Paris is one of the world’s most iconic cities. Its world-famous buildings and attractions are a must-see – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre. But once you’ve seen the big names, what do you on your second visit to Paris, or third or fourth? Or what if you’re looking for Paris’ more quirky side? Away from the tourist traps there’s plenty more to see off the beaten track in the City of Light. So here’s my pick of some of the best alternative and unusual things to do in Paris for your next visit.
Read more: Visiting Paris on a budget
Climbed the Eiffel Tower? See it from the top of the Montparnasse Tower
Climbing up to the top of the Eiffel Tower is a Paris must-do, but the only problem is when you’re up there you can’t see the city’s most famous building, because you’re in it. So instead head to the top of the Montparnasse Tower, the city centre’s only skyscraper. The rooftop viewing platform’s a bit lower at 210 metres compared to the Eiffel Tower’s upper level at 275 metres, but you get a prime view of the tower.
You don’t normally need to queue for the tickets to the viewing platform. At the top there’s a glass-walled roof terrace and Champagne bar. Or if you don’t want to pay for the viewing platform, head to the tower’s Le Ceil de Paris bar and restaurant on the 56th floor and get a free view with your drink. The best time to visit is around dusk to see the lights come on over the city and the Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour.
Seen the Mona Lisa? Explore the city’s unusual museums
The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay are Paris’ biggest and busiest museums. But once you’ve seen the Mona Lisa and Monet’s waterlilies, there are a whole host of smaller – and in some cases weirder – museums across the city to explore. If you’re interested in science and industry, you could try the Musée des Arts et Métiers, and make sure you don’t miss the amazing steampunk-style Metro station beneath the museum.
If you’re interested in natural history you could check out the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle which is next to the Botanical Gardens. Or for anthropology and artefacts from around the world try the Musée du Quai Branly, which just along the riverbank from the Eiffel Tower. Or if that’s all sounds a bit too mainstream Paris also has museums dedicated to fairground rides, stuffed animals and the police.
Strolled along the Seine? Cruise the canals instead
The Seine is the heart of Paris, and a walk along its banks takes you past some of Paris’ most famous sights. But you might have to dodge people selling knock-off handbags and flashing Eiffel Towers along the way. For a more low-key waterside experience, head to one of Paris’ canals. Closest to the city is the Canal St Martin, a 4.5km waterway with nine locks that links the Seine to the Basin de la Villette.
There are trendy cafés, boutiques and bistros along the water’s edge and the shady banks are packed with picnickers on summer evenings. You can walk or cycle along the towpath or take a boat trip along the canal – part of which goes underground. Or if that’s still sounds too busy, head further out to the Canal de l’Ourcq, which runs for 100km to the north-east of the city with a path for walkers, rollerbladers and cyclists.
Been underground at the catacombs? Tunnel into the sewers
Not your usual tourist attraction, the creepy tunnels of Paris’ catacombs are piled with human bones. Six million skeletons were moved underground when the city’s cemeteries ran out of space in the 1780s. And now people queue down the street to see them, but they’re not Paris’ only underground attraction. You can also get under the surface of the city at the Musée des Égouts de Paris – aka the Sewer Museum.
Paris’ sewerage system was built in the 1800s and mirrors the streets above, right down to the road signs. Years ago you could take a sightseeing boat trip along the sewers, but it’s all a bit more hygienic now, and surprisingly unsmelly. It’s worth a visit if you’re interested in engineering, a Les Misérables fan who wants to follow in the footsteps of Jean Valjean, or are just looking for a cool spot on a hot day.
Read more: The underbelly of Paris: Touring the sewers
Visited Oscar Wilde’s grave at Père Lachaise? See Rin Tin Tin’s at the dog cemetery
Paris’ city cemeteries date back to the 1900s and are more like parks, with lawns, beautifully ornate tombs and statues. The most famous is Père-Lachaise, where you can leave a lipstick mark on Oscar Wilde’s grave and a cigarette on Jim Morrison’s. But just as beautiful and much quieter are the cemeteries at Montparnasse and Montmartre, built around the same time and with their share of famous names too.
Or for something a bit different, head out to Asnières-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris to the Cimetiere des Chiens, or dog cemetery. It opened in 1899 for rich Parisians to pay tribute to their pets – and not just dogs either, you’ll also find graves for cats, birds, horses, monkeys and even the occasional lion. It even has its own famous resident – TV star dog Rin Tin Tin – and is home to a community of living cats too.
Wandered through the Luxembourg Gardens? Take a walk along the Promenade Plantée
Paris’ parks are a great spot for people-watching. But when you’ve seen the Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries, head to the east of Paris to the Promenade Plantée – or planted walkway. Like the High Line in New York, this narrow urban park is raised above the ground on an old railway line. The old Vincennes railway line closed down in 1969 and was scheduled for demolition until it was turned into a public park.
The Promenade Plantée starts at the Viaduc des Arts, just south of the Opéra Bastille, where the 64 arches underneath the railway tracks have been converted into art and craft studios. It then runs for 1.5 km along the viaduct as far as the Jardin de Reuilly – with bamboo, roses, wisteria, cherry and maple trees mixed in with archways, benches and ponds – before carrying on to the huge Bois de Vincennes park.