When you spend the duration of high school and college learning about the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Paris’s many other alluring landmarks, it’s damn near impossible not to make a beeline to them as soon as you arrive.
Then, you see the absurd lines, feel the summer sun beating on your head, and say to yourself, “What in the actual hell am I doing here?”
Here’s the thing. Landmarks are easy to teach about, because they’re huge and significant. But there’s so much more to Paris than standing on a plaza for three hours, sweating and risking pickpocketing and – possibly – a panic attack.
La Petite Ceinture
If you want isolation in the middle of a crowded city, here you go. La Petite Ceinture is a stretch of abandoned railway track cutting through the center of Paris. Part of the line was repurposed into the elegant Promenade Plantée (the inspiration for NYC’s Highline), while part of it was left to drift into both disrepair and the urban art scene.
The best entry point we found was walking down Rue Florian in the 20th. Once you make your way onto the tracks, the graffiti is vibrant and absolutely stunning, as are the huge beds of brightly-colored flowers planted on either side of some portions of the track. You get to see abandoned stations and metal stairways turned into homages to old bike parts. It honestly has to be seen to be believed.
Caveat: We probably wouldn’t recommend going alone, if only because you’re extremely isolated on many parts of the track, so – god forbid shit gets real – you’re kind of on your own.
If the Petite Ceinture is an interpretation of the past by the present – wild, free, and bright – La Galcante is an actual TARDIS. When you walk in, you’re gently enveloped by the smell of old paper and ink, and for good reason. The small shop is stacked floor to ceiling with and lined with tables of labeled boxes of international publications, most often 20th-21st century, but many older than that.
When we visited, we shared the space with the proprietor and his wife and tiny daughter, and another girl who, earbuds in, was perusing boxes of 1960s pubs. If you can’t find a price, just talk to Jacques – the proprietor – and in his fantastic English, he’ll help you out. Just make sure you wear a watch or have your phone close at hand when you visit – all that old paper is quicksand to the history-lover, and the more you explore, the harder it will be to leave in a timely fashion! At least, that was our experience…
Jardin du Sacré Coeur
EVERYONE knows Sacré Coeur is a must-see in Paris. Duh. But one thing we noticed is that everyone walks up the front way – you know, the way lined with grifters and fifty bajillion stairs (or the shuttle that requires a metro ticket). But did you know you can navigate the back streets of Montmartre and come up behind Sacré Coeur?
We spent a day hiking around the beautiful, curving streets of Montmartre, picked up some charcuterie and fromage to go from a few local spots, and headed up to the garden behind Sacré Coeur for an informal picnic.
As many tourists as there were out front – and dear god, you could drown in a crowd that big – there were that few hanging around the garden in the back. A few kids kicking a soccer ball around, a few couples enjoying the sun, and a couple of musicians practicing Spanish guitar under a tree. It was absolutely beautiful, and a wonderful way to see one of Paris’s most beautiful landmarks in a quiet, unconventional way.
Google some lists of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and two things will happen. A) You’ll find the Richelieu Library, and B) you’ll be ready to pack your bags and start hunting them down.
We spent a day walking around some of the more touristy areas of the city, and made a stop at the Richelieu Library. After passing a security checkpoint, you pass through a courtyard where locals hang out and lunch. When you go into the library, you unfortunately can’t head into the most beautiful reading rooms without a library card – which requires some serious planning to obtain. However, you are permitted to hang out in a small, cordoned-off area just inside the doors to the reading room, so you are fully able to experience just how beautiful – and silent – the place is.
If many of the locations on this list are “off the beaten track” because they’re isolated or not yet popular, Rue Crémieux breaks that mold. Hiding in plain sight in the middle of the 12th arrondissement is this precious pedestrian street, which has been compared to London’s Notting Hill, and it’s the pop of color any trip to Paris needs. Full of brightly painted facades, beautiful planters, and trompe l’oeil artwork, Rue Crémieux almost requires that you bring your camera.
Just beware, word has gotten out about this adorable spot, so if you’re looking for shots or an experience sans tons of pedestrians, you’ll either want to arrive early in the morning, or simply ramp up your patience.
Also published on Medium.