If there’s one city in the world that every traveller should see, it’s Paris. It’s a city full of timeless art and exquisite architecture, fascinating history and atmospheric neighbourhoods – a place where you could spend a lifetime and never run out of things to see.
The problem is, many visitors just visit the city’s most famous of landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe – and leave without seeing many of its real treasures.
These are Paris’s “other” attractions, the ones you might not be as familiar with. But some are just as impressive as the high-profile sights, while others give you a real insight into how Parisians live, and the things that make Paris such a liveable city. And they’re all in the city’s historic core, reachable on foot or by a short metro ride. If you get lost, all the better – you may discover great new sights and charming new neighbourhoods for yourself.
So here’s my guide to Paris’s “other” highlights: I call it, “What to do in Paris after you’ve seen the Louvre.”
See the “other” museums
The Louvre is a global showcase for historic artworks, but there are many other museums within a few blocks featuring art exhibits that are just as amazing. The nearby Pompidou Centre (seen here) is Europe’s largest modern art museum, and the Musée d’Orsay, in an old railway station near the Seine, has the world’s largest collection of impressionist paintings. Then there’s the Musée Picasso, in the Marais district, and the Musée Rodin, located in the sculptor’s original studio, the Hôtel Biron. Rodin donated his personal collection to help create the museum, and his famous work The Thinker is on view in the garden.
See the Seine by night
The banks of the Seine have become a playground for Parisians, with walking and jogging paths, floating bars, patio restaurants and man-made beaches for sunbathers. They’re a great place to spend an afternoon, but the real magic starts after dark. Walk down the stairs at the beautiful Pont Neuf to see it lit up and glowing (below), with the tourist boats (called bateaux mouches) cruising by. Then, walk up to the Pont Alexandre III and watch as the lights on the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle (photo at top). It’s a wonderful sight, and it happens every hour on the hour in the evening — not to be missed.
Join the café culture
One of the joys of visiting Paris is sitting in a café sipping an espresso as you watch the world go. It’s a way of life for everyday Parisians, and Paris has cafés made famous by people like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. Happily, you can still sip your drink in the same cafés they frequented. One of the best is Les Deux Magots, on Boulevard St-Germain, the stomping ground of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. There’s also La Closerie des Lilas on Boulevard du Montparnasse, where Hemingway wrote much of The Sun Also Rises, and Le Select, just down the street, where the book’s characters hung out. Take a seat, and see if you’re inspired.
Discover the Tuileries Gardens
You’ve seen the Louvre? Don’t just get in a cab and leave. Head west to discover an amazing green refuge in the heart of Paris’s tourist district — the Gardens of the Tuileries. This long, lush expanse of gardens is a delight, with a pond, formal gardens and lots of classical statues. But there’s also a sense of fun — look right and you’ll see carnival rides (they’re all the rage in Europe these days). Now stroll down the leafy walkway to enjoy the Tuileries’ long strip of shady, treed parkland, and maybe buy a waffle (that’s a gaufre, in French) from one of the vendors along the way.
Check out the churches
Every tourist visits Notre Dame Cathedral (go early to avoid the crowds), but Paris is full of impressive churches, many of them with histories stretching back several hundred years. Only a block or two from Notre Dame is the jewel-like Sainte-Chapelle, with its dazzling display of vintage stained glass: it was the model for Montreal’s Basilica of Notre-Dame. On the left bank, the venerable Church of St-Germain-des-Pres is the oldest in Paris, dating to the 11th century. The nearby Church of St-Sulpice (below) features frescoes by Eugene Delacroix and was featured in The Da Vinci Code.
Experience Rue Mouffetard
Forget the tourist markets: if you want to see how Parisians have shopped for food over the centuries, head to Rue Mouffetard, one of the hidden treasures of the Latin Quarter. Originally a Roman road, the cobblestoned street is now a centre for food: butchers, bakers, wine shops, cheese shops, crêpe shops, cafés and restaurants line its vintage storefronts. Walk a little further and you’ll come to Rue du Pot de Fer, where George Orwell once washed dishes for a living. Today it’s lined with trendy restaurants – a good place for a meal, and someone else will wash the dishes.
Shop the markets
Browsing the local markets is a great way to get the feeling of a foreign city, and Paris has lots of them. One of the best is the Marché Bastille, a food and merchandise market that takes place on a wide boulevard near the famous Place Bastille on Thursdays and Sundays. Then there’s the Marché au Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II on the Ile St-Louis, not far from Notre Dame. It’s a flower market during the week, but on Sundays it transforms into a bird market, and birdsong fills the air. A little further afield, there’s the Marché aux Puces de Vanves, for art and collectibles. Or, just take a stroll on a Sunday morning – you’re sure to run into a neighbourhood market or two.
Relax in the Luxembourg Gardens
Many tourists bypass the extensive gardens attached to the Luxembourg Palace on Paris’s left bank, but they’re missing one of the city’s loveliest sights, and a great place to escape its hustle and bustle. The palace is the place where the French senate meets, but mostly it’s the backdrop for a beautiful and extensive complex of gardens, fountains, tennis courts, orchards, leafy walkways and picnic areas. If you come on a Sunday, you may even see a free show.
Those are my suggestions for what to do in Paris after you’ve seen the Louvre. And to help you find the places I featured, here’s a handy map:
In truth, these suggestions only scratch the surface: Paris is a city with so much beauty, culture and life that you could fill a book with its undiscovered treasures. But even if you only take in one or two of these sights, I hope they help you to look beyond the usual tourist path and see the city for the wondrous place it is.
Travel is discovery, and there’s no greater city to discover than Paris.