Eiffel Tower? Check. Disneyland? Check. Selfie with the Mona Lisa? Check. We all know the most obvious tourist destinations when travelling to capital cities. But which ones are worth spending our time on and which ones are predictable and over hyped? This is why I have compiled a list together of ten alternative things to do in Paris that won’t waste your time, money or appetite.
1. Arc de Triomphe
This made for the most romantic Valentines I could have had. Situated at the top of the Champs Elysee, it’s a pretty feature in the background of tourist photographs, but not many people know you can actually go up to the top? And if you have your EU health card (WE ARE STILL TECHNICALLY IN THE EU OKAY) It is completely free! Rather than sit in a packed restaurant or wait two hours to be packed like sardines on top of the eiffel, we got food to go, desert courtesy of Laudree and James very sweetly bought me a single red rose. Choosing the Arc de Triomphe over the Eiffel Tower for Valentines day also meant that we had incredible views of Paris including the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance. Whilst Paris for Valentines day is a cliche, and a world away from our usual pizza night valentines, the Arc du Triomphe was a romantic alternative to men on the top of the eiffel tower competing in who can bury their knee onto the concrete the hardest.
2. Hemingway’s Apartment; 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. If you want to know what it was that made Hemingway says such words, then you must visit the Latin quarter in the 5th Arondissiment. This is a must for any literature lover who wants to do the old ‘stand where he stood’ malark that is so cheesy but we are all guilty of (see above image) Though Paris has changed quite a bit from when Hemingway spent time there, the Latin Quarter escapes 90% of tourists in the city and is untouched by gentrification. For those looking for an authentic Parisian experience, this is it.
Whilst talking about the Latin Quarter, I have to mention this beauty we accidentally stumbled upon. Around the corner from Hemingway’s Apartment is Panthéon, a mausoleum holding the remains of distinguished french citizens, such as Victor Hugo, writer of Les Misérables, Marie Curie, and my personal favourite, Jean Moulin, a man who unified the french resistance against German occupation during world war II and died doing so. If The Crypt isn’t your thing, the art work in this building alone is worth a visit, plus once again with an EU health card, it’s free!
4. Cimetière du Père Lachaise
This is probably the most famous cemetery in the world but it amazes me how many people don’t visit when in the city. It is a little bit off the beating track and shady so be sure to go in the morning/daytime when the graveyard is well lit. Holding the remains of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Oscar Wilde most famously, this place is a must just to see how elaborate some memorials are; headstones, chapels and in small mausoleum often dedicated to a single family member. It’s incredibly moving to see the graves of people you admire (of course i left a big red kiss on Wilde’s grave like tradition) but also to see the Holocaust and war memorials. One grave particularly being that of Guy Moquet, a 17 year old resistance fighter during the second world war, sentenced to death by firing squad under Nazi rule in France, bravely refusing a blind fold and shouting out ‘Vive La France’. He is buried with other resistance fighters and his 12 year old brother Serge who died shortly after his brother.
5. Palais Garnier
If you like things as dramatic as The Phantom of the Opera overture, then you’re in for a treat. Both times I’ve been to Paris I visited this gorgeous Opera House and would say it’s a must, it’s like a cheaper and easier alternative to those wanting to visit the Palace of Versailles but are unable to because they are short of time or money, but they still want to see just how opulent the french can be when it comes to architecture and interiors. For less than 10 euros for a tour and so much to see inside it’s a must in my book.
6. Jardin des Tuileries
Paris is such a busy place with so much to do but sometimes it’s just nice to sit and take it in. This huge public garden sits between the Musée du Louvre and Place de la Concorde so perfect for a rest inbetween sight seeing. After walking around the Louvre and wearing heeled boots (bad choice I know) I needed a sit down desperately. Here we sat at a table for an hour or two with coffee, crepes, and croque monsieur people watching and taking in the views. This place is stunning all year round summer or winter, as long as it’s not raining, you should be good to go.
7. Avenue Montaigne
The city of Paris consists of layers of craftsmanship and art, avenue Montaigne quite beautifully resembles that. This avenue just off of the Champs Élysées is home to all designer and luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Fendi, you name it all in one place. For lux fashion lovers, window shoppers or both (like me) it’s both torture and paradise. I just got my first pay check from my old job and wanted to make my first wage slip memorable, so what better than going into Gucci and buying the shoes I’ve always wanted?! Lux shopping is an experience I wish I could have everyday, well maybe someday; for now you can take a bus ride down avenue Montaigne and pretend you’re in a limousine.
8. Le Relais L’Entrecote
I remember before my trip telling my hairdresser about this place and i thought it looked good. He paused, looked up at me through the mirror and nodded in approval. Basically this quirky old fashioned restaurant serves steak frites and absolutely nothing else, you don’t even get a menu, they just come over and ask how you want your steak cooked; be warned though, James asked for his well done and the waitress got so offended that she shouted at him. Like actually full on shouted at him in french which made it all the more intimidating. for 22 euros you get a starter salad with baguette and two huge servings of steak frites with the most amazing secret steak sauce. I was dipping my bread into it, my finger, I wanted to fucking bathe in it it was incredible. It’s a must for dinner in Pairs but be sure you get there early. Me and James got there ten minutes after opening (7pm) and already there was a queue out the door.
9. Brassiere L’alsace
Being in the food capital of the world we had to splash out and somewhere fancy and I can honestly say at L’alsace I had the best meal I’ve ever had. This art deco restaurant situated right on the Champs Élysées and is one of the original cafes on the avenue. To start I had to try escargot (snails) which were actually really delicious. We had some more bread and wine followed by Salmon; although Paris as a city is land locked, the Pairisans take their seafood very seriously, and L’alsace was not playing games that night.
10. Every Boulangerie Patisserie you walk past
You could spend a fortune in Paris going to the best restaurants and bistros but as Parisians take their food so seriously, it’s actually really hard to find bad food. Even the food in our hotel was good, on our first morning the smell of fresh croissants woke me up like something in a Disney film. We found a cute little Boulangerie Patisserie just on Rue de Moscou who sold exquisite pastries, breads, cakes for so cheap. What was crazy was these places where as common as Greggs around the city, you’d see builders buying baguettes in their hard hats. Before stepping in though, be sure to learn a few phrases such as Je Voudrias… S’il vous plait (I would like…please) as well as good morning/day and especially THANK YOU. A lot of places in Paris like this speak no english at all, they won’t even entertain it sometimes, so making an effort really goes a long way.
So there are my alternative Paris must dos. These places are so under rated, not to rammed with tourists and won’t break the bank as most are free. My Paris let downs however, include some of the most popular attractions. I think everyone knows someone who’s been to Paris and upon their return talked about how small the Mona Lisa actually is (well how big did you want it to be, Janet?) but one tourist attraction that I would avoid in my opinion is the Sacré Cœur. I was told so many things about how beautiful the area around it was but when I went I was very disappointing between the surplus of beggars and con men forming human barriers up towards the steps of the church, what a paradox. Paris is full of little treasures and sometimes you stumble upon the best things trying to find another. Don’t be so strict to an itinerary as you have to make room for taking in the beauty of the city, beauty that is guaranteed and worth your time, money and of course, appetite.