Peek behind that doorway and wander a little further down that cobbled lane. If you want to catch a real glimpse of the really authentic hidden Paris then there are plenty of secret spots in the city of lights just waiting to be discovered…
Go in search of hidden Paris in Butte Bergeyre, 76 Rue Georges Lardennois, 75019 Paris, France
Head to the North of the city and a little off the beaten tourist path. There, you’ll come across a micro-arrondissement atop of a little mound accessible by just one winding road and two twisting pedestrian walkways. This is Butte Bergeyre, a little settlement filled with art-deco houses and its own secret vineyard in the 19e arrondissement of the city.
Find a relaxing place to read in the Jardin des Colonnes, Place de l’Abbé Jean Lebeuf, 75014 Paris, France
Head to the 14e arrondissement of the city, far and away from the beaten tourist track that visitors to Paris normally take. After all, in comparison with other nearby arrondissements, the 14e is lacking in the final resting place of Napoleon, Pont Alexandre III and many other iconic Parisian landmarks that would typically take tourists south of the Seine.
Instead, this quirky arrondissement needs to be explored further and more in-depth than a simple stroll, as it is only by walking around that you’ll stumble on the secrets this district reluctantly offers up. One such hidden spot in Paris is that of Jardin des Colonnes, a secret garden permeated by the scent of sweet smelling lavender and visions of a futuristic façade. Sit here and admire this 20th Century masterpiece. Read a book, bring a picnic, or simply sit and watch the world go by.
Be amazed by some architecture at Notre Dame du Travail
One of the quirkiest churches in Paris can be found in the 14e arrondissement, not far from the metro station of Pernety on the 13th line. Although on the outside this church looks fairly standard in the Haussmannian architectural lineup, it’s only once you venture inside that the church will start to give up her secrets.
Admire the wrought iron frame that makes this church so fascinating, and contemplate for a few moments inside its vast interior… Nearby, the rest of the 14th arrondissement provides plenty of interesting things to see, including the Paris Catacombs and ascending to the top of the impossibly high Tour Montparnasse.
Delve into Paris’ underground at the Musée des Egouts (Paris sewer museum)
Those looking for Paris’ darker side (literally; this place is underground!) need to look no further than the Paris Sewer Museum. Located near Pont de l’Alma in the 7th arrondissement of the city, the Musée des Égouts documents the voyage of Parisian sewage as it winds its way under French streets on a daily basis.
The museum also documents the intricate plans and complicated history that transformed the streets of the city from open sewer to a modern masterpiece (ie; the Paris we all know and love today!). If you want to visit the Parisian sewer museum for yourself, then unfortunately the museum is actually closed for renovations until 2020!
Look for secret Montmartre at Square Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet
Most tourists flock to the Parvis de Sacré-Coeur, glide around the basilica’s exquisite interior, wander the cobbled area of Place du Tertre where artists congregate and then venture no further. They don’t see the hidden history of Montmartre, explore its unusual past or even see its secret vineyard.
Most tourists don’t enjoy the smaller museums the arrondissement has to offer, and nor do they tend to sit, stop and watch the world go by for a little while. But on your next trip to Paris, I urge you to do just that. Head to the pretty green and terraced space of Square Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet. Find a bench to perch on. Sit. Stop. Wait a while; you’ll be surprised by how much more of Parisian life you witness this way…
Explore Paris’ secret side in the Collège des Bernardins
The little-known and hidden in plain sight Collège des Bernardins is located in the Latin Quarter of the city, not far from the iconic dome of the Paris Pantheon. It is from the Pantheon than a patriotic French flag flies strong and proud. From almost every viewpoint in the 5e arrondissement of the city, the tricolours of blue, white and red can be seen, signalling that this is an important place to the Parisian landscape and history of France.
But what you may not know is that nearby, there is an even older secret once ecclesiastical building, hiding in the shadows of a small alleyway. Collège des Bernardins was founded as early as the 13th century, where it was used to house ecclesiastical members who attended lectures at the nearby Sorbonne.
The Latin Quarter actually got its name from students of the Sorbonne in the middle ages wandering around and solely conversing in Latin with one another. Today, the cloisters and surrounding buildings are used as a cultural hub and host plenty of fascinating and philosophical talks and lectures.
Study and work in a medieval mansion at Bibliothèque Forney
For English speakers, the name of ‘Hôtel de Sens’ is actually a little deceptive. After all, it’s not the kind of hotel where you can book a room and spend a night or two. Instead, it’s a medieval family mansion, and the oldest surviving one of its kind in Le Marais which was once home to members of the church and wealthy Parisian families.
While the exterior of the building is medieval, pretty and contains one bullet lodged to its façade (a casualty of the French Revolution), the interior has been transformed into a unique library specialising in the arts and humanities. It’s open for anyone to visit, though if you want a library card to take out books, you’ll need a passport-style photo and some form of ID.
Read more: My secret Paris locations, Hôtel de Sens.
Wander the Paris Pet Cemetery
Located a little way out of the peripherique of Paris Proper, you’ll find the Paris Pet Cemetery, which also happens to be the oldest pet graveyard in the world. The Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques was founded in the late 1800s.
Today, the Paris pet cemetery is the final resting place of dogs, cats, horses, and even some more unlikely animals. A monkey, chicken, and even a sheep are also interred here. Located on the outskirts of the city, for a few euro you can visit for yourself and the nearest metro station is Gabriel Péri (metro line 13).
Marvel at a house museum in Musée Jacquemart-André
Beautiful tapestries hang on the walls, and equally sumptuous rugs grace the floors. The entire building is adorned with all manner of artworks, objets d’art and other trinkets. Such was the life of the wealthy French elite in the 19th Century. Perhaps most notable of all is the impressive collection of Italian Renaissance artworks.
Although the Musée Jacquemart-André is now a museum welcoming tens of thousands of visitors annually, it was once family home to a Protestant banking family who built up the collection over the course of their lifetimes. Now, you can see the beautiful French interiors for an entrance fee that’s well worth the price!
Go searching for unique and rare books in the Abbey Bookshop
Tucked away on a little side street in the Latin Quarter, and not far from the Paris Pantheon you’ll find a small bookshop where the books quite literally spill out onto the street. Located on a cobbled road not far from the iconic English speaking Bookshop of Shakespeare and Co, The Abbey Bookshop misses out on much of the press it deserves in favour of its more famous neighbour.
But that doesn’t mean that you should miss this gem of a store. Wander in and peruse the shelves, all the while sipping on a hot and welcoming coffee as you search for the perfect rare, unique and vintage novel! The road itself, Rue de la Parcheminerie, is so called because during the Middle Ages, this was where all the scribes and paper makers were based.
Read more: A quick guide to the Latin Quarter.
Admire the architecture of Fontaine des Innocents
In the middle of where you’d least expect, i.e. next to the shopping hall in the 1st arrondissement of Les Halles, Fontaine des Innocents dates back to the 16th-century, making it the oldest public fountain in Paris. Once named the ‘Fountain of Nymphs,’ this hidden Paris gem is well worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.
Rather shockingly, the Renaissance fountain is not the only hidden history lurking within this popular French square close to Forum Les Halles. Instead, though Place Joachim-du-Bellay may be filled with eateries and people relaxing today, the square was once the site of a centuries-old cemetery…
Read more: The quirky history of Fontaine des Innocents
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