Alternative Paris – my 38 favorites!

Second time visitors to Paris, who have seen and done the fifteen main tourist attractions will be ready to experience the next of Paris’s many layers.  The term “Real Paris” is overused and meaningless, but the 38 attractions below are often missed by tourists and were all appreciated by my visitors wanting an expat’s experience of “Alternative Paris”:

  1. Quai de la Tournelle
  • Possibly the best urban picnic spot in the world with views to die for and frequented by “real French people” even if they weren’t all Parisians. Anglo-Gallic cultural differences are highlighted by the fact that the French will happily and frequently turn up with a bottle of wine but no corkscrew, knowing that they can borrow one from the other picnickers. The English would either arrive fully equipped or have the foresight to buy a bottle with a screw top!
    • Quai de la Tournelle, 75005

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  1. Place de la Contrescarpe
  • A wonderful square in the heart of the Latin Quarter, once home to Hemmingway and frequented by Orwell
    • Place de la Contrescarpe, 75005


  1. The Bombardier / St. Etienne du Mont 
  • The best English pub in Paris with fantastic views of St. Etienne du Mont – scene from ‘Midnight in Paris’ and the Panthéon, best viewed in the early evening when the sunlight reflects off the stonework
    • 2 Place du Panthéon, 75005


  1. Place Larue / Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève
  • Another lovely Parisian square with a village atmosphere where the Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève  meets Rue Descartes and Rue de l Écoles Polytechnique.
    • 56 Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève, 75005


  1. Galeries Lafayette
  • The flagship store of the upmarket Galeries Lafayette chain but don’t waste time shopping, head up onto the roof for some spectacular views and a very good bar / restaurant.
    • 40, Bd Haussmann, 75009


  1. Institut du Monde Arabe
  • Yes, you can book a Haj if you want, but if not, head up to the roof terrace which is free, or the roof terrace Moroccan restaurant, which is not! The view of Notre Dame from here is breath taking.
    • 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005


  1. Musée Curie
  • Located in Marie Curie’s original research laboratories, this historic museum focusses on radiological research. Open Wednesday to Saturday, from 1pm to 5pm; admission is free.
    • 1 Rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005


  1. The Street Markets
  • Traditional Parisian markets are full of life and contribute to the city’s lively atmosphere, there are dozens and each one is unique, my two favourites are:
    • Marché Maubert, Tuesday and Thursday, 7:00 am to 2:30 pm, and Saturdays from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, Place Maubert, 75005
    • Marché Place Monge, Wednesday and Friday, 7:00 am to 2:30 pm, and Sundays from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, Place Monge, 75005
  • But the most authentic and undiscovered market is the Beauvau or Aligre It is actually three markets in one; the covered market in architecturally elegant halls, the outdoor food market on the square and overflowing into Rue Aligre, and the adjacent antiques market. Tuesday-Saturday 10am-2pm & 4-7:30pm; Sunday 10am-2pm, Place d’Aligre, 75012


  1. Arènes de Lutèce
  • Amongst the most important remains from Lutèce (Roman Paris), and constructed in the 1st century AD, this amphitheatre could seat 15,000 people. It was rediscovered by Théodore Vaquer during the building of Rue Monge between 1860 and1869. Spearheaded by Victor Hugo, a preservation committee called la Société des Amis des Arènes undertook restoring the arena and establishing it as a public square, which was opened in 1896.
    • 49 Rue Monge, 75005


  1. Pont Saint-Louis
  • This bridge across the Seine links the Île de la Cité with the Île Saint-Louis. The present bridge is the seventh to link the two islands since 1630 and was opened in 1970. It is pedestrianised, and is frequented by buskers and street entertainers. It is a great place to sit with a bottle of beer and watch the sun set behind Notre Dame. (Historic footnote – this bridge shares its name with one on the Italian border which 9 French soldiers defended from June 18 to 28, 1940, against 5,000 invading Italians, an epic worthy of comparison with the more famous battle of Thermopylae, but largely forgotten.)
    • Pont Saint-Louis, 75004


  1. Île Saint-Louis / Rue Saint Louis en l’Ile
  • A peaceful oasis of calm, this island has narrow one-way streets, no métro station, and only two bus stops. It was formed when two natural islets in the Seine River – the Ile Notre Dame and the Ile aux Vaches (a small islet used as a cow pasture) were joined together in 1614. Most of the island is an elegant residential neighbourhood, with the exception of Rue Saint Louis en l’Ile which runs down the middle from one end of the island to the other and is lined with lovely shops and restaurants. There are a number of Berthillon ice cream shops on the island – they serve the best ice cream in Paris!
    • Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004


  1. Place des Vosges
  • A true square (140 m × 140 m), and one of the finest in the city, it was inaugurated in 1612. Victor Hugo once lived at No. 6. At the base of the 36 redbrick-and-stone houses—nine on each side of the square—is an arcaded, covered walkway lined with art galleries, shops, cafés, a school, a synagogue (designed by Gustav Eiffel), and several chic hotels. The formal gated garden is lined with chestnut trees; inside are fountains and a children’s play area. There is no better spot in the Marais for a picnic which you can buy on the nearby street market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir between Rues Amelot and St-Sabin.
    • Place des Vosges, 75004place_des_vosgues
  1. Musée Carnavalet
  • Sited in the heart of the Marais district, it is dedicated to the history of Paris, showing the transformation of the village of Lutèce into the great city of today. I preferred it to the Louvre and wish I had visited more often.
    • 16 Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003


  1. Place de la Bastille
  • The square straddles 3 arrondissements (4eme, 11eme and 12eme) where the Bastille prison once stood – use the métro to see the remains! At the centre of the square stands the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) which commemorates the Deux Glorieuses (July 1830 Revolution, or Second French Revolution) which saw the overthrow of the Bourbon monarch, King Charles X. The square is often the site or point of departure of political demonstrations.  It is slightly redolent of Trafalgar Square in London, although I have ridden a Vélib (Parisian Boris Bike) around the square – something I would never attempt in London!
    • Place de la Bastille, 75011


  1. Coulée Verte
  • In 1969, the steam engines on Avenue Daumesnil’s viaduct whistled their last and the railway between Bastille and Vincennes closed forever. Bastille station was replaced by the Opera house, whilst the viaduct was converted into glass-fronted workshops and boutiques for local artisans (the Viaduct des Arts, also worth a visit), and the railway became the Coulée Verte – a 5km long trail (also known as the Promenade Plantée), made up of elevated gardens with fantastic views over the 12eme, the Jardin de Reuilly and tree lined cycling paths. Unfortunately, it just peters out at the end with no signposts to the métro, so take a smart phone or map with you!
    • 69 Rue de Lyon, 75012


  1. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
  • The largest cemetery in Paris and the first garden cemetery, with many famous residents including: Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, and Frédéric Chopin.12-cimetiere-du-pere-lachaise-2

The Mur des Fédérés (Communards’ Wall) is also in the cemetery, on the site where 147 Communards, the last defenders of the Paris Commune, were massacred by Versailles government troops on 28 May 1871. monument_federesWhen you have finished, don’t catch the métro, instead, walk to Bastille down Rue de la Roquette. This takes you through Saint-Antoine, the former working class district featured in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, look into the wine bars and see if you can spot a future Defarge, the three Jacques, the Vengeance and the Fury, plotting the next revolution!

  • 16 Rue du Repos, 7502012-cimetiere-du-pere-lachaise
  1. Jardin des Plantes
  • The main botanical garden in France and one of seven departments of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle. It covers 28 hectares and includes four galleries of the Muséum: the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Entomology Museum. In addition to the gardens there is also a small zoo, Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes, founded in 1795 by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre from animals of the royal menagerie at Versailles.
    • 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005


  1. Grande Mosquée de Paris
  • Founded in 1926 as a token of gratitude to the Muslim tirailleurs from France’s colonial empire, of whom some 100,000 died in the First World War. During the Second World War it provided refuge for Algerian and European Jews, who were provided shelter, safe passage, and fake Muslim birth certificates to protect them from Nazi persecution. At the rear of the mosque is a lovely souk and courtyard serving North African food and teas.
    • Grande Mosquée de Paris, 2bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite, 75005
    • Restaurant la Mosquee, 39 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 75005


  1. Musée National du Moyen Age
  • Houses medieval artefacts, in particular tapestries, sculptures from the 7th and 8th centuries, and works of gold, ivory, antique furnishings, stained glass, and illuminated manuscripts. It includes the remnants of the third century Gallo-Roman baths (known as the Thermes de Cluny) and the Hôtel de Cluny, perhaps the most outstanding example of civic architecture from medieval Paris. Formerly the hôtel (town house) of the abbots of Cluny, it was made into a public museum by Alexandre du Sommerard in 1843.
    • 6 Place Paul Painlevé, 75005


  1. Sainte-Chapelle
  • A royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, and considered the highest achievement of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture with the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection in the world. It was built to house Louis IX’s collection of holy relics, including the Crown of Thorns, purchased from Baldwin II, the Byzantine emperor, for the sum of 135,000 livres – more than a year’s royal revenue, the equivalent of the government’s entire annual tax receipts. But to perceive it as a scam is to judge by post-enlightenment rational standards, and misunderstands the transaction. At the time, the belief in the sanctity of a relic was more important than the belief in what we would now call its authenticity.
    • 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001


  1. Place Dauphine
  • One of the prettiest so called squares (it’s triangular!), a quiet and peaceful spot with people playing petanque, cafes, wine bars, restaurants and a hotel. Despite its central location, it is not a tourist trap, but a lively and convivial spot for locals with a provincial rather than Parisian feel.
    • Place Dauphine, 75001


  1. Marché aux Oiseaux
  • The bird market is on Sundays from 8 a.m. till 7h30 p.m., when the tweets of thousands of birds fill the flower market. You will find birds of all colours and species: canaries, budgies, lovebirds, and even fish and rodents!
    • Place Louis Lépine – Quai de la Corse, 75004


  1. Angelina
  • Founded in 1903 by Austrian confectioner Antoine Rumpelmayer and named after his daughter-in-law, Angelina has been the rendez-vous of Parisian aristocracy, Coco Chanel, Proust, and France’s greatest couturiers. The décor, designed by Edouard-Jean Niermans, provides a blend of belle époque elegance, charm and refinement. A perfect setting in which to enjoy the “L’Africain” hot chocolate and signature Mont-Blanc pastry. Not cheap but definitely worth a visit!
    • 226 Rue de Rivoli, 7500119-angelina-cafe
  1. Passage Jouffroy
  • A shopping walkway covered by a canopy of metal and glass. It’s worth a visit for the window displays alone! It also contains restaurants, tea rooms, a hotel and a museum.
    • Boulevard Montmartre, 7500923-passage-jouffroy
  1. Espace Dali
  • Devoted to Salvador Dalí, his sculptures and engravings, it has around 300 original artworks including; Space Elephant, Alice in Wonderland, Moses and monotheism, Memories of Surrealism, Don Quixote, etc. Adjacent to the museum is the Galerie Dalí which exhibits more of the artist’s sculptures, engravings and lithographs.
    • 11 Rue Poulbot, 75018OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Musée Rodin
  • Opened in 1919, and dedicated to Auguste Rodin, it includes 6,600 sculptures, 8,000 drawings, 8,000 old photographs and 7,000 objets d’art. It contains most of Rodin’s significant creations, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell. The gardens around the museum building contain many of the famous sculptures in natural settings.
    • 79 Rue de Varenne, 7500779000512
  1. Tomb of Napoléon / Hôtel des Invalides
  • A complex of buildings containing museums, monuments, a hospital, a retirement home for war veterans, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, the burial site of Napoléon Bonaparte. The tomb of Napoléon is located within a circular crypt, designed by the great man himself, so that you have to bow your head to look at the sarcophagus. As you descend down a flight of stairs into the crypt itself the experience is unnervingly unchristian – designed to deify the man in a pharohic fashion.
    • 129 rue de Grenelle, 7500727-les-invalides-tomb-of-napoleon
  1. Musée du Quai Branly
  • Features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The museum collection has 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time. It opened in 2006, is the newest of the major museums in Paris and received 1.3 million visitors in 2013. It is located in the 7th arrondissement, on the left bank of the Seine, close to the Eiffel Tower and the Pont de l’Alma.
    • 37 Quai Branly, 7500728-musee-du-quai-branly-3
  1. Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
  • Europe’s largest flea market, founded in the late 19th century with more than 2500 stalls grouped into 15 marchés (markets), each with its own speciality, the Puces offers an intoxicating blend of the sublime and the ridiculous. The main market is on rue des Rosiers, but to avoid the crowds and find real bargains, head along to the end of rue Paul Bert, make a left onto rue Jules Vallès, and halfway down on the left you’ll find Le Passage, leading to another flea market along the rue Lécuyer. It’s loaded with everything from paintings to chandeliers and authentic French furnishings. Use Garibaldi métro (line 13) rather than Porte de Clignancourt (line 4) – a longer journey but you avoid the worst of the crowds and tat.
    • Rue des Rosiers, 7501829-marche-aux-puces-de-saint-ouen
  1. Les Catacombes
  • Underground ossuaries which hold the remains of over six million people in a small part of the ancient Mines of Paris tunnel network. Located south of the former city gate Barrière d’Enfer (Gate of Hell) beneath Rue de la Tombe-Issoire, the ossuary was founded in 1774 when bones were transferred from cemeteries, and has been open to the public since 1874. It is cold down there so dress appropriately and wear stout comfortable walking shoes!
    • 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 7501430-les-catacombes-2
  1. Paris Plages
  • August is one of the best months to be in Paris. The tourists disappear, the BoBos (Bourgeois Bohemians – a uniquely Parisian equivalent to London’s “Champagne Socialists) go off to Martinique and Guadeloupe, half the bars and restaurants shut and Paris is left in the hands of local artisans and ex-pats! As an added bonus, for the last fourteen years, from around 20th July to 21st August (it changes slightly each year) a series of city beaches have been created by closing the embankment road and lining the right bank of the Seine with sand, deckchairs, food stalls, volleyball nets and of course, live music. The main section is between Pont Sully (métro Sully – Morland) in the east and Pont Neuf (métro Pont Neuf) in the west. The idea is to provide a beach experience for those too poor to go away on holiday which is somewhat ironic given that during the 1968 uprising, one of the slogans was, “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the cobbles, the beach!”). Nowadays they try to deter Parisians from throwing cobbles at the police by putting the beach over the road!!
    • Rive Doit 75004paris-plages-2014


  1. Bois De Boulogne
  • A large public park located along the western edge of the 16eme, it was created between 1852 and 1858 during the reign of Napoleon. It covers an area of 845 hectares so slightly smaller than Richmond Park in London. The park contains; three botanical and landscape gardens, the Château de Bagatelle; a zoo and amusement park; the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, a complex of greenhouses holding 100,000 plants; two tracks for horse racing, the Hippodrome de Longchamp and the Auteuil Hippodrome; the tennis stadium where the French Open is held. The park is full of activities such as biking, jogging, rowing, horse riding, and hosts several races including the last part of the Paris marathon. The Bois hosts a three-day music festival in July with over 50 bands. The park does not deserve its dubious reputation, although at night parts do become a red light district.
    • 75016 Paris31-bois-de-boulogne-4
  1. Canal St. Martin
  • In 1802 construction was ordered by Napoleon to supply Paris with grain, building materials, and water. It is 4.5 km long, connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the river Seine and runs underground between République and Bastille. Two ports were created to unload boats: the Bassin de la Villette and Port de l’Arsenal now an attractive marina just south of Bastille. This ever-gentrifying picturesque district with 19th-century iron footbridges draws a trendy crowd to its shabby-chic bars, a magnet for BoBo bière-drinkers. On warm evenings the waterway provides a backdrop for picnics and impromptu live music concerts.
    • 75019 Paris32-canal-saint-martin-3
  1. Château de Vincennes / Bois de Vincennes
  • Located on the eastern edge of Paris, the largest public park in the city was created between 1855 and 1866 by Napoleon III. It contains the Château de Vincennes, a former residence of the Kings of France, an English landscape garden with four lakes; a zoo; an arboretum; a botanical garden; a hippodrome or horse-racing track; a velodrome for bicycle races; and the campus of the National Institute of Sports and Physical Education. There are free music concerts in the summer and the Château is almost deserted compared to Versailles!
    • Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes33-chateau-vincennes
  1. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
  • Opened on April 1, 1867, coinciding with the Paris Universal Exposition, its most famous feature is the Temple de la Sibylle, inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, perched at the top of a cliff fifty metres above the waters of the artificial lake. Designed to provide the working classes with a view of the city that they had built, there are stunning views from this elevated setting, especially Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre
    • 1 Rue Botzaris, 7501934-parc-des-buttes-chaumont
  1. Basilique Royale de Saint-Denis
  • Of unique importance historically and architecturally, its choir, completed in 1144, is considered to be the first Gothic church. On the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery, Genevieve built Saint-Denys de la Chapelle around 475 and in 636 the relics of Saint Denis were reinterred in the basilica which became a place of pilgrimage and the burial place of the French kings. The abbey church became a cathedral in 1966 and is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis. The site is in a grim post-industrial northern suburb, home to the gangs of feral youths who cause trouble at Gare du Nord and in the subterranean hell-hole between Châtelet and Les Halles, but it is worth a visit, the marble carvings on the tombs are truly awesome!
    • 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 93200 Saint-Denis35-eglise-st-denis-tombs-of-the-kings-of-france
  1. Ballon De Paris / Parc André Citroën
  • A tethered helium balloon, used as a tourist attraction and for advertising. Installed in the Parc André-Citroën, for the year 2000 millennium celebrations, it is filled with 6,000 m3 of helium, and is attached to the ground with a cable, controlled by a hydroelectric winch. It can board up to 30 passengers for a ride lasting around 10 minutes. In optimal weather conditions, it can reach an altitude of 300 m, making it the second highest point after the Eiffel Tower. This has enlivened what would otherwise be the most boring district in Paris!
    • Rue de la Montagne de la Fage, 7501536-ballon-de-paris-parc-andre-citroen-2
  1. Parc de Belleville
  • Inaugurated in 1988 on the hill of Belleville, its 108 metres make it the highest park in Paris. At the summit, a thirty-metre tall terrace provides a panoramic view of the city. You’ll find lush gardens and one of the city’s last remaining vineyards. Cafés with a view are found along the Rue Piat at the top of the hill, but I’d recommend the roads and alleys off Rue des Envierges, a uniquely Parisian tourist free zone! This was the last place I visited in Paris, I could so easily have missed it!
    • 47 Rue des Couronnes, 75020p1050278



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