When you think about Paris, you probably think about the Eiffel Tower, boat rides on the Seine and hot chocolate enjoyed in pavement cafes – you don’t think about more unusual things to do in Paris, and there are plenty of these things to enjoy! So fill your suitcase with your most chic outfits and some comfortable shoes, and get ready to enjoy some of the more unusual things to do in Paris; it’s all about getting off the beaten track and exploring some of the hidden delights of this beautiful city!
I was lucky enough to live in Paris for a year when I was younger, and one of the best things I did whilst staying there was go to see a French film every week at a different art-house cinema. You’ll find plenty of these tiny cinemas dotted around the city – my favorite was ‘Le Desperado’ in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, for its quaint, charming exterior and quiet screens. You’ll often find many cinemas hold mini festivals featuring films by the same director; the last one I checked out was an Alfred Hitchcock night, with tickets costing just a few euros for 3 films! You might wonder how seeing a movie counts as one of my unusual things to do in Paris – did I mention you have to see the movie in French, with no subtitles? This is one way to really feel like a local, and improve your language skills to boot!
While the tourists spend their hard-earned cash at expensive tourist-trap restaurants in Montmartre, enjoy Paris off the beaten track with a picnic. You can pick up ingredients to make your own sandwiches or find a delicious array of ‘croques’ (toasted sandwiches) and baguettes at a local bakery, then find the perfect spot and cozy down for a picnic for two. This is also a great thing to do if you happen to find yourself in Paris alone – the park at Buttes Chaumont or the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower are both perfect picnic spots!
For a great way to meet cool young Parisians, consider heading along to a supper club. These take place across the city, and one of the most popular ones around is Jim Hayne’s Sunday Dinners. This has been running for the last 30 years, and is held at Jim Hayne’s Paris apartment in the beautiful 14th arrondissement. Just book online and turn up to experience dinner cooked by a different friend of Jim’s each week. There’s usually between 50-60 people present, so you’re sure to make plenty of new friends. During the summer months, the party spills out into the garden, where you can enjoy a night of drinking and chatting as you watch the Parisian sunset. This is a great way to spend an evening, and you certainly won’t go hungry either!
If you’re a chocolate lover, like me, you’re going to love this next idea. Angelina salon and patisserie on the Rue de Rivoli is renowned for serving THE best ‘chocolat chaud’ (that’s hot chocolate to you and me) in the city – and believe me, it is well worth the hefty price tag! If you’ve read the book ‘Chocolat’ or seen the film with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, you’ve probably found yourself longing for a cup of her rich, pourable hot chocolate, and that’s exactly what you’ll get here, topped with mounds of delectable cream. It’s more of a dessert than a drink, so come prepared!
On my last trip to Paris in May, this was definitely something that I wanted to tick off my ‘to-do’ list. The Palais Royal is not far from Angelina, so you can head over there after your hot chocolate, and stroll through the shopping arcades surrounding the garden. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as you get a taste of what shopping in Paris was like 200 years ago! The shops here are all high-end, luxury retailers, so you might not want to buy anything, but the window displays here are an experience in themselves. La Maison de L’Ambre with its amazing displays of amber jewelry and Anna Joliet’s boutique stocked with music boxes are not to be missed, and make sure you also take in the flagship boutique of French glove manufacturer Fabre – it’s hard to resist making a purchase here!
Most people only stumble briefly upon the Ile St-Louis, at the heart of the city, when visiting the famous cathedral of Notre Dame. But let me tell you, this tiny island has a charm all its own. With its winding cobbled streets and traditional French cafes, it feels like being in a village a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Paris, particularly in the winter months. My favorite café to soak up some of the local atmosphere in is the Café St Regis, which you’ll find on the corner of Jean du Bellay Street and Saint-Louis en L’Ile street. Here you can enjoy one of the best croque-monsieur (toasted ham and cheese) sandwiches in the city, all oozing béchamel sauce and cheese, and a glass of wine as you look out over the Saint-Louis Bridge.
The areas of Paris are divided into ‘arrondissements’ or neighborhoods, and it’s fairly easy to navigate, as the numbers spiral upwards in a clockwise motion, with the 1st arrondissement being at the center of the city, and the 20th arrondissement at the north-east corner. Each has its own culture and crowd, and a great day out can be had just picking one from the map, hopping on the Metro and exploring. A few of my favorites include Montparnasse (the 14th), where you’ll find a huge array of cinemas and a number of crepe houses serving the best sweet and savory crepes around, or Montmartre (the 18th), which can be a little touristy at times but still has that quintessential Parisian charm – great for photo opportunities and a spot of breakfast!
Most people head to Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur, or visit the Place du Tertre, with its tourist-trap cafes and street artists. Use a little insider knowledge and head for the Salvador Dali Museum. Tucked away to the side of the Sacre Coeur, you’ll find it at 11 Rue Polbot; (it’s French name is ‘Espace Dali Montmartre’, by the way). Entrance is around 11 euros for adults, and you can wander around to your heart’s content. As well as some of Dali’s art and drawings, there are his sculptures of clocks and watches, and these are amazing to see first-hand! You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled across a real hidden gem in the heart of Montmartre.
This has been something I wanted to do for ages, and whilst I lived in Paris I never quite got around to it. The ‘Musee des Arts Forain’ or funfair museum is a private collection of funfair rides and memorabilia dating back to the 1850s. Entrance is by appointment only, so you’ll need to email or call in advance to book a suitable day – if you’re only in Paris for a few days you might want to organize this before you arrive, as it can be hard to get an appointment. It’s well worth it though, as the atmosphere is magical if not a tad creepy. There are old carousels, German swings and the famous ‘Parisian Waiter Race’ game, which you can play. There’s also a range of temporary exhibits which change on a regular basis.
So, there you have it, my list of the most unusual things to do in Paris, guaranteed to make your holiday memorable! Speaking of which, I think it’s just about time to book my next break there, so I’ll be dreaming up a whole new list of things to do! What are your favorite things to do in Paris, or other European cities that other people might not know about? Share them with me!
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