France is a popular destination and for many, Paris is one of their top picks for first places to visit abroad. After all, it is one of the world’s most iconic cities. We are all familiar with the glimmer, glow, and romance of Paris—and my does it glow! But what about the non-traditional, or unusual things to do in Paris that aren’t the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame, or Versailles? So here is a list of just a few things to do in Paris, after you’ve checked off all of the iconic sights in and around Paris:
Spend the morning at a local organic market
Only open from morning until early afternoon on Sundays is the Marché biologique Raspail. There you will find shelves and baskets brimming with the most beautiful produce and freshest seafood, shelves of mouthwatering breads and cheeses, and display cases showing off the most decadent and delicious pastries you’ve ever seen. Arrive early, make your way down the aisles, then purchase a treat and break for lunch before continuing your shopping.
This is not an area where you’ll see fellow tourists, but that’s the beauty of it. The locals are welcoming and excited to speak with foreigners and practice their English, even if you are trying to practice your French.
Steal away a day or two at the flea
Home to 2,500 arts and antiques dealers and covering more than 17 acres, the Saint-Ouen Flea Market is the largest flea market in the world. Though a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, it doesn’t make the short list of iconic Parisian tourist spots. You don’t have to be an antiques and collectibles buff to enjoy the site of this place, but you will need a map to navigate all of the streets and stores that comprise this treasure trove. You can see the highlights in an afternoon, but if you really want to journey into every nook and cranny you will need a couple of days to cover the whole market.
Visit Shakespeare and Company
If you’re into unique hole-in-the-wall spots, this one’s for you. Though it’s not the original bookshop that famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound hung out in, it’s a nice tribute to it. It’s also located on the Left Bank and has a similar feel, being both purveyor of new and second-hand books and antiquarian bookseller, with a free reading library open to the public. The shop sells the books of aspiring writers and artists, with its motto “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise” prominently displayed above the reading library.
Buy some underwear in the Metro
Yes, that’s right… in the Metro. And not at a shop–right in the corridors. Of all the odd things I’ve done abroad, I must say purchasing racy, lace-lined panties while on the way to catch a train is probably towards the top of my list. For just 1€ you shouldn’t resist this Parisian oddity. You will find underwear vendors scattered at various stations throughout the city, with large bins filled with all sorts of colorful garments. If you’re looking for a humorous treasure or souvenir for someone, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for this as you’re en route to your train.
Step inside a painting at Giverny
You can gaze at Monet’s Water Lilies in the Musée du Louvre all day, but until you stand on the footbridge and stare down at those iconic floating flowers yourself, you have no idea how truly magical a place Giverny is.
Board a train at the Saint Lazare station in Paris, which is said to have not changed since Monet painted it. In 45 minutes (or less) you’ll be in the small village of Giverny. While there you can wander around the tiny streets and peer through gates leading to beautiful flower-lined cottages, making your way to the Fondation Claude Monet museum, which was once Monet’s home. After taking in the colored rooms and breathtaking gardens, stop by the poppy fields. If you happen to visit on a hot summer day, climb down the hill and wade into the nearby stream… did Monet splash around in the very same spot? Perhaps.
Take the train to Brussels for the day
It’s not in or around Paris per se, but in under two hours by train you can pop over to Brussels, which makes for one fun day trip. Tickets from Gare du Nord station to Belgium’s capital start at as little as $35, and trains run approximately every 30 minutes. And did I mention chocolate? Of course, it’s Belgium!
Whether you’d like to visit the Grand Place, Galleries Royale St. Hubert, eat frites and waffles, drink some Stella Artois, see some of Belgium’s best chocolatiers in Grand Sablon, or have dinner at Chez Leon, you can fit quite a lot into just a few hours. And because you’re traveling within the Schengen Zone of the EU, there’s no need to show your passport or get a visa.
Wine the night away at Montmartre
This is a fairly common destination for visitors to Paris, but more often than not I hear that visitors missed this gorgeous place. To me, it’s a must. Located in the 18th arrondissement is this rather tall hill, which can be seen from many locations around the city. If you’re up for some cardio, take the steps. If not, the cable car. Go in the evening, visit some shops and get your portrait drawn by a caricaturist, have drinks and listen to Django Reinhardt jazz classics, then spend a couple of hours enjoying dinner at a local restaurant. On your way back down the hill, grab a bottle of wine (or several) because you cannot beat the quality for the price.
Catch a show at Lido de Paris
One of the things Paris has always been famous for is its cabaret and burlesque shows. Tourists from near and far flock to the Moulin Rouge show, but as far as your classic sightseeing, this isn’t exactly on that list. I do, however, recommend it, for it certainly is a sight to see. This show has been around since the 1940s, and is located on the Champs-Élysée. It’s a dine-in performance, but you can choose seating where you only need to order drinks. I recommend champagne, the only drink sparkly enough to match the show. The performance includes extravagant sets and costumes, with everything from a human pyramid that begins to move, to ice skating and on-stage fountains. And yes, it’s all topless. But it may take you a few minutes to realize that the women are only partially clothed, due to the intricacy of their costumes.
What unusual things to do in Paris have you come across?