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By Myriam Heith, Parisian actress, art-lover and avid foodie. Edited by Emma White.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris then I’m sure you’ve already noted down the top attractions that you want to visit, and maybe even a few popular restaurants and bars that you’ve found with great reviews online. And while a visit to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are certainly essential, especially for first-timers, you might wonder if you’re missing out on seeing the ‘real’ Paris. You know, the tiny candle-lit restaurants hidden down narrow alleys that only locals know about, the quirky neighbourhoods neglected by tourists, the unique art galleries that can only be found by those who know where to find them, or the secret Paris night time venues that are never included in the tourist books. For those of you looking to get off the beaten track and find the hidden gems that remain undiscovered in Paris, I’ve got you covered. Check out this list of 10 hidden gems in Paris to get you started and discover an alternative side to the city.
Despite its enormous size, Les Halles is often missed by visitors to Paris who don’t know that it exists. Les Halles is a shopping district with an array of stores lining Rue de Rivoli, and an underground mall named Forum-des-Halles. This area boasts a whole heap of fun things to do; there’s a movie theatre, a swimming pool, cool bars, unique places to eat, cafes, vintage boutiques, and the Seine-side Théâtre du Châtelet famous for its entertaining musicals. Packed-full of great activities for adults and children, yet often left out of guide books, this spot is certainly one of Paris’s hidden gems. You could easily spend half a day or more wandering around, window-shopping, seeing a movie and enjoying a bistro-style meal. If you’re only in town for a short time, you should still stop by even just to see the unusual yet inspiring architecture of the underground mall. In any case, make sure to add it to your list of things to do in Paris and discover all that this vibrant corner of the city has to offer.
When it comes to food in Paris, our first thoughts are of freshly baked baguettes, buttery pastries, steak-frites and coq au vin. So, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that one of the dishes most loved by Parisian locals is in fact not a French food at all but rather a humble Middle Eastern speciality. Falafel has gained a notable following in recent years since the establishment of several falafel shops and middle eastern style eateries in the historic Le Marais neighbourhood. Thanks to the Jewish community residing in this area, Parisians have been lucky enough to have some of the best falafel in the world right on their doorstep! And while most people endure the queue outside L’As du Falafel, I recommend you try Chez Marianne instead. This hidden gem the perfect spot for a budget-friendly and totally delicious street-eat to enjoy while you explore the narrow, cobbled lanes of the Marias.
Le Verre Volée (67 Rue de Lancry) is a super tiny wine shop come restaurant near Canal Saint-Martin, filled with colourful mismatched chairs and tables surrounded by walls displaying an impressive and unique collection of wines. Most people will come here to taste a selection of the ‘natural’ wines that are on offer here at Le Verre Volée, however, the food is equally impressive and highly rated amongst locals. The menu consists of classic French dishes made with simple, fresh ingredients, designed to complement the different types of wine. Come for wine but stay for the food, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by both. A real hidden gem restaurant in Paris, don’t miss it!
Les Caves du Louvre is a unique and unusual venue, not often featured in your average Paris travel guide. These ancient wine cellars, originally built by King Louis XV’s sommelier, once housed the King’s private wine collection, and although they remained undiscovered in Paris by tourists for a while, they have recently been fully renovated to create an attraction open to the public. This secret Paris wine museum lets you explore the history of wine and the secrets of the cellar’s past with a 45-minute long sensory tour which takes you on a journey through five rooms (the tasting room and the aromas room, for example) each designed to make you experience wine via one of the five different senses. At the end of the tour you are treated to a luxury wine tasting where you can test everything you’ve learned. They also offer private wine-making workshops and day trips to the Champagne region complete with tasting and lunch. Pretty cool, right?
Le Loir dans la Théière is a restaurant and tea room known by locals for its incredible desserts and assortment of delicious teas and infusions. You may not find this hidden gem on the list of top patisseries in Paris, but I have a sneaky feeling that it won’t be long before this little tea room is up there competing with the big dogs! Try the goat’s cheese and onion tart and the gigantic lemon meringue pie and you’ll see what I mean! I know people who would cross the whole city just to come here and eat the lemon pie - it’s out of this world. Although I class it as a hidden gem, I must admit that the secrecy is fading and you’ll most likely find a line of people waiting outside for a table. But don’t let that put you off, join the line and get your taste of lemon-y heaven before this place gets even more popular and you start having to battle crowds of tourists for a slice of pie!
One of Paris’s green lungs, Bois de Vincennes is a huge park on the city’s east side, perfect for taking a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of city life. It's larger than it looks (three times the size of New York’s Central Park!) with lots of pathways to explore and things to see and do such as the zoo, remnants of an international expo, a castle, bike tracks, hiking trails, and best of all, a lake where you can rent boats for rowing. Plan ahead and pack a picnic full of meats, cheeses, breads, pastries, and maybe even a bottle of wine, and escape to this green oasis in the middle of the urban jungle. Tip: it is especially beautiful in the autumn when the park is peppered with gorgeous, vibrant red, orange and yellow trees – the perfect background for a quick photoshoot!
If you like contemporary art and the raw studio scene, or even if you’re simply looking for a change from the overwhelming amount of more classical art that is the mainstay of so many of the Paris museums, then 59 Rivoli is the place for you. It's free to enter, although donations are welcomed and appreciated, and it's a fun experience that will have you intrigued from the moment you step inside. You have free reign to wander around the 4-5 floors of artist studios, with dozens of artists that have staked out their own space on each floor. All of the art is contemporary and unique to its creator. Most of the artists usually have a range of art for sale, from smaller inexpensive pieces (almost like doodles) to more significant works. There are a wide range of mediums on display and at times it can feel like finding your way through a maze! It’s truly a great experience, and who knows, you may find something you love amongst the artistic chaos.
Located in an old train station on the north side of Paris, La Gare is a new wave jazz club open to anyone and everyone who loves jazz. Every evening after 9pm, La Gare comes alive with the sound of fantastic jazz music performed by a whole host of extremely talented jazz singers and bands. La Gare’s unique selling point is that the concerts operate according to the principle of free participation; the goal is to help new or unknown jazz bands to get on the scene and increase their reach. It’s also a great opportunity for non-jazz experts to get into the culture and discover new bands. Drinks are super affordable (around €5 for a beer and €7 for a cocktail) and there’s a local, friendly atmosphere that makes for the perfect relaxed evening with tasty cocktails, fun company and great music that you can enjoy for free! So if you’re looking for non-touristy Paris night time activities why not check this place out?
Cité de la Mode is a relatively new exposition space right on the river, just beyond Charles de Gaulle. The space is devoted to fashion, paying homage to another one of the Capital’s specialisms. Here you’ll find regular exhibitions on fashion, fashion photography and more, which are free of charge. The building itself is architecturally fascinating, the structural steel, green caterpillar that snakes around the side of the building is particularly interesting and worth seeing. But perhaps the best aspect of Cité de la Mode is its rooftop terrace – one of the best, non-touristy and secret photography spot in Paris. Not only does it offer incredible views over the Seine and the rest of Paris beyond that, by night, the rooftop is transformed into a lively outdoor nightclub! If, like me, you’re not usually a fan of clubbing in dark, dingy and hot underground venues, this is perfect. The venue welcomes a number of talented DJ’s who play a mix of electronic music. Enjoy the beautiful view of Paris lit up against the night sky and dance inside, order a drink, and dance the night away!
Most visitors looking to experience Paris like a local are unlikely to venture into an Irish bar named Guinness Tavern with a black front and the stout’s famous logo shining gold above the doorway. But surprisingly enough, the Guinness Tavern welcomes an eclectic mix of locals who come here for the good beer and lively atmosphere. There is also live music every night from 10pm which continues well into the night, not stopping until 5am! You’ll see a whole host of different bands coming here to perform, covering the classics by Queen and The Cranberries that everybody loves. The vibe is so relaxed, every time I come here I have the best time. I was once invited up on stage to sing along with the band, that was pretty funny! So consider skipping the posh wine bars and come here instead for a few beers, some great company and a really good time.
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