Ever since I came to Paris, I have received so many messages asking about where to live, what to see, where to eat in the city – everyone’s wishes may vary depending on their character and what kind of experience they have already had in Paris, but there is always the same one question that everyone asks.
What are the most non-touristic places in Paris that are beautiful and worth seeing?
For starters, I have to say that this rather naively concocted combination of “beautiful & worth seeing & tourist – free” is not very likely to exist here (or it is very rare), because you’ll always see occasional tourists wandering in gorgeous places. Beautiful spots just cannot go unnoticed, especially if it’s the warm season! However, there are places indeed undiscovered/neglected by the vast majority. Such are locations that you vaguely heard of and decided spontaneously to put on your to do list before travelling to Paris and they end up somehow in the 40th place… because after an endless walking and a migraine because of Louvre you’re not so sure after all if they’re worth seeing. To tell the truth, usually these are the places you should go and see first. If you’re going to Paris for your second, third, or tenth time and you’re not attracted anymore by the biggest and the most touristic spots (that everyone must see at least once in their life, I believe) I really hope that this little list of mine will be helpful!
Petit disclaimer: keep in mind that my choice of places to recommend is absolutely personal and based on my own preferences.
So, how to replace…
Louvre/Musée d’Orsay/Centre Georges Pompidou? This is like the Holy Trinity of museums here, each one of them dedicated to different periods of art – from ancient to contemporary, starting with the long halls of Louvre and ending with fascinating modern art works at Centre Pompidou in the backdrop of a mesmerizing city panorama (yes, lots of people go to Pompidou just because of the view). It’s worth mentioning that you can always see exceptional temporary exhibitions taking place at each of these museums (for example, retrospective of David Hockney works at Pompidou right now – I am so eager to visit it!), but if you’re not really willing to stand in the queues and you seek to engage in a little bit different museum experience, I invite you to discover niche museums or special art foundations.
Firstly, Musée Jacquemart – André. What an absolutely breathtaking and splendid museum it is! I can promise that you’ll want to take pictures of all its corners – more or less pompous, each one of them is an aesthetical pleasure, candy for the eye. Speaking about the permanent collection, I personally felt like I was in a very cozy, smaller version of Louvre, because it definitely has that Renaissance feeling. It is like being offered a possibility to enjoy the impressive old paintings in very intimate, touching surroundings. I enjoyed seeing so many Italian works of this period that I was learning about in my art history classes. In addition, temporary exhibitions can be focused on other periods as well: recently there was a special display of the art collector’s Alicia Koplowitz impressive collection of paintings, from the old masters to modern geniuses such as Rothko. My advice is to always check if the museum you’re visiting has a temporary collection going on. It may help you decide which museum to choose.
If you feel that Musée d’Orsay is your museum of choice, I have several suggestions. Firstly, from my experience, 90% of my friends and guests who visit this museum instantly rush to the 5th floor, the kingdom of the impressionists, without paying the slightest attention to other floors. People, Van Gogh is also there!!! If you have a strong passion for Monet, for example, did you know that there is a special museum here in Paris dedicated for him? Musée Marmottan Monet is a delightful gem hidden in the 16th arrondissement and it has the most impressive collection of Monet’s work. When I visited it on a gloomy Friday morning, I was really surprised to see that there were literally no tourists, only four or five other people wandering in the halls, so I could barely see them. Maybe I was lucky, but the whole museum was practically only for me. Petit Palais, museum which should be crowned for its refined simplicity, is also less crowded than others. Its subtle displays will surprise anyone interested in different periods of art. The museum also has a very elegant garden and a café – it’s especially breathtaking during the spring, when it goes into full bloom. Place to enjoy the life par excellence. For those interested specifically in the 18th century, Musée Cognacq – Jay is the place to go.
If you’re generally interested in contemporary art, I highly recommend visiting Fondation Louis Vuitton or Fondation Cartier. Fondation LV has to be my favorite museum of all times, because the selection of works that I got to see there left an indelible mark in my memory. What I liked the most was that the experience at this architectural chef-d’oeuvre by the architect Frank Gehry was not only about art, it was mostly about the atmosphere. However, these two foundations don’t fit into the topic of my article perfectly, because they can be really packed with people, so the best thing would be to buy the tickets in advance.
I am also aware that there might be people among my readers who are merely interested in picturesque museums/locations only for the ‘gram. Musée de la Vie Romantique (even the name suggests what a romantic place it is!) and Musée Montmartre have excellent collections but they get bonus points mostly because of their fairytale-worthy locations. These are the places to dream. You can thank me later.
Jardin de Tuileries/Jardin du Luxembourg? These two must be the most popular gardens of Paris, but they’re definitely not the only ones to visit. One of my most beautiful discoveries was the Parc Monceau – this garden is a little heaven on Earth, situated in the 8th arrondissement. I visited it twice and both of these times it was vibrating from the energy of local people, playing with their children, having picnics, running or simply enjoying the afternoon. I didn’t really see any tourists and honestly, I cannot stop questioning myself why. It’s a definite must-see when you’re in Paris! Two other gardens, Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont are both just as equally charming and untraditional, but they’re not in central Paris (located in the 20th and 19th arrondissements respectively). From my personal experience, these two arrondissements are not really safe if you’re alone or if you’re there in the evening, so I’d suggest going in the morning and with a company. It really felt surreal when I visited both of them – I got to see so many unknown faces of the city and I found it really exhilarating. I should also add that Paris is packed with small gardens and courtyards, so be attentive to each new place you see while strolling around the city – chances are you’ll find the most beautiful gems when you don’t expect that at all!
Café de Flore/Les Deux Magots? Okay, these two legendary Parisian restaurants in the Saint Germain are really irreplaceable. If you’re looking for small (or not necessarily small, but cozy) cafés to indulge and spend time in, I have some of my favorite addresses: concept store Merci (also famous for its tiny red car standing by the entrance), Café Oberkampf, Coutume Café (my personal favorite), Café Mericourt, Strada Café (Luxembourg gardens are nearby, if you choose Rue Monge), The Beans on Fire (one of the warmest and the most welcoming places I’ve ever visited, it’s also in a very calm and absolutely gorgeous place of the hipster-ish 11th arrondissement), The Broken Arm (which is also a very stylish boutique).
Arc de Triomphe/Eiffel tower? … well, also irreplaceable. However, if you judged these two objects solely by the panoramic views of the city, I might have something even more interesting to suggest. Of course, none of my suggestions will be tourist-free, but they are far less crowded than these two previously mentioned. I always advise visiting Tour Montparnasse for the most breathtaking view of Paris – I think I haven’t seen anything more impressive than that, because the whole city is literally under your feet. The downside is that you have to pay for it, which is not the case for Arc de Triomphe (if you’re under 25 and from EU countries), but it’s totally worth it. Not many people know that it’s also possible to climb to the top of Montmartre Sacré-Coeur Basilica, which has spellbinding views of the city. However, if you’re visiting the city for the very first time, panoramic views of the Arc de Triomphe is definitely the best start.
Last, but not the least, I really suggest following some photographers from Paris on your Instagram account – this is how I find out new and beautiful locations to visit. Here are some of my favorites: @vutheara, @clangart, @parisinfourmonths, @theballoondiary, @callicles, @wonguy974, @journeyintolavillelumiere.
P.S. I, myself, have been living here only for two years and believe that this list will be much more complete during the years to come. There’s so much to discover here!