Unusual Things To Do In Paris That Are Not In Your Guidebook

By Marie Vendroux A student of tourism who loves nothing more than the joy of new faces, places, flavors and adventures!

Edited by Jessica Wright

As the enthusiastically curious person that I am, always keen on finding new and exciting adventures to share, the dynamic and ever-changing nature of Paris appeals acutely to my taste. While some things in Paris stay forever unchanged, some things are ever changing, keeping this cosmopolitan city firmly on trend. In Paris it’s impossible to get bored, you simply need to know where to look for the things that excite you most. After 10 years in the city, when the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Élysées no longer hold the thrill of the first time, I am on a path to uncover some of the hidden gems in Paris. Of course, the popular icons of the city remain unmistakable must-see stops for first timers! In fact, the shopping, cafes, historical attractions, galleries and other innumerable Parisian offerings never truly get old, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in an oddball adventure here and there in between! Here, I’ll unveil some of the more unusual things to do in Paris, so that you might walk away with a unique perspective and a fresh take on a very old city.

Walk On The “Coulée Verte” To See Paris With Height

If, after strolling the cobbled streets of Paris you’ve found yourself wondering just what regular Parisian life looks like behind each of the old building facades, this could be your chance to find out. Sure, you might feel a bit nosy but chances are the residents near this promenade are fairly used to it. Stretching 4.5km from behind the Bastille opera house to the Jardin de Reuilly, the winding Coulée Verte is an elevated railway track where both wild and landscaped gardens – full with trees and flowers – have begun to flourish. This strangely elevated walkway, which is open from 8 am, provides a unique insight into Parisian life. If you descend to ground level you will be rewarded with the Viaduc des Arts and a collection of galleries, workshops, high-fashion boutiques and of course cafeś. This is truly an example of Paris off the beaten path.

Coulée Verte is located on 1 Coulée Verte René-Dumont. Entrance is free, and it's open from 8am (9am on weekends) to 5.30pm (winter) or 9.30pm (summer).

Visit The Opera Garnier At Night, When The Opera Is Closed To The Public

If the piercing notes of Opera are not quite your cup of tea – and even if they are – perhaps the atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that ensues in the hush of closing time will be more to your liking. Being present in the Palais Garnier opera house without the actual eventuality of an Operatic performance could certainly qualify as one of the weird things to do in Paris. You will have to enlist the help of a guide to explore the venue after hours, but it is worth it to hear the stories and myths of the Opera. One of the more unique things to do in Paris and an original take on a popular pastime, here you will be privy to the tale behind the famous Phantom of the Opera, while fully immersed in the opulent setting of the world-renowned novel and theatre production. Best of all might be the fact that you get to soak in the grandeur of the space without the crowds; what better way to fully experience the place in its original splendor?

Palais Garnier is open seven days a week from 10 am to 4.30 pm, but is closed on January 1 and May 1. 

Rent An Electrical Boat On The Bassin de la Villette

When the sun is hot and the city is simmering there is nothing that beats a visit to the water, particularly the Bassin de la Villette, the largest artificial lake in Paris. However, in a city of over two million people, you will quickly find that a picnic in the Buttes Chaumont is a popular idea. Why not opt for one of the more unusual things to do in Paris; pack a lunch of cheese and wine and break away from the crowded banks to enjoy a decadent day on a private sailboat – piloted by you, no license required – across the lake and adjoining waterways. Explore the 40 km up the Canal Saint Martin and Canal de l’Ourcq on electric boats in style. With rental boats that fit between five to eleven people, this is the perfect summer activity for groups of family or friends and the ideal way to make memories that don’t involve large incumbent crowds of tourists! It doesn’t get more Paris off the beaten path than a private boat on the water!

You can rent an electric boat from Marin D’Eau Douce base, which is located at Bassin de la Villette (in front of 37 quai de Seine, between the MK2 cinemas and the Passerelle de Flandre). Prices range from 8€ per person for an hour to 13€ per person for two hours and 27€ per person for a day.

Play Pétanque Near The Canal St Martin

Pétanque, the French variety of boules originating in Provence, is not only an example of non-touristy things to do in Paris but probably also one of the more quirky things to do in Paris in general. Usually associated with older people, here it has been adopted by the hipsters and is a favored activity, particularly when it involves a group of friends and few beers. I wouldn’t recommend buying the game, lest you add considerably to your luggage weight (a eventually best kept for chic boutique buys) but you can easily rent the game from Bar Ourcq. Situated in a quiet part of the Canal Ourcq the bar, with quirky decor, easy-going staff and a surprisingly good selection of free snacks at the bar, makes for a great place to spend an offbeat Paris day. Order a round of drinks before you head out to play pétanque, filling up on a great selection of incredibly well-priced nibbles and drinks in between. When the sun sets you can watch the lights over the water, or head indoors where a DJ is usually playing music in the bar.

Bar Ourcq is open Mondays from 3 pm to 12 am, Tuesdays from 11 am to 12 am, Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 am to 2 am and Sundays from 12 pm to 2 am.

Experience A Food Market

Not quite as prolific as cafeś but certainly as engrained in Parisian life are the many farmers' markets around the city. No matter where you choose to call home, there will likely be a market within close walking distance. At the Marché d’Aligre you can expect fragrant heaps of berries, melon, wild mushrooms, and bunches of flowers, with excellent cheese, wine and fish shops nearby and the smell of fine bakeries ever drifting on the breeze. For organic fare, the original organic market Marché des Batignolles is a must, where the usual fresh market produce can be purchased directly from the makers, among rarer finds like essential oils, fresh raw milk, and vegan croissants. If you are staying in the popular suburb of Bastille, the Marché Bastille is the one for you. Largest in the city and taking place twice a week you will find all you need in the way of fresh market fare, with the bonus of being nearby several popular attractions. In my opinion these markets are some of the best kept secret Paris attractions, hiding in plain site and if they tickle your fancy you can be sure this selection of other secret foodie finds will too!

You can find Marché des Batignolles on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. The market is open Thursdays from 7 am to 2.30 pm and Sundays from 7 am to 3 pm.

Picnic By The Seine Or On The Canal St Martin

Paris is so beautiful when it comes to the architecture, picturesque water features and pristine gardens, that sometimes all you really need to soak in the city’s charming ambience is to be still and present. Maybe the best way to do this is with a quiet picnic, luxuriating on manicured lawns and lazily indulging in fresh croissants. There are so many beautiful – and free – spaces in which to do this, but my personal favourites would have to be near the Invalides for a daytime picnic, or by night on the “Ile Saint Louis” near the Seine where you can watch the sunset behind Notre Dame. This is one of the many fun things to do in Paris at night and possibly one of the more peaceful options. Another favourite spot for a picnic is on the Canal St. Martin at night. This alternative Paris neighbourhood (full of Parisian hidden gems) is upbeat and quirky, and lounging about on the lawn here you are likely to encounter a snapshot of authentic city life. 

Ile Saint Louis lies upstream from the Ile de la Cité and Notre-Dame cathedral. Is linked by two bridges to the Left Bank (Pont de la Tournelle and Pont de Sully) and three to the Right Bank (Pont Louis-Philippe, Pont Marie and Pont de Sully). One bridge (Pont Saint Louis) connects the island to the Ile de la Cité.

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