10 Non-Touristy Things to do in Paris: Tips from a Local
Leah Walker May 13, 2017

I’m willing to bet that even if you’ve never visited Paris, you can name at least five of the most popular {and thus touristy} things to do in the City of Light. There are some Parisian experiences that just can’t be replaced, like seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle for the first time and taking a photo in front of the Louvre’s pyramid. However, whether you’ve visited the city before or simply want a more local experience, I’ve put together my picks for 10 non-touristy things to do in Paris. These items certainly are not tourist free, nor are they totally unknown. However, they are more unique alternatives to the typical tourist trail.

Skip the Tuileries. Soak up Parc Monceau.

The Tuileries are great an all, but..

The wide dirt path running through the center of the Tuileries, between Place de la Concorde to Carrousel du Louvre, is well trodden by starry-eyed tourists. Locals know that if you’re going to the Tuileries then it’s best to keep to the outer parameter. Otherwise, a selfie stick in the eye is a real risk.

At Parc Monceau you can actually sit on the grass.

When I lived in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Tuileries was my closest park. Previously, I lived in the 8th, a stone’s throw from Parc Monceau. This is, without a doubt, my favorite park in Paris. The black and golden gates, surrounding maisons particulières, and abundance of eclectic statues and architecture elements make Parc Monceau downright stately. It’s got the regal allure of the Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg, but on a smaller scale. And since Parc Monceau is in a largely residential area, tourists really must seek it out. What I love most about Parc Monceau is that you can sit on the grass, making it a perfect Parisian picnic spot.

Forgo Champs Elysées for Marchés aux Puces

The Champs Elysées is beautiful, but has lost some of its original appeal.

I’m not going to sugar coat this: the Champs Elysées is the most overrated experience in all of Paris. With the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, a few fine Paris hotels, Publicis Drugstore, and the flagship Louis Vuitton, there’s no real reason to step foot on this iconic avenue. Of course, this makes me sad. What once was revered as the most beautiful and stylish street in the world has been reduced to Zara, H&M, Four Guys Burgers and Fries, Swatch, and the Disney Store. The Champs Elysées is still living off its storied reputation, but shopping wise, it’s as interesting as a suburban shopping mall.

Treasure hunt at Marchés aux Puces for something with character.

In stark contrast to the Champs Elyées, Marchés aux Puces is like diving into a history book. Often mistakenly identified as a ‘flea market’ the vendors at Marchés aux Puces aren’t selling knock off Nikes or second-hand kids’ clothes. Rather, the fourteen sub-markets located just north of Paris in Saint-Ouen are filled with treasures from the past. Whether it’s 19th century crystal chandeliers, mid-century modern chairs, or a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, you’re not going to find any of this in your local strip center. Since the merchandise rotates often, I regularly return, even if I’m not looking to buy anything. This is the place to go for souvenirs with a story, but only on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. The rest of the week vendors are at auctions, estate sales, and otherwise scouring Europe for stock.

Avoid Angelina. Reserve at Le Meurice.

Angelina’s Afrikan hot chocolate is divine, but…

Angelina is amazing; I’m not going to lie. The original outpost on Rue de Rivoli is perfectly pretty, and the Afrikan hot chocolate is legendary. Simply put: it’s sin in a cup. This past winter I craved it like sunshine. BUT, there’s absolutely no way I’d spend more than five minutes standing in a line that sometimes stretches a block. If you’re bound and determined to try Angelina, get there when it opens or try one of their other six Paris locations. Granted, the atmosphere isn’t the same, but the diabetes-inducing hot chocolate is. However, if you’re more interested in pastries, skip the Angelina line and go next door to Le Meurice.

Cedric Grolet’s pastries at Le Meurice are exceptional.

Le Meurice isn’t a place you necessarily just pop into. Rather, you’ll likely need a reservation during teatime. Of course, Le Meurice is a bit pricier, but what do you expect from a palace hotel? One of chef Cedric Grolet’s pastries is well worth the price of admission. The young chef’s talent and innovation is only rivaled by his modesty and good looks {he’s really handsome, y’all}. If you don’t believe me, just check out his Instagram. Combine the editable art with the elegant setting of Le Meurice and you’ve got a winning combination. Dress smart. Reserve early. Thank me later.

Pass on Île Saint-Louis. Try Quai d’Austerlitz.

This spot on Île Saint-Louis is spectacular, but can get crowded.

Who doesn’t love Île Saint-Louis? Come on, it practically screams “Paris.” Buskers, picturesque terraces, and specialty shops make this a dreamy location. Once the temperature rises, the Île Saint-Louis riverbanks are packed with picnickers, both Parisian and from out-of-town. One of my favorite spots is behind Notre Dame. Stay long enough and you’ll see the sun dip behind the cathedral. It really is an Instagram-worthy photo op, but sometimes it’s just a bit too crowded for my taste.

Head east to Quai d’Austerlitz for a different kind of Paris.

However, head a bit further east on the Left Bank to Quai d’Austerlitz. This is likely a part of Paris most tourists never see. Located in the 13th arrondissement, Quai d’Austerlitz is home to futuristic-looking Institut Franças de la Mode {fashion design university}, Art Lique {museum dedicated to animated arts}, and péniches-turned-bars. The 13th is an up-and-coming area, home to some interesting art and modern architecture projects. Once the workday is over, the banks of the Seine is filled with people who live and work in the area enjoying dinner, listening to music, and watching the sun set behind Viaduc d’Austerlitz.

Just next to Quai d’Austerlitz is Quai Saint-Bernard, where dancing reigns. Wednesday through Sunday evenings, Parisians descend on the banks of the Seine to dance the tango. Whether participating or simply watching, it’s a lively and unique experience in the city. Surrounding stages also feature salsa and jive dancing.

Trade Rue St. Honoré for Avenue Montaigne.

Avenue Montaigne is just as chic as Rue St. Honoré without the hoards of people. Credit

Just last week, I ventured over to the 1st specifically for the Hermès shop on Rue St. Honoré. This storied street is lined with the world’s most luxurious brands—French, Italian, and American. It’s a street that your credit card goes to die. As I hopped into Hermès, popped in to Prada, and ventured into Versace, I was reminded that tourists rule Rue St. Honoré. Normally, I only visit this area on Sundays, when the shops are closed. It’s virtually empty and thus much more pleasant. If you’re looking for designer duds without all the traffic, head to the 8th and Avenue Montaigne. Gucci, Pucci, and Dior, oh my! This elegant avenue in the heart of the Golden Triangle is lined with the who’s who of haute couture. If I’m going to drop four figures on a dress then Avenue Montaigne is where it will occur.

Switch Place de Vosges for Place Dauphine.

Place de Vosges is perfectly pretty.

Place de Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris and considered one of the most beautiful in all of France. Located in the popular Marais, Place de Vosges gets a lot of traffic from locals and tourists alike. On a sunny day, I challenge you to find a bench or green space to sit. Thus, I suggest Paris’ second-oldest planned square in the 1st arrondissement: Place Dauphine.

Place Dauphine is a quiet escape near Pont Neuf.

Actually a triangle, this treasure is carefully hidden near the center of Pont Neuf, on the west end of Île de la Cité. Passersby rarely stumble upon Place Dauphinie, which makes it like a little hiding place within the city center. Here, you’ll be struck with real estate envy, but if you don’t have a few million euros to drop, settle for a bottle of rosé on one of the café terraces. On a sunny day, pétanque games are plentiful. I’ve even heard that some of the restaurants will loan you a set of balls with the purchase of some adult beverages.

Skip a Seine cruise for Canal St. Martin.

Canal St. Martin is one of the trendiest areas of Paris.

I love a Seine cruise and think it’s one of the best ways to see the city. After all, every major landmark is on the river, except the Arc de Triomphe. But, if you’ve already cruised the Seine or simply don’t want to be surrounded by a boatload of other tourists, take a look at a canal cruise. Leaving from Port de l’Arsenal or Bassin de la Villette in eastern Paris, the boat cruises through the trendy Canal St. Martin, as well as the interconnecting Canal de L‘Ourcq and Canal Saint-Denis. The 2.5-hour trip goes through locks, swing bridges, under the Bastille vault, and to Place de la République and Parc de la Villette. It’s a side of Paris you’ve likely never seen.

Forget the Eiffel Tower. Dine at Les Ombres.

The view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower is awe-inspiring.

If the Champs Elysées is the most overrated experience in Paris, then going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is the second. As I’ve written in the past, I love the Eiffel Tower. If you simply look at my Instagram account it’s apparent. However, what I love most about the Parisian skyline is seeing the Iron Lady. If you’re ON the tower then you can’t see it. Of course, it does provide a different vantage point that’s pretty sweet. However, ascending the Eiffel Tower is more trouble than it’s worth. The crowds and waiting suck out all of the enjoyment for me.

But how about this view from Les Ombres?

For an equally cool experience without the masses, take a tour through Musée du Quai Branly, then head to its rooftop for a meal at Les Ombres. Madame Eiffel is basically sitting at your table. The glass walls and ceiling provide an unobstructed view of the tower, which will leave even a life-long Parisian impressed. Nighttime is especially lovely, if you can time your reservation for sunset. Linger long enough and you’ll catch the Iron Lady’s hourly sparkle show. I suggested Les Ombres for a reader’s celebratory engagement dinner and it was a hit. Not just a fabulous view, the food is pretty tasty as well.

Miss Musée d’Orsay. Peruse the Petit Palais.

Head to the Petit Palais for fine art and short lines.

Musée d’Orsay not only has an incredible collection of art, but the former train station is one of the prettiest places in Paris. The iconic clock and building perched on the Left Bank of the Seine never ceases to amaze me. But unless you’ve planned ahead, the line to enter is often a real drag. People don’t visit Paris to stand in line, so what’s an art lover to do? I say head to the Petit Palais. With paintings by Monet, Cézanne, and Rembrandt, the City of Paris’ Fine Arts Museum is the best deal in town. Price of admission: €0. Enter through the majestic golden gates for your fine arts fix. Normally, the only delay is due to security, but the line moves quickly. And with the money you’ve saved, take some time to grab a coffee or bite to eat in the Le Jardin du Petit Palais. It’s a little oasis in the middle of the madness.

Dodge Disney Paris. Visit Parc Astérix.

Disneyland Paris is the #1 most visited place in France. Credit

Theme parks are totally not my thing, I’ll admit. The mere thought of the crowds, lines, and little humans running around are enough to make me break into a cold sweat. Alas, there was a time when I was a little human and loved Six Flags like Donald Trump likes to tweet, so the appeal isn’t totally lost on me. Would you believe that Disneyland Paris is the most visited place in France? Yes, it’s true! In 2016, the European Disney park welcomed 13.4 million people, compared to the Louvre’s 8.5 million and the Eiffel Tower’s 6.2 million. I guess it’s not a small world after all.

If you’ve done Disney, give Parc Astérix a try.

Rather than following the throng of Mickey Mouse ears, take a look at Parc Astérix. Located north of Paris, between Disneyland and Château de Chantilly, Parc Astérix is probably unknown by anyone but Frenchies and Belgians. Based on the comic book series, The Adventures of Asterix. The premise is rooted in French history and takes place in a Gallic village during the Roman occupation. Set in 50 BC, the comic follows the adventures of Asterix, and his friend Obelix.

Now, there’s no way that Parc Astérix can compete with the $92-billion Disney Corporation, but there are rides, and since this is France, there’s probably booze. If you do decide to give Parc Astérix a chance, take a look at Astérix in Britain. This story in the series is written in English and will help you get familiar with the characters. Plus, it pokes fun at the British, which is always good for a laugh or two.

There are numerous quintessential Parisian experiences, which are worth doing at least once. As a local, there’s a laundry list of things I’ve still yet to do, even after nearly three years of living in the city. I absolutely understand first-time visitors wanting to tick the typical boxes, thus this post isn’t necessarily for them. Rather, I wrote this for those who’ve previously visited or are interested in some non-touristy things to do in Paris. Of course, I don’t want to give away all my usual haunts. I’d like to keep them a secret, at least for a little while longer.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

32 Comments

  1. I love this post and totally agree with you. I love to go to the less touristy places but one I havent done is Parc Asterix. Big fan of the little guy but never been. Can’t stand Mickey and his friends 😛

  2. Wow, what fantastic alternative choices to the more busy and touristy venues, I would love to go back to Paris to explore all these other wonderful places. Thanks so much for this post and what else you can do beyond the typical attractions that everyone must see in the City of Light.

  3. Brilliant post. I’ve visited Paris a few times and often been put off by the crowds of tourists and the expectation that I should visit certain places. These alternatives would really work for me so I really must bookmark this post! Thank you

  4. Visiting Paris for the second time in a few weeks and love this post! I hope to add Petit Palais and Canal St. Martin to our itinerary. Thanks for sharing this great information.

  5. I love this list!!! Paris is such a big city with so much to offer, but as a tourist it’s often difficult to find alternatives to the usual touristy spots. I’d never heard of the Asterix et Obelix Park, or Place Dauphine, but will make sure to check them out next time I get to visit Paris!!

  6. As a former Paris resident, I love these suggestions! I’m with you on Parc Monceau and Canal St Martin but I’ve never been to Parc Asterix. Le Meurice is somewhere else I’d like to try

  7. Thanks for introducing me to Parc Monceau. It is indeed a gorgeous park worth seeking out! I love your other suggestions and as I suspect I’ll be making more and more trips to Paris, especially with the new shorter Bordeaux – Paris train, I’ll be sure to check some of them out. I’d particularly like to have dinner at Les Ombres!

  8. I love this! Paris is one of my favourite cities to visit. So far, of the non-touristy things, I’ve only been to le Petit Palais and Place Dauphine, so I will definitely need to check out some more on my next trip to Paris!

  9. Oh I love local tips, especially about a city as cool as Paris. I think it’s handy to have some inside local knowledge to get your away from the hustle and bustle of a crowded area.

  10. I only know the touristy Paris so these alternatives are good for future Paris trips. One of my fave in Paris is Place de Vosges, but would definitely love to see Place Dauphine and Perue Petite Palace too. Bookmarking your post!

  11. Excellent tips and information for those who’ve been to Paris, and are looking for new spots and tastes to try. I haven’t been back in ten years, so I’ll bookmark this to keep handy when I return to the city of light!

  12. Tourist sites are touristy for a reason but I also love seeking out the out of the way spots that make a city special. Will bookmark this for my next trip to Paris.

  13. Amazing blog post. I love all your posts. Great and valuable insights you share. Keep up the great work. 🙂

  14. So many great suggestions–thank you! We love Paris and would love to plan another trip there soon. It’s so great to have suggestions from a local, especially to less touristy spots. I’ve always wanted to visit Angelina, but Le Meurice sounds wonderful too! Will definitely have to check some of these spots out on our next trip!

  15. I love all these recommendations and will save it for when I finally make it back there. And Disney Paris is the most visited place in France? Wow! I would never have guessed that!

  16. This is a great post! I’ve been lucky enough to stay close to the Canal Saint-Martin when visiting Paris before, and will now be working here for the next 9 months. Excited to visit some of these lesser-known places, (especially the shopping venues).. thank you!

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