Last Updated on 26th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Paris is a world in of itself. And with over two millennia worth of history, there’s no shortage of strange stories and weird histories to have originated from the French capital city. Here’s your guide to the best of fun, unusual, unique, quirky, and that you’ll be surprised about!
- #1 Paris was named Lutetia during Roman times.
- #2 There are several surviving Vineyards in the City of Light
- #3 There is an annual Bread Festival in Paris
- #4 There are 0 stop signs within intra-muros Paris
- #5 Nicolas Flamel was a real person
- #6 Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton started in Paris
- #7 There’s an abandoned railway encircling the city named ‘The Petite centre’
- #8 Paris and Rome are twin sister cities
- #9 You can see the sewers in action at The Sewer Museum in Paris
- #10 There is a smaller scale version of the Statue of Liberty in the Seine.
- #11 The official motto of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec Mergitur’.
- #12 Paris has dozens of museums
- #13 The city is divided into 20 arrondissements
- #14 The smallest arrondissement in Paris is the second arrondissement
- #15 The oldest cemetery in Paris is in Montmartre
- #16 The Paris Pantheon was originally constructed to serve as a church for the patron saint of Paris
- #17 The oldest café in Paris dates back to the 17th-century!
- #18 The Patron saint of Paris is Saint Genevieve
- #19 The acronym for the RER was originally meant to be MERDE
- #20 The River Seine has two natural islands and more manmade islands
- #21 Drinking fountains can be found all across the city
- #22 The Mona Lisa was once stolen
- #23 Paris is always a good idea!
- #24 Paris has over 400 Art Nouveau buildings
- #25 There’s a Paris metro station entrance in Montreal
- #26 No one knows how Paris became the ‘City of Light’
- #27 Paris is in the 75th department
- #28 The Louvre is the largest museum in the world
- #29 The Eiffel Tower is not the most visited monument in Paris
- #30 Tom Cruise is not allowed to be an honorary citizen of Paris
- #31 Notre Dame’s largest bell is called Emmanuel
- #32 Pont Neuf is the oldest surviving bridge in Paris
- #33 The first ever Tour de France started in Paris
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#1 Paris was named Lutetia during Roman times.
During the Roman era, Paris was founded as a settlement known as Lutetia, the vestiges of which can still be spied around parts of the city today, namely in the Latin Quarter and on Île de la Cité. Meanwhile, many people don’t know this, but the origins of the Paris catacombs find themselves as remnants of Roman limestone quarries!
#2 There are several surviving Vineyards in the City of Light
Once upon a time, the hills surrounding the city would have been farmland populated by windmills, crop-growing fields, and, of course, vineyards. Still to this day it’s possible to see vineyards in the French capital and the most iconic is situated in the shadow of the Sacré-Coeur. You can read more about how to visit the last vineyard of Montmartre here. In fact, there’s a staggering 132 vineyards in the wider Parisian region!
#3 There is an annual Bread Festival in Paris
Traditionally, and in normal circumstances, there is a yearly bread festival held in the very centre of Paris whereby all things carb-related are celebrated. Prior to the Notre Dame fire of April 2019, the festival was held on the Parvis de Notre Dame, where Paris point zero is located. You can read more about it here.
#4 There are 0 stop signs within intra-muros Paris
In a place which is legendary for its inconsiderate driving (barely a day goes past when I’m on a walk and a cyclist or car doesn’t drive straight through a pedestrian crossing where I’m meant to have priority), it may shock you to discover that there are no stop signs in the entirety of the city.
Prior to 2012, there was only one STOP sign in all of Paris (and it was located in the 16e arrondissement). Indeed, upon further investigation, it seems that the removal of the stop sign may have been unauthorised.
Nevertheless, France instead has the highest number of roundabouts in the world in order to counteract the lack of stop signs. Even the world-famous Arc de Triomphe is located in the centre of a roundabout!
#5 Nicolas Flamel was a real person
Remember that guy, Nicolas Flamel, from Harry Potter that creates an elixir that lets you live forever? The elixir that Voldemort was willing to kill for? Well, Nicolas Flamel was a real person. And he lived in Paris! You can even still see his house today…
#6 Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton started in Paris
Of course, one of the Paris facts that you probably know already is that Paris is the home of haute couture! Many high fashion name brands began in the French capital, including Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton. Paris fashion week is also one of the biggest fashion events of the year and has been held annually in the French capital since 1973.
#7 There’s an abandoned railway encircling the city named ‘The Petite centre’
Few have heard of it and even fewer have ventured along its rusting tracks. Abandoned and left to the elements, the Petite Ceinture is one of those ‘hidden gems’ that remains a genuine secret to this day.
The Secret Paris Railway line dates back to the 19th-century and loops around the city, hence its name (‘ceinture’ is literally translated as ‘belt’ in English). Discover more about how to visit the Petite Ceinture here.
#8 Paris and Rome are twin sister cities
There is a quote about Paris that says “Solo Parigi è degna di Roma, solo Roma è degna di Parigi” (Only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris) and this has been the motto of the two cities since 1956 when the capitals were twinned. They have shared links for generations and Paris isn’t twinned with any other city.
#9 You can see the sewers in action at The Sewer Museum in Paris
If you’re in search of a truly multi-sensory experience during your trip to France, then you may well want to consider visiting the Paris sewer museum, which has recently reopened following several years of renovations! Known in French as the Musée des Égouts, each street in Paris has at least one corresponding sewer.
As a result, underneath the city, each sewer has a street sign matching that of above ground. It’s eery and interesting in equal measure, to imagine that for every street you walk along, there’s an equally long sewer, complete with street signage!
#10 There is a smaller scale version of the Statue of Liberty in the Seine.
There’s not just one Statue of Liberty in Paris, but a small handful (at least five that I’ve managed to find so far), though the largest is the Statue of Liberty replica along the River Seine. Paris history facts are never too far away, if only you know where to look, and one of the most interesting is easily the fact that you can go in search of Statue of Liberty replicas.
The Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes in the 15th arrondissement of the city faces the USA and symbolises friendship between the two countries. There is also a replica of the Flame of Liberty, which has become a memorial to Princess Diana.
#11 The official motto of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec Mergitur’.
The motto for the city of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec Mergitur’. The phrase is in Latin and literally translates to ‘tossed but not sunk’, while the crest for the city features the depiction of a ship. You can read more about the history behind the logo here.
#12 Paris has dozens of museums
There are well over 100 museums in Paris. Of course, there’s the Louvre Museum which boasts the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa, as well as the Musée d’Orsay which lays claim to be the home of Van Gogh’s Starry Nights.
And what fan of Monet could miss out on the chance to see the waterlily paintings which were commissioned especially for the Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries? But what many people miss out on in their time in Paris is that there are a whole host of incredibly weird museums.
Some of the stranger and off the beaten path cultural hubs in Paris include a vampire museum, a counterfeit museum and a sewer museum. For more inspiration, check out our guide to the most unusual museums in Paris.
#13 The city is divided into 20 arrondissements
In Paris, the city is divided into districts which are known as arrondissements. There are 20 in total. Only two other cities in France are divided in this way and these are the cities of Lyon and Marseille (the second and third largest cities in l’Hexagone).
#14 The smallest arrondissement in Paris is the second arrondissement
Despite being located right in the heart of historic Paris, few visitors take the time to visit the 2nd arrondissement when frequenting the French capital. This area is also referred to as ‘Sentier,’ ‘Montorgueil,’ and ‘Bourse’ and happens to be the smallest of all 20 Parisian districts. Covering a space of just 0.992 km2 (0.383 sq. miles), the area is home to around 20,000 residents.
#15 The oldest cemetery in Paris is in Montmartre
Of all the facts about Paris listed here, one of the most unusual has to do with one of its lesser known cemeteries. Hidden in the shadow of the awe-inspiring domes of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, there’s a piece of Montmartre history which is so secretive that even many Parisians don’t know of its existence.
Cimetière du Calvaire (Calvaire Cemetery) is not only the smallest cemetery in Paris, but it’s also the oldest… And it’s only open for one day a year! Discover more about the Cimetière du Calvaire here.
#16 The Paris Pantheon was originally constructed to serve as a church for the patron saint of Paris
Situated in the Latin Quarter of Paris there’s both the chance to go high above the ground as well as below it in this iconic Parisian building. The Pantheon was actually originally intended to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris.
However, following the death of statesman Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, it was quickly changed to be a resting place for people in France. It’s considered a great honour to be interred in the Pantheon. Today, the building serves as a mausoleum. At present, there are only 5 women interred in the Pantheon and 72 men.
#17 The oldest café in Paris dates back to the 17th-century!
Situated on Cour du Commerce Saint André, the eatery of Le Procope was originally established all the way back in 1686 and is often said to be the oldest café in the city in continuous operation. The café is situated on the Rive Gauche (left bank) and can be found in the 6th arrondissement.
Of course, the term café does not necessarily always mean ‘coffee shop’ when it comes to Paris, and instead the bistro instead serves typically French fare set against the backdrop of a gold gilt room with all the trimmings (and incredible service to match), not to mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s hat in the entranceway! To discover more about Le Procope, check out their menu.
#18 The Patron saint of Paris is Saint Genevieve
Born in 419 CE in Nanterre, after the death of her parents, Genevieve moved to Paris (then known as Lutetia) in order to devote herself to Christianity. It’s said that, as a result of a prayer marathon in 451 CE, Genevieve diverted Attila and his army away from Paris, thus saving the city from siege.
Genevieve probably died in around 512 CE, though accounts of her life are likely unreliable due to the fact that her biography was not recorded until centuries after she passed away. Today, the relics of Saint Genevieve can be found within the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church within the Paris Pantheon.
#19 The acronym for the RER was originally meant to be MERDE
One of the funniest facts about Paris is that the RER (a train system running throughout Paris and its suburbs, with the RER A being the most frequented daily train line in Europe) is that the original acronym for the RER was meant to be MERDE (which means sh!t in French!)
Another interesting fact about the Paris transportation system is that the underground network (known in French as the métro) is one of the busiest in Europe, second only to Moscow in Russia! When visiting Paris, you’ll undoubtedly need to take public transportation at one point or another and so here is everything you need to know about Paris metro tickets.
#20 The River Seine has two natural islands and more manmade islands
Flowing directly through the centre of Paris and up through Northern France until it deposits into the sea at Le Havre, the River Seine is the very reason why Paris is located where it is in the first place.
The River Seine now has two natural islands; Île Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité. Once upon a time, the Seine would have actually had more islands and you can discover more about the lost islands of the Seine here.
#21 Drinking fountains can be found all across the city
France is known around the world for the quality of its water. The Wallace Fountains of Paris are as essential to the landscape of Parisian architecture as the Arc de Triomphe but are often not thought of as such. The features are not only beautiful but also functional and have served up water to Parisians and visitors alike since the 19th-century.
If you’re particularly interested in learning more about Eau de Paris, then I really enjoyed the Zac Efron documentary on Netflix (the Eau de Paris features on one of the ‘Down to Earth’ episodes). Otherwise, you should know that, today, there are 103 Wallace Fountains in Paris.
#22 The Mona Lisa was once stolen
Despite boasting a handful of Leonardo da Vinci’s in its collection, the Mona Lisa is undoubtedly the most iconic and famous of all da Vinci paintings at the Louvre. And one of the main reasons for this is that the Mona Lisa was stolen during the early 1900s and it took over a day for anyone to even notice.
In a tale that might seem stranger than fiction, the painter Pablo Picasso was even considered a suspect at one stage, as well as the writer Guillaume Apollinaire. If you want to learn more about this wild story, be sure to check out our article on the history of the Mona Lisa being stolen.
#23 Paris is always a good idea!
Whatever the season and whatever the weather (yes, even in the rain!), Paris is always a good idea. From discovering secret architectural buildings to enjoying some of the most highly-rated cuisine in the world, there’s quite literally something for everyone when it comes to Paris! Don’t believe me? Be sure to check out my guide to the best quotes about Paris.
#24 Paris has over 400 Art Nouveau buildings
When you think Paris, you probably think of the classical sandy stoned building style that’s known as Haussmannian. What you may well not know when it comes to fun facts about Paris is that there’s also a fair bit of Art Nouveau in Paris to be discovered too.
In fact, there are over 400 Art Nouveau structures in the city which date from the end of the 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s. Most of the Art Nouveau buildings in the city can be found in the 7th and 16th arrondissement. Check out our guide to the best of Art Nouveau in Paris for more architectural inspiration.
#25 There’s a Paris metro station entrance in Montreal
One of the more unusual transatlantic facts about Paris is that there’s actually a Parisian metro station in the heart of downtown Montreal in Canada. The Square-Victoria-OACI station Metro Station Entrance is a little piece of Paris in the heart of Quebec…
#26 No one knows how Paris became the ‘City of Light’
There is no one proven theory as to why Paris became nicknamed the ‘City of Light’. Several of the more popular theories include that it was because the city was full of intellectuals since writers, artists, and other creatives have always been drawn to the city. Another popular theory is that the city gained its nickname due to the fact that it was one of the first European cities to adopt street lighting.
#27 Paris is in the 75th department
Paris is located in the Île de France region and is administratively the 75th department of France. As of 2021, there are 101 departments in France, which includes overseas departments.
#28 The Louvre is the largest museum in the world
The Louvre is the largest museum in the world. The museum boasts over 380,000 pieces in its collection and has over 35,000 items on display at any given time. For even more interesting information, be sure to check out our guide to the top facts about the Louvre.
#29 The Eiffel Tower is not the most visited monument in Paris
Despite arguably being the symbol for not just Paris, but the entirety of France as a whole, the Eiffel Tower is surprisingly not the most visited monument in France. Indeed, before the Notre Dame fire, the most visited attraction in the city was Notre Dame Cathedral. This was then followed by the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, the Louvre Museum, and then the Eiffel Tower.
#30 Tom Cruise is not allowed to be an honorary citizen of Paris
Once upon a time, Tom Cruise was made an honorary citizen of the French city of Marseille. Back in the mid-2000s, city council members in Paris voted on whether or not Tom Cruise should become an honorary citizen of Paris. He was ultimately rejected on account of his ties with Scientology, which has been classified as a cult by certain French authorities since the 1990s.
#31 Notre Dame’s largest bell is called Emmanuel
Notre Dame has a series of bells, the largest of which weighs a staggering 13 tonnes and was cast in the 17th-century. Known as a bourdon in French, Emmanuel was the only original bell from Notre Dame to have survived the French Revolution.
#32 Pont Neuf is the oldest surviving bridge in Paris
Quite literally translated into English as ‘New Bridge,’ in spite of what you might think, Pont Neuf is actually the oldest still standing bridge in Paris. Spanning the River Seine and adjoining the right-bank with both the left-bank and the historic Île de la Cité, it’s hard to believe that Pont Neuf has stood in situ since the early 17th-century.
#33 The first ever Tour de France started in Paris
The very first Tour de France was held just over a century ago, in 1903. The entire race began as a competition between two rival newspapers. At the turn of the twentieth Century, there were two main cycling newspapers in France.
Both wanted to out print the other. Le Vélo and l’Auto were in strict competition, though Le Vélo was streaking ahead in terms of sales. As a result, the press team of l’Auto knew that they had to do something drastic. And fast. By this point, Le Vélo was selling tens of thousands of its papers on a daily basis.
Interesting races had long been a way to sell sporting papers, and in the cycling profession, it was no different. However, at this point in history, no grand scale bicycle race had ever taken place. In a state of desperation, and a last ditch attempt to sell newspapers, the Tour de France was conceived.
Despite few cyclists entering the initial race, and an even shorter cycling distance than was originally planned, the Tour de France turned out to be an overwhelming success in terms of magazine readership.
However, cheating was rife and it was unsure whether the Tour would last more than a few years. Still, the paper continued to literally flew off the shelves and the race was turned into a yearly event.
L’Auto overtook le Vélo as the leading sporting newspaper in France. To the extent where le Vélo was driven out of business. Today, the most famous cycling race in the world covers a distance of over 2000 miles and is challenging, to say the least!