Destination Paris: Unconventional Things To See & Do In This Must-Visit European City

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysees — there are so many incredible things to see and do in Paris. But, with so many major sights to check out, travellers often skip (or don't even know about) the other stunning museums, parks, and one-of-a-kind sights to experience in the city. In this post, we are leaving the conventional spots behind and taking a look at some lesser known or unconventional spots that are definitely worth adding to your must-see list.

Orientation

The city is divided into 20 arrondissements (or districts) that are walkable and fairly easy to navigate. If you are looking at a map or address, the arrondissement will be abbreviated as 1e, 2e, 3e, etc. The central arrondissements on either side of the Seine are where you will find most of the attractions. 

Getting To Paris

There are three airports near the city. The largest is Charles de Gaulle, and the smaller two are Orly and Beauvais. There are airlines flying into Paris from all over the world, you should have no problem finding a flight. 

Once you arrive, you heave a wealth of options to get you into the city centre. There are city busses, shuttle busses, the RER (train), and taxis available at all three airports. 

The T2 Transfer also offers a private shuttle service that will get to right into the city centre from the Charles de Gaulle airport, or take you straight to Disneyland Paris (see below for more info). You can pre-book on their website and even arrange extras like car seats for the little ones if you need them. 

Getting Around

Bring your walking shoes, because the best way to get around the city is using your feet. There is so much to see, and a many of the sights are relatively close together. In lieu of walking, you can always grab a city bus, the metro, or the RER (train). 

You can also rent a Velib bike from one of the many rental stations all over the city. The bikes are available 24/7 and there stations are located 300 m from each other in the city centre. 

What To See & Do

As I mentioned above, there are so many amazing things to see in Paris, so in this section I am skipping the biggest, most well-known sights and am going to introduce you to some other spots that are definitely worth checking out. 

The Catacombs
According to ancient Roman law, when Paris was founded, cemeteries were located on the outskirts of the city. It didn’t take long for the city to spread well beyond its walls however, and eventually these cemeteries were completely surrounded by homes, stores, churches and schools. With this growth in population came a growth in disease, plague, epidemics, and starvation, which filled the remaining spaces in the 200 cemeteries at an alarming rate. 

Finally, in 1785, the Council of State pronounced the removal of all bodies and bones from the city’s cemeteries, in order to try and stem the spread of infection. The bones were taken to the old quarries, tunnels that ran under the city left behind from excavating stone for building. These excavations were stopped in the early 1770s due to the risk of cave-ins on the Left Bank and the tunnels were never filled in. Now, the bones of over 6 million people are stored in the labyrinth of obscure galleries and narrow corridors that make up the Catacombs of Paris.

During World War II, the resistance set up headquarters in the confusing maze of tunnels and there is also speculation that secret societies have held meetings by candlelight in the eerie corridors at night. 

Tours are available every day except Mondays and holidays. 130 spiraling steps will take you 20 meters below the streets of Paris to narrow, damp tunnels (NOTE: Do not visit this attraction if you are claustrophobic).

 It is an incredibly moving and eerie place to visit. but after an almost 2 km walk through the cold mass grave, I couldn’t climb the 83 stairs back to the surface fast enough. I have never appreciated the sun more than I did stepping out of that damp, dead darkness. 

The Passages Couverts
If you are anything like me, one of your favourite things about travelling is finding those spots that transport you back in time, and for just a moment you can pretend that you are part of the era that gave birth to artistic genius, architectural marvels, or mysterious cultures.

The passages couverts (covered shopping passageways) in Paris, France are one of those spots. These shopping arcades emerged in the 19th century, during a time of relative peace, prosperity and the rise of the industrial class. Paris was notorious at this time for being overcrowded and not having any sort of sewage, drainage or walkways. These passages were the first places that allowed shoppers the ability to stroll from store to store, blissfully apart from the filth and noise of the street.

These passages soon became a top attraction in the city and were THE destination for those visiting from the surrounding provinces. At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 150 of these covered shopping and entertainment Meccas — shopping was not the only reason to pay these spots a visit. 

Sadly, it was the opening of the city's first department store in the mid 1800s that caused a sudden drop in popularity of these once bustling destinations and now there are only a few dozen left. They are completely worth visiting however, as they showcase some fantastic architecture and take you on a quiet, off-the-beaten-path-tour through some pretty cool parts of the city. Some of them are completely deserted, some still have shops, cafes, and even hotels in them, but all evoke images of 19th century men in tailored jackets and women with parasols shopping, socializing and being fabulous Parisians! 

Musee Rodin
Rodin is most well known for his sculpture The Thinker, but he created a wealth of work including sculptures of famous friends and politicians, and incredible studies of the human body. 

His sculpture is absolutely breathtaking in person, he had a way of making stone look deliciously supple and expressive. 

The work is displayed in the beautiful, historic Hôtel Biron, a stunning example of Parisian rocaille architecture. As an added bonus, the museum also comes with a manicured park that covers nearly three hectares — the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine. 

Admission to the museum and gardens is 10 Euros, but you can pay just 4 Euros to access the garden and outdoor sculptures. 

Jardin du Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Gardens are one of my favourite places to people watch and relax when visiting the city.

Locals flock to the park at the end of the day and weekends, enjoying live music under the trees, a cappuccino from the park cafe, a turn on the carousal, a stroll through the manicured pathways, or sitting on one of the green metal chairs in the sunshine. 

It is a lovely place to soak in the true Parisian way of life. 

Rue Mouffetard
I discovered this charming cobblestone street because it is where my favourite hostel in the city is located. Even if I don't stay there, I can't help making my way to the street on every visit — it contains all the stereotypical charm that you could hope for in Paris. 

Cobble stone streets lined with cafes (see image at the beginning of the post), bars, and restaurants have tables spilling out into the open air. There are grab-and-go spots for crepes, small squares with little fountains, and bakeries with fragrant breads and croissants on offer all day. It is located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and right on the edge of the University area, so there is always an atmosphere of joie de vivre to be found! 

Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
Taking a stroll through a cemetery might sound morbid, but in Europe, 19th century cemeteries are big attractions. Yes, there are ‘quirkier’ visitors that are there to hold vigil for hours in front of the graves of famous figures (Jim Morrison’s grave attracts crowds in droves), but the majority of visitors are your plain old average tourist.

Surrounded by thick stone walls that create a peaceful sanctuary, the Pere Lachaise is laid out like a city with street names and green spaces.

The opulent mausoleums are a study in architecture of the different time periods they were built in, and elaborate grave markers, representing the life of the deceased, turn these burial places into verdant sculpture gardens. In the light of day, these places are like beautiful, outdoor museums. 

There are maps of the cemetery available at the entrance (trust me, you'll need one!) 

Disneyland Paris
For those of you who are super-fans of all things Disney, visiting the European version will already be on your must-see list, but for those of you that aren't, here's why you might want to add it.

I admit that I was skeptical of visiting this attraction on one of my trips to Paris, but my travel buddy really wanted to go, and so I gave in. But I was pleasantly surprised.

True to Disney's style, the park is incredibly clean, full of food that reminded me of home (which was wonderful because I had been away from home for 6 months at that point in time), and had all the best rides and attractions that you would find at other Disney Parks. It was easy to enjoy in a day, not too busy, and a wonderful respite from the non-stop days of absorbing mind-blowing culture that we had been having. 

If you are looking for a silly escape or a reminder of home, I highly recommend it! The best part? You can get a shuttle straight there from the airport

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