Hailed as one of the most romantic cities in the world, it's easy to get swept up in the big sites of Paris. Tanya Shiels lets us in on a few of the French capital's lesser known attractions to bring you off the well-beaten tourist path.
The wonders of Paris are undeniable and its beauty and romanticism remain unrivalled. Every museum, art gallery or landmark is iconic in its richness of culture and each street side café provides a personal look into the Parisian lifestyle.
Paris is the second most visited European city (London being the first) and its reputation for tourism precedes it. Aside from contributing to literature, philosophy, academia and music, the city’s wealth of architecture, art and history gives it pride of place in the hearts and minds of many.
You'd be remiss to visit the city of light without seeing the main attractions but just off the beaten path is a wealth of experiences to immerse yourself in. From literature and art to something a little more sinister, we explore other ways to enrich your Parisian experience.
1. Peruse the books at Shakespeare and Company
Situated on the left bank, Shakespeare and Company is a mecca for all literature enthusiasts. As with so many points of interest in Paris the history of this shop is fascinating and spans many years. Beginning its life as a monastery, it became the cultural hub it is now in 1951. Authors such as Allen Ginsberg and Anaïs Nin gravitated toward the relaxed atmosphere and the proprietor encouraged young, out of work, writers to make Shakespeare and Company their home, literally. The temporary residents of the shop were required to assist with sales for an hour or two and to produce a one-page autobiography, in this way the history of thousands of influential thinkers and authors have been preserved. Shakespeare and Company hosts literary festivals, has created competitions to celebrate unpublished authors and continues to be a haven for those seeking inspiration.
2. Take a tour of Père Lachaise
Père Lachaise is both Paris’ largest cemetery and the world’s most frequently visited cemetery. This 44-hectare graveyard is an architectural and horticultural marvel with its delicately carved tombs and sculpture gardens.
While over 800,000 people have been buried here, the most frequently visited graves are those of Oscar Wilde – where female fans leave their mark in lipstick smeared kisses – and Jim Morrison – where individuals stick chewing gum to a nearby tree. Other famous individuals buried in Père Lachaise are Chopin, Gertrude Stein and Édith Piaf.
With so much to see you can easily spend two to three hours here but to save yourself from wandering aimlessly around, purchase a map at the entrance.
3. Enjoy the surreal artwork of Salvador Dali
The father of the absurd; Salvador Dali, is celebrated at the Espace Dali in Paris’ 18th arrondissement (Montmartre). The Dali museum offers a magnificent permanent collection of some of Dali’s most iconic paintings, sketches and sculptures. In addition to the abundance of Dali’s works the museum frequently invites contemporary artists to interpret his work and often exchanges pieces with other Dali museums in Venice, Florida and Barcelona.
Depending on your level of fascination with the artist, expect to spend between an hour and two hours here. The museum offers discounted rates for several groups (students, pensioners and job-seekers) and there are even selected original artworks on sale so count up your pennies.
Montmartre is the perfect base to explore Paris, with peaceful surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of the centre. The area has plenty of great boutique hotels, such as the Terrass Hotel Montmartre that boasts beautiful terraces and spectacular views from every window.
4. Explore the quirky side of the Metro
The Parisian Metro is a wonderfully efficient means of connecting Paris and its inhabitants but several Metro stations offer far more than just sign boards and route maps.
The Concorde Metro station appears to be tiled with an arbitrary selection of letters but on closer inspection it reveals the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a central document of the French Revolution of 1789.
Louvre-Rivoli, originally the station which led directly to the Louvre, has been curated to reflect the overwhelming wealth of artwork inside the museum itself. The walls and corridors are lined with replicas of famous displays and truly set the tone for a day spent wandering the halls of this world famous museum.
Arts et Metiers station was originally designed to make commuters feel as if they are in a submarine and it achieves just that. With portholes dotting the walls it is strongly reminiscent of the works of Jules Verne, upon which the station’s design was based. The station is copper-clad and creates an industrial feel with exposed bolts and joins in metal sheeting.
The Metro is the easiest and most convenient way to get around Paris. There are several ticket options aimed specifically at tourists and you can purchase one to five day passes from vending machines at the entrances of most Metro stations. We recommend grabbing a cute compact map from Lonely Planet to get around the stations easily.
5. Not for the faint-hearted: The Catacombs of Paris
This labyrinthine crypt houses the remains of almost six million people and is often referred to as “The World’s Largest Grave”. The underground tour spans 2km and provides a comprehensive look into the ossuary which was created to deal with the issue of overflowing cemeteries in Paris.
The narrow, twisting corridors are lined with skulls and femurs and the dark, moody lighting adds to the already eerie feel. The ceilings are low and create a claustrophobic feeling which makes you acutely aware of the fact that you are inside a tomb. The ever-winding tour leads you past shrines to the deceased and the walls created entirely out of bones will leave a lasting impression.
Due to the sensitive environment within the Catacombs a finite number of people are allowed underground at a time, meaning inevitable long queues. To avoid having to wait, try to get there as early as possible. Just a forewarning: the tour is unsuitable for young children, those with mobility issues and those with heart or respiratory problems.
How to get there: Hop on the Eurostar from London St Pancras all the way to Paris so you can avoid all the faff at the airport or if you'd prefer to fly to save time, check out opodo.co.uk to compare fares.
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