Oh Paris, My Paris -> 5 “Off-The-Beaten-Track” Things To Do & See In the City Of Love
I’m sitting outside with dad in a quiet square in the 5eme. We’re having classic steak-frites for dinner at a teeny brasserie on a table that’s really only made for one, but somehow manages to balance our two over-flowing plates, a carafe of wine, water and all the rest. It’s tricky to eat without the plates tipping off the the table, but we’re embracing the experience and soaking in the atmosphere.
You see it’s all so uniquely Parisian.
It’s late afternoon so the sun is low, just barely skimming the attic apartments of the 6-floor walk-up across the way. A lady saunters past in sky high stilettos, dressed to the nines and effortlessly elegant, somehow managing to avoid the hundreds of holes and dips on the cobblestone path. A couple embraces passionately by the roadside, no doubt the start of a romantic date. The student next to us nurses his single drink, too skint to order anything else, but wanting the moment to last just like everyone else. Folks of all color and race are chatting, reading or just hanging out. The city is alive and beautiful.
This Is France, But It’s Not France
In truth Paris is an oddity in France.
It may be the best known part of France, but it’s really not like the rest of France at all. Yes, it shares the same language and many of the same customs, but the architecture is different from anywhere else. It’s opulent and imposing, a melange of Gothic, French Renaissance and Napoleon III’s incredibly flamboyant style.
And Parisians, much like New Yorkers, are a breed entirely apart. They’re an international lot that have their own particular version of argo (slang), and they pride themselves in city life, fast and bustling and not-at-all like the sleepy countryside the surrounds them. A country Frenchman would never dream of living here and a Parisian would never dream of living anywhere else.
Plus tourism is INSANE! Paris is one of the 10 most-visited city in the world, with over 17.95 million visitors each year. Finding a “quiet” corner in summer is a bit like trying to figure out Schrödinger’s Cat; you’ve really got to open up the covers and look deep inside to know.
There Is SO Much To See And Do
All this is of course, part of Paris’s irresistible charm.
Each of the 20 arrondissements in the city is packed with “classic” sights, and if you’re coming to Paris for the first time, you definitely have to check them all out. Places like the Tour Eiffel, the Champs–Élysées, the Arc De Triumphe, the Louvre, The Jardins De Tuileries, Place De La Concorde, La Cathédrale De Notre Dame, Château De Versailles etc. These are all iconic sights and should not be missed. But they’re also super popular, and often really crowded.
When my dad and I were here we saw most of those sights, but only in passing. What I really wanted to show him was some of the other spots; the corners with less tourists, the quieter back-alleys and the places with views that you don’t pay a centime to see. We only skimmed the surface, as you only ever do on a short trip, but those are some of MY favorite parts of the city, and if you’re coming here in the future maybe they’ll become some of yours too?
So with that overly long and poetic introduction (hey, its La France after all), here are 5 “off the beaten track” things I recommend in the city of love.
1/ Take A “Sightseeing” Trip On Public Transport
There are tons of really good official tour operators in Paris, including many hop-on/hop-off buses and boats that go up and down the Seine, but if you’re looking for a cheapo way to “sightsee” the city and you don’t mind skipping the tour talk, then there’s a few options I recommend:
- Take the #72 Public Bus– this is probably the best “sightseeing” public bus route in Paris since it runs along the Seine & goes past a bunch of major sightseeing stops from the Louvre to the Tour Eiffel. It’s a great ride and it’ll only cost you €1.90 to do the whole thing! More HERE.
Take an “Over-The-River” Metro – There are places where the Metro runs above ground, and even a few places where it runs over the Seine, which I think is pretty fun. One of my fav stations is Bir-Harkeim. It’s located a pleasant 10 mins walk from the Tour Eiffel, and travels over the river back towards the Arc De Triumphe (line 6, green). Again, it’ll only cost you €1.90 to ride.
- Take A Batobus – the Batobus or “river shuttle” takes you up/down the Seine for a fraction of the price of a tour. Only €17 for a one-day pass which you can use as many times as you like. More HERE.
2/ See Some Art (But Skip The Louvre)
Everyone always goes to the Louvre when they come to Paris and I can’t say I blame them. The Louvre is the only place you can see the Mona Lisa and it has some pretty darn impressive exhibits (their Egyptian section is top-notch). But I’ve always found it to be SUPER crowded, and frankly overwhelming.
Unless you want to wait hours in line, you need to book well ahead to get in, and once inside the crowds make it hard to get close enough to the paintings to really enjoy them, at least for me. It’s a gorgeous building from the outside, but when I lived in Paris it was honestly my least favorite Art Gallery to visit.
No, if you want to do it the “Wheelingit” way, I recommend skipping the Louvre altogether and going directly to the Musée D’Orsay instead. Much smaller, way less people and the impressionist selection there is AMAZING! It was always my fav museum in Paris, and still is to this day.
But there’s more! If you want to get even more “off-the-beaten track” then, check out the Musée de l’Orangerie (super cute little art museum in the west end of the Jardin de Tuileries. You might well be the only person there!), or go to the Musée Picasso (awesome Picasso museum!), or swing by the Centre Pompidou (superb for modern art lovers). There are just soooo many cool museums in Paris outside of the Louvre!
Final “insiders” tip -> Many of the museums in Paris offer FREE entry one day a month. For a full list see HERE. It’s how I managed to see museums while I lived there as a skint student.
3/ Stroll Around Montmartre in the 18th
Another “must do” that I recommend for everyone is the 18th arrondissement of Paris.
This is the “artists” area of Paris, where grand names like Pissarro, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Emile Zola used to hang out in the day. Although parts of it are fairly touristy, it’s still a super cool place to visit, and one of my fav places to explore around on foot.
One of the central attractions of Montmartre is the La Basilique Du Sacré–Cœur, and in my opinion it’s the most beautiful church in the city. It’s way less crowded than Notre Dame and it’s not only gorgeous on the outside, but contains some of most spectacular mosaics you will ever see in the interior. Seriously, they’re stunning!
Oh and there’s the views too! The church sits atop hill (there’s a good 300 stairs to get up there, if you don’t take the Funiculaire), so it offers the best FREE panoramic view of Paris in the city (for a most romantic experience, go here at night!). Plus the main square right behind the church still has working street artists, surrounded by cute shops & brasseries . It’s touristy, but it’s still a really cool place to hang out.
But there’s more too! Montmartre has some pretty cool “back alley” streets, as well as the only working winery within City limits (Vignes du Clos Montmartre). So, my advice once you get there is to go outside the tourist zones and explore around. The walking tour described in THIS post is an excellent place to start, but otherwise just let your artists nose lead you.
4/ Visit Some (Really Cool) Tombstones In The 20th
When I lived in Paris I lived in the 20th arrondissement, right next to the biggest cemetery in the city, the Cimtière Du Père Lachaise. That might seem pretty morbid, but honestly I loved it.
You see Père Lachaise is probably the most AMAZING cemetery you will ever see. Covering 110 acres it’s not just the size that’s impressive, it’s the layout, the gorgeous shade trees (over 5,000 of them), the cobblestone pathways and the hilly trails This is not just the largest cemetery in Paris, but it is also it’s largest park!
Plus the tombstones are truly incredible. Many of them are 6-foot or taller, reaching up to 65-feet (!), and a walk through in their midst will take you through some of the most famous names in history.
Want to see where Molière is buried? Or perhaps you want to say hello to Chopin? Or Edith Piaf? How about Balzac? Or Jim Morrison, or Oscar Wilde? Yes, they are ALL here, as well as ~1 million other souls (!!).
Or perhaps you’re looking for something else? Say, a little je ne sais quoi to add some za-za-ching back into your bedroom life? Well, if you find the tombstone of Victor Noir, give him a kiss on the lips and then rub him in his….ermmm…well-proportioned trousers area, apparently your wish will come true. Don’t say I never give any useful tips on this blog 🙂
In my opinion this is not just one of the most underrated sights in Paris, but that also one of the most tranquil places you can visit. Very few people go, so it’s almost always quiet and relaxed, and there are so many side-trails to explore that you are guaranteed to find a corner to yourself. I’ve spent many hundreds of hours in the Cimtière Du Père Lachaise., mostly when I wanted to get away from it all. It’s a super cool place and one of my fav “off-beat” places to visit in the city.
Visit Tips: There are lots of tour guides that will take you around the cemetery. They’re awesome, but the tours are really long (be prepared for a few hours of walking & stories). Personally I prefer to print out a map of the tombstones & walk around at my own pace.
5/ Browse For Books In The 5th & 6th
I love books, real books and Paris is one of those cities you can still find those, in multiple places. My absolute fav area for this is the 5th and 6th, also known as the “student area” of town. And there’s a nice stroll you can do to see it all (and a bit more)!
Start with the bouquinistes by Pont Neuf on the right bank (= north side) of the river Seine. There are over 240 of these historic riverside booksellers stretched along ~3km of the Seine. The stalls have been here since 1859, and are an iconic part of the Parisian story. It’s a total blast to browse some of the rare & collectible treasures hidden in their metal ‘book boxes’. You can still find real gems here!
Once you’re done with that, head onto l’île de la Cité (the little island in the center of the city), stroll past Notre Dame Cathedral (do pop inside for a look-see) and then cross the Petit Pont bridge to the left bank (= south side) of the Seine. Here you’ll find Shakespeare and Company, the oldest English bookstore in Paris. Opened in 1951, it maintains a tradition of housing aspiring writers and artists, and is just a super cool little shop to see.
From here stroll up Boulevard Saint-Michel towards the Sorbonne. You’ll pass reams of massive bookstores packed with every book you could ever imagine. If spending several hours in a bookstore is your version of paradise, you’ve just found it! Finish your outing with a relaxing stroll in the Jardin Du Luxenbourg. It’s just a beautiful garden and a nice place to spend the late afternoon.
A bonus of this walk is that you’ll get to see some classic Parisian sights along the way, plus you’ll pass a ton of cafés and eateries too. My two fav places to hang in the area are in the cafés by Place Saint Michel and by the fountains of Place De La Sorbonne. Neither spot has spectacular food (just regular brasserie fare), but they both provide an awesome atmosphere and are superb people-watching locations. I spent most of my year in Paris hanging in one of these spots.
And Of Course There’s So Much More…
During the 3 days dad and I were in Paris we only managed these few highlights, so there’s lots more I didn’t get to show him. From the old jewish quater in the 4th, to the famous flea markets (Les Puces) at Porte de Clignancourt, the underground Catacombs (so cool) and the hip up-and-coming bars of the 19th, Paris is a city that always has more to show you, no matter how many times you go. Hopefully you’ll all make it there one day and find a few gems of your own to share down the line.SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
J. Mohr says
I was a student there when Kennedy was shot… Reading about your favirite places brought back wonderful memories I had there then and the few times I have been back.
What a time to be there…etched in history for so many.
Barrie Bochoff says
Reading your posts is like listening to a good friend explaining enthusiastically about the wonderful places they’ve visited. You include wisperng in our ears about things you might not say out loud in a crowd as well as steering us toward, and away from, spots that separate tourists from those better informed. You have a gift. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. I read Paul’s posts also and appreciate his insights on the investing world. Continue to enjoy life!
Thank you so much for the kind words!
David Michael says
I love your writing. I think you should put your blog posts into a kindle book form. One for the USA and another for Europe. Excellent work!
Thank you! One day I might get around to compiling all this into a book. I actually starred one while we were in the US but never finished it. Hopefully one day…
Although we’ve only been to Paris a few times, your post brought back pleasant memories of our last trip with my mother. She fancied herself an artist and she was absolutely transported at the Orangerie……The guard had to keep telling her to move back, I think he thought she was going to touch. What he didn’t know was that she was legally blind and needed to get that close to really see and enjoy Monet. What fun we had on that trip.
I just love that story Sue! I have to admit I get pretty close to the paintings too, mostly because I’m so taken by the detail in the brush strokes. It’s amazing to see true art in person.
Richard L Castleberry says
As always, very nice write up.
Have a look at this recent article about
Paris near the river from the NYT
I didn’t see that article before, so that is for that. NYT writes good stuff.
rita Z Mizell says
Wow just wow! Born on a dusty, dirt floored Hogan, on the Navajo reservation yet I have traveled afar to many places following your blog and other travel blogs….some bicycle travel blogs too….through many countries from Africa, Europe, Central Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and back road travel on bicycles in China, Russia, South America and much, much more. My clan name is Honighaanii meaning one who walks around. As young as 16 years old, I boarded a greyhound bus to the big city of Los Angeles, CA to take a job as a nanny. I had never been to a big city. Once I was shown to my room at my job, the curtains were drawn open to reveal floor to ceiling, wall to wall window and a view of thousands of twinkling city lights of Los Angeles. I nearly fainted from the sight and cried at sheer beauty as I do now. I will never forget that view and that time when I stepped out of the reservation into a big city. I was orphan at 16 when my mom died from cancer a month before my high school graduation. My father had died six years prior. I answered a job ad in the Navajo Times while sitting on the throne inside an out house. It said ‘…will send bus ticket…’ so I jumped on it. I had no money. Thank you so much for this awesome tour and thanks to Richard Castleberry for posting a link. I am 73 years old now and my yearning for travel has not stopped. I travel through the eyes of others.
Richard L Castleberry says
Inspirational , thanks rita.
What an amazing life story Rita! Your wonder, your love of life and travel, and your perseverance, despite the many hardships you’ve faced, just come shining through. Thank so much for sharing it with us. I’m incredibly honored to have you along on our own journey, and hope I can provide you many years of virtual travel more.
Carolyn B says
Just amazing! Loved the pictures you shared and the writing. Now I have to go to Paris and see the sights you described. Love your blog.
Hope you get to visit one day. It really is a beautiful city.
Ross Fish says
Your #1 most beautiful blog to date. Thank you! My partner, Jacques (100% Parisian) and I are following your wheel tracks. Actually, our intention to return to France started before you announced your plans. But, as you know, boondockers can be easily distracted. Our journey since leaving California last Christmas has been a zig-zag trail of inspirational energies, authentic RVers, and moments to cherish. Your recent blogs have been filled with facts that have answered questions about “what’s it like there, NOW” and filled in gaps that will be helpful when we reach our South of France destination. Again, thank you! Your Paris story today firmed our belief that we’re headed in the right direction. (We’re guided by the plaques on our dash that says, “Follow your heart, not the herd”).
We are definitely following similar life paths at the moment! It’s both scary and exciting to make this switch, but I think if you follow your heart you cannot go wrong. I wish you all the best of luck with everything! Maybe we’ll meet down the road in France at some point.
This post caused me to let out a big, soulful :::sigh:::. How I love this city!
My most bittersweet memory of Paris was Thanksgiving weekend right after I learned the “love of my life” had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. We sat on benches in the outdoor garden entwined beneath the beautiful life-sized sculptures of lovers, their embrace frozen in time. My memory of sitting there with my dearly departed in Rodin’s sculpture garden is as frozen in my mind as those bronze lovers.
Thanks for the wonderful memories, as well as inspiration that it’s time to visit again…
Sorry, part of my comment disappeared….I was speaking about the beautiful outdoor sculpture garden at Musée Rodin, another off the beaten path museum that I recommend…
Goodness Suzanne, what a profound story. That is both incredibly difficult, and touching. I can only imagine what you must have felt in that moment.
And thank you for bringing up Musée Rodin. I totally forgot to mention it in my post, but i did go several times in my day, and it is indeed another fabulous off-the-beaten-track place to see. The sculpture garden there is spectacular.
Loved this! I spent my junior year in Paris and have visited many other times, but haven’t been back for years. Great write up, I felt like I was there. The NYT has a new story up about exploring the periph: Paris on Foot: 35 Miles, 6 Days and One Blistered Toe
Great link! Thanks for sharing! Nina
This is the best blog on Paris I’ve read. Thanks, enjoyed reading.
Thank you for the lovely compliment 🙂
This is truly wonderful! My guy has been to Paris and we want to go together some day. But throughout me reading this post out loud during dinner, he agreed with everything you said. He says the D’Orsay is so much better than the Louvre in many ways. Thank you for detailing the cemetery! I love cemeteries and I’ve made him promise to take me.♡♡
It’s so nice to hear others love the Musée D’Orsay as much as I do.
And I’m exacly like you. I just love cemeteries! It’s not about death for me. It’s about the lives that those people lived. When I walk through a cemetery I see history, past loves, hardships, successes and life experiences. Every tomb is a story, and those stories speak to me on a very deep level. I’ll go round and read tombstones, trying to imagine what kind of life they lived, the time they lived in and what their environment was like back then. I find it fascinating!
Another fantastic blog! I just love your way to explore Paris! We were blessed to have our daughter’s friend give us an auto tour one of the four days we were there. I’m with you on finding the quieter, non-touristy areas and if we ever go back will use your tips. We did do the batobus and loved it. We happened to be there on a free Sunday so we got to the Louvre right at opening and just went through a small portion. It is indeed, very overwhelming. Thank you for all your awesome information!
Totally with you on those observations. I’ve never been around Paris by car, but it’s a great way to see a bit more of it, if you can handle the traffic. The outer areas like Bois de Boulogne and Versailles become more accessible that way too.
Angie Quantrell says
Oh, beautiful! I’ve spent 5 weeks on 2 different trips in Paris and I know we barely scratched the surface. But I felt the same way you did about the Louve (gorgeous, but overwhelming), Musée D’Orsay (love it!), the walking, the river, everything. Well, I will probably not kiss anyone or rub their uhm, let’s just say I’m good. Want to take this post with me on my next trip! Thanks!
Yeah admittedly I decided not exchange pleasantries with Mr.Noir when I met him at the cemetery either. I’m good too 🙂 Glad I could give you some other tips for a future visit.
DC Stultz says
Loved this post! Totally agree with your choices. D’Orsay beats the Louvre in my book too! And, the picture of your dad at the Palais Royal was a gem — somewhere I have a pic of me standing on one of those stumps too.
Thanks. It was fun doing the photo thing with dad there. Good memories to carry forward.
Bob McLean says
It took me a good two weeks to “tune in” to the particular version of French being spoken in Paris when I first went there as a young student back in the seventies. I think maybe it was because most of them had emigrated from elsewhere? I don’t know, but I got it eventually.
Have fun. Last time we were in Paris (together) it was to shop for fabric below Sacré-Cœur. Rue Livingstone (I just looked it up.) My Travelling Companion stopped in there again on her way back from Lyon in September.
Yes, the fabric shops! They’re all over the 18th (walking east along the main drag in Montmartre will take you by them). It’s a pretty interesting area to wander around and an absolute gem for fabric shoppers.
For fabric lovers, I found this detailed blog post that has everything you’d ever want to know about fabric shopping in Paris. Another great “off-the-beaten-track” way to tour the city: https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2015/11/the-seamworkers-guide-to-paris
Thanks for bringing this up!
I loved these Paris posts Nina! Since it was our first visit to Paris two years ago, we did all the touristy things you listed above, plus even got to many of the less touristy that you described, like the Musée D’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie, and the Musée Picasso. We loved climbing the stairs to the La Basilique Du Sacré–Cœur, and roaming the back alleys of the Montmartre. We did get to the Jewish Quarter and toured the underground Catacombs, but what I am really sorry we missed are the cemeteries you have outlined. They are definitely on the list for another visit. Thanks for all the information and the beautiful photos.
The Jewish Quarter, and the Catacombs are two places I didn’t get to take dad that I really wished we could have done. We just didn’t have enough hours in the day! Like you said, there’s always something you miss and that you have to put on the list for a return visit. I’m glad I could give you that one thing for your own return 🙂
Nina, The news today says Paris is having riots and burning of cars and buildings. Roits over fuel tax.
Yes it’s been ugly out there this weekend. We even had riots and tear gas in Toulouse. The cause I can understand, but the violence I cannot. We’re staying at home until all this (hopefully) blows over.
My friends are going to Paris this month and will spend Christmas there. Hope all the riots are done by then.
My family is planning on spending one month in Southern France. Do you have any favorite place to recommend?