- 04, May 2018
- All things Paris
- Amanda Mehtala
From guidebooks to travel lists, to your favorite aunt telling you all about that “museum with a glass pyramid out front you just HAVE to see,” finding unusual activities in Paris off the beaten path is harder than it seems. While the classic Parisian sights will never disappoint, for those looking to explore a bit more of the hidden corners of Paris, we’ve gathered our favorite alternatives for some unique things to do while you’re in Paris.
1. Instead of the Luxembourg Gardens, try the Parc Montsouris
While the Luxembourg Gardens are of course gorgeous and right in the center of the intellectual Latin Quarter of Paris, it is a spot frequently visited by travellers. For a more authentic park experience in Paris, head to where the locals flock evenings and weekends as soon as the weather is nice, Parc Montsouris. This vast park has its own lake, pony rides, trails, and sprawling lawns perfect for a Parisian picnic. Head to the southern portion of the city in the 14th district for a complete escape, and join local Parisians for some sun and play. Paris boasts many parks and gardens, each with their own charm, explore the parks of Paris further.
2. Instead of Café de Flore, try the tea salon at the Paris mosque
The Café de Flore in the heart of Saint Germain de Près is lovely, if not almost always crowded and somewhat pricey. For a more unique Paris spot try the tea parlour at the Grande Mosquée de Paris, where you can travel to another world as you munch on oriental pastries while sipping mint tea on a tiled patio. After a quick visit of the extravagent building and gardens itself, you can head over to the tea parlor under a canopy of trees to sip oriental mint tea and decadent desserts. Hungry for more? There's even an onsite restaurant with delicious couscous dishes as well as a hammam spa. Your wallet and your sense of adventure will definitely appreciate this step out of the ordinary!
3. Instead of the zoo, try the Nature and Hunting Museum (Musée de la chasse et nature)
An alternative to the classic visit to the Paris zoo in the Vincennes Park, how about a trip to Paris’ Nature and Hunting Museum (Musée de la chasse et nature), no really! This hidden-in-plain-sight museum is an eclectic collection of exotic taxidermy and natural history, displayed away from the crowds in two converted mansions. With beasts and oddities to be discovered around every corner, it’s no wonder blogger MessyNessyChic included this unusual Paris museum in her Wes Anderson guide to Paris.
4. Instead of a show at the Moulin Rouge, head to Paris for an evening at the theatre (language barrier free)
Victim of its own fame, and a certain 2001 film, a Parisian evening at the Moulin Rouge has gone from risqué to no way. But for travelers wanting to see a show while they’re in Paris, they are no longer limited to touristy spectacles, because a small company is bringing subtitles to French theatre at different historic venues all over the city. Seeing a show with Theatre in Paris means a subtitled play in one of the hundreds of historic playhouses in Paris, right alongside the locals. From comedies to classics, cabarets and musicals, check out what's playing, there's even a bunch that are 100% in English!
5. Instead of cruising the river on the Bateaux Mouches, try a tour in a 2 Chevaux, the ultimate French voiture
For a quick trip to see all the major sites, there’s no better than a trip down the Seine River on the toured boat guide, the Bateaux Mouches. But for a bit more of an adventurous tour of Paris à la française, what better than to hit the streets in the most quintessentially French antique car, the 2 Chevaux, the Volkswagen Beetle of the French auto industry! Just imagine a sunny day being driven around the streets of Paris visiting the sights in this colorful little auto.
Best picks: 2CVPARISTOUR and 4 roues sous 1 parapluie
6. Instead of Notre Dame, try attending concert in another spectacular Parisian church
Notre Dame is the most visited site in Paris, perhaps even the world, with millions crossing its doors each year. While nothing can take away from its iconic gothic splendor, there are quite a few other churches in Paris worth peeking into, each with their own unique history and ornate decor. How about catching a sumptuous classical concert on the inside? Just a short walk from Notre Dame, the soaring stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle are a fabulous example of 13th century Rayonnant architecture, that have never since been restored! Around the corner lies the church of Saint Germain des Prés church, a 6th century abbey that now hosts the tomb of French philosopher, René Descartes. You can now get tickets to a classical music concert in either church and enjoy your visit to the sounds of Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and more.
7. Instead of a night out at Pulex Club, Try Bus Palladium or Rex Club with the Parisians
For the night owls that are looking for some authentic Parisian nightlife, swap the Erasmus soirées at Duplex and Mix Club for the local French DJs at Bus Palladium, Rex Club, and other venues. Whether you’re into techno beats, hip hop, or swing, these local Parisian clubs always have themed nights planned, so be sure to check the programme online!
8. Instead of riding La Grande Roue (Ferris Wheel), check out the Fairground Museum (Musée des arts forains)
La Grande Roue de Paris was first created for the 1900 World’s Fair, as was the Eiffel Tower itself initially a temporary installment for this event (want more secret Eiffel Tower facts?). A ride to the top Paris’ giant Ferris Wheel at the edge of the Tuileries Garden offers of course a wonderful view of the Champs Elysées. But an unusual alternative can be found in another obscure Paris museum, the Musée des Arts Forains dedicated to all the quirky and bizarre fairground findings. You never know what you’ll discover in this unique visit, book an English tour of the Paris fairground museum directly on their website.
9. Instead of climbing the Eiffel Tower, climb the Montparnasse Tower for a different view (closing soon for renovations)
What’s the one thing you can’t see in the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower? The tower itself! Head on over to the only “skyscraper” within Paris city walls however, and you’re in for a treat. Take the elevator to the top of the Tour Montparnasse for less crowds, and incredible panoramic views of the city, Eiffel Tower and all. There’s even a swanky restaurant at the top aptly named le Ciel de Paris (the Paris sky). Fun fact? In the winter the city of Paris installs an ice skating rink way at the top of the tower, a winter wonderland 59 floors up! You better make the climb to the top of the Tour Montparnasse soon, because starting in 2019 the building will shut down for major renovations to get ready for Paris’ 2024 Olympics commitment to make the city greener.
10. Instead of visiting the Arc de Triomphe, try the Porte St Martin and Porte St Denis
The Arc de Triomphe at the Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile (not to be confused with the airport), houses France’s tomb of the unknown soldier and was ordered by Napoleon himself, built to glorify all of his own conquests in the battle field. If you’re brave enough to face the major traffic intersection surrounding it or the subterranean tunnel, you can even climb to the top and look down the Champs Elysées. Did you know, however, that other arches are dispersed throughout the city, with a history much more practical than personal glory? Right between the 2nd and 10th arrondissements, you’ll find the Porte St Denis and the Porte St Martin. These “portes,” or doors in English, once marked the city limits of Paris, the gateway into the city. While the ancient fortifications have long since been destroyed to make way for city expansion, these majestic arches, ordered by King Louis XIV in the 1670s, have replaced the ancient medieval gates.
11. Instead of a walk along the Seine River, how about a stroll and picnic along the Canal St Martin
As soon as the sun starts shining in Paris, the Parisians head outside for a drink along the water. But connecting the busy waterway of the Seine to the Canal Ourq outside the city is the 5km Canal St Martin, complete with iron footbridges, greenery, and the shady canal banks. The canal is lined with shabby-chic bistros perfect for a drink on the terrace, and Parisians flock to its banks each evening in the summer to share a drink with friends. The picturesque canal was even featured in the classic French film Amélie (more Paris movie sets?)!
12. Instead of wandering the Louvre, head outside and try a street art tour of Paris
Let’s face it, there will never be enough time spent in the Louvre to admire everything it has to offer, but the city has so much more to offer! Why not admire the art while you hit the streets, and try a unique street art tour of Paris? From tiled space invaders, to mysterious mirrors diamonds, to Dr. House himself, the walls of Paris are alive with their very own art. Visit many different multicultural neighborhoods of Paris, and learn about their local charms through the artwork itself
Try: StreetArtToursParis or Street Art Tour or ExploreParis street art tours and more!
13. Instead of a day trip to the Chateau de Versailles, try the Chateau Fontainebleau
There’s a certain level of luxury that can only be found at Versailles, the Sun King’s castle and countryside estate. But once you’ve visited in all its splendor, it really leaves you wanting more! You don’t need to plan a trip out to the chateaux of the Loire Valley, when the Chateau Fontainebleau and others are easily accessible from Paris by train. With just a quick ride outside the city, you can explore the chateau, visit the small nearby town of Avon, before heading into the Fontainebleau Forest for an afternoon nature hike.
14. Instead of a Segway tour of the city, try a new perspective with the Women of Paris tour
It seems you can go to just about any city or tourist attraction these days and visit it on a segway, the new ultimate mark to say “I am a tourist.” But how about a more unique and focused way to visit a city and learn about some of its major individuals? For example, Women of Paris is offering guided tours of Paris to explore all the city’s amazing and influential female figures throughout history. Explore the lesser-known side of the city, from Gertrude Stein to amazing female pastry chefs in this expat-led tour, #girlpower! Read more about the Women of Paris tours, and book here.
15. Instead of desserts from Ladurée, try a French cooking class and make your own
Why wait in line and purchase a macaroon gift box, when you can make your own! Dig your hands straight into French patisserie and take a cooking class, learn how to make everything from escargot to macarons with French chefs. Not only do you get to sit down with the chefs and eat your delicious creations after the lesson, but you get to take home the recipes to make your new French dishes again and again!
16. Instead of visiting the modern Pompidou Museum, check out 59 rue Rivoli
If you’re looking for a bit of unusual artwork in Paris, the modern art museum Pompidou will never let you down. But for a more unusual thing to visit in Paris, try the living creation museum at 59 rue Rivoli, which serves both as an art gallery and an artist workshop. This unique Paris location is hard to miss with its strange exterior, and your visit will take you climbing ever higher to wander through the workshops of different modern artists and watch them at work, some pieces are even for sale! Entry into this unusual establishment is free (though they do accept donations at the door), and they often hold small concerts and special exhibitions on the ground floor. The artists in residence change every few months, so each time you visit is a completely new experience.
17. Instead of Shakespeare & Co., try the Bibliotèque Nationale de la France (BnF - French National Library)
Right by the ever-popular Notre Dame cathedral, you’ll find the quaint bookshop-turned-hub for all things in the English-speaking literary world, Shakespeare & Co. There’s not a Paris guidebook in existence that won’t tell you about its charming green and yellow wooden exterior and endless stacks of books. For a bit of French literary culture, however, no place is better than the Bibliotheque Nationale de la France (National Library of France). This immense mass of works traces its origins to the royal library housed in the Louvre during the time of King Charles V in the 1360s. France's national library moves many times since, before arriving at its current location during the 1980s, with the intent to become one of the most modern national libraries in the world. With over 14 million books recorded in 2016, along with important manuscripts, cultural events, and its splendid Salle Richelieu, this modern literary wonder is definitely worth the visit!
18. Instead of Place Tertre, try admiring some artwork at the Musée Montmartre
There’s a certain charm to the most elevated neighbourhood of Paris that just can’t be found elsewhere. The winding streets and stairs of Montmartre have inspired artists for centuries, and the remnants of this artistic spirit can be found at Place Tertre, with amateur artists selling their wares. But what was once an interesting hidden Parisian square to browse artwork has now become just another stop on the tourist trip to collect the most Eiffel Tower paraphernalia. Take a trip over to the Montmartre Museum, however, and you’ll get that village-in-Paris charm all over again. With its special artistic exhibitions and its charming gardens, this quaint museum is a must on every list of unique Paris activities.
19. Instead of the Cimetière Père Lachaise, check out more famous names at the St Denis Basilica
From Edith Piaf to Oscar Wilde, the final resting places of celebrated figures from around the globe can be found at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But what about French royalty? You’ll have to head north for that, straight to the St Denis Basilica. The architecture of the church itself is enough to make the trip to the end of métro line 13 worth it, but it’s in the crypts where things get really interesting. In this single church, every French king, starting with Clovis the very first, is buried. Well, all but one that is, we all know Napoleon couldn’t just lay alongside everyone else, he has his very own resting place under the golden dome of the Invalides. The St Denis Basilica was constructed in the 12th century, and for any literary or history buffs that recognize its name from Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, its construction was paramount in the development of gothic-style architecture. With just as much, if not more, French history within its walls as the Notre Dame itself, this remains a truly unique Paris visit you won’t find elsewhere. Explore more St Denis Basilica details here
20. Instead of a Saint Michel crêpe, have Berthillon ice cream and a stroll on Île Saint Louis
Each evening, thousands flock to the Saint Michel neighborhood at the foot of Notre Dame to taste a crêpe from on of the many street vendors. But just a few steps from this overly-visited area void of locals, is a hidden treasure on a summer’s day. On the second of Paris’ two islands, Île Saint Louis, lies an ice cream you can only find in Paris, Berthillon. Take a balade through the narrow streets in this island neighborhood in the center of Paris, then stop by to pick up a few scoops of this delicious sorbet and enjoy along the banks of the river. The ice cream itself is truly a family affair, with 5 generations devoted to providing almost 80 flavors of ice cream and sorbet à la française. What’s more? You can ONLY find Berthillon ice cream at their Île Saint Louis location and a select few designated retailers, a truly Parisian treat!
21. Instead of hunting down (almost non-existing) deals at Galeries Lafayette, how about a tour through the friperies for a vintage Parisian treasure
Of course, one can’t pass up on shopping in Paris! During the winter season, the holiday tree with its original decor at the Galeries Lafayette is definitely worth the trip. But if you’re there to look for bargains or vintage finds, you’ll likely be disappointed. But we have an alternative proposal to find that one special vintage Parisian treasure, and do the planet a bit of good all at the same time. Paris is stock full of amazing second-hand clothing shops, you simply have to know where to look for them. To start, there’s a unique shop with a few locations in the City of Lights that lets you shop by weight, get a whole kilo of vintage goodness at Kilo Shop! A more thrift shop style is definitely Emmaus. While they have smaller stores spread throughout the city, the major Emmaus warehouse in the 19th is stock full of interesting finds, clothing, furniture, books, and more! For that vintage luxury item you’ve been seeking, head to Chine Machine in Montmartre, their English-speaking staff is always ready to help you find that perfect Parisian item to remember the city forever.
22. Instead of a drink under the Eiffel Tower or along the Champs Elysées, try the Comptoir General for a quirky night out
Avoid the overly-priced establishments close to the monuments, and venture into this unique bar/museum/flea market. Enter the treasure trove in the 2 rooms and bars at the Comptoir General, aptly self-titled the “Ghetto Museum,” and sip on exotic fruit cocktails on a brightly colored velour couch. Perfect to continue the evening after a picnic on the Canal St Martin, the Comptoir General can often get quite busy during the weekends. It is open every day, and even does a weekly brunch and hosts special events and concerts, Alicia Keys even performed here! If you’re looking for a quirky place for a drink in Paris, the Afro vibes and shabby-chic decor in this warehouse-turned-bar will not disappoint. One more thing, it can be pretty hard to find and from the street is only a small black door; don’t be afraid to venture in through the courtyard and enter through the hallway lined with plush red velvet and portraits of African royalty!
23. Instead of eating out for every meal, how about visiting a neighborhood food market and trying your own hand with some fresh French goods
There are hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants in Paris, and good eats are never in short supply. If you’re looking to live like the locals, try one of the city’s covered food markets, with stands of fresh goods from butter and cheese, to meats and fish, produce and more. Open air markets tend to be open certain days of the week in each neighborhood, and if you wander enough you’ll likely stumble upon one! There are also covered food halls such as the Marché Aligre near Bastille or the Marché Saint Quentin in the 10th arrondissement, where you can find French goods every day of the week. What are you waiting for, stop in for your daily dose of delicious freshness
24. Instead of fancy French pastries, try a local treat, les choux from Popelini
Skip the fancy macaroons and eclairs at Fauchon and Ladurée, instead opt for a local Parisian favorite, Popelini. With 4 locations throughout the city, this unique bakery in Paris makes just one thing - a cream-filled puff pastry known as a choux. With a rotating menu or delectable flavors, from passion fruit to dark chocolate, and their adorable specially-made packaging, this is the perfect addition to a Parisian dinner party. Why the name? The choux itself was invented by an Italian pastry chef named Popelini in the 1500s! Invented in Italy, perfected in France, the perfect dessert for every sweet tooth in Paris.
25. Instead of seeing only hollywood hits, try a French movie night
Paris has hundreds of cinemas and some of the best movie theatres in Europe. Most English-speakers head to the chain cinema to see that Hollywood hit because they don’t speak French, and miss out on seeing some pretty gorgeous venues. Try an evening of drinks and subtitled French cinema with Lost in Frenchlation. They hold weekly events to bring the world of French films to all audiences in historic cinemas, all with the chance to mingle for a drink before the show.
More unusual Paris to explore!
- You've heard of escape games, you've probably even heard of immersive theatre, but have you tried an immersive theatre escape game. We don't think so because this one at Montmartre's Théâtre Lepic is the only of its kind!
- Ever visited The Highline in NYC? Paris has its very own metro line converted into a park, check out La Coulée Verte
- Think you can only find Roman arenas in Italy? Think again, Paris has its very own Arènes Lutèce dating back to the founding Roman tribe of the city
- The smallest bakery in Paris is has enough window space to sell a single cake
- Adventure-seeking foodies will adore Resto dans le noir, dining on mystery French cuisine in complete darkness!
- A Parisian street lined with colorful village-style houses? Visit rural France right in Paris at Rue crémieux
- A unique eco-friendly brunch spot that’s all about recycling and repurposing? The Recyclerie
- Speaking of brunch, take a trip around the world at the Marché des Enfants rouges
- Explore everything about the celebrated French singer at the Edith Piaf Museum, read about Piaf's favorite Parisian spots, then see a subtitled musical all about her life!
- See Paris from new heights, from a hot air balloon that is! Take a balloon ride at Parc Andre Citroën
- Dance the salsa right in the heart of Paris? Possible only at La Pena!
- Explore our top picks of the quirkiest museums in Paris here