5 Unconventional Things To Do In Paris

From the covered passages to the Butte aux Cailles district, visiting Paris is as much a journey through time as a vacation. Discover where to go to submerge yourself in an authentic atmosphere and soak up the history of the city through these unconventional places.
Author's Avatar
5 Unconventional Things To Do In Paris

When you think of Paris, there are a few iconic places which undoubtedly spring to mind: The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. Nonetheless, it’s probably fair to say that most Parisians have never climbed up the Eiffel Tower and have rarely set foot on the Champs-Élysées, let alone the Arc de Triomphe. If you want to discover the City of Lights from a different perspective, why not take a stroll past these five unique places recommended by a real Parisian!

1. Walk The Covered Passages Of Paris

During the first half of the 19th century, a few decades before the golden age of department stores, covered passages began to appear in Paris — predominantly along the right-hand bank of the Seine, where most of the affluent neighborhoods are. With glass panes and iron supports, the design of the covered passages is reminiscent of the dream of a century dedicated to technological progress, marking the start of the Industrial Revolution. Even though most of these passages are no longer standing, you can still walk through three districts in one stretch, almost unbroken, passing from one covered passage to another; from the Verdeau Passage to the Gallerie Vivienne. Beautiful storefronts and restaurants are prominent throughout the passages, along with the glass ceilings, ornate floors and gilded walls of the aging storefronts. A modern-day stroll here will take you on a journey through time.

2. The Rooftop Of The Arab World Institute

Paris’s rooftops boast a certain charm and are, without doubt, one of the most beautiful things to see in the city. Many of the viewpoints allow you to take in stunning panoramic sights, with Belleville and Montmartre among the most famous. The Arab World Institute’s panoramic terrace is a little less renowned. It is directly opposite Notre-Dame Cathedral, so you can admire a bird’s eye view of this dazzling landmark. It is also worth mentioning that the Institute, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, is an architectural gem in its own right.

3. Bakeries

Bakeries are national institutions in Paris, so visiting them is a must. Strictly regulated by French law, the titles of boulangerie (bakery), boulanger (baker) or even tradition ensure that the established, centuries-old know-how is passed on to future generations. Before leaving, you should try the best baguette in the city, which is actually a prize that’s awarded to a new bakery every year. However, don’t despair if you can’t make it to this specific one: wherever you end up, excellence is the norm in all traditional Parisian bakeries!

4. The Butte aux Cailles District

Just outside the city center in Paris, the Butte aux Cailles is like a village within a city. Populated by connoisseurs from all sorts of backgrounds, this cobbled-street district boasts a bohemian and quirky flair, which has largely disappeared from the rest of Paris. Half-timbered houses, climbing vines and renovated former workers’ houses create corners reminiscent of a village from centuries ago. From street art to trendy cafés and individual boutiques, this unique district emits a peaceful vibe and is the perfect spot to get away from it all in the midst of the Parisian hubbub.

5. The Abbesses District

If you are visiting Montmartre, why not extend your trip a little further out towards the Abbesses District? Along with secondhand and vintage shops cropping up all over the place, Studio 28 is also in this area, designed by the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau at the end of the 1920s. The cinema hall and building have been partially renovated, but the decor is all still original — ensuring the venue retains its air of authenticity. There is also a winter garden where you can enjoy a glass of wine. It’s a haven of peace in the heart of this lively part of the city.

Bonus Suggestion for Early Birds:

6. A Sunrise Stroll Along The Seine

If you’re a (very) early riser and enjoy the peace and stillness of the early hours, sunrise is the ideal time for a stroll along the banks of the Seine. This journey will take you past the Tuileries Palace and the Eiffel Tower, as well as other striking monuments in the city — reminders of the opulent eras in France’s history. From Henry IV to Napoleon, each ruler left his mark on the city and contributed to turning Paris’s river into a site of beauty to attract and impress visitors. And nobody can deny that it worked! If you’d rather not do the whole course on foot, you can take a ride on one of the bateaux-mouche river boats and enjoy the panoramic views from the water.

Speak French like you've always wanted to!
Start here with Babbel
Pick a language to speak