This Paris Life

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Off the beaten track in Paris

Despite the fact that Paris is a major world capital, exploited each year by millions of visitors,  there is far more to it than meets the tourist’s eye.  Paris is a magically intricate city, with a complex, messy history that often goes unnoticed, and an undeniable mysteriousness about it that inspires imagination.  If you’ve already visited the major sites of the city or if you simply want to experience something unique and unusual, writer Courtney Traub at has compiled a list of 18 off-the-beaten track things to do in Paris that can serve as a guide. 


1.Wander Through Lesser-Known Neighborhoods

After having touristed your way through Paris’ main attractions, strolling about in some of the capital’s less-touristy neighborhoods can provide a real respite from the hustle and bustle of travel-trod areas.  Providing a true glimpse into everyday city life, these neighborhoods are filled with plenty of local sights to see, shops and restaurants to enjoy, and hidden gems to be discovered.  If you need some help beginning your exploration, check out one of the five “villages” within Paris city walls that most have never visited.

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Parc Clichy-Batignolles – Martin Luther King, Batignolles, Paris 17 (Wikimedia Commons)


2. Visit Some of Paris’ Many Bizarre Museums

If you’ve exhausted yourself trying to make your way through some of Paris’ super popular and touristy museums like the Louvre,  you could use a break in one of Paris’ smaller, more eccentric museums.  Crowd-free and full of fun, these quirky museums are worth the detour.  Check out the celebrity wax figures in the Musée Grevin, ogle the unique scientific instruments and inventions at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, or let yourself be captivated at the Musée de la Magie.


Musée des Arts et Métiers (Wikimedia Commons)


3. Window-Shop in Old-World Boutiques

Continuing on your tour of Strange Paris, be sure to check out some of the city’s small, old-world boutiques and apothecary shops.  A real perusers paradise, you are sure to find some truly interesting pieces, maybe even an odd souvenir or two.  From a collection of taxidermied animals at Deyrolle in the St. Germain-des-Pres area, to odd vintage finds at L’Objet qui Parle up in the 18th, there’s something unique to be found in each shop.


4. Boat Tour Other Waterways

A boat tour on the Seine is often at the top of the list of activities to do in Paris for first-time visitors.  But if that’s something you’ve already done, why not visit some of Paris’ many other waterways?  The Canal St. Martin is certainly worth strolling along, not to mention semi-navigable.  Marin d’Eau Douce offers personal electric boat rentals, for durations of up to 6 hours, no boating license necessary.  Or if you don’t mind venturing outside of city walls, be sure to head to the Marne River, where Impressionist painters found much inspiration.

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Canal St. Martin (Wikimedia Commons)


5. Day Trip Somewhere Other Than Versailles

If you’ve already experienced Versailles, why not daytrip somewhere else, like Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and medieval village an hour east of Paris? Or Vaux-le-Vicomte, coined “Le Petit Versailles”? If you’ve already visited Notre Dame, La Sainte Chapelle, and Sacre Coeur, why not head north to Basilique Saint-Denis?  This large gothic-style medieval church has served as a place of pilgrimage and as the burial grounds for French royalty between the 10th and the 18th centuries.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte (Wikimedia Commons)


6. See a Movie in an Historic Cinema

Parisians are true cinephiles, with about 87 theaters scattered around the city and movie festivals throughout the year, so why not enjoy the cinematic culture?  Take a pause from the touristing grind and enjoy a movie in an old “picturehouse”.  Or head to la Cinémathèque Française film center where you can learn all about the history of film and celluloid film.


7. Enjoy a Festival

Paris plays host to an astonishing number of free or reasonably-priced events each year, most of which are completely unknown to visitors.  Paris’s Sri-Lankan community puts together their unique “Ganesh” festival toward the end of August each year, while the “Banlieues Bleues” Jazz Festival rolls through the northern suburbs every spring.  Have a look into what festivals are taking place during your visit and enjoy the local atmosphere.

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Fête de Ganesh, Paris 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)


8. Have a Home-Cooked Meal

The Parisian restaurant scene is surely second to none, but if you’re a bit tired of typical brasserie fare, why not take advantage of one of several pop-up restaurants hitting the scene, or dine with a local as your host?  According to food blog Paris by Mouth, the pop-up resto craze is hitting its stride in Paris.  Parisian “Supper Clubs” are also extremely popular, matching hosts wanting to share their traditional French meals with guests looking for a unique culinary experience.  Adventurous travelers and foodies alike are sure to enjoy the concept. 


9. Delve into Paris’ Dark Past

The City of Light might look magical, but underneath her romantic exterior lies a dark history.  If you’re looking to go beyond the idyllic facades of the city, be sure to check out some truly unique sites Paris has to offer, like the Catacombs, where lie the transferred remains of Paris’ main medieval cemetery, or the Memorial du Velodrome d’Hiver, where some 13,000 French Jews were held in inhumane conditions before transfer to concentration camps around Europe.  These places will make you see the city in a new light and deepen your understanding of its rich history.

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Memorial du Velodrome d’Hiver (Wikimedia Commons)


10. Visit a Trendy Urban Farm

If you’ve visited all of Paris’ gorgeous city parks and are still in search of some greenery, head to an urban garden farm.  Mostly found in the boho northeastern neighborhoods of the city, these green spaces serve as community gardens and often spotlight local talent in the form of street art.  At Jardins Passagers de la Villette, you’ll see a mixture of beautifully manicured flower boxes and wild green space, both filled with native flora and fauna.


11. Learn About the History of Wine

Although Paris itself isn’t known as one of France’s great wine-producing regions, you can still enjoy wines from around the country at several wine bars or wine museums in the city.  Head to Le Musée du Vin to learn everything there is to know about wine, and enjoy a tasting.  Or go to one of the many wine bars the city has to offer, like the convivial Au Rendez-vous des Amis. 

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Le Musée du Vin (Wikimedia Commons)


12. Walk Along the “High Line” of Paris

If you’re a lover of New York City’s High Line, be sure to check out Paris’ La Promenade Plantée, or Coulée verte René-Dumont.  This three-mile-long walking path/green space was built in 1993 on what was once a railway infrastructure.  Walkers, joggers, and picnickers alike can all appreciate it’s shaded canopies and lovely aerial views of the city.  The Promenade begins in the 12th arrondissement near Bastille and ends in the Bois de Vincennes on the western side of the city.

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La Promenade Plantée (Wikimedia Commons)


13. Pay Your Respects at Père Lachaise Cemetery

Split between the 11th and 20th arrondissements, this beautiful cemetery shelters the remains of several hundred celebrated figures from all backgrounds, from Jim Morrison, to Oscar Wilde, and Marcel Proust.  If you were expecting your visit to be grotesque or depressing, think again.  Many tombstones are covered with the beloved offerings of well-wishers across the world, like that of Oscar Wilde.  The cemetery is especially lovely during the fall with it’s tree-line cobblestone paths.

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Pere Lachaise cemetary (Wikimedia Commons)


14. Tour Paris’ Sewer System

There aren’t many cities  that offer of a tour of their sewer system, but le Musée des égouts de Paris does just that.  Located in the 7th, this quirky museum revisits the engineering history of Paris’ sewer system.  When streets were first paved 1200, one central drain was constructed.  Later, in 1370, the first stone-walled sewer system was built in Montmartre.  These days, the museum offers visitors the opportunity to tour about 500 meters of dank, dark sewer. 

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15. Visit Artist Studios at 59 Rivoli

Once a famous artists’ gathering spot, 59 Rivoli has been renovated into a chic art space open to the public.  The Haussmannian structure illegally housed artists in the 1800’s, but now (legally) hosts 15 temporary artists and 15 permanent artists who use the space as their home studio.  Since it’s opening, 59 Rivoli has seen the works of more than 500 artists.

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(Wikimedia Commons)


16. View the Secret Apartment Atop the Eiffel Tower

When Gustave Eiffel constructed his tower in 1889, he also built an apartment unbeknownst to the general public.  Initially intended to serve as a quiet haven for the much-respected science community, the space was designed with dark woods and warm wallpaper, a stark contrast to the industrial feel of the Tower itself.  Today, the apartment has been preserved so that visitors can view it during their trip to the top.


17. Take a Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

Paris boasts the largest hot air balloon in the world within Parc André-Citroën in the 15th. The Ballon Generali gives you a unique bird’s eye view of the city 500 feet above Paris, for as little as €6 for children and €12 for adults.

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18. Souvenir Shop at a Flea Market

Paris is home to countless flea markets, so instead of heading to the infamous “Marché aux Puces” in St. Ouen, try out one of the many smaller markets that curate more specialized items.  Head to the Marché du Livre Ancien et d’Occasion for rare and ancient books, or the Marché aux Puces at la Porte de Vanves- a smaller version of the original.

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Marché du Livre Ancien et d’Occasion (Wikimedia Commons)

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