After being lucky enough to have visited Paris a handful of times, I was pretty sure I had seen and done the best the city had to offer. Eiffel Tower? Check. The Louvre? Check. But, as I discovered on my most recent trip to the City of Light, there is so much more to the city than those mainstays of Parisian tourism.
This time around, I traveled with the intention of staying off the boulevards and out of the parks, and finding some places that aren’t in guidebooks. And I found them: hidden corners to explore, charming streets to wander down, and nooks and crannies from which you can watch the world go by. Now, I’d like to pass these places on to you so that you, too, can dig a bit deeper and travel a little more off the beaten path.
The Eiffel Tower: that metal-skirted lady that jumps out at you, dominating the skyline, from the most unexpected of places. You can be casually walking along the cobbled streets, navigating your way past the curbside coffee-drinkers and all of a sudden, there she is. It’s quite a delicious jolt when you look up and see the Eiffel Tower. If you’ve already been up the Tower and bought the postcard, an alternate view which is just as breathtaking is the one from the terrace of Printemps, a large department store in the 9th arr. It’s a little tricky to get to, but if you can find your way up, you are rewarded with the greatest of views: on one side, Sacré-Cœur sits atop Montmartre; to the other side, you get a sweeping vista down the Rue Royale to La Madeleine church, with the lovely lady Eiffel off to the right. Go at sunset to enjoy a golden view and an almost deserted space.
My first impression of Paris, many years ago, was one of a concrete metropolis. Imposing stone architecture and cobbled streets found me craving a little colour and whimsy, and I’m happy to report that I found it. Two little streets deserve your time and attention, and though they are a bit further out, just hop in an Uber or jump on the Metro and you’ll be there in a flash. If you’re familiar with London’s Notting Hill then the colourful facades of the houses in rue Crémieux will tickle you pink.
Though clearly maintained with tourists in mind, the bright colours and charming details of this street will definitely put a smile on your face, from the lovely metalwork to the inquisitive cats sitting on their windowsills. In a similar vein, take the trip a bit further southwest to rue des Thermopyles. The street is covered in greenery: wandering vines, twisted trunks, and beautiful foliage.
From there, make your way to Montmartre; the walk up the hill will be worth it. Go and see Sacré Coeur; seeing the interior for the first time was a moment I will never forget. Then, come back down and visit the I Love You wall (“Le mur des je t’aime’’) just around the corner from the Abbesses metro stop, where the words ‘I Love You’ are written out in more than 250 languages. If you have a loved one with you, I won’t blame you for sneaking a kiss.
Walk slowly down around the tiny streets of the neighbourhood, savouring some of the most charming streets in Paris, and make your way to the Musée Gustave Moreau. Not one that most tourists might normally visit, this unique little museum faithfully preserves the Symbolist painter’s Parisian apartment. Wander the rooms and see what life was like in Moreau’s Belle Époque the 1890’s and make your way up to the top floor where you will be greeted by the greatest little spiral staircase.
Paris is home to a pretty spectacular series of bridges reaching across the Seine. Bypass the Pont des Arts, heaving under the weight of all those padlocked declarations of love, and head further west to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Astute film-watchers will recognize it as a location from the film Inception, but beyond that it’s a beautiful walk towards the left bank with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. Pro tip: Get off the Metro at the Passy stop, and walk over the bridge towards the tower
Opened in September of 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a relatively new kid on the block. Technically situated just outside of Paris, it’s a 20-minute Metro ride or a quick Uber journey away. A light-lover’s dream, the Frank Gehry-designed building is home to a revolving series of art installations and, more importantly, is a piece of art in its own right. Hours can be spent wandering the building’s nooks and crannies. Make sure you descend to the lower level where water installations will dance and reflect for you, even on the gloomiest of winter days.
Likewise, another landmark deserving of your attention is the Palais de Tokyo. I was led here by a beautiful image taken by Instagrammer Nat Hill, whose photograph of the children’s play area had me intrigued; any place that has tree trunks twisted together in a stunning piece of installation artwork (by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira) is a place I want to visit. Inside and out, the museum glows with light and color. On a sunny day, sit outside and enjoy another beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower. If it’s raining, take shelter amongst the artworks and delights that the museum has on offer.
The thing is, you really can’t go wrong in Paris. Beautiful murals and excellent street art abound and sit so comfortably in the same neighbourhoods that house ancient and precious artworks. Colour can be found everywhere, even on the greyest of days, and any chance to get up above the rooftops to marvel at the city below is most definitely one that should be taken. While some travelers might be weary of straying too far from the well-worn paths, this is a city famed for its beauty, and it can be found in the most unlikely places.