From Montmartre to the Marais, from ghosts to gourmet, the 10 things to see and do in Paris beyond the big sights.
You won’t find it difficult to fill your days when you go to Paris for the first time. The City of Light is so full of ‘can’t miss’ places that it’ll feel like you’re on autopilot. But your second visit might get a bit trickier: once you’ve checked the likes of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower off your to-do list, what’s left to do? François de la Taille takes the tour.
1. Tales of the riverbank
The ferocious battle between pedestrians and cars for the ownership of the city of Paris is slowly but surely tipping in favor of the less motorized of its contestants. Man’s latest conquest: the banks of the River Seine, where cars are no longer welcome. What used to be an expressway has recently been turned into a walker’s dreamland: outdoor cafes lending board games, sundecks, vegetable gardens, playgrounds for kids, training facilities, and much more… 1.4 miles of tranquility in the very heart of this UNESCO world heritage site replacing 40,000 cars a day: Man 1- Machine 0.
Left bank of the Seine, between Musée d’Orsay and Port du Gros Caillou, 75007 Paris / M° Invalides
2. Welcome to the countryside
Paris is a thrilling beauty, but like many stunning ladies, she can wear you out. Fortunately, this resourceful concubine has a special treat for you, a place where she will make sure you forget that you’re by her side while keeping you in her loving arms. This haven of quietude is called ‘La campagne à Paris’ and is, as surprising as it may sound, a piece of countryside within Paris. Built in the early 20th century, this neighborhood made of 92 pavilions is an unexpected yet typical French village dropped in the middle of one of the densest city in Europe. Worth a visit on a tiring day.
La Campagne à Paris, between Boulevard Mortier, rue du Capitaine Ferber and rue Géo Chavez, 75020 Paris / M° Porte de Bagnolet
3. Meet Paris’ ghosts
A popular saying states that “Paris is a block of Swiss cheese”. Indeed, the underground of the French capital is full of holes, caverns and quarries from which were extracted the stones used to build its famous Haussmannian buildings. So when the cemeteries got a bit too crowded, the decision was easy: the “Catacombs” were set up and the remains of 6,000,000 Parisians were transferred in the capital’s caves. Since then, a small but impressive part of the galleries has been turned into a museum: a great way to get a glimpse of Paris’ History through the life of its former occupants.
Les catacombes, Place Denfert Rochereau, 75014 Paris / M° Denfert Rochereau – 01 43 22 47 63
4. The temple of fine food
Fact: France’s chefs are acclaimed all over the world. But aren’t they just poster boys, benefiting from the average Frenchman and woman’s passion for fine food? To understand this love story, go to the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché, in the heart of the Quartier Latin. In this luxury store, food is considered as an art. From Champagne jam to Foie Gras-flavored cotton candy, all your senses will be blown away. Warning: your banker might not be thrilled to hear about your visit to this temple of taste.
La Grande Epicerie, 38 rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris / M° Sèvres Babylone – 01 44 39 81 00
5. Let’s get high
Skyscrapers are forbidden in almost all neighborhoods of Paris, which means that the only buildings you’ll see popping out of the skyline are monuments. A dream city for whoever owns a place with a view. If you’re not one of these happy few, go to the 7th, a roof top bar in Montmartre that combines a garden-like romantic atmosphere, a spectacular view on the City of Light and a very fine cocktail bar. Ideal for a date.
The 7th, 12-14, rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018 Paris / M° Place de Clichy or Abbesses – 01 44 92 34 01
6. Dive into the old streets of Paris
If you’re an old stone addict but your loved one is a fashionista, your Parisian stay will be in dying need of constant arbitration. If you want to meet in the middle, rendezvous at rue des Francs Bourgeois. In this street of the chic Marais, you will find designer shops alongside Hôtels Particuliers, old and luxurious town houses that contribute to Paris’ prestigious reputation. At the end of your walk lays the most extraordinary jewel of all: Place des Vosges, where Victor Hugo used to live.
Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75004 Paris / M° St Paul
7. Understand French cuisine at Chateaubriand
At some point in your visit, you’ll want to understand why everyone is in awe of French cuisine. After all, the streets are full of international fast food restaurants, like in any other city. So what’s so special about it? Well, a night at the Chateaubriand should close the debate once and for all. Don’t expect to be handed a menu in this gastronomic neo-bistro: the €60 seven-course menu is a total surprise for every guest and changes every day. Like brilliantly inspired matchmakers, the three chefs combine flavors and create inventive recipes that will explode in your delighted mouths. And no need to book your table months in advance: from 9.30pm every night, the Chateaubriand opens its doors to everyone. First come, first served!
Chateaubriand, 129 avenue Parmentier, 75011 Paris / M° Goncourt – 01 43 57 45 95
8. A greener Paris
Ever enjoyed a walk on the famous High Line in New York City? Well, did you know that it was inspired by the Parisian Promenade Plantée? What used to be a railroad track going from the Bastille train station (that became the Bastille Opera house) to the south-east suburbs has been turned into a fantastic green walk, seven meters above ground. Slaloming between the buildings, you’ll be delighted by the peaceful atmosphere that pervades the place.
Promenade Plantée, accessible from the angle of Avenue Daumesnil and Rue de Lyon, 75012 Paris / M° Bastille or Reuilly-Diderot
9. Architectural sightseeing on Rue Réaumur
There was a time where people were fed up with what seems to be Paris’ most appealing facet: its buildings. So in 1895, when the city council decided to drill a new street throughout the 2nd arrondissement, they briefed a bunch of hype architects and asked them to come up with some audacious edifices that would change from the good old Haussmannian style, with a prize for the best one. The result is a collection of Art Nouveau facades and early 20th century New York style iron structures. And if your neck gets too painful, go and have a break in one of the many cafés of the charming rue Montorgueil.
Rue Réaumur, 75002 Paris / M° Bourse
10. Body pit stop at the Hammam of the Paris Mosque
At this point in your visit, you’ll probably be completely worn out. Don’t worry: we’ll make sure you get your mojo back in no time. Hidden behind the walls of the Great Paris Mosque, in a luxurious setting built in a Hispano-Moresque architectural style, you’ll find the most authentic piece of orient of the capital. Steam baths, zillions of pools from very cold to very hot, massages, body scrubbing: an afternoon of rejuvenation for your body and mind. And don’t forget to have a tea at the beautiful outdoor café when you’re fully renewed!
Hammam of the Paris Mosque, 39 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 75005 Paris / M° Jussieu, Gare D’Austerlitz, Place Monge – 01 43 31 18 14