10 Unique things to do in Paris
Visiting Paris is a unique experience. To me, it is the most beautiful city in the world and without a doubt the best place to visit. If you are planning a visit to Paris, of course, you should visit all those famous places and landmarks that everyone knows about, since they are definitely worth your time. However, if you want to dive deeper into the city and get to know it a little better, or even if you have been there a few times and are looking for new experiences, here are a few alternative things, that are definitely worth your time.
1. Visit the Pantheon
«Aux grandes hommes, la patrie reconnaissante » reads the inscription outside of Pantheon, which means that the country is grateful to the great people of the nation. The inscription outside Soufflot's grandiose building is revealing of its purpose. Indeed, the Pantheon (a word of Greek origin, that means "all the gods") is a building dedicated to honoring the great French personalities that shaped the national identity of the country. The Pantheon is a less known parisian landmark, very worthy of your time.
On the ground floor, you can see paintings of the lives of Sainte Genevieve and Saint Denis. In the middle of the ground floor, you can see live the famous Foucault pendulum. A copy of the original device, designed by the great physicist, Léon Foucault, at 1851, as an experiment to prove the rotation of the earth. It consists of a large ball suspended from the ceiling, that perpetually swings, and from a disk that is set on the floor, indicating the north and the south poles. As the earth turns around itself, the ball marks different parts of the circle. Therefore, Foucault manages to prove, that the earth moves round itself. However, you have to stay there for several hours to witness the change, since it takes 24 hours for the disk to complete a full rotation.
In the crypt at the basement of the building, you can visit the tombs of the most emblematic personalities, that shaped France's national identity. Among those personalities are included the two emblematic philosophers of the Enlightenment, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, eminent authors, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas, the father of french socialism, Jean Jaurés, and scientists Pierre and Marie Curie (the only woman buried in the crypt and honored in this monument).
Finally, if you visit between March and October, you can have access to the top of the building, and enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the entire city from this viewpoint.
The Pantheon is situated just opposite the entrance of the world-famous Sorbonne University, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. You can combine your visit to the Pantheon with a stroll around the famous Quartier Latin, that surrounds the area, or visit the Place de Pantheon, where the students of the Law School of Sorbonne University usually hang out.
Another option would be to visit the famous Jardin de Luxembourg that is situated just opposite the entrance of the Pantheon and stroll around the beautiful gardens. My favorite thing to do, during the spring and summer months, after finishing my classes at the Sorbonne, was to buy an Amorino ice cream (the insta famous flower-shaped ice creams) and enjoy it strolling around the Jardin de Luxembourg.
The third option, which can be combined with the other two, would be to walk down the Boulevard Saint Michel, which will lead you to Notre Dame.
The Pantheon is situated on the 5th Arrondissement of Paris and it is accessible with line RER B, station Luxembourg.
2. Find the Zero Point of Paris.
While you are visiting Notre Dame, do not forget to find the Zero Point of Paris. The zero point, is considered to be the center of Paris and this signifies two things. First of all, it is the center, around which all the arrondissements of Paris are designed. Secondly, it is the point of reference of any distance from Paris, which means that, when you hear someone saying that this place is x kilometers away from Paris, it means that it is x kilometers away from this exact zero point of the city.
The Zero point is situated just outside the entrance of Notre Dame, and it is not noticed by many people. You have to look around for a while until you find it. It is definitely worth the search if you find yourself visiting the great Parisian Cathedral.
Bonus tip: just opposite Notre Dame, you can visit the famous Shakespeare and Co bookshop, a Parisian place that has been featured in many movies, such as Midnight in Paris, Julie & Julia, and Before Sunset. It is the only shop in Paris where you can speak English without getting annoyingly looked at!
You can access Notre Dame with line RER C, RER B, station St Michel - Notre Dame and line 4, station StMichel.
3. Visit the catacombs
If you are fearless enough and are searching for alternative things to do, visiting the catacombs is clearly the best experience for you.
The first bones were thrown here haphazardly into an abandoned quarry shaft. It was only around the year 1810 that Héricart de Thury developed this area. The long bones and skulls were arranged decoratively to form a back wall behind which the other bones are piled. These bone walls were called hagues, making reference to the walls built in the quarries using the stones remaining from the quarry operations.
In the late eighteenth century, when major public health problems tied to the city’s cemeteries led to a decision to transfer their contents to an underground site. This is why they thought of creating a network of underground tunnels, the catacombs, where they put the remains of Parisians. The first bones were thrown here haphazardly into an abandoned quarry shaft. It was only around the year 1810 that Héricart de Thury developed this area. The long bones and skulls were arranged decoratively to form a back wall behind which the other bones are piled. These bone walls were called hagues, making reference to the walls built in the quarries using the stones remaining from the quarry operations. Until today, new branches of those tunnels are being discovered.
Open for visit is only a small branch of the tunnels, of 1,5 km length. You can take the visit, if you are fearless enough, where you can see the remains of millions of Parisians stored up in intricate constructions. Warning: it is a pretty intense tour. Even if you have seen the photos, it is when you are in there that realization hits you, that you are surrounded by hundreds of skeletons of real human beings. That can potentially trigger many philosophical and existential thoughts about who we are, what we are made of, what is the point of life and how we should eventually enjoy it. It is undoubtedly a very unique and alternative visit!
On that note, another thing that you should know is that you have to be determined for the visit, since, once you are in, there is no way out!!! What I mean, is that it is a 1,5 km long circuit, where you enter from one side and get out on the other and it lasts about 1 hour. Therefore, once you have started the visit, there is no turning back, you have to exit the other way. In fact, there is a final warning just outside the entrance of the tunnel, writing: “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort”, meaning: “Stop! Here is the empire of death”!
What you should know before your visit:
If you are thinking about visiting the catacombs, I strongly advise you to book your visit online from their official website, in order to avoid the long waiting line of tourists at the ticket desk, which is very long, especially during the busy months.
You can access the catacombs with Metro lines 4,6 and RER B, station Denfert - Rochereau.
4. Stroll around Père-Lachaise cemetery
In the spirit of spooky activities you can do in Paris, another unique and interesting visit would be the Père Lachaise cemetery, the biggest cemetery in Paris, situated in the 20th arrondissement. And if you are wondering why would you want to visit yet another place full of dead people, it’s because there you can find the final resting place of many famous personalities, like Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Frederic Chopin, Honoré de Balzac, Georges Bizet, Auguste Comte, Eugène Delacroix, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Gioachino Rossini and many more.
In fact, this cemetery, is like no other, since you can explore an interesting side about French culture, and come close to their customs.
You can combine your visit to the cemetery, with a stroll around canal St Martin, which is a very beautiful and not so touristy place of the city.
The cemetery is accessible by lines of the Metro, station "Père-Lachaise".
5. Take pastry classes from famous chefs
One of the greatest things about visiting France, is French patisserie. In Paris, there are everywhere boulangeries with delicious pastries and more gourmand patisseries, with delicious and intricate sweets. Among the most famous Patisseries, is the Maison Ladurée, which makes the world-famous marisian macarons in a very wide range of tastes that is famous for the characteristic light green boxes, they pack them in. In fact, the patisserie often makes collaborations with designers and fashion houses and comes up with amazing boxes (of which I am an avid collector).
Another famous patissier is Pierre Hermé, which also makes original macarons, as well as the most delicious chocolates and sweets, among which he is known for his deux mille feuilles and his eclairs. Finally, we have my personal favorite patissier, Christophe Michalak, who makes very modern and amazing sweets.
As a visitor, you can enjoy those amazing sweet creations, but, what if I told you that you could actually register in some masterclasses, to discover some of the secrets of French Patisserie?
In fact, there are many pastry chefs that organize masterclasses, where they share tips about their sweet creations. A personal favorite that stands out and that it is definitely worth your money if you are into this kind of thing, is Cristophe Michalack’s masterclasses. Michalak, was awarded as the best pastry chef in the world, in a French competition, and the fact that he has masterclasses, where he shares his delicious recipes is a unique opportunity since you can literally learn from the best. You can visit his official website, for more information.
6. Visit the National Library
One of the treasures of Paris, which is not often visited by tourists, is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which hosts a great collection of books and audiovisual means, even an archive of videogames that you can play with! Even if you do not plan on consulting the contents of the library, a visit there would definitely be worth your time.
The construction of this library was envisioned by the late President François Mitterrand (whose name it bears), who personally selected the procejt of the Architect Dominique Perrault, among others, to host the history of french culture. It is constructed by four skyscrapers that are placed in the four coins of a rectangular shape. It is located in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris, in a very alternative neighborhood, surrounded by modern buildings, juxtaposing the classic buildings that you see in the city center. It is in a very interesting neighborhood, and it is definitely worth visiting.
You can relax on the steps of the building, towards the banks of Seine, where there are usually students sitting, taking their break, or enjoying the view of the river.
You can combine your visit to the National Library with a promenade down the banks of the Seine. Personally, I enjoy very much starting my day by working for a few hours in the library and in the evening, enjoying my lunch at a bateau mouche and then walking along the banks of the river until the Eiffel Tower. Disclaimer: the walk from the National Library to the Eiffel Tower is about an 8-kilometer walk, but totally worth it, during the spring and summer evenings.
It is accessible with Metro lines 14 and RER C, station "Bibliotheque - François Mitterrand" and Metro line 6, station Quai de la Gare.
7. Visit the Parc d’Asterix
When planning a visit to Paris, many visitors, especially families with children, consider it a must to visit Disneyland. Without a doubt, Disneyland is a magical place, that enchants children and surprises grownups with how well thought and precise everything is and it is definitely worth visiting. Did you know, however, that there is another amusement park in Paris, which is equally fun and somewhat less children-oriented? This is the Park d’ Asterix.
As can be deducted by the name, it is a themed park, referring to the famous animated series Asterix and Obelix and it contains many attractions and activities, including roller coasters and many more. In fact, this park is less children-oriented, and it features attractions and games with more adrenaline, that can be appreciated more by adults. Just like Disneyland, it also includes restaurants and hotels, so that families can have all the necesary services close by.
If you have been to Disneyland many times and are searching for something alternative, but quite as much fun, you should definitely try this Park.
It costs less than Disneyland, the individual ticket varying around 53 euros. You can find out more about the park and plan your visit in their official website.
8. Visit the Centre Pompidou
While the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay host the art history of the art of France and other great civilizations, the Centre Pompidou is a living cultural space, that brings together different forms of art and literature, exhibiting modern art and hosting current exhibitions.
The Centre was built by GTM and it was completed in 1977. The building itself is a great landmark of modern construction, with industrial elements. In fact, it is an "inside-out" building, having the structural and mechanical systems exposed on the exterior of the building. All of the functional elements of the buildign are color coded. Therefore, the green pipes signify the plumbing, the blue ducts serve for climate control, the electrical qires are yellow and the circulation elemenst are in red. The way to ascend the building is through a ladder, that is in the shape of a tube, adjusted to the outside of the building. This enables the visitor to have a panoramic view of the entire city, from the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre to the Eiffel Tower. The building was not welcomed warmly by parisians, (just like the Eiffel Tower), who were skeptical about its aesthetic value.
The Centre Pompidou hosts the Public Information library, the National Museum of Modern Art (Musée National d'Art Moderne), the largest modern art museum in Europe, and a center for music and acoustic research. It takes its name by the French President Georges Pompidou, who comissioned it.
In the Museum of Modern Art, that is housed in the building, you can find installations and works of art from many modern and contemporary artists, including Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, André Breton, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and many more.
The building is situated in Le Marais, a very unique neighborhood of Paris. Therefore, you can combine your visit with a stroll around this beautiful area, where you can find art galleries, small Parisian boutiques with unique items, thrift stores, and very nice cafés and restaurants.
The building is accessible with lines of Metro RER A, RER B, RER D, 1, 4, 7, 11, 14, station "Châtelet - Les Halles".
9. Οrganize a photoshoot with a profesionnal photographer
A visit to Paris could be a great opportunity to fill your social media with great images and create great memories. If photography not your area of expertise, if you don’t have the equipment, or if you want a professional touch, you should consider contacting a professional photographer to take your photos with the beautiful landmarks of Paris. In fact, there are many talented freelancer photographers in Paris, that offer their services by organizing professional photoshoots. I do not have any specific recommendations for you, but if you visit tripadvisor.com, you will find many offers to choose from.
10. Enjoy a glass of wine or a nice meal at the Tour Montparnasse
While reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower offers you a magnificent view of the entire city, reaching the top of Tour Montparnasse gives you the most magnificent view of the most famous landmark of the City, the Eiffel Tower itself, as well as the entire city. Located just opposite the Eiffel Tower, the Tour Montparnasse, is definitely worth a visit.
The 210 meters tall Tour Montparnasse is the 2nd tallest skyscraper in Paris, and the 14th tallest in Europe. It is comprised of 59 floors and hosts mainly working spaces, as well as a shopping center on the ground floor. The 56th floor, as well as the deck are accessible for a visit by tourists, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city, including the best, in my opinion, view of the Eiffel Tower. There are all sorts of interactive displays to help you explore Paris, such as augmented reality panoramas, interactive kiosks and quizzes, an exhibition of archive photos of Paris, and more. The ticket for the top floor costs about 18 euros and you can buy them either online from their official website, or at the entrance of the building.
However, I have a bonus tip for you. On the 56th floor of the building, there is a very nice restaurant, where you can enjoy your meal, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. You can make a reservation for a table next to the window, in order to have a full view. However, since not many people know that there is a restaurant in the building, it is not often full, especially in early afternoon, if you go for an apero. The prices, are not very high, considering the magnificent view it offers. If you go for a drink, the price per person will be equal to the ticket for the top floor. So, it is on you to decide which option you will take.
I would advise you to plan your visit to the Tour Montparnasse in the afternoon, just before the sun is about to set. That way, you can enjoy the magnificent view both during daylight, as well as during the dark, and make the most out of your visit. Bonus tip: in the evening, if you are close to the full hour, you can catch a glimpse of the famous glitter of the Eiffel Tower, since, every full hour and for only 5 minutes, the glitter lights turn on and the Tower looks like a feast.
The Tour Montparnasse is accessible by Metro lines 4,6,12,13 at Station: "Montparnasse-Bienvenüe" and by Bus lines:
28, 58, 82, 88, 89, 91, 92, 94, 95 and 96.
11. Visit Parc de Sceaux
Paris is full of beautiful Parks that embellish the city center, with greenery and flowers, where you can stop for a relaxed moment and enjoy the calmness. While those parks are very beautiful, there is a very unique park in the South of the City, under the 14th Arrondissement. It is Park de Sceaux, the biggest park in the city, and my personal favorite.
It is a historic parc, that was restored during the 1930s and it now constitutes a great urban park with great biodiversity in its natural space. It hosts a chateau, build in the 19th century and a museum that hosts precious collections, that evoke the history of the site and its owners. It has also two beautiful pavillions and great gardens.
After visiting the museum, you can walk around the gardens, and enjoy the Parisian nature. There are animals, and many varieties of plants, including a field with cherry blossom trees that bloom during spring months and create a magnificent scenery (which inspired the name of this blog!)
The visit to this park will definitely take a few hours, so I would advise you to visit it if you have a few extra days that you want to fill, since I do not think that it is worth missing out on the other landmarks of the city.
What is more, there are only two little kiosks offering food and beverages, at the two main entrances, so, you should be prepared with your own food for a picnic.
The park is accessible with line RER B, of the Metro, stations Parc de sceaux, and Sceaux et La croix de Berny.
If you have decided to dedicate your day to a visit to the south of the City and park de Sceaux, you can combine it, with a visit to the Arboretum de la Valée-Aux-Loups (see the video above), which is situated within a walking distance from the Parc de Sceaux. It is a beautiful botanical garden, that features many varieties of plants, from different parts of the world. It contains lakes and animals and constitutes a fairytale, calm scenery. There you can also find the house of Chateaubriand, and enjoy a handmade pastry at the beautiful coffee shop hidden in the park. When you wander around this park, you definitely forget that you are in one of the biggest Metropolis in Europe and think that you are in the countryside. This park is definitely worth a visit and a very unique experience if you have some extra days in the city. It is accessible by foot from the Parc de Sceaux. If you want to access it from the city center by public transportation, it is accessible by RER B, station Robinson and from there walk for about 20 minutes. For more information about the access see here.
If you need more information on those activities you are very welcome to contact me here or via DM on Instagram and I would be very glad to help you out!
Have you discovered any other unusual things to do in Paris? Let me know in the comments below. If you want more daily updates on Parisian lifestyle follow me on instagram.
CHERRY BLOSSOM IN PARIS