Introduction: Paris is full of wonderful attractions, culture, and history, from the Effiel Tower to the Louvre Museum to the Arc de Triomphe. However, in the less traveled, back street areas there are plenty of great attractions that will give you the same wonder with less crowds.
Highlights: Visit Canal Saint Martin for a picnic and relaxing walk, take in the beauty of Palais-Royal, take in some history at the Dali Museum and Musée de Montmartre, take in the colorful design of the Pigalle Basketball Court, and more!
1.) Canal Saint Martin
Recommended by Martina & Jürgen of Places of Juma
The Canal Saint Martin, which is extending over 4.5 km, is one of the best places to visit in Paris away from the typical tourist’s path. Located in a picturesque working-class area the canal amazes with many locks, Venetian-style foot bridges, lush green parks, lovely squares and wonderful places to sit and enjoy the waterfront. Not surprisingly, that Canal Saint Martin has become a popular meeting point for locals as well as tourists for having a picnic at the canal banks.
Walking along the canal and enjoying the marvelous scenery is the best relaxing thing you can do in downtown Paris. Just take your lunch and some drinks and soak in the unique atmosphere of Paris. If you prefer eating out there are many nice and small shops and bars along the canal. However you prefer, don`t forget to take you camera. Canal Saint Martin is one of Paris’ hidden jewels and offers many lovely photo opportunities.
The nicest part for having a picnic is definitively between rue Dieu and rue des Récollets. Here you will also find the Hotel du Nord, built in 1885, which was the location of the film Hôtel du Nord by Marcel Carné.
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Recommened by Claudia of Adventures Across the World
One of the most unique places to visit in Paris is Palais-Royal. Tucked away in a small street not far from the Louvre, it’s the kind of place most visitors stumble upon and end up falling in love with. The main building is beautiful. It once was a royal property called Palais-Cardinal, as it was the home of Cardinal Richelieu, who lived there until his death in 1642. After that, it became property of Philippe II Duke of Orléans, who held the monarchy when Louis XV inherited the throne at age 5 in 1715 and was too young to reign.
Palais-Royal is now the seat of the Constitutional Court of France and of the Ministry of Culture. Though the palace is beautiful, your attention will inevitably be drawn to the edgy, fun art installation of striped columns of different sizes which are fun to photograph. Go early in the morning if you want to have the place to yourself, but the good news is that it never really gets crowded – quite welcome news in a city that sees an overflow of tourists.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Palais-Royal is free to visit. It opens daily at 7:00 or 7:30 am and closes late.
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3.) Dali Museum
Recommended by Emma of Forever Lost in Travel
I spent a lot of time on my last trip to Paris in the Montmartre area. I hadn’t explored it much in the past beyond the Sacre-Couer and the Moulin Rouge. But climbing to the highest point in Montmartre, I walked the tiny streets and came across the Dali Paris Museum. Dali is one of my favorite artists. His eccentric personality was responsible for some truly unique art. I have visited his hometown in Spain, but this museum in Paris was a close second to some of his amazing work.
The museum is 12 EUR to enter, but there’s a lot to see for your money. The gallery has paintings and sculptures, but it’s not like any regular museum. The art makes you think and makes you lose yourself in all its unique weirdness. Like paintings where you have to tilt your head to figure out what’s going on. Or the drawings that look like nothing until you use a mirror to see how it all comes together in the reflection.
If you’re a Dali fan this is a must. If you have no idea who he is, you will still find this one of the most interesting collections of art in Paris. It doesn’t hurt that’s it’s also in one of the artiest bohemian neighborhoods of Paris that will draw you in and make you never want to leave.
Find more art in Montmartre with these tips on exploring street art!
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4.) Galeries Lafayette
Recommened by Michelle of Intentional Travelers
Even if you’re not into malls or shopping, Galeries Lafayette is a sight to behold. The main building on the corner of Boulevard Haussman and Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin features a stunningly ornate interior that’s worth a look if you have the time.
Additionally, there are two rooftop terraces where you can get free, panoramic views of the city! I like taking people up there because of the unique viewpoint of Paris hidden away from the main attractions.
Here’s how to find the two overlooks: In the Galeries Lafayette “Grand Magasin” building, take the elevator or escalator up to the 5th level and then continue up two flights of stairs to the 7th floor. Further down Haussman, the Printemps Beauté department store also has a rooftop terrace and cafe on the 9th floor. Wander up to either terrace and enjoy the view!
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5.) Musee du Parfum at Fragonard Parfumer
Recommended by Everywhere Forward
If you’re looking for something unique and free to do in Paris, consider visiting Musee du Parfum! Located a short walk from the Palais Garnier, this free museum offers a unique look into the world of French perfume. You’ll get to see how making perfume is truly a work of art! Don’t miss out on visiting the Musee du Parfum during your trip to Paris. The museum covers a range of topics from history to science to marketing and business, so it’s not just for those who love to wear perfume.
All visitors the museum are given a free thirty-minute guided tour. During this immersive tour, you’ll learn about how perfume has been a staple since ancient civilization and how over the centuries fragrance has evolved into what we know it as today! Then you’ll take a step into the laboratory and see how companies like Fragonard develop and manufacture their scents. You’ll watch how aromatics are extracted from raw materials and how master perfumers use their sense of smell to develop their final product. At the end of your tour, you’ll get to test your olfactory system in a perfume testing session. And of course, you’ll have the chance to do some shopping for authentic Parisian perfume! The museum also hosts workshops where you can try your hand at making your own scents and perfume. During your visit to Paris, don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind sensory experience!
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6.) Park Floral & Castle Vincennes, Paris
Recommended by Gabrijela of Under Flowery Sky
Park Floral in Paris is a large botanical garden near castle Vincennes where you can easily spend the whole day. Though this quarter is located in the suburb of Paris, the elegance is so alive with the white wide streets and historical decorations. It is awaken in 1969 with the intention to become the background for the large flower festival called Floralies. Artificial lake is a treasure of peace among colourful spring trees, little gardens of curative plants, and many magnolias. Bonsai trees are the highlight of the park, more than 60 trees can be found. The Dahlia flower show makes the garden enchanting. Children’s playground give them an exquisite ambiance of eco-style with tipis made from branches and other creative equipment. Minigolf with the replicas of the Paris monuments is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. During the summer many events are happening like the Paris Jazz Festival.
For all the botanical lovers Parc Floral is a hidden paradise, an oasis of peace and education. An additional bonus is that castle Vincennes is just across so you cannot skip it when arriving. The castle gives an artistic inspiration not only to common people but to many students making drawings of it. That’s one of the reasons for its relaxing atmosphere and sitting around it. Castle Vincennes is surrounded by one of the largest parks in Paris Bois de Vincennes and is truly a place to go. Castle Vincennes is a beautiful royal surprise which once served as the residence of the royal family, then the porcelain manufactury and later as prison. So much history deserves the visit. The chapelle inside is decorated with the ever wonderful stained glass. Parc Floral and castle Vincennes are easily acessible by metro.
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7.) Pigalle Basketball Court
Recommended by Jenna of I Know The Pilot
Set amongst plain, pastel buildings in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris, the last thing I expected to discover was a fluro-bright basketball court, full of ballers young and old.
Originally an old parking lot, locals campaigned to keep the space empty as a place for children to play, rather than being developed. The local basketball team, along with local residents, painted the first version of the court in the early 2000s.
However, the space rose to international fame in 2009, when a collaboration between French brand ‘Pigalle’ (whose creator had been playing at the court for several years), Nike and creative outfit ILL Studio culminated in a fantastic, functional space that not only hosts local basketballers of all ages, but celebrities and even fashion shows. Present at the original opening of the space were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Spike Lee and LeBron James – all basketball superstars, and fashion shows and ad campaigns have been held at the space since.
The space gets a refresh every few years, the most recent in January 2020. Always colourful and always bright, the site has now (thanks largely to social media) become a hot-spot for tourists, photographers and those wanting to snag the perfect ‘gram. However, it is still a fully functioning basketball court, and it is not unusual to see a variety of players on the court at any one time, amongst the obvious tourists and selfie queens.
Though I have to admit I went there specifically to get some photos (I’m terrible at any kind of sports), my partner ended up in a game that lasted almost an hour, with a mix of locals and visitors – speaking five different languages. It was one of those amazing travel moments that make you realise that there is so much that unites us as humans, and we don’t always need to speak the same language to communicate.
Located in the 9th arrondissiment of Paris, at 22 Rue Duperré, the court is easy to reach with several Metro stops nearby, the closest being Blanche. It is free to visit and play on (though you have to bring your own ball), and is a great way to interact with other visitors and locals. Definitely a must-see, this quirky little spot is so unique, and your pictures will be amazing!
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8.)Wine and Chesese Tasting Workshop
Recommended by James of Travel Collecting
One of the hidden gems in Paris is a wine and cheese tasting workshop. When you think of France, chances are you think of wine and you think of cheese. So, what better way to experience French culture than to sample both – and to learn more about them in the process. The workshop starts with a welcome glass of wine while getting a general overview of the cheese and wine growing regions in France. Then the host presents each cheese along with an explanation about the kind of cheese it is, where it comes from, what qualities it has. A wine is also introduced, with an explanation about the wine and why it is commonly paired with that type of cheese. Participants then try the cheese, noting the flavors, whether they like it and why or why not.
This is repeated for the wine. Then the cheese is held in the mouth while sipping on the wine at the same time. It is fascinating to note how the combination changes the flavor of both the wine and the cheese. Sometimes a cheese that tastes great alone doesn’t taste as nice when paired with the wine and sometimes the cheese tastes better with the wine. It is truly fascinating. A “scorecard” is kept so pairings can be noted. Most of the cheeses are extremely seasonal – only at their best for a few weeks a year, and freshly bought from a cheese market. The workshop is a great springboard for venturing out into the Parisian markets and tiny cheese shops and experimenting with new cheeses for a picnic in one of Paris’ many great parks!
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9.) Shakespeare and Company
Recommened by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
Shakespeare and Company is a wonderful English-language bookstore where you can pick up some books for your next long train ride, but it’s also much, much more than that. The store was founded in 1951 by an American expat named George Whitman who came over to Paris to study on the GI bill. He had been running an informal reading room and lending library out of his dorm room, and a friend of his convinced him to make it official and open a bookstore.
So George moved his store into what used to be a monastery, built in the 17th century on the banks of the Seine, right across from Notre Dame. His motto was always “give what you can, take what you need”, and he even allowed budding writers, artists and other lost souls to sleep inside the bookstore in exchange for helping out for a couple of hours each day. George called these temporary residents “tumbleweeds”, and he welcomed anyone as long as they agreed to write a one-page autobiography and read one book a day for as long as they stayed there.
George also lived in the bookstore, or, more precisely, in the apartment just above it, which is where he passed away in 2011 at the age of 98. Since then, his only daughter Sylvia Whitman has taken over the running of the shop. She’s made a few modern additions, such as the attached café selling some of Paris’ best vegetarian food, but the welcoming, ramshackle spirit of the bookstore remains very much the same.
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10.) Musée de Montmartre
Recommended by Laura of What’s Hot?
Montmartre is one of the most famous and tourist-ridden districts in Paris, but the Musée de Montmartre is a hidden gem atop this hill. It’s one of the top small museums in Paris and the perfect addition to an afternoon in Montmartre. The Museum is located just a few metres up from the infamous “La Maison Rose”. You’ll undoubtedly have seen pictures of this pink restaurant on Instagram. In contrast, the Musee de Montmartre is nondescript so you could be forgiven for walking past it. You almost certainly wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know it was there.
The museum pays homage to Montmartre and takes you through the history of it from the 19th century to today. Back then, it was an area full of mills and vineyards. Then in the late 1800s, artists started moving to this area and it became a vibrant arrondissement associated with theatre, music and dance. The museum contains a whole section dedicated to the French Cancan you won’t want to miss. It is also the former home of a number of artists including famous French painter Renoir and there’s a wonderful atelier inside so you can see what a painter’s studio would have looked like at the time. One of the best parts, however, is the green garden at the back of the museum. From here, you even get a view over the Vineyard. Yes, there’s still a vineyard in Paris! There are tables dotted around the garden so you can enjoy tea and cake in the sun with a view over the city.
Tickets cost €13 with concessions available.
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11.) Paris Catacombs
Recommended by Victoria of Tori Leigh
Visiting the Paris Catacombs is one of the most unique experiences visitors can have in the City of Lights. A bit obscure, the underground ossuary is creepy, exciting, and interesting all at the same time.
In short, the Paris Catacombs is a network of tunnels and rooms 3,000 km below the streets of Paris. It contains the remains of six million Parisians, including Marat, Robespierre, and others who perished during the French Revolution.
At the end of the 18th century, amid major plague outbreaks, cemeteries began transferring their remains to an underground quarry. The site officially became an ossuary in 1786 and, after renovations, the final bones were laid in 1860. Today, the site welcomes over six million annual visitors.
Not for the faint of heart, the Paris Catacombs greets its visitors with a sign reading Here Lies the Empire of Death. The bones and skeletal arrangements are, in fact, all real. The site, which is only accessible by descending 131 steps, can feel cold, damp, and closed in at times.
A part of Parisian history, though, the Paris Catacombs are not to be missed. Purchase tickets online and ahead of time as the line get sometimes get long; only 200 visitors are allowed in at one time. A self guided tour should take about an hour and audio is available (placards in the Catacombs are all in French). Afterwards, enjoy some of the cafés lining the streets of Montparnasse and explore this lesser traversed neighborhood.
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12.) La Petite Ceinture
Recommended by Elisa of World in Paris
When planning your trip to Paris, keep some free time for a couple of hidden gems far from crowds. There are many interesting places off the beaten path but perhaps my favorite is La Petite Ceinture.
La Petite Ceinture, “the Little Belt” in English, is Paris’ ancient railway built in the 19th century that circumnavigated the city. The trains transported passengers and goods and it was a good way for people to get around Paris. The railway’s decline started with the inauguration of the Parisian Metro in 1900 and it stopped transporting passengers in 1934 when the metro reached its maturity. The trains kept transporting goods for some more years until the seventies when it stopped working. Then the railways and train stations were disaffected and abandoned.
Years later the City of Paris decided to restore parts of this Petite Ceinture and convert them into green spaces with some informative panels to highlight its importance for the history of the city.
Today it is possible to visit parts of La Petite Ceinture a little bit everywhere in Paris 12, Paris 13, Paris 15, Paris 16, Paris 19, and Paris 20. Personally, I prefer the section located in the 15th District of Paris because it has kept the railways, visitors still can see a secondary train station and some train sights.
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