Unlocking hidden gems in Paris

Elsewhere, we’ve advised you on ways you can explore the most famous landmarks and attractions in Paris. But sometimes the best travel experiences happen when you find those under-the-radar spots that only locals know. If you have plans to visit Paris, consider these hidden gems.

Buck the trendy neighbourhoods and try Belleville

Street Art in the Belleville neighbourhood, Paris

Sure, neighbourhoods like Montmartre and Le Marais are cool, but for a local hidden gem, try Belleville, a grittier, hip neighbourhood that’s known for its flea markets, produce stands and boisterous merchants. The diversity here is staggering – French cafés and Tunisian restaurants live side by side with African shops and Chinese grocers. Foodies will love the Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement for its bakeries, cheese shops and great restaurants. Check out the Rue Denoyez, a quirky lane lined with street art and murals, and stop for a drink at the Café Aux Folies, which had been a favourite of legendary cabaret singer Edith Piaf.

See the panorama of Paris

There’s only one thing better than the view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower; that’s a view of Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower. For this amazing experience, you need to go to the Montparnasse Tower. One of Europe’s tallest buildings, the view from its observation deck (200 metres up) offers a panoramic view of Paris that will take your breath away. Plus, the admission price is half that of the Eiffel Tower and there are no line-ups. Try visiting at dusk, and watch the City of Light come alive right before your eyes. As they say in Paris: incroyable!

Discover a village within the city

Mouzaïa is a slice of rural charm in the middle of the 19th arrondissement. One of Paris’s few remaining secret neighbourhoods, Mouzaïa’s character is expressed in its 250 or so distinctive cottages which were built in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, originally housing low-income workers; now hot real estate properties, home to artists, writers and celebrities. Take the metro to the Botzaris stop, and spend a lovely afternoon traipsing along the rues de Mouzaïa, du Général Brunet, de la Liberté and Bellevue. Stop in at Rosa Bonheur, one of Paris’s last remaining guinguettes – 19th-century cafés for food, music and dancing – in the Parc de Buttes Chaumont.

Dance by the Seine

Wander down to the Quai Saint-Bernard along the left bank of the Seine on a warm summer night and you’ll find it’s been transformed into an open-air dance studio. People of all ages gather there every evening from the beginning of June to the end of August in the Jardin Tino Rossi, near the Institut du Monde Arabe, to practice ballroom dancing, salsa, tango, waltz and swing!

Discover the covered passages of Paris

arcade paris

There’s no better way to spend a rainy day in Paris than passage hopping. The covered passages of Paris, built mostly in the 19th century, are a classically Parisian architectural feature. These glass-roofed arcades are the forerunners of today’s department stores and malls. Today, there are only about 20 of them still in existence, mostly housing tearooms, restaurants and shops. You’ll find many of them near the Grands Boulevards, running from Passage Vivienne, behind the Palais-Royal, northward to Rue Cadet.

Passage Verdeau Paris

Stroll along the Promenade Plantée

Long before New York City had the High Line, Paris had La Promenade Plantée. The promenade is a gorgeous green space running for three miles (4.8 km) along an abandoned elevated railway line. Perfect for a stroll or a run, it’ll take you from Bastille through Gare de Lyon and Bercy, to the west side of the Bois de Vincennes. Underneath the promenade is the Viaduc des Arts, where cafés, galleries, ateliers and workshops occupy the arches below the gardens.

Explore The Catacombs

Underneath Paris, there exists a labyrinthine maze of tunnels – up to 200 miles worth – that served as limestone quarries from Roman times. In the late-18th century, officials moved the bones of buried Parisians from the city’s overcrowded cemeteries into these empty tunnels, thus creating the Catacombs of Paris. This huge ossuary 65 feet below street level has been open to the public since 1874, though it’s only a small section of this vast subterranean world. What will you see when you descend underground? A mile of tunnels lined with the carefully stacked bones and skulls of millions of Parisians, plus graffiti dating back to the French Revolution. It’s a truly extraordinary experience.

Take a walk in the Paris sewers

The Paris Sewer Museum (yup, you heard that right) may be one of the most unique museums you’ll ever visit. But don’t worry – it’s not as gross and smelly as you might imagine. It is, in fact, a wonderful repository of Parisian history. Follow the course of the tunnels and you also follow the history of Paris; from the first drainage systems in the 1200s, through the plagues of the Middle Ages, right up to the modern era where the tunnels emulate the streets above, including the street signs. It’s a fascinating journey, and if nothing else, it’s a unique way to get relief from the summer heat.

Enjoy a thrilling hot air balloon ride

Paris is where the hot air balloon was invented (in 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers), so why not honour that legacy by taking a balloon ride in the heart of the city. Climb aboard Ballon Air de Paris, the world’s largest tethered air balloon, and ascend 150 metres for an impressive bird’s-eye view of the city. The balloon also serves as an environment beacon, changing colour with varying air quality levels. Located in Parc André Citroën, Ballon Air de Paris operates daily from 9 a.m. until 30 minutes before the park closes.

What about you? Did you have any incredible experiences in Paris that were off the beaten path? Share your stories with us!