The City of Lights for introverts: Paris off the beaten track

Tucked away alley leading to La Galcante

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.

 

La Galcante

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.

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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.

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Richelieu Library

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.

 

Rue Crémieux

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.

23 Replies to “The City of Lights for introverts: Paris off the beaten track”

  1. The Richelieu Library would probably be the first place I would go! I love historical places, and any that has that many books…J’adore!

    1. It’s exquisite! The folks we happened to be next to in the viewing area were actually historians coming to “pay homage”, which I thought was just great 🙂

  2. This is a really cool guide! I prefer getting off the beaten path when I travel. I have always wanted to visit the monet gardens somewhere outside of Paris. I feel like that would also be a great place for introverts to feel at home in.

    1. Thank you!! Even though it’s on our list of to-dos, we didn’t make it out to Giverny (to be honest, we were a little afraid of the crowds in the middle of June). But there’s so much greenery and so many little random, public gardens in Paris, that it kind of made up for it 🙂

  3. This certainly sounds as if it was an interesting experience.

    1. It definitely was! One of my favorite destinations, for sure 🙂

  4. That’s awesome that you pointed out Rue Crémieux in the 12th arrondisement. I used to live in Paris in the 12th and so much of it is picturesque and off the beaten path. These are great hidden gems you’ve highlighted in the City of Lights.

    1. Thank you so much! We had so much fun poking around the city – all those little nooks and crannies make it so much more magical than just sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower… even though that has its own charm 🙂

  5. These are great tips! The Petite Ceinture sounds lovely, and I had no idea Sacre Coeur even had a back way – next time I go to Paris I definitely need to explore more!

    1. Honestly, we found the back way by accident – we’d been at a little patisserie in Montmartre and decided to head over to Sacreé Coeur. The rest was Google Maps and luck! 😀

  6. Hmmm. Never imagined introverts and Parisian to go hand in hand:) Anyway jokes apart, nice write up on the off the beaten paths! Kudos!

    1. Hah! That’s fair, but one could argue it’s easier for an introvert to hide in a crowd 😉 Thank you for your kind words!

  7. Totally agree that there’s so much more to Paris than the iconic landmarks – though these do need to be visited, I had the same reaction as you when I saw the lines!!

    Thanks for these really cool insights – La Petite Ceinture looks fascinating, and what a great place to go to get away from the crowds. And awesome tip about enjoying Sacré Coeur I from the garden in the back – I’ve actually not seen photos from that perspective.

    Appreciate these tips!

    1. The iconic places definitely do need to be seen… but oh, the humanity! hah I’m glad some of these spots resonated with you – they certainly made our trip all the more vibrant! 🙂

  8. GOsh, I wish I cam across this post before my trip to Paris. I would have wanted to visit the library for sure.

    1. I’ve found stories that made me feel that way too – but I keep telling myself: that’s what next time is for! 😀

  9. Sign me up for a day of hiking the beautiful streets of Montmartre, followed by charcuterie and from age and picnics in gardens behind Sacré Coeur. Sounds like my idea of a GREAT way to do a day!

  10. This is totally true about you only learn about the popular destinations in Paris. I have never heard of any of the spots you have mentioned which is great as I love hearing about new places that is recommended for visiting. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed! The iconic places are important, but so are the more “hidden” spots. Hope you can see some of them first hand!

  11. I only had the chance to spend a whirlwind two days in Paris a while back. We only had a chance to see the big sites and a couple of markets. I would love to go back and check out some of these more off-the-beaten-track places. La Petite Ceinture sounds especially cool

    1. It REALLY is! The access points can be a little dicey, but it’s so worth it, just to spend some time marveling 🙂 Hope you can get back soon!

  12. I am surprised that there are off-the-beaten track in Paris that are beautiful, too! I appreciate the places that are less crowded like these. It also makes my exploring more memorable because I can breathe in the beauty of the place when it’s not too crowded.

    1. YES! Us two introverts over here definitely feel the same 🙂 and, for the record, I have to wonder if there’s anything in Paris that ISN’T gorgeous!

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