More than 17 million people visit the City of the Light every year. This makes Paris the third most visited city on our planet, only falling behind Bangkok and London. And this is no accident! Paris is one of those cities that never lets people forget anything. It’s a city that reaches in and opens you from inside and makes you remember things that seem familiar but you never knew before. Things that you were missing your entire life without ever noticing it before…
Hence, it’s no surprise that thousands of tourists visit Paris every day, but we all know what mass tourism is capable of doing even to the most pristine and beautiful destinations. Fortunately, there are still some hidden gems in Paris where you can breathe in authenticity and see a different side of the city. Places you won’t find in most tourist guides and where you don’t have to rub elbows with hundreds of tourists. Are you curious to learn more about them? Keep reading!
See one of the most overlooked churches in Paris
Whether you visited Paris or not, you probably know about the Iron Lady of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. It’s a symbol of metallic architecture and one of the most distinguishing monuments in town. However, what if I tell you that the first building with metal construction in Paris was built 35 years before the Eiffel Tower? Saint-Eugène Sainte-Cécile is a beautiful Gothic Revival church located in one of the old working-class neighborhoods in Paris. The walls are built in masonry but this is the first church in France with a structure entirely made of metal. The interior of the church is filled with Gothic elements and beautiful window mosaics. Most tourists that visit Paris aren’t aware this church exists, and hence, it’s empty most of the time. And this is just an extra reason to visit if you ask me.
Visit an art gallery that used to be a public bath
We can’t really talk about hidden gems in Paris if we don’t at least mention Les Douches La Galerie. What is today one of the most interesting galleries in Paris was initially built as a public bath in the 1930s. You can still find the tiled showers and yellow water pipes inside the gallery. The building is camouflaged between the surrounding buildings on a residential street close to the Canal Saint Martin. Inside, you can find interesting exhibitions all the time but one of the most fascinating ones are the color prints of Vivian Maier.
Feel the village atmosphere inside the city
Like many other metropolitan cities, Paris kept increasing its metropolitan area throughout the years. Consequently, some parts that previously were villages or small towns (Belleville, Montmartre) have become very popular among tourists today. However, there still are some parts of Paris that kept their identity and still remain relatively unfrequented and unknown among tourists. One of them is Charonne. You can feel the authentic atmosphere as you walk down the small cobbled street of St. Blaise or Rue des Haies- the most authentic working-class street that you can find in Paris. You can also visit the Romanesque-style Eglise St Germain de Charonne, one of only two churches in Paris that still has an adjoining cemetery.
Discover the happiest street in Paris
Rue Cremieux is a small, hidden, pedestrian-only street that’s lined by beautiful colorful houses on both sides. I’ve seen a lot of similar places around the world that oftentimes become very famous but that still doesn’t seem to be the case with this street. During my last visit, there were only a few tourists around. If you want to get a great picture for your Instagram, take a walk on Rue Cremieux during sunset.
Play basketball on the world’s oldest court
You probably think that the oldest basketball court must be somewhere in the US. After all, that’s where the sport of basketball was invented. That’s why it was a real surprise when I got to know that the oldest basketball court (that’s still standing) is actually in France, in the basement of the YMCA hostel and is one of the best hidden gems in Paris. This hostel was built at the end of the 19th century only one year after basketball was invented and apparently it’s the oldest basketball court in the world today. Additionally, the hostel organizes basketball games for their guests every Saturday. If you’re a basketball fan (like me), this is one place you really wouldn’t like to miss.
Paris has a few very famous flea markets that are always crowded but fortunately, there still are a few where you don’t have to rub elbows with other tourists. One of them is Marché Dauphine. Located in the outskirts of Paris, Marché Dauphine is a flea market perfect for people who love vintage. Here, you can find literally anything, including jewelry, old books, antiques, and even old furniture… In other words, if you want to see a different, less-frequented side of Paris and find a unique souvenir, Marché Dauphine is one of the best places to do this.
Check out the second most unusual museum in Paris
The Paris Sewers Museum is one of the quirkiest museums in town and one of the best hidden gems in Paris. It follows the history of Paris’s sewer system from the 1200s through the dark medieval ages to the modern era. This museum gives visitors the unique opportunity to walk through underground tunnels and learn about the way in which the city’s sewer system functions and about the people who built and maintained it throughout the years. The tunnels are properly marked and while walking around you can always get a rough idea of where you are even though you’re underground. Currently, the museum is closed due to reparations but will be open very soon (spring 2019). Talking about quirky museums, the strangest one in Paris is probably this…
A museum devoted to biology gone wrong
There aren’t a lot of words that can describe the Musée Dupuytren. It surely is one of the strangest museums in Paris and I haven’t seen a similar museum anywhere in the world. However, I wouldn’t recommend you to visit if you have a sensitive stomach. Here, you can find preserved samples of corpses of conjoined twins, the head of a person that apparently suffered from cyclopedia (one-eye disorder), and hundreds of other exhibits that had different kinds of deformities. Do you want to learn more about museums in Paris and discover even more museums that most tourists don’t know about? Check out this complete guide of museums in Paris by Insidr, and you will become an expert before you know it.
Climb a hidden hill in Buttes Chaumont Park
Butte Chaumont Park is one of the largest ones in Paris and very famous among tourists. In the park, you can find a lot of greenery, plants, and even waterfalls. It’s a peaceful place great for people that want to get away from the city’s most crowded streets. However, most visitors don’t make it to the small ‘fake hill’, located in the central part of the park. This hill is fifty meters high, it’s completely surrounded by cliffs and it even has a small, green grotto. Sure, there are a lot of more interesting things to do in Paris, but this is a perfect getaway place if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
Explore the hidden vineyards of Montmartre
Montmartre has become one of the most touristy areas in Paris in recent years but there are still a few hidden gems that tourists are yet to discover. One of them is the Montmartre Vineyards. Le Clos Montmartre is one of the last remaining vineyards in the metropolitan area of Paris. It’s a real surprise that most tourists don’t know about it despite being located two minutes away from Sacré-Cœur…
See a movie in the oldest cinema in Paris
Located in the Heart of Latin Town, Cinéma du Panthéon is the oldest functioning movie theater in Paris. The cinema has been around since 1907 and was a pioneer in projecting foreign undubbed films. Today, this movie theater is very popular among locals and will give you a piece of Parisian history that most tourists overlook. The interior is also very interesting and the salon looks like a typical French living room. There are movie projections every day during the afternoons and evenings. Are you looking to combine a movie night with some other fun things to do late at night? Check out this article by Insidr for some interesting activities to check out at night while in Paris.
Discover a hidden artwork done by Salvador Dali
You might think that a prominent artist’s artwork will be one of the biggest tourist attractions but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Salvador Dali’s sundial on Rue Saint-Jacques. The sundial was installed on one of the surrounding buildings in 1966 and if you don’t look around thoroughly, you’ll probably miss it. A lot of people tried to interpret this unusual clock but no one really knows how to read it. Perhaps that was the point of the artist…
Enjoy street art at la Butte aux Cailles
Butte aux Cailles is one of the lesser-known neighborhoods in Paris. It’s located on a hill and filled with cobblestone streets that accompany the authentic vibes of this charming neighborhood. Historically, this neighborhood was a working-class district, and as such, attracted a lot of artists from around the city throughout the years. This eventually turned Butte aux Cailles into one of the best street art neighborhoods in the city. However, apparently, most tourists don’t know about this place (yet).
Have a very special Paris metro moment
Do you want to get a rare view of the Eiffel Tower with the Seine in the background? Just get on Line 6 leaving from Montparnasse. It’s one of only a few metros in Paris that don’t run underground. The unique photo opportunity lasts only 10-15 seconds but this is the perfect chance to click a postcard-quality image of Paris.
Discover a hidden garden of ruins
Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale is a very curious and unique monument that features the ruins of a colonial exhibition from the 20th century. The site was supposed to be a garden with exotic tropical plants from different French colonies. However, an interesting set of circumstances lead to the site getting inhabited by communities from different French colonies. For a while, visitors had the chance to visit the garden and observe these people in their “natural recreated inhabitant”. These people were eventually sent back after some time and the site has been in ruins ever since. Today, el Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale is an interesting site with a lot of abandoned buildings with trees and other vegetation growing from within. If you’re looking for a great relaxation spot surrounded by greenery, look no more!
Visit the former Cistercian college of the University of Paris
If you didn’t know, the Bernardines is a highly influential and academic brotherhood of monks. The original University of Paris, originally built in 1248 (today’s University of Sorbonne) was located on this site. The outside of the building looks average at best but the interior is rather spectacular. A restoration took place in 2008 and today, the site hosts a myriad of different cultural events. As for the building, it has been a French historical monument since 1871 but apparently, that’s not enough to attract more tourists.
Try to find the beehives at Jardin du Luxembourg
Whether you visited Paris or not, you probably heard about the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s one of the most beautiful and famous parks in Paris. However, you probably didn’t know that you can find beehives in the southwestern part of the park. These beehives have been producing honey for Parisians since 1856 and there’s even a beekeeping school on site. Here, you can learn about the whole honey preparation process and even try making some yourself.
Merci Used Book Cafe
Finally, we cannot complete this list of hidden gems in Paris without mentioning one of my favorite cafes in Paris, Merci Used Book Café. As the name suggests, this café isn’t a regular average coffee shop. Sure, they have some great coffee and some charming French Press travel mugs but what makes this café special are the old books. Here, you can find more than 10,000 old books stacked on the shelves around the café. Most of these books are in French, but you can also find some in other languages too. It’s the perfect place to visit on a rainy day or when you need a quiet and peaceful getaway place. The café is located on Boulevard Beaumarchais, the snacks are more than affordable, and the Wi-Fi connection is great too.
Did you like this article? Do you know of some other hidden gems in Paris that we didn’t mention in this article? Let us know in the comments!
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