Paris is full of world-famous buildings and attractions – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre. But what about on your second visit, or third or fourth? When you’ve seen the big names there’s still plenty more to see off the beaten track in the City of Light. Here’s my pick of some of the best alternative and unusual things to see and do in Paris.
Climbed the Eiffel Tower? See it from 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 rootop viewing platform is a bit lower at 210 metres compared to the 275 metres of the Eiffel Tower’s upper level, but you get a prime view of the Tower. You also don’t normally need to queue and if you don’t want to pay for the viewing platform you can just head to the bar on the 56th floor and get a free view with your drink. The best time to go is around dusk when you can watch the lights come on over the city and the Eiffel Tower sparkle 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 next to the Botanical Gardens, or for anthropology try the Musée du Quai Branly. Or if that’s all a bit too mainstream there are also museums dedicated to fairground rides, perfume, the police and erotic art.
Strolled along the Seine? Cruise the canals instead
A walk along the Seine takes you past some of Paris’ most famous sights, but you might have to dodge people selling knock-off handbags and flashing Eiffel Towers. 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 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 sounds too busy head further out to the Canal de l’Ourcq, which runs for 100km through 10 locks up to the north-east of the city.
Been underground at the catacombs? Tunnel into the sewers
Not your usual tourist attraction, the creepy tunnels of the catacombs are piled with human bones. The skeletons of six million Parisians were moved underground when the city’s cemeteries ran out of space in the 1780s. And now people queue down the street to go and 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. The sewerage system was built in the 1800s and mirrors the streets above, right down to the road signs. Years ago you could take a 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 looking for a cool spot on a hot day.
Visited Oscar Wilde’s grave at Père Lachaise? See Rin Tin Tin’s at the dog cemetery
Paris’ cemeteries are more like parks, with lawns, 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 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 also find graves for cats, birds, horses, monkeys and the occasional lion. It even has its own famous resident, TV star dog Rin Tin Tin.
Wandered through the Luxembourg Gardens? Take a walk along the Promenade Plantée
Paris’ parks are a great spot for a bit of 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 was closed down in 1969 and scheduled for demolition until it was saved and turned into a public park. The Promenade Plantée starts at the Viaduc des Arts, where the arches underneath the tracks are used for arts and craft studios. It then runs for 1.5 km as far as the Bois de Vincennes, with bamboo, roses, wisteria, cherry and maple trees mixed in with archways, benches and ponds.
What are your favourite Parisian hidden gems and unusual attractions?