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Alternative things to do in Paris

Alternative things to do in Paris

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 Basilica and Montmartre. But once you’ve seen the big names, what do you on your second visit to Paris, or your 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

Alternative things to do in Paris

Parisian café

Parisian café

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 that when you’re up there you don’t get a view of the city’s most famous building – because you’re inside of it. So instead head to the top of the Montparnasse Tower, the city centre’s only skyscraper. The tower’s 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 for the Montparnasse Tower viewing platform. At the top there’s a glass-walled roof terrace and a Champagne bar. Or if you don’t want to pay for the viewing platform, you can head to the tower’s 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 when you can see the lights come on over the city and you can see the Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour.

Read more: Where to find the best views of Paris from above

View of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Montparnasse Tower, Paris

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Montparnasse Tower roof terrace

Seen the Mona Lisa? Explore the city’s unusual museums

The Louvre and the 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 much weirder – museums across the city to explore. If you’re interested in science and industry, you could try the Musée des Arts et Métiers museum of industrial design, and make sure you don’t miss the amazing steampunk-style Metro station beneath the museum.

If you’re interested in natural history, check out the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle next to the Botanic Gardens. Or for anthropology and artefacts from around the world try the Musée du Quai Branly, along the river from the Eiffel Tower. Or if that’s a bit too mainstream, Paris also has museums dedicated to fairground rides, stuffed animals and the police. And look out for special exhibitions, like the Atelier des Lumières which uses projections of artworks by Van Gogh and Klimt set to music to create an immersive art experience.

The steampunk-style metro station at Arts et Métiers in Paris

The steampunk-style metro station at Arts et Métiers

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 the city’s most famous sights. But you’ll probably have to dodge people selling knock-off handbags and flashing Eiffel Towers along the way too. For a more low-key waterside experience, why not head to one of Paris’ canals. Closest to the city is the Canal St Martin, a 4.5km waterway which has nine locks and links the Seine to the Basin de la Villette.

There are trendy cafés, boutiques and bistros set 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, you can head further out to the Canal de l’Ourcq, which runs for 100km to the north-east of the city and has a pathway for walkers, rollerbladers and cyclists.

Canal St Martin, Paris

Along the banks of the Canal St Martin

Been underground at the catacombs? Tunnel into the sewers

Not your usual tourist attraction, the creepy tunnels of Paris’ catacombs are piled high with human bones. Six million skeletons were moved underground into the catacombs 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 beneath 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 underground road signs. Years ago you could actually take a sightseeing boat trip along the sewers, but it’s all a bit more hygienic now, and is 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 to escape to on a hot day.

Read more: The underbelly of Paris: Touring the sewers

Exhibits down in the tunnels at the Sewer Museum

Exhibits down in the tunnels at the Sewer Museum

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 their lawns, beautifully ornate tombs and statues. The most famous cemetery 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, which were built around the same time and have 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 as a way 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. The cemetery even has its own famous resident – TV star dog Rin Tin Tin – and is home to a community of living cats too.

Read more: Cities of the dead: The ornate cemeteries of Paris

Ornate tombs in the Montparnasse cemetery, Paris

Ornate tombs in the Montparnasse cemetery

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 strolled through 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 saved and turned into a public park.

The Promenade Plantée starts at the Viaduc des Arts, 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, maple and cherry trees mixed with benches and ponds – before carrying on to huge Bois de Vincennes park.

Read more: Paris’ Promenade Plantée: The original High Line park

Autumn on the Promenade Plantee park in Paris

Autumn colours on the Promenade Plantée

Had tea at Angelina? Drink a mint tea at the Grande Mosquée de Paris

The Angelina tea rooms were founded in 1903 and now have ten locations across Paris. But their original Belle Époque style Rue du Rivoli store is the impressive spot to call in for a cup of Mont-Blanc blend tea. But for something a bit more exotic, how about a cup of Moroccan-style mint tea in the gardens of the Grande Mosquée de Paris? It’s one of Europe’s biggest mosques and was built in France in the 1920s as a sign of gratitude to the tirailleurs – 100,000 North African Muslims from the French colonies who died fighting in the First World War.

The mosque’s designers took their inspiration from Morocco and Tunisia, with a hidden garden that’s a peaceful green oasis of trees and flowers, surrounded by brightly coloured geometric patterned mosaics, wooden carvings and whitewashed archways. Find a spot at one of the café’s gleaming brass tables set among the fig trees, where waiters pour mint tea from up high in the true Moroccan style, and you can choose from piles of sticky honey and nut pastries.

Gardens at the Grand Mosquée de Paris

Gardens at the Grand Mosquée de Paris

What are your favourite hidden gems and alternative things to do in Paris?

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The best unusual and alternative things to see and do in Paris – when you've seen the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, here's what to do next. #Paris #France #alternative #quirky #quirkyparisQuirky Paris – alternative and unusual attractions in the French capital for second- or third-time visitors – get off the beaten track in Paris #Paris #France #alternative #quirky #quirkyparis

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Guillaume - TourScanner

Thursday 26th of April 2018

Great article with amazing pictures, thank you Lucy! I love Paris, need to get back there


Monday 30th of April 2018

Me too, can never get enough of Paris!

thomas smith { travelouts }

Tuesday 24th of April 2018

Really great travel tips.It’s very helpful for my family trip.Thanks for sharing this article with us.


Monday 30th of April 2018

Thanks, you're very welcome!

Anais Iliffe-Ward

Wednesday 26th of April 2017

I went to paris with school and I did all of those things!!!! you would love the boat trip. Its so calm and serene xxxx


Thursday 27th of April 2017

Glad you had a great time!


Saturday 25th of February 2017

Hi Lucy! Thanks for sharing your good tips for some off the beaten track sightseeing in Paris!!! It's really interesting to discover new ways to enjoy this city of multiple faces.... For those who wonder around Bastille, if you're looking for alternative things to do you may like to have a look at 1944 // Gallery, Vegan Shop. It's a concept store which gather in the same space an art gallery, a "boutique de créateurs" and a vegan corner with delicious home made delights! (It's on the way to "La Garde Républicaine", boulevard Henri IV, another unfortunately unkown attraction of Paris !) Hope to see you there!


Thursday 2nd of March 2017

Thanks for the tip!

Agness of a TukTuk

Sunday 12th of February 2017

These are my new Parisian hidden gems and unusual attractions. The alternative view of the Eiffel Tower is great, Lucy.


Sunday 12th of February 2017

It's one of my favourite spots in the city!