Paris: Off the Beaten Track
Paris is the third most visited city in the world, which means that falling into the tourist traps upon arrival is not only very easy, it is somewhat inevitable.
The Louvre is fascinating; the Eiffel Tower is a must see; even being pick pocketed by a gypsy in Le Marais is a Parisian classic. But there remain interesting parts of Paris that go totally unseen by so many who would value their existence.
In an effort to shy away from some of the more generic experiences I’ve put together a list of attractions and landmarks that offer something a little different. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never even heard of some of them — many Parisians haven’t either!
Its Paris: off the beaten track…
Take the Train to Château de Chantilly in Paris
The palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau are opulent, extraordinary architectural masterpieces that are without a doubt worth a visit (and the long lines) if you have superfluous time in your hands while in Paris.
Just like cheese and wine, castles are abundant in France. Thousands, to be exact.
When looking to day trip out of Paris to see one of these structures, consider taking the train twenty five minutes northeast up to the Château de Chantilly; a lesser explored palace in the countryside.
The Château de Chantilly is interesting because it was actually completely rebuilt after the French Revolution. Today it features an incredible art collection and plush gardens that you can explore during your visit; the art gallery is actually one of the largest in all of France.
What will really blow you away is the library. Floor to ceiling book collections amidst find woodwork; the smell is out of this world. Book lovers will know what I mean.
The Château de Chantilly marks the spot where whipped cream was invented many, many years ago. Thats right — the fluffy milk that is now found all around the world first occurred at this château near Paris.
The Château de Chantilly is open to the public seven days a week. You’ll catch the train from Gare de Lyon station in Paris central; be sure to purchase your roundtrip in advance so you are guaranteed a ride home.
Have a Dip at Butte-aux-Cailles Public Pool in Paris
5 Place Paul Verlaine
One thing tourists love to do when they get to Paris in the summer is complain about the fact that they can’t swim in the Seine. “Its clean isn’t it?” they say through their frustration, wiping the French humidity from their brow.
In Paris we don’t swim in the Seine, but we do swim.
There are public swimming facilities all around the city. The Butte-aux-Cailles is a swimming complex in the south of Paris, part of the 13th arrondissement.
Inside this 1920 French complex you’ll find one main indoor swimming pool, and two outdoor swimming facilities. The outdoor ones are only open during the warmer months, for obvious reasons.
The indoor you can enjoy year round. The facilities open daily at 7am and entrance is €3.50. Add an extra euro if you’d like to make use of a locker.
The only day to avoid the Butte-aux-Cailles would be Wednesday afternoons as hoards of French school children come to the pools for swimming lessons. They don’t usually fill all three pools, however, so there is a chance you’ll find a quiet spot to do your laps.
Connect with Your Inner Child at the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris
53 Avenue des Terroirs de France
Bercy Village and park is a developing neighborhood in the far south of Paris. Its location means that tourists hardly ever stumble upon it by accident, if you are visiting here its because you’ve come on purpose.
The Bercy pavilion is made up of a long row of old warehouse/storage units that have been renovated into shops and restaurants. Some call it “the nicest faux village in Paris”, though there really is nothing fake about anything in this area if you ask me.
At the end of the pavilion you’ll find a massive cinema complex, and the Musée des Arts Forains.
This is a very different museum experience to what you’d expect from Paris. The museum is comprised of a very carefully curated collection of abandoned funfair equipment such as rides, carousels and game stations. There are also objects from old theaters and music halls.
These days its somewhat impossible to find 19th century carnival equipment still in working order. The collection is the work of a man named Jean Paul Favand; and it is officially the largest collection of fairground and show objects in Europe.
Entrance is €16 for adults, and half that price for children under 11 years old.
Treat Yourself at Café de l’Homme in Paris
17 Place du Trocadéro
The age old debate of who knows where the best rooftop view of the Eiffel Tower is. I like to think I do, however you’ll find many of these around the city, all with ridiculously overpriced food and drinks simply due to location.
If I’m going to break the bank on a cocktail and plate of food, I at least want to feel good in my surroundings. Most of the Paris rooftop restaurants are located at the top of luxury hotels, and you are anything but at home once you get to the top floor.
I found Café de l’Homme on the roof of the Palais de Chaillot. I can’t speak for the hotel itself but I can speak for the cafe; its laid back, slightly rustic and extremely unpretentious.
The outdoor seating quite literally feels like you are one with the Champ de Mars below. At night, the light show from the Eiffel Tower takes place every hour and you are almost close enough to touch it.
Dance at Bal des Pompiers in Paris
The pubic balls that take place around the city of Paris are something that the locals hold dear to their hearts. They are one of the best kept secrets in terms of local Parisian culture, with very few tourists ever learning of their existence, much less actually attending one.
Every year, during a weekend in July, all of the town halls around Paris host an event called the Bal des Pompiers, which translates to the fireman’s ball.
Attendees will take part in an evening of dancing, eating and drinking that extends into the early hours of the morning. The celebration is an ode to Bastille Day in Paris and forms part of the many events that mark this historic day every year.
If you expect to be in Paris during July then ask around about the Bal des Pompiers. Locals will be able to give you the best insights into the event. You can also partake in a free guided walking tour of the city and request the tour guide to point out the various town halls so you’ll know where to go.
Hang Out in Belleville in Paris
People in Paris joke that the neighborhood of Belleville doesn’t know if it is coming or going. Torn between four different arrondissements, Belleville is an identity crisis materialized into a Parisian suburb.
It’s vibrant, it’s quirky and it’s exceptionally laid back as far as this part of town goes. Its inhabitants are a mix of French locals, university students and a large portion of the Chinese community in Paris.
Rent here is cheap, so the residents are usually of the creative fields; namely musicians and artists looking to make it in the French capital. Cheap rent also brings immigrants, so the community is beautifully diverse.
Belleville is a place to arrive in without much of a plan. You’ll want to make your way through the streets by foot and gawk at the concept restaurants, buildings covered (covered) in street art, and the incredible city view from Parc de Belleville.
The Rue Sainte-Marthe is a good place to start. It’s filled with art galleries and is generally less chaotic. It will lead you into deeper Belleville slowly but surely.
Dine in Europe’s Largest Chinatown in Paris
The Quartier Chinois takes up most of the 13th arrondissement in the south of Paris and is the official Chinatown of France. The size of this migration into the city was completely unexpected and is today, officially, the largest Chinatown in all of Europe.
Every year during Chinese New Year the streets of the Quartier Chinois are a spectacle, and all are welcome to attend and enjoy. Think parades, dancers and dragons making their way through the narrow Parisian streets.
You can also access a hidden Buddhist temple from the car park of this shopping mall. Ask a local to point the way once you arrive, it isn’t available on electronic maps yet.
Visit Rue Crémieux in Paris
The residents of Rue Crémieux will smite me for brining their beloved street into the spotlight yet again, but this really is the most off the beaten track road in Paris.
Situated in the 12th arrondissement, Rue Crémieux is one of the most Instagrammable streets in the city.
Each house on this road is painted a different pastel color to the next. Outside of each residence there are terra-cotta pots and green plant life which make the road unfathomably charming.
The balconies of the homes are also fitted with blossoming flower boxes. Did I mention the road is cobblestoned? Are you sold yet?
Due to much frustration around having visitors constantly on their block, the residents of Rue Crémieux recently requested that the street be blocked off at night and on weekends so that the residents could retain some privacy.
Visit the Rue Crémieux anything in the week during daylight hours.
Make Feline Friends at Le Café des Chats in Paris
9 Rue Sedaine
Cat cafes are a trend/concept that originated in Asia not too long ago. A lot of recent studies had shown evidence as to the calming effects that being around felines brings to the human energy field.
Since cats clean themselves, they became the ideal animal to incorporate into a space where food and beverages would need to be served. Hygiene is important, after all.
In the cafe you’ll find twelve rescue cats who call the space home. They wander around, cuddle up and even play amidst the patrons of the restaurant. If you’re a cat lover, then yes, you’ve found heaven.
The food here is good and I recommend the chickpea burger to anyone who is planning on making a visit. The cafe and the cats take a break from the public on Mondays, so any other day is open for business.
Walk Through Atelier des Lumière in Paris
38 Rue Saint-Maur
A lot of Parisian culture revolves around museums. The trouble with classic museums is that not everyone absorbs information in the same way, and despite being art lovers, some people just cant float through galleries and focus on singular works for hours on end.
In an attempt to correct this problem and create a space where just about everyone could marvel at art, the Atelier des Lumière was founded. It is one of the most exciting new projects in Paris.
Situated in the 11th arrondissement, the Atelier des Lumière is France’s first digital museum. Renowned artworks are displayed across 10m high digital panels that cover the walls and ceilings of the old warehouse.
It is a spectacle that captures the attention of the youngest of children to the eldest of society. I equate it to entering a paralleled universe where you lose a bit of touch with reality for a few hours.
Entrance into this museum is €14.50. The Oberkampf area is an up and coming part of Paris that is more visited by locals than by tourists, you’ll find great enjoyment exploring this untouched part of town.