Friday, January 16, 2015

13 Interesting Things to Do in Paris

Of course a visit to Paris should involve all the usual suspects in terms of tourist attractions, but sometimes it is great to go a little bit off the beaten track and make like a local.  Here is a list of quirky and interesting things to do in Paris which are definitely worth it.  Some are easy on the euro as well.  My attitude to life these days is not about accumulating more stuff, but accumulating more wonderful experiences in my memory bank.  So the more affordable the experience, the more I can have of them in a city.

Little sailing boats on the pond in Jardin du Tulleries

This was in August when the Fete du Tulleries was on.  The man with the boats was not there in September, once the kids had returned to school.  It appears this fabulous little event is only available during the Paris school holidays, but if you get a chance to participate, don't miss it, even if you are without kids.  Watching them push the boats around, whilst you sit in the magnificent gardens is a lovely way to spend an hour.  Boat hire is a couple of euro for half an hour.

There are also boats on the pond in front of the Palais in the Jardin du Luxembourg in August.

Le Train Bleu

A stunning Paris institution est. in 1900 as a place to eat for discerning long distance train travellers, at Gare de Lyon. Decorated lavishly in the Belle Epoch style, with gold embossed walls painted with scenes found along the various train journeys. 

It is a stunning experience, a real treat, with very attentive service and simple elegant French food.  It was something I have wanted to do for a long time and will most definitely do again.  This to me is the real Paris.

Here's a link to a post I wrote about Le Train Bleu for more details.

 If you are in the Jardin du Tulleries and fancy a bit of Monet, try


 which is a must if you are a Monet fan and can't make it to Giverny.  Sit a while and lose yourself in his wonderful  floor to ceiling water lilies, displayed in the round, in this cute little gallery.  I have a soft spot for water lilies, as my mother had them in her minimalist 1960's wedding bouquet.  L'Orangerie is situated up the Place de la Concorde end of the gardens, right by Quay de Tulleries.  This as a very quaint little gallery and definitely worth a visit to see some of the most famous art in the world. 

There are no photos allowed of the Monet's, but you can take shots in other parts of the gallery.

There are other impressionists artists on display at L'Orangerie too.

The Eiffel Tower at night

This one is touristy, but sitting under it, as it twinkles at night, is to die for.

The Tower starts to twinkle on the hour from 9pm in Summer, until 5 minutes past the hour.  In Winter it begins to twinkle after sunset.  It is truly worth the effort. Just be on your guard for all the hawkers selling cheap champagne and red roses.  If you can block them out, and pick a balmy Summer night, why not take a picnic and make a night of it?

As for ascending the monument, I definitely recommend a 'skip the line pass'.  It will cost you about $AUD400 for 4, which can be booked online.  Yes it's prohibitive, but I will be going up only once in my lifetime, so totally worth every cent.  Alternatively, if you have hours to stand in line for a lift ticket, or you are OK with walking up (the queues for that are shorter by several hours), all power to you.

Sit and watch the crazy traffic drive around the Lárc de Triomphe

It's totally nuts and incredibly entertaining.  We watched 2 gypsy boys try to cross seven "lanes" of traffic into the centre of the roundabout.  I was cringing and could only look with one eye.  They made it, but only just.  Absolute madness, but I could not look away. It was like willing your favourite athlete to win Olympic gold in the 100m.
It's also fascinating to watch the the traffic ducking and weaving in and out of the roundabout.  I am reminded of the story of my grandfather driving over to Paris from London in an old London taxi as a tourist in the 1950's.  He did seven circles around the Arc de Triomphe and when he finally got off the roundabout, he didn't stop in Paris, but headed straight back to London, much to my grandmother's disappointment.
What an opportunity missed.

So don't just walk to the top of the Champs Elysees to climb the arch. Sit a while to watch the crazy traffic too, it's fascinating.

Take a walk around the Marias

Place des Vosges

Apart from some cute shops and fabulous dining options, the Marias contains a stunning park in the 4th arondisment known as Place des Vosges.  No visit to Paris is complete without a visit to this lovely spot.  Place des Vosges is a great entertainer for kids too, because the park contains a big sandpit and play equipment.  On one of my visits, I got lucky whilst watching my kid swing from the monkey bars and was serenaded by a beautiful classical orchestra, playing under the colonnades around the square.  It's a true oasis in Paris and is primarily frequented by locals.  We got chatting to a lovely English guy (who had lived in Paris for 40 years) at the sand pit. He was minding his grandchild for the day.  Who knows you might even make a friend.

Dinner or Lunch on La Place du Marche Sainte Catherine in the Marais
Soak up the village atmosphere of this quaint little square in the Marais.  It is totally stunning on a hot Summer night.  Frequented primarily by Parisian locals, this place is completely fabulous.

With a collection of cute French Bistros, this is classic Paris alfresco dining.

There is also a beautiful haute couture clothing store right in the back quarter of the square with some simple and elegant wedding dresses, bridesmaid and mother of the bride style creations.  Suzanne Ermann sure knows how to design a dress.  Her trademark ruffles are just gorgeous.

Canal St Matin 

Looking at my photos on Canal St Martin, I need to do a whole post on this as it is gorgeous.

Canal St Martin is a 4.5km canal mitigated by a series of locks allowing it to flow into the Seine River.  Parts of it flow underground including at Place de la Batille.  Dug out in 1802 as a way to provided a constant and clean water supply to Paris and also as means of transporting goods through the city. Today the nautical craft flow at the rate of a trickle.  To think that the canal was actually at risk of being filled in to form a highway in the 1960's.  Happily that did not happen.  There is the odd barge floating along, which you can watch navigating the locks, but these are rare. There are some lovely restaurants and cafes adjacent to the canal, or take a picnic and mingle with Parisian workers taking a break for lunch.

We even saw sunbakers along the canal.  What a way to spend your lunch hour.

There's also a food market most days of the week in Boulevard Jules Ferry, which is actually a green space to the south of the open canal, where the canal flows underground.  You will not find many tourists here.  It's definitely a real Parisian experience.

Lunch under Madeleine Church
Put on as a fundraiser by the church, you can get a great 3 course lunch in her cellars, for around 10 euro right in the heart of Paris.  Primarily frequented by Parisian locals, this is one not to miss.  It's central, (just up from Place de la Concorde along rue Royale.  Enter on the eastern side of the church) good food and very affordable. Full details on how to enjoy this great little find go here.

To walk down your lunch at Madeleine, head to the rear of the church and walk right up to the end of Rue Tronchet.  Take a right straight on to Boulevard Haussmann.  On the left you will find:

Galleries Lafayette

One for the seven wonders of the shopping world. Make sure you enter the right part of the store (the store consists of several buildings) on Boulevard Haussman and look up.  It is totally overwhelming.  Funnily enough I found myself standing next to an Australian I had never met and we struck up a conversation about how blown away we were.

Right next door is:

Pringtemps Department Store

If you are not here for the shopping, then head straight up to the 9th floor for the view and/or lunch if you haven't already eaten at Madeleine.  It is a true little oasis in the heart of Paris.

Take in the magnificent views and have a very affordable and tasty lunch in the department store bistro.  It's really fabulous value.  Although the coffee is from a machine, it's $AUD5 instead of $AUD10 and is not a bad drop.

There is a similar space at the top of Galeries Lafayette (8th floor) where there are deck chairs and sofas for taking in the sun.  And check out the fabulous view north, south, east and west over Paris.  There is also an Italian restaurant up there

Walk from Madeleine to the Paris Opera House and check out the shops

Another quick, easy and interesting walk is that between Madeleine and the Paris Opera House.

From Madeleine take Boulevard de la Madeleine toward the Paris Opera and check out some of the cute shops along the route.  It's not far and travelling on foot, is the a great way to see Paris. 

One really cute shop we found was La Chaise Lounge, which was full of quirky and cute homewares and gifts.

La Chaise Lounge

After several blocks, look left and you will see the Paris Opera House.

The Paris Opera House

Being the geographical heart of Paris, the first arondisment was designed to be the spiritual and cultural heart of the city by Haussmann, in the redesign of Paris .  A look inside this marvellous building is an absolute must.  Wander the glorious halls and rooms and be dazzled by the magnificent architecture and style of the Belle Epoch. There are also many costumes on display from past operas.

For more on the Paris Opera go here

If you have not eaten yet, may I suggest some inexpensive Japanese at Higuma

Lunch at Higuma Restaurant in Little Japan

Higuma is a nice break from the traditional French Food offered in Paris tourist traps.  It's also really cheap and full of Parisians.  Just a short walk from the Paris Opera House and the main department stores, this is a great insight into multicultural Paris.  Get a quick, delicious and interesting meal here.

32 Bis Rue Saint Anne
75001 Paris
PH: 0147033859
Metro: Pyramides

There are in fact quite a few Japanese restaurants in this arondisment and it is really like a Little Japan in the 1st.

So there are just a few ideas a little off the tourist trail.  Of course you will always find tourists in these spots, it's just that they are the more discerning ones.

I hope you enjoyed your tour around some of the less well frequented parts of Paris.  If you have any more tips, please add them in the comments.

For more travel stories go here.
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  1. I totally agree, I'd much rather collect moments than things, and I love how you have captured so many beautiful memories here. I love Paris, and I love that some of my favourite things have made it onto your list, and that there's lots more things that I haven't done, that I can explore next time I go. Of course, there will be a next time because Paris is always a good idea!

  2. Looks like you guys had the trip of a lifetime hun. What an incredible place to experience with you family. I would love to go back to Paris one day... there is so much I didnt do when I was there an your list is testament to that xx

  3. These are such fabulous tips for Paris. I am definitely saving this for my next trip. I love to find off the beaten path gems and unless you get tips from someone like this it is a matter of stumbling on them yourself. I have done a few of these but am excited to check out a few more.
    Thanks for joining in my #wednesdaywanderlust link party.

  4. Oh Paris! One of my favourite cities. One of my favourite things to do is live like a local and visit the food markets. The Parisians know good food that is for sure.

  5. Cool! I've been to Paris several times but all pre-kids, and I've wondered if my son would find much of interest there once he'd spotted the famous sights he knows from books, but you've convinced me! I love the sailing boat thing, I must coincide a visit to their holidays.

  6. We took our children to Parc Asterix as our middle child loved reading all of the Asterix books. It was fabulous. Very French, in fact there were no English signs etc. It was just like stepping foot inside one of the books. The rides were also excellent.

  7. I adored your Paris posts and the little munchkin who managed to get into most of the photos xxx

  8. I was in Paris so many years ago, you make me feel like going back again! I love all of your suggestions!AriadnefromGreece!

  9. I think I checked off a lot of these on my last visit and could quite happily do it all all over again. But L'Orangerie... I'm not sure I'll ever be allowed in there again. Let's just say, when one trips in a gallery, especially a gallery where Waterlillies decorate almost all the walls, one should not try and use one's hands to break one's fall.

  10. I think the best way to see a new place is to see it on-foot. I do love the sound of the twinkling Eiffel Tower - that's something I would like to see xx

  11. So lovely to see that you really made the most of your time in the city of lights! Would love to have lunch under Madeleine Church...looks amazing!


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