4 Unique Places to Visit in Paris, France
Back in the summer of 2016, I was in an internship program. One of the program trips was two days, one night in Paris, France! A short trip, but we made it work! We saw the big stuff of course, like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame de Paris; but we also did some less touristy things!
If you have as short of time there as I did, I’d suggest skipping going up the Eiffel Tower and into Notre-Dame de Paris. The lines are crazy, and time is more important in this case. We still saw them from the outside, which was good enough for the time we had.
The Arc de Triomphe, however, was worth the wait. Go before dusk and climb all the way to the top. Once up there, you get a full 360° view of Paris at sunset. You will see the Eiffel Tower light up and twinkle for you. The sunset is beautiful from that height, too.
*Quick tip for students: if you have a student ID, you can get into the major museums and attractions for FREE! Yes, free! This saved me a lot of money throughout Paris. As far as I know, this rule hasn’t changed since 2016, so you might as well give it a try!
How to Get Around Paris
As with most cities, you will have better luck and travel cheaper if you travel like a local. In the case of Paris, the best way to get around is their subway, the Paris Métro. They have various options for tickets based on their zones around the city. If you plan to go to Versailles, which is outside of the city, you need to take that into account when buying tickets, since it is a different zone.
Since our trip was so short, Versailles wasn’t on the table. We only needed to get around the central city, and we only had a day and a half to do so.
For this case, I’d suggest buying the carnet [kar-nay], a book of 10 tickets, for only 14.90€. We could use this set of 10 over the two days, anywhere within the main city zones. This also works well if you have a group of people. Look at the options and figure out what works best for your trip and with your budget!
If you will only be in Paris for one day, the Ticket Mobilis, or Day Ticket, might be better for you as this is 7.50€ for unlimited rides within a day. These cannot be shared, as they request your name be on it.
From here, the map is fairly easy to follow. First, figure out which station you are at. Then, find what stop you want to go to. Continue following the line that it is on and see the name of the last stop. This is the name of the train you want to get on. Follow signs to get there and get on! The trains are reliable, clean, and fast. If you get lost or confused, you can always ask an attendant or someone nearby. If you don’t speak French, use your fingers to point on the metro map! It’s a bit scary at first, but you will get the hang of it pretty fast!
*American credit cards do not have the correct kind of chip, so be prepared to pay with cash!
**Be mindful of any transportation strikes that may be happening. France is good about listing these out on a calendar.
***Also, be mindful of any construction on the routes. When we went in 2016, this affected some of our routes.
More info about Paris’ metro tickets and stops can be found here. Find the tickets that fit best with your trip!
Step-by-step guide to buying tickets at the station can be found here. Trust me, you need this if you don’t know French.
The Unique Places
These four places were highlights for me and also quite unique. They all happen to be within walking distance of each other, too, if you want to knock them all out! Just go exploring, like we did, and you may come upon amazing places that you never knew about!
This isn’t an unknown location, but it isn’t crowded when compared to other places in Paris. I first learned about this in art school, and you can see why! It is right down the street from Notre Dame. As everyone else waited in a giant line for that, I got into Sainte-Chapelle in five minutes, and for free with my student ID!
You enter on the ground floor and are first struck by the amazing ceiling design, adorned with gold paint and intricate designs. There is a statue at the very end of the long room, the gift shop is on the side, and there is a hint of the beautiful stained glass on the top of the walls. There is an air of silence among everyone, as with any church.
From here, you go up a tiny staircase to the main event. Immediately, you will be struck by the rainbow colors surrounding you. Almost every surface is covered in beautiful, colorful stained-glass windows (1,113 windows to be exact)! The ceilings are tall, reaching up to the heavens. Gold painting and intricate designs are continued on the ceiling and walls, along with murals of Bible scenes on the walls. Typical of the Gothic style, there is a giant rose window at one end. Candelabras adorn the walls and ceiling. It is simply breathtaking.
I can say for sure that photos do not do this building justice. Even looking from the outside, you would have no idea what it’s actually like unless you go inside. I would say this is the second-most beautiful church I have seen (after the Vatican), and definitely suggest seeing it if you are in Paris!
More info can be found here.
Jardin Nelson Mandela (Nelson Mandela Garden)
Moving onto the more obscure, we explored inland from the river and found a nice place to relax. We stumbled upon the Jardin Nelson Mandela. There is another church next to it, Saint Eustache Church, as well as the Bourse du Commerce. The Canopy of the Forum des Halles was being built at the time, but it is open now! We didn’t go into any of these, but we did sit around on the benches and people watch. It was a nice spot to be around Parisians and away from tourist traps. There was actual quiet! Kids were playing, people were sitting on the grass reading, and there was a generally relaxing atmosphere. If you want a place to relax after a long walk, or just want to sit and read, this is the place to go!
From here, we went for lunch at the Bistrot du Jardin right next to it. This is where we tried escargot (aka snails)! I was worried, but it didn’t taste as weird as I thought it would. Mostly just tastes like garlic because it is doused in it. I didn’t enjoy the texture, however, but my friends finished them off. We had to ask the waiter how to use the tongs to eat them, and he was very nice. This place is a bit pricey, but it was worth it!
More info about the park can be found here.
Carnavalet Histoire de Paris (Carnavalet Museum)
We continued to walk around and explore. We passed an area that looked like it had a beautiful garden inside. We didn’t know what it was, so we decided to go in to see. It was the Carnavalet Histoire de Paris, a museum and garden looking at the history of Paris and its inhabitants. It was built in the mid-16th century and was originally a hotel, the Hôtel Carnavalet! It has changed over the years and was eventually converted to a museum in the mid-19th century. Since then, it has continued to expand and make more space for the growing collection of over half-a-million pieces! The exhibit shows the transformation of the small ancient village of Lutetia to the Paris we know and love today.
The garden is where you enter. When we went, it was full of bright green foliage and flowers that complemented the old stone building that surrounds it. Among the green were various statues. From the garden, you go inside and can explore the different rooms. The collection of works ranges from paintings, statues, furniture, signs, trinkets, and various other objects that create a picture of the history of this beautiful and historic city. The building itself is typical of French style, with intricate, elegant, and lavish designs on almost every surface. It was a good stop that we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t stumbled upon it!
Note: As of writing this, the museum is closed for renovation until the end of 2019! Some parts might be open, like the garden, but it is best to check out the website here! Hope you can have a chance to see it!
Musee des Arts et Metiers (Museum of Arts and Trades)
One of the last things we were able to see was a fascinating museum, which has preserved scientific instruments and inventions. The museum was established in 1794 and has a wide range of objects that have influenced advancement throughout history. Some highlights are the first planes, the first calculator, the first cameras, instruments, bikes, and so many other important inventions! My personal favorites were all of the first cameras, many of which were created by the French. They have come a long way to our modern camera phones!
The museum was practically empty. I suspect it is mostly just the French that visit it, as it isn’t a tourist trap at all. So, if you want a unique and quiet museum experience in Paris, I suggest going here. There are so many historical inventions that we take for granted. It is humbling to see what we have today thanks to these amazing inventors!
More info can be found here!
I’m a big fan of exploring and finding one’s own way, especially when travelling. Of course, use common sense. Don’t go on private property or somewhere you don’t feel safe. We were in a group and mostly explored during the day, so we had no feelings of worry in Paris. My point is to find new spots away from tourist traps. Lines are normally shorter, and you can normally create better, more unique memories by finding your own way. Give it a try! Don’t make a strict itinerary and just walk around!