For all the times I’ve been to the City of Lights, can you believe I’ve never tackled any of the more unique things to do in Paris? It feels almost criminal. Off-the-beaten-path everything is my jam, too. It was this admission that prompted several of my fellow bloggers to tell me all the great, non touristy things to do in Paris I just have to check out the next time I’m in town. Enjoy this little edition of my armchair travel, and I hope you find a few more items to add to your Paris bucket list!
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Unique Things to do in Paris
1. Get “Moored” Away By The Grande Mosquée de Paris
One of the more unusual things to do in Paris is its Grand Mosque. Though you might expect and visit these kinds of structures in Middle-Eastern countries, the one in Paris can compete with most of them.
The Grand Mosque in Paris is an architectural gem different from other sights in Paris. It is the third largest mosque in Europe and the biggest one in Paris. It looks much like the mosques you see in Middle-Eastern countries, including a minaret of 33 meters, mosaics and Arab arches.
The monumental building was built about 100 years ago with its grand opening in 1926 with the Moroccan sultan present. It was inspired by mosques in northern Africa and to make sure it could live up to its inspiration, craftsmen from Morocco and Tunisia were brought to Paris to work on the mosque.
The mosque is open to visitors. You can visit the public areas, like the central garden. This green and tropical oasis will make you forget you’re in Paris for a second. It has Moorish arches, decorative fountains and colorful mosaics.
Contribution by: Maartje & Sebastiaan of Tidy Minds.
2. Flâner the Jardin des Plantes, One Of The Best Things To Do In Paris
Spread over 75 acres, Jardin des Plantes is actually the main botanical garden in Paris, located in the famous Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement) near the Seine. Featuring approximately 23,000 species of plants, Jardin des Plantes should be on your itinerary when in the Latin Quarter.
The history of Jardin des Plantes dates back to 1635, when it was established as a royal medicine garden. The plants were used for centuries by doctors and botanists.
One of the interesting things about Jardin des Plantes is that it is not just a botanic garden. There are different attractions set within the garden complex. Some of the top attractions worth visiting in Jardin des Plantes are the Menagerie, Natural History Museum, Alpine Garden, Labyrinthe, Rose Garden, and six greenhouses, just to name a few.
Menagerie was founded in 1794 and is said to be one of the oldest zoos in the world, housing nearly 1,200 animals. The Natural History Museum is one of France’s oldest museums, and is popular for their Evolution Gallery that displays animal exhibits—everything from dinosaurs to giraffes. Kids will absolutely enjoy this museum.
Jardin des Plantes can be easily reached by metro, and the nearest stop is Gare d’Austerlitz. The garden and its attractions are free to enter, except for Menagerie, which charges a small entrance fee. The garden is open all through the year with varied opening and closing timings depending on the seasons.
Contribution by: Anuradha of Country Hopping Couple.
3. Get Some Fresh Air At Marché Aux Fleurs
Paris’ famed flower market is an off-the-beaten-path treat just waiting for travelers to stumble across it. The French love their flowers, and there are many places to buy blooms in the city. The Marché Aux Fleurs, however, is definitely one of the best to visit.
Officially named the Queen Elizabeth II Flower Market, this beautiful and vibrant part of Paris has been operational since the 1800s. For tourists headed to explore the wonders of Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle, the market is easily accessible, located at the exit of the Cité metro station.
Every Sunday, the market becomes a bird market. So, for something really special, enjoy a stroll through to the sound of birdsong.
The market is open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday are predominantly flowers, and Sunday is when the bird market makes an appearance. A visit to the Marche Aux Fleurs is completely free.
Contribution by: Emma of Emma Jane Explores.
4. Picnic at Parc Buttes-Chaumont, Among The Unique Things To Do In Paris
Parc Buttes-Chaumont is one of my favorite places in Paris. One of the biggest parks of Paris, Parc Buttes-Chaumont is located in the north of the city in a non-touristy district far from central Paris. This beautiful park is great for getting a glimpse of local life, far from the city’s tourist attractions. It is also one of the best spots for a picnic in Paris.
Parc Buttes Chaumont has the particularity of being the only hilly park in Paris. It was built for the Paris World Fair on the site of a former gypsum quarry and has an artificial pond, a classic temple, a grotto, and plenty of space to settle for a scenic Parisian picnic. If you come with the family, you will also find swings for kids and a puppet theater.
The park’s opening times depend on the season, but it generally opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. Entry is free.
Contribution by: Elisa of World In Paris.
5. Find The Follies At Parc Monceau
With over 450 parks and gardens in Paris there are endless off-the-beaten-path parks to choose from. One of the best parks in Paris, and one that is popular with locals but not on the radar of most tourists, is Parc Monceau.
Covering 20 acres, Parc Monceau is located in the 8th arrondissement and full of beautiful attractions. This over 200 year old park inspired works by Claude Monet and is home to picturesque shaded trails, a carousel, and a host of sculptures, busts, and statues.
But Parc Monceau is also full of quirky attractions that will delight anyone looking for hidden gems in Paris. The park is home to a variety of follies, which are ornamental buildings with no practical purpose, merely for decoration. There’s a small pyramid, a Dutch windmill, a small bridge modeled after Venice’s Rialto Bridge, and a few other gems.
One of the grandest features of Parc Monceau is the Roman colonnade that wraps around a beautiful pond. It’s the perfect place for a picnic or a few photos. So, whether you’re looking for free things to do in Paris or a great place to soak in the outdoors, be sure to add Parc Monceau to your Paris itinerary.
You’ll find it at 35 Boulevard de Courcelles. Opening times are 7 a.m.–10 p.m. in the summers and 7 a.m.–8 p.m. in the winters.
Contribution by: Stephanie of The World As I See It.
6. Go Underground At The Paris Catacombs, One Of The Spookiest Things To Do In Paris
Paris is known for its iconic sights, from the Eiffel Tower to the Seine River, but underneath the streets lurks an attraction only the most daring will visit: the Catacombs of Paris.
The Catacombs were used as a final resting place for Parisians in the late 1700s and are now open for the public to tour. The attraction itself is well-known, but the macabre experience deters hordes of tourists who can’t handle the dark aspect of the Catacombs.
During the tour, audio headsets are useful in orienting yourself around the Catacombs as you venture on a self-guided path. The audio content divulges loads of information about the Catacombs, including details of a party that was thrown down there and a description of how the bones are preserved and carefully stacked. It’s a delightfully spooky way to learn about history and enjoy an incredibly unique atmosphere at the same time.
The Catacombs are one of the coolest ways to get a different perspective of the City of Lights. They can be visited from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. but are closed on Mondays. A skip-the-line pass is highly recommended, and visitors must be able to ascend and descend stairs for the tour.
First-timers to Paris will want to visit unique sights that aren’t crowded with other tourists and the Catacombs provide just that!
Contribution by: McKenna of One More Step Travels. Photo Credit: Chelms Varthoumlien, Unsplash.com.
7. Get Your Postcards At Passage des Panoramas
A great off-the-beaten-path thing to do in Paris is to visit the Passage des Panoramas. Passage des Panoramas is a beautiful historic covered passage in the city. In fact, it is the oldest covered passage of Paris and it was opened in 1800.
What makes this place special is how it looks. There are all kinds of decorations on the walls and the ceiling. The signboards of the shops look amazing and the overall atmosphere is pleasant. You’ll find lovely boutique shops and great places to get food. It is very well-known for its stamp and postcard shops.
You can visit the Passage des Panoramas every day of the week, from 6 a.m. to midnight. The passage is a great place for a relaxing stroll, especially when it is raining outside. And it is also one of the reasons why you should visit Paris.
Contribution by: Dymphe of Dym Abroad.
8. Explore The Trails Of La Petite Ceinture, One Of The Coolest Things To Do In Paris
Paris’ little known abandoned railway La Petite Ceinture is a great attraction for intrepid explorers. This former railway line served the city in the 1930s, but fell out of favor after the introduction of the Metro system. As a result of this, the railway was abandoned and left to fall into disrepair.
In recent years, parts of the railway have been restored into beautiful walkways. There are sections of the tracks which are still off-limits to visitors, however. As you would expect, entrance into these areas is prohibited though, for cunning urban explorers brave enough to seek them, there are access points to these forgotten parts of La Petite Ceinture.
Opening times for the restored parts of the tracks vary depending on the particular section and time of year. Usually, the official trails open between 8–9 a.m. and close in the evening.
Walking the abandoned line above the city provides an alternative way to take in the views of Paris and it is unlikely you’ll share the experience with many others. It is a must-visit for those craving an unconventional adventure in the city.
Contribution by: Sheree of Winging the World.
9. Be A Bit Parisien On The Promenade Plantée
Take a stroll along Promenade Plantée, an elevated walkway on a former railway track that takes you through the city. It’s one of Paris’s best kept secrets that you will see mostly locals using.
Walking the 4.7 km (2.9 mi) parkway is the perfect way to start your day in Paris. The paved path is beautifully landscaped with flowers and trees and is a great way to watch Parisian life unfold in front of you. Since you are walking 10 meters above street level, you will have stunning views of Parisian buildings along the way.
Enter the promenade at the Bel Air entrance point and exit at Bastille. From Bastille you are a short walking distance to Île Saint Louis, an island on the Seine river worth exploring.
Rest your legs and stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe. From there you have the option to continue your walk to see Notre-Dame, one of Paris’s most famous sights.
Contribution by: Cecily of Groovy Mashed Potatoes.
10. Bask In Old Book Smell At Shakespeare & Company Bookstore
Books have the magic of transporting you to a different world. Once you start reading the story, you immediately forget your own world and get absorbed into the story world.
Being an avid reader since my childhood I always fancied reading various genres of books, be it the adventures in secret seven or famous five books by Enid Blyton or the murder mysteries of Agatha Christy or the thriller stories of Sidney Sheldon to today eras most famous series “Game of Thrones” book by none other than George R Martin.
Imagine my excitement when I stepped into arguably the worlds most famous bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” opened in 1951. The store is set in a 17th century building and occupies a prime position directly facing the Seine river.
Upon entering the store, one is immediately hit with the smell of old books. The worn-out bookshelves, the rustic look of the store takes one back to the world of olden times. The store is now turning into quite an Instagrammable spot, and one can see a long queue of locals and tourists lining up outside the store, especially on weekends.
When in Paris, give this store a visit. And don’t forget sit down and have a cup of coffee at the Café of the bookstore. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Opening time is 11:30 a.m. and closing time is at 5:45 p.m.
Contribution by: Jesal of Tourist To Travellers.
11. Take It To The Edge At Square du Vert-Galant
Paris is well-known and probably one of the most visited cities in the world. So, when you find a quiet spot, you appreciate it. If it’s in the city center, even more so. Square du Vert-Galant is one of those places.
It is located between Louvre and Cathédrale Notre-Dame, on tip of Île de la Cité. It is accessible from Paris’ oldest bridge, Pont Neuf. After descending the stairs you will arrive at this green oasis.
At the tip of the island, you will find the Saule Pleureur de la Pointe (or “Weeping Willow of the Point”). From here, you’ll have a great view of both banks of the River Seine.
If you arrive early, you will likely be one of the few people in the park. So, enjoy on one of the benches before you return back to the crowds around the attraction visited by many.
12. Catch The City of Lights’ Lights At Tour Montparnasse, One Of The Top Things To Do In Paris
While most tourists in Paris flock to the Eiffel Tower to get a bird’s-eye view of the Paris skyline, many of them aren’t aware that there’s another tower in the city that actually offers an even better view—one that includes the Eiffel Tower itself. This tower is the Tour Montparnasse, and climbing it is definitely one of the best off-the-beaten-path things to do in Paris.
The Tour Montparnasse is within walking distance of Metro stations Gaîté, Edgar Quinet, and Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Situated in the Montparnasse neighborhood, it is actually the highest and the only skyscraper in Paris’ city center. You can climb up to its Observation Deck for 18€ if you’re an adult and 15€ if you’re a student or under 18.
While the entrance fee may seem a bit steep, the view from the Observation Deck is worth every single cent of it. Be sure to get there right before sunset so that you can watch the sky turn pink and orange right above the Eiffel Tower; then, watch the entire city slowly light up in the dusk.
Few words can describe just how magical this view is; it is simply jaw-dropping, and you’ll find it hard to put down your camera. Be sure to bring your best photography gear, such as some of these Nikon D3100 lenses, to capture this unforgettable sight. Once the sky has finished putting on its show, you can also head to the tower’s rooftop bar (the highest rooftop bar in Paris) to finish the perfect evening with a drink.
Contribution by: Jiayi of The Diary of a Nomad.
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