There is never a shortage of things to see and do in the City of Love. From grand palaces and celebrated art museums to beautifully landscaped gardens and romantic walks along the Seine, Paris is teeming with opportunities for exploring. However, there is a lot more to the city than the usual suspects of Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur so I decided to try and get off the beaten track on my latest visit to France’s eclectic capital.
1. Get lost with the skeletons at the Catacombes de Paris
An incredible network of tunnels weaving below the busy Paris streets houses the remains of the city’s dead with around six million bones lining the cool low-ceilinged corridors of the ossuary.
The underground passages were originally used to store remains from overcrowded Paris cemeteries in the late 18th century before becoming a mausoleum and tourist attraction. Walking through the labyrinth of the catacombs is a bit creepy but a fascinating experience nonetheless.
Not for the faint hearted, the Catacombs provide a very a different view of Paris and are a must for those looking for an alternative activity in the city.
Getting there: 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau). Take a metro or the RER train to Denfert-Rochereau. Head to the lion statue in the square and follow the path round. The entrance is in an unassuming green building just off the square.
Admission: €12 adults, children free. 10am-8pm Tue-Sun (closed Monday). Bear in mind that only 200 people are allowed to be in the Catacombs at any one time so queues can be lengthy. There are 130 steps down and 83 steps up and there are no lifts.
2. Get cultured at the Musee D’Orsay
Slip away while the queuing masses snaking around the Louvre Pyramid are not watching and cross the Seine for an alternative art lesson. Musee D’Orsay features a large collection of pieces from the mid 19th century to 1915 over its many floors and is famous for its impressionist and post-impressionist exhibits. Housed in a former railway station, the grand hall and the surrounding galleries contain works from big names such as Van Gogh, Monet and Degas. Discover the museum’s treasures, marvel at the original station clock overlooking the hall or grab a bite at the grand former restaurant of Hotel D’Orsay on site.
Getting there: 62 rue de Lille, 7e. Take the Metro to Assemblee Nationale or walk – the museum is close to the Louvre and just across the river from Jardin des Tuileries. You can’t miss it!
Admission: €12 adults, children free. 9.30am-6pm Tue, Wed & Fri-Sun, to 9.45pm Thu. Buying tickets in advance can save time.
3. Listen to jazz in a medieval dungeon
Hidden just a stone’s throw from Notre Dame, the unassuming doorway of Les Caveau des Oubliettes leads you down towards a spiral stone staircase and into the depths of a 15th century dungeon. It is home to one of the coolest jazz joints in the city and hosts regular events from jam sessions to themed nights. We were treated to the Moovie Funk Band playing their takes on film and TV show themes from 70s and 80s with the likes of Shaft, James Bond and Ghostbusters all getting a jazz treatment. Be prepared to make some new friends as the hosts manage to squeeze an impressive number of people into the chamber. There is also a good selection of drinks.
Getting there: 52, rue Galande. Closest Metro: St Michel/Cluny-La Sorbonne.
Admission: Free entry but you will need to spend at least €5 on a drink once seated. 17:00-02:00 Sunday to Tuesday, 17:00-04:00 Wednesday to Saturday.
4. Eat, eat and eat at Paris’ coolest food market.
Every Thursday and Sunday, Boulevard Richard Lenoir is transformed into one of Paris’ biggest food markets, Marche Bastille, with more produce than you can shake a baguette at. Stalls selling everything from organic vegetables and fresh oysters to the finest cheeses and foix gras combine to offer one of the most authentic Paris experiences. This foodie heaven is a perfect place to grab ingredients for a picnic or treat yourself to a tasty snack from one of the many street food stands. The place doesn’t feel touristy and you could spend hours wandering through its lanes while watching locals haggle with the animated vendors.
Gluten free options are available throughout the market. “Sans gluten?” is a useful phrase to have at your disposal.
Getting there: Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Metro: Bastille or Breguet-Sabin. If heading to the latter, walk a few minutes towards Place de la Bastille and you will see the market.
Admission: Free. The market is open on Thursdays from 07:00-14:30 and Sundays from 07:00-15:00
5. Visit an organic restaurant with a difference
While we are on the subject of food, if you are looking for an alternative to the multitude of identical restaurants crowding around the major landmarks, La Recyclerie might be just the ticket. Located on the site of a former railway station (there is somewhat of a theme with repurposing old stations in Paris), this restaurant-bar-organic farm-grocery store hybrid is as original as it gets. Grab a drink on the terrace overlooking the abandoned tracks or feast on a meal prepared from organic ingredients from the ever-changing menu. Fittingly, your food waste goes to the chickens on the farm. Check out the weekly farmer’s market, get your broken stuff repaired by the in-house DIY expert or just relax among the climbing plants and vintage furniture of this original establishment.
Getting there: 83 boulevard Ornano. Metro: Porte de Clignancourt. Alternatively, it’s a pleasant 20 minute walk from Sacre Couer, through residential neighbourhoods, away from the tourist crowds.
Admission: The menu apparently changes every week. A main course with a pint of beer will set you back less than €20. The farmer’s market takes place on Thursdays.
Do you have any cool tips for alternative things to do in Paris? Let me know!