10 Unusual Things to Do in Paris
So you’ve gone up the Eiffel Tower, you’ve seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, and you’ve heard the bells of Notre Dame. You’ve seen everything there is to see right? Wrong. Paris has a hidden side that you don’t get to see in Hollywood films with all those romantic clichés. If you’ve looking to discover the real Paris and find something a bit more unusual, here are some top recommendations for hidden attractions and places to see away from the main tourist sights…
Paris Insolite: Off the Beaten Track Places to See in Paris Beyond the Eiffel Tower
1. La Petite Ceinture
This is the city’s old train line which went into decline from the 1930s when competition arrived from the new and exciting metro system. The tracks of the Petite Ceinture (Little Belt) snake through 32km of Paris. It is largely unnoticed in the humdrum of city life, isolated and unseen from street level in deep, long tunnels and bridges. Nature has reclaimed the space and its rusted tracks have become a place of haven for wild flowers and animals away from the hustle and bustle. A small section has opened as a park as August 2013 and tourists can follow a planned walking route.
- Location: Entry between Gare d’Auteuil and Gare de la Muette 75016 Paris
- Metro: Porte d’Auteuil
2. The Catacombs
If you want to discover the French capital from all angles, the best place to start is descending down into the depths of the Catacombs. This is an underground ossuary that was created at the end of the 18th century. The series of long and winding pathways lined with skulls and bones of Parisians stretching for kilometres is rather different from the traditional tourist promenade along Champs-Elysées!
- Address: 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau) 75014 Paris
- Metro: RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
3. Mur des je t’aime
For those who are still set on Paris as the city of Love, Mur des je t’aime is a place where love comes together in literally every language. You and your loved one can while away hours reading out those all too familiar words in all tongues.
- Address: Square des Abbesses 75018 Paris
- Metro: Abbesses
4. Le Marais
For any flâneurs, Le Marais is a quaint quartier that holds the best of both Parisian worlds. Historical monuments and tourist attractions are balanced with boutiques and cool hangout spots for the locals. The gourmandise is also another attraction that lures in passers-by with the sumptuous smells of Jewish cuisine wafting from the renowned Rue des Rosiers. There’s also some great street art here.
5. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
There are many beautiful parks in Paris, though Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is my firm favourite. As one the largest green spaces in the capital, you will struggle to remember that you’re in the metropolis once immersed in this natural retreat. For a city park, it’s quite something: winding hills spiral round to form cliffs connected by suspended bridges which tower above a beautifully blue lake, into which a thundering waterfall tumbles down from the grotto above. Just one of Monsieur Napoleon’s ingenious ideas.
Even though there are a lot of beautiful and famous parks to visit all over the city, this one will not fail to amaze you. With over 5km of roads and 2 km of paths it is the perfect spot for runners but due to its location and quiet atmosphere, it is also a great place for families, friends and picnics. If want to get away from the most touristy areas of the city then this place will be the right for you. Take a stroll among its paths and definitely stop at the Temple de la Sibylle, a temple-like structure on top of a cliff surrounded by the waters of a lake (an artificial one, but still worth watching!).
- Address: 1 Rue Botzaris, 75019 Paris
- Métro 7bis Buttes Chaumont - 5 Laumière
- Opening Hours: Open every day from 7am to 10pm during the summer (1st May – 20th Sept), from 7am to 8pm during the winter (30th Sept- 30th April).
6. La Mosquee de Paris, Tea Room & Hamman
It is the biggest mosque in Paris and the second in Europe. Founded in 1926, this mosque is the hearth of the Islamic community of the city. Its peculiar architecture is enriched with colorful mosaics, the big minaret and the garden which will make you feel like you are somewhere far from the hustle and bustle of the Ville Lumière. Get a little bit closer to a new culture and explore this beautiful mosque. Just around the corner you will find a typical and cozy tea room (with delicious and traditional pastries and mint tea), a dining room and the hammam.
- Address: 39, rue Saint-Hilaire, 75005 Paris
- Métro 7 Place Monge
- Opening Hours: Closed on Friday. Open the rest of the days from 9am-12pm/ 2pm-7pm during the summer and 9am-12pm/ 2pm-6pm during the winter.
7. Mache Barbes
The market lies at the heart of the 18th arrondissement and it will capture you with its flavours, colours and sounds. Marché Barbès is literally an explosion of life and culture: the area is mainly inhabited by Arabs and Africans, cultures that occupy a significant place in Paris and contribute to its multiculturalism. Don’t be surprised or afraid to be called, looked at ( in some cases, yelled at! – in a friendly way) and to be offered delicious fruit for free. It will be crowded and noisy, but definitely an experience you will never forget.
- Address: Boulevard de la Chapelle, 75018 Paris
- Métro 4: Barbes-Rochechouart
- Opening Hours: Wednesday from 8am to 1pm / Saturday from 7am to 3pm
8. Musee du Quai Branly
If you like going to museums but you have already been to many of the most famous ones in Paris (Louvre, Orsay, Cluny and others), you will definitely enjoy the ‘Musée du Quai Branly’. Located close to the Tour Eiffel, this museum hosts a vast collection of art, cultures and objects from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. This museum is very particular and promotes a dialogue between different cultures. While we are usually introduced to many of the European and Western artists and cultures, we know little about those on the other side of the planet. Give yourself the chance to get captured and fascinated by different and new forms of art and learn about new traditions and ways of seeing life. You might also have a chance to find some interesting temporary expositions!
- Address: 37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris
- Métro 9: Alma-Marceau
- Opening Hours: Closed on Monday. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday from 11am to 7pm. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11am to 9pm
9. Marche D'Aligre
It is probably the most ancient markets of Paris. In effect, it provided food for the neighborhood during the 18th century. There is a covered market opened in 1779 (Marché Beauvau) , the multicolor fruit and vegetables stalls bursting outside and a flea market in which you can find some useful (sometimes unusual) stuff. Keep your eyes (and five senses) opened and functioning especially on Sunday between 12 and 1pm: you might find some of the best deals! If you want to live a day in a life of a Parisian, then you can let yourself go in one of its multiethnic and buzzing markets, especially if so ancient like this one.
- Address: Place d’Aligre, 75012 Paris
- Métro 8: Ledru-Rollin o Faidherbe Chaligny
- Opening Hours: Closed on Monday. From Tuesday until Sunday opened from 8.30am to 1pm.
10. Hire a Bike
Fancy seeing more? Consider hiring a bike where you can ride all over the city.
By Marta Catalano &Selina Sykes