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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
What are your favourite hidden gems and alternative things to do in Paris?
This article contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, thanks.