Feel, taste and experience the City of Light and Love from a more intimate angle. Ten less touristy things to do in Paris that include discovery, shopping, food exploration, architecture observation and the good old comedy laughter. Whatever you chose to do, make sure it is something you LOVE doing!
1 – Explore the Parisian Passages
The Parisian passages are the hidden gems of the French capital. Tourists often neglect them for the sole reason of not knowing they exist! Their construction is dated back to 1800s and some of them have an interesting story. Generally, they were made to employ unused spaces between buildings and created a sort of covered shopping centres. The charm of these places in our days is that many of them kept their decorations and even some businesses still run in their original premises as they did a century ago.
2 – Dive into the Exotic Fabric Universe
If you are a woman who likes fashion, one of the less touristy things you can do in Paris is … going shopping! You probably will enjoy visiting some of the colourful, several-storey fabric shops in the centre of Paris. Conveniently situated in the streets around the popular Cathedral Sacre Coeur, these stores are here from a long, long time. Carrying the fashionable spirit of Paris, now they continue to be a favourite place for the local ladies.
The best shop is Tissus Raine. Have you read the Emile Zola’s ‘Au Bonheur des Dames’? Here you will find a similar world of ladies’ happiness he describes in his book. There are several more fabric shops that you can check around.
3 – Visit the Oldest Restaurant in Paris
Although ‘Le Procope’ is known among the tourists, it is not a popular tourist spot. Visiting this restaurant in the heart of the Latin Quarter gives you the chance to feel the atmosphere of the time of the young Napoleon Bonaparte. The story says that he liked to meet here his peers long before he became the Emperor of France.
4 – (Window) Shop at Gallerie Lafayette
Relatively popular because of its luxurious interior, Gallery Lafayette should be visited by the curious travel ladies even if they don’t like crowded places. This shopping centre is an institution. Like the Harrods in London, the gallery keeps the history of a time when the abundant richness of decoration was a norm not only in the building construction but also in fashions trends and any other part of the rich’s lifestyle. The gallery was created with the idea to be a luxury bazaar that ‘wows the crowds’ and it is safe to say that still fulfils its purpose.
5 – Try an Ancient Meal
Are you an adventurous eater? Do you want to try something really traditional that it’s not spread all over the world like the croissants? Try ‘La tete de veau ravigote’! In translation from French, it means ‘the head of veal’ and it’s exactly this. The ‘ravigote’ is the sauce in which it is served. But don’t believe that you will have the head of an animal on your plate! You can find one of the best ‘tete de veau ravigote’ at Le Soleil d’Austerlitz, a brasserie near the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris.
6 – Attend a Comedy in Montmartre
If you understand French (or even not), you can enjoy visiting one of the local’s favourite comedy venues in the historical Montmartre quarter. Au Lapin Agile is an old (opened since 1860) and famous cabaret. It was a favourite place for artists like Picasso and Modigliani. In our days, it still continues to entertain its visitors.
7 – Meet the Bouquinistes
You can pass by the numerous stalls along River Seine selling books without knowing that this is another of the iconic landmarks of Paris. The ‘bouquinistes’ stalls, not far from Notre Dame Cathedral, look like just another souvenir shops line. But they have been here for many generations, to be precise – from the 15th century – and are sort of a traditional institution. In the past, except books, these small kiosks sold political pamphlets as well. “The bouquinistes” (literally “the booksellers”) definitely played an important role during the period of the French Revolution! Today, second hands books and Paris souvenirs are sold side by side. You just have to look for the little hidden gems – rare antique books, between the abundance of items.
8 – Buy a Special Gift to Share
Dammann Teas was founded in 1692 when King Louis 14th granted Sir Damame the exclusive rights to sell tea in France. I was happy to find one of their shops in Paris, at Place de Vosges, because the teas they sell are one of the best you can find worldwide! They have delicate tastes and the finest aromas. A box of their finest tea is one of the best souvenirs you can buy from Paris – a souvenir that you can share with friends, and every time you have a tea you will remember the finesse you find only in France!
9 – Buy Macarons – but not from Laduree!
Speaking of the finest tastes and sensual experiences, you can’t go to Paris without trying some of the world-wide famous French macarons. Often, internationally the name of the brand Laduree comes up as “the best”. But the French people don’t agree with this. I guess this brand has better marketing.
The true Parisiаns get their macarons from Maison Georges Larnicol. You will find one of their shops at 132 Blvd. Saint-Germain, not far from the restaurant Le Procope and Odeon metro station.
10 – Find the Wallace Fountains
If you are an observant traveller, you will probably see some of these beautiful fountains painted in dark-green. They are one of the symbols of the city even if not so famous as the Eiffel Tower. The story behind their construction is beautiful as well as their design – philanthropy and a feel of moral duty for the lower classes were the main reasons why these fountains appeared on the streets of Paris.
This list of less touristy things to do in Paris represents just a small part of all things you can experience at the destination. There are always ways to see a place with different eyes, to experience it in a different way. To have a ‘local’ experience you just have to be a curious traveller and look for the non-obvious side of the things.
For further reading on unusual places in Paris, check this book: Curiosities of Paris: An idiosyncratic guide to overlooked delights… hidden in plain sight
Would you like to join these tours while in Paris?