Exploring Paris off the beaten path
When travelers think of Paris, they first visualize the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or Notre Dame. But there is so much more to experience that some visitors may not even consider. One of the greatest parts about exploring a foreign country is that you can get the inside scoop on the best hidden gems of the city. In the case of Paris, there is much more to see than lovers kissing under the Eiffel Tower. Try a few of these adventures and you’ll come home sounding like a local, and will have far more interesting stories to tell!
On warm summer nights the quai along the left bank of the Port St. Bernard comes alive with people picnicking, strolling, and dancing. Typically most evenings, starting June 1 through the end of August, dancers gather along the river bank to perfect their swing, tango, waltz and salsa.
Did you know that Paris is still riddled with many timeworn traces of its historic Roman past? Take an adventure and discover a coliseum, baths, and remains of walls, pillars and carved stones that lie strewn throughout the city. While the Roman Baths at Cluny are said to be perhaps the most impressive architectural remnant from the Roman era, near the Notre Dame, the Archaeological Crypt reveals the center of the old Roman city of Lutetia.
Paris offers a grand plethora of museums that could consume and entire trip. Many are very busy and often over crowded by art lovers but you’d be surprised by some of the other museums that are not on the typical top of the list for many visitors. For instance the Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology gives visitors an amazing look into a the world of 19th century science with its extensive collection of animal skeletons displayed shoulder to shoulder encased in old wooden, glass cabinets. The museum is located within the Jardin des Plantes which offers access to a botanical garden, zoo and a variety of other natural history museums.
If the grunge and artist thrill of graffiti is of interest, the best spot for a viewing urban graffiti safari is the Canal St. Martin located in the 10th arrondissement, and is known as one of the most exciting and up-and-coming areas in Paris. The neighborhood is chock-full of funky restaurants, artsy shops and stellar graffiti, which makes the area a great place for an amusing walk. Make sure you do not miss the graffiti located at Localers, which offers a space invader tour. Alternatively, you can take a self-guided tour of Canal St. Martin.
When visiting Paris you can see so many hidden treasures by taking a casual stroll. Venture through the Viaduc des Arts and Promenade Plantée. The area is depicted by a long, narrow stretch of trees and flourishing flowers in what once was an elevated railway track. The promenade is often referred to by the locals as La Coulée Verte, which extends from Bastille around Gare de Lyon, all the way to the west entrance of the Bois de Vincennes. At the end of your journey drop down to street level and meander along the Viaduc des Arts where workshops, cafes, ateliers, and galleries reside in the vaulted arches below the exquisite garden.
Embrace the romantic nature that is Paris and share a bottle of wine at the edge of the Canal St. Martin on a warm evening. Many first time visitors to Paris along with many locals have yet to experience the Canal St. Martin, but a select few know it is a popular treat with ‘in-the-know’ Parisians, artists and the chic crowds.
For the hipster traveler, visit the neighborhood Belleville which is renowned for flea markets, produce stands, and hopping with bustling shoppers, and entertaining merchants. You may find yourself getting lost in the tree-lined, picturesque rues of Caulaincourt which offers a perfect area for those seeking an authentic French atmosphere. Foodies will want to investigate the charming rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement, known as one of the best market streets in Paris, where bakeries, gourmet shops, cafes and cheese sellers abound along with hot new restaurants.
Find your sense of adventure and time travel back to the 19th century to discover the covered passages of Paris. Remnants of the post-revolution rise in popularity of the middle-class in France, now occupied by modern department stores and malls have mostly disappeared. There are approximately 30 passage ways that still exist. Some of the most impressive lie in an area stretching from Passage Vivienne, located behind the Palais Royal, and continue north, where they end at the charming, bustling rue Cadet. Passage hopping is perfect for rainy day exploration. The shops here are luxury retailers however the window displays are an experience in themselves. La Maison de L’Ambre show off their amazing displays of amber jewelry as well as timeless classic music boxes that should not to be missed, and make sure you also visit the flagship boutique of French glove, the manufacturer of Fabre which is hard to resist making a purchase. Also the Palais Royal is a short distance from Angelina salon and patisserie which is renowned for serving the best hot chocolate. It comes with a hefty price tag; however the price is worth every delicious sip.
Looking for a “stunning” adventure? Located at the southwest corner of the Jardin du Luxembourg, there are large beehives containing tons of bees that are busy making local honey. You can even sign up for beekeeping classes that are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Even though many are afraid of bees, these working creatures are far too busy producing honey that they won’t even notice you as long as you do not disturb their process.
If the theater is an exciting experience and you are looking for a separate cultural immersion within an already cultural city, check out La Pagode. La Pagode is certainly off the beaten path and is a historic movie theatre set in an outstanding 1896 Japanese pagoda. La Pagode is not strictly a movie theatre; in addition you visit this incredible building for afternoon tea in the exquisite oriental garden.
Seeking the unusual? Stop into Deyrolle. This strange, surreal yet magical and fantastical taxidermy shop has been housing oddities since 1831. You can find all sorts of mammals, insects, herbs, and rare crystals making this the perfect shop for anyone who likes to collect things out of the ordinary. Even if you have an issue with the concept of taxidermy, Deyrolle is absolutely worth a visit simply for the sheer amazingness of the natural history and craft of taxidermy.
Paris is where truism converges to make magic happen whether it be with walks by the Seine, devouring a freshly baked crumbly baguette, running your fingertips along the walls of the Sacré-Cœur, Paris oozes poetry and it makes every one that visits a poet.
Let’s face it, what’s better than the spectacular view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel tower? Perhaps a panorama of Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower. The view from the Montparnasse Tower, considered one of Europe’s tallest buildings is absolutely stunning. An added advantage is there are not lines, tickets are half the price as entry to the Eiffel Tower and if you visit at night you will feel like you are in your own fairytale looking at the twinkling lights of Paris.
Immerse yourself in culture and see a French film. In Paris you can find plenty of tiny cinemas around the city. Many of the classic cinemas offer a quaint charming exterior and often hold mini festivals featuring classic films by the same director. All of these films are in French with no subtitles; therefore you could truly immerse yourself in improving your understanding of French.
Many visitors might stumble upon the Ile St-Louis which is that the heart of the city close to the Notre Dame. Ile St-Louis is a tiny island in the middle of Paris that offers an amazing experience and its own unique charm. You can wander down cobbled streets and visit traditional French cafes which will make you feel like you are in a village miles away from the busy city of Paris.
Paris is divided into arrondissements and is fairly easy to navigate. They typically are numbered in a spiral motion with the first arrondissement being at the center of Paris. Each arrondissement offers its own unique experience through culture and the people. The metro is an easy way to discover the arrondissements and will allow you to create your own unique experience while discovering your own treasures.
The ‘Musee des Arts Forain’ or funfair museum is a private collection of funfair rides and memorabilia that date back to the 1850s. If you are fascinated by this type of collection be sure to schedule an appointment for a visit. Entrance is by appointment only therefore you will need to contact the museum in advance to book a tour. It’s well worth going, as the atmosphere is magical but also a little bit creepy. The museum stores German swings, old carousels, and the famous Parisian Waiter Race game. The museum offers a range of range of temporary exhibits which change on a regular basis.
Getting off the beaten path in Paris is guaranteed to make your holiday memorable! Getting to Paris is usually expensive enough as it is, therefore find the oddities that will typically cost you your time and keep your money for the spontaneous crêpe stop or a picturesque afternoon spent drinking wine on a sunny terrace. With a bit of planning, Paris can be one of the most budget-friendly cities in Europe.
Photo by Guilhem Vellut