In Paris you can’t help but see the Eiffel Tower, wander through Notre Dame, and cock your head sideways at the Arc de Triomphe, but what about the rest of the city? Down every corner in Paris art, history, and beauty are alive, and all you have to do is keep your eyes open and you will stumble upon amazing moments. To help you find your way, here are some of the more offbeat settings that Paris has to offer. Take note of the ones that interest you, be open to new experiences and awkward encounters, and remember: sometimes you see the best things when you are lost!
MUSEUMS: The most famous are the Louvre (antiquities and classic art), the Musee d’Orsay (Impressionism), and the Centre Georges Pompidou (modern art), but Paris has over 400 museums! Some of my preferred musees (museums):
- Espace Salvador Dali: This exceptionally real collection of surrealist masterpieces by the weird Catalan artist Dali is tucked away in Montmartre, 9-11 rue Poulbot, Metro: Abbesses
- Musee de l’Orangerie: A satisfying compilation of the largest versions of Monet’s waterlillies, located in the Tuileries Garden at place de la Concorde, Metro: Concorde
- Musee Marmottan: The finest collection of Monet’s works anywhere, including the piece that gave Impressionism its name (Impression: Soleil Levant), 2 rue Louis-Boilly, Metro: La Muette
- Musee National du Moyen-Age: Excellent Middle Ages museum in the Latin Quarter with intricate illuminated manuscripts and tapestries as well as a recreated medieval garden and the remains of an ancient Roman bath, 6 place Paul-Painleve, Metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne
- Musee Rodin: My favorite museum in Paris with dozens of works of the acclaimed sculptor Auguste Rodin (including ‘the Thinker’) housed in his former residence and it’s garden, a serene and romantic setting, 77 rue de Varenne, Metro: Varenne
- Musee Picasso: The largest collection in the world of the modern master, and his personal stash of artwork, 5 rue de Thorigny, Metro: St-Sebastian
- Grande Galerie de l’Evolution: Located in the huge Jardin des Plantes, this gallery showcases the diversity of life and the taxidermied animals are great for those with children. Jardin des Plantes, Metro: Place Monge or Jussieu
COOL PLACES: Want to get away from the tourist hubs? Head toward these less-visited sites
- La Grande Arche de La Defense: The giant, angular, modern arch (really a cube) just to the west of Paris is twice as tall as the Arc de Triomphe and is in line with the Louvre-Tuileries-Champs-Elysees corridor. An elevator will take you up top for a great view and modern art museum, but the real fun takes place down below as Parisians sit on broad steps, roller blade under crazy contemporary art sculptures, and relax by colorful fountains. Metro: La Defense
- Tour Montparnasse: This ugly skyscraper which sits on top of the Gare Montparnasse has one redeeming feature: from the top of it, you can’t see the Tour Montparnasse! However you do have a great view of the Eiffel Tower that you can’t get from anywhere else, and there is a highly rated restaurant, Le Ciel de Paris, at the top as well. Metro: Gare MontparnasseMedieval Ile de la Cite (Ancien Cloitre): Though this central island is not unknown, if you venture just to the northeast of Notre Dame Cathedral you can wander through a very medieval portion of the city that most people seem never to find. Metro: Cite
- Catacombs: For the more gothically inspired, head down below the streets of Paris to look into the dark side of history where six million human skeletons have their bones artfully displayed by type, not owner. During the Revolution wild parties were held in these ancient Roman tunnels, and in World War II the French Resistance held secret meetings in the dark. 1, place Denfert-Rochereau, Metro: Denfert-Rochereau
- Oberkampf: No one knows about this corner of Paris except for trendy, down-to-earth artists who claim it is the coolest new place to live. In the evening it comes alive and is full of great cafes and art galleries. Metro: Republique or Oberkampf
- Canal Saint-Martin: Stretching from the river Seine up to the Parc de la Villette, this three-mile canal is a pleasure to stroll with its arched wrought-iron footbridges, cobblestone paths and working locks, and the arty 10th arrondissement fits the laid-back, slow-moving waters and boats of the canal just perfectly. Metro: Republique
- Viaduc des Arts: Set over upscale antique and home-furnishing shops, this elevated garden-walkway runs for three miles, twenty-eight feet above the city of Paris. Great for joggers, strolling, or just to hang out. Metro: Bastille
- Cour de Commerce Saint-Andre: Right off of the bustling Boulevard St-Germain, duck into this concealed courtyard where Dr. Guillotin practiced his humanitarian killing-machine on sheep. Here you will also find the back door to Le Procope, the café which introduced coffee to Paris and served Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. Turn around and you will enter the hidden Cour de Rohan, three beautiful connected courtyard which just ooze Parisian ambience. Metro: St-Germain
NEIGHBORHOODS: Paris is made up of a patchwork of different villages, each with a unique character and feeling. For those of you who like to have your ducks in a row, I suggest getting walking maps of these neighborhoods, available in some guidebooks; for those of you who like to fly by the seat of your pants, just go wander and see what you can stumble upon!
Montmartre: Metro: Abbesses. Many tourists just come to see the view from the steps of the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, but this quarter, which was the Bohemian and artistic center of the world at the turn of the century, holds many fantastic finds and charming stairways to reach them. Montmartre was a village just over 100 years ago, and the neighborhood still retains that funky vibe. Some sites:
- Au Lapin Agile Cabaret: Picasso’s picturesque hangout and neighborhood hot spot.
- Clos Montmartre: Paris’ only remaining vineyard, harvested the first Saturday of October.
- Place du Tertre: the ‘old town square’ bursts at the seams with artists showcasing their work and tourists jostling for a look.
- Artists’ homes: Besides just hanging out and drinking wine, famous artists also lived in Montmartre; you can find the homes of Renoir, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
- Le Bateau-Lavoir: Although remodeled, this studio is where Cubism was created.
- Moulin de la Galette: One of the two remaining moulins (windmills) on Montmartre, this one was made famous by a painting of Renoir (Bal au Moulin de la Galette).
- Moulin Rouge: Now frequented mostly by tourists, a hundred years ago this was THE scandalous cabaret where Jane Avril danced the very risqué dance of the cancan.
Mouffetard: Metro: Place Monge. Located in the southern Latin Quarter, rue Mouffetard was the ancient road which led from Paris to Rome, and this crooked cobblestone street comes alive every day but Monday with a vibrant street market (and don‘t miss the medieval artwork high up on the buildings). Shop for your next picnic and peek in and out of the little shops for souvenirs like olives and bric-a-brac. Other sites in the area:
- Place de la Contrescarpe: On the upper end of Mouffetard, this pleasant square is youthful and lively and perfect for people watching, and was the meeting place for the group of romantic French poets, La Pleiade. Hemingway lived nearby at 74 rue Cardinal-Lemoine.
- Rue du pot de fer: A pedestrian-only street with your choice of restaurants serving traditional French cuisine.
- Eglise St-Medard: At the bottom of rue Mouffetard, this gothic church has a beautiful rose garden and was once the base of a medieval miracle-working priest that was causing quite a commotion until King Louis XIV posted a sign reading “By order of the King, God shall not perform any more miracles in this place.” The miracles stopped.
- Place Monge: On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays this square is blooms in full color with a bustling market selling fresh stone fruits, honey, olives, shellfish, and much more.
- Arenes de Lutece: Watch Parisian gentlemen play boules in a Roman arena.
- Mosque of Paris: Have lunch at the charming tea room after a Turkish bath.
Marais: Metro: Saint-Paul. Home to Paris’ Jewish and gay population, this intimate neighborhood in the 4th arrondissement is an eclectic mix of delis, art galleries, 350-year old mansions (hotels) and historical significance. Don’t miss:
- Rue des Rosiers: The Jewish heart of Paris and easy, pleasing stroll
- Rue Ste-Croix de la Bretonnerie: The main drag of gay Paris
- Place des Vosges: The fashionable Rennaissance square lined with pink houses where Victor Hugo once lived and Mozart gave his first recital, laid out by Henri IV in the early 1600’s, making it Paris’ oldest square
- Close by is the neighborhood of Bastille, once dominated by the infamous Bastille prison that held Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade and the Man in the Iron Mask. The area is now home to great Italian restaurants, hip bars, and the modern Opera Bastille.