Off the Beaten Path: 8 Unique Things to do in Paris
In Paris you’ll never be short of things to see and do. For the first time visitor, there are plenty of informative guides on a well-worn tourist trail to follow, covering all the major attractions. But what if you’ve already been there or you just want to escape the hoards and explore the more eccentric side of Paris off the beaten path?
Here’s a list of my top eight things to do in the capital city of France.
Photo Diary: Père Lachaise Cemetery
In the 20th arrondissement of Paris you can find the world’s most visited cemetery, Père Lachaise. It opened in 1804 and it’s the largest cemetery in the city of Paris (44 hectares or 110 acres). It is also the site of three World War I memorials.
We visited Père Lachaise on a cloudy February morning with our wonderful couchsurfing host and another guest he was hosting. We must have been there for around 3-4 hours, just getting lost. While seeing the grave of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison is a must, this is a serene place steeped in art and history, interesting even if you don’t seek celebrities. Other notables buried here are composer Chopin, playwright Molière, poet Apollinaire, writers Balzac, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette, painters Pissarro, Seurat, Modigliani and Delacroix and chanteuse Édith Piaf.
Before skipping to photos, I’d like to talk the name of the cemetery. It’s taken from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne during the Fronde, was bought by the city in 1804. Established by Napoleon in this year, the cemetery was laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart and later extended. Short history lesson over.
Let me take you around now.
The best free views (of Eiffel Tower and more) in Paris
Who doesn’t love a great shot of the Eiffel tower while in Paris? Preferably somewhere not crowded, so you don’t have to move all the time to capture the moment. In this post I’m talking the less known spots for photographing Sacré-Cœur, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Most of those were empty when we were there.
1. Printemps Department Store
They offer a wide variety of products, mostly well-known brands, so if you’re on a budget, this is not where you do your shopping. The building is beautiful, inside and out, and although the series of escalators can get a bit confusing, it’s very much worth visting. On 9th floor there’s a restaurant and a rooftop terrace with free access to the public, offering the most spectacular view over the surrounding Paris skyline. On left side of the unimpeded 360 degree view you have Pantheon, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, while on the right side Sacré-Cœur stands out in all its beauty among the typical tin roofs of Paris. If you wish to grab a snack, I was told that the food here is very tasty and cheap. However, there is no requirement or expectation that you must buy anything to visit the terrace.
Address: 64 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris
Metro: Havre-Caumartin (line 3 and 9)*
Opening hours: Closed on Sundays, Thursdays from 9:30am to 9pm, other days from 9:30am to 8pm
Photo diary: The catacombs of Paris
Many people recognize Paris as a capital of romance, so they often miss one of the darkest secrets this beautiful city is hiding. Just few steps away from Denfert-Rochereau metro station, there’s an entrance to Paris Catacombs. Underground ossuaries hold the remains of about six million people in a small part of the ancient Mines of Paris tunnel network. A little history lesson: the ossuary was founded when city officials were faced with two simultaneous problems, a series of cave-ins starting in 1774 and overflowing cemeteries (particularly Saint Innocents). This underground cemetery has been open to the public on a regular basis since 1874 and it’s still well-visited nowadays. Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time, therefore be prepared to wait outside in a queue for a little less than an hour. We didn’t have luck when we went – the rain was pouring down and the wind was playing its own game with us, but not even that convinced us to leave the line.
As for every other tourist attraction in Paris, you have over 200 stairs to climb. 130 to go down and 83 to go up. Not that surprising, I suppose. It’s not everyone’s style to go there, that’s understandable. But even though it sounds a bit morbid, I can’t recommend the catacombs enough. Seeing skulls and bones pilled up in different formations is not just scary, it’s also utterly fascinating and so inspiring! While there, I took over 300 photos and when going through them, I got goosebumps, so I simply have to share the best ones.