Ah, Paris. The City of Love, la Ville Lumière.
It’s permanently etched on most bucket lists, but while everyone rushes to the top of the Eiffel Tower, poses in front of the Louvre’s glass pyramid or strolls down Champs Élysées, you should check out these lesser-known Parisian gemmes to get a true sense of one of the finest cities in the world.
Head to a park to play a game of pétanque — an outdoor game of boules, kind of like bocce. Many parks have dirt or gravel pétanque terrains where you can get your game on, but just be sure to pair it with the pétanque player’s drink of choice, anise-flavoured pastis.
Get into the basement of the Louvre
Even though it’s one of the city’s biggest attractions and everybody goes there, you just can’t skip the Louvre. While everyone flocks to the tiny Mona Lisa in the Denon Wing, you should head to the basement. Down there, you can walk among the remnants of the Louvre Fortress, which predated the Louvre Palace, which now houses the museum. Wander among the over 800-year-old stone walls to get a sense of the history of this landmark.
Dance alongside the Seine
Every night from June to August, dancers take over the waterfront promenade at Jardin Tino Rossi. The kinds of dance vary, from swing to tango to traditional Breton dancing. Join in, or just watch from a more … stationary position.
Read a menu in French
Plenty of Parisian restaurants have English menus available, which may make your life easier, but it doesn’t give you a chance to put your grade-three French lessons to work. Is jambon just a fancy kind of jam? There’s only one way to find out.
Hunker down for a classic French film at this small arthouse cinema that specializes in the best of the best from all over the world. No Paul Blart: Mall Cop here.
Visit Albert-Kahn’s gardens and museum
Take a wander through Japanese, English and French gardens at Jardins Albert-Kahn, the home of this banker and philanthropist, who set out in 1909 to photograph the world. Pop by on Tuesdays or Sundays to take part in a Japanese tea ceremony, or head into the museum on site to see some of the photos.
Dine at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
Head deep into Bois de Boulogne, on the western edge of the city, to Le Pré Catelan, housed inside a pavilion dating back to the time of Napoleon III. You’ll have to shell out a few euros to dine here but the food, the atmosphere and the setting are all well worth it.
Go for a late-night roller skate
Join hundreds of Parisians in a weekly late-night roller-skate through the streets of Paris. Or, you know, just watch. Each Friday night, unless it’s raining, Pari-Roller participants convene at Montparnasse Métro station and head out on a three-hour skate around the city.
Head into the bowels of the city
Get to know a different side of Paris at the Musée Des Égouts — the Sewer Museum. On a guided tour, you’ll get a good idea of how drastically sewers changed life in Paris. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a few kind words to shout down your toilet later.
Find a Happy Hour, then find a toilet
Your smartphone can help you out in these two crucial areas of Parisian travel. The Happy Hour Paris app (for iOS and Android) lets you search for bars by pint price, distance and opening time. Meanwhile the Find Toilets app helps you find the nearest public loo (and it works in other European countries, too).
Tour the Métro stations
Le Métro is not only a great way to get around Paris (if your legs and feet have given up), it’s also a great place to admire the city’s architecture and urban design. Don’t miss the art replicas at Louvre Station, the Jules Verne-inspired submarine feel of Arts et Metiers Station or the word-search walls of Concorde Station, to name a few.
Visit the dead at Père Lachaise
If dark tourism is your thing, and it is a thing, head to Père Lachaise Cemetery to see the final resting place of a few heavyweight celebs of years past, like Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin and Proust.
Ditch the map, take two lefts and then a right and then see what you can find. Keep your hotel’s address handy juuuust in case, but let yourself discover the city without a plan.
Paris has a thing for flea markets, called marchés aux puces around here, and the market at St-Ouen might be the best one. It’s actually 15 markets in one, open between Saturday and Monday, featuring all kinds of antique furniture, art, housewares, clothes, knick-knacks and other bargain treasures, if you’re prepared to do a bit of digging. Failing that, there’s loads of good food there, too.
Explore the city by bike
Paris’ bike-share program is called Velib, which lets you grab one of the over 20,000 bikes at 1,800 stations scattered across the city. You can pick one up in one station and return it at another so you don’t have to lug one bike around for your whole trip. There are loads of bike paths in the city and the first half hour of each journey is always free.
Get your nap on in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont
It’s not the biggest park in the city, but it might be the prettiest. Park yourself on a grassy hill for some people-watching or take a stroll along the pathways to find the grotto and waterfall.
Find out if they really call it a Royale with Cheese
Spoiler alert: Nope.
Stock up on la Rue Mouffetard
In one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, Rue Mouffetard is regularly taken over by an open food market, where you can grab fresh fruit, veggies, cheese and pastries — a great place to stock up for a picnic.
And, well, throw a Parisian-style picnic
You can’t live on bread and cheese alone, but Paris is the best place to try. Grab a fresh baguette, a wheel of Brie, maybe some pâté and definitely some cheap wine, and go stuff your face in a shady spot on the shores of Canal St. Martin.
Wile away a day in a bookstore
If the weather takes a turn for the mauvais, head inside one of the cozy bookstores that still actually exist in Paris. Try Shakespeare and Co., which you might recognize from the movie Before Sunset, or the Canadian-owned The Abbey Bookshop for shelves stocked to the ceilings and that unmistakable pulpy bookstore smell.
Grab a scoop at l’Ile Flottante
Load up on sweets, including Paris’s famed Berthillon ice cream, at this quaint candy shop on Ile St-Louis, and avoid the long lines at the Berthillon shop just around the corner.
Visit the bees of Luxembourg Garden
Tucked on the edge of this 56-acre palatial garden you’ll find a colony of bees busy making honey in their very stylish beehives. You can learn about the 150-year-old apiary and you might even spot some aspiring beekeepers learning the trade.
Get a caricature drawn and instantly regret it
Because nothing screams la belle vie like a stranger exaggerating your flaws in cartoon form.
Cinema en Plein Air
Watch a film in a park on a massive inflatable screen with hundreds of other moviegoers. Take a blanket and sit on the grass or rent a deck chair for a more comfortable viewing experience. In 2015, you can catch a different film almost every day between July 22 and August 23 in Parc de la Villette. Movies are screened in their original language with French subtitles where necessary.
Zzz at the Berges de Seine
Getting tired yet? Take a nap in a shipping container on the banks of the Seine. You can book an hour-and-a-half at a time in a Zzz to chill out, nap, read a book or just enjoy some people-watching.
Stay in one of the world’s fanciest hostels
Tap into your inner backpacker without forgoing showers and decent food with a stay at Paris’s brand new Generator Hostel, a 950-bed backpacker haven with shared and private rooms, a rooftop terrace, Moroccan-style chill-out areas, an underground bar and, of course, free wi-fi and breakfast.