10 Alternatives to the Traditional Paris Hotspots

In Paris, the top tourist destination in the world, there is an endless list of 'must sees' and things to do. If you’re a first-time visitor or planning a short break, it's easy to find yourself overwhelmed by choice: the art galleries and famous monuments are certainly notable, but it's worth considering veering away from the well-trodden tourist route to get to the heart of the city and the daily life of its residents.

There's a number of different neighbourhoods and districts you can add to your itinerary when you hit the French capital, also known as The City of Light, that offer an alternative to the traditional tourist to-do list. If you want to blend in with the locals and see the real Paris, why not try some of our suggestions below for exploring this chic and eclectic city?

Think about what it is you’re interested in, be it art galleries, running or going to gigs, and then hunt out these spots on your travels - that way you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself and get a real feel for local life. As they say in France, vive la différence!

1 Visit an art gallery with a difference

file Photo courtesy of Bolshakov.

If you want to visit an art gallery with a difference, head to the Palais de Tokyo at 13 Avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th. The gallery is open every day except Tuesdays from midday to midnight and houses some of the most avant-garde art installations the world has seen. Not for everyone of course, but if you are looking for a gallery that is not too crowded and a bit 'off the wall', this is definitely the place to go.

Metro: Iéna and Alma-Marceau.

2 Visit the cinemas in the 5th arrondissement

file Photo courtesy of Groume.

For many of us today the experience of the cinema is one of a multinational multiplex. The era of the locally-owned cinema seems to be part of a rose-tinted past, but not in Paris. Cinemas showing the latest Hollywood releases do exist, but they stand alongside a network of independently owned smaller cinemas. The 5th arrondissement on Paris’ famous Left Bank is home to several of these, most of which show lower budget indie films as well as running regular festivals or reruns of cinema classics. Some of the best include Le Champo (51 Rue des Ecoles, Metro: Odéon/Saint-Michel) and Studio Galande, which holds regular showings of the classic Rocky Horror Picture Show (42 Rue Galande), Metro: Maubert-Mutualité). Le Salon du Panthéon is also worth visiting and you can even drop in for a coffee on their outdoor terrace.

3 Escape the city at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont

file Photo courtesy of Evan Bench.

If you want to escape the buzz of the city for a while, look no further than the tucked away Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Located in the 19th arrondissement in the north-east of the city, this park is most definitely a favourite with locals and ideal if you want to get away from it all, or if you have children who love a bit of exploring. The park features a lake, waterfall, grotto and stunning panoramic views of the city, while remaining far more tranquil than the more central Tuileries Gardens or Jardins du Luxembourg. Simply take the Metro to Buttes Chaumont, or Pryénées, grab a sandwich in the local boulangerie, and enjoy your day!

4 Go to the Marais, but don’t spend too much time there!

Historically the Jewish quarter of Paris, the Marais is today one of the coolest places to see and be seen. Not only that, the district is also one of the few areas that still has the small winding streets that are reminiscent of medieval Paris and is home to the city’s oldest square, the Place des Vosges. While the square is definitely worth a wander, what you really want to do in this district is sample the falafel, explore some the vintage clothes shops and if you are interested, stop by the Musée Carnavalet, which is dedicated to the history of the city. By night the area is a hive of bars and activity but beware, prices don’t come cheap.

Metro: Saint-Paul

5 Don’t go to Versailles, go to Fontainebleau instead


The opulence of Versailles is known the world over, but before kings were having their heads chopped off in France, they were living in the palace of Fontainebleau. While not quite as melodramatic as Versailles, Fontinebleau is a lot less packed and the town of Fontainebleau itself is equally worth a stroll around. To escape the city and visit the palace, take the train to Fontainebleau from Gare de Lyon.

6 Hang out at the Canal St. Martin

file Photo courtesy of Spixey.

There was a time after a certain film by the name of Amelie came out that everyone wanted to visit the colour-saturated city that the film’s protagonist inhabited. For many, the realisation that Paris is not quite as quaint and serene as this film makes out was something of a let-down, but there are still pockets of Amelie’s idyllic lifestyle to be found. The banks of the Canal St-Martin in the 10th arrondissement are one such area: sit out here in summer and watch the world go by. And if you really want to feel like a character in a film, order a pizza for take-away from the Pink Flamingo on Rue Bichat. The server will give you a pretty pink balloon with your order number on it and your pizza will then be delivered to your canal bank destination.

Metro: Goncourt

7 Go for a swim at the Piscine Joséphine Baker

file Photo courtesy of Fernando Mafra.

You may not realise it, but Paris is actually a city with a surprising number of high-quality swimming pools. One such gem is the Piscine Joséphine Baker which is located on the banks of the River Seine. Or to be most specific, floating majestically in the river, as the pool and solarium are in fact built in a building suspended in the water. When the sun is shining, the retractable roof is pulled back, giving swimmers the feeling that they are gliding along the city’s famous river - in much cleaner, warmer water!

Metro: Quai de la Gare

8 Skip the Louvre, go to the Musée de l’Orangerie

file Photo courtesy of mckrista1976.

Almost all of us will have stopped off in an art gallery on our travels, but if we are honest, most of us are not art aficionados. The Louvre, with its almost unending collection of works, is not for the faint-hearted. The hours of queueing, walking and most likely more queueing to see the gallery’s most famous works will leave even the most hardened of travellers exhausted. If this prospect sounds a bit intimidating for you or if you simply haven’t the time, why not go to the much smaller but equally exquisite Musée de l’Orangerie instead. Located within the Tuileries Gardens, the gallery housing the priceless collection of Monet’s water lilies. The canvases themselves have a strikingly calming effect on their viewers and this gallery features none of the pushing and shoving that goes on around the Louvre’s famous corridors.

Metro: Concorde

9 Get a change of scenery at Bercy

file Photo courtesy of art Buck.

If the look and feel of Paris’ architecture becomes a bit monotone for you, why not head down to the Bercy neighbourhood and sample some more modern vistas. By the riverside the district houses some of the city’s newest and most impressive architecture, including the Piscine Joséphine Baker but also the Bibliothèque François Mitterand and the pedestrian bridge, Pasarelle Simone de Beauvoir.

Metro: Bibliotheque Mitterand

10 Hide away in Sugar Plum Café

file Photo courtesy of Sugar Plum Cakeshop.

The ex-pat in you has to take your hat off to the owners of Sugar Plum at 68 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. With a smaller team of committed American cake decorators, the warm, cosy atmosphere of Sugar Plum is a world away from the busy streets outside. A favourite with students at the nearby Sorbonne campus as much as with locals, this café has some of the best cakes in the city. Be warned however, spaces are limited so it can be hard to get a table.

Metro: Cardinal Lemoine or Place Monge

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