Everyone knows the world-famous Paris landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees – but there is so much to Paris beyond that! Here are some of my favorite lesser-known attractions and activities in this beautiful city.
Opera Garnier – This is easily my favorite attraction in Paris, but so few people even know about it, let alone visit it! Lovers of architecture will appreciate the stunning interiors, and fans of literature or theater will appreciate that this is the home of the Phantom of the Opera (his box, Number 5, even has a special plaque declaring its owner). If you’re a history buff, make sure to take the guided tour available in English Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. There are so many interesting stories and French history tied into the building that will give you an even greater appreciation of all this lovely building has to offer. Especially don’t miss the grand hallway, which in my opinion is even prettier (and certainly far less crowded) than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Galeries Lafayette – Paris’ largest and most beautiful department store (located behind Opera Garnier) offers a lot more than just shopping. It’s worth visiting just to see the beautiful interior atrium, which is surrounded by gilded gold balconies and topped with a stained glass dome. You can also get some Pierre Hermes macarons by the massive underground shoe department, sip some traditional French-style hot chocolate at the famous Angelina restaurant on the 1st floor, grab some souvenirs on the 6th floor, and see the most beautiful view of Paris’ skyline on the rooftop terrace. Some of my favorite photos (like these and these) have been taken from that terrace. There is also a small high-end cafe where you can grab a glass of champagne or a light snack or a kiosk where you can grab a cup of coffee or some ice cream (there’s also a Starbucks and a McDonalds a few floors down where you can grab something to go and enjoy it on the roof).
Metro: Chaussee d’Antin-Lafayette or Havre-Caumartin
Pont Alexandre III – The bridge, a popular location for movies and TV shows, is far and away Paris’ most beautiful bridge. It is lined with massive wrought iron lampposts with huge globes that light up at sunset, making for incredible photos, and has a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower. Below the bridge, on the edges of the Seine, there are a number of outdoor bars and restaurants where the 20something and 30something crowd gathers after work each day to relax (also known as Les Berges). There are beanbags, benches, and lawn chairs available to recline in, and you can either order something from one of the businesses there or bring your own wine and snacks to save a little money. This is my favorite place to be in the evenings around sunset after a long day of walking around – the view is breathtaking and the people watching is fantastic.
Les Invalides – The complex at Invalides has a number of interesting and diverse attractions that will appeal to a variety of types. The huge gold dome that this area is famous for is the top of Napoleon’s Tomb, the final resting place of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte. Though it sounds morbid, it’s actually quite beautiful to see and offers some interesting historical insights. The complex also houses the Army Museum, which has weapons, armor, and other war-related paraphernalia dating back many many centuries. There is a really fascinating wing dedicated to the World Wars that I found especially interesting, and many placards and videos are offered in English. The park in front of Invalides is a very popular place for picnics (there are several bakeries and take-away food shops located on the streets around the park), and a great place to kick back and rest your feet for awhile. On the back side of the complex, the Rodin Museum has a truly incredible sculpture garden and is a must-see on Wednesday nights when the museum is open until 8:45 PM if you are here in the fall or spring when the sunset is earlier in the evening.
Metro (multiple options): Invalides for the park, La Tour-Maubourg or Varenne for the Army Museum, Varenne for the Rodin Museum
Le Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen – The Marche aux Puces is the largest flea market in Europe, and in fact the term “flea market” comes from this very institution. This massive market is full of everything from vintage jewelry to couture consignment handbags and clothes to artwork to furniture to knick-knacks and everything in between. Every time I venture out to the market I find something beautiful and unexpected – in my last few trips I’ve nabbed a Victorian-era sterling silver sewing ket, a heliograph printing of Paris during the 1889 World’s Fair, a variety pack of Limoges handpainted plates, and a pristine Hermes scarf. For more information see this blog post.
Metro: Porte de Clignacourt