyards where local artisans sell their lovely crafts; the wonderfully preserved Passage de Choiseul where charismatic shops rub shoulders with quirky dining venues; the arty Passage Molier or the elegant Galerie Vivienne, an excellent destination for keen fashionistas.
Eat & Drink
One last tip, avoid the pricey restaurants and go for a picnic. Paris has some magnificent parks, gardens and picnic spots where you can enjoy your meal al fresco without breaking the bank. You can choose between the picturesque banks of the Seine (especially the Ile St. Louis), the spectacular Jardin du Luxembourg, the wooden slats of the pedestrian Pont des Arts, the wild plains of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont or the famous Champs de Mars, where with a bottle of fine French wine, a freshly baked baguette, some brie and the Tour Eiffel right in front of you, you’ll certainly have the most quintessential Parisian experience.