Everyone knows about Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre, but if you’ve already covered the major hot spots, what’s a visiting Francophile to do? Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of options—you’ve just got to know where to look!
1. Have tea at the Grand Mosquée de Paris
Tucked behind the tourist-packed alleys of the Latin Quarter, Paris’ largest mosque is a beautiful outpost of serenity in the heart of the city. Wander through its mosaicked arches, past courtyard fountains and garden atriums, and cozy up to a table in the ornately decorated tea room to sip honeyed mint tea and nibble sweet North African pastries.
2. Check out Sainte-Chappelle
Notre Dame might get all the hunchbacks and the glory, but Saint-Chappelle—the royal chapel just around the corner—arguably is even more splendid. Built in the 13th century, this spectacular church features soaring, gilded ceilings and some of the oldest and most beautiful stained glass windows in the world. Save your visit for a sunny day to catch the glittering vitrails in all of their glory.
3. Walk the Promenade Plantée
Paris’ answer to Manhattan’s High Line, the Promenade Plantée, is an elevated walkway that winds three miles down an old train track, across a viaduct, and through the parks south and east of the Place de la Bastille. In the springtime it’s covered in flowers, but even in winter, a stroll down this cool urban green belt is a breath of fresh air.
4. See a movie
Cinema holds a special place in the hearts of the French (it was invented by a pair of French brothers in the 19th century), and theaters around town are just as likely to be showing small independent films as they are to be screening the latest international blockbusters. Immerse yourself in “la septieme art” (the seventh art) at one of the city’s iconic theaters. La Pagode, in the Seventh Arrondissement, is styled after a Japanese pagoda, complete with a tea room and a garden that’s listed as a national historic monument. In the north end of the city, the neo-Egyptian theater, Le Louxor, recently was reopened after extensive renovations. It’s a particularly elegant place to catch a film, with grand balconies and Art Deco architectural details. Just make sure you the showtimes in advance; some theaters regularly schedule English language films without French dubbing and French films with English subtitles, so non-French speakers aren’t left in the dark.
5. Tour the Conciergerie
It’s smack-dab in the heart of the city, but the Conciergerie doesn’t always make it to the top of visitors’ must-see lists. It’s too bad, because this palace-turned-prison-turned-courthouse boasts pretty impressive history and architecture, dating all the way back to the 10th century. You can walk in the footsteps of medieval kings, see the cell where Marie Antoinette awaited her fate during the French Revolution, and tell time on Paris’ oldest public clock, a fleur-de-lis-gilded timepiece that was restored to its tick-tocking, 643-year-old glory in 2012.
6. Picnic on the Canal St. Martin
It’s a beat away from the historic heart of the city, so if you’re looking to leave the throngs of tourists behind, do as the locals do and head to the Canal St. Martin. Located in the trendy Tenth Arrondissement, this waterway is crisscrossed by tall, arching bridges and framed by wide sidewalks perfect for grabbing a seat and watching the world go by. Buy picnic supplies or get food to go from a nearby eatery and while away a few hours watching boats passing through the locks and groups of hip young Parisians eating, drinking, and playing pétanque—a popular French version of bocce ball.
7. Visit the Cimitière des Chiens
Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde might draw fans to the park-like Pere Lachaise cemetery, but in Paris, man’s best friend gets a fancy final resting place, too. Take the Metro Line 13 to Asnières-sur-Seine for a visit to Paris’ pet cemetery, where you can walk among the tombstones of dogs, cats, horses, a monkey, and even Rin Tin Tin—canine star of the silver screen.
8. Have a rooftop coffee at the Centre Pompidou
Sure, the orderly boulevards, limestone buildings, and matching zinc roofs give Paris its uniform charm and distinctive look, but there are modern, unusual, and downright funky examples of more contemporary architecture interspersed among the avenues. The Centre Pompidou—Paris’ modern art museum—is one of them. Quirky and colorful, this bold edifice looks as though it was turned inside out. Ride the tube-like escalator to the rooftop deck, where rows of white tables each are decorated with a single red rose, and sip a drink while you admire a panoramic view that stretches from the Eiffel Tower to Sacre Coeur.
9. Get spooked in the royal crypt at the Basilique St. Denis
The catacombs are macabre—they are underground tunnels lined with exhumed bones—but just outside the city, at the end of the Metro Line 13, is a much more regal resting place. Named for Paris’ patron saint and a pilgrimage site for centuries, this Gothic basilica houses the royal necropolis, where France’s kings and their families were buried. Walk among the funerary sculptures as sunlight filters through the stained glass windows. It’s quiet, serene, and the perfect place to reflect on just how much history lies within these walls.
10. Admire a different view of the city
Yes, you should go to the Eiffel Tower. But wouldn’t it be more fun to see a view of the city with the Eiffel Tower in it? Good news—you can! Trek up the stairs to earn the view from the deck on top of the Arc de Triomphe, where you can gaze down at the spinning chaos of the traffic circle and the star-like off-shoots of the boulevards around it. Or, take it easy with an elevator ride to the sky-high observation deck in the Montparnasse Tower—that one, solitary skyscraper sticking up like a sore thumb out of the Fourteenth Arrondissement. From there, you have a 360-degree view of the whole city, plus access to telescopes to zoom in on certain areas for a closer look.
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What are your favorite off-beat things to do in Paris?