It is not really my usual thing to write a ‘Things to do in…’ post, but it came up in today’s #TravChat over on Twitter (a weekly Twitter chat between travel bloggers) One question was about reading lists of things to do, or not do. My answer about reading them to know where to avoid started a conversation around alternative things in places like Paris. And this was the seed for this post.
Whether it’s museums, cemeteries or simply somewhere to sit and people watch. I’ll share a few of the hidden gems I have found, and enjoy!
I love Paris. I could wander the streets for hours on end taking in the graffiti, people and buildings. What I’m not so keen on are the tourist-filled spots. The places recommended in every online list and in every guidebook. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these places, but it does make it hard to get a nice photo or to actually have an experience of a place. Take the Louvre for example. There are usually so many people looking for the Mona Lisa that they miss the whole point of the gallery.
While pounding the streets and speaking to the people I meet (in my broken high school French) I have come to discover some pretty cool places, which are off the beaten track and out of the way of the masses.
Here is a shortlist of some of my favourites to get you started. It might give me the boost I need to catch up on full posts of the places too.
1. Paris skyline without the queues
I love a high up skyline view of a city, as I am sure you do too. It gives the opportunity to spot new things and to get an idea of the area around you. While the Eiffel Tower is the port of call for almost everyone visiting, I would recommend Montparnasse Tower.
Not only do you get to go in with pretty much no queue, but you can also get a window seat for a drink and snap some cool skyline shots which include the Eiffel Tower. It is also cheaper, which is a bonus and there are some nice street cafes and bars to enjoy around the area too – both quieter and without the central price tags.
2. The home of the “Kiss”
While in the Montparnasse area, it is well worth taking a wander around Montparnasse Cemetery. It is a peaceful place to spend some time and enjoy hunting out the graves of some of Paris’ most famous. It is also the home of the famous ‘Kiss’ of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957).
Although the sculpture may have been removed this year, it is still worth a walk as there are some incredibly intricate and detailed sculptural headstones to discover.
3. Dinosaurs, Whales, Cats, Two Headed Humans and more
While we are on the theme of death and bones, you might be keen to check out the Museum of Paleontology and Anatomy. A museum that is filled to the brim with full skeletons, curiosities from the medical world and information. The building is stunning to boot.
It is situated in the Jardin des Plantes, which is also home to the Botanical Gardens, as well as the Dodo Manege – a merry-go-round filled with extinct animals.
4. History of Medicine
Nestled in the university buildings you will find the lesser-visited Museum of the History of Medicine. A tiny place with a lot of amazing features. The museum was created in 1803 in the Faculty of Medicine, by Dean Lafaye, for aiding in higher education and research. The collection includes many surgical, diagnostic and physiological instrumentation spanning centuries. It even includes the autopsy tools used on Napoleon.
5. Something that isn’t the Louvre
It is so easy to get drawn into the usual museums and galleries in Paris, but you would be missing out if you only stuck with the ones ‘on the list’. The Centre for Contemporary Arab Culture is a fantastic place to visit, both for the architecture of the building and the fantastic displays inside.
The museum takes you on a journey through Arabic history and culture, bringing you to today’s modern life through art. I really enjoyed this museum. It also gives you a chance to explore a different neighbourhood.
6. A bit of a brew in a tiny museum
I really love a tiny museum. Somewhere that has been built on a simple passion and collection. The Mariage Frères Tea Museum is just one of these places. Hidden in plain sight above the cafe in Le Marais, you will find a jam-packed little space dedicated to tea. You can even sample the leaves for yourself in the fancy looking cafe at the back, or by buying some from the traditional shop.
7. The Museum of Illusions
Another museum that is on the quieter side is the Museum of Illusions. It is pretty close to Le Marais, so not far from the centre of the city, and hosts a great variety of exhibits.
8. A locals kind of park
If like me, you enjoy immersing yourself into the more local culture of a place – which I imagine you do if you’re reading this post – then you’ll love Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It is a really lovely, and large, park where you can sit and while away some time people watching or wandering the paths, hills and bridges.
It is the kind of place you might want to go to read through your lists of places to visit – or avoid – while enjoying some space away from the people wanting to tick off those places.
9. Rooftop Garden
While it might be a bit forgotten and neglected in places, the Jardin Atlantique is worth a visit for a walk. It sits atop of Montparnasse station and is designed with a maritime theme, with waved metalwork and even has a sunbathing deck. You won’t find many tourists here, so it is a nice place to step out of the crowds by the bars near the main station.
10. Picnic by the water
While the final thing on my list might not necessarily be offbeat and outside of the guidebooks, I think it is still worth adding. You will know that the Seine is a very popular place for people to be when visiting Paris. But that is not to say that the whole river is filled with camera-wielding tourists. Walk along the length (away from the tour boats) and you will get to a more local area where it is nice to picnic.
This is just a sample of some of the offbeat places that I have discovered for my alternative Paris guide. If you know of anywhere I might have missed, please drop them in the comments so I can add them to my next trip (where I will be travelling by bike!)