I have to say, I’m fond of Paris. It’s the only city in the world I find myself snubbing undiscovered countries to re-embrace familiar sights and sounds over and over again. Anyone who’s spent time in Paris can attest to its curious magnetic appeal. The city will remain permanently embossed under your skin, and to pay homage to that appeal, today I’ve collected a set of 7 secret spots in Paris I truly love.
Whether it’s architecture, a monument, a random off the grid museum or a hidden cemetery, this Paris will grab you, hold you, and do you in.
This list of my favorite non-touristy spots in the City of Lights is of course wholly subjective, and I realize Paris is a very personal thing for people. And I also realize that what I consider secret can be completely inundated to someone else, so bear with me.
This is my own secret Paris.
Hotel de Sens
Built between 1475 and 1507 the Hotel de Sens is one of three medieval private residences remaining in Paris. The façade is an imposing beast, a fortress reminiscent of battles, sieges and armored knights. Henri IV’s ex-wife, Queen Margot, resided here in 1605 to which she lent her slightly demented flair. The building now houses the Forney Art Library and students populate the interior. It’s free and open to the public but make sure you catch it when it’s open, 1:30 – 8pm, closed Sunday and Monday or you’ll be reduced to fits that you can’t get inside this amazing edifice.
1 rue du Figuier, 75004
Musee de Carnavalet
Forget the Louvre and the D’Orsee, I love the Carnavalet. Probably because it’s dedicated simply to the history of Paris, its buildings, its characters and its artifacts. Located in an historic mansion dating back to the 15th century, purchased by the city in 1866, the collection houses a vast number of paintings and relics depicting the city as it was throughout various moments of its history – scenes of daily life, the evolving architecture and the individuals who populated its alleyways. It’s poignant to see such things, especially when traversing the modern version of the ancient locations you’re witnessing in art.
23 rue de Sévigné, 75003
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
This out-of-the-way Parisian park is a big affair in a little package. Opened in 1867, there are over 5 kilometers of trails and paths winding their way around this cozy enclave. The sites include tall stone or rococo metal bridges but most impressively, a man-made lake over which stands a 100-foot tall cliff topped by a Corinthian temple to Sybil. The great thing about this park is its tranquility, and all right in the face of utterly urban Paris. Ringed by the elegant apartments of the 19th arrondissement, Buttes Chaumont has some unusual views of the Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. In the fall it’s especially attractive all dressed up in colorful foliage.
1 Place Armand Carrel, 75019
La Pagode is a historic movie house that dates from the Belle Epoch period and is decorated in the traditional Japanese style. Originally constructed by the manager of the Bon Marche department store for his wife, it was converted into a ballroom in the 20s before becoming a movie cinema in 1931. Probably my favorite theater in Paris, it’s a perfect distraction to cool a set of flâneur enflamed thighs for a couple hours. The theater shows first-run movies and is submersed in the old style. Don’t forget to enjoy a cup of tea in the Japanese garden before the show.
57 Bis Rue Babylone, 75007
Cimetiere de Montmartre
I love this cemetery precisely because it’s not Pere Lachaise. But it’s every bit as intriguing. It’s not big or overwhelming and there are no Jim Morrison or Oscar Wilde pilgrims, just formidably built gravestones and a calm and auspicious air of solemnity. Located behind the Gare St Lazare, there’s a victory just getting inside the walls. Its modest entrance is nearly impossible to find, located under a dark overpass off a small street in a quiet district, which makes it all the more appealing and romantic. Look for the graves of Degas, Alexandre Dumas and François Truffaut among others. From Wikipedia: “The cemetery epitomizes the artsy, quixotic, gentle, almost whimsical Paris that every romantic visitor secretly cherishes.”
20 avenue Rachel, 75018
You don’t have to exhaust all your other Parisian activities to appreciate the Parisian Chinatown. The larger (and better) of the two Parisian Chinatowns is located in the 13th district along and between the Avenues de Choisy and d’Ivry. This working class neighborhood is home to Europe’s largest concentration of Chinese and Vietnamese people with over 150 shops and restaurants and an inimitable collection of street stalls and vegetable markets. It’s very urban with no interesting architecture to speak of but it’s worth visiting simply to hear shopkeepers speak their unique accent – English buried under French buried under Chinese Vietnamese. Avoid going on Mondays when most of the storefronts are shuttered down.
120 Avenue de Choisy, 75013
A classic French bistro without pretension. The space is intimate, woody and dark, with the menu splayed out over wall-mounted chalkboards, the clientele, just about as charming and down to earth as you can get. This little restaurant on the Rue Oberkampf was the highlight of my dining experiences on my last trip to Paris not because the food and ambiance were outstanding, though they were, or because the neighborhood is a shining star in an already starlit firmament, though it is, but because the staff was just so kind to us – they found out it was our honeymoon and gave us free cake! Oh and upstairs, the bathroom sink is built into an upright piano. Which: cool. The prices are moderate for Paris – the two of us were out of there for 65 Euros (for 3 courses and wine!), but the atmosphere really made it happen. It was one of those experiences you just can’t fake, especially when the bar for Parisian dining is set so high.
116 Rue Oberkampf, 75011
Do you have your own Secret Paris? Please let us know in the comments places you love and dearly wish to sing out to the world.