Paris off the beaten track

Eleanor Aldridge

written by
Eleanor Aldridge

updated 03.10.2018

Paris is the world's most visited city. It draws in a barely comprehensible 30 million travellers each year – and its monuments, museums and galleries are some of Europe's most instantly recognisable. You could spend weeks here and not see them all. But what if you want to see an alternative Paris, a Paris off the beaten track?

The French capital isn't a living museum, but a lived-in city with some of Europe's coolest street art and nightlife. Its galleries don't just include temples to Impressionism and Cubism but a semi-legal squat and bizarre homage to all things taxidermy. Nor is every corner of the city mobbed with tourists; there are plenty of spots that still retain a village-like atmosphere. These are our top tips for seeing Paris off the beaten track, whether you've got a few hours or a few days to spare.

1. Escape the crowds in Buttes-Chaumont

The Parisian park you've never heard of is also one of the city's loveliest green spaces, sprawling over the outer reaches of the 19th arrondissement. It's a delightful mix of sloping lawns and shady pathways, crowned by a spectacular folly, the Roman-inspired Temple de la Sybille, from where there are superb vistas across to the Sacré-Cœur. Beneath the folly's craggy outcrop you can laze beside the park's artificial lake, sip demi-pressions at modern-day guinguette Rosa Bonheur, or strike out along the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railway line turned urban trail.


Buttes-Chaumont park © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

2. Spend the morning in a squat

At street level, you could walk past 59 Rivoli and barely notice its unusual facade. Yet as soon as you look up it's clear this building is very different from its commercial neighbours. It was first taken over as a squat in 1999, before being closed down and later reopened as a semi-sanctioned gallery with permission from the government. Today its art-adorned exterior gives a little glimpse of what lies inside: six floors of independent artists' studios where painters, sculptors and photographers ply their trades. Some studios are slick and commercial, selling quirky prints of city views, others are crowded, smoky and delightfully obscure. You're free to explore them all.


One of the more cluttered rooms at 59 Rivoli © Eleanor Aldridge

3. Feast on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis

This street in the 10th arrondissement was once one of the city's most notorious, and it's certainly still one of the neighbourhood's more gritty. But it has also undergone a huge transformation in the past few years. First hip cafés like Chez Jeannette moved in alongside superb Syrian restaurants and cult Turkish kebab joints. Then New-York inspired brasseries added all-day-dining to the mix and trendsetting cocktail bars like Le Syndicat started to keep things lively well into the early hours. Adjoining Passage Brady, a magnificent covered arcade sometimes known as Little India, is also one the of the best spots in the city for Indian food. And don't miss the street's crowning glory, the triumphal arch at its southern end, sister to the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris off the beaten track: Porte Saint-Denis Arch against clear blue sky

Porte Saint-Denis Arch © Pocholo Calapre / Shutterstock

4. See street art in Belleville

If you need proof that street art in Paris is booming, you only need look at Banksy's recent additions to the city. The secretive street artist popped up unexpectedly this summer, leaving behind ten controversial murals across the city referencing Europe's migrant crisis and the May 1968 uprising. For less political pieces, head to Belleville. Rue Sainte-Marthe's candy-coloured shop fronts are adorned with perhaps the most fun designs: intricate geometric patterns and uber-Instagrammable stencilling. Rue Denoyez is a little darker, with barely an inch of wall space remaining amid an ever-changing array of tags and artwork.

Street art Belleville

Street art on Rue Sainte-Marthe in Belleville © Eleanor Aldridge

5. Sample village life Butte aux Cailles

With the days of Montmartre's villagey feel long gone, it's a good thing there's another butte in town. Walk ten minutes south of busy Place d'Italie and you'll find life moves at a different pace in Butte aux Cailles. Despite its proximity to the centre of Paris, the village remains a slightly counter-cultural enclave, distinguished by its cobbled streets and laidback bars. It makes for a lovely place to stay if you want to experience Paris off the beaten track; opt for an Airbnb here and you'll feel like a local in no time at all. In summer, you can even take a dip in the Butte aux Cailles' outside pools, opened in 1924.

6. View taxidermy at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

This museum is an acquired taste. Dedicated to hunting and nature – with the emphasis on the former – its eclectic but beautifully presented collections fill the dark, high-ceilinged rooms of what was once a seventeenth-century mansion. Some exhibits take a deep dive into the history of the hunt, going back as far as Roman times, but what people really come to see is the taxidermy. The museum simply overflows with it, from poised birds of prey to black bears rearing high on their haunches. Things culminate in the Trophy Room, where you'll spot tigers, leopards, cheetahs, gazelles, antelope and even a panther.

Top image: © Shutterstock

Eleanor Aldridge

written by
Eleanor Aldridge

updated 03.10.2018

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