If you are a first-time visitor and have a soul of an explorer, these suggestions for non-touristy things to do in Paris will help you discover the city in various and entertaining ways.
This blog post was first published on my previous blog When Woman Travels.
Explore Parisian Passages
Parisian passages are the hidden gems of the French capital. They are often neglected by tourists for the sole reason of not knowing they exist! Their construction is dated back to the 1800s and some of them have interesting stories. Generally, they were made to employ the unused spaces between buildings and created a sort of covered shopping centers. The charm of these places in our days is that many of them kept their decorations. Some businesses still run in their original premises. Just like they did a century ago.
Dive into the exotic universe of fabrics
If you are a person with a crafty mind, you probably enjoy visiting some of the colorful, several-story fabric shops in central Paris. Conveniently situated in the streets around the popular Cathedral Sacre Coeur, these stores have been here for a long, long time.
Carrying the fashionable spirit of Paris, now they continue to be a favorite place for the local ladies. The best among them is Tissus Raine but there are several more – check the map to see their locations.
Visit the oldest restaurant in Paris
Although ‘Le Procope’ is known among tourists, it is not a popular tourist destination. Visiting this restaurant gives you the chance to feel the atmosphere of the time of the young Napoleon Bonaparte. The story goes that he liked to meet here his peers long before becoming the Emperor of France. You will find the restaurant in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Read more about it here.
Relatively popular because of its luxurious interior, Gallery Lafayette is an institution. Like the Harrods in London, the gallery keeps the memory of a time when the abundant richness of decoration was a norm, not only in building construction but also in fashion trends.
The gallery’s doors first opened in 1912 with the idea to be a luxury bazaar that ‘wows the crowds. It is safe to say that still fulfills its purpose. You can book a Guided Heritage Tour, offered two Saturdays a month.
Try an Ancient Meal
Are you an adventurous eater? Do you want to try something really traditional that it’s not available all over the world like croissants? Try ‘La tete de veau ravigote’. Translated from French, it means ‘the head of veal’ and it is exactly that. The ‘ravigote’ is the sauce in which it is served. But don’t expect to have the whole head of an animal served on your plate! You can find one of the best ‘tete de veau ravigote’ at Le Soleil d’Austerlitz, a brasserie near the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris.
Attend a Comedy in Montmartre
If you understand French, you might want to attend one of the local’s favorite comedy venues in the historical Montmartre quarter. Au Lapin Agile is an old (opened in 1860) and famous cabaret. It was a favorite place for artists like Picasso and Modigliani. Our days, it still continues to entertain its visitors.
The Bouquinistes and Shakespeare & Company
You can pass by the numerous stalls along the River Seine selling books without knowing that this is another of the iconic landmarks of Paris. The ‘bouquinistes’ stalls near the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral look like just another souvenir shops line, but they have been here for generations. Today, second hands books and Paris souvenirs are sold side by side. You just have to look for the little hidden gems – rare antique books, among the abundance of items.
Shakespeare & Company is quite popular among English-speaking tourists bookstore. But for the book lovers, it is an interesting place to visit even if you don’t like crowds. It was first opened in 1919 and since then it is a favorite gathering place for all people in love with literature. There is also a café and an antiquarian shop.
Buy a special gift to share
Dammann Teas was founded in 1692 when King Louis XIV granted Sir Damame the exclusive rights to sell tea in France. I was happy to find one of their shops in Paris, at Place de Vosges, because the teas they sell are one of the best you can find worldwide! They have delicate tastes and the finest aromas. A box of their finest tea is one of the best souvenirs you can buy from Paris. A souvenir that you can share with friends, and every time you have tea you will remember the finesse you can find only in France!
Macarons – but not from Laduree!
Speaking about the finest tastes and sensual experiences, you can’t go to Paris without trying some of the world-famous macarons. When we think about macarons, the name of the brand Laduree always comes up as “the best”. But French people don’t agree with this. I guess this brand is simply more advertised.
Instead, try the macarons from Maison Georges Larnicol. You will find one of their shops at 132 Blvd. Saint-Germain, not far from the restaurant Le Procope and Odeon metro station.
Look for the Wallace Fountains
If you are an observant traveller, while walking in Paris, you will probably see some of these beautiful dark-green fountains. They are one of the symbols of the city even if not as famous as the Eiffel Tower. The story behind their construction is beautiful as well as their design. Made of cast iron, the installation of these public drinking fountains started in 1872. Philanthropy and a feeling of moral duty for the lower classes were the main reasons why they appeared on the streets of Paris.
TIP: You will see one of these fountains in front of Shakespeare and Company.
This list of non-touristy things to do in Paris represents just a small part of all things you can experience in the city. There are always ways to see a place with different eyes, to experience it in a different way. To have a ‘local’ experience you just have to be curious and look for the non-obvious side of things.