There’s not much doubt that Paris is one of the top destinations in the world for tourism. But after you’ve done the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sacré Coeur, or the Palace of Versailles, it’s time to see the other, albeit alternative, side of Paris. The capital has so many secret attractions; alleyways that lead to hidden venues and unique architectural beauty that the guidebooks don’t always tell you about.
The streets of Paris hide some arthouse restaurants and bars and unusual museums. Deep underneath the city, there are even some secrets to uncover. While some of the places in the list below may not be a total surprise, they are often overlooked in favor of more popular attractions and have not been entirely explored but nevertheless reveal Paris in a different light.
If you’re looking for something different next time you’re in the City of Lights, check out a film in an old theater, have a drink at a Japanese pagoda, chill out in a local park, or visit a museum that isn’t going to be crowded with tourists. Every place has its own hidden gems. It’s just up to you to find them and discover a different perspective on the city.
20 Montparnasse Cemetery - The Catacombs Aren't The Only Spectacular Thing
Most people have heard of Père Lachaise. But how many know about the Montparnasse Cemetery where some of the artistic and elite of bygone Paris have their memorials? Opened in 1824, there used to be three farms on the land and you can still see a surviving stone windmill from the 17th Century. It was opened up to try and cater for more than six million diseased Parisians, most of whom finally ended up inside the Catacombs.
Amongst the cemetery’s 35,000 tombs, it has many famous dead buried in the cemetery including Charles Baudelaire, Susan Sontag, Man Ray, and France's most iconic couple: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The sculptures and monuments offer interesting perspectives on the people who are buried here—the innovator of the gasoline lamp, Charles Pigeon, is illuminated as he sits up to read on his deathbed and or Adolphe Pégoud, a pilot of WWI, proudly stands above an eagle.
Before you enter the cemetery, you will receive a map, without which you'll very possibly get lost if you’re looking for specific tombstones. Alternatively, a visit here can be equally enjoyable by just meandering around and admiring the many monuments, mortuary chapels, artwork, and pretty gardens.
19 Maison Deyrolle - No, There's No Need To Be Concerned
When you walk into this building, you’ll wonder if you’re in a museum or a shop (with the surrealist vibe)! Whether you’re an aspiring taxidermist or simply curious about the strange collections of animals, it won’t fail to disappoint. Expect to get up close to exotic animals such as brown bears, zebras, lions, giraffes, or domestic pets like chickens, peacocks, and rabbits. Butterflies, insects, and small animal skeletons are pinned to boards, and there’s even a unicorn!
If you’re concerned about the death of these animals, you can relax in the knowledge that they were all donated from farms, zoos, or circuses and died of old age or illness, and it also happens to be a cultural hub for sustainability and conservation.
Deyrolle’s combination of the natural science of mixed taxidermy and entomology with fantasy has been around since the 1830’s. He guaranteed his reputation with some of the world’s greatest artists, from Dali to the Dubuffet painters, and is famed within the realms of filmmakers looking for a unique setting for their films including even woody Allen who filmed some scenes here for Midnight in Paris. Additionally, Deyrolle’s passion for all things natural has also aroused inspiration from modern-day artist Damian Hirst.
18 Le Musee Du Vin - Need We Say More?
In the country where wine is honored so highly, it shouldn’t be a surprise to have a museum dedicated to the education of it. Le Musee du Vin will take you on a historical tour of the techniques for winemaking in France through underground cellars dating back to the 15th Century.
The place is a perfect stop-off for the wine lover as the displays show the winemaking process from centuries ago to the modern day through using through wax models housed in a medieval underground cave and limestone tunnels.
The collections also include wine glasses, bottles, corkscrews, and old farming tools used in plantations and wine production during the 18th and 19th centuries through to the present day. You’ll also learn some historical facts; such is the enthusiasm of your guide.
If you have the time, you can eat at their restaurant or book your visit with a wine tasting event. The latter of which you’ll sample a minimum of three wines along with cheeses to compliment them and explanations from a friendly sommelier. Either way, a glass of vin is complimentary with your entrance fee, and it’s a great way of spending afternoon if you’re a lover of wine, especially if it’s raining!
17 Parc Des Buttes-Chaumont - Breathtaking Views
Choose to visit the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont as an alternative to Jardin des Tuileries or Jardin du Luxembourg which are more likely to be busy with tourists, especially during the warmer weather. In contrast, this little-known park located on a hilly setting in the north-eastern 19th arrondissement is a more relaxed piece of greenery and can be found by taking the metro, which bears the same name.
Created on the site of a former limestone quarry and gypsum, it was designed by Adolphe Alphand as an integral part of the Universal Exhibition celebrations in 1967. Not only does this magical park boast a suspension bridge, grotto, 30-meter waterfall but it also houses the Temple de la Sybille, a regal 50-meter structure based on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli in Italy. It has its own island which can be accessed via two bridges above an artificial lake below where numerous birds such as moorhens and mallard ducks live.
When you’re finished meandering along the many pathways, enjoy a picnic to watch the sun down or pop into Rosa Bonheur or Pavilion Puebla, the park’s hip and trendy hangouts which are open until midnight and where you can take in the breathtaking city views below.
16 Paris Sewers Museum - The Smell Isn’t As Pungent As You Think
Okay, so it might be one of the weirdest collections on this list and you might be thinking why would you bother hanging around some dirty sewers in Paris, but it’s a proper adventure tour in the depths of the city. Whether you’re a fan of engineering or an urban explorer, the Paris Sewers Museum, or Musée des égouts de Paris, is an intricate part of Parisian history and offers an insight into the labyrinth of tunnels under the capital.
Paris Sewers Museum is hidden under the Quai d'Orsay on the Left Bank and is home to numerous Gothic arches and tunnels that inspired Victor Hugo’s novel and subsequently, the musical Les Misérables.
As you walk along the underground path, you follow the history of the sewers which have been in operation since the 1200’s and form a network of nearly 1500 miles. But surprisingly, the smell below isn’t as pungent as you might think.
From the days of Lutèce, these sandstone tunnels are a unique way of discovering the water cycles of the capital through to the present day. There are plenty of exhibits and information to read along your way and you can even pick up a stuffed sewer rat as a souvenir if you fancy it!
15 L'Entrepôt - More Than Just Music
Off the beaten track, this arts center has reinvented itself inside a former factory to combine a cinema, gallery, live music, and a delicious dining experience. It’s well worth the effort to find it as this small multicultural venue packs a punch with regular events on offer. Plus, you get to have a meal in the outdoor courtyard if you time it right with the good weather.
From arthouse to mainstream and world cinema, the three small cinemas show a large number of films per week; most of which are shown in their original form so you don’t necessarily have to be fluent in French to appreciate. In addition to films, you’re able to observe regular poetry nights, literary workshops, and debates or have a peek at the contemporary art in the gallery.
Many visitors who come here often arrive to listen to some great live music which can range from Jazz to African or classic acoustic all played out in an intimate and friendly atmosphere. Whether you choose to eat one of their popular Sunday brunches or pass by for a cocktail or two, the Avant-garde and often young vibe here are sure to make you feel like a local Parisian.
14 Georges Fouquet Jewelry Store - Overflowing With Beauty
If you want to immerse yourself in the styles of Art Nouveau, then step inside Georges Fouquet Jewelry Store designed by Alphonse Mucha because it’s sure to impress and entertain you. The shop was first created in the early 1900’s and was later donated to the museum bit and bit and then recreated.
Stained glass with portraits of stunning women adorn the images within the room overflowing with color and displaying the very best of Belle Epoque works of art. In addition to some of the finest Belle Epoque works of art, the upper floor is dedicated to the arts from Paris from XIXth to XXth centuries and includes the rooms of Marcel Proust and Paul Léautaud to exhibits such as Napoleon’s toiletry bag. Continue on a tour of this museum and you’ll follow the turbulent history from the Third Republic right through into into the pre-WWII years with impressive collections of artifacts.
Before you leave, have a browse in the museum’s bookstore and maybe pick up a book about the history of Paris. Coming out of the free museum will bring you close to the Place des Vosges and the rest of the Marais area which is worth exploring further.
13 Passage l’Homme - If You Don't Feel Like Being Sandwiched Between The Busy Streets Of Paris
Paris has numerous street and passage markets selling anything and everything! But Passage l’Homme is one that you might not have heard of as you have to put some effort into finding it. Located in the 11th Arrondisement, it’s tucked away in a small countryside setting, and despite being sandwiched between the busy streets all around, it has a quiet calm about it.
What would once have cobblers, blacksmiths, and woodworkers grafting away in these streets as far back as the days of the French Revolution is now filled with modern-day artisans carrying on the legacies from their predecessors.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, these hidden arcades were once commonplace but now there’s less than a third of them left from the original 150. Elegant and nostalgic, they’ll transport you back to of the bygone days of the Paris bourgeoisie and culture where you can glimpse into what French life was like.
While you won’t find tacky souvenirs here, you can pick up some unique gifts to take home with you, including clothes, ornaments, and jewelry within the alcoves and quirky shops of the former workshops.
12 Bees At The Jardin Du Luxembourg - For A Little Bit Of Sweetness
While there’s no doubt that the Jardin du Luxembourg is one of Paris’ most popular parks, not many people know that it also happens to house a spectacular collection of beehives! Situated near the Rue de Fleuris entrance in southwest corner of the park, these bees are busy making Parisian honey which is then sold on to some of the best pastry chefs in Paris.
Although they are now housed in modern hives with copper roofs, you can also see a beautiful collection of antique wooden bee boxes and their attractively-designed water fountain. For those who are seriously into bees, you can sign up for beekeeping classes which are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and observe the production of the unique honey firsthand.
And you won’t be alone, as honey and beekeeping enthusiasts from across the globe come to study these buzzing beauties as France has a long history of beekeeping. It might even be said that Paris is leading the world in urban beekeeping, and if you notice, they’ll be clustered in hives above the chimney pots throughout the city, including the Notre Dame.
If you’re visiting Paris during the autumn, take advantage of their annual event. The Festival of Honey and learn more about how honey is made from these busy bees.
11 Paris’ Little Jaffna - Authentic Indian Everything
Walking down the streets of Paris’ Little Jaffna, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re in South India because of the aromas of spices and sights of vibrant saris in this melting pot of cultures. You’ll find this La Chapelle quarter between the Gare de Nord and La Chapelle metros at the end of Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis and is a world apart from traditional Paris.
Since the 1980’s, when thousands of ethnic Tamils fled the civil wars in Sri Lanka and landed in France, the majority settled in this neighborhood and integrated their culture and character into the area. Well-known is their Ganesh Festival which usually takes place at the end of August. An enormous statue of this beloved Hindu god joins in the colorful and joyous parades through the local streets.
If you’re visiting at a different time of the year, you can shop for authentic products ranging from spices to silks in streets filled with Bollywood music and Tamil language. Stop and watch people with a chai tea or have a chance to eat in one of the many Sri Lankan and South Indian eateries where they serve up some delicious authentic cuisine such as coconut-flavored savory fritters or samosas.
10 Parc Floral - Snap That Perfect Pic
Be prepared to lose yourself through a walk in the woods, gardens bursting with orchids, and Japanese pavilions on your visit to the Parc Floral. These collections of botanic beauty and rich vegetation will lead you over the Japanese footbridges and through exotic plants, over 60 bonsai trees, valleys of flowers, and medicinal plants. Spanning more than 35 hectares in the Bois de Vincennes, it was first created in the 13th Century as a royal hunting ground.
Nowadays, it’s a popular picnic spot with Parisians and offers a fantastic photo opportunities for the tourist.
Kids will also have a great time in one of the many playgrounds, a climbing wall, at a theatre, admiring the peacocks and flamingos, or a round of mini golf with each hole representing a Parisian monument.
If you’re visiting in the summer months, you’ll also catch a free concert which take place every weekend and are dedicated to jazz and classical music. Plus, in the month of June, filling the air with music is the Paris Jazz Festival which, although is free, has a small charge into the park. However, it attracts thousands of visitors to enjoy the sounds of international jazz singers and musicians.
9 Musée Marmottan Monet - For True Art Lovers
In the neighborhood of the Passy district in the 16th Arrondissement is situated the Musée Marmatton Monet, which houses the biggest collection of Monet’s paintings and includes the very painting (Sunrise) that coined the Impressionists their name. A small and intimate personal collection of works, there’s much to inspire lovers of art.
Made up of over a hundred of paintings, not just limited to Monet but also the works of Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Rodin are displayed. Even the rooms are decorated by Napoleonic elements from the original Marmottan collection of art and plush furniture. It first opened in 1934 and has since been visited by thousands of Monet’s fans who go looking for something different that other more popular galleries in Paris offer.
The building itself, the private home of Marnottan, is well-preserved which has many historic attributes and includes The Wildenstein Collection of illuminated manuscripts. Temporary exhibitions are highly popular and usually take place twice yearly. Pick up a unique memento from the gift shop before you leave.
While you’re in the area, meander through the local streets filled with interesting shops and chic cafes and take a walk through Parc Ranelegh and even catch an open-air concert in the summer.
8 Au Lapin Agile - a true bohemian experience, without all the fanfare of the Moulin Rouge
If you want a true bohemian experience and without all the fanfare of the Moulin Rouge, then head along to this tiny cabaret, Au Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit), in Montmartre. Little has been changed since the era of Picasso and Matisse who used to frequent the place back in the day and allegedly paid their drinking bills with paintings.
It has an enormous heritage and was also frequented by Erik Satie, Henry Miller, and Annie Girardot and more recently, the likes of Lawrence Olivier, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Newman. It debuted in 1860 and has since then undergone various owners and legendary stories but has always retained its attraction for struggling artists, writers, and alternative Montmartre locals.
Once you enter the surreal setting of the dark red room filled with old furniture and paintings which date back to the 1920’s, be prepared to be immersed by enthusiastic French singers with fantastic voices.
While the entrance fee might be high for some people’s budget, they offer a student discount and the price includes a drink while you engage in the music, poetry, humor, and guaranteed fun inside this little village house. After seeing the performance and you’re back outside, you’ll get an extra sight of Montmartre and Sacre Coeur all lit up at night.
7 Place Dauphine - Typical Paris Feel
Situated on the oldest bridge in the city is a haven of beauty and tranquility that is Place Dauphine. A visit here is for when you just feel like sitting outside with a good book, want to do some Parisian people watching, or have a romantic picnic.
The beautiful and peaceful Place Dauphine is situated off Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. It would be easy to walk past it without noticing; while only a few steps from the Notre Dame, don’t pass up the opportunity to relax a little in this little spot in Ile de la Cite, the small island between both the right and left banks.
It was created for the son of Henri IV, Louis the XIII, and is the city’s second Royal square. You’d never believe that this little secluded chilled-out space that’s so rich in history is right in the center of Paris!
Surrounding the triangular sides of this little setting are typical Parisian shops, galleries, and cafes to properly throw yourself further into Parisian culture to soak up the local vibes and get some respite from the busy streets nearby. It’s also great for shooting photos of the surrounding architecture, the pétanque, and Bocce players.
6 Catacombs - not for the fainthearted
Lying deeper than even the sewer systems and Metro are the Catacombs of Paris which house the remains of around six million people. The walk, nearly 20 meters deep, will take you on a creepy journey beneath the streets of Paris and go on for hundreds of intricate miles into old caves and quarries.
Also known as France’s Empire of the Dead, you can enter this dark labyrinth from Place Denfert-Rochereau but it should be said that it’s not for the fainthearted! Full of the remains of centuries ago, Parisians were placed here due to the overflow in the cemeteries that could not make room for the bodies, and so the bones were exhumed and arranged deep inside the city’s ancient quarry.
Inside the cool air of the dark tunnels are an extraordinary amount of bones, neatly piled high along walls and walls. However, it is said that behind the neat piles on skulls, the remainder of the bodies have been slung messily to make room for them all.
As you walk through, look out for graffiti from the days of the French Revolution. Although you do not take a tour into all the areas, an hour is plenty enough time, especially if you’re claustrophobic!
5 The Montmartre Vineyard - It grows nearly two thousand varieties of grape
If you didn’t know these vineyards were there, you might end up walking straight past it! A few blocks from the Sacre Coeur and the busy streets that surround it is the Montmartre Vineyard tucked away on a quiet corner.
Montmartre has been used to grow wines from the Romans to evidence that the Benedictine nuns in the 12th century produced wine in the area too. After their abbey being destroyed during the times of the French Revolution, the vines were later run by the church to supply local drinking holes.
After urbanization, the last remaining bit of land was issued to a group of artists during the 1930’s between rue des Saules and rue St-Vincent. Led by the famous illustrator, Francis Poulbot, they convinced the then Albert Lebrun’s government to give up a piece of the land to reincarnate the vines.
Fast-forward to the present day and their annual grape-picking ceremony in October has taken place every year except during the Second World War. It grows nearly two thousand varieties of grape which are then fermented in the cellars of the local town hall. Once ready to be sold, every year’s wine labels are designed and painted by a local artist.
4 59 Rivoli - Set over six floors exhibiting works of art and workshops
Paris is a plethora of galleries and museums but nothing is quite like a visit to 59 Rivoli for a glimpse into the underground art scene in Paris.
An alternative squat for artists, the building dates back to the 1800’s but has been renovated in line with its artistic background in mind to create part gallery and studios. Colorful images, prints, and texts adorn the walls while a spiral staircase towers through the building’s center, a piece of art of its own accord.
After lying empty for many years, it was resurrected by a trio of artists in 1999, and although it was evicted a few years after, it now sits (ironically) on one of the hectic streets in Paris, opposite McDonald’s and H&M! The façade of the building often changes according to the changing trends of art and is a welcomed relief from the drab commerciality that surrounds it.
Set over six floors exhibiting works of art and workshops from resident artists, you can even watch them at work in their creative spaces. There’s a gallery on the top floor and they often host small concerts of an evening which are free to see. If you like what you see, you could be leaving with an original piece of art.
3 La Pagode - Just The Visit Is Worth It
Film lovers, young and old, are going to be enthralled by the historic beauty of this little gem of a cinema. La Pagode might be hard to find but you won’t be disappointed once you track it down! Designed as a replica of a stunning 1896 Japanese pagoda, it was originally built by the director of Le Bon Marché, the department store owner and was a gift to his wife. Unluckily for him, she deserted him after it was built!
La Pagode has been an integral part of film in France. In 1959, Jean Cocteau had the premiere of Testament d’Orphée here, and the Cinema also promoted the films of Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein in France.
Although in need of restoration, the authentic décor with its beautiful silk wallpaper and ornate interior is laden with old charm despite its kitschy feel; carved flowers and birds made from gold lacquer and ceiling murals all make up this experience of authenticity.
It even comes with their own old-school usherette who takes tickets and sells snacks from a tray! They show a mix of independent films, many of which are in English with French subtitles. Even if you don’t end up seeing a movie, you can still visit this incredible place for afternoon tea in their enchanting oriental garden but only during the summer months.
2 Le Comptoir Général - for a laid-back, unpretentious vibe
If you sneak into an alleyway close to Canal Saint Martin, you could be very surprised by what you’re entering into! Lurking inside these large barn houses is a shabby chic bar that attracts all kinds of Parisians from hipsters to chic families. Akin to the Ruin bars that dominate the drinking scene in Budapest, Le Comptoir Général offers a taste of the same but in the heart of Paris.
The eclectically-furnished rooms with a touch of colonial style, stuffed animals, red carpets, extravagant chandeliers, and Franco-African souvenirs open up into two enormous rooms cluttered with curiosities. These rooms are connected by a tropical garden with a greenhouse that creates light in the center.
Take a seat on one of the many mismatched armchairs and enjoy a freshly-made cocktail or taste a global-inspired cuisine which is both delicious and relatively inexpensive. The drinks, food, and even décor change on a regular basis in accordance with the theme of a temporary exhibition. If you’re thinking of coming here in the evening, make sure you arrive early as the venue gets busy, particularly when they host film shows.
Come here if you like a laid-back, unpretentious vibe and where you can dance and drink the night away!
1 Musée Des Arts Forains - enjoy similar experiences to those in the 1850’s to the 1950’s
This Paris museum is like no other in the whole of the city! The Musée des Arts Forains is filled with antique carnival objects which can only be visited through a reservation or on one of its seasonal tours. Opened in 1996, the contents inside this brick warehouse belong to a private collection from the actor and dealers of antiquities, Jean-Paul Favand.
The highlight of the museum is that you get to ride on century-old carousels and enjoy similar experiences to those in the 1850’s to the 1950’s. These are vintage amusement attractions that are made from wood and included games, German swings, a Hooghuys Organ, a carousel of bicycles powered by the pedaling of its riders, and of course, the wooden carousels with prancing horses.
The carnival fairgrounds of Musée des Arts Forains make up just one part of The Pavilions de Bercy, the other three being The Théâtre du Merveilleux (cabinets of curiosity), The Salons Vénitiens (carnival), and The Théâtre de Verdure’ amazing gardens. The Pavilions were initially wine cellars which date back to the 19th Century but now house this crazy bit of fun instead.
So, if you want to be a child for a few hours, make sure you add this to your list of hidden gems in Paris.